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!

Morbidly Obese Cat

I’m worried about my morbidly obese cat she weighs about 22 pounds I’ve had her to the vet they say it’s metabolism she’s an inside cat it’s just so hard to get her to lose weight I’ve used a diet cat food but that doesn’t seem to work I’m not sure what to do? – Karinda

Hi Karinda,

You have every reason in the world to be worried about your cat’s weight, especially when using the term morbidly obese to describe her. That doesn’t sound healthy to me and I know you feel the same way.

At this point, you need more of an expert than your current veterinarian to help you in this situation. Have you thought about consulting with a veterinary nutritionist? It is extremely important to have a well-planned weight management program designed specifically with all of your cat’s needs in mind, in order for it to be successful. The plan should include recommendations for adequate calorie intake, foods that your cat will accept, tailored mealtimes, and a well thought out exercise program. There are so many ways in which added enrichment can help cats lose weight and it is an important component to any successful weight loss plan.

Work with a professional and start off with baby steps. As your cat gradually sheds pounds, you can ramp things up slowly. Before you know it, you will start to see a different cat, physically and mentally.

Thanks so much for looking for additional ways to help your kitty and for writing in. I would love to hear about you and your cat’s progress as you tackle this very common, yet serious, problem.

Bloody diarrhea and vomiting

My 14 year old calico sweet-tart has been having diarrhea with some blood in it and is vomiting foam. she drinks a lot of water. this is not a regular thing just 1-2 time a month. should i be worried? – june bullied

Hi June,

I try not to worry until I have to, but I would certainly be concerned if I were you.

The symptoms you are describing are indicative of a problem and need to be addressed. If these episodes are infrequent and occur 1-2 times a month, and your cat is otherwise acting normally, eating well, and maintaining weight, then there is a good likelihood you can catch whatever is brewing, early. If she seems healthy otherwise, you can schedule an exam at your convenience soon.  But if not, then take things more seriously and have her seen by a veterinarian as quickly as you can.

After a thorough and complete physical exam your veterinarian will likely suggest submitting bloodwork and a urinalysis to the lab. That will help rule in or out conditions like hyperthyroidism, diabetes, urinary tract disease, kidney disease, etc. Sending a stool sample off to the lab is prudent too. This is the typical minimum data base that your veterinarian with need in order to proceed with a diagnosis and treatment.

You (and your kitty) will feel so much better knowing why she is having such frequent gastrointestinal upsets at this point in her life. And, the likelihood of finding ways to help her feel better is very good. Let me know the outcome.

Does butter help with hairballs?

My husband thinks that giving our cats a small amount of butter when he eats his breakfast helps with furballs. I am concerned that butter is just adding fat to their system and feel that they don’t need this. (Our two cats are 11 year old Maine Coon/Siberian mix, one has very long fur, the other long medium long). Wondering what your thoughts are regarding the butter issue? – Suzanne Doin

Hi Suzanne,

I am relatively unconventional in my thoughts about diet and, as long as your cats are not overweight, I would not be concerned about a little bit of daily butter. Include a play session to burn off the added calories and watch how much fun everyone has. Pull out a wand toy and let them hunt, and then reward them with the butter treat. What a fun way to start the day!

I encourage my cats to eat anything and everything so that they don’t become picky eaters. Moderation is the key to most things and I don’t worry if they lick small amounts of foods like yogurt, whipped cream, butter, sardines, liverwurst, etc. Allowing your husband to bond with the cats over breakfast is probably much more important than worrying about the fat in the butter. He sounds like a great cat daddy concerned about their fur ball issues. You are lucky he is a cat lover like you.

If hairballs are the real issue instead, then you may need to give them something more effective for the problem. Hairballs can cause serious medical issues and butter is unlikely to prevent them in a cat that needs more help clearing their gastrointestinal tract of excessive hair accumulation.  It is not normal for a cat to vomit (it doesn’t matter what is in the vomitus) more than 1-2 times a month. Any cat that does should be seen by a veterinarian to receive a full gastrointestinal work-up.

Thanks so much for your valid concern. Keeping our cats fit and healthy is important and your kitties are lucky to have you, and your husband, looking out for them.

