Should I brush My Cat's Teeth?

Dental treatments for companion animals are becoming more and more common. Marsha F. writes:

How important is it to brush my cats teeth?

Marsha, it can be very important. In the wild, cats rarely have issues because, on average, they only live for three to five years. Living in our homes, cats can live more than 20 years so there's a greater likelihood of dental issues. Of course, just like humans, genetics can play a major role. Some have a greater predisposition to problems than others.

Diet also has a tremendous effect on dental health. The myth that dry food helps clean teeth is just that - a myth. In fact, dry food and treats can actually cause more problems than wet food (Think of how Cheetos get stuck in your own teeth). Cats who eat a raw diet tend to have much healthier teeth and gums because they're getting better, more complete nutrition.

The big issue with brushing is whether or not your feline friend will tolerate it. If they're trained early to accept your fingers along their gums, they'll usually accept brushing. If they have difficulty with it, we suggest you begin by using a soft hair brush along the sides of their mouths since most cats really enjoy that. Once they've accepted the hair brush, introduce them to a plain toothbrush. We like the finger brushes as opposed to the long-handled brushes because you know exactly where the brush is in the cat's mouth.

You don't have to use toothpaste, though brushing is more effective with it. Never use human toothpaste, though. Gently brush the outside of the teeth along the gum line where tartar is most likely to form. If your patient becomes restless, offer a treat and let them go on their way. You can always do a little bit at a time over several days. Whatever you do, don't force it. You want your cat to associate brushing with positive feelings.

As to veterinary dental care, be aware that some of the corporate veterinary chains use dental treatments as a new way to make extra money. While a cat will benefit from an occasional cleaning, the anesthesia can be risky for some individuals. It's up to you and a veterinarian you trust to determine whether or not the risk is worth the benefit. 

Help, My Cat is Losing Weight!

When a cat experiences unexpected weight loss, there's good cause for concern. Elizabeth T. writes:

I have a 12 year old cat named Jade who has always been small. Her usual weight is 6 pounds. She is down to 4 (was even lighter a month ago). I have been feeding her baby food and wet kitten food and while it has helped, she has only gained less than half a pound in the last month. I have taken her to the vet and they can’t find any problems. Is there something better I can feed her to help her gain weight?

Elizabeth, this is an extremely complex problem and one that should be solved with the input of a qualified veterinarian. Since we can't even see Jade or her test results, it's difficult to draw conclusions, but we can give you some general advice on seeking an answer for her problem.

It's unusual for a 12 year old cat to have weight loss without an underlying medical cause. Our first thought is that Jade might be diabetic, but surely your veterinarian tested for that. It might be worth getting a second opinion from another vet. Many veterinarians are very dog-centric because that's what pays the bills. Since many cat caregivers rarely take their cats in for checkups and most cats are very good at hiding their maladies, some vets rarely see cats at all.

Common medical causes for weight loss in cats include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) & parasites. Jade should be tested for all of these.

Once you're confident that there's not an obvious medical cause, it's time to look for more subtle causes. 

  • If Jade is having sinus problems, she will not be able to smell her food and will probably not eat.
  • If she has dental pain, she won't want to eat.
  • If there are other cats in the household and she's being bullied, she may not eat. 
  • If one of her companions has died recently, she may go through a grieving period and not eat.
  • If she's on medications, she may have gastric issues caused by the medicine.

You see what we're getting at. You need to put on your detective hat. A cat with abdominal pain may lay on her side in a way she doesn't usually like. She may respond to gentle abdominal pressure with a hiss that goes beyond her ordinary reaction. Look for changes in her behavior, however subtle, as clues to her problem. 

Getting her to eat depends on the root cause of her lack of appetite. For example, if her problem is sinus related, you may need to help her clear her sinuses. (See this post: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/treating-chronic-rhinosinusitis )

 
 

If she has diarrhea or is constipated, she may be having gastric issues. The best treatment for those is a good probiotic like FortiFlora and a teaspoon of canned 100% pumpkin puree added to each meal. These two ingredients combined will sort out a huge variety of intestinal issues. The FortiFlora has the additional benefit of having an irresistible flavor to most cats.

Finding the cause is key here, Elizabeth. It just takes perseverance. Feeding her high-calorie kitten and baby food is a good way to keep her weight up in the interim. There really are no higher calorie food sources to consider. As I mentioned above, adding FortiFlora to her food may make her more interested in it until you can diagnose her real issue.

We wish you and Jade all the best!

How do I Transition My Cat From Dry Food to Wet Food?

Many cat caregivers have fed their feline friends dry food at one time or another. There's no denying that it's convenient, but it isn't the best choice to meet a cat's nutritional needs. However, it can be quite difficult to transition a cat from kibble to a more nutritious food. Laurie L. writes:

I was away for a while over the winter and my son looked after my three cats. Well, I guess he got lazy because now I can’t get them to eat any wet food at all. They will only eat treats and a bit of dry food. I have tried numerous ways to get them back on track but to no avail. I am concerned for their health. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Laurie, any food change can be difficult, but it's especially hard to get some cats off of dry kibble. We often tell people that feeding cats dry food is a lot like feeding toddlers nothing but potato chips. They like it but it's not nutritious. 

You have to be careful. Cats can be very stubborn, and hunger alone will not drive them to eat if they don't approve of the food. They will starve first, so make sure they're still eating something and that there's fresh water available. The water won't provide enough moisture for them long-term but they should be fine until you can get them back on their wet diet.

This might be a good time to try a re-hydrated freeze-dried raw food like Primal. They're even better for your feline friends than canned foods and they might like them better. Rad Cat Raw is another convenient raw food option.

