Ask the Cat Doc: Urine Marking, Cardiomyopathy, Chirping Noise, and More

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

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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 Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Cat pees over the side of the box

My 7 yr od spayed female Maine Coon mix rescue cat has developed an odd behavior for some time while voiding. She always goes in the box but when facing a certain direction she often (not always) raises her back end mid-stream and ends up voiding on the floor. My vet said she doesn’t know what could be causing it. I have a 4 yr old neutured male too, and there have been no changes to speak of in a long while. She is healthy. Do you have any ideas what could be causing her odd behavior? – Kathleen May

Hi Kathleen, I am so glad to hear that your Maine Coon mix is a healthy girl and that you discussed this issue with your veterinarian first. If her urinalysis was normal, and the likelihood of suffering from cystitis has been ruled out, another medical issue I would consider is the whether or not arthritis is an issue that would cause her to adjust her position while urinating.

However, it sounds more likely to me that she is exhibiting the normal behavior of urine marking. Cats communicate with each other in many ways like scratching, bunting, and urinating. There is a lot of information they garner from from the smell and position of urine and your girl might just be talking to you and the other members of her household. In order to better deal with the urine landing outside of the box I have some suggestions for you. Make sure the litterbox she is using is big enough to accommodate her appropriately, that it is placed in a quiet location, is always kept clean, and that there is more than one litterbox for her to choose from. There are some options for high sided, large boxes, that you can either purchase or fashion yourself from plastic bins.

As long as arthritis is not the issue, we are happy to hear that your girl is otherwise normal and healthy. You may simply need a different style litterbox to help remedy the current situation.

Itchy cat

Hello! I have a rescue cat who is about 6 (no one is exactly sure) who at one point was someone’s pet. Her person died, the family cleared out the house but left pets behind to fend for themselves. Dory, my cat, survived on her own until a kind neighbor called the rescue organization that saved her. She was bloody in the field behind the house. Her face and back of neck raw open wounds. They think a flea collar bridled in her mouth and caused a burn reaction on her pretty face. She now has what I joke are “joker lines” at the sides of her mouth that caused permanent scars up to the apples of her cheeks. The back of her neck has a spot where fur no longer grows but it’s healed and is now healthy skin. I’ve had her for a couple years now; she’s happy and seems healthy overall. We’ve had laser treatment on the skin where the hot spots are, we’ve done steroids, we’ve narrowed food down to cool protein foods feeding only dehydrated food with no byproducts or allergens. She’s had skin biopsy done and everything comes back with no issues to note. The issue is she still scratches, and often. We keep a cone on her most of the time to save her little face. She is inside only, an only cat.

I’m at a loss. I’d like to not pump her full of Prozac or other drugs but fear it’s the only option to stop the phantom pains she seems to feel. Any further suggestion is helpful. – Mandy

Hi Mandy, bless you for giving Dory a loving home. She is a lucky cat. It appears that she has been thoroughly worked up for her issue of scratching but that an answer for the root cause has not been found. How unfortunate for both you and her.

Without the benefit of actually examining her firsthand, it is difficult for me to adequately guide you in this situation. However, going off your description, some of my thoughts involve the possibility of pain from scar tissue similar to what you mentioned about phantom pain. It is well documented in human medicine that scar tissue can cause excruciating and debilitating pain. With this in mind, I would be more apt to prescribe medications specifically for pain, as opposed to medications that alter behavior. I would recommend you seek a pain specialist who will know the best treatment options available for addressing this type of discomfort in your sweet girl. I hope you are able to find the right practitioner who will offer you a treatment plan aimed at alleviating the discomfort of her scar tissue without trying to change her personality. Best of luck to you.

Feeding a feral cat

Dr. Bahr I am feeding a feral cat every morning with 9 lives pate Ocean Whitefish and Bar S Bologna with Chicken and Pork will it hurt her she eats 2-3 slices a day. Thank You – John Wissinger

Hi John, I am so grateful to you for making sure your feral cat is fed every day. I typically recommend feeding a variety of flavors and brands and rotating foods regularly. Your girl is luckier than most by having the benefit of a meal certain every day and what you are doing to make sure she does not go hungry is wonderful. As long as the bologna is not the only nutrition she is receiving, I wouldn’t suggest you change your routine. She is used to it and as long as she appears to be healthy and thriving, I would continue with your regular practice. Has she been spayed? If not, I would encourage you to pursue getting that done asap. That way you won’t have the problem of having to feed more mouths than hers and she will live a longer life.