Vaccines for surviving cat after losing a cat to fibrosarcoma

After losing a cat to injection site sarcoma last year I am now reluctant to allow my surviving cat to receive vaccinations. She is strictly indoors, won’t go near an open window or door, no other animals are allowed in my house and she has already received them each of the last eight years. I now feel like the odds of her developing this cancer are greater than her being exposed to the diseases the vaccines are intended to prevent. Wouldn’t she already have immunity from the previous vaccines? Is it really necessary to give them over and over? To say that I am terrified of losing another cat because of a vaccine would be an understatement. Any guidance is appreciated. – Carol

Hi Carol,

I feel your pain and am so sorry for your loss. Fibrosarcomas are nasty, aggressive and heartbreaking tumors. They are horrible invaders and I detest them as much as you do.

Cat owners like you that are aware of their existence are understandably reluctant to pursue vaccines in their surviving pets. Arming yourself with facts that make sense will help you make informed decisions for your cat’s care. The best advice is to vaccinate discriminately and to make educated decisions about which diseases your cat should be vaccinated for. The 2013 AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report is a good place to start if you want to arm yourself with the most recent information on this subject.

Vaccines save lives and provide value to the health and well-being of our family, friends, and pets. But, once kittens have built up their immunity after their initial series of vaccines, the need for frequent vaccinations declines greatly.

Hopefully, you have a veterinarian that respects your informed decision as to what vaccines you are or are not comfortable giving. Every cat should be treated uniquely and what vaccines they receive should be appropriate for their age and lifestyle.

Remember, at the end of the day, the decision is 100% yours and no one can force you to give your pet a vaccine you don’t agree with.

Thank you for bringing this subject to light.  It is important that we arm ourselves with the latest research and protocols and to make sure our veterinarian is on the same page as we are as owners. Let me know how else I can be of service to you.

Cat with multiple health issues

Bennie has hyperthyroidism, and her kidneys are compromised secondary to it, the NSAID for cats which could give her some relief would probably exacerbate her kidney disease. So no medication. She has a heated pad in the “cradle” of her Molly & Friends ‘tree.’ She spends a lot of time there, so I think the heat is comfortable.

I looked at the Assisi loop — awfully expensive! I don’t know that she’ll live long enough to make it worth the $$$. I’ve offered 1TDC and everything else I’ve found which might help — she won’t take anything by mouth. I’m grateful she’ll accept the med she needs for her thyroid, compounded into a liquid I put on her canned food. If there were something I could get compounded for her, I’d love to know about it…..

She never got any dental care until she came to live with me at 12 years old and lost a lot of teeth when I got her a “dental.” The treats she likes now are a wee bit of milk and the Nulo soft treats in a tube. I do give her one of those after I do something she doesn’t like so well.

I’m very open to any suggestions for pain relief for her. – Cheri Collins

Hi Cheri,

It is not uncommon for cats, like Bennie, to be dealing with multiple conditions at the same time that impact how we treat each. While it can be limiting, it does not always have to be.

One helpful approach to this dilemma is to prioritizing each “dis” ease with your veterinarian. This is a good opportunity to collaborate and discuss which of Bennie’s conditions need the most attention and which ones are of less concern. Which of her conditions is more life-threatening to her than the other? Which one is the most painful? What is affecting her quality of life most? Getting answers to these will help you develop a plan to address each condition in order of importance so that you have appropriate guidelines to follow.

NSAIDs should not be entirely ruled out for all cats with renal disease. But, you need to know the status of the kidneys first. Only then can you determine the real risk of using NSAID’s. Sometimes treating pain is more important than the likelihood of further damaging the kidneys and your veterinarian should be able to help you decide whether that is the case or not with Bennie. Conversely, if her kidneys are in terrible shape, then pushing them harder with NSAIDs could be disastrous.

So to answer your questions:

  1. Ask your veterinarian if it is viable to try Bennie on a transdermal form of her hyperthyroid medication. Sometimes, owners find rubbing the gel on a cat’s ear easier than administering liquid or pills. If you are happy with giving liquid but Bennie does not really like the taste, ask for a different flavor like vanilla butternut or chicken marshmallow. There is also the option of quick dissolving flavored pills or using pill pockets and other alternatives.  I don’t typically recommend owners taint their cat’s food with medications but if it is working for you, then it’s perfectly okay,
  2. I am not sure what pain your cat is experiencing which makes it hard to discuss appropriate pain relief options. The treatment plan I would recommend to control kidney pain is quite different than what I would recommend for arthritis.

Things all owners can do to help their cats in pain is to make life easier for them. This means doing simple things like keeping all resources (water, food, and litter boxes) close by and easily accessible. Making sure your cat gets appropriate exercise through physical therapy, massage, or gentle play. Warmth and proper bedding is important, as is the opportunity to retreat or hide.

Fortunately, Bennie has you to care for her. Keep giving her all of your love and tube treats and she will be a happy girl.

