Ask the Cat Doc: Cat Obsessed With Eating Plastic, Frequent Vomiting, How to Diagnose Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and More


Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit their website.

Cat with megacolon

I have a 4 year old cat named Mouse who has a mega bowel problem. She was a newborn that I bottle fed along with her 2 sisters. I noticed that it was harder to get her to poop than the others. At 6 mos a vet said the “lump” in her abdomen was a lipoma, but I noticed that the lump moved & she had very large stools. I’ve given her plenty of hairball medicine like Catlax daily & that’s the only way she can get out her gigantic hard stools, although she still has to strain a lot. My vet said that’s exactly what I should be doing & if she doesn’t poop in a week he’ll have to “clean” her out (enemas, etc) & the stress of it could kill her. I asked about surgery, but he said there wasn’t any. I worry that’s its only gonna get harder for Mouse to ‘go’ the older she gets! Please tell me if there’s any other way to help my poor kitty? – Cat Fleming

Hi Cat Fleming, I am so sorry to hear about Mouse and her mega bowel problem and sympathize with you and her. She is far too young to have to deal with something so terrible for the rest of her life and I understand why you both might feel distressed about it. Bowel problems are serious and Mouse needs a better long term solution than Catlax or enemas. I would encourage you to seek a second opinion from a veterinarian who has extensive and current knowledge in nutrition and gastrointestinal diseases. The likelihood that there are more successful remedies to Mouse’s problem is very good once the underlying cause is properly diagnosed. It could be as easy as a diet change and knowing more about what she eats would be helpful. If Mouse has never had bloodwork before, this is a good time to start with a baseline. I would need to know more about the size, location, and consistency of the lump you mentioned to assess whether or not it is pertinent to Mouse’s condition. However, when you take her for the second opinion, you should have it addressed at that time.

Given Mouse’s age, there is a very good chance she will overcome this issue once she is able to get a more accurate diagnosis and successful treatment for it. The best way to avoid permanent long term damage is to treat issues like Mouse’s early on. I hope you are able to pursue a second opinion soon. Good luck and please let us know how things turn out for her.

Resident cat is not accepting two new cats

Hi. I have a resident cat that has been introduced to two new cats within a very short space of time. The first was a male that she accepted a after a week or so. He is very mild mannered and submissive. Then we introduced a younger female, and ever since our resident goes AWOL for most of the day, only coming home to eat, and for a short period in the small hours of the morning to sleep a bit. She has only had a few encounters with this female, and each has resulted in hissing and growling from both, but no fighting. The new female appears to be more submissive as she tends to be the first to cower and start retreating, however despite this, our resident cat chooses to leave the property and disappear for hours. This is upsetting as this cat is generally glued to me when ever I am home, taking every opportunity to sleep on or near me. Is there anything I can do to assist with reassuring her and building her confidence so that she and the new female cat can work out some sort of order? I realise that that is what needs to happen for things to calm down, but at the moment our resident cat seems to be avoiding both new cats which isn’t helping with them getting to know and accepting each other. They don’t have to be best buddies, just an acceptance of each other so that I can have all three of them safely in the house at night. Thanks, Nicky Rogers

Hi Nicky, introducing new housemates is challenging, tricky, and sometimes doesn’t work out as expected. While there are many instances where cats bond or live cohesively together, there are also situations where they don’t. Think about what happens to so many kids when they go off to camp or enter freshman year away at college. Typically, it’s the first time in their lives where they have to live with strangers in tight quarters. While camp or dorm life and roommate bonding are wonderful experiences to have, they can also be the source of some drama.

Roommate discord isn’t all that uncommon and there are many different reasons for it. That makes giving you an answer for your particular situation a bit difficult. In many instances like yours, I suggest trying to find ways to bring your three very different cats together. Sometimes all it takes is finding a common cause or activity. My philosophy is that playing cures everything so I encourage you to use it as a way to bring your cats together. See if you can interest them in fun and games, first individually and then together. Providing an abundance of resources for each cat is extremely important. Make sure there are lots of places to eat, hide, climb, potty, and sleep. The less they have to share the better life will be for them and, the more opportunities they are given, the happier everyone will be.

Each of your kitties is learning how best to cope with this new situation that requires them to share time, space, and resources with each other. Your resident cat may be acting like a petulant teenager who wants nothing to do with the interlopers and is upset her life is being turned upside down. She is unhappy about having to share everything that was previously all hers, including her parents, with strangers she didn’t bring home and doesn’t approve of. Your resident cat is stressed and feeling alone and instead of seeking you out, she has chosen to stay away from home. Lure her back into the fold with attention, food, and by making it fun, enticing, and worth her while. Show her your home is better than wandering the streets and neighborhood alone.

There is no reason this can’t turn out well for all members of your family and I wish you the best of luck. With a lot of patience, TLC, and understanding, your resident cat might even come around soon.

