Ask the Cat Doc: Itchy Cat, Flea Control for Feral Cats, Moving with Cats, 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 Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

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

Cat constantly itches and bites at himself

Hi I have a outdoor cat that I’ve had for 10yrs now he was feral when I moved in I can pet him and love on him now but I cant get him to the vet I’ve tried trapping him even and he wont fall for it my problem is I’m sure hes allergic to fleas I put flea medicine on him regularly but he still constantly itches and bites at himself he has little scabby sores all over and his hair falls out I need to no how to help him without taking him to vet I would appreciate any help you can give me. – Kelly Vasquez

Hi Kelly,

I am so sorry you are having trouble getting your guy to the vet. It is a common problem and a big reason cats don’t receive regular medical care. It is never too late to try to train him to enter into his carrier and I would encourage you to start doing so as soon as possible. To begin with, you might want to place an open carrier (top off) with a fleece blanket, bed, cat toy, silvervine or catnip, or even his food dish in it. Get him used to stepping into the bottom of the carrier so that he can see there is nothing to be afraid of. Once he has been doing that on a consistent basis, graduate to placing the top on the carrier without the cage door attached. Again, leave food, treats, silvervine, or a bed inside. After a period of time and when he has adjusted to that routine, attach the door, but leave it open. Then, when he comes to eat inside the carrier, gently close the door for a few minutes, assuming he is comfortable and unafraid. If all of that goes well, the next step would be to carry him around in the carrier for a minute and see how he does. As you can tell, this is a method of slowly and consistently getting him used to the carrier as a safe place where he either sleeps, plays, or is fed. Finally, once he has gotten the hang of it, you are ready to place the carrier in the car and sit with him in it. Then return him back to his favorite place outside. All of these steps are leading up to making him comfortable in his carrier, with the car, and going to the vet.

As far as controlling his flea allergy, the best way to do that is with prescription flea medication. Most of the time, the ones sold over the counter are not effective enough but if that is all you are able to do with him then by all means try using a safe topical flea application. Especially if you are able to pet him, this should not be too hard to accomplish. In prior posts we talked about using safe outdoor products like beneficial nematodes and food grade diatomaceous earth as ways in which to control the fleas in the environment. Have you tried those?

Thank you for writing in and for taking such good care of your kitty. Let me know how else I can help.

Beneficial nematodes to control fleas in feral colony

My friend who manages a feral colony with flea problems told me that diatomaceous earth is made up of tiny crustaceans that have sharp edges on their shells and that it could cause eye irritation. She will not use it. I would be interested in the specifics of the beneficial nematodes. – Carol Goin

Hi Carol,

Thank you for your question about diatomaceous earth and beneficial nematodes. These are two safe and effective ways to control fleas in the environment.

There are two types of diatomaceous earth: food grade, which is suitable for consumption, and filter grade, which is inedible but has many industrial uses. It is only recommended to use the food grade with using around pets and humans. While it is safe to consume, I would use caution handling it, because it can cause lung irritation when inhaled in frequently, and might be capable of causing eye irritation if placed there. But, I would not worry too much about either of those two scenarios as long as you are careful with handling it.

Nematodes are microscopic organisms that do serious damage to flea larvae. They live in the soil and have special gut bacteria which are fatal to fleas. After release into the soil, they find their prey and enter through whatever openings they can find and once inside, begin killing their host by releasing their deadly gut bacteria.

Beneficial nematodes are fairly inexpensive to use and provide fast results. They die in harsh sunlight and high temperatures so it is best to apply before dawn. You will find several different brands on the market and it is best to follow each one’s own directions.

I hope I answered your questions sufficiently and that your friend will be more likely now to use either or both of these wonderful solutions to her pesky flea problem.

Cat is overgrooming

Hi Dr. Lynn, I have a 12 year male cat. Staring the last two years he will not stop grooming himself. He has many bald patches now. I have taken him to our vet. He has no fleas. She has been giving him cortisone shot along with antibiotic shot once a month. Along with medicine once a day to alternate in each ear. It is not working. The shots help for 4 – 5 days. Why will Blue not stop? Can you help him? – Elaine Dobish

Hi Elaine,

I am so sorry to hear that your cat is having skin issues. From what you have described, it sounds to me like he has not been properly diagnosed. Otherwise, the medications would be more effective in treating his issue. Without additional specific information, I am unable to guide you with medical information. However, I would encourage you to seek a second opinion with a veterinary dermatologist. That would be the best way to get Blue the relief he needs. I hope Blue feels better soon.

