Ask the Cat Doc: Tail Chasing, Runny Eyes, FelV/FIV Positive Cat, and More


Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit their website.

How to support the health of an FeLV/FIV positive cat

We recently adopted a cat who tested positive for FIV and feline leukemia. He is 3 1/2 years old and according to recent labs and his vet, he is in good health. Please advise what type of food is best for his condition: grain free, wet, a mix of wet and dry? Is there a brand that you recommend? Any other recommendations to support his health would be appreciated, as well. (Diane)

Hi Diane,

Congratulations on your new bundle of joy. I am sure he is going to bring a lot of love into your home. Have you pursued further testing to make sure he is, in fact, positive for both FeLV and FIV? If not, you may want to consider doing so.

In answer to your question, I am a fan of rotating foods and never stick with just one brand or flavor. Wet food is better for your baby and if he will accept raw, that is a great option I recommend. In order to support his health, keeping him both mentally and physically stimulated with an enriched environment will not only make him happy but healthy too.

Pay close attention to his normal habits so that you are alerted the minute there is a change. It is important to seek medical care early with immunocompromised patients, and you have every right to be a nervous Nelly if you think he is becoming ill. As a veterinarian, I am always pro-active when treating cats that have FeLV or FIV and tend to treat them a little more aggressively than I would other patients who have good immune systems.

Thank you for adopting him and giving him a great home. He is a very lucky kitty to have you.

Cat aggressively chases his tail

My cat has begun to chase his tail, but really aggressively. In fact he has made it bleed on a couple of occasions. I am unable to stop this. Any clues? (Elaine Hughes)

Hi Elaine,

It sounds like your kitty needs to be seen by a veterinarian. It could be as simple as fleas, or it could be a more complicated neurological problem. A good physical exam is the first place to start, along with a complete medical and behavioral history. Your veterinarian will likely need some bloodwork and possibly x-rays to help narrow down a diagnosis. If it becomes more complicated than that, you may be referred to a neurologist. Rest assured, help is available and both you and your cat will feel much better once you have some answers and solutions. Good luck and please let me know the outcome.

Cat has developed dry skin this winter

My cat has developed dry skin this winter. It is the first time in the six years that I have had her. What do you recommend as the best treatment? (Terry)

Hi Terry,

Dry skin in the wintertime can certainly be a nuisance. To begin with, I would recommend your cat be seen by a veterinarian to make sure that there is not an underlying medical issue. There are many conditions that contribute to dry skin and you want to make sure that a medical problem is not being overlooked before looking for other solutions.

By any chance is your cat overweight? Often, obesity prevents cats from grooming properly and many cannot reach certain areas of their bodies adequately. Weight loss would help solve that problem. Is your cat on a dry food only diet? Lack of moisture or a low quality diet will also affect the health of a cat’s fur. Giving your kitty a diet rich in fatty acids will help keep the fur silkier. If the air in your home is too dry, a humidifier may work well for that situation. Unfortunately, without knowing the true cause of your cat’s dry skin I can only offer you these simple solutions. I hope they were of some help to you.

Cat with runny eye

My cat is a full grown cat and his left eye is very watery and looks like he is crying a lot, but his right eye looks just fine. What should I do? (Tara Shigihara)

Hi Tara,

The medical term for a runny eye is epiphora, and it is not always an easy condition to resolve. There are two main reasons for excessive tearing and fortunately, most don’t cause serious problems other than being a nuisance for the cat and a concern for their owners. However, if epiphora is accompanied by squinting or pawing of the eye, or if the excessive tearing should occur suddenly, this could be an obvious sign of eye pain, and veterinary attention should be sought at once. Of course, any accompanying loss of vision is also an emergency.

One cause of epiphora is irritation to the eye. The body’s response to irritation is to produce more tears to flush irritants away and help lubricate the eye. Viral conjunctivitis (probably the most common reason for excessive tearing in cats), glaucoma (painful increase in eye pressure in the eye), reactions to eye medications, or more commonly, eyelash or eyelid abnormalities can all be underlying causes that result in excessive tearing. In addition, allergy, irritating dust or smog in the air, trauma, or infection can also cause a cat to have runny eyes.

The second reason for epiphora relates to improper drainage. Conditions like blocked tear ducts, conformational abnormalities, or eyelids that are rolled inward can all cause problems that result in excessive tears. Fortunately, many of these can be treated medically or surgically if necessary and are not as common in cats as they are in dogs.

