Ask the Cat Doc: Respiratory Issues, Introducing a New Cat, Flea Control for Feral Cats

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 Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

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

Cat with respiratory issues

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. – Clare

Hi Clare,

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to help you with your 12 year old cat and his respiratory issue.  I cannot give you sound medical advice without a lot more information, but I would like to offer you guidance on how to best move forward with your baby’s medical condition.  The best care is forged when there is a trusted and strong relationship between a guardian, the patient, and the veterinarian.

I tend to believe that owners know their pets best. If they are concerned, then I am too. When they suspect something is amiss, I listen. I also ask a million questions to help me begin my journey of solving their mystery and helping make their cat feel better. Knowledge is essential and the more information I have from an owner the quicker I can help them. Equally as important is information gained from the wonderful diagnostics we have available today. We need all of the right tools to successfully fix the problem and having diagnostic data is important.

In this situation, here are some tips that will help you, your cat, and your veterinarian develop a good solid plan moving forward.

Begin with observation at home and document your findings.  An easy and helpful way to do this is with a calendar log documenting the severity and frequency of your cat’s illness. Pick a main symptom like runny nose and give it a number from 1-5 on intensity. Leave a calendar out where you will see it and give his symptom a score every day a record it. Keep it up for at least a month, more if necessary. This is a valuable tool to determine the severity and frequency of the problem and allows a baseline to be established.  We have to know our starting point in order to measure our success along the way. If there is more than one symptom that is of concern, you can add it to the calendar as well.  Keep it simple though. Share your calendar at each veterinary visit and discuss any changes.

Respiratory issues can be broadly broken down into upper airway vs lower airway. The dribble from the nose is more likely upper and the calcification in the lungs would be considered lower.  In this particular situation I doubt they are related but only your veterinarian would know for sure.  Ask so that you have a clear understanding of your cat’s situation.

This is a good opportunity to do some further observation of your own to help characterize the exact symptoms your cat is exhibiting. Home observation is ideal because of the stress cats undergo at a veterinary clinic.  What owners see at home is more accurate than what we see in the exam room. Take videos of your cat breathing normally so that you and your veterinarian know what normal looks like and can compare later episodes that become subtly abnormal. Watch the videos from time to time so that you can refer back and look for any changes you may have missed over time.

Pay attention to the character of the nasal discharge. Is it clear or colored, thick or thin? Does it run from one nostril (if so which one) or from both? These are important questions that will help your veterinarian hone in on the problem.

You mentioned your cat suffers from congestion but did not specify where it originates from.  Congestion in the upper airways is very different than when it affects the lower airways. We can deal with a snotty nose but pneumonia is serious and life-threatening. It would be helpful to know which one is more likely in this particular situation, upper vs lower. If you are hearing abnormal sounds from your cat try to figure out where they are coming from and let your vet know of your findings.

Calcification in the lungs is a common asymptomatic finding discovered on routine chest x-rays.  However, there are several different causes for why calcium is deposited there. Further diagnostics that are helpful in identifying underlying causes of lung lesions include trans tracheal wash, CT, MRI, and biopsies. These would all aid in helping to determine if the lesions are malignant or benign and how best to treat. If these are options you would consider then make sure your veterinarian knows you want more information on pursuing a diagnosis.

You asked if this gets worse, would I recommend treatment, and the answer is a resounding YES.  However, I would not jump to steroids as my first treatment option. While they are very helpful in many medical conditions, unless I know what I am treating, (or at least have an intelligent guess,) I would be reluctant to use any medication (steroids, antibiotics, etc) willy nilly.  I have to have a good reason to give a medication to a cat if I am going to prescribe it. It is a decision that is forged together with the owner and ultimately the patient.

Be informed, do your own research, and ask questions when you are seeking answers. Be observant and pay close attention to your non-verbal companion. These are all things that will help you develop a good plan for the future care of your beloved pet.

While I wasn’t able to give you a definitive answer to your problem, I hope the information was helpful to you. Thank you again for writing in.

Introducing a new cat

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?  – Kathryn Copeland

Hi Kathryn,

You are a wonderful person for helping get Ana off the streets.  Bless you!

As you are now well aware, successful cat introductions can be challenging. While some happen seamlessly, many don’t, especially when there are multiple cats to deal with in one household. It is one of the most common problems that many cat owners experience and I thank you for writing in about it. You are not alone.

My expertise lies in feline medicine and while I know cat behavior better than most, I would recommend you get a one-on-one consultation with someone like Dr. Marci Koski, a feline behaviorist, who helps owners with this same problem every day.  Did I mention it is a common problem? You can even find some of her ideas on how to help integrate new cats into the home from her column on Conscious Cat.

Here are some things you can try (unless you have already done them) before reaching out to a behaviorist. Use the Feliway plug in diffusers throughout the house but especially in Ana’s room. Don’t expect it to solve your problem, but it can help bring the tension down a notch or two. Have you been allowing Ana to explore the entire house while the resident cats are safely secured away? If not, you should start doing that now. It is time to make her feel more inclusive by allowing her access to explore outside of her confinement. Some cats in the clinic get cage aggressive, and it is my belief some cats confined to rooms in homes feel the same way.

