Want to be featured in next month’s newsletter? Email our very own Dr. Chip at [email protected] and make sure you reference ‘Ask Dr. Chip’ in the subject line.

About Dr. Chip

Dr. Chip Coombs is Pets Plus Us’ Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), and has practiced veterinary medicine since 1976, initially in the United Kingdom, then in Western Canada and, finally, in Toronto, where he owned a multi-veterinarian practice for 33 years.

Please note: This forum is not intended for life saving medical advice. If your pet is having a medical emergency, please contact your veterinarian or local veterinary emergency clinic.


Dear Dr. Chip,

I just adopted a kitten and have noticed that’s she’s been retching like she’s going to throw up but then nothing happens. She came from a hoarding situation with 146 cats, so when she eats you can tell she eats as though she may not get another meal for a while. She is VERY skinny. Also, last night she has started sneezing, not frequently enough to be upper respiratory though. 

Should I be more concerned? Could this be a food allergy, or even from just eating too fast?



Hi Samantha,

I have numerous questions that would ideally be answered before trying to accurately answer your question. However, I'll take my best shot. The most likely reason for her being so skinny is that she has internal parasites. Not only can parasites cause her to not gain weight, they can also cause her to retch if she has a heavy enough burden in her stomach.

You are likely quite right in assessing her devouring her food, i.e. her perception of it being her last meal. However, again a heavy worm burden could also be responsible for the ravenous appetite. I am assuming she came to you unvaccinated and the sneezing is more likely to be a mild upper respiratory virus manifestation, rather than allergies.

No doubt you were planning to do so, but it would certainly be worthwhile to have her checked by a veterinarian and to have a fresh stool sample checked for internal parasites. If the sample comes back negative, I would recheck it in a month. Once, you are confident that she has no parasites, her appetite should hopefully return to "normal" and she will hopefully fill out (but not too much!).


Dr. Chip


We have an 18-month-old Mini Schnauzer. Delightful companion but when we go out he waits till car has left the driveway then he howls and does the Schnauzer scream. We could be gone for 1 hour or 5, he just goes and goes. It can go on for over an hour and a half. It is so loud it penetrates into our neighbours house as if he were in their house. We leave TV, leave treat ball and tumbler to try and distract him. No change. Need more ideas…

Thanks, Susan


Hi Susan,

Separation anxiety can be very challenging, whether a dog howls, barks, leaves land mines, urinates, destroys furniture or any other of many manifestations. Compounding the problem is our busy lifestyles today and managing our children's schedules and so it’s hard to find the time to properly deal with the anxiety of our dog who is very tightly bonded with the family. The result is that some families reluctantly have to surrender their cherished family member to a rescue organization, which is clearly not ideal. However, most dogs can be reconditioned but it requires a 100% commitment from all family members to make it successful. Quick fixes are not likely to be successful.

That said, all the things you have already done, can aid in the achieving the end result. What would also be helpful would be to purchase a camera that would allow you to videotape in detail the events leading up to the howling and most importantly the time it takes for each part of the journey to take place. The reasoning behind this is that it is very important to know your dog's time threshold before he tips over his anxiety threshold and starts to howl. All the reconditioning and desensitization must begin within this time threshold and the threshold might be as short as 15 seconds!

To give you a thorough in-depth outline as to how to desensitize your dog to your leaving and to recondition him to accept longer and longer periods of being alone is beyond the scope of this response. In a nutshell, you want to understand and gradually remove the clues that trigger your dog to be aware that you are about to leave. For example, picking up the car keys, putting on winter boots and much subtler clues can all be shouting " I'm leaving " well before you actually do. These can be changed by putting the car keys in your pocket an hour ahead of time or putting the boots on outside while you go outside to change your indoor footwear.

The concept of knowing your dog's threshold is very important, so that you recondition him within that time frame. The video camera should give you a good idea. Let's say it’s one minute. Without doing any of the usual trigger moves that you used to do (boots and keys), go outside for LESS than a minute and come right back in. If he is cool and calm during this time period, give him a soft verbal acknowledgement and carry on inside stuff. If he acted out, then the threshold has been exceeded. You then have to leave for a shorter time AND when you come back in, you ignore him COMPLETELY until he settles down. Very gradually, you start to leave for longer periods, but staying within his hopefully increasing threshold.

If the car is the major trigger factor, then get in the car, get out and come back inside without leaving. Repeat many times during the day. Then back the car up a few feet. Stop and go back inside and repeat. Each time he is good he gets a gentle verbal acknowledgement. If he acts out, he doesn't exist; you ignore him completely.

I would suggest that you talk to your veterinarian about this approach and there are some good articles on the web that can flush this approach out in extensive detail. He/she can also refer you to a veterinary behaviourist. Your veterinarian may also suggest products like Adaptil which is an airborne pheromone approach that may help speed up the process.

One last thought, if the above routine (which can take months to achieve success) is not as successful as you might want. If you can arrange to have someone take your dog for a walk just before you leave, i.e. your dog is not home when you leave, it might help speed up the training; especially if the car leaving the driveway is the main trigger. Alternatively, you could park down the street and so your dog doesn't hear the car leaving every morning. There are many things to try and hopefully your veterinarian can help out.


Dr. Chip