Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: July 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Last month, we introduced you to Dr. Lynn Bahr, who is taking over our Ask the Cat Doc segment. Once a month, we’ll post a reminder for you to post your questions for Dr. Bahr. She’ll answer as many of them as she can each month, and I’ll publish her answers in a subsequent post.
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.
What to feed a cat with urinary tract problems
I have 2 American Tabby rescues. My 3-year old neutered male developed a UTI 2 years ago and was put on Royal Canin ISO prescription kibble. His 3-year old neutered housemate has never had one, but I was told the food would be fine for her as well. They love the food, and when I put down the occasional wet for her, he ignores it–he also ignores the Royal Canin ISO wet food. They have 3 water sources: a fountain, a gravity feeder, and a bowl which contains water-soluble fiber (for hairball travel).
He seems to have spurts (no pun intended!) of vomiting. Fewer are hairball-related since I added fiber to the water and safflower oil to the kibble. The vomiting may also be emotion-/stress-related as the female (9 lbs lighter than he!) can be a bossy queen sometimes.
So: 2 questions:
1. I was told when we started on the ISO kibble that it was for the life of my male cat. Is this true? Is there no other food (raw, wet, non-prescription) he can safely & healthfully eat? Is it truly safe for my female?
2. Should I worry about the vomiting?
OK, 4 questions….
Thank you for any insights and suggestions you may be able to offer. (Lark Underwood)
Thank you so much for writing in with your questions. Diet is a complicated subject and everyone has their own opinion they are sure is the right one. What we know today will be discarded tomorrow, and old knowledge will be back in vogue in the near future. If you put ten veterinarians in a room and ask them your questions, you will get ten different answers.
Did your 3-year old male have a true bacterial UTI, or was it something else like cystitis or crystalluria? Each condition is treated differently, and knowing what your kitty was suffering from is important to formulating a treatment plan. However, there are certainly options when it comes to types of diets and we frequently have to get creative in finding the right ones for each cat’s individual preference. The bottom line when feeding sick cats is that it is more important that they eat, than what they eat. It is futile to prescribe a diet a cat doesn’t like.
My first cat, Rudolph, who I credit for becoming a veterinarian, had three episodes of urinary blockages in the early 1980’s. What devastates me most is that this urgent, painful, and possibly fatal condition remains common in male cats, generally between the ages 2-6, today. Veterinarians have been treating this problem for too long and I look forward to the day we find a simple cure. The goal for prevention has always been aimed at diet. Back in the eighties, we looked for low ash while today we aim for low magnesium. What we do know is that crystal formation in the urine is common, and that maintaining a neutral ph so that it is not too high or too low is best. Diluting the urine by increasing water intake is another good approach to preventing this terrible condition.
Every cat’s diet should be reassessed frequently. Age, lifestyle, physical and medical conditions all affect diet choice and no diet is for life. There is no one single Nor is there any one diet that is good for all cats. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition has a directory of certified nutritionists and resources that may be of help to you. You can find it here http://www.acvn.org/directory/. I highly recommend you seek out veterinarians who have additional knowledge in feline nutrition to guide you on feeding your cats throughout their lifetime.
Chronic vomiting is always a concern to me and should never be accepted as normal. It can be diet related or more serious than that. Chronic vomiting indicates a gastrointestinal problem exists somewhere. Identifying the underlying cause is essential in order to treat appropriately. Your kitty is young and has years ahead of him. He shouldn’t spend those years vomiting because ultimately it will take a serious toll on his GI tract.
You are a wise mom to consider that your little guy might be suffering from stress. Sometimes stress manifests itself as medical problems, and many of the inflammatory diseases of cats are treated by addressing environmental enrichment. I am a strong advocate for play, exercise, and mental and physical stimulation for indoor cats. I know that it makes them happier and healthier. It is a necessary part of any medical treatment plan, and I encourage you to see where you can add spice to your cats’ lives. If you are looking for new ideas on how to start adding ways to play into your routine, take a look at my blogs on the www.deziroo.com website. If the problem is more serious than that, a feline specific behaviorist will be your best resource.
I appreciate your concerns and know that you are a great pet parent because of them. Your cats appreciate it too.
