Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 7, 2023 by Crystal Uys
In February, we launched our new “Ask the Vet With Dr. Kris” segment. Once a month, we’ll post a reminder for you to post your questions for Dr. Kris. He’ll answer as many of them as he can each month, and I’ll publish his answers in a subsequent post.
Dr. Kristopher Chandroo is a veterinarian, scientist, photographer, animal welfare advocate, and creator of Stress to Success (STS): The Essential Guide to Medicating Your Feisty, Grumpy or Reluctant Cat. Dr. Kris wants your cats to be twenty years old. And counting! And he wants to provide medication and therapy to them in a way that respects the bond between cat and human.
Here are Dr. Kris’ answers to some of your questions asked in March. If your question didn’t get answered here, Dr. Kris will answer them on his own website, in the future. Subscribe to his updates so you’ll be notified when the answers are published.
Cat defecating outside the litter box
My fiance wants to get rid of my 17 year old male cat Ruford because he has resorted to defecating by the door of his “man cave.” I have had Ruford for 12 years as I adjusted to life alone. The vet ran the whole gamut of tests when he had diarrhea, and everything was negative and normal. The conclusion was IBS, and he takes probiotics with his canned food treat at night. He drinks well and eats better now. He even plays more with the other 2 cats (female). He clings to me when I get home from work (especially if I am hurting), and stays with me. I love Ruford and am fighting to keep him despite his crapping at the man cave door. (He will sometimes use Bella’s puppy pads to poop, but he always only uses the litter box to pee.) Please help us! Ruford is special, and I want to keep him until it’s his time… (Julie Blaskie)
Let’s talk about your cat. Then about your fiancé.
We have 3 things to fix.
Many times our cats hide what is happening on the inside. They hide their problems.
They do things we don’t understand, and hide things all the time.
But not Ruford. He’s telling you what the problem is. He’s speaking in clear terms, and saying it very loud.
He pee’s in the box, but poops outside of it. But he’ll poop on the puppy pads.
How a cat pee’s in the box is different than how they poop in the box. The pressure on their back, hips, legs and feet are all different when they poop.
When you have a 17 years old cat, that pee’s in the box, but not poop, it’s often because it hurts when they poop in the box. They are arthritic, and they avoid the litter box.
They don’t have to limp. They don’t have to howl or cry in pain. It doesn’t matter if they pooped in the box just fine before and now they don’t. It doesn’t matter if their X-rays look normal. They will still eat and drink and be arthritic. They can still have their normal personality and be arthritic or in pain. They can still poop in the box on their better days, but look to poop elsewhere on their bad days.
You didn’t mention what type of pain you have Julie, but you don’t have to. Maybe it’s physical, maybe it’s something else. I don’t need to know which one.
But you know those days when you hurt?
Anyone with chronic pain knows what it’s like.
Other people might not have a clue based on how you look on the outside. But you know what you feel on the inside. And they have no idea what it takes just to keep going. Just to stay functioning on the outside. When your inside is on fire.
So you gotta look into 3 things.
A) Assess your cat for arthritis and treat it.
B) Reversing Litter Box Aversion (it’s what happens when they don’t like the box anymore).
C) Help the fiancé.
What did we say about cats earlier? Many times our cats hide what is happening on the inside. They hide their problems. They do things we don’t understand.
Well, us guys are the same.
“Get rid of the cat” could mean:
“I’m feeling disrespected that the cat is @#$# next to my favorite place in the house”.
“I always tell you that there is poop here but you don’t do anything about it”.
“I think he’s doing it for spite – the cat doesn’t like me and it’s my house too”
“I had a cat that did that once, and he had a bad disease or I couldn’t fix it myself so I don’t want to even go there”.
There isn’t anything wrong about feeling this way.
But these are emotional responses, and not technical responses.
So you could tell him that Ruford is arthritic and he has litter box aversion, but he might not respond to that. Those are just the technical reasons of why he is pooping outside the man cave.
