DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 19-year-old calico cat named Carmella. She has always been an indoor cat from the time I found her roaming my street when she was about 6 months old.
Recently, she has been acting strange: She escapes out of the house on a regular basis. She doesn't go very far, but sometimes I don't realize she's out until I start looking for her. She tends to eat a lot of grass. And, any chance she gets, she tries to eat butter and raw meat (that I have thawing on the counter), and she gets into the garbage. She actually chews through meat wrappings and garbage bags. She doesn't have all of her teeth, but she still manages to chew or claw her way to get to what she's after.
Is there something wrong in her diet? She and my other two cats have always eaten dry food with an occasional can of wet. I'm worried that she may be diabetic or have some chemical imbalance. My husband thinks she has dementia. -- C.B., Schenectady, New York
DEAR C.B.: Both you and your husband could be correct in the many possible causes of your cat's ravenous appetite and change in behavior. Old cats do suffer from a kind of dementia, and ravenous appetite can signal diabetes or thyroid disease.
Any changes in normal eating, drinking, sleeping, play, general activity or temperament (such as increased irritability and aggression) in cats and dogs call for an immediate veterinary evaluation. Make an appointment at the earliest time possible, and find an animal doctor who does house calls if the trip would be too stressful for your old cat.
DEAR DR. FOX: Is there anything that can be done regarding shedding? We obtained a little fox terrier/Chihuahua mix from a rescue. We took him to our vet for a checkup, and he was in good health. I didn't notice the shedding until later. We feed him IAMS dog food mixed with a small amount of canned chicken chunks.
Is there anything we can give him that would help cut down on the shedding? -- D.H., Bakersfield, California
DEAR D.H.: The most frequent reason why dogs shed their coats constantly is nutritional. Of course, there are other reasons, from seasonal (winter) baldness to liver and kidney disease and various endocrine disorders.
Getting to the bottom of chronic shedding can entail costly tests, but first try your dog on the following nutritional supplements: For a 30-pound dog, give 1 teaspoon daily of flaxseed oil, powdered kelp and brewer's yeast mixed in with the food. A pediatric daily multi-mineral and multi-vitamin pill may also help.
If there is no reduction in shedding and improvement in the coat after two months, then more tests are called for.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have an issue with a feral kitten I adopted several months ago.
He has adapted very well to being an inside kitty, but he has an unusual penchant for licking my face when I pick him up. He will kiss my face for several minutes, until I distract him. There is nothing on my face like perfumes or creams.
Have you ever heard of this? My other cats have never done this. -- D.N., Springfield, Missouri
DEAR D.N.: Some cats (and dogs, too) are more caregiving and attentive than others, displaying their affection by licking their caregivers' hands and face. Such behavior is much like a mother cat or dog gently grooming and cleaning their offspring.
I would like to learn from other readers how their animal companions show affection. One of our dogs, Lizzie, would greet friends by bringing one of her stuffed toys to the door. And she was the most indulgent of our pack of three dogs when it came to affectionate licking, which for some dogs can become an obsessive-compulsive behavior that calls for remotivation, like playing a game or simply saying "No, that's enough."
DEAR DR. FOX: I just read your column about feline hyperesthesia. Years ago I had a cat who was tormented by this condition. It was so frustrating not being able to help him.
As the owner of a cat specialty store, I have conversations daily with numerous cat owners. Often, these conversations involve cat health and medical issues. I am often asked for advice, and I refer people to their vets. Recently, a lady told me about her cat with hyperesthesia, and I asked her to let me know if her vet was able to help her cat. Just a few weeks later, she told me her cat was better! After having no success with squeezing the cat's anal glands, the vet got the idea to deworm the cat -- and it worked!
I was delighted to hear this, and in retrospect it makes so much sense. I pass this story on to you in the hope that it might help other cats. Please let me know if you have any success in treating cats suffering with hyperesthesia by deworming them. -- J.W., Calgary, Canada
DEAR J.W.: I have never heard of deworming being a consideration for treating cats suffering from hyperesthesia. But it does make sense, considering that self-grooming is a form of self-comforting, which might help alleviate the irritation and abdominal pain caused by internal parasites. Inflammatory substances from the parasites could also be a factor affecting the histamine-releasing cells in the skin and the sensitivity threshold of the sensory nerves in the skin.
So I will put this observation out for veterinarians and cat caregivers to consider in alleviating cats' suffering from the feline hyperesthesia syndrome.
(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.)