Dr. Louise MurrayAugust 3, 2007
Thank you to everyone who participated in last Friday’s moderated cat discussion. Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, offered practical answers on a variety of topics, including cats in heat, kitty paw infections and vet visits for feral friends.
My male kitty, just four years old, doesn't care to drink much waterthat is, unless it's out of my drinking glass! He's already had one urinary tract infection, and is on special food for cats inclined to urinary tract difficulties. Can you suggest a way to encourage a kitty to drink more water?
You are on the right track in being concerned about your kitty boy's hydration. Good job! Because cats evolved in the desert, they are sometimes not good about drinking enough water. They don't sense well when they are dehydrated. You are correct that more water will help prevent urinary tract problems. If your cat eats dry food, you could get more water in him by switching to moist food, which contains a lot more water. You can even mix extra water into canned food if he doesn't mind. If he likes drinking from your glass, you can offer him water in a non-breakable glass. Some cats drink more if you use one of the fountain-type water bowls that circulate the water to make it more tempting. Some cats also like to drink out of a slowly dripping faucet.
Coco is a seven-year-old Tortie Persian who likes to be pet while she eats. Sometimes she gets overexcited and eats too fast, causing her to vomit. How do I encourage her to slow down?
Eating too fast and then regurgitating is fairly common in cats. She needs to slow down! Sometimes it helps if you divide her meal into several small portionsfor example only giving her a quarter of her meal at a time and making her wait five minutes after finishing each portion before getting the next. It may also help to put an obstacle in her bowl that she has to eat around, such as a large ball or other object that she can move but has to work a bit to get to her food. Just make sure it is much too big for her to swallow!
I’d like advice on both of my catsone has FIV and the other has a behavior problem. Wild Thing is one year old and FIV-positive. He is basically a healthy, happy boy. I let him play with the others because I don’t have a place to isolate him and vets have told me the others will not get the virus unless he bites them (everyone is fixed). Do you have any advice on how to tell when he might be getting ill?
My other cat, Peanut, is a five-year-old Tortie. I hand-raised her since she was 10 days old. She had a sibling who died at three weeks. Peanut doesn’t like anyone but me and she picks fights on purpose. Her personality goes from lovey-dovey to hostile in a matter of seconds. I have tried meds, even with pill pockets, and she won’t take them. The vet says she is healthy otherwise. She does not exhibit this behavior at the vet so they never see it. Do you think it’s me? Her atmosphere? Or just the lack of mom-cat training? I did the best I could. Thanks for any help.
Let me answer your questions one kitty at a time. Regarding Wild Thing and his exposure to the other cats, just remember that even a play bite can cause another cat to be infected. Ideally, the FIV-positive boy would be kept separately or with another FIV-positive cat, but I know this is difficult and that you are doing the best you can in a tough situation. Of course, as I’m sure you know, he should never go outside. Regarding his health, one of the most common issues in FIV-positive cats is dental disease and gingivitis, so your vet will want to keep a close eye on his mouth. It's a good idea to have him checked every six months for oral disease, weight loss, or other issues that can develop in these kitties, and ideally he would have general blood work yearly to ensure that he is not developing anemia or other problems.
As for Peanut, it seems that lots of hand-raised kitties can be somewhat feisty; we do wonder if this stems from a lack of the discipline the mom cat would have dispensed. Tortoiseshells can be feisty too, so you have a quite a firecracker on your hands. Often these cats can become overstimulated by petting or other repetitive contact. It may be better to keep each other company in a low-key way, avoiding any contact that may be too stimulating to her, such as stroking. Often this type of cat does better just hanging out nearby and enjoying your presence without too much petting or play, which may set her off!
Thanks for your reply. I will watch Wild Thing for the things you mentioned. And I’ll take him to the vet next weekhe does seem a bit thin. As for Peanut, she loves when I cuddle her but like I said, she gets to a point where suddenly she gets mean. She loves to have her ears tuggedI mean really tugged. When I stop she looks at me and begs for more. She does not like to be touched below her neck though and will immediately bite if I accidentally touch her there. I wonder if she misses her little friend, Velvet Paws, who has been gone five years. Do you think she has any memory of that at all?