Moving with cats

Hi Dr. Bahr, my husband and I just bought a home in Tucson, AZ. We will be driving down from Everett, WA in early August. I know we’ll have a challenge on the trip down but we need advice on the best way to introduce them to the new house. Maggie is 18. Murray is 10. Murray and Maggie have had a troubled relationship from their first day when we got Murray at age 2. He is better now but he only gets supervised visits with Maggie in our bedroom. He still tries to attack her. He is on Prozac for his aggressiveness. I want them both to have full run of the new house. I’m hoping the abundance of birds and other critters in view from every window will keep them both intrigued. Our vet has given us Gavapentin for the ride down. They both do pretty well in the car. What would you suggest as the best way to introduce both of them to the new and larger house? – Ramona Hensrude

Hi Ramona,

Congratulations on your new home. I wish you many years of health and happiness in it.

Maggie and Murray’s troubled relationship is complex and has been going on for some time so there will not be a quick and easy fix. However, there is hope that it can be resolved to the point that they can live comfortably together. It is not a lost cause and I am optimistic you will find a resolution to this problem.

In order to get the process started off right in the new home, I would recommend you seek a behavioral consultant with a professional like Marci Koski (see her monthly column on She will have excellent guidance for you with resources to help the introductions to the new home go more smoothly.

Since Murray is much younger than Maggie, I suggest you play with him a lot. Make sure he has sufficient ways to release his energy and keep him actively fit both mentally and physically. That will go a long way in redirecting his attention away from Maggie and playing with you instead. Equip your new home with Feliway diffusers plugged into each room and make sure that Maggie and Murray have plenty of their own resources. That means they will each have their own scratch posts (hopefully you will have many placed throughout the new house), litter boxes, feeding stations, beds, vertical space to climb and hiding places.

Tucson is one of my favorite cities and I know you are going to love living there. Hopefully, so will Maggie and Murray. Good luck and let me know how else I can be of service to you.

FIV positive cat with multiple health issues

Hi Dr. Bahr,

We’ve been rescuing feral cats for over 14 years+. Instead of doing TNR, my bf and I do TNK (trap, neuter and keep or adopt out). We have literally spent over $275k of our own money on spaying/neutering. massive vet bills; premium wet/dry food; and private cremation.

We’ve had to rescue them because this guy (who still lives by this soccer park) threatened to kill all the ferals in the little section of the park where I’ve been maintaining a few cats (after we rescued the family- mothers and their children, Grandma and Grandpa, uncles, etc). Luckily, I never suffered the vacuum effect. I think I’m just feeding people’s owned cats now.

Anyway, our oldest kitty right now, O’Malley is FIV+ just turned 16 years old. Last August 30th, 2018, he was diagnosed with CRF and I have done 100ml+ of sub-q fluids every night on him, He’s had EPOGEN injectable to anemia associated with CRF. Also he had “squamous cell carcinoma” in his piehole which we actually cured with Alpha Omega Labs Cansema Salve (it took a few months but it went away).

Every year the last few years, he seems to get congested and get a URIat this time of the year.

But, now I’m pretty sure we are losing him and doing everything we can to keep him comfortable. In January 2019, the vet did senior blood testing and his Bun and Creatine were still elevated and liver enzymes too. His TSH was high at 4.6 but she didn’t recommend hyperthyroid med (we just lost two cats last year on those and really would rather do homeopathic). Other than that….things were fine.

Now, on June 7th, I took him in because he is losing weight rapidly! Dr. said “O’Malley Buddy you look like crap! What is wrong?” His Blood work is GREAT but his TSH is 1.6 and the Bun/creatine are back to normal. Also, I has started giving him that BioRAD1 trial drug for FIV+ cats in May..for maybe 3-4 weeks. Dr. Hatt said “it’s Amazing his blood work is GREAT I can’t believe it’s from the same cat!!” I said “It is showing signs of cancer? (Last year, FIV+ kitty had herpes inflammation in his one remaining eye, then started losing weight rapidly (she gave us Prednisolone transdermal gel) and he was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma and lived 91 days, His name was Remington and was former feral tomcat I rescued in July 2010 but his bloodwork showed elevated AMYLASE and WBC and she said that is cancer). O’Malley’s blood work doesn’t show this. On June 7th she looked in his mouth and the squamous cell carcinoma is still gone. Oh, for the past 6 weeks his left eye got cloudy and its herpes inflammation in the eye and he’s never had this before…until the end.