17 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Morbidly Obese Cat, Vaccines After Injection Site Sarcomas, Cat With Multiple Illnesses, and More

  1. I have torti girl who in 6 yrs old. She recently has come up with a cyst on her tummy right next to a nipple. My vet chooses to drain it every 2 or 3 months. Is there any other treatment we can use.

  2. When cats are 10 most develop arthritis. Isn’t it a good idea to start them on a glucosamine, chondroitin, & MSM by age 9?

  3. Why would the cat with compromised kidney function and hyperthyroidism not be a candidate for Azodyl? This non-prescription culture of bacteria that binds toxins in the gut and therefore helps the kidneys has been a miracle for my two cats who are both in stage 3 renal failure! There are no reported side effects, either.

    • Reported side effects of Azodyl are vomiting and diarrhea. There have been no controlled studies to show that Azodyl has any real effect on kidney function. And the large capsules that are not to be broken up may be difficult to get into a cat.

      • Yes, Anne. I cannot get anything into Bennie’s mouth. And she does well with the compounded chicken flavored liquid medication, Dr. Bahr, drizzled onto her wet food. She doesn’t mind it at all.
        Bennie is my third cat with CKD. I kept the first two comfortable and stable until each died of something else. I can manage the kidney disease, but the arthritis is more of a challenge, because I can’t give her an NSAID and she won’t take any of the supplements which have been very helpful to other cats.

  4. On diet: I have two 12-year old cats, who are healthy.
    One of them loves yogurt and gets a tablespoon of organic full-fat yogurt…and talk about being discriminating!…one time I could not get the full fat kind and bought the 2% one….he turned up his nose at it.
    He also eats some butter which I put on a cracker for him to lick off.

    The other one likes peanut butter and will lick some from the container.
    And I put out a teaspoon of olive oil in a saucer, which he will occasionally eat.

    And they both always get nutritional yeast flakes on all their food.Since doing that there have been no more fleas or ticks, and they are both outdoor cats.

  5. My 1 1/2 year old has been with us for one year. She was abused as a kitten, and left with a deformed front leg. I heard that the abusers were boys who used her as a baseball. THAT being said, she is scared of my husband. She’s OK with him as long as he feeds her, and gives her treats. But if he looks at her, she low crawls away. I can understand her reactions, and hope with time it might abate a bit. However, my low key Maine Coon mix, who is almost 4, has learned the signals from the new one. She is always on high alert, and a spoon dropped in another room, has them both running for under the beds. There are two adults and two cats in this household. I’ve tried ‘natural’ remedies along with CBD oil, and no changes. Is it time for kitty prozac?

    • I used Feliway diffusers and collars to help a cat who’d a rough life and was very nervous when he moved in with me. He wanted to be always by the back door in case he decided he needed to leave. (I put a cat tree by the door so he could sleep in it instead of on the floor right in front of the door. Inconvenient for me, but I was able to gradually move it farther from the door.) I put one of the collars on him and changed it monthly for 6 months or a little longer. But gradually he became less anxious and finally didn’t need it.

  6. To Carol, I stopped vaccinating my cats about 15 years ago when we moved to this secluded property. They were and are totally inside cats. No contact anywhere. The two previous cats – lifespan 12 years (kidney disease – whole other issue) and 19 years 3 months and 23 days (cancer). My two newest have not been vaccinated. HOWEVER, they DID get a nasal vaccine. I’m not sure it would be accepted if they were to be boarded, which I’d never do, but they seem to be fine on it. Maybe something to look into?

  7. I was also dealing with weight issues with my cats. Boo is the largest. I also have cats that do not have weight issues, so I had to treat cats individually. What I have done is change to canned food three times a day. When any of the cats comes into the kitchen meowing at me I will give them some dry food. Boo gets about five pieces, whereas the other cats get more. I do have to make sure that Boo doesn’t steal from them!

  8. I have a 15 year old female cat who is on thyroid meds. She is always hungry but continues to lose weight. Recently, she was treated with antibiotics for a kidney infection and appears to have recovered. I am concerned about her weight loss. Is there anything I can do to build her up.

    • Is her T4 being monitored regularly to be sure that her hyperthyroidism is under control? Does she have food available at all times? The fact that she is always hungry would indicate that possibly her T4 is too high.

      • Not dry food, good quality canned food, please. Read labels — high protein (10-11 %) and fat (5-7%). Cats burn protein and fat for energy. + anything she likes for a treat, e.g as whole milk if she handles it well.

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