Ask the Cat Doc: Why Do Cats Get Cancer, Which Food is Best for Weight Loss, 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.

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

Flea control for feral cats

Hi. I care for a small group of cats in my neighborhood. I feed them and make sure water is available. I’m also in the process in doing TNR for them. My question had to do with a flea treatment. I’ve been told and have read that adding brewer’s yeast could help in repelling fleas by adding it to their food; however, when I’ve looked for pet brands, garlic or garlic flavoring is added. These are usually products marketed for both cats and dogs. Isn’t the garlic toxic for cats? The reason I read that brewer’s yeast is effective is that fleas don’t like the taste of the pet’s blood. I’m assuming it’s because of the garlic? I’m just trying a fairly inexpensive flea treatment that I can add to their food, since these kitties pretty much run the other way when they see me. – Abby

Hi Abby,

Thank you for taking care of the cats in your neighborhood. They are so lucky to have someone like you looking out for them.

Fleas are more of a problem for weak, old, undernourished, sick and injured animals than for healthy ones. The best thing you can do for your colony of cats is to keep them well fed and safe from the elements. Controlling fleas on animals you can’t touch or medicate is difficult but I have some suggestions to help. If you are in a position to treat the environment, I would recommend using “food grade” diatomaceous earth and beneficial nematodes as two possible options. They are relatively inexpensive and not difficult to apply and safe for the cats.

You asked about treating the cats with brewer’s yeast and I agree that anything with garlic should NOT be used. However, you can easily purchase cheap unprocessed brewer’s yeast – just google it and you will see many to choose from that are pure without additives. I would suggest you look for non-GMO and debittered, since some cats don’t’ like the bitter taste. While this is a more natural approach to battling fleas than using prescription flea medication, it is also much less effective and only repels them and doesn’t eliminate them.

Your benevolence is admirable and you are helping make this world a better place by taking care of your community cats. Thank you for your service.

Which food is best for weight loss?

My cat’s weight is 15.6 lbs; neutered; domestic indoor cat.He’s 10 yrs & 10 months old.Is wet food or dry food or combination of both better for weight loss??Any specific brand?? – Ois

Hi Ois,

Ingrid and I have written about this issue many times since it is a common topic cat owners like you ask about. I appreciate your questions and the opportunity to help guide feline lovers on the best way to feed their babies properly. If you have the time, look back at all of the previous articles that are chock full of useful information just in case I forget to address all of the issues in this response. Here is one to get you started: Is Your Cat Fat or Fluffy?

We know that most canned foods are lower in calories, higher in protein, and contain lots of moisture when compared with dry. Feeding canned food frequently, while limiting dry as snacks only, is the purrfect way to fulfill your cat’s nutritional needs while helping them lose weight. Combined with regular exercise, your cat will stay fit and trim.

Assuming your cat does not have any food aversions or allergies and is otherwise healthy, the short version is to rotate foods, brands, flavors, and textures. Well rounded cats eat a little bit of different types of food made by reputable companies. I would not limit my cat’s diet to one brand or one flavor or one texture and, instead, I recommend feeding as much of a variety as possible.

Does your cat receive regular veterinary care? Has your veterinarian assessed your cat’s weight using BCS (body condition score) or MCS (muscle condition score)? This is important information that will help you assess whether or not your cat’s weight is appropriate. You can figure it out yourself with Ingrid’s Quick and Easy Guide.

The use of food puzzles is something to consider too. It will give your cat a way to work for his treats. You can also toss treats across the room and allow him to chase after them. There are many tricks you can employ to help you add exercise into the current feeding regime.

I am sure I have left out a lot of other valuable information and encourage you to check out previous articles on this important topic. Thank you for bringing it up and for caring so much about your cats.

What makes cats so susceptible to cancer?

Dear Dr. Bahr within the last 3 months, I have lost 3 senior cats, all 15 years old, to cancer. One for Skin Cancer, one for Jaw Cancer, and one for Intestinal Cancer. What makes cats so susceptible to cancer? Thank you so much! – Penny

Hi Penny,

I am so sorry for your recent losses and send you my deepest condolences.