Chirping noise while purring

Hello Dr. Bahr! We got a new kitty a month ago, she’s a 4 month old british shorthair, everything is ok except for a weird little noise she makes when purring. Its high sound is separate from the purring, it sounds a bit like a bird chirping. I showed my vet an audio of her purring and he listened to her lungs and throat, he suspects the sound comes from the nose. I suspect it too because I can hear the high-pitch noise coming from it. She doesn’t always do it, actually she hasn’t done it as much as she did before, just wondering if you had any more insight or if you think there’s something we should check or worry about. I check her breathing and it seems fine, but I’m very intrigued as to why she’s making that noise! Hope you’re well and thank you for taking the time to answer these questions! – Lucia Faria

Hi Lucia, congratulations on your new bundle of joy! There is nothing better than filling your house with the love of a cat and I wish you both years of happiness together.
I am happy to hear that her breathing is fine and that your veterinarian has given her a thorough exam. Since you both suspect the unusual noise is coming from her nose, there could be several possibilities that would cause it. Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome is a medical term given to various upper airway problems found in short-nosed, flat-faced cat breeds. Does your kitty have an unusually short nose or are her nostrils smaller than normal? Stenotic nares and other physical defects like an elongated soft palate or enlarged tonsils would be some things that I would want to make sure are not causing the high-pitched noise. However, with that being said, it appears that your baby is outgrowing her problem because you mentioned that you are hearing it less often. Paws crossed, it totally resolves with age or that it is just something benign and unique to her. Enjoy your special baby and let me know if you have any other concerns.

Cat won’t adjust to harness

My Loki is a Maine Coon cat. He didn’t like being picked up until I bribed him with treats. Now he tolerates being picked up. which is more than I hoped for. He’s a grumpy old man, even tho he’s only 5 years old. He has shown a lot of interest in the outside world. Sometimes I think he’s bored. I bought a Kitty Holster and a leash, and I introduced the harness to him over a period of two weeks. I sprinkled catnip over the harness. I also used the clicker, clicked it and gave Loki a treat every time he came near the harness. He would lie down on the harness, and he didn’t seem bothered by it until I put it on him. Then he cried and refused to move.

I thought that was normal, so after 20 minutes I took the harness off. I’ve put him in the harness several times since then, and the result has been the same. Once I put the Kitty Holster on him and then fed him. He hid for 20 minutes, then he came out and took his usual seat in the window. He roamed around the apartment but he panicked when it was time for me to take the harness off. Each time I talk to him and give him treats but he’s not thrilled with this at all. Afterwards he sometimes acts skittish around me, as though he thinks I’m going to grab him.

I don’t want to torment him. I realize that Loki might not ever adjust to the harness, but I would like to give this a fair try. Do you have any suggestions for me? – Serbella McGee

Hi Serbella, I appreciate you writing in with a common question other readers would like to know more about. Indoor cats certainly do get bored easily and it is hard to keep them active, engaged, and entertained. I commend you for recognizing the problem and trying to give your Loki more activity by attempting to leash train him. However, many cats like him don’t take to harnesses well or appreciate your attempts to get them outdoors safely. It really takes a special personality for a cat to acclimate to a being leash walked and it sounds like Loki is not a fan of it. Because of that, I would not push the issue as it could harm your relationship with him.

Instead, I would attempt to alleviate his boredom in other ways. Open the windows daily and let him smell the outside. Play for 5-10 minutes at a time at least 2-3 times daily. Continue to clicker train him to perform many different acts like getting into his carrier, giving you a high-five, etc. You may explore the option of a kitty backpack or safe stroller to take him outdoors in. I have written several blogs on how to bring the outdoors in and how to make an indoor hunting playground and new ways to eliminate kitty boredom that will help you with creative ideas on ways to keep cats like Loki entertained indoors. It does take effort but is well worth it.