My cat vomits too often I think. We feed her applaws dry food and 1 can almo nature wet food. Some periodes she vomits every week or 2-3 times and month. Is this normal? Is real vomit, no hairballs (Hanna)
I consider vomiting every week or 2-3 times a month too much. Anything more than once a month is considered a chronic problem and not normal for any cat. While the wrong diet can certainly make cats vomit, there are lots and lots of medical issues that can cause vomiting too. Your cat needs a thorough gastrointestinal workup in order to diagnose and treat the problem effectively. It should include a complete diet history, along with a good physical exam, and bloodwork will likely be necessary too. Normal bloodwork results are good to report, but that typically indicates that the vomiting is directly related to a problem within the gastrointestinal tract and that there will be a need for further diagnostics. Don’t let any of that scare you. Most cases of chronic vomiting have successful treatment outcomes and diagnosing the problem early is key to success. Hopefully, you have a trusted feline savvy veterinarian who can help you help your kitty. If not, see if you can find one here https://catfriendly.com/find-a-veterinarian/.
Non-toxic flea control
I’m wondering if there is a nontoxic way to deal with fleas. On a routine visit, my vet found a single flea excrement in her comb and insisted on applying Advocate (Bayer pharma). My cat became visibly sick immediately, with drooling, major behavior changes, and complete listlessness. I will never again allow this or similar products near my cat. What are the alternatives? We have never had a flea infestation here. (Barbara)
I despise fleas as much as you and your cats do. They carry diseases that make cats ill and sometimes cause death. They make animals uncomfortable which can affect quality of life dramatically. Once they have taken up residence in a yard, home, or on animals, they are very difficult to get rid of. Fleas create all kinds of problems, and effective prevention is the way to stop them from affecting your cat’s comfort and health. Prevention is essential, and once you have the problem under control, make sure you stay on top of it. Since you have never had an infestation before, it would be beneficial for you to figure out where the problem started so that it won’t happen again.
There are many nontoxic ways to deal with fleas and you are wise not to use a product again that caused your cat to become ill. I am a fan of beneficial nematodes for controlling fleas in the yard. The Steinerma carpocapsae is a parasite of fleas and effectively eats them up like candy. These nematodes are not harmful to people, pets, or plants.
Besides frequent vacuuming, moping, and washing, a reasonable approach for treating the inside premises is to use a powder called Fleabusters, which is designed to dessicate the outer skeleton of the flea and basically dehydrates them to death. It has low toxicity and is relatively safe to use in most households. I am not a physician, but personally, I would stay away from all powders or sprays if any people or pets in the home suffer from asthma or breathing issues. Clients who have used Fleabusters have all been satisfied and I believe it to be a good alternative to other more toxic chemicals.
Non-toxic treatment options for your cat include bathing with chemical free shampoos and frequent combing. I am not a fan of applying things topically on cats since they are such fastidious groomers and will ingest anything you put on them. Cats are sensitive creatures and many seemingly safe herbs and oils for humans and dogs can be toxic to them. On occasion, I recommend oral prescription products like Capstar, which are designed to kill fleas quickly. I find that they are necessary to get effective control while owners are working on the treatment of the environment.
Hopefully you have gotten rid of your current flea problem and future efforts will be directed at preventing it from occurring again. I appreciate your wanting to use less toxic treatment options than you used in the past and hope your kitty recovered completely.
How frequently should vaccinations be given?
I don’t believe in yearly vaccinations. What is the absolute must for vaccinations once the initial is done? (Judy Cervizzi)
I believe in tailoring every vaccine protocol according to age and lifestyle and do not vaccinate all cats on a strict schedule or with the same vaccines. I discuss the pros and cons of every vaccine with owners and allow them to choose what they feel is best for their kitty. In my state of Georgia, every pet is required to be current on their rabies vaccinations and I am obligated to make sure every client is aware of that and that their pets are properly protected. All other vaccines are optional and together, we choose which are necessary for their cats.
Kittens are most at risk for infections we can prevent, and I believe in making sure they are well vaccinated. I recommend boosters one year later and then we tailor our vaccine recommendations according to the cat’s lifestyle and the owner’s beliefs. Sometimes we give boosters every three years and sometimes we draw titers instead. Other than rabies, I don’t adhere to strict vaccine protocols unless the situation warrants it. I believe thorough annual physical exams with bloodwork are extremely important and prefer to stress that to my clients, rather than the need for yearly vaccines.
