General Cat Questions

General Cat Questions

You ask – we answer:

Q: How do I keep my crazy cat from knocking over glasses of water? He is the thirstiest animal I have ever seen and constantly begs to drink out of the sink, the tub and then wants to drink your water out of your glass and will knock it over to get at it.

Also, he will not use the litter box because he was attacked when he came to our family by one or more of the other cats in the household. Now he will only use the shower or tub or even the sink. How do we curb this behavior?

We have four other cats and have already tried offering him his own litter box as well as different types of litter boxes. He acts scared to death to go in them. How do we stop aggressive behavior when the cats get hungry? We have one cat who goes nuts attacking other animals and yowling when it’s close to feeding time. It’s like he’s trained us to feed him to get him to shut up and stop fighting. Our cats are nuts.

A: Some cats are truly crazy and do these things for strictly behavioral reasons. But more commonly, there is something medically wrong with these cats. A cat with a craving for water may actually be “polydipsic,” the medical term for excessive thirst. There are many causes of this including diabetes, kidney disease, and thyroid disease.

This last one can also cause an increase in appetite and sometimes aggressive behavior. Many times these cats will also not use the litterbox. It sounds like your cat needs a thorough physical exam and a complete set of laboratory tests to find out what is wrong with him. In the meantime, let him have as much water and food as he wants. If all the tests are normal, he indeed has a behavioral condition. Your veterinarian can then recommend a certified behaviorist to help him.

Q: I have a quite petite cat (under 7 pounds) who is less than a year old. She is a stray and unfortunately got pregnant before I could get her spayed. She now has a litter of five kittens, which after three are very tiny and two of the five have yet to open their eyes. She is trying to be a good mother, but with the kittens as small as they are, is there anything I can do to assist other than bottle feeding?

A: Congratulations on your new kittens! This is an exciting time for all seven of you. While most mothers know instinctively how to care for their kittens, sometimes they need assistance especially if it’s their first time. There are three things you can do to help. One is to prevent hypothermia (low body temperature) by keeping them as warm as possible without overheating them. When kittens are this tiny, they take on the temperature of their surroundings (like reptiles) and require an outside source of heat.

This usually comes from snuggling with their mother so if she is keeping them close, they’ll stay warm enough. If not, keep a hot water bottle in the bed with them. Don’t use a heating pad — it gets too hot. The second and third measures are to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and dehydration. Both of these are prevented by frequent feeding, either by nursing the mother or by frequent bottle feeding. If the mom is producing a normal amount of milk, they’ll get enough from her. If she’s not, your vet may be able to give her an injection of oxytocin to increase her milk production.

In the meantime, frequent feedings of kitten milk replacer (not cow’s milk) will provide the kittens with enough nutrition and fluid to avoid both hypoglycemia and hypothermia. Incidentally, while the mother is nursing, her need for food will increase dramatically.

Make sure to feed her a good quality kitten food, as much as she wants, and give her plenty of water. Once she weans the kittens at 6-8 weeks of age, she will go right back into heat so unless you want more kittens, have your vet spay her as soon as she’s done nursing.

Q: My cat Lili is 18 and has a hyperthyroid. When she was a year or two, she started pooping in inappropriate places. It started just after I had company for the weekend who slept in my second bedroom. It was the first time anyone used that room after I got her. She still peed in the box, though, so I could deal with the poop problem (doesn’t smell forever). But now Lili is peeing on anything left on the floor — the dog’s bed, clothes I’ve just taken off for a shower, rugs.

I’ve gone through gallons of Nature’s Miracle and put additional coats of sealer on the pine floors to hide the smell. None of that helped so I’ve taken up all the rugs. Last week she peed on the sofa. The vet gave her antibiotics just in case there is an infection. She’s too frail to test. But I don’t think that’s it. Any other suggestions or help you can offer?

A: Urinating outside the litterbox is a very common problem. Called “inappropriate urination” by veterinarians, common sense says there are only two possible causes: behavioral issues and medical problems.

Particularly in older cats, medical causes are the usual culprit. Fortunately, distinguishing between the two is quite easy: have your veterinarian perform a urinalysis, easy, low stress, low-cost test that can be run in the office while you wait. If the urinalysis is normal, it’s a behavioral issue.

If the urinalysis is not normal, it’s likely a medical problem. Possible medical causes include urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney stones, and kidney disease. It’s often thought that if a short course of antibiotics doesn’t clear it up, it must not be an infection. But recurrent infections may become resistant to common antibiotics and some infections require longer-term antibiotics.

However, if a urinary tract infection is present it will be very obvious on a urinalysis. If prior treatment was ineffective, culturing the urine will determine which bacteria are present and, more importantly, which antibiotic will resolve the infection. On the other hand, if the urinalysis is normal a medical cause is unlikely and behavioral issues must be considered. Besides the usual suspects (territorial, stress, or aversion problems), there are other considerations in older cats.

Some older cats with decreased mobility have trouble getting into typical litterboxes. It may help to use a litterbox with very short sides. They may also have trouble finding the litterbox, due to decrease in sight or smell, and sometimes due to senility (called “cognitive dysfunction”). These causes warrant a thorough examination by your veterinarian, but it often helps to keep a litterbox in their room. Finally, in Lili’s particular case, ask your veterinarian to test her thyroid and kidneys, both of which can cause inappropriate urination if abnormal.

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