Are cats more susceptible to cancer? While it does feel like that way, especially to you, having lost three of your babies to it, we don’t really know that to be true. It is a truly heartbreaking disease that takes the lives of too many of our beloved pets and, like you, we wish this were not the case. Hopefully, advances in medicine will change the landscape of dealing with cancer much easier and successful in the near future and I can’t wait to see that happen.

*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.

12 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Why Do Cats Get Cancer, Which Food is Best for Weight Loss, and More

  1. Karin Yates
    June 12, 2019 at 2:44 am (4 months ago)

    Re “cats getting cancer”: What we feed our pets contributes to illnesses like cancer. Cheap store brands like Meow Mix that contain corn, byproducts and artificial colors will lead to cancer. Also, overvaccinating can contribute to cancer.

    Reply
    • Silverwynde
      July 12, 2019 at 10:53 pm (3 months ago)

      Cancer is genetic, actually. I know this because I’m at a huge risk for it.

      Reply
      • mountainkiddo
        July 13, 2019 at 10:43 pm (3 months ago)

        Well this is not the correct forum to discuss human medical conditions, but if you look at the recent research there is now evidence that what we once thought was hereditary, is not. And our genes are modifiable – we do it everyday when we change our habits. Look at energy meditations, hypnotherapy, brain entrainment, binaural tones and simply positive thinking. Not that we can use any of these on cats, but this research basically debunks the theory of genetics and instead places the existence of the condition on environment. Think positive that you are healthy and focus on being healthy and you will avoid the cancer. But you have to change your mindset and beliefs about hereditary conditions and basically forget about you’re getting cancer.

        Reply
  2. Clare
    June 11, 2019 at 8:17 pm (4 months ago)

    Hi Dr and Ingrid: my cat is 12, he is indoors and on a raw diet since we got him 9 years ago. His only issue is respiratory , we had chest X-ray and vet said he had calcified lungs. Over past year he has become more congested , with slight nose dribble. We put lysine in his food , put some lung gold drops in his food and take him to steam in the shower frequently. I was wondering as he gets older will it get worse and should I consider some steroid medicine I could put him on from a vet. He is still active , great eater and no other medical issues. Your thoughts are appreciated

    Reply
  3. mountainkiddo
    June 10, 2019 at 11:42 pm (4 months ago)

    So I’m not degreed as Dr Bahr is and I do respect her education and experience. But I do a lot of reading and research so another answer to Penny’s question regarding cancer is simply environment. The one cat had cancer of the jaw which MAY have come from the dishes being used for the food such as ugly plastics, or it may have come from an injury sustained chewing something hard (more probable than the dishes). Intestinal cancer is probably from feeding food with carcinogens in it which is most cat food with grains (carrageenan is a known carcinogen). And last the skin cancer could have originated from the flooring especially carpeting.

    We are unfortunately designated as guardians of these wonderful creatures and yet we don’t provide environments for them to thrive. Although 15 years is a good long life for a cat, with the right environment they can probably be our companions for much longer.

    Cancer doesn’t just happen – it is the result of unattended inflammation and inflammation is due to something foreign in the animal’s system. We need to educate ourselves and take a more preventive approach.

    Reply
    • Silverwynde
      July 12, 2019 at 10:54 pm (3 months ago)

      It’s genetic and it happens because our pets are getting older.

      Reply
  4. Marann Edwards
    June 10, 2019 at 1:50 pm (4 months ago)

    Pet owners need to be aware of what products they use in the house and yard not only to protect their pets but to protect their children. I received a license to apply pesticides for my employment and believe me there are products out there that people buy that can cause cancer. When I was young (I am 76) pets and children did not get cancer at the rate it happens today. It is not vaccines, it is pesticides some of which were developed during WWII to kill people. Those companies that developed the poisons decided that since the Government was not going to buy their product that they could reduce the strength and sell it to the public to use in their homes and gardens as well as to food growers to use on their crops. Actually I was in school when Round-up came out and was told by the Company how safe it was!!!!!!! Seems now that they were lying.