Believe it or not, Loki is exhibiting normal behavior with his displeasure of being picked up. Did you know that most cats view being picked up as something that is dangerous? In the wild, the only time (other than when they were first born) that all four legs would be off the ground at one time is if they were being carried away by a predator. Being picked up equates to being eaten and is a reason to be fearful. Like Loki, many cats learn to tolerate it, but most don’t like it at all. Unless they have been habituated to being picked up from a young age, I recommend people let them sit on their laps or beside them instead. It feels safer and more comfortable from a cat’s point of view.

I hope you feel better knowing that Loki is normal in his response to the harness and I again thank you for bringing this subject up. Getting cats accustomed to leash walking is best accomplished when they are young and more and more owners are attempting this with their kittens. For cats who are well acclimated to it, safely going outside is a wonderful way to add enrichment to their lives and allows them to enjoy fresh air, sunshine and the ability to explore.

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

*FTC Disclosure: The Conscious Cat is a participant in Etsy’s affiliate program. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.

9 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Urine Marking, Cardiomyopathy, Chirping Noise, and More

  1. Mary-Ellen
    March 4, 2019 at 11:15 am (2 weeks ago)

    My Calico cat Lucky is 14 yo. She throws up hairball w/ bile. We hd bought Feliway to calm her it’s a plug-in, She gets Hart’s hairball remedy plus every day. She overgrooms herself. It seems as she gets older it’s mainly every day or maybe she skips a day. Otherwise she’s healthy & her weight is fine. Can u give me any suggestions? Thanking you in advance!

    Reply
    • Jo Louise Klein
      March 4, 2019 at 7:12 pm (2 weeks ago)

      My friend’s daughter has 2 children, age 2 years and 4 months and a 12 year old cat. She has had the cat 12 years, now enter the children. The cat swipes at the children and has scratched the 2 year old. The daughter has not tried anything to help the situation and at this point has given up. She keeps the cat in a room by herself all day and lets her out at night. The daughter is tired at night and does not play with the cat. She and her husband used to play a lot with the cat, but since the children came have not played much with the cat. She is at the point where she is thinking of rehoming the cat, though she loves the cat. I have suggested many things, but my friend said her daughter does not think anything will work. Is there anything I can suggest to her?

      Reply
  2. Sandy Cervenak
    March 4, 2019 at 10:13 am (2 weeks ago)

    Dear Dr. Bahr: My cat Mei Mei was one who took to the harness and loved to walk on a leash. However, we live in Sun City West and our “lawn” was all rocks and there were coyotes. I ended up buying a large KittyWalk stroller (pretty expensive but I found one online that was cheaper). The stroller is quite comfortable with open heavy-duty mesh toward the front and a heavy-duty fabric shaded section with portholes in the back so, while I rolled her down the street, kitty could sun herself or retreat to the shade and privacy. She loved it and being outside. Unfortunately my two other cats who were apparently born outside with no mom in sight when they were rescued are tremendous scaredy-cats so no harness and leash and no stroller and no outside for them.

    Reply
  3. Jan Wolfenberg
    March 4, 2019 at 9:42 am (2 weeks ago)

    Hello Dr Bahr, I’m a long-time cat owner, but took a 4 yr break after our last cat died. We recently adopted a kitten who is now nearly 6 months old. She’s a joy to have around, but she has two behaviors that are a problem. First, she bites a lot. It’s always play-biting/play aggression. I have already read all the suggestions and do everything I can to not engage with my hands, to disengage from play as soon as she starts biting (she clearly thinks it’s just a fun game and I am her favorite toy), hissing, providing tons of toys and spending lots of time playing with her with those toys. I think she was separated from her mother and litter mates too young and never learned good cat manners.

