ASK THE VET: Anti-anxiety meds help cat relax at pet hospital

Q: My kitty Simba is a pussycat at home, but he turns into a lion every time we go to the animal hospital. The staff is gentle with him, but he hisses and growls, and I'm afraid he will bite them. What should I do?

A: Before your next visit, ask your veterinarian about an anti-anxiety medication such as gabapentin for Simba. It's easily mixed with canned food or given inside a treat. Research in cats has shown this medication is effective at decreasing stress during veterinary appointments.

In addition, accustom Simba to his carrier. Line it with a fluffy towel or soft bed, and leave it in a quiet corner of your home so he gets comfortable sleeping in it. If he doesn't use the carrier, entice him by placing treats or a plate of yummy canned food inside.

Once he's comfortable in his carrier, take him for a short ride in the car. Repeat this activity weekly until he's calm during the drives.

About 30 minutes before you load Simba into his carrier for the drive to his veterinary appointment, spray the inside of his carrier with Feliway. Also, spray a towel with Feliway, and use it to cover the carrier in the car and the hospital reception area.

Feliway is a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromone that cats deposit when they rub their cheeks on furniture, doorways and their favorite people. Feliway helps cats feel secure, safe and calm.

If Simba is still overly stressed, ask your veterinarian to refer you to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, or schedule an appointment with a veterinarian who makes house calls. Before the vet arrives at your home, confine Simba to a bathroom so he can't hide under furniture and get stressed when you pull him out.

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Q: My German shepherd Liesl almost continuously sheds handfuls of hair. What should I do about this?

A: German shepherds and many other breeds do shed a lot. Often, they "blow" their winter coats in the spring, before the onset of warm weather, and they shed again in the fall before they grow their winter coats.

Other breeds with hair that grows continuously, like poodles, shed so little that most people think they don't shed at all.

If Liesl isn't scratching and her skin and coat look healthy, without any hair thinning, her shedding is probably normal.

On the other hand, if she is losing hair on her rump and she's scratching, she could have fleas. Combing her with a fine-tooth flea comb should extract fleas or their feces, which resemble specks of black pepper. If she has fleas, ask her veterinarian about an oral or topical medication to kill them.

A sparse coat in the absence of scratching can indicate underactive thyroid glands, called hypothyroidism, or overactive adrenal glands, referred to as hyperadrenocorticism or Cushing's disease. Both hormonal conditions are diagnosed through blood work and easily treated.

Another cause of thinning hair in dogs is a human's use of topical hormone replacement therapy. For example, when a woman sprays or rubs estrogen on her arms, she could unwittingly transfer some of it to her dog when the dog licks her arm or she hugs the dog.

In some dogs, improving the quality of the diet decreases shedding.

If you're concerned, ask your veterinarian to examine Liesl and check her lab work.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at

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