But you could tell him about the people that don’t understand you when you are hurting. The world can be very unkind to people with chronic pain. “Why don’t you just get over it” people can say. “Just pull up your bootstraps and if you just try and have willpower you will get better”.
Doesn’t work that way, does it?
Ruford is the same. He can’t just pull up his bootstraps and make it better.
He needs a world where people understand what he is going through.
And if not you and your fiancé, then who?
Because this is what we have to do in life.
When one of us gets weak, we need the other to help us.
We need people to put up with our BS, yet still want to be around us.
Tell him that you think you found the answer, and while it will take a bit of time to fix, there is a great chance this will get better if the arthritis and litter box aversion is managed.
Tell your fiancé that he’s special, and that we also want to keep him until his time….so the cat should stay, right?
Aggressive Siamese bites to get attention
Hi Dr. Kris… I have a 3 year old female Siamese cat who is quite aggressive. This has been an issue since I got her at 8 weeks old. She will bite without warning, meaning that she goes for blood right away, there is no warning nibble. She is quite independent yet seems to crave attention and she will resort to biting to get attention.
I do play with her several times a day; her favourite game is hunting for mouse/bird. She does not like to be pet (or touched) but will lie on my lap when I’m watching TV. In some ways, she seems to take pleasure in making me her prey. I take her out on a leash in the summer months and that seems to help. I can’t take her to the vet without giving her Gabapentin because she is so aggressive. Even though the vet will eventually have her way with her, I worry that this is making the problem worse. And it’s also difficult for me to examine her/brush her, never mind brushing her teeth.
Overall, she seems to be quite nervous and anxious but with a strong personality. She also reacts negatively to pheromones, which is unusual from what I’ve read. I also tried Zylkene in her food. For the time being, Bach flower remedies seem to help somewhat but I’d like to do more so that she can be calmer and more relaxed. I don’t really want to give her Prozac but I might have to consider it. (Suzanne)
I’m always impressed when I meet people like you, Suzanne. Despite the bite wounds, your cat can still be found at the end of a leash as she’s out in the summer with you. And even if things aren’t ideal, you still want to make her happy.
That is pretty special.
Since she’s been to the vet a few times, I’ll assume that medically she’s fine, with no physical issue or illness that is driving her behaviour.
You will get a lot of opinions about what to do here, and not everyone is going to understand what it’s like to have a cat like your girl. That there isn’t just a quick fix. So, how do you filter through all the information and opinions, and figure out the plan of action that she is requesting?
Here are my top three things to try:
1) Reduce trial and error, and talk to an behavior expert.
Sometimes you only have so long to change these behavioral problems. Often because the owner of the cat is at their limits by the time they come see me in the clinic.
So I want to minimize the trial and error.
We want lots of signals, and as little noise as possible.
So I like to involve people like Mikel Delgado. Mikel is a feline behavior expert that I am thrilled to be working with. Someone like Mikel gets it. She knows that your cat is an individual, and your situation is unique, so the answers you need must be customized to you.
She’s seen a million furry faces, and she’s rocked them all (I don’t know if she’ll like the Bon Jovi reference, though – ha).
I showed her your question, and Mikel says:
“Suzanne, it sounds like you are doing a great job at providing your kitty with interactive playtime. I can think of a few other things that might help with the aggressive behaviors.
First of all, clicker training can be a great way to get cats used to basic husbandry procedures. The way I see it, is if animal handlers at the zoo can train lions to open their mouths for an oral exam, we should be able to train our cats to as well. There are some great resources out there on training cats, including Sarah Ellis and John Bradshaw’s excellent book The Trainable Cat, and Karen Pryor’s website, clickertraining.com.
Your kitty is still pretty young and very active, so anything you can do to give her additional enrichment would be great. This might mean food puzzles, a bird feeder to watch, plenty of vertical space, and some of the “automatic” toys – I really like the Hexbug Nano Cat Toy.
Finally, I wonder if she might do better with a veterinarian who does house calls?”
I like how Mikel compares our guys to training lions. It’s the same thing when we’ve got to train them to take medication – once you find out how, it is very possible!
