DEAR DR. FOX: I have two cats, adopted simultaneously from a shelter at 8 months and 4 months old. They are now about 3 years old, and very pleasant companions.
The younger cat is the most social cat I've ever had -- she's almost doglike in the way she follows me and seeks my attention. She is also very food-motivated and likes it if I'm in the kitchen while she eats, often looking around to see if I'm watching her. They always have access to kibble, and twice a day, while I'm making my breakfast and dinner, they each get a spoonful of canned food, which they enjoy.
Periodically, and for weeks at a time, the younger cat begins meowing at 4 a.m. and will continue, unabated, for hours, until I get out of bed. She then stops immediately. She does this whether they are sleeping in my room or locked out -- then she just sits outside the door and meows; if they're in the room, she runs around and bats at the blinds. The older cat has never done this. When I finally rise, I do not reward her with attention or canned food. Her sole purpose seems to be just to get me up. I play with them both every evening in an attempt to tire the younger one, but she still tries to rouse me (and not her fellow kitty) overnight.
I am exhausted and at my wits' end with this behavior. Why is she doing this, and how can I get her to stop? -- J.B., Washington, D.C.
DEAR J.B.: Many young cats do this, and if you ignore them, they usually grow out of it. Cats are "crepuscular" animals -- most active early in the mornings and evenings. Engage in vigorous interactive play, feed them just before bedtime and leave your bedroom door open.
One of my cats used to knock items off my bedroom dresser and then walk with leaden feet over my body to wake me up. I ignored him, and he stopped after a few months. You might try giving your early rising cat a pinch of catnip just before you go to bed. Not all cats like it, but those who do initially become aroused then are sedated for a while. This may help break his early-to-rise pattern. Alternatively, give it to her (and the other cat) when she tries to get you up. This will reward her behavior, but possibly let you get back to sleep.
J.B. REPLIES: Thanks for your response. I tried a combination of all of these suggestions last night -- bought a new ribbon dancer toy and some catnip, played more aggressively in the evening and fed them just before bed -- with pretty good results! She still meowed at 5:15, but only once, and then she stopped completely.
So I am cautiously optimistic that if I keep it up, I might get better sleep from now on.
DEAR DR. FOX: I read the pets section in our newspaper each week and in awe of the problems people have with their pets' food. My wife and I fed our cats canned food, and found most of the food available is gross. The canned food spoiled, and when it was not eaten, it turned pasty in the refrigerator from all the grease in its contents. The cats loved to lick the can of tuna when we made tuna salad, and we started giving them tuna in water and tuna in oil along with their dry food. They have no hairballs! The cats eat the tuna twice a day and eat it all, licking their bowl. The male cat is 14 years old, and the female is 3 years old. We have had cats that have passed of old age, and were basically healthy most of their lives. I would like to know your thoughts. -- J. & J.H., Long Branch, New Jersey
DEAR J. & J.H.: Don't give your cats more than a tablespoon of tuna once a week -- max. It is loaded with mercury and probably dioxins and various petrochemical compounds. Visit feline-nutrition.org for insights about cat nutrition and diets.
Feeding oily fish such as sardines, pilchards, mackerel or menhaden as a snack every other day -- say a teaspoon per cat -- is a good treat that's loaded with the kinds of omega fatty acids cats cannot live without. I would not feed any more than that, because making processed oily fish a dietary staple may not be nutritionally complete, plus the oceans are seriously polluted and all marine life is contaminated to some degree. The higher up the food chain, the worse it is. Pity the whales! On that note, don't buy krill oil. The krill swarm the sea in clouds of millions, and are a staple for Antarctic whales and other sea mammals and fish. Krill are being overharvested for their oil and protein.
RAW CAT FOOD RECALL
Primal Pet Foods voluntarily recalled a batch of 3-pound bags of Feline Turkey Raw Frozen Formula after Food and Drug Administration testing uncovered thiamine deficiency following a consumer complaint. Chronic thiamine insufficiency in cats leads to gastrointestinal and neurologic problems.
For more information, visit primalpetfoods.com/company/notification.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)