How to deal with recurring upper respiratory infections
I have a 8 year old cat that was a stray. He has been a great cat. About a year and a half ago he started having issues with URI’s. He will get antibiotics and they go away while he is on the medication but about 2 weeks after it is done he starts back up again. He responds well the the antibiotics and is back to his old self every time after taking them. Could this be allergies causing this since it just suddenly came on after he was fine for 6.5 years? We have moved in that time and I did switch out the cat food because the old one was upsetting my other cats stomach. I am at a loss and the vet doesn’t seem to know what to do with him either. He can’t keep taking antibiotics all the time. He shakes his head from time to time also. It is obviously bacterial since he responds to the antibiotics so could something be trapping that in his nose and then it turns to a bacterial infection? So confused what to do with him to help him. (Connie)
Believe it or not, cats with chronic respiratory diseases are common and indeed frustrating to manage. It negatively impacts everyone’s life. Patients remain uncomfortable and owners remain distraught. It is frustrating for veterinarians who have little more than antibiotics to dispense. This is not a condition anyone enjoys dealing with. However, many of the underlying causes can, in fact, be treated successfully while others can only be managed.
I tend to look at the most common conditions that cause chronic respiratory disease first and then dig deeper if we don’t find the right answer. Getting a good history would help me to determine whether I thought it was viral or bacterial or a combination of the two. I often find bacterial infections concurrently with a virus like herpes. Obstructive conditions like nasal polyps, ear polyps, cancer or even a foreign body can all cause these same symptoms, with the bacterial component being secondary and not the initiating cause. It would be important to know what antibiotics your cat has been given, at what strength, frequency, and duration. Are these infections really new each time, or is this the same one that hasn’t completely gone away?
There are diagnostic tests and procedures which you can pursue to get to the root of the problem, and I would discuss that with your veterinarian. If warranted, you can even seek a second opinion with a specialist. You are wise to be concerned. I believe cats with chronic upper respiratory diseases suffer more than we realize. Headaches are a common complaint from people with sinus infections. We will never know if cats get them, too, but I suspect they do. I hope you are able to find relief for your baby soon.
Is diffusing essential oils around cats safe?
Welcome to the community, Dr. Bahr! Many of my friends are posting on Facebook a warning about diffusing essential oils around cats. Is this really a concern? I have been using them but want to know if I should stop. (Catherine)
I’m so glad you asked about essential oils and cats and the answer to your question is YES, I have some concerns. However, they may not be exactly the same ones you have been hearing about. My concerns are more general in nature and deal with all of the smells cats living in four walls are exposed to.
Cats are born without sight or sound and manipulate the first few weeks of life almost completely by smell. Scent is an essential component of their existence. The importance of smell to a cat cannot be emphasized enough. Now imagine what it must be like for our feline companions to live within four walls devoid of fresh air. Our cats smell only those scents we place in our homes. Instead of smelling grass, soil, garbage, and other wonderful natural elements, our kitties deal with the smell of cleaning supplies, the food we cook, things we put on our skin and bodies, or scent that we spray and burn. My two most recent blogs at www.deziroo.com discuss the importance of smell and ways to use scent as enrichment for indoor cats to enjoy. I urge all owners to become more aware of the effects all of the products they use in their home and on their bodies have on their cats that live indoors.
It is for these reasons I am concerned about essential oils. Why introduce another artificial smell into a home with cats who likely don’t appreciate the same scents we do. Besides the fact that there are concerns about the safety of the oils themselves, I prefer to err on the side of caution and bring branches and leaves inside for my cats to smell instead.
A note from Ingrid: There has been a lot of information making the rounds on social media claiming that essential oils are safe for cats. This is a controversial topic, and nobody seems to have a definitive answer. I do not recommend the use of essential oils around cats, preferring to err on the side of caution rather than believing the statements of some manufacturers of these oils who claim their products are safe. You can find a comprehensive article exploring this controversy on the sadly now defunct Natural Cat Care Blog. Even though the information is several years old, I believe it’s still the most useful article about the topic I’ve been able to find.