It would be helpful to have a veterinarian give your kitty a clean bill of health before considering your cat’s runny eye to be a benign problem. While most are, I know you would want to make sure there is nothing more serious to worry about.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment!

14 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Tail Chasing, Runny Eyes, FelV/FIV Positive Cat, and More

  1. Gail Waller
    March 13, 2018 at 10:01 am (5 days ago)


  2. Arlinda Dungan
    March 12, 2018 at 9:13 pm (6 days ago)

    I have a 18 week British Shorthair kitten. What are your thoughts on gluten free food like Wellness Core kitten food.

  3. Barb
    March 12, 2018 at 4:18 pm (6 days ago)

    Thank you for the information. Our cat is FIV positive also. We feed her both wet and dry food; the dry food the brand the our vet recommends. There are just a couple of brands of wet food that she’ll eat, because, you know, she’s a cat. But we do rotate both brand and variety (beef, chicken, fish, seafood, etc.).

  4. Anna
    March 12, 2018 at 12:00 pm (6 days ago)

    I’d love for Dr. Bahr to elaborate about rotating foods in your cat’s diet. How often should we change foods/brands – monthly, quarterly? I also have a struggle getting my cats to eat any canned food other than Fancy Feast. They grew up eating it (before they came to me) and strongly resist my attempts to switch them to something of better quality. If I offer them something else they just ignore it and eat only their dry food, so I tell myself that eating any wet food is better than no wet at all, but I’m wondering if that’s really okay. Thanks so much for such a great source of information!

    • Marge
      March 12, 2018 at 11:37 pm (5 days ago)

      Anna – check our, run by Dr. Pierson. There is a lot of information on her page, but focus on the food to address your question. The one thing she stresses above all else is MOISTURE! The more the better. The “better” quality foods may not be the right texture, smell or feel for your kitties. Dr. Pierson, at one point in her discussion, says she would rather see you feed your cat(s) ANY canned food, even the store brands, rather than dry food. Of course you want to ensure they are grain free (check for other garbage like veggies – many add these and might not be avoidable.)
      My point is rather than trying to switch them to the “better” foods first, try other less expensive foods – experiment with texture and flavors to see what they prefer (of course my guys will eat something new and gobble it up, yummy yummy, but when offered it again turn their noses up to it! I would not buy in quantity until they are consistent.)

      Perhaps they will never transition off the Fancy Feast, but better cans of that than the dry food…

  5. Kathleen
    March 12, 2018 at 10:43 am (6 days ago)

    I have a question for Dr. Bahr: My 2 year old kitty recently had diarrhea; it may have been from my mistakenly purchasing the wrong food. Since a check with the vet and a round of antibiotics, she has had a little bit of blood next to her stool every time she poops. Moreover, she refuses to use the litter box when she goes #2 (she does pee inside the box thank goodness). She used to poop on the couch next to where I usually sit or on the kitchen table (YUCK!!); now, she simply goes next to one of the littler boxes. I took her back to the vet for another check and he said nothing is wrong. I also got some Feliway plug ins. But this isn’t normal. Any ideas?

  6. Suzan
    March 12, 2018 at 10:12 am (6 days ago)

    We went to our local shelter to purchase our 5 yr gray tabby. He seems to be afraid of hands, he won’t take his favourite treats from the palm of my hand. He will jump if you reach for his head, my feeling is that someone hit him in the head often. We love him dearly as he is a sweetheart and loves to sit by me.

  7. Claudette
    March 12, 2018 at 9:08 am (6 days ago)

    I’m in a situation with my cats where I live in a basement apartment with no windows. It’s been 2 years with 1 more to go. I’m very sad and worried about them. I play bird videos and even bought a SAD light. We went from tons of windows and sun and wildlife to nothing. Can you help? Thank you.

  8. Maria Carolina Gavioli
    March 12, 2018 at 6:21 am (6 days ago)

    Two years ago we adopted a kitten blind and positive for Felv. As we have 4 other cats, all negative, we all vaccinated with the V5 before her arrival. Everyone is living very well and healthy.
    Here in Brazil some veterinarians advise to give our kitten Felv + a medicine called INTERFERON, but because she is blind I think taking the medicine every day leaves her very stressed.
    Do you advise to keep this medicine? Is there something natural?
    Thank you!

