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Cat Conditions and Nutrition: Ask the Veterinarian

Veterinarian Will Draper, DVM answers your questions about cat nutrition and cat conditions.

Question:
Do I really need to give vitamins and supplements to my cat? If so, which ones should I give him?
Answer:

If your cat is eating a healthy diet -- one recommended and/or supported by your veterinarian -- vitamins and supplements are generally not necessary for healthy cats. Premium cat foods will supply all of the nutrients your cat needs.

Question:
How many times a day should my 4-week-old kitten be eating? How much food should I put in her bowl at one time?
Answer:

Assuming your kitten has teeth, feeding her 3-4 times a day should suffice. I recommend following the feeding directions provided by the company that produces your cat's food, which are usually listed on the side of the bag. Amounts can vary depending on the manufacturer and the type of diet your cat is eating.

Question:
Sometimes my cat will eat out of my dog's food dish. Should I be worried? Should I try to stop her?
Answer:

You should. Cats need taurine in their diet for optimum health, particularly for healthy eyes and a healthy heart. Cats don’t produce this amino acid, so taurine is added to cat foods. Dogs produce taurine on their own. So it’s not added to commercial dog foods. A cat that eats dog food regularly -- and doesn’t eat cat food daily or as recommended -- is in danger of heart disease and blindness.

Question:
My cat is due to have kittens any day now. What can I do to make sure she's comfortable when the time comes?
Answer:

Momma cats (queens) fortunately have an innate sense to take care of their young. So you should not have to worry too much at all. Just make sure she’s in warm, safe quarters and she’ll take it from there. Cats like to find a warm, confined area to have her babies, like a laundry basket or a closet. Just watch her and make sure she’s safe and not in distress. Be sure to take your cat to the veterinarian for regular pre-birth checkups.

Question:
Our Persian cat keeps getting ringworm, but our Pixiebob isn't showing any signs of it. Can cats carry ringworm without having any symptoms? If so, how can we find out if our Pixiebob is a carrier?
Answer:

Cats can be carriers of ringworm without showing signs of disease. The best way to determine if your Pixiebob is infected is to have your veterinarian perform an exam and more than likely a fungal culture.

Question:
My household is vegetarian and we're considering adopting a cat. Can a cat stay healthy on a vegetarian diet?
Answer:

No. Cats are carnivores. They must have meat in their diet.

Question:
My cat has never turned down any meat I've fed him. Are there certain kinds of meats that I shouldn't feed him?
Answer:

The best thing to do is to make sure you feed your cat good, quality cat food, which will contain all the quality meat he needs. Table scraps and human meats are not usually a recommended or necessary part of a cat's diet.

Question:
My cat had a litter that's now 2 weeks old. They're still so little. How soon should I have them vaccinated?
Answer:

Right now the kittens, which should be nursing, are protected by their mother's antibodies, which they get from the colostrum in her milk. By 5 to 6 weeks of age, their bodies start to take over. This is a good time to start their vaccination series. However, discuss it with your vet to be sure this is right for them.

Question:
One of our kittens was born with a harelip. My husband thinks we'll have to have him put down. What are our options?
Answer:

Have him examined by your veterinarian and discuss the best options. Many times this can be surgically corrected, but not always.

Question:
My cat has had three abscesses in his mouth in the past. I don't want him to be in pain for a long time again before we realize it's time to see the vet. What symptoms should I look for to tell if he's developed another abscess?
Answer:

The signs to look for are probably what you’d expect; a lack of appetite, irritability, pawing at his mouth, lethargy, and blood-tinged or yellowish salivation. Regular oral checkups with your vet (2-3 times a year) would be great for your cat, as well.

Question:
I have a Maine Coon cat that is very loving. But she hides when I have visitors to my home. I have to move soon and I won't be able to keep her. She's very strongly bonded to me and I'm worried that she may not do well living with someone else. Is there some way I can help her get adjusted to a new home before I leave?
Answer:

The best thing to do is start now in your search for a new home for her. Once you find the new owner that works for you, start introducing him or her to your Maine Coon in your present home, which are her most comfortable surroundings. Once you move, and she has to move in with her new owner, she’ll have someone to take comfort with.

