Dear Christopher Cat: I want to adopt a cat from the shelter, but I have a 105-inch-long philodendron that I know is toxic to cats. How can I prevent my new cat from nibbling my philodendron?

Christopher responds: You are right that chewing philodendron leaves can make us cats sick.

This hardy plant with heart-shaped leaves contains insoluble calcium oxalate crystals, which are extremely irritating to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to intestines.

After ingesting the leaves, we cats drool profusely and show signs of abdominal pain. A cat that chews the plant and then rubs her mouth and eyes will exhibit eye pain, too.

Fortunately, the oxalate crystals don't dissolve, so they aren't absorbed into the bloodstream, where they could damage the kidneys and other organs.

To keep your new kitty away from the philodendron, set a motion-activated spray deterrent near the plant. Popular brands are ssscat, StayAway and Sunbeam Sensor Egg. When your kitty ventures near the philodendron, the aerosol cannister will hiss out compressed air and scare her away.

If your new cat does manage to chew a leaf, give her milk or yogurt, which will bind the calcium oxalate crystals and decrease pain. Another option is chicken broth or tuna water (not tuna oil) to flush the crystals from her mouth.

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Dear Daisy Dog: My 5-year-old black cocker spaniel, Kernoodle, already has a gray face. I adopted him from the shelter, so I don't know whether his parents or siblings also grayed early. What causes premature graying in dogs?

Daisy responds: My canine brother, a 7-year-old black standard poodle adopted at age 3, grayed early too. According to a recent study, his personality traits match those associated with early graying.

Researchers found that anxiety, fear and impulsive behavior are linked to premature muzzle graying in dogs.

They studied 400 dogs, ages 1 to 4, rating each dog's muzzle as free of gray hair, partially gray or fully gray. They also surveyed family members about their dogs' behavior traits.

The researchers found that dogs who grayed early were more likely to exhibit anxiety (e.g., whining or causing damage when left alone, or excessive hair loss when in a new place or at the veterinarian's office) or impulsivity (e.g., jumping on people, persistent barking or difficulty getting calm and focused). These behavior traits, along with fear of loud noises, unfamiliar animals and unfamiliar people, were significantly more evident in the youngsters with gray muzzles.

These findings suggest that dogs that have gray muzzles by the time they are 4 years old likely have anxiety, fear or impulsive behavior.

Researchers also found that the dog's size, age, gender, spay/neuter status and medical problems do not contribute to graying. The presence of other dogs or cats in the household also does not affect graying.

If you feel Kernoodle has anxiety, excessive fear or trouble with impulsive behavior, talk with his veterinarian or consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist to help him feel more comfortable.

Ask the Vet's Pets appears Friday in the print edition of the Reading Eagle. The animal authors of the column live with Lee Pickett, V.M.D., who practices companion animal medicine. Contact them at www.askthevetspets.com.