    However, the other problem may be related: She ingests strings. All kinds of strings. She has completely eaten the tails off of nearly every mouse we have, both rawhide/leather types and string types. She has swallowed quite a few lengths of string from toys she’s played with. She chews on the strings and eventually something goes down her throat, she can’t get it out herself, and unless I catch it happening, it’s gone. I’m sure she swallowed at least 8″ of a heavy-duty thread that she used to play with, and I’ve found bits of floss that she’s nearly swallowed. And those are the ones I know about. The problem is, string is her absolutely favorite thing to play with. I cut a toy off one of her wand toys recently, and she went nuts for it with just the string. Of course she ended up eating a few inches of the string before I realized and took it away. I’m trying heavier cording, ribbons, etc. But it is such a concern.

    And I’m wondering if the biting behaviors could be related to this incessant string chewing. She also bites on the edges of cardboard boxes, furniture, the edge of our mattress, and various other items. I understand that she could be teething (at 6 months though?) and have provided chewy toys, which she isn’t thrilled with. She doesn’t care at all about catnip, FYI. She will chew on the silver vine sticks, but doesn’t have any other reaction to them either – they’re just good for chewing, I guess.

    So how worried do I have to be about all these leather tails and lengths of string that have ended up in her belly? And is there anything I can do discourage her from swallowing the stuff? And can you suggest anything new for the play aggression?

    Reply
  4. Nancy
    March 4, 2019 at 2:40 am (2 weeks ago)

    Hi Dr. Bahr, I have a cat who is about 3 years old who has hyperesthesia. They say it’s a rare syndrome and there isn’t a consensus of opinion about what it is or what causes it or how to treat it, yet there seem to be a lot of cat owners online who have cats with hyperesthesia. Is there any research being done? I have found a toy (Laser Tower) that helps distract my cat (Doodle) when she’s having a “spell” and I use it a lot. Sometimes a little catnip also calms her down. Her spells seem to be less frequent as she gets older but she still does have some severe ones that cause her to run around frantically like she’s being chased and she attacks her tail so violently that it sounds like a cat fight. Oddly enough she’s been more “touchy feely” with me (which I like) but I’ve noticed that sometimes sitting next to me or on my lap causes her tail to start swishing which triggers a hyperesthesia spell. We’re a multi cat household and we’ve made adjustments so Doodle is supervised when she’s around the other cats and it seems to be working fine. I am wondering if there is any more research being done or any trials for medications etc. I wouldn’t want to sedate her but I’d be interested in any tips on how else to handle her more severe spells.

    Reply
  5. Lilo Huhle-Poelzl
    March 4, 2019 at 2:15 am (2 weeks ago)

    Hi, Dr. Bahr, I have had cats most of my life, and since 1987, when my husband and I purchased a country property in Utah, we have adopted cats from the local shelter and also cats that were dropped off at our property. We presently have 15 indoor-outdoor cats. (Our all-time high, 15 years ago, was 35.) So we are quite experienced with cats. Yet presently, we have a problem we don’t know how to solve.

    We were evacuated from wildfire last summer (for 3 months). At our evacuation place in town (one of our rental properties that happened to be vacant), we adopted 2 tomcats—a hungry stray, named Ginger, and a huge grey tabby, named Link, who lost his humans who moved away and could not take him. At the evacuation place, all of our cats got along fine with Ginger and Link (probably because there, Ginger and Link owned the turf). As soon as we were back home at Happy Cats Ranch (in October), the war started. Three of our 4 tom cats attack the newcomers viciously at every given chance (the 4th also gives trouble but can be kept in check), and even 2 of our female cats are harassing the newcomers. After a few severe cat fights, where blood was flowing, we resorted to rotating the newcomers and our 3 aggressive toms (who we now call “the gang of three”) between our guest room, the rest of the house, the outdoors (including our sun room), and the garage. This has been very time-taking and exhausting (my husband and I are in our late 70s, have both health issues, and I am also somewhat handicapped), but because we love our cats, we put up with this burden.

    But now (even though all of our cats are fixed), “the gang of three” has started to mark and also to pee around like crazy. (There were even puddles on the kitchen counter.) And what’s worse: Big, fat Link, who’ll run away from cats 1/3 of his size, has started to attack and injure not only Squirrel, a deranged cat who is afraid of all other cats and keeps hissing at them, but also our 2 oldest and fragile cats, Hyaene and Lucky Baby, who were never unfriendly to Link.

