Dear Dr. Fox:

I am in a family of four: my husband and I, plus two grown kids, ages 38 and 34, who still live at home. We currently have, yes, 13 cats and kittens in our home.

My older son was feeding a couple of outdoor strays that kept coming around. They ran away if he even opened the house door before they were done eating. One of the cats gave birth to kittens, and sadly, while following them into the yard of another neighbor, she was mauled to death by the neighbor’s K-9-trained pit bull.

Two nosy “concerned” neighbors said they knew that our son was feeding the strays, and they brought the four motherless kittens to our door. They said they found them abandoned in the street. We tried to get the one male and three females fixed and get their shots in a timely manner, but money was tight.

We are now faced with owning 13 cats, because the male cat impregnated his three sisters, two of which had four kittens apiece. The remaining sister also had kittens, but they died shortly after birth.

My husband and one son are the feeders of the 13 cats. They do it four times a day, at 6 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. I think they are grossly overfeeding all the cats and kittens.

I am desperate to resolve this over-the-top situation. It might sound as though I am making this up, but it’s all true. I am an animal lover, but the cost of cat food and litter alone has been outrageous. We did get all the cats and kittens spayed and neutered, and they’ve had their shots. Better late than never, I guess. All remain indoor cats.

T.L., New Jersey

DF: What a tragedy for the mother cat to have been killed. This happens to many cats allowed to roam free.

I advise feeding adult dogs twice a day, and most people think that is fine for cats, as well. But recent studies have shown that four small meals a day and a couple of snacks make for a better and more natural regimen for cats. Manufactured cat foods with high cereal content often lead to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

Adult cats should be periodically weighed to see whether they are putting on too much weight. To keep them healthy, look for grain- and soy-free cat foods; feed them freeze-dried, raw frozen or canned food; or try the home-prepared cat food recipe on my Web site, www.drfoxvet.com.

DOG IS EASILY ALARMED

Dear Dr. Fox:

After our 16-year-old dog passed away late last year, we finally decided it was time to look for a new family member. We came across a 3-year-old miniature American Eskimo mix at a shelter. She’s absolutely wonderful with us — silly, playful, and mostly well behaved, and we’re very happy to have found her.

Our only problem is that when we have visitors, she barks nonstop for the longest time. Her tail is wagging, but she won’t let a visitor pet her. When we go for a walk, she barks at anything close to us: people, cars and other dogs. We know she lived with a senior couple previously, so we don’t know how much training she got.

I’ve started to get her to sit and heel as a car or other “threat” approaches, but what else can we do? We’ve had her for only 10 weeks, so we know it will take time.

S.R., Beachwood, N.J.

DF: An educated guess is that your dog was not taken out and about very much with her former caregivers, and she is showing the typical adjustment issues of a dog that has been raised in a relatively deprived environment, though clearly not without love.

Take her exposure to the big world slowly and help her learn self-control by teaching her to sit and stay. This exercise helps develop internal inhibition. She might handle better with a gentle leader or a harness around her chest. Three to four drops of lavender oil on a bandana around her neck before going out might help calm her down, as would PetzLife @Eaze.

CONSTANT SCRATCHING

Dear Dr. Fox:

I cannot get to the bottom of my 13-year-old female — and formerly diabetic — tuxedo cat’s problem with head scratching and shaking.

For the past two months, we’ve fed her canned wet food instead of kibble. Her last glucose test was normal. This head and face issue has been a long-standing one. When we’ve taken her to various vets, they all prescribe Tresaderm, but the scratching always comes back.

She also overgrooms, and then vomits hairballs from licking so much. I think she does this because of stress from her head and face condition. There are no visible sores on her head or face.

I thought the dry food was the issue, but changing to wet cured only her diabetes. Even on wet canned food, she still has the shaking and scratching on her face, head, neck and ears.

L., New Jersey

DF: This could be a variant of feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Keeping my cat off fish helped; catnip seems to calm him down, and evening games are a must.

Your cat might get some comfort from having a light blanket placed over her; it might have a calming effect. Our other cat often goes to sleep when I put a newspaper over him or when he crawls into a rolled-up piece of carpeting.

I would not rule out a vitamin or other dietary deficiency or neurotoxin contaminant. We also have the established link between feline hyperthyroidism and flame-retardant chemicals, stain-repellent chemicals, formaldehyde and quaternary ammonium compound “sanitizers” for counter and floor — all of which can be found in many homes.

Hyperthyroidism, which might include excessive grooming as a symptom, affects more than one in 10 older cats. It might be caused by exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are commonly used in plastics and furniture, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Be sure her veterinarians checked her ears and teeth for issues. The cat pheromone product Feliway might help calm your cat, and so might a drop of lavender essential oil where she sleeps. Be sure there are no synthetic fragrances in the cat litter or laundry.

MORE LEISURELY MEALS

Dear Dr. Fox:

I saw your recent column about a cat eating too fast and then vomiting. We had the same problem. Our vet suggested spreading out the wet food on a large platter, and it has been a great success with our cats.

I also observe their eating and have established times that the cats know are for food. This has really worked wonders. I have five cats that range in age from 4 to 10 years old.

M.W., St. Louis

DF: Yes, spreading wet food over a plate is one way to make a cat slow the rate of eating, but it can make it difficult for some cats to actually lick up their moist food rather than grab bites. Another way to slow down your cat is to put food in a large bowl with a few glass marbles that the cat has to eat around.

Cats do train us when they want to be fed, and I strongly advise attunement to their natural meal cycle, which is usually about four small meals daily. Feeding two large meals can cause problems, as can at-will self-serve eating from a dry cat food dispenser.

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. Send letters to animaldocfox@gmail.com or write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2015 United Feature Syndicate