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 their website.

Recommendations for cat who is overgrooming her belly

My cat had been chewy hair off her tummy for years. Tried unsuccessfully to find cause. Thinking if it is food allergies, what food ingredients would you recommend and/or avoid? – Kari Deutschman

Hi Kari, I frequently see cats who overgroom their bellies and am sorry to hear that yours does it too. There are many possible reasons why some cats are prone to do this, and a possible food allergy is just one of them. Other causes include internal or external parasites, fungal infections like ringworm, urinary tract infection, abdominal inflammation or pain, inhalant or contact allergies, and even boredom or stress. I would recommend a visit to a veterinary dermatologist before you begin experimenting yourself with different foods. I believe it is prudent to rule out some of the other causes I mentioned above before assuming it is due to an ingredient in the food.
If the cause ultimately comes down to a food allergy, then it is important that a controlled food study be done correctly so that you don’t start adding in all kinds of proteins that would make an elimination diet difficult to perform. Wouldn’t life be easier if our cats could talk? Good luck and please let me know if you are successful in figuring out what is causing your cat to overgroom her belly.

Maine Coon mix with congenital heart defect

Hello Dr. Bahr, I have a 3-1/2-year-old Maine Coon mix who has a serious congenital heart defect (a “dual chambered” right ventricle). He has had a couple of echocardiograms and the cardiologist says to just “treat him like a normal cat.” He gets short of breath at times and I can see that he is frequently hypoxic – his tongue is more blue than pink most of the time. His shortness of breath (panting with his mouth open) resolves after a few minutes of rest. My question is that he seems to be frequently uncomfortable, and he hisses at the other cats a lot – sometimes hissing just as he’s walking through a room. I suspect he gets headaches or something else related to his low oxygen levels. This seems to be worsening (at least, the hissing is more frequent than it used to be). He doesn’t actually dislike the other cats and often plays with them. He used to be so laid back! Do you have any advice for how to get him more oxygen? I’ve looked into renting an O2 tank but I don’t know how I’d administer it. My vet (she’s a cat vet) does not have any ideas for how to help him with this. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. – Renee Gagnon

Hi Renee, I am so sorry to hear that your boy is feeling worse and wish I had some pearls of wisdom to give you. Unfortunately, I don’t. If he has not been rechecked recently, I would suggest a follow-up visit with the cardiologist. Things can change quickly and it is possible that his condition has worsened. If fluid has accumulated in his chest, he may benefit from medications that can help remove it. He is fortunate to have such an observant and caring owner like you and it sounds like you have the appropriate veterinary team on board to help you. I am sending you and your boy healing prayers and hope you will keep me updated.

Will early neutering reduce aggression?

My spouse and I have a sweet female tiger kitten, and our son, who lives 2 hours away, has a male part-Siamese kitten who is a real “bully boy.” Both are about the same age, 4 months or so. When we visit, with Lucy, the 2 kittens romp like toddlers and they obviously love being together. Simon, has already scratched both of her eyes as he loves putting Lucy in a headlock and leaping on her. Simon’s vet does not want to neuter him until he is at least 6 months old, but I fear Lucy will be “in tatters” by then. (She was already spayed when we rescued her.). I know they are playing and really like each other but it is scary to watch. Would it be detrimental to Simon’s health to neuter him now? Or would that even help his aggression? Lucy is not an unwilling participant in the play, but she is not as strong and muscular as he is and unless she can run away, she is usually pinned under his biting mouth and flailing paws. Any suggestions would be appreciated. – Pat Hendrickson

Hi Pat, I am perplexed about a few things that you mentioned and am not sure why your veterinarian is recommending you wait until Simon is 6 months of age before neutering him, or how he could have scratched both of Lucy’s eyes. If Lucy suffered from bilateral corneal scratches, I would suspect something more common like herpes than injuries sustained from playing with Simon. It is unlikely he would have scratched both her eyes just from rough play.

If you were my client, assuming Simon is healthy, I would not hesitate to neuter him at 4 months of age. However, I would not expect it to change his behavior, which sounds to me like normal play. Cats at this age are learning many skills that help them navigate the world successfully and he and Lucy are just having fun. It is normal for kittens to play hard with each other and as you have seen, sometimes it can go a little too far. They will work it out between them and as long as Lucy does not seem frightened or intimated by Simon, I would not interfere or interrupt their antics. I am happy to hear they remain good friends and they are fortunate to have each other to rough and tumble with. Of course, parental supervision is always recommended and I commend you for watching out for the welfare of both of these kittens.

Has Lucy been spayed? If not, I would recommend you do so soon. There is no reason not to have both of these babies altered now before they are able to reproduce.

Is Dawn dish detergent safe to use on an 8-week-old kitten?

I adopted a kitten n she is now at 8 wks old. She has little fleas n she is an inside kitty but the boy cats must have brought them in from outside n the dog too. She too little for a collar or flea stuff, I think. Is Dawn dish detergent that has the duck on it-blue bottle safe to use on kitten for a bath? – Deborah Starks

Hi Deborah, Fleas are not just an annoyance but can also transmit serious diseases, result in blood loss, and cause unnecessary skin problems. You will not only need to remove the fleas from your new kitten, but it will be important for you to also treat your other pets and the environment as well.

Please consult with your veterinarian for the proper products to use in your situation. Too many of the over-the-counter products are toxic to cats, especially young ones like yours. However, she is old enough for some oral products you can get from your vet, which will quickly kill any fleas and are more effective than bathing her in Dawn.

However, it will not prevent the fleas in your environment from jumping right back on all of your pets which is why environmental control is important too. I never recommend bombs, toxic sprays, or over-the-counter collars and prefer you discuss safer alternatives with your veterinarian. Once you have eliminated the problem, it will be very important to continue preventative measures to make sure you never have this problem again. That will involve making sure all of your pets are protected.

Is it kidney disease?

Dr. Bahr, I have an 11-year-old tuxie female that I just adopted 2 years ago from a local shelter. Earlier this year I had blood work and ultrasound done on her because she had started displaying hiding behavior. The local vet who seems quite competent said she was in kidney failure. Her BUN level was 30 and her Creatinine was 1.9, which are still within normal limits according to the blood work copy I received. Is she actually experiencing kidney “failure” or is she simply in the early stages of kidney disease? And what kind of diet do you recommend for her? I’ve gone online to research it, but it seems no one agrees with how to help a kitty suffering from kidney disease. Also, the vet said her ultrasound showed a “snow globe” effect in her bladder. He said he didn’t know just what that meant, if anything. It’s really frustrating, especially since she’s such a sweet and cuddly little kitty! – Alice

Hi Alice, Thank you so much for adopting an older cat. Your new baby is so lucky to have you as her new mom and we wish you both many happy years together. While her BUN and Creatinine numbers are on the high end of normal, they are only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to diagnosing and treating kidney disease. Knowing what her urine concentrating ability looks like, as well as, her phosphorus levels. body condition score, muscle condition score, urine sediment, and ultrasound evaluation are important factors to consider when diagnosing and treating kidney disease. Without this information it is not possible for me to answer your questions about diet appropriately.

If your veterinarian did not know what the ultrasound findings suggested, I would recommend you seek a second opinion. Unless you are able to diagnose the problem, it is much harder to resolve the problem.

I am interested to know more about her hiding behavior. I suspect it could be due to something other than her kidney values and would look for other causes. Unfortunately, without being able to put my hands on her for a full physical evaluation, I am not much help here either. Perhaps it would be in her best interest for you to seek another opinion to make sure something else isn’t being overlooked. Please let me know how it turns out and again thank you so much for bringing this gal into your home.