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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.
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! – Mary-Ellen
Hi Mary-Ellen, this is a commonly asked question and I am so grateful that you wrote in. It allows me the opportunity to alert owners like you to the fact that frequent vomiting is NOT normal. It makes no difference whether the vomitus consists of hair, bile, food, or otherwise – chronic vomiting is a medical problem. The fact that Lucky is healthy and her weight is unchanged is a good sign; however, she needs to be seen by a veterinarian who will take her problem seriously. Otherwise, it will be harder to treat as the condition progresses.
Bloodwork is a good place to start, but cats with gastrointestinal diseases typically require an ultrasound exam too. None of these tests are invasive so don’t let that stop you from having Lucky’s problem diagnosed. Depending on what is found, will depend on how she will be treated. There are many options available to help her vomit less often and she will be so much healthier for it. Please don’t be lulled into thinking there is nothing wrong just because she acts fine.
I appreciate you writing in to ask for suggestions. Unfortunately, the only one I have is to have her seen by a veterinarian with expertise in feline gastrointestinal issues. You, and Lucky, will be grateful you did. Let me know how it turns out.
Cat swipes at young children
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? – Jo Louise Klein
Hi Jo Louise, I am saddened to hear about the plight of your friend’s daughter’s cat. At one point in this kitty’s life it was loved and an important member of the family. Like you, it pains me to know that is no longer the case.
When my son was young, he would often run after our cats or try to pick them up when they did not want to be held. They expressed their displeasure by swatting at him and left several battle scars to prove it. I used those opportunities to teach my son how to properly handle and live with cats. He soon learned that unless he respected their space, he would get scratched. It took a while for him to learn, but he did eventually become a gentle, kind, animal-lover.
Children benefit from growing up with pets in so many ways. This is a good opportunity for your friend to help her kids become animal lovers. I would recommend that instead of rehoming her kitty, she bring it back into the fold and go back to treating it like an important family member. This is the best solution for everyone and will help her children learn the joy of living with, and loving, cats.
She can start by playing more with her cat in front of the kids so they can see how amusing and fun cats are as they jump in the air, run, chase and pounce on wand toys. This will also help the cat become more comfortable around the kids and vice versa. She should encourage the 2 year old to help feed the cat which will also get both kitty and the child used to being around each other in pleasurable ways. Let the 2 year old throw a treat across the room as this will also bond the two together. Allowing the cat to sit close by while reading to the young ones and encouraging the cat to be present more will be beneficial for everyone.
Using these opportunities to teach her children that kitty is an important member of the family and showing them how to treat her properly will benefit them in so many ways. She can turn her kids into cat lovers by example as opposed to giving this cat away. It would be a shame to discard her and miss out on the chance to have her children learn the joys of growing up with a cat, even, if it means getting scratched a few times before learning how to respect her space. Thank you for being a concerned cat lover and trying to help. I hope it works out well for everyone.
Cat chews on and ingests string
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. – Jan Wolfenberg
Hi Jan, cats that eat string scare me to no end because it can be deadly for them. Linear foreign bodies are extremely serious and dangerous, and many cats suffer painful deaths because of it. You should be very concerned about your kitty’s strong attachment to eating tails and string, and you will need to make sure she never has access to it.
Cats are born without teeth. Their baby ones erupt quickly and grow until approximately 5-6 months of age at which time the adult teeth emerge, pushing the sharp baby teeth out. Your cat is still going through the teething stage and her gums are still feeling sore.
She has discovered that chewing on string feels good and is oblivious to the fact that it can be dangerous. As you have observed, string catches easily on the barbed tongue, and because cats don’t have fingers, they are unable to detach it. So, they try by swallowing instead. When it gets wrapped around the base of the tongue, it becomes anchored and turns into a linear foreign body that becomes a serious surgical problem. You definitely want to avoid this happening to your kitty under all circumstances.
Fortunately, she is exhibiting normal behavior for a kitten of this age. I would recommend you continue to play with her several times a day, making sure to remove all toys when you are done. Keeping her active will help engage her mind and body and is the key to successfully treating most behavioral problems. Consider growing safe grass for her to munch on, as well as, finding oral care treats that are meant to be chewed rather than ingested whole. Have you had a veterinarian give her a good oral exam to make sure she isn’t dealing with a gum problem? Juvenile stomatitis is rare but something she should be checked for.
I have known many cats that enjoy using their molar teeth to chew on acrylic or plastic wands. Some even like plastic straws. You may have to hold it horizontally and off the ground so that it is positioned optimally for her. Cardboard is a much safer outlet and you won’t have to be as concerned about her chewing on it. She will always seek out things that feel good to chew so it is important that you find safer alternatives for her to indulge in. That will help deter her from seeking out harmful items like tails and string. Use your creativity to find safe items that will tap into her need to exercise the back molars and help satisfy her urge to chew.
You mentioned catnip and silver vine sticks. Kittens do not generally react to catnip, silver vine or other cat attractants until they become adults. It takes them time to develop the “sensibility” and your kitty may enjoy it when she gets older. Offer it to her again when she is closer to a year of age. There is even a chance she might grow out of her incessant need to chew string too. I hope that is the case. But if she doesn’t, please make sure is never allowed to play with it unsupervised. I wish you the best of luck.
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. – Nancy
Hi Nancy, as you mentioned, hyperesthesia is not a common condition, but I have encountered enough cats who suffer from it to know that it is a complicated and frustrating problem. While it is a heartbreaking to observe, I am happy to hear that Doodle is growing out of it. It is my belief that providing cats with lots of playing opportunities and ways to stay active helps keep them happy and healthy and distracting Doodle when she is having a “spell” is purrfect! It may also be helpful to avoid touching or petting her back area to avoid triggering an episode. Has your veterinarian ruled out other causes that may be causing her “attacks”?
I am not aware of any earth-shattering research or break through therapies in regard to hyperesthesia. It is still a mystery and, unfortunately, there are still no definitive treatments for it. Several researchers and clinicians are working on it and hopefully, they will gain a better understanding of what causes it and how to treat it, soon. Fortunately, hyperesthesia is not life-threatening and Doodle is an otherwise happy, healthy, and enriched feline. She is lucky to have you as her caretaker and I appreciate your interest in trying to help her without resorting to administering sedatives. Especially since her symptoms appear to be on the milder side.
Thank you for being such a conscientious owner.
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Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.