Question:
I've heard different opinions on feeding dry food and canned food to cats. What is your take on it? Which is better?
Answer:

There are pros and cons to both. A great thing about canned food is that it provides hydration, which is very important for good feline health. For cats, I like canned food over dry, but it also depends on what the cat likes. The fact that cats are eager to eat their food is just as important as what they eat.

Question:
Do cats get dental cavities like people do? If so, is there a way to prevent them?
Answer:

Yes, they certainly can get cavities. The best way to prevent this is to go to your vet for regular checkups, meaning one to two times a year in most cases. Brushing a cat’s teeth is easier said than done. But brushing can also help. Your veterinarian can discuss the best options with you.

Question:
We already have two cats and we're considering adopting a Munchkin cat. Do they need any kind of special care?
Answer:

Munchkin cats, with their very short legs, don’t get around as easily as your typical domestic feline. So they are not able to jump up to higher areas or defend themselves as much as a typical cat. I’d keep close observation on the interactions between your Munchkin and the other two cats. If they do well together, you should not have a problem. If they try to harm one another, you may need to reconsider.

Question:
We think our dog has the flu. Can our cats catch it from him?
Answer:

No. Cats cannot catch the flu from dogs, nor vice versa.

Question:
Are there any natural products I can use to help with my cat's allergies? She's sneezing every two minutes.
Answer:

My first recommendation is to visit your veterinarian, if you have not already done so. Options like medication or diet changes may give your cat relief. If you’ve already seen your vet and want to consider natural options, find a homeopathic veterinarian in your area. While I am not too familiar with these options, there are some immune-boosting products for cats that may help, as well.

Question:
My adult British Shorthair is overweight. As an indoor cat, how can I help him get back to a healthy weight?
Answer:

Talk to your veterinarian about a low-fat, high-fiber diet. It is also important to encourage exercise. Enticing your cat to chase a string or flashlight beam can help. Even simply playing around with him on the floor will help. Exercise and diet are the keys to healthy weight loss, just like with us humans.

Question:
I travel a lot and I'm thinking of getting a cat. I would want it to travel with me, but I'd be worried about its health. Are there certain cat breeds that are sturdier and get sick less than others?
Answer:

Cats are usually not good with traveling in the car to the vet, let alone regular jet-setting. However, there are some breeds, like the Pixiebobs, Scottish Folds, or Japanese Bobtails that have been known to handle traveling quite well.

Question:
Our oldest cat has chronic kidney failure. Is there a certain kind of diet we should be feeding him?
Answer:

There are very good diets, usually with restricted protein levels, that are formulated specifically for cats in renal failure. Within these special diets, I also recommend canned food for these cats with kidney problems, to help with their hydration. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your cat.

Question:
We have three kittens. One was recently diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection. How can we make sure the other two kittens don't get URIs, too?
Answer:

The best way to do this is to quarantine the affected kitty from the other two. And make sure to have the infected kitten under the care and supervision of a veterinarian to assure proper treatment. They should be kept separated until your veterinarian says otherwise.

Question:
My 7-year-old cat gets constipated more and more as he gets older. Could this be a sign of something more serious?
Answer:

Yes, it can be. Conditions like kidney disease, which can cause excessive dehydration, will commonly cause constipation in cats. Diseases of the lower gastrointestinal tract (colon) can also cause this problem. Diet can also be the culprit. Discuss the situation with your vet to determine the cause and best course of action.

Question:
How should I feed my house cat who is 6 weeks pregnant? Does she have any special needs this late in the pregnancy?
Answer:

Your cat's diet should be one that helps deliver proper nutrition to her babies. So a good choice at this point is a high-quality kitten diet. However, have her examined by your veterinarian and make sure she’s healthy. She may need a specialized diet and/or supplements to give her the best chance for healthy deliveries.