Cat with kidney disease and arthritis

My 15 year old boy cat has kidney disease, but has been relatively stable for the last 2 years with medication (Fortecor tablets). He is now developing arthritis and I would like any suggestions how to help him. My vet gave me green lipped mussel extract capsules which I must give him in his food. Unfortunately, he refuses to eat anything that I’ve mixed the powder into. Is there any other treatment? Thank you. – Liz

Hi Liz, I am so glad you asked this question. Arthritis is a common but complicated problem with no easy fix. Therapies that work for one cat may not for another. However, before a treatment plan can be made, there needs to be a diagnosis. Since cats can’t talk, we don’t really know where their pain is coming from. Figuring out where they hurt is important to know where to look for the source of the problem and how to treat it effectively. Arthritic pain in the spine is treated much differently than pain from ailing kidneys and what works for one may be harmful for the other. First you have to know that arthritis is truly the issue.

There are several ways to diagnose arthritis and most veterinarians start with a good physical exam paying special attention to weight, body and muscle condition score, and range of motion in each of the joints. Radiographs are necessary and should be performed in all cases. If bloodwork indicates other problems like kidney disease, then an ultrasound of the kidneys would be in order as well.

There are as many treatment options available, as there are causes of arthritis. We treat cats in much the same way we do in humans with a myriad of options like weight loss, diet, anti-inflammatory or pain relieving drugs, physical therapy, acupuncture, laser, pulsed electromagnectic fields, polysulfated glycosaminoglycan injections, CBD oil, and a variety of nutraceuticals. It is often beneficial to combine different remedies when attempting to provide the necessary relief. Discuss all your options with your veterinarian first to make sure what you are using can be safely given together. Unfortunately, there is no one form of treatment that will cure all.

Creating an easy to navigate environment at home is something you can easily do to help your arthritic kitty. Warm bedding, with easy access to favorite resting spots and litter boxes is essential and arranging your furniture to better accommodate your cat’s disabilities will make his life much easier and more comfortable. Arthritic cats need to move around and benefit from daily exercises that gently keep their joints and muscles flexible and physical therapy should be part of the treatment plan. It is an inexpensive way to help your cat stay mobile.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss arthritis in cats. It is a subject many cat owners want to know more about and you share their same concerns.

Cat is obsessed with eating plastic

Dear Dr. Bahr: Our kitty Ami seems to be obsessed with eating plastic – plastic bags. I know they are harmful, and we are very careful about keeping any plastic bags away from him but sometimes, he still manages to find one. What is this obsession? He also likes to eat shoelaces which we also try to keep out of his reach. Is he missing something in his diet? Please help … he is our furry child, and we certainly want to keep him healthy for many years to come.
Appreciatively, Sharon & Michael

Hi Sharon and Michael, rambunctious, fearless, children like Ami who don’t discriminate what they eat, worry me too. Intestinal foreign bodies are serious, costly and can be disastrous. How old is Ami? Kittens chew on things for different reasons than adult cats do. Is this behavior related or dietary in nature? I wish I knew more so I could help you.

I will, however, take this opportunity to discuss a topic I think is important and relevant. Why indoor cats need access to grass. Many cats enjoy eating grass and I am a strong believer in allowing them the opportunity to do so. It satisfies their need to chew, it is tasty, and has nutrients that are good for them. I suspect, or at least question, whether indoor cats turn to plastic and other odd things to chew on because there is nothing else appropriate within their environment for them to express their natural desire to eat greens. This idea is merely speculative on my part but I do wonder if there are ill effects to indoor cats that lack access to grass and other greens.

I am not suggesting grass is the answer to your question about Ami. However, I do think it can help deter him from chewing on other more dangerous things. As a pet parent, I would begin to look for alternative “safe” things for him to chew on and “safe” activities to keep him occupied. Food puzzles, games, foraging, grass and safe sticks to chew on will all help him express his needs in a more natural and safe way.

I apologize for not answering your question more directly but without knowing more about his age, diet, health and environment I can’t even begin to speculate why he is eating plastic and string. I do know however, that one day, doing so could get him into big trouble. Like you, I pray that doesn’t happen.

Cat always wants to eat

What is the maximum weight for a female Maine Coon. She always wants to eat. – Ilona

Hi Ilona, your Maine Coon kitty should have a body condition score of 5/9 and a muscle condition score of 3/3 in order to be considered normal weight. These days, we don’t really look at the scale any more as much as we look at the entire overall physique. Weight is just a number and doesn’t really say more than that. The ideal way to judge whether or not your cat is normal weight, overweight, or underweight is with a visual assessment that looks at body and muscle condition and give it a score. You can learn more on this subject by reading Why You Should Weigh Your Cat Regularly.