Is there a particular cat she lunges at? Are there other cats that she does not seem to mind at all? Perhaps you can come up with a safe and strategic plan to slowly assimilate her to cats she shows a liking to instead of the entire clowder. But first, let her get accustomed to your entire home by herself.

Many behaviorists recommend rubbing the cats with the same towel to mix their scents and Pam Johnson-Bennett has a tried and true method she uses here. While your situation may be a bit more challenging than most, it may be helpful for you to read Jackson Galaxy’s guest post on The Conscious Cat about cat to cat introductions.

The love you have for cats is obvious and I know you are doing everything you can to make all of yours happy. It is no easy task but I know you got this.  Let me know how it goes and if you come up with any ideas of your own that will help others in your same situation.

Flea control for a feral cat colony

Bernadette DeLamar

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! – Bernadette DeLamar

Hi Bernadette,

I just want to say thank you on behalf of the cats in your care. You are making this world a better place for them and they are lucky to have someone like you looking out for them.

Fleas are disgusting creatures that not only cause cats discomfort but are harmful to them as well. I understand your desire to eliminate them from the colony however I would not recommend putting vinegar in their water.  It has a taste and may cause some cats to avoid drinking the water you are generously providing them. We wouldn’t want that to happen and because there is no clear evidence that vinegar helps repel fleas the tradeoff is not worth it. Keeping their water clean and fresh is a better idea.

Is it possible to treat the areas where the cats sleep with “food grade” diatomaceous earth or the environment with beneficial nematodes? These are two safe options that have been shown to help battle flea infestations.  Making sure the colony is healthy and well fed will go a long way in helping them cope with flea burdens too.  Fortunately, you have that covered. Unless you are able to physically touch these cats in order to administer flea medication helping them stay healthy is the best you can do.

Once again, thank you so much for helping cats less fortunate than your own. It is a blessing that they have you and the others who care for them and I know they appreciate the food, water, and love you provide.

How to use diatomaceous earth and beneficial nematodes to control fleas in feral cats

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? – Abby C Abanes

Hi Abby,

Rather than answer your question myself I am going to refer you to Bernadette’s answer (see below) which appeared in the comment section on last month’s Ask the Vet. There is not much more information I can add to the information she graciously shared.

Thank you so much for your efforts in helping the cats you feed and care for.  We need more people like you in this world.

The following answer is provided by Bernadette Kazamarski:

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.”

6 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Respiratory Issues, Introducing a New Cat, Flea Control for Feral Cats

  1. Debu Singh
    July 13, 2019 at 7:08 am (3 days ago)

    Nice knowledge for me thanks

    Reply
  2. Kelly vasquez
    July 8, 2019 at 2:46 pm (1 week ago)

    Hi I have a outdoor cat that I’ve had for 10yrs now he was feral when I moved in I can pet him and love on him now but I cant get him to the vet I’ve tried trapping him even and he wont fall for it my problem is I’m sure hes allergic to fleas I put flea medicine on him regularly but he still constantly itches and bites at himself he has little scabby sores all over and his hair falls out I need to no how to help him without taking him to vet I would appreciate any help you can give me

    Reply
  3. Carol Goin
    July 8, 2019 at 12:27 pm (1 week ago)

    My friend who manages a feral colony with flea problems told me that diatomaceous earth is made up of tiny crustaceans that have sharp edges on their shells and that it could cause eye irritation. She will not use it. I would be interested in the specifics of the beneficial nematodes.

    Reply
  4. Tamara Terry
    July 8, 2019 at 9:20 am (1 week ago)

    Hi Dr. Bahr,

    We’ve been rescuing feral cats for over 14 years+. Instead of doing TNR, my bf and I do TNK (trap, neuter and keep or adopt out). We have literally spent over $275k of our own money on spaying/neutering. massive vet bills; premium wet/dry food; and private cremation.

    We’ve had to rescue them because this guy (who still lives by this soccer park) threatened to kill all the ferals in the little section of the park where I’ve been maintaining a few cats (after we rescued the family- mothers and their children, Grandma and Grandpa, uncles, etc). Luckily, I never suffered the vacuum effect. I think I’m just feeding people’s owned cats now.

    Anyway, our oldest kitty right now, O’Malley is FIV+ just turned 16 years old. Last August 30th, 2018, he was diagnosed with CRF and I have done 100ml+ of sub-q fluids every night on him, He’s had EPOGEN injectable to anemia associated with CRF. Also he had “squamous cell carcinoma” in his piehole which we actually cured with Alpha Omega Labs Cansema Salve (it took a few months but it went away).

    Every year the last few years, he seems to get congested and get a URIat this time of the year.

    But, now I’m pretty sure we are losing him and doing everything we can to keep him comfortable. In January 2019, the vet did senior blood testing and his Bun and Creatine were still elevated and liver enzymes too. His TSH was high at 4.6 but she didn’t recommend hyperthyroid med (we just lost two cats last year on those and really would rather do homeopathic). Other than that….things were fine.

