wp header logo 103

Dog's food insecurity takes an aggressive turn – The Washington Post – The Washington Post

clockThis article was published more than 7 years ago
Dear Dr. Fox:
I recently adopted (as a foster failure!) a wonderful 3-year-old hound named Marley. She joins our menagerie of one other dog and four cats.
Marley has an unusual food aggression issue. She guards her bowl, yes, but the other animals can come near her while she’s eating, and she allows the house humans to put their hands into her bowl while she eats.
Instead of worrying about her food when she receives it, she obsessively guards the hamper where we store pet food, the kitchen garbage can, the recycling bin, the dishwasher (if the dishes in it are dirty) and the grocery bags we bring into the house. If it smells like food, she seems to think her job is to keep it safe from anyone but me.
Marley lifts her lip and snarls at the cats when they get too close to what she’s guarding, and she even snapped at my husband when he reached to pick up a grocery bag to carry it from the hallway to the kitchen.
I know how to deal with food aggression when it involves a particular bowl, but I am at a loss as to what to do about this more generalized issue.
M.B., Cincinnati
DF: When my dogs are eating, I never think of putting a hand into their food bowl. Even if I have an extra treat or leftover, I wait until they finish.
Some dogs are rejected for adoption when given the food-guarding behavior test in shelters. They fail the test by growling when someone tries to take a bone or toy away, or put a hand near their food bowls. I consider this test absurd.
Such growling, as distinct from attacking, is to be respected, and the dog given the social distance to eat or chew in peace. In your dog’s unusual case, allow her to guard what she feels she must. When ignored, many dogs eventually cease to react in this way. Such behavior probably reflects a deep insecurity often seen in abandoned dogs. Others hide their food around the house.
I would call your dog’s behavior food insecurity, not food aggression. Ignore your dog and try redirecting her behavior with a treat or squeaky toy.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a 12-year-old spayed cat. Over the past year, she has started licking me incessantly. These are not short love licks — they are grooming licks that hurt, and she doesn’t stop until I gently push her away.
She is a very sweet, affectionate, laid-back indoor lap cat. She lives with two other indoor spayed cats that are 16 and 7, and she is low cat on the totem pole.
She also vomits her food frequently, and is allergic to salmon. My vet has no answers, other than grain-free food for a sensitive stomach. The vet thinks her licking me is linked to her food allergy, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Can you shed some light on the situation?
M.S., Fairfield, Maine
DF: We all know that cats will lick or groom us as a display of affection, but as you recognize with your cat, this behavior has an element of obsessive compulsiveness that calls for some behavioral analysis.
Some cats are attracted to various body lotions, one of which you may have been applying on yourself liberally through your cold Maine winter. Your cat might be addicted to it.
Another possibility is that this is a redirected comfort-seeking behavior because your cat is low in the cat hierarchy and is feeling insecure. Try pushing her away and grooming her or remotivating her with an interactive game.
My worst fear is that instead of compulsively and excessively grooming herself, she is displacing this behavior on to you because of some internal discomfort, which could be from an abdominal disorder. Many cats that begin to self-groom excessively and often vomit after eating ravenously have thyroid cancer, causing hyperthyroidism.
Your veterinarian should consider this a possibility, considering her age and behavior. Cats are exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the average home environment and in some manufactured cat foods, especially the lining in canned foods, which are primarily responsible for this all-too-common thyroid problem in North America and Europe.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have an 8-year-old mixed-breed rescue dog with slightly bulging eyes. In the past year, I’ve noticed a tendency for eye-staining, such as one sees in cockers, and a brownish liquid from the inside of the eye I need to wipe off.
What causes it, and how can I control it? She is quite active and very healthy. We’ve had her since she was about a year old.
J.K., St. Louis
DF: This is a very common problem in dogs, especially noticeable on dogs with white or pale fur. Staining can also come from the saliva, as well as tears, and appear on the dogs’ jowls and be transferred to the front paws when the dogs rest on their paws.
Moist parts of the body, especially the groin area, can develop stains. The primary source might be from certain strains of bacteria and yeast that produce a brown, often smelly exudate, which stains the fur. Dogs also secrete redder porphyrins in their tears, saliva and urine, as a metabolic breakdown product. Pigments from the dyes in many manufactured pet foods, some of which are known to be cancer- causing, might play a role in this problem.
If your dog is not secreting a lot of gummy red or brown tears and blinking a lot (symptoms that call for an eye exam by a veterinarian), give him a daily wipe with a disposable moist baby wipe containing soothing aloe vera and tea tree or lavender oils, but avoid direct contact with the eyes.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I read about the owner’s indifference to you when you confronted her about her dog bullying your dog at your local dog park.
My friend loves his dog, but he is not a very good dog owner. When he first got the dog, we went to a dog park. His dog is young, part mastiff, all muscle and full of energy — almost too much to handle without basic training. His dog was cruising around fine for a while, but I noticed a pack of young dogs “beating up on’’ an older dog that was on its back. My friend’s dog saw this and joined in. Not only that, he went for the neck.
As soon as I saw the attack, I ran over and pulled my friend’s dog off (and shooed the rest of the pack away, too). If I hadn’t intervened, the old dog might have been killed. My friend just said, “Oh, well.’’ He ought to have done something!
T.U., Minneapolis
DF: It is good that you had the appropriate reaction to the dog’s play fighting turning into a dog attack.
All people with dogs should be on the alert when this pack prey-killing behavior erupts, often when play fighting gets too intense, and the dog on the ground becomes afraid and shows defensive aggression — especially, as was the case with my dog Kota, when one dog in the pack is a domineering bully.
Such dogs should not be off-leash in situations in which there are more than one or two other dogs to play with. If there are more, social facilitation will quickly ramp up the intensity. This can possibly confuse signals, and one or more dogs can get injured, along with owners trying to intervene.
© Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top