We don't know for sure how long they remember losing a friend, but she may miss having someone her age (and activity level!) to play with. Cats who overstimulate often ask to be pet (or have their ears tugged or whatever) and then bite the person they were just begging for attention! Don't be fooledjust because she asks for physical contact doesn't mean she won't get too stimulated ... low-key interaction will help keep her calm.
I would like to take my cat Zoey with me to visit my parents in Florida (on an airplane). My problem is that I know they require a health certificate before your cat can fly. I assume this certificate includes proof of rabies vaccination. I do not want to vaccinate my indoor-only kitty for rabies due to the danger of vaccination site sarcomas linked to rabies vaccines. My question is: Is there any way around the rabies vaccine requirement?
You are right that rabies vaccinations in cats have been associated with a tumor called fibrosarcoma. However, the veterinary profession has taken some new steps to help deal with this issue. A new type of vaccine has been developed that does not use the ingredients called "adjuvants" that are thought to be the cause of the tumors. According to studies, compared to the older vaccines with adjuvants, the new vaccine was shown to cause no more tissue reaction than a plain saline injection. You can ask your veterinarian about this new type of vaccine. Your other alternatives are to drive to Florida, or to leave your kitty home with a sitter (your cat would probably choose this option anyway!). Have a great trip!
I have two cats; one is seven years old and her daughter is five years. They both come into heat every other week. Why are they doing this? And can I help to stop it from being so frequent? They are part feral. Please help if you know. Thank you.
There is an easy solution to your problem: your cats need to be spayed! Spaying female cats prevents them from coming into heat (and all the subsequent yowling!), and also prevents them from getting a very dangerous infection in their uterus called "pyometra." Cats can get breast cancer just like people, and in cats it is almost always malignant and eventually fatal. Cats who are spayed before they go into heat have FAR less chances of developing breast cancer, so for future cats you will want to get them spayed before six months of age. Your veterinarian or local shelter can help you get your cats spayed right away. Good luck!
My cat is allergic to fleas. He has been tested at the vet for this. They tell me the only thing I can do for him is give him steroid shots. I can't afford that; what else can I do to help him? No flea treatments work and flea collars make it worse!
Allergies can be very frustrating! First of all, you need to be sure that there are absolutely no fleas on him or in his environment. Flea collars are not very effective; you will need to use some of the newer prescription products available at your vet's office. You will never solve this problem unless you get rid of all the fleas! Be very careful about repeated steroid shots as these can lead to diabetes in some kitties. It is better to solve the underlying problem. Sometimes other skin conditions can mimic flea allergies. For example, some cats have food allergies, ringworm or other skin conditions, and it is important to properly diagnose which condition your particular kitty has. If it is affordable for you, you may want to ask for a referral to a veterinary dermatologist. This would be a good investment because in the long run if you solve this problem it will save you money and heartache. There are programs such as Care Credit that can help you to pay your veterinary bills. Good luck with your itchy kitty!
I have two cats who are almost eight years old. They've both had a weight problem. For about a year I have been feeding them Purina One Weight Management and Hairball Formula. My male has lost weight and looks much healthier. My female doesn't seem to have lost any weight. I feed them each 3/4 cup of food a day. How can I help my female to lose weight without starving my male?
Lots of kitties develop weight problems, so you are not alone! Some kitties lose weight more easily if fed a canned low-carb/high-protein diet, since the carbohydrates in the dry food can really pack on the pounds. If you are feeding dry, you could ask your vet about switching to canned. There are prescription canned diets for weight loss in cats designed to work with the feline metabolism. Be sure your kitty is getting some exercise by having an active play session with her twice a day if possible, such as with a cat dancer or other fun toy. You may want to feed your cats separately twice a day, such as by locking one in the bedroom or bathroom. This way you can tailor their meals individually. Good luck, and remember that weight loss in cats must be slow and careful!
