Ask the Cat Doc: Dealing With Mats, Nutritional Yeast, Should Cats Eat Grass, and More

Ask-the-Cat-Doc-with-Dr.-Lynn-Bahr

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.

Dealing with matted fur

I have a 7 or 8 yr old neutered male cat w/ very long fur which gets matted easily. He, also, does not enjoy grooming, and lets us know that through various blood-letting ceremonies (not his blood.) Is there something I could give him that would make him a bit sleepy so I could clean him up w/o using so many bandages? – Patricia Hoover

Hi Patricia, I am so sorry your kitty does not like being groomed and concerned that he draws blood when you try to help him out. He is exhibiting signs of fear, anxiety, pain or distress. While lashing out is his way of protecting himself it could result in great harm to you. Please be careful.

Is your cat in pain? I often look at where a cat is matted to see if I can diagnose an area of pain. I also look at the overall appearance of the fur and both tell me a lot about the cat’s well being. Believe it or not, cats that mat often, or have unhealthy fur, or don’t groom regularly, generally have underlying medical issues as the root cause. Cats with arthritic changes fail to groom properly because of the pain involved in reaching certain areas. Alleviating their pain is an easy way to help the situation. Obesity is another problem that causes some cats to develop mats because that too, makes it difficult for them to groom hard to reach places on their bodies. A slow weight loss program is the most effective way to fix that problem. Cats with dental issues may groom less frequently and develop mats more quickly so I would recommend you have a veterinarian check out your kitty’s mouth to make sure this is not his problem.

Because mats themselves are painful when adhered tightly to the skin, having the right tools will help you successfully groom your guy without causing him added stress or pain. Mat breakers are wonderful for small mats, but you will need clippers for larger ones. Are you brushing him daily or does he resist that too? Petting him often will help you identify the mats when they are tiny and can be removed without much effort. Keeping him on a good diet will also help keep his fur sleek and easier to manage. Reinforcing good behavior with high value treats will help you turn the experience into something more enjoyable. Take it slow, and stop before pushing your cat anywhere near the edge. Fear, anxiety and stress only worsens when repeatedly triggered, so don’t allow that to happen anymore.

If possible, I would recommend a mobile feline groomer that will come to your home to professionally comb him out. If your kitty is matting simply because he has long hair, you may want to consider having him shaved several times a year. If indicated, your veterinarian should be able to prescribe something to take the edge off things before the groomer arrives. There are several effective anti-anxiety medications that can be given safely at home without causing sedation and I would also include something for pain to go along with it. Eliminating the fear, anxiety and stress of being groomed is the most important thing you can do moving forward. Consulting with a feline behaviorist to learn ways in which you can start positive training for nail trims and brushing will ultimately allow you to keep your baby groomed without any help at all.

Good luck!

Can I give my cats nutritional yeast every day?

Hello, I’ve been feeding my cats Nutritional Yeast as a way to entice finicky eaters (1/8-1/4tsp sprinkled on top), twice a day; I know the benefits but I’m wondering if it’s okay to continue this everyday, forever, and if there are any downsides or long term problems. – Mindy

Hi Mindy, what a great question. Unfortunately, I don’t have a concrete answer for you. While a lot is known about nutrition, we still have more questions than answers on the subject. There is no doubt what we eat affects our health and well being. But, even in human medicine there is little agreement on much else.

Nutritional yeast has many benefits and I think it is wonderful that you are offering it to your cats. Ingrid King wrote about how it is the secret weapon to get finicky cats to eat. However, not all nutritional yeast products are created equally, and who you purchase yours from matters a lot. It should be high quality yeast that is GMO free and processed safely. A poor quality product can certainly create problems for your kitties, more so, if consumed every day. Given that nutritional yeast is rich in phosphorus, I would be slightly cautious in over doing a good thing, especially if you are also feeding a food with high levels of phosphorus along with it.

In general, I don’t believe anything other than water should be consumed on a daily basis. Variety is the spice of life and the philosophy I follow when it comes to nutrition. So I would not feed anything, even healthy nutritional yeast, to my cats every day. But, that wouldn’t stop me from offering it to them regularly, especially, if you are seeing beneficial results from it. Thank you so much for writing in with this great question. I appreciate hearing from great owners like you.