If you'd like to keep them on the food they ate before your son took over feeding duties, we suggest you try and make the wet food more appealing. You can do that by sprinkling a half a pouch of FortiFlora onto each meal. We've yet to see a cat who wouldn't eat practically anything this stuff is sprinkled on. In addition, it adds a good probiotic to their meals. If you go this route, be sure to get the feline version. It's pricey but a little goes a long way.

 
 

We keep some around for use when a cat has a digestive issue or when they become finicky about a particular batch of food. This can sometimes happen when a cat is fed one thing for quite some time. Subtle variances in the flavor can make them reject an entire batch of a familiar food. A little FortiFlora usually entices them back.

A word of caution - FortiFlora has such a strong flavor that it can cause flavor dependence. You want to give them enough to get them started on the wet food and then, after a week or so, slowly reduce the amount you add. If you're lucky, they'll continue with the wet food without the FortiFlora.

 
 

Intelliflora is another product that may work just as well and which does not include "animal digest" among its ingredients. We simply haven't used it yet, but plan to test it with our own feline friends in the near future. 

Laurie, with a little luck, you should have Eclipse, Twilight, and Starz back on a healthier diet in no time. We wish you and your kitties all the best!

Do Kittens Need Kitten Food?

Commercial pet food manufacturers have done a great job convincing the general public that they know best what our pets need, when in fact all they want to do is sell more of their inferior products. These days, they're looking for new niches that they can use as marketing tools and one of the most successful is "kitten food". Jim H. writes:

At what age do I switch my cat from kitten food to adult food?

Jim, we feel very strongly that a kitten will be healthy if fed a high-quality, low carbohydrate, all wet adult cat diet immediately after they've been weaned. There's nothing really wrong with kitten food but it's more a marketing ploy than an actual need. It's understandable that so many people now feel strongly that a kitten should be fed a special food. After all, that's what we do with our own babies, right? But weaned kittens aren't infants. Weaning generally happens around four to six weeks of age and the average cat reaches puberty in four to six months.

In the wild, a cat would begin eating the same prey as their parents right after being weaned. The trick is to make sure you're feeding a complete diet and have food available at all times. While there is a lot of debate on this topic, we feel that it's imperative that a growing cat gets the food that he or she needs throughout the day, and not just at human-designated meal times. While this can certainly be more difficult in a household with multiple cats with different dietary needs or in homes with dogs who enjoy cat food, it can be managed.

An all-raw or freeze-dried raw diet is highly recommended for all cats and kittens. We have a good post on our specific food recommendations, including links to several sources of real info (not marketing) about commercial cat foods here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/hel.../best-cat-food-and-food-bowls .

We wish you and your kitten friend all the best!

Lack of Access to Veterinary Care

Care is all about access. If there are no veterinarians in your area, are you potentially endangering the feline friends you adopt? Sandy A. writes:

This isn’t really a problem with a cat, but a problem with my getting one. From past experience, I have learned that cats can fall sick at the worst times, like after a major snowstorm. The fact that I don’t own a car and my nearest relative might not always be available worries me a lot. Do you have any idea if there are organizations who I could call for a ride to a vet in an emergency? I live in North East Pennsylvania. I’d love to share my home with a furry companion, but this is a big concern.

Sandy, it really can be quite difficult for people in rural areas to get good veterinary care for their pets. Veterinarians often need to build their practices in more populated areas in order to have enough patients to stay afloat. That means that many rural areas have little or no access to even the most basic health care for animals. 

The Human Society has tried to emphasize this need with their Rural Area Veterinary Services program, but their current coverage is spotty at best. They don't currently host any clinics in your area. But don't give up hope. We have a couple of ideas.

If there are farms in your area, they must need veterinary care from time to time. Even if their veterinarian only comes around from time to time, making a connection with them could mean the difference between some care and no care at all. It's worth asking around.

It could also be helpful to start forging connections of Facebook with various cat rescues nearby. I've seen people do amazing things to help a fellow pet owner in need. A Facebook post about an ailing cat can produce fast results. We've seen people travel thousands of miles to adopt an animal they saw posted on FB, so it's not too crazy to imagine that someone who lives near you might be willing to be an on-call friend for that potential pet emergency.

If the cats (we always recommend adopting a bonded pair - siblings if at all possible) are kept indoors and are fed a healthy, low-carb, wet food only diet, they're much less likely to have health issues in the first place. Be proactive and make sure you take them in for checkups every six months when you can get a ride and you probably won't have a lot of emergencies. Of course, it's possible that something unexpected will happen, but with so many cats in need of homes, we would certainly prefer that some of them be homed with a caring person like you instead of being stuck in a shelter, or worse.

Sandy, if you do decide to adopt, you just have to accept the fact that the onus of your cats' health care would fall on you. That means that you need to be willing and able to conduct the research and treatments yourself, possibly with the aid of a phone call to a veterinary hospital in Scranton or Plains. We found a great practice in Plains that might be willing to offer you phone advice and they're open 24/7: Northeast Veterinary Referral Hospital . If you were able to visit them when you first adopt and make sure your new feline friends are in the best of health, they would have your pets' records on file and would probably be more willing to offer phone consults, as your cat friends would officially be patients of theirs.

We also recommend that you read some good cat care books prior to adopting. We particularly like Anitra Frazier's The Natural Cat which includes many holistic remedies that are easy to stock because they don't require a prescription.

Do what your heart tells you, Sandy, but try not to worry. If adopting will bring more worry to your heart than it relieves, then it may not be worth it for you. We think it's wonderful that you take the responsibility of caring for a cat so seriously, and just wish more cat caregivers were like you! Just don't let it weigh on your mind if you do adopt.