Cat Illnesses

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 is Bow-Legged!

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Whenever you notice a change in your cat, be it behavioral or physical, it's a safe bet that there's an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Claudia K. writes:

Sully is a five year old cat who I believe is healthy, however, for the past few days he has been walking bow-legged with his paws facing out. I can’t figure out why. I felt his legs and joints and nothing seems out of place. What could cause this? He has been losing weight and drinking and peeing a lot lately.

Claudia, cats can sometimes have a sudden onset of leg weakness (usually the hind legs) due to diabetes, a blood clot, epilepsy, or physical injury. Arthritis is also a possibility and some breeds are prone to hip dysplasia.

When you add in the facts that he's losing weight and drinking more than usual, the signs indicate diabetes. Diabetes is easily treatable and Sully can live a long and healthy life with the disease, but he needs to see a veterinarian ASAP.

If Sully's vet diagnoses him with the disease, your first order of business is to make sure he's on a low-carbohydrate diet. We have a post on this very subject here:

 http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/food-recommendations-for-cats-with-diabetes 

Diabetes has become a feline epidemic because of all of the high-carb foods in the marketplace these days. Many of the most popular brands of cat food, especially dry foods, are mostly carbs. Pet food manufacturers are literally getting away with murder by pushing these awful products on an unsuspecting public. The only way we can combat them is to educate ourselves on products that deliver a healthy, species-appropriate diet.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of prescription diets for diabetes. Many veterinarians prescribe them and cats seem to get better, but most of those diets are high-carb as well. Feline diabetes can actually go into remission if the cat is fed a species-appropriate diet.

You also want to make sure that Sully is getting plenty of exercise every day. At the age of five, he should have at least two thirty minute play times daily, during which he gets a vigorous workout. If you're having difficulty transitioning him to new food, it can help to have these play times right before meal times.

We wish you and Sully all the best!

Why Does My Cat Shiver?

When our feline friends display symptoms or behaviors that are unusual, we're often left wondering what they mean. Jean B. writes:

I have a Bombay cat named Jackie. She’s three years old. For no apparent reason she will start shivering. She has ever since she was a kitten. She does not seem upset. When she was a kitten, I told the vet, but he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Is there?

While many cats experience tremors, none should be taken lightly. It's worth another discussion with your veterinarian, especially if you observe any similarities in the instances when Jackie's tremors occur. 

Common causes of tremors include physical issues like low blood sugar, diabetes, hypothermia, and fever. There are also psychological issues such as fear and brain problems that can trigger tremors and even seizures. While this sounds like a terrible list of maladies, we include it to illustrate just how many different things can cause this kind of thing.

For now, we suggest you relax and start a notebook or calendar and note each time Jackie has visible tremors. Note the date, time of day and the temperature in the room she's in. It's also helpful to note when she last ate prior to the tremors. Then, the next time you take Jackie to her vet for a checkup, you can talk to them about the tremors from an informed perspective and even show them the data you've collected. You may even find that the tremors happen so infrequently as to be unimportant. Chances are, if she's lived with these tremors for several years now, it isn't a big deal, but only your vet can tell for sure.

Oh, and one last thing - many cats hold their tails upright and vibrate them when they're very happy. Many do this with a hunched back while rubbing or leaning against something, maybe even their human. If that's what Jackie is doing, it only means she's very happy to see you. :)

We wish you and Jackie all the best!

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!

My Cat Has a Lump Under Her Skin!

Every cat caregiver should take the time to feel their feline friend's body from head to toe when allowed. ;) Cats can sometimes develop skin lumps and the sooner they're caught and diagnosed, the better. Troyce B. writes:

I just discovered a golf ball size growth on Serbrena’s right side at the end of her rib cage. She seems to feel OK. She is about 15 years old and looks like a Maine Coon but she’s not as big. She lives Inside. What should I do?

Troyce, this can't be diagnosed without a hands-on exam. You should get Serbrena to her veterinarian as soon as you can. It's most likely a fatty tumor called a lipoma. Your vet will need to do a biopsy to find out if it's cancerous or not. About 10% are, so odds are she's in no real danger. You just need to get it checked out.

Many cats develop small lipomas that are completely benign. If they don't get in the cat's way, they usually don't need to be treated at all.

If it is cancerous, the mass will need to be surgically removed. The procedure is a simple one and can usually be handled on an outpatient basis. If the lump turns out to be cancerous, it will be very important to monitor Serbrena for additional lumps or the re-growth of this one.

There are literally dozens of other potential causes of skin lumps on cats. These include abcesses, infections, parasites, and even adverse reactions to injections, but most of these never develop into anything as large as a golf ball. Your veterinarian will be able to identify exactly what Serbrena has and recommend the best course of treatment.