The Animal Doctor by Dr. Michael W. Fox

Indoor-Outdoor Cats, Free-Roaming Cats and Public Health

DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for correcting some of the misinformation about feral cats out there. I would like to see more information about the diseases that cats pass along to people, especially toxoplasmosis and rabies.

For those people who don’t care about our dwindling numbers of songbirds and other native wildlife, maybe the threat to pregnant women and children will force new laws to be written that carry stiff fines for allowing your cat to roam outside and for feeding feral cats.

I think the book “Cat Wars” by Peter Marra and Chris Santella should be required reading for the irresponsible people feeding feral cat populations. -- P.O.G., Lake Worth Beach, Florida

DEAR P.O.G.: Thanks for your comments. Yes, indeed, this indoor-outdoor and free-roaming cat issue needs the full attention of all municipalities to protect public health.

Public health authorities in most states, and at the federal level, need to step up to the plate and involve the veterinary profession. More and more diseases are coming from animals -- as with the coronavirus pandemic, the containment of which has been pathetic, along with preparedness.

Here are just some of the diseases and infections cats can pass on to people: chlamydiosis, leptospirosis, MRSA, tuberculosis, plague, Salmonellosis, cat flea typhus, sporotrichosis, cat scratch fever, ringworm, Malassezia dermatitis, Chaga’s disease, Giardiasis, mange and rabies. (Ref: The Merck Veterinary Manual, 2010)

The fact that cats can be infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus by infected humans, and (in laboratory tests) pass this disease to other cats, is surely a wake-up call for the need to keep cats indoors. Fifteen of 102 cats in Wuhan, China, tested positive for the coronavirus, with three cats getting the infection from their owners. Of the others, six were stray cats and six were from pet hospitals, according to a report by Q. Zhang et al. in BioReview.

DEAR DR. FOX: A while ago, my cat started chewing, and possibly eating, our carpet. She had also been drooling for several months. We took her to the vet for her annual teeth cleaning, and they removed two teeth. She stopped chewing for a while, but soon returned to it.

We took her back to the vet, and ultimately they removed four more teeth. (I expected one or two, since we were told that they were questionable after the first surgery.) We received three days of anti-inflammatory medication, and she didn’t chew until two days after taking that. Then it started up again, along with the drooling.

She is 10 and doesn’t have many teeth left, plus I can’t imagine it is her teeth at this point. Is there anything else I should be looking at? I’m at a loss. -- K.F., North Palm Beach, Florida

DEAR K.F.: Dental problems are so common in cats. Many cases relate back to poor nutrition, and to foods high in cereal byproduct glutens. These cling to the teeth and gumline, altering the acidity and bacterial population in the oral cavity. Then inflammation and infection set in, sometimes followed by periodontal disease and other complications, which can be costly to correct -- and are sometimes fatal. For details, check my website ( for the article “Feline Stomatitis Complex.”

Preventive measures should start early in life. That includes getting kittens and puppies used to having their teeth brushed at the end of the day, and being weaned onto a wholesome and healthful diet -- not just dry kibble with high cereal/starch and gluten content.

Your poor cat presumably had dental radiographs taken to assess the degree of bone erosion in the tooth sockets; more extractions may be needed to reduce infection and inflammation.

Her chewing on carpet material is a common response to discomfort (excessive self-grooming can also serve this purpose). It is called pica, and it may give a temporary feeing of relief. But there can be complications, such as intestinal blockage of swallowed material.

My concern is possible secondary kidney damage from the dental disease, which could be making your cat experience nausea and engage in pica. Is she losing weight? Did the veterinarian evaluate kidney function and take your cat’s blood pressure? A follow-up appointment seems appropriate.

I would give your cat easy-to-eat canned cat food, or my home-prepared diet (posted on my website). Include one sardine a day for the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil, plus 500 IUs of vitamin D3 -- break the capsule and put the contents in her food.

(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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