I have an 18-year-old male cat who has had diarrhea for years now. I have brought him to vets and everything they give me fails to work. So far I have tried I/D, W/D, rice in his food, Prednisolone and Flagyl (which works initially, then stops after a week or so). He has a hyperactive thyroid, which is controlled by Tapazole. My doctor suggested it might be irritable bowel or colitis, but nothing given for these ailments have worked. He also suggested a possible tumor in his intestines, but he cannot have surgery due to a heart murmur, and given his age I am not comfortable putting him under anesthesia. Do you have any further suggestions on what this could possibly be or what I can give him? I just want him to be comfortable ... thanks!
Chronic diarrhea in cats can be caused by parasites (I'm sure your cat has had a fecal exam and has been checked for giardia), dietary issues, inflammatory bowel disease (cats don't get "irritable bowel," which is a human syndrome), pancreatic enzyme deficiency and even intestinal cancer. Helpful tests may include:
- Testing his B vitamin levels and pancreatic enzyme levels (this blood test is called a TLI, cobalamin and folate, and the cat must be fasted for 12 hours prior to the test)
- An ultrasound examination of his intestines, performed by a veterinary radiologist or internist
- Endoscopy, which does involve light anesthesia but is not surgical.
You could discuss these with your vet. Sometimes we also try "hypoallergenic" prescription diets in case of food allergies. Good luck with your senior guy!
The pads on the feet of my eight-month-old kitten keep getting red and swollen, and they smell bad! Sometimes there is pus in the pads. He is an indoor cat and I have changed the litter to recycled newspapers. I treat his pads with warm water and peroxide and eventually they heal. But, the infections keep returning. Help! What can I do?
Your kitten's foot problem could be caused by a bacterial infection, a virus called "Calicivirus," some other types of infections or something he is contacting in the environment. You may want to call the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426-4435, or visit us online, to be sure that nothing you are using in the house, for example to clean with, could be causing the problem. You will also want to have your veterinarian do an examination to see if there’s an antibiotic that can be prescribed. If the problem persists, your veterinarian may want to refer you to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for a consultation. Sometimes more unusual conditions such as an overactive immune system can occur, and a dermatologist may choose to perform a biopsy or other diagnostics and treatment. I hope this helps and that his little feet feel better!
Thanks for the reply. I will check into all the great suggestions you gave me. It only seems to happen to one foot at a time. But it is an ongoing problem. He and his brother were feral rescues that I trapped, but I have had them since they were two months old and his brother doesn't have any problems. I think an animal dermatologist is a wonderful idea.
My cat has a URI that causes nasal congestion and discharge from the ear. She temporarily responds to allergy shots, but only for a month or two. When she was found as a kitten her ears were completely covered with earmites, which took ages to clear. She is now on Revolution to prevent them. We don't think it's a food allergy. My vet can offer no other suggestions or solutions aside from continued allergy shots. What possible causes and solutions might there be for these symptoms?
It is fairly common for cats to develop persistent nasal issues after suffering from a viral respiratory infection as a kitten. It is unusual that this would lead to discharge from the ear; I wonder if these are two separate issues. If the "allergy shots" are a steroid you will want to be very cautious about repeating this too many times, as steroid shots in kitties can lead to problems such as diabetes ... especially if the cat receives repeated injections. I can't give you specific advice, since every cat with nasal issues is a bit different. Some have a secondary bacterial infection and need intermittent courses of antibiotics; some benefit from inhaled steroids given through a mask, which have fewer systemic side effects and can decrease the nasal inflammation. Some cats can even suffer from a fungal infection in the nasal passages. If your veterinarian feels that your cat should be referred for a consultation as to more options, veterinary internal medicine specialists often deal with these types of cases and can often offer helpful advice. Good luck with your snuffly kitty!
I have a 10-year-old female Siamese cat who uses the litter box to eliminate feces but not urine. She would prefer to urinate on the floor in the bathroom or on the carpet, or do both outside. That has been going on since I got her in 1998 from a cat shelter. I have two other cats who use the litter box appropriately. She eats fine, plays with my older cat, and has never been sick. I've had to use Scraminal pet alarms to keep her away from certain places in my house. I use newspapers on the bathroom floor where the cat litter box is. I've tried not using them to get her to use the litter box for both eliminations. No luck. She is an anxious cat; she won't let me touch her. I can pick her up from her bed and hold her on my lap for a while, and then she jumps off. I don't know what happened to her before she got to the shelter. They said she was found wandering outside in the snow before being brought to the shelter. Any ideas on how I can get her to use the litter box for urinating and not my floors!
