Editorial November 1999 Issue

One Thing After Another

Challenges to our dogs’ health are everywhere.

It all started one cloudy day, just as the temperature starting dropping at night and the leaves of the maple trees in town started turning tan. Overnight, the clear blue sky turned cloudy, we had our first fall rain –and the ants came marching in. They went straight after the cat’s food, which caused poor Rupert weeks of trouble.

How can an ant hurt a dog? I should say, how can a veritable army of ants harm a dog? In a not-so simple chain reaction.

I feed my cat on the top surface of a bookshelf by the front door. It’s the only place in the house where the cat can have access to her food and water all day long, without Rupert helping himself, and without her hourly comings and goings annoying my husband, who, as I’ve said before, would prefer that all cats and dogs lived outside, all the time. (What’s the point of that?)

But then it rained, and the ants came in the house, as ants are wont to do when it rains. They always enter via a new and varied route, until I can discourage them from using that particular avenue with a variety of non-toxic soaps and scents. I discovered that the ants had discovered the cat’s food when I noticed the cat meowing insistently, even though her bowl was full. Heading out the front door, I said to the complaining cat, “Don’t yowl at me, cat! You’ve got a bowl full of ... ANTS!” And I jumped back as I saw the blackened bowl full of crawling insects, and the inch-wide trail leading from a crack in a nearby windowsill.

How could this possibly affect Rupe?

Well, of course, while I battled the ants (removing every trace of cat food from the bookshelf, and wiping the trail down with everything from Murphy’s Oil Soap to citronella to lemon juice to vinegar), I had to relocate the cat’s bowl. The trick was to find a place that only the cat could reach – away from potential ant zones, and away from Rupert, who has a thing for cat food.

For two days straight, I failed. I found a couple of out of the way places, but Rupe managed to raid them all, helping himself to at least six small servings of the forbidden food. How a dog can manage to give me the impression that he is ALWAYS under my feet and sneak off to eat cat food simultaneously is beyond me, but that’s a Border Collie for you: overachieving, as always.

Why should I care if my malingering mutt got a few extra calories? Because he is notoriously sensitive to certain foods, and this one set him off. Within a day of his secret snacks, he was an itchy, allergic mess. When he wasn’t slinking out of my office to chew his butt (a blooming hot spot on his hiney), he licked his paws, over and over. By day two the disaster had spread to his left ear; it’s almost always the one on the white side of his head that gets inflamed. He shook and shook his head as the ear got worse.

In the old days, I would have undoubtedly whisked Rupert’s raggedy butt down to the vet, and requested a nice big shot of steroids, please, to stop the itching NOW, as well as a nice new tube of antibiotic ointment for his inflamed ear. I admit, when you spend all day trying to distract an obsessed self-mutilator, it’s tempting.

But time heals. Two weeks later, the ants are gone, the cat food is back on the bookshelf, and Rupe’s skin is healing. It took a lot of patience, some soothing oatmeal shampoo, “Halo’s Natural Herbal Ear Wash” (wonderful stuff available from Halo, Purely for Pets, 813-854-2214), and more than a few applications of calendula gel. But I don’t have a big vet bill to pay, and Rupert’s not panting and drinking (and urinating) voraciously, the way he used to in the aftermath of the powerful shots. I’m sure we’re both better off.

-N.K.

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