Active cats eat more than those who are sedentary and knowing your cat’s lifestyle would be helpful to determine if it is normal for her to be hungry all the time. How often is she getting fed? Most cats prefer small frequent meals and it is healthier for them to eat that way. Is your cat hungry for food or begging for treats? Certain disease conditions like hyperthyroidism and diabetes manifest as increased appetite so please make sure your cat is current on bloodwork and all is within normal range.

Hungry cats always have a reason for wanting food and I am not sure if your cat’s appetite is normal or not. It would be a good idea to have her seen by a veterinarian who can give you a more accurate assessment and put your mind to rest.

Let us know if you have any other questions we can help you with.

Why is tooth resorption so common in cats today?

Tooth resorption is common in cats nowadays. 30 years ago this was not a problem. Why now? – Ron

Hi Ron, – I feel your frustration. It echoes my own. Tooth resorption is bad for cats and we don’t know how to prevent them from happening. But where did you hear that this was not a problem 30 years ago?

While we do see these lesions much more commonly in cats today, I wonder if it is because in the past 30 years cats have moved indoors where they are being closely observed and receiving vet care. Thirty years ago, cats undergoing routing dental procedures was a rare occurrence and definitely not as popular as it has become today. Either that or we truly are seeing more cats with tooth resorptions?

No one knows why resorptive lesions in cats occur and there are a lot of different theories being studied. They range from the cause being mechanical to metabolic. However, no definitive causes have been identified yet. Tooth resorption is a mystery still waiting to be solved. Hopefully, we will figure it out soon. In the meantime, regular dental care is essential to helping cats stay happy, healthy, and feeling good.

Cat vomits frequently

My cat Mickey is about 15 yrs old now. Since we adopted him at about 10 months old,he’s been vomiting, at least a couple of times a week. We had all kinds of tests done on him (some very expensive) and everything seemed ok. I give him treats for hairball, we have him groomed in the summer, but change. Our vet says that any healthy cat should throw up once a week. What do you think? – Abi

Hi Abi, uUnlike your vet, I do not agree that a healthy cat should throw up once a week. In fact, I would consider that to be abnormal. All vomiting should be taken seriously, especially if it has been going on for an entire life. What tests were performed and what types of food are you feeding him? What are his stools like and how is his general health? Does he go outside or is he strictly indoors? These are all questions that would help point me in the right direction to figuring out why your kitty vomits so frequently. Are you able to take Mickey for a second opinion? Even if you choose not to pursue aggressive diagnostics for an accurate diagnosis, he could still benefit from specific diet changes or medications to help him feel better and vomit less. There are many different treatment options for chronic vomiting that he might benefit from and it is my belief he should not throw up so often. I am sorry your vet feels otherwise and hope Mickey gets the help he needs.

How to diagnose IBD

How can you diagnose IBD in cats ? They think my 12 year old kitty has it but the additional tests they want to run can be quite pricey and may not tell us for sure if he has IBD. – Enid

Hi Enid, there are many tests that can help to narrow down diseases to the gastrointestinal tract, but the only definitive way to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease is by obtaining intestinal biopsies. Unfortunately, that involves exploratory surgery. While there are risks associated with anesthesia and surgery, it is the most successful route to take when searching for an answer.

There are other diagnostic tests that are less invasive but none give you a definitive diagnosis. They can, however, help point you in the right direction or they may discover things other than IBD. I encourage you to look at all of the diagnostic options to help you decide which ones you are comfortable pursuing. Once you have decided on which direction to take make sure to have chosen a sharp diagnostician or skilled surgeon to work with.

How clinicians approach feline gastrointestinal diseases differs among doctors. There is no cookie cutter approach. However, I always start with a good history and complete physical. Where we go from there depends on a number of things like how stable the cat’s weight is, what he is eating, what are his symptoms and when did they first appear. Analytics help and having owners keep a log at home is a good way to guide the treatment plan and allow for flexibility and changes.
Hopefully, you will find the right way to pursue your kitty’s suspected problem. Let us know direction you decided to go in.

Overweight cat

I am really tired of people telling me that my Lucie is overweight. She weighs exactly the same as she did 5 years ago when I adopted her. She is built broad in the rib cage, not slim and sleek like a Siamese, for instance, and she is long-hair fluffy. Where is the room for concern? – Terry Hoffman

Terry, People can certainly be rude and should know better than to comment on anyone’s weight, even if it is a cat they are talking about. You have every right to feel annoyed. It appears that people’s comments are getting your attention and making you ask yourself if there is any truth to the matter. If you want to know if Lucie is really fat or just fluffy read this article. It’s all about body condition scoring to determine ideal weight as opposed to a number on the scale.

Obesity is a serious problem and a cause for concern. It should not be taken lightly since it causes many medical, mental, and physical issues that decrease quality of life. Keeping Lucie close to ideal weight is one of the best ways to maintain health and well-being and she will be happier for it. Let us know what body condition score you give her once you have looked at the charts.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it next month!

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