This week: Vexing problems I have spent a considerable amount of my life studying to be a vet and then upgrading my knowledge with further education. Now that I have been a vet for 10 years, you would think that I can solve any pet problem presented to me. That is true for the most part, but there are cases that stump me totally and it can happen quite often. Occasionally I call in the next appointment from the waiting room and find an owner comes in without any pet. For example, the owners of a cat called Ah De. I would ask 'Where is Ah De?' and they would say they didn't bring her. I would get comfortable in my seat, lean back, take a deep breath as I mentally prepared for a usually all-too-interesting story and say, 'Go on, tell me the problem'. The owner would say: 'I didn't bring in Ah De because there is no way we could catch her and bring her in to see you. In fact, since picking up Ah De off the streets, we haven't even been able to touch her.' Ah De was a stray and apparently rather wild cat. They would go on to describe Ah De's ear infection and skin problem. There is a myriad of problems that vexes me here. They need to somehow trap the cat from under the bed, bring him in and we probably need to sedate it to do anything with it. There is a likely chance that the cat's ear problem will need daily treatment and regular monitoring. If we put this cat in a hospital cage for treatment, it is going to be a daily battle even to get it out of its cage, and if we manage to get it out of its cage we are probably going to need to sedate it again and probably manhandle it to apply a topical ear medication. We'll probably need to do this for two to three weeks if the problem is moderately severe. There is also the cost associated with such intensive treatments for what can only be described as a simple infection. I need to consider the long-term well-being of this cat also. It is obviously very frightened at home and spends all its time under the bed, not to mention creating a hygiene problem. The cat has no quality of life at home. The owners need to either intensively domesticate it, which may not be possible for an adult cat set in its way, or accept that the cat should be neutered and released back into the wild where it belongs. But before release we need to fix the ear infection. You see the dilemma. A classic vexing problem we get is the dog that eats faeces. Even my dogs are not immune to it. In the old days it was associated with a dietary deficiency but in modern times and with the advent of commercial pet food, we pet owners are more likely to get dietary deficiencies than our pets. The behaviour is sometimes related to boredom, so enriching your dog's environment may help. There are commercial products you can add to the food to make the faeces less palatable, but it doesn't always work and it is useless if your dog eats other dog's faeces. My adopted schnauzer cross is taken outside three times a day for 20 minutes at the very least, has play friends galore at home and is well fed - and he still has a palate for faeces. Beats me why! Paw-licking good? Some dogs, especially those real miniature breeds such as chihuahuas or Pomeranians, make really strange strangling noises randomly. On examination often nothing is found, but most people don't know that dogs sneeze backwards and the strange gurgling noise is your dog trying to 'sneeze' something out - but backwards towards the back of its nostrils. Another unsolvable problem we are faced with is small dogs that yelp in pain or even bite the owner when touched in a certain way or picked up. We are unable to find any reason for the behaviour and the pain isn't reliably reproducible. We vets even have a name for this problem, 'idiopathic goosey poodle syndrome', and it is not restricted to poodles. Cats have a similar problem that we call 'irascible cat condition'. You have to laugh at these complicated names for conditions where 'I don't know' applies. And the only advice we can give is to avoid picking them up and be more careful around the pet. The number of times distraught owners come to me and say, 'My dog [or cat] is shedding like crazy, its all over the place'. He then promptly demonstrates by pointing at his fur-covered suit. The dog on the examination table also speaks for itself as it spectacularly sheds on the table. When you touch the dog, you literally get a handful of fur with each pat. I can understand the owner's distress, but it is a natural part of the dog's shedding cycle. Surprisingly, it is the short-haired coats that shed most, not long-haired animals. My Afghan never sheds. Short coats are programmed to shed more. Other problems that make me feel helpless include: what is it with all the wax in my dog's ear? Is my dog deaf? What is my dog barking at? And sometimes my only answer can be: 'It's a dog.' Like that answers everything.