    • Marge
      March 12, 2018 at 11:21 pm (5 days ago)


      Back before there was a vaccine, I lost three cats over the course of a year to Felv (there was no treatment offered back then either.) Each had very different symptoms.

      Wikipedia indicates that there is something approved here in the US (I won’t post the whole thing here, just look up Felv and select the Wikipedia page), but they do mention Interferon:
      “Interferon-ω (omega) is sold in Europe at least under the name Virbagen Omega and manufactured by Virbac. When used in treatment of cats infected with FeLV in non-terminal clinical stages (over the age of 9 weeks) there have been substantial improvements in mortality rates; in non-anemic cats, mortality rate of 50% was reduced by approximately 20% following treatment.”

      It sounds promising, at least in comparison to what I was offered (nothing.) I recall Interferon as one of the initial treatments for HIV. Similar to Felv, the immune system is compromised and this medication did and I believe still does help.

      Given that you still have this baby two years later, I am impressed! It does say cats do react differently to the virus, indicating some can “fight it off”. Another lookup yielded:
      “15 to 25% of adult positive cats will continue to test positive, yet never exhibit signs or symptoms of the disease and can live a normal feline lifespan; 10 to 15+ years.”

      One option is to have kitty tested again. I do not know much about the tests used now, but from additional reading on this it sounds like some cats really can fight this off! Please read:

      I would request retests at some point, just to see where kitty is. I certainly would also try to continue with the medication, especially because you have cats who are/were not Felv+. Perhaps rather than a pill, could they compound it into a transdermal or at least a more palatable liquid form? It would be more money, but perhaps might be less stressful for kitty? I have not met a cat yet who enjoys having ANYTHING shoved down their throats! Liquid can be a little stressful too, so if it is possible to do transdermal (more like a gel-paste that you would rub into the ear – we did this with hyperthyroid medication, I just do not know if it can be made into this form.)

  9. Marge
    March 12, 2018 at 4:04 am (6 days ago)

    Cat with runny eye:

    Something not touched on in the response is feline herpes. Most cats do get over this (some are never exposed or have the vaccination that may help prevent it), but sometimes there are residual aftereffects. I adopted one cat at 4yo who tends to have runny eyes, but mostly when stressed (post-adoption and the vet office!) Most of the time it is there, but not especially noticeable. It is, like other conditions mentioned, not a real medical issue, but maybe a bit of a nuisance for kitty (doesn’t really impact this kitty) and concern for uninformed care-giver.

    Recommend checking with a vet for ANY concerns, just to rule out very serious conditions (one who got herpes from her had serious conjunctivitus which needed treatment, the others had the usual URI signs, but got over it just fine.)

    Just another thought about a possible cause.

  10. Judy Lust
    March 12, 2018 at 1:48 am (6 days ago)

    I adopted brother and sister cats about 8 years ago. The male is sweet and friendly. The female likes me, but I can’t pick her up. She likes to be petted. She loves my nearly 15 yo Siamese female cat who grooms her, but it is getting on her nerves. The younger one will not leave her alone and throws herself on my Siamese who has arthritis. I can push her away with difficulty, but back she comes. She also will hiss and fight with her brother for a favored spot. He gives in and she always wins. What can I do with her?

    • Marge
      March 12, 2018 at 10:48 pm (6 days ago)

      Judy – taking a note from what I have had to learn with dementia patients (mom), can you distract her when she is bothering your older cat or getting into a hissy fit with her brother? It would be behavior modification, but it is a gentle way to try to accomplish it. Obviously we cannot be there 24/7 to do this intervention, but perhaps if you can do this often enough, and maybe reward with a treat or something, she will learn to stop (it has taken me over a year to “retrain” one cat to use the litter box, not the floor!) Can you also set up a place for the Siamese, kind of a “safe zone” that she can rest away from the others?

      I can relate to the “pestering” and the spats – my current oldest was a kitten when she joined us and we had a 5yo as well. Of course kitten wants to play all the time, older cat not so much. At one year, we tried bringing in kittens for her to have pals and playtime, but meanwhile she bonded too well to me and HATES cats… :-/ (Shhh, I don’t think she knows she is a cat…)

      There is another female here who got into serious fights with little PB (both adopted as kittens, each with a sibling.) These were not hissy spats, but REAL fights. I had to separate them as there was no way to fix that. One (not PB) now picks on a sweet boy, and their respective sisters do not get along either, so I now have THREE cat zones! It keeps the peace, mostly!


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