Cat Care

Help, My Cat is Itching All the Time!

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Sometimes our feline friends can scratch themselves silly with no apparent cause. Lois C. writes:

My 14 year old cat, Bogart, has started scratching almost constantly when he’s awake. He’s an inside cat, has no fleas, nor do I see flaking on his skin. All the licking causes him to throw up fur balls. We have relocated to three different homes in the last year. He seems well-adjusted. He has the run of the house, but something is going on. If you have any ideas I’d appreciate any help. I can’t afford a vet visit right now. Thank you!

Lois, there are many potential causes for what you describe. we'll go through the most likely ones and hopefully you'll be able to help Bogart.

You mentioned that he doesn't have fleas. Just be aware that cats who develop flea allergy dermatitis can itch for days from a single bite. Their allergic reaction can be severe, and severely uncomfortable for them. Don't assume there are no fleas just because you haven't seen any. Get a flea comb (we like the double-row combs) and carefully comb around Bogart's head and neck to see if you can find any fleas. Have a large cup of water with a drop or two of dish detergent in it and dip the comb in that to dispense with the fleas if you find any.

 
 

If you do find fleas, we have a post on getting rid of them here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/flea-control-for-cats . Just be aware that the effectiveness of these methods depend a lot on the environment you live in. We've heard of people ridding their home with fleas using nothing but a flea comb and a vacuum cleaner daily, but it takes diligence. If you want to purchase a flea control product, the only one we recommend is lufenuron.

Thanks to the fine folks at LittleCityDogs.com, lufenuron flea treatments are readily available and inexpensive. You simply add it to your cat's food once a month. Lufenuron is unique in that it acts as birth control for fleas, so it doesn't kill the adults. For that, we recommend the flea comb method. You can also administer Capstar (nitenpyram) as needed along with the lufenuron.

If Bogart is scratching around his face and brows a lot, he could have a food allergy. Cats are especially prone to allergies to fish protein, so eliminate fish from his diet first. Your first line of defense has to be choosing the best food you can afford to offer Bogart. We have a post on our food recommendations here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/best-cat-food-and-treats . Especially note the links presented in the post that will take you to rankings and info about many commercially available foods.

The third most likely culprit is stress. Cats hide stress very well, but it eventually manifests as overgrooming or scratching. Moving so often has certainly taken a toll on Bogart. To reduce his stress, try to stick to a daily schedule with him and give him places in your home that he can retreat to without being bothered. Feliway makes products intended to reduce stress in cats but we've only had limited success with them. We think the best solution to stress is a solid schedule, plenty of quiet time, and gentle attention. 

When you can afford it, Bogart should see a veterinarian just to make sure he doesn't have mites or some other parasite. We wish you and Bogart all the best!

Help, My Cat Has Chiggers!

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Cats are mammals, just like us, so parasites that attack us will often attack our feline friends as well. Patty N. writes:

I got into chiggers the other day and I think I might have brought them into the house with my two babies. There’s a lot of scratching going on. They are inside only cats and they don’t have fleas. What product will kill chiggers on them? They hate a bath.

Patty, chiggers are actually mites. Their real name is trombiculiasis. Any ear mite medication that can be applied topically will kill them, but with a topical, you risk missing some of the little buggers and starting the cycle all over again.

The best way to get rid of mites is to use a pyrethrin pet dip. Most pet supply stores carry it and it's often labeled as a flea and tick dip. As long as it's only active ingredient is pyrethrin, you're set. Just follow the instructions on the bottle. Most experts recommend dipping them ASAP after mites are found and then dipping them a second time two weeks later.

Always check with your vet prior to administering the dip if your cats have any allergies or health issues. Your vet can also take a skin scraping and verify the presence of these parasites if you don't actually see any with the naked eye. They can be quite small, so they can easily hide in the forest of fur on most cats. You may see red welts where they've injected their saliva into the skin of your pets, though. Contrary to popular belief, they do not burrow into the skin at all.