    Now, on June 7th, I took him in because he is losing weight rapidly! Dr. said “O’Malley Buddy you look like crap! What is wrong?” His Blood work is GREAT but his TSH is 1.6 and the Bun/creatine are back to normal. Also, I has started giving him that BioRAD1 trial drug for FIV+ cats in May..for maybe 3-4 weeks. Dr. Hatt said “it’s Amazing his blood work is GREAT I can’t believe it’s from the same cat!!” I said “It is showing signs of cancer? (Last year, FIV+ kitty had herpes inflammation in his one remaining eye, then started losing weight rapidly (she gave us Prednisolone transdermal gel) and he was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma and lived 91 days, His name was Remington and was former feral tomcat I rescued in July 2010 but his bloodwork showed elevated AMYLASE and WBC and she said that is cancer). O’Malley’s blood work doesn’t show this. On June 7th she looked in his mouth and the squamous cell carcinoma is still gone. Oh, for the past 6 weeks his left eye got cloudy and its herpes inflammation in the eye and he’s never had this before…until the end.

    I brought him back in on June 25th because he’s still losing weight and he has lost 0.84lbs in 18 days. Now, that he is 6.6lbs on June 25th, she said “Oh man, Mom, I’m sorry buddy..he’s got intestinal lymphoma and I can feel a tumor up under his ribcage. ” She looked in his mouth and there is a pink patch that she said is the squamous cell cancer coming back. She gave him a depo-medrol shot and said he can have one every few weeks. Within 45 mins of having it he was grooming and everything. I didn’t expect him to make it this long. I’ve used Pet Well Being Life Gold drops, CBD oil, just got Celloquent Gold from Vitality Science to put in wet food. But he LOVES Farmina N&D grain free Italian dry food and he eats wet food too but more picky about it. I even broke down and bought 12 cans of the HIll Urgent Care AD canned food. But nothing is making him gain weight. I don’t think we have ever had a kitty other than him and his gf who now has asthma have a depo shot.

    Do you know WHY cancer doesn’t show up in his bloodwork but the other kitty it did?
    Any ideas how to get some meat on his bones?

    BTW, this is the THIRD FIV+ kitty we have had get herpes eye inflammation in the last few months of their lives and then get lymphoma. One kitty Tyler was not diagnosed until the day he got anemic on Christmas Day 2017 and suffered internal bleeding and had to be pts. The vet thought maybe diabetes and our vet before her claimed he was blind and needed his eyes removed for $6k. It was herpes inflammation and used a compounded Famiciclovir liquid that was expensive and after using that is when he dropped lbs. He was about 12 years old. Then Remington was FIV+ 16 years old, had to get his left eye removed in November 2015 because it bulged out, always had lose stool that they said was IBS but his blood work in March 2018 showed the elevated Amylase and WBC and he passed away on July 6th 2018.

    That is three FIV+ kitties who get herpes eye inflammation and then lymphoma. Is it because of the FIV?

    We had another FIV+ kitty had to be pts at almost 13 years old (rescued when 5 years old) from “saddle thrombosis” on December 26, 2016! Then another was 14 years old, FIV+ Buddy Bear and he died from CRF on June 10, 2013. I swear we had another FIV former tomcat.

    O’Malley is still loving life and curling with Ciara his gf and going in the sun by the waterfall/pond and he loves going in the jogging pet stroller to the soccer park once a week late at night. But each day he is just like a walking Holocaust kitty and he’s skinnier (I wish I could do that).

    Do you know anything to help him gain weight? He’s still eating and I give him a Pepcid injection sometimes every day or every other day. But, he’s thrown up now and has diarrhea :-(. My bf says “Why do our FIV former male tomcats who turn into lovebugs get this lymphoma? Isn” there some stem cell therapy study you can get them into FREE? LOL

    I’m worried he only has only days left but I remember another male kitty who got skinny and lasted months and our old vet never came up with a diagnosis!

    Thanks so much for any ideas and sorry its a novel

    Reply
  5. Elaine Dobish
    July 8, 2019 at 6:13 am (1 week ago)

    Hi Dr. Lynn, I have a 12 year male cat. Staring the last two years he will not stop grooming himself. He has many bald patches now. I have taken him to our vet. He has no fleas. She has been giving him cortisone shot along with antibiotic shot once a month. Along with medicine once a day to alternate in each ear. It is not working. The shots help for 4 – 5 days. Why will Blue not stop? Can you help him?

    Reply
  6. Ramona Hensrude
    July 8, 2019 at 1:32 am (1 week ago)

    Hi Dr. Bahr,
    My husband and I just bought a home in Tucson, AZ. We will be driving down from Everett, WA in early August. I know we’ll have a challenge on the trip down but we need advice on the best way to introduce them to the new house. Maggie is 18. Murray is 10. Murray and Maggie have had a troubled relationship from their first day when we got Murray at age 2. He is better now but he only gets supervised visits with Maggie in our bedroom. He still tries to attack her. He is on Prozac for his aggressiveness. I want them both to have full run of the new house. I’m hoping the abundance of birds and other critters in view from every window will keep them both intrigued. Our vet has given us Gavapentin for the ride down. They both do pretty well in the car.
    What would you suggest as the best way to introduce both of them to the new and larger house?

    Reply

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