Wow, I know how frustrating this is! First you need to make sure there is not an underlying health problem. Your vet will want to take a urine sample for urinalysis and urine culture, and send her for an ultrasound of the bladder to make sure there is no stone. If there is no health problem, you can try different types of litter to see if there is one she prefers. Often, cats need to be re-trained by confining them in a small space, such as a dog crate, with the litter box for a period of time so they have no choice but to use the box. If you use covered boxes, try removing the covers, as some cats don't like them. If you have multiple cats, be sure that you have at least one litter box per cat. You also have to make sure that she cannot detect any odor of her urine outside the box from previous accidents. Carpets may have to be discarded, and there are products such as “Anti-Icky-Poo” to eliminate the odor. You may need the help of a veterinary behaviorist if these hints don’t do the trick ... good luck with her.
Hi, my cat Fuzzball loves to claw my furniture. He has already put a hole in the couch. I have bought him scratching posts, and I even went out and bought citrus to spray on furniture, but nothing is helping. My next step is to declaw him because he is an indoor cat. But I was wondering if there was another solution besides him losing his claws. I had him neutered … is he mad at me?
Your cat is not mad at youclawing is a totally normal behavior for cats! We don't enjoy when it is our furniture, but they are not being "bad"they are just taking good care of their claws and stretching their muscles. We like to avoid declawing if possible because it is a very painful procedure that can lead to chronic problems with the feet in some cats. Cats often love the rectangular cardboard scratchers that lie flat on the floor. They seem to really like the "double-wide" ones that have catnip in them, too, and they come with more catnip to scatter on them periodically. I like to use tape to stick it to the floor so the cat can really get a good scratch going without the cardboard moving around. There is a special double-sided sticky tape to put on the corners of your furniture to stop cats from scratchingthey have it at the big pet stores. Cats hate the sticky feeling and won't scratch. You can also use "Soft Paws" nail covers. These are little soft plastic covers that you glue on the cat's nails. Your vet can show you the first time. I did this for my cats and it worked great! You just have to be good about putting new ones on every six weeks or so. Hope this helps. Hang in there!
Hi, Dr. Murray, thank you for taking the time to answer questions today!! Mabel is our eight-year-old black DSH whom we adopted from our local humane society in 2002. She is approximately 15 lbs and is an indoor cat in good health. About a year ago, she was limping in her rear leg, had an X-ray done, and showed no breaks. The vet thought she may have a sprain. Sure enough, she started walking normally about a week later. But last week I noticed that when she stands on all fours, her front legs shake, not violently, but enough to see. When she is sitting, her front legs shake a bit as well. She seems fine in every other way, no changes in her weight, eating habits or personality. Can cats get arthritis? Is she too young for that? Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!
Hi, you sound like wonderful and very attentive cat parents. Her shaky legs could certainly be due to arthritis, but this type of symptom can also be due to other issues such as low blood sugar, abnormal electrolytes (such as potassium), or a neurological problem. Your veterinarian will probably want to run complete blood work, and if the blood work is normal, you may be referred to a board-certified veterinary neurologist for a consultation. Good luck with her!
We have indoor cats but also look after a neutered, almost totally feral cat named Mr. Homeless Tuxedo. He eats all his meals in our yard. We were even able to get him insured with the ASPCA insurance! Homeless is not young, maybe around 10 or so. He walks with a minor but constant limp in his right leg (shoulder, paw?). I have seen him hold up his paw when sitting, but he walks on it. His beautiful long-haired coat is matted and I am sure he has skin parasites. He has not seen a vet and I would love to get him a full check-up, a look at the limp issue and also at his skin and teeth, etc. How do vets care for ferals who are being looked after by humans? How can I get him to a vet for a return visit? Once I trap Homeless, I fear I will never be able to again, so I am waiting for him to get really sick before I do it. Am I right? Thanks!