 

Why is There Baggy Skin on My Cat's Belly?

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Cats have evolved in many ways to be fast and efficient predators. One of those highly evolved traits is very loose skin that allows cats greater flexibility and a greater ability to get away from other predators. But what about that extra skin that can be seen hanging off a cat's lower belly? Dan writes:

I have a male six month old kitty and lately I’ve notice his belly just in front of his rear legs is hanging down. When I have him lay on his back, I can feel what I’m hoping is fat but my five year old female cat doesn’t have it. I would have to describe it as looking and feeling like a fatty pouch. I hope that describes it correctly. Is this something to worry about?

Dan, it's very likely that what you're noticing is what's called a primordial pouch. Many cats have an apron of skin on their lower bellies that allows them greater flexibility when they run after prey. This skin flap actually allows their hind legs to extend further with each stride and give them greater speed. It's also theorized that it was a way for wild cats to store extra fat for times when food was scarce. Oftentimes, kittens have less of a skin "apron" than mature cats, but it does depend somewhat on the breed. It's easy to see this apron of extra skin on tigers and other large cats because of their size.

There's lots of misinformation out there about this flap of skin. Rest assured that it isn't related to gender or weight. It also has nothing to do with a cat being spayed or neutered. It's mostly related to breed.

If it feels like an unfrozen ice pack, Charlie is probably safe. If you feel harder lumps under the skin, you should probably have your veterinarian examine Charlie. Either way, you should probably mention your concern on your next vet visit.

We wish you and Charlie all the best!

How Can I Help My Cat to Understand My Vacation?

 Mary's feline friend - Ms. Kitty

Mary's feline friend - Ms. Kitty

We all need a break now and then--a getaway from the routine. But cats LOVE their routines. How can we help them to understand that we'll be gone for a short time while a stranger cares for them? Mary V. writes:

I’ve never had a cat before. A lady moved from our Senior Park & left her cat behind. The cat ended up on our car & she looked skinny, so we fed her. For 6-7 months, she was only there for two meals a day with dry food available all the time (always outside). She eventually started to make up to us & came around more often. About five months ago, she came inside. She still goes out & runs the park with her other kitty friends but is always back. Some days she is in all day. The problem is, we are going on vacation for nine or ten days in July. We don’t know what to do with her. If we get someone to feed her outside here at our house, without going into the house, will she still be here & be our friend when we get back? I keep thinking she might think we are abandoning her like the other lady did. This weighs heavily on my heart. Ms. Kitty has become very close to me & I love this little girl. She is three years old. I just keep thinking about her rejecting us when we get back. HELP PLEASE! There isn’t anyone that will take her in, they have their own pets but someone will feed her.

Mary, it's clear that you care very much for Ms. Kitty. Cats certainly love the people that they're bonded to. Those people give them great comfort, but because of the way cats exist in nature's grand scheme, they derive even more comfort from their territory. Cats are intricately linked to their territory. They even develop systems of time-sharing in order to politely allow their territory to overlap with that of neighboring cats with minimal conflict. These social interactions are complex and slight ripples in the status quo can introduce a good deal of stress to a cat.

We tell you all of that to let you know how your absence will be perceived not just as your personal absence, but also as the absence of a big part of Ms. Kitty's territory - your home. Your home has become her safe zone - a place where she needn't worry about predators or other cats. A place where she's cared for. Cats don't understand or like closed doors because they limit their choices. Cats rely on being able to patrol their territory on a very specific schedule.

Our suggestion would be to have someone house sit for you while you're gone to maintain Ms. Kitty's access to your home. If not that, at least someone should open the door for her and allow her to check things out inside according to her usual schedule if possible. This visitor should be introduced to Ms. Kitty beforehand so that she knows you approve of this change. A nearby neighbor would be perfect.