A note from Ingrid: while I agree with Dr. Bahr that the quality of the nutritional yeast matters, I don’t agree with her caution about the phosphorus content. While phosphorus levels are a concern for cats in renal failure, the typical dose of 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon would only add about 14 mg of Phosphorus, according to homeopathic feline veterinarian Andrea Tasi of Just Cats Naturally. For perspective, for a cat in renal failure, the recommendation is to restrict phosphorus content in food to 0.7-1.26 grams per 1,000 kcal.

What is a safe stick?

Hi Dr. Bahr, What is a “safe stick”? Thank you. – Gina

Safe sticks are ones that a cat can chew on which will not break off or splinter in their mouth. Many cats like to gnaw on the acrylic wand that some toys are attached to. Others may enjoy chewing on a plastic straw. I have even known cats that like to munch on the piece/arm of eyeglasses that goes behind the ears. Every cat is different but many like to chew on hard objects that would resemble bones of prey they would eat in the wild.

Cat loves plastic

Hi again, Dr. Bahr: It’s Ami’s mom — you know, the plastic bag junkie. I’m sorry that I didn’t provide you with enough info before. Ami will be five at the end of August. He eats, plays and sleeps normally but when he sees/smells plastic, he starts munching. Like I told you in my previous message, we are very careful about not leaving any around so this happens very rarely, thank goodness. Thank you so much for answering our question about this perplexing problem. I have read that cats like the petroleum in the plastic which, I know, can’t be a good thing. Is that true? – Sharon

Hi Sharon, you raise some great questions. There is something about plastic that attracts a lot of cats but I do not know the true reason behind it. It is either the texture or the taste. I have not heard about the petroleum in plastic attracting cats, but I certainly agree with you and don’t think it is a good thing. That is why I like to find other more suitable objects to allow cats the opportunity to chew on since it seems to be something very instinctual for them. I hope you are able to figure out some safe options for Ami. Have you tried offering him a plastic or paper straw instead? I love grass for cats so definitely give that a try too. Good luck!

Should cats eat grass?

The problem with giving cats access to grass though is that in my experience it guarantees they will either vomit or drag poop out of the litter box because the blades of grass don’t get fully digested. Am I wrong about this? – Amanda

Hi Amanda, my experience is a little different than yours. I find more commonly cats who eat grass regularly don’t tend to be the ones who vomit frequently. It is a normal part of their diet that they enjoy and tolerate well. However, kitties that rarely get a chance to eat greens often indulge when given the opportunity, and, like kids eating too much candy, get tummy aches and vomit. You are right that grass is known to be a stomach irritant and can cause GI upset, but there are many varieties available, and some may be harder to process than others. I wonder if the type of grass a cat eats makes a difference on how well they digest it and whether or not it will make them vomit. Wheat grass is tasty, but alone can be harsh, and some cats don’t tolerate it well. I prefer to grow a blend of rye, wheat, oat, and barley for my clowder, and they not only love it, but eat it frequently without any problem. I also offer them catnip, spider plants, lemongrass, and weeds from the yard and they devour it all. If you are looking to offer your cat grass to eat, I recommend starting out slowly with just a few bites at a time. Only offer safe, fresh greens and see which ones your cat prefers that doesn’t cause her to vomit. Then incorporate it more frequently.

Getting cat to the vet is a traumatic experience

I have a male kitty who was born the first week of September 2005…therefore he’s 12 going on 13. To me this is not an old kitty; however, he has scoliosis (my diagnosis) and an out-of-alignment back left leg. Otherwise he seems quite healthy. About 2 months ago he started hissing at me an my husband. At first it was as we were petting him. We surmised that it could be that we were in some way hurting him; however, it happened when we’d just pet the top of his head, too, which was truly a no possible pain zone. As time went on, sometimes he’s just his when we walked in the room and certainly when we’re telling him he must do something he’s really not in favor of doing…Like coming in the house from the porch, where he loves to be all summer. He doesn’t leave the porch (we have chairs and a table during the summer months), nor do we allow him to stay out when we leave the house and after dark…There are other animals around our house and we’d never know if one would come around who particular loves the taste of kitty! At any rate, we are concerned that we are not getting some tpe of message. Going i a car is a horrendous traumatic experience, so going to the vet is a last resort. – Ena Stanley