Diet for cats with allergies and urinary crystals
I have a cat that is on limited diet because of allergies and should be on Royal canin So diet because of crystals. What can I feed her to address both of her problems. Thanks for any ideas you may have. (Darlene)
When faced with a feeding dilemma like yours, I typically rely on a nutritional consultation with a specialist first. The American College of Veterinary Nutrition has some excellent information on their website at http://www.acvn.org/nutrition-resources/ with resources for pet owners like you.
With so many food options, I am confident you and your veterinarian will find several that address both of your cat’s conditions successfully. Remember, no one food is for life and your cat’s nutrition should be revisited often. Age, health, and weight are all factors that must be considered and because they change from time to time, so does the proper diet. Having a professional on board who you trust makes the process easier and I hope you have good luck finding the right one for you and your kitty.
Cat with lymphoma
Hello Dr. Bahr! I adopted Tulip 7 years old cat 6 month ago, and within 2 weeks after adoption she had a blockage and got a surgery. During the surgery they discover one enlarged lymph node and took a biopsy, the test result came back with possible lymphoma. We didn’t do chemo. She is very skinny 6.390 LB and she still loosing weight because she is not getting enough calories since we removed her from a dry food. We tried several brands canned food, most of them she is not eating and some of them give her diarrhea and vomiting. I also tried a homemade food, cooked for her, but she eats one day and very next day she doesn’t want to. No help from vets, we seen 6 different doctors and when i asked them what should I feed her, they saying you can try this or you can try that. So far nothing is working. I need something, that not causing diarrhea or vomiting and give her enough calories, all high calories supplements contain oil and this is not good for us. Maybe you have some ideas, I would be very grateful if you could give us some advice. (Yelena)
I am very sorry to hear that your beloved Tulip is not doing well. My heart breaks for you. Unfortunately, lymphoma, if left untreated, continues to progress, and there are no magic bullets to stop it. All you can do is palliative treatment to increase quality of life and make your baby more comfortable. Some lymphomas progress slowly and there are many adjunct therapies you can try, while others progress more rapidly, leaving you with fewer alternatives. If your cat takes medications well, there are certainly several treatments other than chemotherapy that will help. My blog on How to Make Medicating Your Cat Easy has some tips that may be of help to you.
It is my belief that gastrointestinal disorders can be painful, and you should discuss pain options with your veterinarian. There are also many good medications that help with nausea, gas, and diarrhea. Sometimes it just takes finding the right cocktail of drugs, and once these problems are eliminated, your kitty will feel well enough to eat more. You are right to be concerned about nutrition. It might be helpful to get a second opinion from a veterinary nutritionist or oncologist. In this situation, I don’t believe it is as simple as finding the right food but rather the right combination of food, meds, and treatments. I will keep you and your kitty in my thoughts and send healing white light your way.
Opinion on Assisi Loop
My question for the doctor is one of my cats has cysts on her kidneys and she has arthritis which some days you can see also a couple other older ones also have arthritis. I have read that the Assissi Loop is supposed to be good for inflammation. May l have yr opinion please. (Lynn)
Thank you for your question about the Assissi Loop. While I don’t have any firsthand experience, many of my clients and colleagues are impressed with it. I would certainly encourage you to give it a try. As you are well aware, arthritis is painful and limits quality of life. I am of the opinion that it takes many different modalities of treatment to effectively help our kitties deal with the pain. Acupuncture, laser, anti-inflammatories, pain meds, and nutritional supplements are all good ones to try. Every cat’s pain level and underlying cause is different so there is no one course of treatment that works for all. I prefer to take a step by step approach adding in one treatment at a time and assessing its effectiveness before moving on.
Making the home environment more conducive to your cat’s individual needs will help too. This is a good time to re-evaluate litter box placement, size, and depth of litter to accommodate your cat’s limited mobility. Pay attention to your cat’s defecation habits since some arthritic cats have trouble passing stool. Warm beds, reflective blankets, and air crates are great and help make cats feel better. Encourage gentle activity and keep your cat moving daily. Have the proper pain meds and anti-inflammatory medications available for any bad days which are bound to occur.
You are a wonderful owner to be researching your options and I hope you have success with the Loop. Please let us know about your experience with it.
Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
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About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.