DEAR DR. FOX: I take exception to your response from a reader about feeding a feral cat.
I grew up in a rural area, and we always fed feral cats. Some we actually tamed, and they made great pets; there were others we could not tame, but we fed them anyway. Feral cats earned the food we gave them: They kept our yard clean of snakes, rats and other unwanted critters. I would never take a feral cat to an animal shelter, because all they would do is euthanize them. You say feral cats kill birds, but what is the problem with that? It is called balance of life, or balance of nature. Too many birds are a nuisance, too. -- V.M., Alexandria, Virginia
DEAR V.M.: For those people who share your beliefs and continue to feed feral cats without attempting to catch them and have them neutered -- those who support their proliferation by feeding them and ignoring their adverse impact on wildlife -- it is evident that appealing to reason and the facts concerning the suffering and plight of both these cats and wildlife would be to no avail.
That is why we need more laws and education in this country, especially to put an end to the kind of view you have that such cats help maintain the "balance of nature" by killing birds. Feral, stray and free-roaming house cats are the wrong species in the wrong place. Originally a desert species from the Middle East, they do not belong in the ecology of North America, the indigenous species of which are in dire need of protection and habitat restoration.
DEAR DR. FOX: Our 10-year-old female domestic shorthair cat chews on the tip of her tail, up to about 3 inches. The tail chewing is not part of her regular grooming. The tip of her tail looks like a mouse tail growing out from her furry cat tail. This behavior started on and off about a year ago.
We've had no changes in her diet, environment or stress levels; her teeth have been checked, and because of neck lesions, a number of them were extracted. Dental care hasn't stopped the behavior. She doesn't have fleas. She gets regular exercise and one-on-one attention.
She tends to gnaw at her tail at certain times of day, generally after eating, but not necessarily only then.
Certain locations (a particular chair or a spot on the sofa, for example) can seem to act as triggers, but her tail-chewing is not necessarily restricted to those places.
We've tried distracting her with toys or play, or petting when she focuses on her tail, but that's not entirely successful. She is sometimes willing to be distracted, but inevitably returns to chewing on her tail.
The vet who has seen her since she was a rescue kitten is stumped, as is the vet-dentist.
We have a second cat who is a few months older -- we adopted them together, though they are not related, and they generally get along, though the cat who chews her tail seems to defer to the other.
Do you have any suggestions about why she might be doing this, and especially what can be done? She is otherwise an alert, bright, active cat. -- S.M., Falls Church, Virginia
DEAR S.M.: My book "Cat Body, Cat Mind" may give you some insights that might help you improve your feline detective abilities. I describe one case where a cat was so grief-stricken that she bit off her tail! Excessive grooming of one part of the body can be triggered by emotional stress and the desire to self-comfort. Could there be any emotional trigger for this behavior in your home?
Next on the detective list is chronic irritation from some other part of the body, called "referred pain," as from impacted anal glands, injury to the tail itself (they often get caught in refrigerator doors) and arthritis in the hips or lower back. With the latter, my book "The Healing Touch for Cats" may really help. Give her a few drops of anti-inflammatory fish oil in her food daily.
Also consider a possible food allergy or intolerance, notably to dairy products, corn and beef, and in some instances, to fish. For cats intolerant of fish, an omega supplement from algae rather than fish oil is advisable.
Finally, this may be an obsessive-compulsive behavior, which could be subdued with even a pinch of catnip every few hours or a prescription of Prozac for a short period to break the cycle. Excessive grooming and chewing can release feel-good opiates that creates an addictive component to the behavior.
(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.
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