DEAR DR. FOX: I'm worried about our 17-year-old orange female tabby cat, Gabrielle. She's always been in good health, but over the last few years she's lost 4 or 5 pounds, down from 13. And most worrisome, she's started throwing up just about every night. Her episodes are preceded by cries of pain -- little whimpers and, once in a while, a loud cry. Then her whole body will convulse and she'll throw up brown water.
During the day she seems to be fine, eating normally and relaxing out in the sun or resting. But these bouts of vomiting are very distressing, especially since she's started sleeping in my bedroom, waking me up with her cries.
Any suggestions? -- R.C., Annapolis, Minn.
DEAR R.C.: I appreciate your writing to me, but, like other readers who write about their animals who are clearly suffering and in declining health, your animal companion should be examined and treated by a veterinarian without further delay.
Your old cat could be diabetic or have deteriorating kidney function and thyroid disease; she could have a fur ball in her stomach, or even cancer. Diagnosis and appropriate treatment or palliative care is called for, and you know that you owe old Gabrielle no less. A vet who does home visits might be best for a start if she is not a good traveler.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a male cat who I picked up off the sidewalk with his sister three years ago when they were about 4 weeks old. I took them to the vet for exams and got rid of their fleas. They were healthy kittens.
When they were about 4 months old, I took them to a vet-recommended cat rescue organization that would spay/neuter them for less money. The organization seemed OK, so I left them there. Mistakenly thinking they were both females, I named them Sue and Ellen. When I picked them up that afternoon, they said they couldn't find Sue's ovaries, and to bring her back when she was in heat. I later took them to a vet at PetSmart for their shots. The vet said, "Why did you name him Sue?" Well, that explained the lack of ovaries. I had him neutered and renamed him Sueler.
Sueler is very fat, no matter what I feed him -- Natural Balance Fat Cats dry food or Fancy Feast that has fewer calories. I have tried other expensive food recommended by a vet, but the cats won't eat it. Sueler is not very active and keeps getting fatter. His idea of being outside is to be in the garage and watch whatever is happening outside. If a leaf blows his way, he is frightened. It is so different with Ellen -- she runs and plays and enjoys life.
What can I do for Sueler that doesn't involve an expensive vet visit? I took him to the vet services at PetSmart for an exam that cost more than $200, but I would have needed to spend a lot more for blood work to indicate why he is so overweight.
I feel the vet that searched for Sueler's "ovaries" might be the initial cause for his intestines not assimilating food correctly, but I am just assuming.
There is one more thing worth noting: Sueler keeps licking his fat belly to where it is raw and irritated. Anything I could use as a salve/ointment says, "Do not ingest," so I don't dare try them.
Can you help? -- A.W.J., Naples, Fla.
DEAR A.W.J.: A PetSmart-based veterinarian charging $200 just to examine your cat is exorbitant. You should file a complaint with your local Better Business Bureau.
As for a veterinarian taking the word of the cat owner that both young cats were female and not checking himself to be certain -- this is not an uncommon, one-time mistake. I doubt this has anything to do with Sueler's metabolic weight issue. Neutering a cat at an early age, along with a high-grain diet, could have derailed his metabolism. This might get back on track with a grain- and soy-free, high-protein diet with some fish oils or free-range beef to provide essential fatty acids.
Feeding him four to six very small meals a day may also help, as will getting him off a high-fiber, weight-loss diet food that can mean constant hunger and malnutrition.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.com.)