Hi Ena, you are right to be concerned about the change in your kitty’s behavior and he is definitely trying to tell you something. However, figuring that out is not easy when you don’t speak fluent cat. By your brief description of the behavior I cannot tell if his problem is medical or emotional. It is important to rule out a medical issue first and he does need to be seen by a veterinarian. Is there a mobile veterinarian who will come to your home? If there are none in your area and you need to take your kitty to the clinic, there are several ways to help make that situation less traumatic for him. Enlist your veterinarian’s help by scheduling the appointment during the quietest time possible, ask to be put in the exam room immediately, and see if they will prescribe some anti-anxiety medications for you to give beforehand. Look for a cat friendly veterinarian who understands the special needs of fearful cats. There are many resources on getting your cat used to the carrier, riding in the car, and finding veterinarians who will handle your cat with low stress techniques. Here are a few:

Reduce Stress for Your Cat Before and During the Veterinary Visit

Less is More When it Comes to Handling Cats at the Veterinary Clinic

Fear-Free Veterinary Visits for Your Cat

Once he is given a clean bill of health, you can start to look for clues that would be causing him emotional distress. Perhaps there is a new neighborhood cat hanging around and making life miserable for your boy. Did something traumatic happen (it could be as simple as a loud noise) to make your kitty feel more anxious at home now? Is he hissing because he feels vulnerable, threatened or scared? These are some questions you might want to look into when trying to figure out why the sudden change in behavior. A feline specific behaviorist can help you to investigate and remedy the problem easier. I wish I were more help to you but without all of the information necessary I can only offer these general suggestions. Let me know what you figure out.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it next month!

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12 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Dealing With Mats, Nutritional Yeast, Should Cats Eat Grass, and More

  1. Bonnie Carlston
    September 23, 2018 at 5:48 pm (3 months ago)

    Hi. My cats have itchy ears and get yeast infections. I cut out carbs and I’m going to be making their food (vet approved recipe) soon. Can you recommend anything besides ear drops for them? They really hate them. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Janine
    September 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm (3 months ago)

    I have a new kitten, Lulu, with a potty issue that I have never encountered before. When she is peeing, she slowly raises her rear as she goes and often pees on the side of the box. Is there any way to train her not to do this as when she grows bigger, she will be overshooting the litterbox and spraying the wall. I have three cats and the all share the litterboxes, so a covered box is out of the question as my other two cats are older and don’t do well with changes. Lulu uses both boxes too. Thank you for any advice you can give me.

    Reply
  3. Alice
    August 14, 2018 at 2:45 pm (4 months ago)

    Dr. Bahr, I have an 11-year-old tuxie female that I just adopted 2 years ago from a local shelter. Earlier this year I had blood work and ultrasound done on her because she had started displaying hiding behavior. The local vet who seems quite competent said she was in kidney failure. Her BUN level was 30 and her Creatinine was 1.9, which are still within normal limits according to the blood work copy I received. Is she actually experiencing kidney “failure” or is she simply in the early stages of kidney disease? And what kind of diet do you recommend for her? I’ve gone online to research it, but it seems no one agrees with how to help a kitty suffering from kidney disease. Also, the vet said her ultrasound showed a “snow globe” effect in her bladder. He said he didn’t know just what that meant, if anything. It’s really frustrating, especially since she’s such a sweet and cuddly little kitty!

    Reply
    • Cheri Collins
      August 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm (4 months ago)

      There’s a website (it’s also in a book) called “Tanya’s” which you will find helpful. Helen (author) has collected a great deal of information about cats with CKD (chronic kidney disease), also called “failure” but it can progress very slowly. With the help of this site (there’s a support group, too) I was able to stabilize two cats with CKD and neither got sick with kidney failure and neither died of it.

