Dear Doctor – February 2015

Giving an edge to a timid male cat in a multi-cat home; what exactly does board certified mean?


Why do my cats fight?

Q My five-year-old male, neutered indoor-only cat is very timid and shy. We adopted him when he was about seven weeks old. Two years ago, we rescued a stray — a spayed female who is three.

My problem: They do not get along at all. When they are together in the house, they constantly fight, hiss and growl at each other. Nothing seems to help. The female currently lives on our screened-in back porch, but I would love to have them both in the house. Any suggestions would be most appreciated.

Dinah Barellis

A Dear Dinah: The problem you report — territorial aggression between cats — is an extremely common one that is rooted in the way cats regard each other and the territory in which they live. Some cats are naturally friendly toward each other and seek each other out to spend time together. Other cats are indifferent toward each other, but can co-exist peacefully within the same “social space.” But then again, there are cats who are naturally opposed to each other who will conscientiously avoid each other or fight.

In nature, one or other of these latter cats will wander off or be driven away and the problem resolves. In the domestic situation, this is not possible as cats are forced to co-exist. Not appreciating the subtleties of cat personalities and societies, well-intentioned owners frequently add another cat to their home and are surprised and dismayed when the two cats do not get on, as is happening in your situation.

There are programs in which such feuding parties are separated and gradually reintroduced under pleasant circumstances. But sometimes — even when medications are employed to facilitate the process — success is far from guaranteed. Often times, the best solution is to keep the cats separate or to find a home for one or the other cat.

In your case, there is one trick you might try before you reach any of these conclusions, and that is to apply Boarmate™ — a pheromone derived from the male hormone testosterone — to your male cat’s rump daily to give him an edge. Boarmate™, available online as a farm animal product, can be sprayed on a cloth or duster, which is then wiped on the cat’s rump. The idea is to make your male seem like a super male, one who generates great reverence and respect in the olfactory eyes of your female cat. Results are not guaranteed but, if they are going to occur, they occur quickly.

Nicholas Dodman, BVMS

Animal Behavior Clinic Director

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Vets and board certification

Q I am a long-time subscriber who enjoys the publication very much. I feel that the information has helped me to take better care of the cats who live with us.

My question is this: What exactly does “board certified” mean, and how does a veterinarian achieve this qualification?

Linda Dixon

A Dear Linda: Good question. “Board certified” means that following veterinary school, a veterinarian has completed advanced training in a specialty area and has passed a rigorous examination in that specialty. In general, the first step of the advanced training is a one year “rotating” internship. Internships are generally done under the supervision of specialists at either teaching hospitals or referral hospitals.

The term “rotating” means that the internship provides exposure to multiple specialties — the veterinarian rotates through the hospital’s various specialties, spending several weeks in each one. The second step in advanced training is a residency, which is typically a three year training program — also at a teaching or referral hospital — during which the veterinarian receives extensive training in his or her chosen specialty area.

Following this, the veterinarian takes an examination administered by the specialty “college” — which is not a college in the conventional sense, but is an organization of veterinarians trained in a given specialty. Once the veterinarian has passed the examination, she is officially “board certified,” and is legally entitled to call herself a specialist. Some examples of specialties are internal medicine, surgery, ophthalmology and neurology, but there are many others.

Obtaining advanced training and board certification is completely optional, and competition for positions in internship and residency programs is intense. Many veterinarians elect to go directly into primary care practice following veterinary school, and primary care veterinarians and specialists collaborate to provide care for individual patients.

John Berg, DVM, DACVS

Professor of Small Animal Surgery

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University


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