    Squirrel has, meanwhile, been moved to our home office (which was outfitted with a litter box), but there is no way we can isolate Hyaene or Lucky Baby. We are at the end of our wits. The “gang of three” is unhappy, we are unhappy, and Hyaene and Lucky Baby are endangered. They are 19 and 18 years old. Link recently jumped Hyaene from behind and put all of his claws into her, and 2 days ago he smacked Lucky Baby right above the eye, and she got infection (which we were able to cure), but Link could have easily taken her eye out.

    Ginger, a very docile cat, rarely dares to leave the guest room after he was badly beat up by one of “the gang of three”, last week. But he himself is no danger to any cat. Link, who is very affectionate to humans and also to our dog, is the big problem. We have thought of finding Link another home, but we don’t want to uproot the poor cat again, who had taken it very hard to lose his humans. Besides, we don’t know anyone who could adopt him. All cat-loving people we know have multi-cat households.

    Is there any way to solve our cat problems? We would put up with the work and the mess, but we don’t want any cats injured, especially not old and fragile ones.

    Reply
    • Nancy
      March 4, 2019 at 1:09 pm (2 weeks ago)

      Oh my goodness…..I completely understand and sympathize! I will be very interested in reading what “solutions” people suggest to you. I have 11 cats, all indoor and currently 3 of them spend 12 hours a day in 6’ tall cages on rollers because of personality issues. Half of every day 2 of them spend together in a room and the other cat spends in the family room with another cat and a little dog. All of these rooms are blocked off by the cages themselves so the cats can see us and hear us talk…..in other words they aren’t isolated. Sometimes it all feels very much like “musical chairs” when it’s time to start moving cats , separating them etc. but they all have adapted. In fact, often when the 3 cats are enjoying their freedom in their respective rooms they will go back in their cages to eat and sleep even though the cage doors are open. My biggest problem is Charlie who was the last of a neighborhood litter that someone agreed to feed and give shelter to. He wasn’t neutered and was allowed to roam free. We contacted the caretakers about neutering him and they were very ho-hum about it so I took him to my vet and after he was neutered we kept him in our house for a few days. We called the caretakers to tell them and left our phone number but they never called us back. Charlie is very affectionate with humans but having him neutered hasn’t altered his fighting instinct and his need to mark. I know some people think the whole cage thing is cruel but sometimes you “gotta do what you gotta do”. They are safe and happy and they can have limited contact with the other 8 cats (and the little dog) without anyone getting hurt. My husband and I are also in our 70’s and none of this is easy…..your dilemma sounds much worse than ours, however, and I hope you can get some advice or help. So many people are in dilemmas such as ours because we try to help the little critters that others can’t or won’t. You have your hands full and you also have 15 lucky cats who have filled your hearts with love…..

      Reply
    • Cheryl
      March 4, 2019 at 2:55 pm (2 weeks ago)

      I can empathize. I had a similar experience when I took my Mom’s cat into my house with three cats. I cannot imagine how you handle this with so many more cats.
      Two of my cats were females who showed up at my door when they were 4 mo old and I took them in. Long story short: they were very territorial and they sprayed everywhere inside ( yes they were spayed). All this to tell you I consulted a behaviorist and can offer some things to try. I would try the Comfort Zone or Feliway diffusers. They plug in an giveoff comforting pheromones. They did help reduce spraying and confrontation. Also I had some litter boxes placed where there was only one way in and out. The aggressive cat could lie in wait.
      I hope someone is able to help you. I remember how stressful it was not only on the cats but on you too. Good Luck.

      Reply
  6. Serbella McGee
    March 4, 2019 at 1:52 am (2 weeks ago)

    Dear Dr. Bahr:

    Thank you for responding to my comment about Loki and his harness. I learned a lot from your post. I’ve decided not to continue with it. Like you said Loki is not a fan of the harness. He’s a huge ol’ teddy bear and a joy to be around and I don’t want him to act fearful and skittish around me. He loves his toys, his scratching posts, his Cat Dancer and Da Bird. Great minds think alike, though: I had already priced several safe strollers for him in case the harness didn’t work out. Thanks again!

    Reply

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