It is wonderful that you are helping this feral kitty boy, he is lucky to have found you. I wouldn't wait to get him checked out, because the worse a health problem becomes, the less chance you will have of fixing it. The key is to plan ahead. Find a good veterinarian who is willing to work with feral cats. Discuss the issues and get an estimate of costs. Then set up a day to (hopefully) bring Homeless Tuxedo in. You will need a humane trap, also called “Havahart” traps. Most shelters can lend these. Once you trap him, you will bring him to the vet, who will examine him (likely with sedation), perform radiographs (X-rays) of the affected leg, and perform any other necessary procedures, such as clipping his coat, vaccinations, and any blood work you decide to perform. Try to discuss with the veterinarian beforehand how far you want to go, such as whether you want to perform blood tests, etc. Good luck, you are doing a wonderful thing!
Great help, thanks!! This is very helpful advice because I had heard from someone who cares for animals that once you trap him (we have a Tomahawk trap which has been excellent), you will never trap him again, so do it when he is really sick as it may be the only time to do it. I worry that if he has something else, much worse than what he is suffering from now, we will not be able to trap him and he will die in agony. He has been feeding at our steps for 2 years and I am dying to get him into the house, but we have six cats and a dominant, aggressive small dog here and fear that he would feel terribly upset even if he were in a safe, private room. He has been outside for at least seven years, that I know. We love him and he is somewhat people friendly but he hisses and swats at me before I set down his plate! We love him as our own and consider him to be our cat who must be cared for just as our indoor cats are. We will spend the money if need be. We are also caring for his sidekick, an older kitten who is outdoors, too.
Over the past six months I have had two strays who have come around a lot, but they are still shy and very uncomfortable around people. Both hate to be touched. How do you recommend I cut their nails? They are razor sharp. I have two carpeted scratching posts that they use; it helps, but their nails are still too long and sharp. My furniture and screens are really suffering. Any advice?
It is lovely that you are caring for these strays. Since these are outdoor strays, it is not advisable to cut their nails. They need them to defend themselves against dogs and other animals, and to climb trees if necessary. I do advise that you humanely trap them and have them spayed/neutered, and vaccinated for rabies. With this done, they will live longer, safer, healthier lives. If they are going to continue to live outdoors as strays, you may want to consider getting them “ear-tipped” at the same time so that no one in the future will re-trap them, and it will be visually clear that they have already been spayed/neutered. Thanks for helping these kitties.
I recently read of growing evidence that cinnamon can lower blood sugar because it appears to increase insulin sensitivity in humans. Is there any research being done in this area for diabetic cats? Is cinnamon generally safe for cats? Thank you.
Although I have heard about this topic, I don’t know of any real research in this area. “Glargine,” a new kind of insulin for people, is being used for diabetic cats with great success. If they receive this twice a day and eat a canned, high-protein diet such as kitten food, there is a good chance that the diabetes will resolve if it has not been going on for too long. The type of food that your cat eats is just as important as the insulin, and for diabetic cats, non-dry food, fed just before insulin administration twice a day, is clearly best. Please contact the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center to ask about any possible toxic effects of cinnamon. I would be very careful, as cats are extremely sensitive to many substances that are safe for humans.
My daughter saw our youngest cat, Agnes, who is a year old, actually spray a piece of furniture. Agnes is a female and is neutered. My daughter's positive this is what she witnessed (three times so far). Is this normal? What can be causing it? The litter box and the area around it are clean.
It is important to have Agnes checked for health problems that may be leading to this behavior. For example, bladder infections or stones in the bladder could cause her to spray urine. Your veterinarian will want to perform a urinalysis, a urine culture and an ultrasound exam of the bladder to check for stones. If this is all normal you may want to contact a veterinary behaviorist for advice! Some things that may help include: changing the type of litter you are using, taking the cover off your litter box, making sure to have at least one litter box per cat, and being sure to clean up any urine with an odor neutralizer such as “Anti-Icky-Poo.” Since you have more than one cat, this may be causing Agnes stress, and it is important that there are plenty of clean litter boxes and a private place for her to go. Good luck with Agnes!
