Dear Dr. Fox:

Several months ago, I brought home a 4-month-old female tortoiseshell cat. After several days, I perceived her to be somewhat feral.We adopted our tortie to be company for our other cat, a 2-year-old male tabby. They can be angelic, but the tortie often chases and attacks the tabby. This causes retaliation by the tabby, and both end up chewing and clawing, with screams to follow. This happens at least once a day, mostly after 4 a.m.I’ve tried several remedies, such as playing with the tortie before bedtime, spraying water on the instigator and separating the cats. All have failed.

B.S., Gaithersburg

DF: A 4 a.m. catfight wake-up call is not good for anyone’s constitution.

My guess is that the young cat has not learned the art of gentle play, but I’m confident the two cats will work things out eventually. This can take several weeks. The screaming is a signal for the termination of roughhousing, especially when neither cat has significant bite wounds or deep scratches.The less you interfere, the better, although you can choose to put the attacking cat in a separate room for the night. The peacemaking pheromone Feliway might work well to subdue your cats. Feliway is available from your veterinarian, and it’s about 50 percent effective. In instances in which one cat just plays too rough for his or her feline companion, getting a third cat gives the group a new dynamic. With another companion, the picked-on cat has a buddy, or gets picked on less because the new cat and the bully become the best of friends.

Diet for an Ailing cat

Dear Dr. Fox:

My 12-year-old indoor cat recently had cutaneous lymphosarcoma diagnosed. One infected sarcoma was removed and biopsied, but she has many others, from tiny to large. One is next to her eye and looks dreadful; it’s raw and moist.Because she is maintaining her weight and doesn’t seem to be in pain, I took her home for palliative care. She vomits frequently, especially after eating, and then she’s hungry again. Our vet suggested feeding her soupy food, because the pyloric valve might be constricted, preventing food from entering the small intestine.I would like to keep her comfortable and, of course, don’t want her to starve.

C.D., Baltimore

DF: Give your cat anything she enjoys eating. Her body wisdom, coupled with a variety of options, might boost her immune system and kill the cancer.

To help with her immune system, think lots of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory supplements, such as CoQ10 and fish oil. Give her those with other vitamins, minerals (especially zinc, magnesium and selenium) and “detoxifying” herbs (parsley, sprouted wheatgrass, chopped alfalfa, milk thistle and brewer’s yeast), which many cats love. Begin with tiny portions so that she gets used to the new flavors.Offer your cat unsalted goat cheese, milk and probiotics (try one to two tablespoons of raw yogurt or kefir daily). You can also feed her a little wild salmon or canned sardines in water. Many cats with poor appetites and a need for dietary protein do well on the smooth and easy-to-swallow Gerber baby foods, especially chicken, turkey, lamb and beef varieties. Feeding her small quantities — a teaspoon or two every hour — might help prevent vomiting.


Dear Dr. Fox:

We rescued Dakota, a beautiful English springer spaniel, when she was about 18 months old. Our vet gave her the regular series of Lyme disease vaccines, and a few days after the second shot, Dakota began licking the air. We took her to several vets, none of whom indicated that her symptom was a real problem.We had been giving Dakota heartworm preventive medication, because we were told she was HW-negative when we adopted her. Later, we found out she actually did have heartworms. Our vet advised us to continue the HW preventive medication, and when she was tested later, Dakota was HW-negative. Dakota never had any symptoms of heart trouble, but her air licking continued for a couple of years. We fed her an organic, raw-meat diet, giving her filtered water and no grains.About 21 / 2 years after we adopted her, she had a major seizure that lasted almost 20 minutes, blinded her right eye and left her disoriented. The vet diagnosed idiopathic epilepsy and put her on a phenobarbital IV while keeping her in a crate where she could be observed. A day later, she went into cardiopulmonary failure and, despite efforts to revive her, died.Only after her death did we learn that her air licking was actually a focal seizure. We would like your opinion about what, if anything, might have been done for her. Could the phenobarbital have caused her death if the dose was too high?

V.W. and S.N., Takoma Park

DF: Air licking is most often a displacement behavior in animals that are in pain and afraid. Cats and dogs will sometimes repeatedly lick the air when they have an irritating skin condition or abdominal pain.

It is possible that the second Lyme disease vaccination caused neurological damage. Topical anti-flea and anti-tick products can cause problems, too. Giving the heartworm preventive medication to an already infected dog can kill some of the worms, which could have been breaking up blood circulation-blocking emboli. A brain embolus might have been the cause of your dog’s air licking and seizures. But because of the long interval between the onset of air licking and seizures, it is not possible to identify a specific cause, other than to suspect a slow process of neurological deterioration. Some breeds, such as German shepherds, border collies and any related mixed-breeds, have a genetic mutation that makes ivermectin, the heartworm preventive medication that is safe for most other dogs, potentially fatal.


Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat suffers from a very itchy face. The vet thinks she might be allergic to her food. At one point, it was suggested that I feed her an elimination diet and then put her on a home-cooked diet. I was given some material from a workshop the vet attended; however, it was not specific enough for me to feel confident that I was giving my cat all she needed.For example, cats need taurine in their diet, but I wasn’t able to find information on how much taurine to add. I also had no idea where buy taurine. Can you please provide me with a recipe for an elimination diet, as well as a home-cooked treatment diet?

R.R., Manassas

DF: I am happy to hear that your cat’s veterinarian attended a workshop on the issue of pet food-related health problems.

Allergies to certain food ingredients have become widely recognized health issues, thanks to more veterinarians making the right diagnosis rather than prescribing drugs such as corticosteroids, antibiotics and tranquilizers to afflicted pets. Part of the increase is attributable to the prevalence of genetically engineered food ingredients in commercial pet foods.The elimination diet is easier to do with dogs than cats, because dogs are less finicky. An elimination diet attempts to define which ingredients cause problems. Beef, dairy products, corn and fish are especially problematic for cats, as are soy- and cereal-based ingredients.It is best not to add synthetic taurine or other essential nutrients to your cat’s food. Instead, use minimally processed ingredients that you buy or prepare yourself. When you put your cat on my diet (available at, be sure to change the animal protein (beef, chicken) from what your cat has been eating.

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