      Reply
  4. silvia shanahan
    August 9, 2018 at 4:12 pm (4 months ago)

    I have two 10-year old orange tigers who are outdoor cats. About 7 years ago I started giving them nutritional yeast flakes ….I dust it on their food each meal, and since then they have no more fleas or ticks, and they hang out in the woods. And they coats are healthy and smell goodl.
    They will even lick the bowl clean of the stuff…..A good brand is Bragg….you can get it at your grocery store I
    (in the seasoning aisle) or in a health food store

    Reply
  5. Kari Deutschman
    August 7, 2018 at 8:14 am (4 months ago)

    My cat had been chewy hair off her tummy for years. Tried unsuccessfully to find cause. Thinking if it is food allergies, what food ingredients would you recommend and/or avoid??

    Reply
  6. Linda Pacheco
    August 7, 2018 at 2:42 am (4 months ago)

    Her eye has a red circle around it

    Reply
  7. Renee Gagnon
    August 6, 2018 at 6:56 pm (4 months ago)

    Hello Dr. Bahr, I have a 3-1/2-year-old Maine Coon mix who has a serious congenital heart defect (a “dual chambered” right ventricle). He has had a couple of echocardiograms and the cardiologist says to just “treat him like a normal cat.” He gets short of breath at times and I can see that he is frequently hypoxic – his tongue is more blue than pink most of the time. His shortness of breath (panting with his mouth open) resolves after a few minutes of rest. My question is that he seems to be frequently uncomfortable, and he hisses at the other cats a lot – sometimes hissing just as he’s walking through a room. I suspect he gets headaches or something else related to his low oxygen levels. This seems to be worsening (at least, the hissing is more frequent than it used to be). He doesn’t actually dislike the other cats and often plays with them. He used to be so laid back! Do you have any advice for how to get him more oxygen? I’ve looked into renting an O2 tank but I don’t know how I’d administer it. My vet (she’s a cat vet) does not have any ideas for how to help him with this. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.

    Reply
  8. Pat Hendrickson
    August 6, 2018 at 11:34 am (4 months ago)

    My spouse and I have a sweet female tiger kitten, and our son, who lives 2 hours away, has a male part-Siamese kitten who is a real “bully boy.” Both are about the same age, 4 months or so. When we visit, with Lucy, the 2 kittens romp like toddlers and they obviously love being together. Simon, has already scratched both of her eyes as he loves putting Lucy in a headlock and leaping on her. Simon’s vet does not want to neuter him until he is at least 6 months old, but I fear Lucy will be “in tatters” by then. (She was already spayed when we rescued her.). I know they are playing and really like each other but it is scary to watch. Would it be detrimental to Simon’s health to neuter him now? Or would that even help his aggression? Lucy is not an unwilling participant in the play, but she is not as strong and muscular as he is and unless she can run away, she is usually pinned under his biting mouth and flailing paws. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • Cheri Collins
      August 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm (4 months ago)

      Of course you can neuter him now — he could have been neutered long ago. All the vets here are neutering earlier, rather than later. As soon as the kitten reaches the appropriate weight, he can be neutered. (Young animals heal more quickly. The older we get, the more slowly we heal.) That said, getting him neutered may not change his behavior. My little female plays outdoors with a neighbor’s male neutered cat and they’re obviously best friends. He gets too rough sometimes, she ‘yells’ at him and runs away, but then a few minutes later she’s stalking him.

      Reply
  9. Deborah starks
    August 6, 2018 at 8:46 am (4 months ago)

    I ADOPTED a kitten n she is now at 8 wks old. She has little fleas n she is an inside kitty but the boy cats must have brought them in from outside n the dog too. She too little for a collar or flea stuff, I think. Is Dawn dish detergent that has the duck on it-blue bottle safe to use on kitten for a bath?

    Reply
  10. Mario Arbore
    August 6, 2018 at 7:09 am (4 months ago)

    Such great questions and great answers! I can relate to almost all of these issues with my three cats, and these tips are very helpful. Thanks, Dr. Bahr!

    Reply

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