    Reply
  5. Kathryn Copeland
    June 10, 2019 at 1:33 pm (4 months ago)

    Hey Dr. Bahr,
    I have 4 cats and want to introduce my foster cat Ana to the family. She has been in our spare room for three months because she had been living on the streets and needed to feel safe to stop removing her hair. She takes Gabapentin every day and she is doing great. However our mini-introductions during feeding and play time through a screen door are not going great. Sometimes she is fine and others she charges and hisses. My cats all have a different reaction from avoiding, to ignoring, and one hisses back. Are they just not ready? Any suggestions?

    Reply
  6. Bernadette
    June 10, 2019 at 1:12 pm (4 months ago)

    I don’t have a feral colony but assist many others with their colonies. I am also a Master Gardener and have used DE and beneficial nematodes in my garden and yard for decades and highly recommend. I have a few more tips on usage.

    Using DE inside their shelters winter and summer helps keep populations down, as does treating any sleeping areas even outside of shelters–under decks or on porch furniture or just a random box. Some veterinarians, farmers and others who work with farm animals swear it also helps to keep internal parasites under control when they ingest some while bathing. I have never seen a study on this, but in the garden it’s used to keep soft-bodied insects and other creatures under control so it may work to a certain extent. You can also sprinkle it anywhere cats spend time, under shrubs, out in the grass, or other areas, but it washes away with one rain so treating unprotected areas is kind of a waste of money when you’re already spending to care for your colony.

    Treat those larger areas, especially grassy areas, with beneficial nematodes, which colonize and infest flea eggs in the grass so they never get to develop into biting adult fleas. Also, if you maintain the area yourself (rather than a public place), you can do a few things with your landscape to prevent fleas from settling in outdoors. Cut the grass a little taller, 3 to 4 inches, to encourage other flea predators to inhabit the grass and eat eggs, larvae and adult fleas. Rake up mulched areas and restack woodpiles every so often to expose flea eggs, especially in damp areas.

    I have given my cats brewer’s yeast since way back in the 80s, before spot-on flea products, when people swore by the garlic and yeast combination. Once I learned about the dangers of garlic for cats I got only brewer’s yeast tablets and still give each cat one tablet before each meal, not because of fleas, but because it’s a great way to settle down a large household of cats and let them know that their food is ready. It may help with repelling a few fleas, but it also contains B vitamins that help their skin and coat generally, and are good for their general health. Human brewer’s yeast supplements are always debittered and rarely contain any other ingredients, but it’s always best to check. I use the tablets, but it also comes in a powdered form that some humans swear taste like cheese topping on popcorn, and cats seem to love it on their food, wet or dry. All that can only help a feral cat stay healthy. A bottle of 500 tablets is usually under $10.00, and a bottle of an equivalent amount of powder is not much more.

    Thank you for caring for community cats, especially attending to TNR! Preventing more kittens is the best way to handle outdoor cat populations.

    Sorry for the mini lecture, it’s one I’ve got memorized after all these years.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 11, 2019 at 5:31 am (4 months ago)

      Thanks, Bernadette, this is very helpful!

      Reply
  7. Bernadette DeLamar
    June 10, 2019 at 11:47 am (4 months ago)

    Dear Dr Bahr,
    I too care for and feed a TNR colony with a group of dedicated people. We bring in gallon jugs of water to each feeding station. We have heard that one capful of apple cider vinegar per gallon jug helps keep fleas away. Is this correct — or just another myth. I assume it can do no harm. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Abby C Abanes
    June 10, 2019 at 3:56 am (4 months ago)

    Hi Dr. Regarding what you said about ““food grade” diatomaceous earth and beneficial nematodes as two possible options,” is that something I would spread around the area where I feed the cats?

    As for the brewer’s yeast you mentioned, it’s ok to add that to cat’s food? How much can I be added and how often should it be given?

    Reply

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