The Animal Doctor

DEAR DR. FOX: In response to the letter about the cat spraying: I, too, had a sudden problem with my cats spraying. A friend suggested putting a bowl of food wherever the cats were spraying. I did this, and it worked spectacularly! Cats will not spray where their food is. It worked for me. -- M.F.K., St. Louis, Missouri

Dear M.F.K., This is very interesting and, in a sense, expected. My guess is that the presence and odor of the food makes some cats feel secure, so they are less motivated at that moment and at that place to spray to mark their territory. This behavior is distinct from house-soiling squat-urination so often associated with feeding a cat high-cereal dry food.

Very often when cats are emotionally disturbed by a house guest, new baby or prowling cat outside, they will select one or more vertical objects or surfaces to back up to and spray with a little urine. For those cats behaving in this way, there is now a possible prevention, thanks to you -- provided it does not mean fat cats eating up all the stop-spraying food-bowl contents!

DEAR DR. FOX: My sister-in-law has a 14-year-old cat who has developed what her vet calls “feline acne.” He has black stuff under his chin.

Her vet gave her medication for it, but apparently this whole situation is so offensive that the cat refuses to drink water anymore (and he always has). My take is that whatever this problem is, it must smell bad to the cat, and leads him to avoid the water dish.

When I asked my vet about it, he suggested some topical medication (I’ve forgotten what it was). Her vet suggested salting his food to make him thirsty. I don’t think so! My vet said some cats are like camels and can go forever without drinking.

Any advice? -- E.J., Sykesville, Maryland

DEAR E.J.: Feline acne is an inflammation of the skin glands that is not uncommon in cats. In some cases, it seems to be triggered by drinking from plastic bowls, because the condition improves when cats are given ceramic or stainless steel water containers.

Some of the ointments used to treat this condition could result in a cat not wanting to drink. So add some water to the cat’s food. Cats are not like camels in the sense that they can do without water for an extended period of time. Many cats who drink insufficient amounts of water will become ill, and may die. What the veterinarian should have said is that cats have a poor thirst regulatory mechanism -- not an ability to survive dehydration.

So be sure your sister-in-law is not using a plastic water bowl, and that she cleans her cat’s chin three times daily with a disposable wipe impregnated with tea tree oil, lavender, aloe vera, or any natural, soothing herbal ingredients with anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.


Recent findings announced at the International Symposium on Acoustic Communication by Animals suggest that the North American walnut sphinx moth caterpillar can make a sound mimicking bird alarm calls, thus deterring predators.

"This is the first instance of deceptive alarm calling between an insect and a bird, and it's a novel defense form for an insect," said study author Jessica Lindsay.

(Send all mail to or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.

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