I brought him back in on June 25th because he’s still losing weight and he has lost 0.84lbs in 18 days. Now, that he is 6.6lbs on June 25th, she said “Oh man, Mom, I’m sorry buddy..he’s got intestinal lymphoma and I can feel a tumor up under his ribcage. ” She looked in his mouth and there is a pink patch that she said is the squamous cell cancer coming back. She gave him a depo-medrol shot and said he can have one every few weeks. Within 45 mins of having it he was grooming and everything. I didn’t expect him to make it this long. I’ve used Pet Well Being Life Gold drops, CBD oil, just got Celloquent Gold from Vitality Science to put in wet food. But he LOVES Farmina N&D grain free Italian dry food and he eats wet food too but more picky about it. I even broke down and bought 12 cans of the HIll Urgent Care AD canned food. But nothing is making him gain weight. I don’t think we have ever had a kitty other than him and his gf who now has asthma have a depo shot.

Do you know WHY cancer doesn’t show up in his bloodwork but the other kitty it did?
Any ideas how to get some meat on his bones?

BTW, this is the THIRD FIV+ kitty we have had get herpes eye inflammation in the last few months of their lives and then get lymphoma. One kitty Tyler was not diagnosed until the day he got anemic on Christmas Day 2017 and suffered internal bleeding and had to be pts. The vet thought maybe diabetes and our vet before her claimed he was blind and needed his eyes removed for $6k. It was herpes inflammation and used a compounded Famiciclovir liquid that was expensive and after using that is when he dropped lbs. He was about 12 years old. Then Remington was FIV+ 16 years old, had to get his left eye removed in November 2015 because it bulged out, always had lose stool that they said was IBS but his blood work in March 2018 showed the elevated Amylase and WBC and he passed away on July 6th 2018.

That is three FIV+ kitties who get herpes eye inflammation and then lymphoma. Is it because of the FIV?

We had another FIV+ kitty had to be pts at almost 13 years old (rescued when 5 years old) from “saddle thrombosis” on December 26, 2016! Then another was 14 years old, FIV+ Buddy Bear and he died from CRF on June 10, 2013. I swear we had another FIV former tomcat.

O’Malley is still loving life and curling with Ciara his gf and going in the sun by the waterfall/pond and he loves going in the jogging pet stroller to the soccer park once a week late at night. But each day he is just like a walking Holocaust kitty and he’s skinnier (I wish I could do that).

Do you know anything to help him gain weight? He’s still eating and I give him a Pepcid injection sometimes every day or every other day. But, he’s thrown up now and has diarrhea :-(. My bf says “Why do our FIV former male tomcats who turn into lovebugs get this lymphoma? Isn” there some stem cell therapy study you can get them into FREE? LOL

I’m worried he only has only days left but I remember another male kitty who got skinny and lasted months and our old vet never came up with a diagnosis!

Thanks so much for any ideas and sorry its a novel. – Tamara Terry

Hi Tamara,

You are an amazing pet parent and I understand how helpless it feels when your cat is losing weight and you don’t know why. Intestinal lymphoma, as well as, hyperthyroidism are common reasons for weight loss to occur. Unfortunately, unless both conditions are treated medically, it is going to be near impossible to help him gain weight.

The type of blood tests we routinely run in veterinary medicine are limited in their ability to detect cancer. Most often, we suspect it rather than diagnose it off of bloodwork alone. I am confused as to how Remington’s elevated amylase and wbc count diagnosed cancer and would suspect there were other indicators to formulate that diagnose. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

I know you are well versed in FIV and know that it is an immune deficiency virus. Therefore, cats with FIV are prone to a host of medical conditions that are secondary to the original diagnosis. It is not uncommon for cats with FIV to develop a myriad of other diseases because of their weakened immune system but, many live long healthy lives. While it is sad that you have lost so many beloved kitties to this terrible illness, they were fortunate to be in your care.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. I appreciate all of the love you give your cats and for the care they receive from you. They are lucky babies.

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