DEAR DR. FOX: In early October, we came home to find a single kitten in our front yard. We searched the area and did not find the mother or any siblings. We already have a 5-year-old male cat and a 3-year-old female cat, but did not think twice about taking in this sweet, helpless kitten. We took Xena to the vet the next day and were told she was approximately 3 weeks old and weighed 11 ounces.
I've read several articles about kittens biting and scratching, and we have been trying to either give her a toy when she starts biting or scratching us, or putting her down and ignoring her. However, neither approach appears to be working.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to get her to stop scratching and biting us? We have never had a kitten from this young an age, so we're not sure if she will just outgrow this behavior, or if we can do something to get her to stop now. -- B.B., Cresco, Pennsylvania
DEAR B.B.: Most kittens do outgrow this behavior, which is most likely playful, contact-seeking behavior.
Simply seizing the kitten by the scruff of the neck, gently but firmly, will cause a reflexive inhibition, much like the mother cat carrying a kitten. This will immediately inhibit the kitten, after which you can pet her or groom her. When she tries to bite or claw you, say "No" in a firm voice, and seize the neck scruff. Be consistent. Holding the kitten in your arms firmly, called cradling, which also works well with puppies, will get her used to being gently restrained.
Be sure to engage in regular grooming with a brush, and stop when the kitten tries to bite or claw. Only allow biting and clawing with various toys, one of the best being a feather or fluffy toy tied to a string attached to a cane that you wave over her and drag along the floor to chase.
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you for responding to my query regarding my sweet cat, Natasha (the 19-year-old who wails a lot). I was honored to see that you wrote about my question in your column. You said, "keep me posted" in your response, so here goes:
The catnip did help Natasha calm down at night at first. I think she might be used to it now because she seems to ignore it. Any food I put cod liver oil on seems to be spurned as well. The melatonin I purchased is hard to administer. The formulation I bought -- Serene -- has other ingredients in it, which makes me think I shouldn't give it to her. The guidelines are for animals 30 pounds and up, and she weighs only 7 pounds, so I wouldn't dare give her that.
My immediate concern is that we have to be away for 10 days, and I hate to leave her. She will stay in our home with my sister present, but she is so attached to my husband and my daily routine. I worry about her. -- M.T., Newtown, Connecticut
DEAR M.T.: Habituation to catnip is common, so offer it every few days. Cats are very finicky, but try canned sardines in water, and give a teaspoon daily of the fish oil. If your cat enjoys that, then crush half of a straight melatonin tablet before bedtime and put it in her food.
You do have an older cat, and senile dementia in cats is common and is often compounded by painful arthritis, both of which may be helped with a daily dose of an oily fish like sardines. Massage therapy, as per my book, "The Healing Touch for Cats," may also help calm your cat and help with the arthritis.
HEREDITARY DISEASES IN COMPANION ANIMALS
A team of veterinary researchers identified the gene mutation responsible for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in a Maine coon cat in 2005. This is the most common cause of heart disease in cats. This inherited disease is also important in humans, and is frequently responsible for sudden cardiac death. The discovery marks the first report of an identified spontaneous genetic mutation causing heart disease in a cat. The findings paved the way for development of a screening test that identifies cats carrying this genetic mutation so that they can be identified before they are bred, thus reducing or eliminating the incidence of the disease. Many more such harmful mutations have since been identified in cats and dogs. This has opened the future for breeders who can have their animals screened, as well as those whose owners have companion animals with possible hereditary diseases, some of which may benefit from early diagnosis and supportive and remedial treatments.
Embark Veterinary Inc., in partnership with the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, is launching a new comprehensive dog DNA test to improve canine health and wellness. Working with the Cornell Veterinary Biobank (a repository of DNA and medical information based at the college), Embark is able to run more than 160 genetic tests based on a single swab from the dog's mouth. For mixed-breed dogs, Embark can determine what percent of the genome comes from each breed and evaluate the dog's risks for developing associated problems on that basis. There are other companies offering similar services, but with inconsistent results when it comes to determining what breeds may be in your mutt's ancestry. Consumer beware.
(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.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)