Eating problems in cats too often get dismissed, thrown under the general heading of, "What do you expect? Cats are finicky."
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 her environment could be the culprit. And she might not be off food at all: If your cat has access to the outdoors, she may have eaten somewhere else -- off a neighbor's porch or at an all-you-can-catch rodent buffet.
But a persistent 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 lipidosis or fatty liver disease, a health emergency that can quickly 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 has 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 she doesn't eat it after 30 minutes, try again in a couple of 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.
If the cat won't eat a regular meal, it may be a passing problem; but if the cat rejects a favorite treat, like a bit of roasted chicken, it's time to call your 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.
If lack of appetite is an ongoing concern with your cat and she's lost a half-pound or more, ask your 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 to "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 and help to restore your cat's good health.
Teach dog to know
'mine' and 'yours'
Q: Can you recommend a good, safe toy that our golden could carry around with him? He never is without something in his mouth, and usually it's something we don't want him to have. -- via e-mail
A: Retrievers were developed to carry items, and some of them take their jobs quite seriously. One of my retrievers, McKenzie, always greets me with a toy in her mouth -- and sometimes three or four, all at once. She's very proud of her natural abilities, and she makes me laugh, so I like her skills, too.
When you're dealing with behavior as natural as this, the best thing to do is go with the flow. First, the fun part: shop therapy. Get a couple of durable plush pet toys to start with -- some stores will even welcome your dog inside so he can choose his own. Many retrievers are "soft-mouthed" -- they like to hold and carry toys, not destroy them. If yours is the kind to shred soft toys, there's a variety of others to try.
Get an open container for your dog's collection -- I use a cheap milk crate -- so the toys are always in reach. And let your dog know it's OK to take them out of there any time he pleases.
Practice retrieving games with your dog to interest him in his new toys, and encourage him to bring them to you by asking him to "go find" and then by leading him to the toy box. You can eventually make this game more challenging and fun by hiding the toys, or by asking for them by name, such as "football" or "rooster."
Once he knows he has toys of his own, you can teach him "Leave it" to protect your own stuff. With him sitting in front of you, hold a cookie in a closed fist and say, "Leave it." Keep your fist closed until he stops showing active interest and backs off. Then say "OK," open your fist, and let him have the treat. Your dog will soon learn that pawing, sniffing and whining will not get him a goodie, but leaving the treat alone when told to do so will eventually bring rewards.
Once he understands what's expected of him, tell him to "Leave it" when you see him looking at your things and then ask him to get one of his toys instead. If you find him with something he shouldn't have, take it without comment and send him for his toy. If you're consistent, he'll make the connection soon enough and will start carrying around his toys instead of your things. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Messy pets get
a cold shoulder
--The top reason why people who don't have pets don't want them? They're messy. That's according to research by the American Pet Products Association, which asked people without pets to list their top reasons why not. Messiness came in at the top of the list, named by 38 percent of respondents. In the multiple-choice survey, 33 percent zeroed in on shedding, specifically. No surprise there: Shedding is also a top complaint among people who own pets.
-- About half of all cats aren't the least bit interested in catnip, and all kittens younger than three months are likewise unaffected. The ability to enjoy the herb is genetic. For those cats who do enjoy it, "The Nip" is a harmless pleasure, easily grown at home. Grow your own catnip in a safe place -- otherwise your cat will rip it out by the roots -- and offer cuttings regularly by stuffing it into cat toys and rubbing it on places where you want your cat to scratch. It can even be dried or dehydrated for easy long-term storage.
-- Because animals naturally hide their pain to protect themselves from predators, pets may be suffering even if they don't show obvious signs. Veterinarians recommend watching for subtle signs of discomfort such as abnormal chewing habits, drastic weight change, avoidance of affection or handling, decreased movement or exercise, excessively licking or biting himself, and uncharacteristic house-soiling. When a pet changes behavior, the problem may be medical. Time to see the vet! -- 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 affiliated with Vetsteet.com and 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.