Ask the Veterinarian/Cat Behavior & Issues
QUESTION: Hello. I have 2 indoor cats, both of whom are seen by their doctor as needed. Last September, I took in Moose to live with me who had been living outside in the area at least a year. When I first saw him, it took months before he could trust me; he was skittish and would run from me, but eventually he improved as he knew I always would feed him. I believe he must have been a feral cat and not a stray. It took another few months before I was able to finally "trap" him in one of those Hav-A-Hart cages, so I could get him to the vet for shots, a bath, neutering, plus de-worming and flea treatment, etc; before bringing him in the house. He has come a long way, is no longer afraid, (except when trying to get him into the carrier to go to the doctor, that can be difficult) he gets along great with my other cat, uses the litter box normally, and is overall a regular, normal cat except for the following - I noticed when he was still outside, he had sores on his inner thighs and some hair thinning on his outer thighs. After showing this to the vet, Moose was first given Prednisone, then B-12 injections to try and alleviate the sores. What happens is, when grooming, or suddenly, he will gnaw at or seemingly bite at his inner thighs. He does not have fleas although I know he may have had them when he was outside which could have started an allergy, but the vets took care of anything he may have had. In the beginning he did have roundworm, and ongoing diarrhea which I attributed to the roundworm, but was treated at intervals with Drontal and no longer has diarrhea or roundworm, or any other internal worm. Both cats receive a monthly topical flea/tick/chewing lice treatment. I see nothing at all in his fur or skin. He is still given a monthly B-12 injection, it seems to help. The sores on his inner thighs will clear up but then return, I think this depends on how much "gnawing" he does in this area. Secondly, is the behavior when eating. I think he still has the outdoor mentality of not knowing if or when he will be able to eat since he was outside fending for himself. He is a large cat, now weighs a steady 12 pounds, but only weighed about 9 lbs in the beginning. I give him 2 cans of food per day and dry food a couple of times a week. I give them a higher quality food, grain-free, no by-products, etc. Every time I get up, he does also by following me and I often trip over him because he's right there acting desperate as he wants food all the time. He eats quickly, just as he did when he was outside. If I drop one of my potato chips, etc; on the floor, he rushes over to eat it. I have to feed my other cat in the bedroom with the door closed otherwise as soon as Moose finishes his own food, he will quickly "muscle in" and eat my other cat's food by nudging him out of the way. I really don't think he can be hungry; he's had thyroid, glucose, and other tests done and everything is negative. I have tried giving him his can of food, and filling up another bowl with dry food hoping he would see that there is plenty of food available so he might think "I just ate, I'm not hungry, so I don't need more right now" but that doesn't work either as he will finish his bowl, then go to the other bowl with the dry food and eat most of it, which is too much for him to eat in the span of a few minutes so I no longer try that. I spend a LOT of time with both cats daily, they have many toys, 3 scratching posts, they like to sit in the window and look at birds and squirrels, I have DVD cat videos they can watch. I really don't think Moose is bored. I thought by now that since he has been inside the house with me for a year that he would have stopped acting so desperate when it comes to food. I would greatly appreciate it if you can suggest anything that may help with his thighs (the problem looks like round red blood spots, that will scab over and heal if he leaves the area alone for awhile; I have a picture of this if you need it) plus, how to help him stop eating so quickly and always wanting food or acting desperate, I can barely get the bowl down when I feed him, he just climbs up the cabinet or on me in order to get at the food as fast as possible. They have two litter boxes which are cleaned and disinfected with boiling water and Dawn Dish Soap regularly, I add baking soda to the bottom and use Yesterday's News Unscented Litter. I am sorry to have gone into so much detail; I am just trying to give you as much background as possible so you know what has been done or is being done. Again, any information, or thoughts are very much appreciated. Thank you, Joann (U.S.)
ANSWER: Hi Joann,
I think sometimes with cats that have had a scarcity of food, they never really get over it and will always be hungry. I think I'm a little the same with food sometimes too, I can always eat! Is Moose overweight? Does he have a big droopy belly?
One option that might help is to get one of those timed feeding things where you can divide some dry food up into 6 equal (and very small) portions that are delivered 6 times a day. That way he can learn that his food comes regularly at intervals throughout the day, rather than feeling he has to rely upon you as his food source. Cats do like to eat 7 times a day on average, so you would need one that can deliver at least 6 meals: http://www.catfooddispensersreviews.com/automatic-pet-dish-6-meal-lcd/
It most likely won't make him less food oriented, but it will increase the predictability of his meals and allow you to ensure he doesn't eat too much at once (like us, eating small frequent meals is better for cats and eating a large meal all at once often means they don't get that feeling of being full before they've eaten too much!).
The issue with the skin does sound a little like an allergy. If it is happening around monthly and more in the warmer weather, it possibly could be a flea allergy. Cats with flea allergies are so sensitive that 1 flea bite can keep them itching for up to 2 weeks. No flea treatment kills fleas immediately, many topspot flea treatments like Frontline/Advantage/Revolution etc...allow fleas to bite up to 200 times before the flea dies. Cats are so efficient at grooming that you rarely see fleas on them, particularly for those cats that are allergic because they are driven so crazy that they find that flea and ingest it as soon as possible. The solution can be using a very fast active flea control product like Comfortis and treating the environment for fleas. Some information here about fleas: https://www.lovethatpet.com/dogs/questions/why-does-my-dog-still-have-fleas/
Cats can of course be allergic to many different things, not just fleas. Food allergies are common, with the most likely culprit being fish, chicken, beef or corn. Many pet foods have a combination of ingredients, so feeding a low allergy hydrolysed protein food like Hills Z/D for 8 weeks can be a good elimination diet to try. You can also do a home-cook elimination diet using a novel protein like venison, kangaroo, rabbit or duck. Feeding just one protein source is not balanced long-term, but it does help you to identify what the likely allergen is, and there are online companies that can help you formulate a diet that covers your cat's needs.
Some information here about allergies in cats: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&C=14&A=2607&S=2
Hope some of that helps, let me know if I can expand upon anything.
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QUESTION: Dr. Bright: Thank you for your help. I will get a timed feeder device, and in the meantime, I will feed him small portions more frequently instead of a whole can at one time. I did not know cats want to eat 7 times daily. He weighed about 9 pounds when I took him in and now he is about 12 pounds. I would like him to lose about a pound and a half (I think). He appears overweight now. He was thin when he lived outside and had a medium build, then gradually gained some weight as I fed him every day for several months out there before I could get him in the house, but he is now what I would consider large. His stomach isn't droopy, but the best way to describe it is, wide; that is, he looks wide on both sides. I give him Blue Buffalo Basics Turkey (grain-free, no by-products, etc) and the Blue Buffalo Basics Duck, and I also have dry food Turkey. I appreciate your time in reading my notes and I really think the timed feeder will help once I get it. As of right now, the sores on his thighs are clearing up, although they return depending on how much he gnaws at or bites at them. Other than doing that, he doesn't scratch often or excessively. He did better when the B-12 injection was given twice monthly, but they've dropped it to once a month for the past few months. If it won't adversely affect him, I am going to ask the doctor if he can go back to twice a month to see if the improvement with his thighs is consistent. Thank you, again.
I hope Moose is on the improve. It does sound like he has an allergy. Some cats will respond to food trials, or you can allergy test. There is also a medication called cyclosporine that can help with allergies in cats.
Let me know if I can provide any further advice.