2) Address the elephant sitting on her chest. If you and your vet think she’s anxious, treat the anxiety. People with anxiety can feel like this: https://themighty.com/2017/03/anxiety-elephant-in-the-room/
So we never let treatment with medication be the last resort. You’ve got to get the elephant off her chest so her world view can change. Literally.
3) It will take at least several tries with everything to get it right. So keep on trying.
So you know those summer walks you two go on? Would love to see a picture of your Siamese out enjoying herself in the grass. Let us know how things go!
Cat with resorptive dental disease
Hello. My 14 yr. old female Siamese mix cat had dental work done last year and it was discovered that she had resorption of some dental roots. I was hoping you could shed some light on this subject. The vet didn’t have much info to offer. My cat has had asthma for several years and I successfully treat it with Fluticasone Proprionate twice a day. I was wondering if the steroid contributes to this problem, is this hereditary, an anomaly, what? She is at the vet now for dental cleaning as she has gingivitis and I am waiting to hear that the resorption is a repeat culprit. Thanks. (Darlene Bloomer)
Darlene, I’m sure Dr. Kris will answer this, but I wanted to give you this information, because your comment that your vet didn’t have much info to offer really disturbed me. Here’s more information on tooth resorption: https://consciouscat.net/2012/02/06/tooth-resorption-a-painfully-common-dental-disease-in-cats/
If you’ve been following our blog, you’ve probably seen my recent posts about going through this with my Ruby. If not, here’s the link to our experience with this disease: https://consciouscat.net/2017/02/27/ruby-goes-to-the-dentist-part-four-returning-home-recovery/
I really like the advice in the two links that Ingrid has provided.
So, we all know that people can get cavities. Tartar and gingivitis. Or abscesses.
All the usual stuff.
The usual stuff for cats is different.
Tooth resorption is different.
You have a good question. Why does my cat have this.
The answer is a crappy one.
It’s Stuff we don’t know + Likely a variety of causes = Inflammation infiltration.
I’m sure at some point or another, viruses, food and genetics have all been implicated. Never heard or seen fluticasone as being a cause.
It will make your head spin.
And also your cat’s, because at the end of the day, it’s your cat sitting there with a painful mouth. It can be mild, or really awful pain that they experience.
Your vet might not have much to say about the cause, but should have plenty to say about the treatment.
You know how people go twice a year to the dentist?
I wish I could treat my cats the same way. Of course it’s more complicated that that.
Vigilant monitoring, and then treat them based on what the dental X-rays look like and how our cat’s are responding.
Cat wanders and yowls at night, cats won’t accept foster cat
Hello! My 1.5 year old tabby, tortie mix of some sort, wanders around at night and yowls! Every night, it sounds like she is lost. If I go downstairs and grab her and snuggle her and bring her to bed, she jumps off and goes right back at it. What is she doing? Is she sick? Wondering if I should make a trip to the vet or not.
I also have one more question! I am currently fostering a kitty that I would really love to adopt, but my girl and boy cat WILL NOT accept him. It has been three weeks of slow integration, and they still hiss and growl and swat. I purchased the Feliway products, original and Multicat, and have placed three around the house but to no avail. What else can I do? Am I doomed to never get another cat? Thank you! (Stephanie)
I’m gonna start with your second question.
Getting another cat is sometimes like getting a new roommate. Sometimes they move in, and you discover even more reasons that you really can’t get along with this person. Maybe there isn’t any one thing you can point to, but at the end of the day, you just tolerate them. You’re never going to be best of friends. Sometimes it’s one specific problem. Like their tolerance of unwashed dishes doesn’t match up with yours. Sometimes though, it’s not them. It’s their boyfriend who is always over. He uses all the hot water in the shower and that sucks. I’ve been that boyfriend.
Your home, preferences, previous experiences with strangers, tolerances and baggage all play a role in how well you do with the people you live with.
With cats it’s the same thing. Yes, you hear about people quickly introducing a new kitty to the house, with no problems. Best buddies. Pictures of them snuggling on Facebook. I’ve had roommates I’ve gotten along with great from the get go.