I'm always a little worried in the summer about leaving my two cats (both short-haired) without the AC. How hot is too hot? At what point should I leave it on for them if I'm away at work? Thanks!
Since cats did evolve in the desert, it is felt that they can tolerate somewhat higher temperatures than people can, as long as they are not in the sun and have plenty of water. However, when it is really muggy, they do seem to become sluggish and uncomfortable. If it is affordable for you, they will be grateful if you use the air conditioner to keep the temperature in your home around 80 degrees while you are out. If you put on the AC, but set the temperature higher than you might if you were home, they will be quite happy. When the temperature goes above 90 degrees outside or in they don’t seem to like it any more than we do. Thanks for your concern about your kitties’ comfort. They are lucky cats to have such a good home.
I have a five-year-old Persian and he has very bad breath. His teeth are in very good shape so I am not sure what would be causing this. Any suggestions and comments would be greatly appreciated!
Bad breath can be caused by dental disease and gingivitis, diet and some health problems. For example, digestive problems and kidney problems can cause bad breath in kitties. I would recommend full blood work to check his organ function, and at the same time ask the vet to take a really close look at his teeth (sometimes there will be one bad tooth lurking in the back where it’s hard to see). Keep an eye on his weight, since Persians have a tendency toward intestinal issues. If he is losing weight this may be a sign of a problem. Good luck!
Hello! My cat, Ishtar, has a cute little potbelly but I’m concerned for her health. She is pretty much skinny everywhere else but her belly. I know that the way to test if an animal is obese is to feel for their spine and ribs. I did this, and I can feel hers a little too well, but she still has a tubby belly! Is this a type of worms? I keep her on wormer regularly (once a month) to keep them at bay. Is there a type of worms that cannot be treated by over-the-counter wormer? Thanks so much!
Samantha H. and Ishtar
What you are telling me about Ishtar has me a bit worried. I don’t know how old she is, but what you are describing sounds like a health problem. A potbelly on a kitten can indeed be a sign of worms, or even of very serious infections such as FIP virus. A potbelly on a thin, older cat can signal serious issues, including scarier things such as fluid in the belly or even tumors. Ishtar needs to see your veterinarian soon, and may also need to be referred to a veterinary internal medicine specialist for a consultation and ultrasound exam of her belly. An ultrasound is a great, non-invasive way to look inside a kitty’s belly and see what’s going on in there. I hope Ishtar does great. I can tell you love her very much.
My 13-year-old neutered male is an indoor cat. Several months ago, I noticed he tilted his head to the left. It seemed to happen overnight and has been this way since. His head and neck will move in all directions if I move it manually. The vet ruled out Feline Vestibular Syndrome. He seems to have no problem with seeing, hearing or balancing. I would appreciate any ideas as to what might be causing this. I assume since nothing else has changed, it is nothing to really worry about. Thank you.
A tilted head can be caused by an ear infection (which may not be visible since the infection may be in the middle ear), a growth in the ear, a problem with the balance system (vestibular system) or even a problem in the brain. A stroke can also cause this symptom, and your kitty should have his blood pressure checked. Many people do not realize that older cats can develop high blood pressure, which can cause strokes or blindness and is easily treatable. To know for certain, you can consult with a veterinary neurologist, who may recommend an MRI if it is affordable for you. In any case, be sure his blood pressure is checked. Sometimes we use antibiotics if there is indeed a middle ear infection. Your vet can advise you, and help you to find a neurologist in your area. Good luck with your kitty boy.
Our little kitty is one year old. When we rescued her she was cross-eyed. I would like to know how much this could bother her. She seems to see very well; is this something we should get corrected? She is the runt of the litter and very small. I don't know if putting her through surgery is worth the risk if she seems to see well. Thank you.
Some cats are indeed cross-eyed, particularly Siamese cats and Siamese mixes. Most of the time this doesn’t seem to bother the cats, but without seeing her it is hard to give you good advice, since I am not sure how severe her problem is. Ask your vet if her eyes are similar to what is seen in Siamese cats, and if the problem needs to be addressed. My guess is that she will be just fine!