If this isn't practical, and we do understand how it might not be, you could give Ms. Kitty an outdoor shelter to use as a safe space while you're gone. One can easily be made from a Rubbermaid type of container with a hole cut in one end and some bedding placed inside. The best bedding would be something that you've worn that has your scent on it. That way, Ms. Kitty will still be comforted by you even though you aren't there. It would be even better if she were introduced to this shelter inside your home for the time leading up to your departure.

It's important that you explain what's going to happen to Ms. Kitty. While she won't understand all of your words, she'll get the message. Cats are adept at deciphering our body language and facial expressions. That's how they usually communicate with each other. If you feel silly doing this, just do it when no one else is around. Show her the door and how it locks and then explain to her that you will be back. Make sure you introduce her to the person who will feed her as well. She may not give you her full attention so you may have to remind her as your departure date draws near. I know it sounds funny, but cats are as intelligent as a two year old child. She can understand. The longer you know her, the better she'll come to understand you.

When you take responsibility for someone else, especially an animal, it's important that you accept the whole of that responsibility. It sounds like you have, though we doubt the same was true of Ms. Kitty's previous human. We encourage you to make her an indoor-only or indoor-mostly cat. Cats aren't just predators, but prey for larger animals as well. There are also other dangers for them out there in the world, from diseases like FLV that they can pick up from other cats, to the imminent threat of traffic and humans who dislike cats. In the wild, most cats only live for three to five years. Indoor cats often live over 20 years with good nutrition and veterinary care.

We'd urge you to take the next step and make sure that Ms. Kitty gets to see a veterinarian at least once a year. If she hasn't been spayed, she needs that done ASAP. Most areas have groups that offer that service at low or no cost.

Thank you for loving her, Mary. You're making her life better. :)

Help, My Cat's Afraid of the Vet!

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It's not uncommon for cats to dislike a trip to the veterinarian's office. In fact, it's so common that some cat caregivers give up on checkups altogether. All cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year. Senior kitties need biannual checkups. But what if your feline friend is so terrified by the vet that they go into fight or flight mode? Jen J. writes:

Tigger is a three year old male tabby. He was found on our porch when he was two months old. He is an indoor-only cat. We had him neutered & chipped. He is terrified of the vet. I’ve taken him to several vets and they can’t examine him, as he hisses, cries, growls, bites and defecates in his carrier. He’s VERY scared. Is there something I can request them to give him to calm him down enough to be examined? I’ve tried the pheromone sprays, putting his favorite blanket in the carrier, giving treats.....nothing works. He needs to see a vet about his eye health and general check-up. Any ideas?

Jen, it's important for all of us with feline friends to understand just how terrifying a general veterinarian's office can be for them. With their heightened senses of hearing and smell, they can perceive all manner of things - even other animals' illnesses and, sadly, even their deaths. Add to that a bunch of strange humans, barking dogs, blaring TVs in waiting rooms, etc. and it can be a genuine nightmare for a cat.

You've already approached this from the perspective of trying to associate good things with the vet trip. That's always the best place to start, but as you know, it doesn't always work. The vet's office is just too scary for a handful of treats to overcome. The same goes for pheromone sprays and other nerve-calming solutions. They're like an umbrella in a hurricane.

While they do work, we generally advise against the use of sedatives unless it's a last resort. You just never know how a cat's body will react to a particular sedative if they've never had it administered before. If the cat has a heart murmur or similar condition, sedatives can create more problems than they solve.

Jen, Our best advice for Tigger is not the easiest, but we feel it's the best choice for him if you can manage it. We suggest you find another veterinarian. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with the one you have, but there are now vets who cater specifically to cats. Even if they treat other species, many vets have created quiet exam rooms specifically for nervous animals. If one is available in your area, a vet who makes house calls is even better. Cats derive more comfort from their home territory than they do from treats, other friendly cats, or even us humans. Treating a cat like Tigger on his home turf could be just the thing he needs.

We wish you and Tigger all the best!