But you never see the Facebook posts when it doesn’t work out, and one of those kitties has to go. Like one of the houses I stayed at when I lived in Vancouver Island…I lasted 3 weeks and then I had to find somewhere new.
I asked Mikel, my behavioral expert at felineminds.com to comment. Here is what she said:
“Regarding the cat introduction, well, cat introductions are complicated, and in some cases can take months. The best thing you can do is prevent fights, and keep them separated while starting a slow, controlled introduction – usually by using a baby gate or screen door to allow the cats to see each other but not touch, which pairing the exposure with something positive like treats or playtime on either side of that barrier. Over time, you can increase their exposure, but if they are hissing and swatting, you are rushing the process. Unfortunately, we have to introduce cats on their schedule, not ours.
Some cats cannot be integrated into the home, and some situations will require more time and management. But many cats can be integrated, it just takes a lot more than Feliway. With difficult introductions, I always recommend hiring a qualified behavior consultant sooner rather than later!”
It’s very possible that you can have another cat live with your group.
Gonna need to give it some time.
And if there is baggage, some effort.
And if they hiss and swat, it’s too early.
P.S. Mikel also said this: “Stephanie, it sounds like your kitty is a little too awake at night. Some cats do “get lost” at night and howl, but that is more common in older cats who are experiencing some sort of sensory decline. Assuming that your cat is healthy, you should try to get her more on your sleep schedule. A lengthy play session in the early evening, followed by a meal shortly before your bedtime will help her sleep more through the night. You also have to ignore her howling – when you get up and bring her back to bed, you are inadvertently rewarding her with attention, which means the howling will continue night after night!”
20-year-old cat lost a lot of weight in one month
My 20 yr old female indoor cat has lost a lot of weight in one month. I’m feeding her small meals throughout the day. I’m retired & have limited funds. I’ve started giving her cat vitamins from a tube daily. What could be the problem? (P. Vilas)
It’s ok if you don’t have a lot of money to figure out what is going on with your cat.
The vet’s in Cuba do this all the time. They do the GGE. Good history + Good physical exam + Experienced vet = a lot of things that can be done at lower cost.
Let’s assume you had 60 to 80 dollars to spend.
This will get you a physical exam in most places.
Most of the time, if I’m able to have a really thorough conversation with a person (called the medical history), and combine that with a really good physical exam, I should have a reasonable short list of what the problem could be, and what can be tried to help.
Look at this PDF I found: https://www.ruralareavet.org/PDF/Physical_Examination.pdf Look under the physical exam process. See all that? That is massive amounts of information that a proper history and exam can give you. MASSIVE.
I can figure all that stuff out in 5 minutes or less. An experienced vet will have a flow. Hands on is a must. All of those factors flowing through the brain as my hands, eyes, stethoscope go over their body. I’m comparing your cat to thousands of other cats as I do this, and my brain is like a radar looking for anything that doesn’t fit.
So, start there.
Be present and make sure it’s a thorough exam. Remember, an experienced vet can check those pages of info off in their head quickly. So it’s not speed you are looking for really, it’s can they answer as many questions as you can pepper them with, based on the physical exam.
Rapid weight loss is your cat’s inability to hide some type of illness.
In a 20-year-old cat, it’s often more than one thing that contributes to the weight loss.
I could give you a list, but you know what’s better?
Invest in a quality physical exam. Wring it out to the last drop. Pepper your vet with questions!
A good vet won’t hold it against you that you have financial concerns.
A good vet will respect people who do what they can with what they have.
And then, even if you can’t do diagnostic tests that help narrow that list down, ask if there are any treatments that can be tried based on the history and physical exam.
There always are.
Without testing (bloodwork / xrays etc), prepare for a bit of guessing. Guessing is ok if you and your vet feel safe working with each other. This means that I don’t blame you for not having all the money in the world so I have to guess more, and you don’t blame me if I guess wrong.
Your cat will benefit from teamwork that comes from this type of shared responsibility.
Do you have a question for Dr. Kris?
Leave it in a comment!
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.