Dear Dr. Fox:

Belle is a 15.5-pound, 13-year-old indoor cat. The vet said she needs to lose weight.

How can I help her lose weight? I’m on a fixed income, so buying expensive food is hard to do.

She is also limping, and I think being overweight plays a big factor in it.

M.M., Arlington County

DF: Your fat cat needs help.

Excess body fat produces inflammatory substances and hormones that can wreak havoc on a cat’s body and start a downhill decline into arthritis, diabetes and fatty liver disease. Dry cat food high in starches can be a killer.

Try my home-prepared diet, which is cheaper and healthier than weight-loss foods, on my Web site, . Cook up a batch, and store it in small containers in your freezer. Give your dieting cat one tablespoon four to five times a day, warmed to room temperature with her regular food; gradually feed her only the new food.

Encourage play and physical activity between your two cats. A pinch or two of catnip in the early evening might increase their activity levels. Give each cat up to a half- teaspoon daily of fish oil with their new food to help reduce joint inflammation.

nails and cats

My 11-year-old Abyssinian, Alexandra, is a strictly indoor cat.

Alexandra began scratching the upholstery on my furniture soon after I got her. I am opposed to declawing and tried bitter apple and the Feliway pheromone room diffuser, plus spraying with water. Nothing deterred the scratching.

Next, I tried Soft Paws caps glued to her nails. Her scratching is harmless now.

In December 2010, a guest accidentally stepped on Alexandra’s paw. The vet told us she would be all right as long as there was no infection. The entire Soft Paw dropped off right after the accident, with a portion of her natural nail still inside. Now there is merely a stump where the nail ends, which appears to be at the quick of her nail. The nail has not grown back.

Why can’t modern veterinary surgery remove cats’ nails without removing the joints and mutilating the cats?

D.B.C., Suffolk, Va.

DF: If there is no sign of the nail growing back, the nail bed that regenerates the nail is probably permanently damaged. Usually, when a cat tears off a nail, a new one grows back within a few weeks.

Veterinarians who perform onychectomies (removing the cat’s finger- and toe-tips) now use lasers that purportedly cause less pain and inflammation than conventional cutting with a clipper or scalpel. Even so, it is a profound alteration physically and psychologically.

The operation involves dissection and removal of the first phalanx at the first joint; look at your own fingers and envision each one being cut off at the first joint. This is done because digging into the root of each nail would actually be a more involved process with even greater post-operative pain, inflammation and possible deformed nail growth if the entire nail bed is not destroyed.

After the multiple onychectomies are performed — one on each nail — each paw can become deformed as tendons contract and paw-pads shrink. Arthritis and an abnormal gait can also develop.


Dear Dr. Fox:

I have five cats. We’ve had the youngest, Snowball, for four years.

Minnie, 11, has been defecating in inappropriate places for about a year. We took her to our vet, where she had X-rays taken. A specialist did an ultrasound and could not find anything wrong with Minnie.

Minnie has always been shy, but she hides out more than normal. I placed a litter box in the area where she stays the most, but just the other day she defecated in the closet.

We think Minnie is bothered by Snowball, who just wants to play, which he demonstrates by chasing her. The only thing I’ve changed in the past year is cat litter, from clumping clay to whole kernel corn.

Minnie has been getting lactulose and pumpkin in her wet food twice a day. Can you offer any suggestions?

D.S., Sequim, Wash.

DF: Minnie is indeed a stressed-out cat that needs a timeout from the playful younger cat.

Many stressed-out cats will stop using the litter box, but there are other reasons for you to consider.

Do you need to clean her box more often? Cats avoid dirty boxes, and some develop an aversion to new cat litter. Give Minnie her old brand of cat litter and a new box. Or try her on Swheat cat litter, a wheat-based product.

Minnie could also be chronically constipated, the pain of which can lead to litter box aversion. So continue to give her the supplements she’s on already, plus a few drops of fish oil.

Petting, grooming, daily abdominal massage and some catnip for Minnie might help. Blocked and painful anal glands should be ruled out by the veterinarian.

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.

2012 United Feature Syndicate