Dear Dr. Fox:

We have a female Hemingway (polydactyl) cat with seven toes on her front paws and six on her back paws. She was spayed at 2 months old. She was given to someone in Key West, Fla., who wanted her to catch large water rats under her house. This is where the problem must have started.

We got her when she was 6 months old. She is now 3. She always eats dirt, string and broom straw — anything she can find, really. She’s well fed and always has plenty of water. Her penchant for eating almost anything is upsetting, because she then gets sick.

How can we cure her of this bad habit? I think she might have been deprived of food so she’d be hungry and motivated to catch rats.

H.A., Long Beach Township, N.J.

DF: One of our formerly feral cats exhibits the pica, or depraved appetite, that your cat displays. This behavior can have various origins, including starvation, which triggers the urge to ingest anything that might kill the hunger pangs.

Cats, dogs and other animals will engage in this behavior when their digestive systems are upset, when they have an inflamed mouth or when they are experiencing nausea and eat grass, string, leaves and whatever they can find to induce vomiting. The underlying trigger in some cats can include fur balls in the stomach, anemia and feline leukemia.

I advise a full checkup for your cat to rule out any physical or medical causes. She might simply want more fiber in her diet and will enjoy nibbling on a box of sprouted wheat grass or alfalfa.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I am the guardian of a spayed rescue cat that is about 6 years old. She was 1 when she came to live with me, after having one litter. Happily, she maintains a healthy weight.

About three years ago, she had a urinary tract infection and struvite crystals in her urine. Her veterinarian put her on a urinary tract health-formula diet for life. She fully recovered from the UTI more than two years ago. I asked another veterinarian whether she needed to remain on that diet, and he concurred that she should.

What I am really hoping for is a different answer. I wanted to give her some plain pieces of broiled meat with no seasoning (such as salmon, chicken, lean beef or pork) instead of the canned food, but was advised against it. I also wanted to give her a little variety in her diet. She likes avocados, so I would like to add them to her diet.

The main reason I wanted to change her wet food diet is that, all of a sudden, she decided not to touch her Purina Pro Plan Urinary Tract Health Formula diet, and I wanted to go back to a wet food, such as Blue Buffalo. The decision not to eat the Pro Plan came as soon as I tried to give her some from a new case with a new label design. She had been eating the Pro Plan wet food with no problem following the onset of her UTI. I called Purina and asked whether the company had changed the recipe. I was told it had not.

I found the coincidence of the timing of her refusal to eat the food with the label change very unusual. The second veterinarian said that companies do change the recipe without telling anyone. Is he right about that?


DF: I sympathize with your desire to give your cat some tasty treats, but be forewarned: Cats can be finicky eaters and go on a “hunger strike” when they don’t get the food they especially like.

Considering your cat’s history of struvite crystals, you need to explore home-prepared special diets. For details, go to www.
. For veterinarian-formulated recipes, go to or call 888-346-6362.

In the meantime, stop the treats. Your second veterinarian is correct. Actual ingredients can change from one manufactured batch of cat food to another because of different ingredient sources and quality, while the ingredient proportions and amount of supplements and additives remain the same. For details, see my book, “Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Food.”


Dear Dr. Fox:

Your recommendation of PetzLife Complete Coat to kill fleas and ticks was a happy surprise. A safe, natural product — not a spot-on insecticide.

I will definitely try Complete Coat, but would like to ask that you check into Wondercide’s Evolv, a cedar oil extract that repels or suffocates fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other pet pests. I have used it for two years on my dog and am delighted to find a safe, effective alternative to spot-on products.

Complete Coat has to be applied only every two to five weeks, whereas I have had to spray Evolv on every three to four days during the flea and tick season. It would be nice to have you compare these two products.

M.M., Silver Spring

DF: As you might have gathered from reading my column, I am an advocate of safe and effective botanical products that are not harmful to the environment or (like many of the “big pharma” products on the market to control fleas and ticks) also potentially harmful to both animals and to the people applying them.

Cedar oil extracts, like other phenolic essential oils from various plants, are part of the plants’ insect- and disease-repelling biochemical defense mechanisms. They can be toxic to cats, who lick their fur more than dogs do.

One must be cautious when purchasing such products for external and internal use. Organic certification is important, as is the method of extraction. Such chemical solvents used by some processors and marketers of essential oils can remain in the final product as potentially toxic contaminants.


Dear Dr. Fox:

In June, we had a fire in our home while we were at work. There was a leak in the bathroom that flooded the floor and seeped into a basement light socket. Our 11-year-old German shepherd, Lucy, was found trapped in the bathroom on the flooded floor, unresponsive. The firefighters were able to save her, and she is doing great. We have been living with my mother during the renovation.

When I have taken Lucy back to the house, she doesn’t want to be there. I truly think she has post-traumatic stress disorder.

We will be moving back in next week. My plan is to wait until Friday night to take her home, so that I can spend three full days with her to keep an eye on her. Is there something else I can do to ensure her being comfortable again?

P.S., Granite City, Ill.

DF: What a terrible ordeal poor Lucy went through. She is most certainly suffering from PTSD.

Before taking her back to your restored home, have her seen by a veterinarian who can prescribe anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax for a couple of days before you take her back, and continue with the medication until she settles down, decreasing the dose if she becomes too groggy.

If she has a good buddy dog in the neighborhood to come over and visit, that could have a calming effect. She might never want to go near the floor where she was trapped, so make her bed downstairs and be prepared to sleep with her for the first few nights. Good luck to you and to Lucy!

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2013 United Feature Syndicate