Eating problems in cats too often get dismissed -- thrown under the general heading of, "What do you expect? Cats are finicky."
But cats are prone to a variety of eating issues that can make simple feeding a permanent or even life-threatening issue.
If your cat is simply off food for a day, there's no reason to worry. A simple upset stomach or a stressful change in his environment could be the culprit. And she might not be off food at all: If your cat has access to the outdoors, she could have eaten somewhere else -- off a neighbor's porch or at an all-you-can-catch rodent buffet.
But a persistant lack of appetite needs to be taken seriously. You can outlast any dog in a food duel -- sooner or later, a healthy but fussy dog will eat just about anything. A cat, however, can stop eating completely, a situation that may trigger hepatic lipatosis, an acute liver problem that can turn fatal.
If you have a finicky cat, it's essential to work with your veterinarian and to know these tricks to get your cat eating:
-- Fresh is best. Cats may be the original food snobs: In addition to having strong likes and dislikes, they often turn their noses up at food that's been sitting around too long. This can be especially true of canned food, which does get pretty unpleasant when left sitting out. Instead of leaving a day's worth (or more) of food out, offer your cat small portions, fresh from the packaging. If he doesn't eat it after 30 minutes, try again in a couple hours.
-- Serve warm. Warming your cat's food amps up its flavor and aroma. A few seconds in the microwave will do the trick.
-- Break out the good stuff. Over the years, some of my veterinary clients have had a simple "Is my cat sick?" test they rely on at home. If the cat won't eat a regular meal, they chalk it up to a fussy day; but if the cat rejects her favorite treat, like a bit of roasted chicken or a smidge of meaty baby food without garlic salt and onions, then they know to call the veterinarian. No one knows your cat better than you do, and if she suddenly rejects a food she has been willing to beg for all her life, you'll know your cat has troubles worth taking seriously.
It's one thing to be finicky, but something else entirely when your cat starts losing weight. If lack of appetite is an ongoing concern with your cat and she's lost a half-pound or more, ask her veterinarian about the possibility of a medication to stimulate her appetite. Some antidepressant and anti-anxiety meds can help switch a cat's appetite from the "off" position back into "on."
And if that doesn't help, your veterinarian can work with you to get to the root of the problem, and treat the underlying condition that will return a normal appetite to your now-healthy cat.
Puppies need guidance,
not physical punishment
Q: There's so much conflicting information out now about raising a puppy. Some of it seems old-fashioned and some too permissive. What do you recommend when it comes to letting a puppy know she or he has done something bad?
A: Every puppy needs to be guided on the road to good behavior, and along the way many a puppy strays off the path into trouble. The best way to avoid problems is to set up your home and your handling of the puppy so his only choice is to do what's right and get praised for it.
But what if your puppy makes a mistake? A verbal correction, properly timed and correctly delivered, is usually all you need. Speak low and sharply, but don't yell at your puppy.
Here are two more ways to send a clear message of disapproval:
-- Distract and redirect. Especially useful for the young puppy, this technique stops a behavior you don't want and guides the puppy to one that's acceptable. For example, if your young puppy is chewing on your nice leather shoes, make a noise to startle and distract him -- slap the counter or clap your hands -- and then give him something you do want him to chew on, such as a toy. When he takes it, praise him for redirecting those sharp puppy teeth.
With older puppies, you can often stop a bad behavior by asking for a better one, and praising him. Ask a puppy who's jumping up to "sit," and praise him or give him a treat for doing so. Tell him once, and if he doesn't mind you (to be fair, be sure he understands what you want), gently guide him into a sit, and then offer some praise and a treat.
-- The timeout. Puppies thrive on your attention, even if it's negative. The timeout removes this reward. This technique is especially good for a puppy who doesn't want to keep his mouth to himself, a bad habit for any dog to get into where people are concerned. When the puppy starts nipping, tell him "no," and then clam up, pick him up and put him in a crate or other small, safe area for a few minutes. Ignore the cries and whimpers. After a few minutes of quiet, let him out without fanfare and let him hang out with you gently for a while. The message: When the teeth touch skin, it's "game over."
If your puppy has been running around for a long time and just seems bratty, he may be tired. If that's the case, put him down for a nap in a crate or small area, along with a chew toy. Again, ignore his fussing. Chances are, he'll be asleep in a few minutes.
The best thing for your puppy is to find a group puppy class, so your puppy gets the socialization she needs and you get the training guidance you need. Ask your veterinarian for a referral. – Gina Spadafori
Program gets students
to help pet lovers
-- Colorado State University has a program that combines pre-veterinary students with elderly and disabled pet owners who need help keeping their pets at home. Students are responsible for walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and driving the home-bound owners' pets to the vet's office. The program, called Pets Forever, was created in 2008 and helps train students in the care of dogs in a home setting, while allowing the challenged pet owners to keep their pets when they otherwise may not have been able to do so.
-- The United States has about 500 to 600 nonprofit and private organizations to take in and re-home unwanted horses. Many of them also provide feeding assistance programs in their communities. The economy has made keeping a horse difficult for many people, and rescue organizations are trying to prevent horses being sold to "kill buyers," who send the animals to slaughterhouses north and south of American borders.
-- When the weather gets cold, wild birds can use a little help, and many people are happy to oblige. According to the American Pet Products Association, 52 percent of all households feed wild birds. Among people who keep pet birds, that number is even higher, with 70 percent of bird-keepers also putting out food for wild birds. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.