Question:
How can I tell if my cat has fleas if he isn't allergic to them?
Answer:

There are very safe, easy-to-use flea combs that you can use to see if your cat has fleas. The teeth on these combs are very small and close together, so fleas can’t maneuver around them. Also, by swallowing fleas, cats can be infected with small intestinal parasites called tapeworms. So if you see little white, rice-like worms in your cat’s stool, this is a sign that fleas are present.

Question:
Is it safe to use my dog's flea treatments on my cats?
Answer:

No. There are medications approved for both dogs and cats that have the same ingredients. But the doses are usually much different. There are also some canine-specific flea treatments that can be detrimental to your cat’s health. Do not use any flea treatment on your cat that your veterinarian has not approved.

Question:
Are there any natural or herbal treatments I can use to get rid of my cat's fleas? He's allergic to flea collars and hates getting bathed, so flea shampooing is hard.
Answer:

Things like tea tree oils and garlic cloves have been shown to repel fleas. But they won’t get rid of them. Only a safe insecticide with an IGR (insect growth regulator) is going to get rid of them. Talk with your veterinarian. Don't be afraid to ask about homeopathic options. They may refer you to a veterinarian who specializes in homeopathic care for more answers.

Question:
Is it true that all white cats are deaf? Why are white cats prone to deafness?
Answer:

Not all white cats are deaf, but it is true that they are prone to deafness. Some white cats have a dominant gene that will cause a congenital degeneration of the inner ear, which causes deafness. These cats tend to have blue eyes.

Question:
What might be causing my cat to get kidney stones? How can I prevent it?
Answer:

Kidney and bladder stones are usually a result of a cat's diet. There are different types of stones (uroliths). So determining what they are composed of is important. Your veterinarian can make this determination and then recommend a specialized diet for your cat to help decrease the possibility of recurrences.

Question:
I read that over-grooming in cats is stress-related. But I can't figure out why my cat would feel stressed. What else could be causing my cat to constantly lick himself? He doesn't have fleas or dermatitis.
Answer:

Cats can suffer from psychogenic alopecia, where they over-groom themselves for no apparent reason. What causes this stress is very difficult for the owner and/or their veterinarian to determine. In these cases, medical management with anti-anxiety drugs may help.

Question:
What should I do if my cat starts choking?
Answer:

Immediately get your cat to a veterinarian or veterinary emergency facility. Know which facility is closest to you.

Question:
About 3 months ago my cat was given steroids for the feline acne on his chin, and it cleared up right away. But now it's back and more severe. What can we do that can help get rid of it permanently?
Answer:

Steroids treat the symptoms. But it is important for you and your veterinarian to determine the cause. Is it allergies? Is there an underlying infection? Knowing the answers to questions like these is important for long-term control.

Question:
I think my cat has injured her paw, but she won't let me touch it. How can I get to her without getting clawed?
Answer:

You shouldn’t. Your cat loves you, but when injured or hurting even the most loving cat can lash out and cause severe injury. Your veterinarian and their team are best trained to determine if there is injury to the paw.

Question:
My cat is 12 years old and has arthritis. What can I do to help make her more comfortable?
Answer:

A good veterinary exam is the first thing I recommend. Discuss with your veterinarian the best options for your cat. There are joint-care supplements like glucosamine (which is usually combined with chondroitin) that can help lubricate the joints, decrease inflammation, and slow down deterioration of cartilage. Essential fatty acids also help with this. Also, there are safe, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that your veterinarian can prescribe to alleviate any pain or discomfort in your cat. Lastly, minimal exercise to help strengthen your cat's muscles may also help. 


Thank you for joining us for WebMD Ask the Veterinarian. Be sure to check in on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 1 p.m. ET when we discuss dog conditions and nutrition. Sign up if you'd like an email reminder the day before the event.

WebMD Ask the Specialist Transcript

Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on October 24, 2011

The opinions expressed in this section are of the Specialist and the Specialist alone. They do not reflect the opinions of WebMD and they have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance or objectivity. WebMD is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on WebMD. 

WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.