Tips to Fix Common Cat Problems: Behavior & Health Questions

Have a question concerning your pet? Direct your question to one of our experts and it may be answered here. Send us your questions using this contact form, make sure to put ‘Ask The Cat Expert’ in the subject.

Sally Bahner is a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and has a private feline consulting practice. She is the “Dear Sally” on Tracie Hotchner’s Cat Chat Radio (, found on Sirius, the Martha Stewart Living channel. She is a longtime editor and writer on everything feline.

Sally Bahner has spent the last 10 years specializing in writing on cat-related issues, specifically nutrition, holistic care, and multiple cat behavior. She was editor-in-chief of “The Whole Cat Journal” and has contributed to “Catnip”, “Cat watch” and the new “Whole Cat Journal”.

Q: Dear Sally,

I’m wondering what I can do about my cat’s dandruff. She doesn’t like to be brushed and sometimes her coat stinks.


A: Dear Nicole,

To get to the bottom of your problem, I need to ask you some questions. How old is your kitty? Sometimes older kitties don’t groom themselves as well as younger ones.

What are you feeding her? Low-quality dry food may contribute to a funky smell. Is she longhaired and doesn’t clean up properly after a BM? Do you live in a cold climate with dry heat? That may contribute to dandruff. Has she had a check-up with your vet to rule out anything physical?

One of my kitties does not like to be brushed either, but I just do very short sessions. Waterless shampoos may also help with grooming, but it’s better to find out what’s going on since cats are normally quite sweet smelling without much help. I love to bury my face in my cats’ fur!


Q: Dear Sally,

My cat, Emily, has been licking herself to the point where she has no fur on part of her belly. I feed her a good quality diet and she does not seem to have fleas. She gets along okay with our other cat though they do hiss at each other occasionally.

What could be going on?


A: Dear Janet,

I see three possibilities here. One is a possible flea allergy. Although you may not see fleas on her, it only takes one to create a reaction in cats that are sensitive to them. Another is food sensitivity. Grains or the meat source in the food you’re feeding may be triggering an allergic reaction. That can be determined by feeding a single new protein source for six weeks, preferably something the cat has not been exposed to. The last possibility is stress. Cats often over-groom in response to stressful situations. Keep an eye on the two cats to determine whether there’s more negative interaction than you think.

As you can see, there’s some detective work involved. Your first step should be a check-up with your veterinarian.


Q: Dear Sally,

In May 2006 you had a question regarding a cat that attacked its owner because it became overly aggressive due to another cat. My cat is a home cat that lives in a relatively new home that was the territory of a neighbor’s cat prior to and during construction. The cat is in Florida for the winter, but when he is here in Connecticut he is outside hunting much of the time.

I am allergic to cats but agreed to take allergy medication so we could take this cat from my son who now is getting married and has two dogs with his fiance. All was okay until last week when I was in the same room with our cat and the neighbor’s cat came calling. Our cat raced back and forth jumping from window to door and then viscously attacked me biting my hand. It was extremely painful and remains painful almost 10 days after the incident. I took our cat to the vet so it could get its shots and asked if I could have its teeth removed. They indicated that this was a bit extreme, however, I cannot take more pain and don’t know what else to do. Can we put something around our house (some chemical) that will keep the neighbor’s cat away sufficiently to prevent future incidents? Should I have only the fangs removed or all of the teeth? Should I give the cat away? My wife and I have become quite attached to the cat, but I cannot risk getting injured again. What can we do?

Best regards, Garry

A: Dear Garry,

As with the incident you read about previously, this is another case of redirected aggression. Your cat was agitated when she saw the neighbor’s cat and struck out at whoever was closest to her – you! Was this the first and only time this happened? What is the cat’s personality like on a day-to-day basis?

First, I would try to speak with your neighbor about keeping his cat inside – explain that your cat became upset and attacked you. Cats should be kept inside or let out only under supervised conditions for their own safety. Otherwise, if your cat observes the neighbor cat from one particular window, consider preventing access to that window. In addition, the Drs. Foster & Smith catalog ( has an Indoor/Outdoor Repellent to keep cats away from trees, shrubs, and other forbidden surfaces. Also for outdoor use, there’s an indoor/outdoor motion-activated alarm that can be staked outdoors; it has 20-foot range detection. It’s not cheap, however, $64.99 and I don’t know how well they work. If your cat has a tendency to be agitated, there are “Comfort Zone” plug-ins and Feliway, which contain essences of feline pheromones (also in DrsF&S).

Bach Flower Essences ( can also help with calming – they are essences of flowers geared to help emotional and behavioral issues, available in most health food stores. Your vet was correct in having reservations about taking out your cat’s teeth – the idea is probably even worse than declawing and the cat may find another way of venting his aggression. I do commend you on taking in the cat despite your allergies and I can suggest some products to help, available in the catalogs and at pet supply stores: Nature’s Miracle makes “Dander Remover & Body Deodorizer; Allerpet/C is formulated specifically for cats, cleansing the hair of dander and saliva; and Nova Pearls is a spray-on moisturizer for cat dander relief. They’re all sprayed on and worked into the cat’s coat.

A Quercetin and Nettles supplement can help you with your symptoms but check with your doctor to see if it conflicts with the medication you are taking. And finally washing your hands after petting the kitty and regular vacuuming are simple steps that can also help. I feel bad that your son had to give up his cat because of the dogs, but I hope that his loss is your gain.


Q: Hello Sally,

I’m hoping you would have a suggestion for preventing hairballs. My cat (9 years old) has been fairly consistently vomiting hairballs every week or two for the past year. I’ve switched her food to a hairball control formula (Royal Canin); she won’t eat the gel (she won’t let me wipe it on her nose or paws, she eats around it when I try to hide it in canned food, and she won’t eat the treats with the gel in the middle). I brush her once in the morning and once at night. When I called my vet, he has no suggestions and explains that it’s normal. But I can’t accept that. She only started vomiting a year ago, and it can’t be healthy for her digestive system or her teeth.

Michelle Parrish, Clinton

A: Hi Michelle,

First of all are you sure your kitty is vomiting hairballs – are they round tube-like barfs of matted hair? Or clear bile with hair in it? Is there any food in the vomit? Does it occur at any particular time of day?
I will have to admit that cats are finely tuned barf machines, so depending on the answers to the questions above, your vet may be correct in saying it’s not a problem.
From my experience, cats vomit for several reasons:
• Hairballs, yes. If it’s only once a week or two and you’re brushing her regularly, vomiting shouldn’t be a problem. Every so often my cat, Coco, throws up the most perfect tube of cat fur. She’s short hair and doesn’t shed excessively, it just comes up.
• Binge and puke. Cats will occasionally throw up a meal if she eats too much, too fast.
• Empty tummy. Cats often throw up in the early morning hours on an empty tummy, just liquid, bile stuff. It’s something about the gastric acids upsetting the tummy. A late evening snack really helps.
• Serious stuff. Cats that consistently and regularly throw up – every day – may have problems with IBD or allergies. These are tricky problems, but ones that can often be handled nutritionally.
I really doubt that hairball formulas do much good – the manufacturers just add more wood (“powdered cellulose,” in the case of Royal Canin) to the food in an attempt to create fiber, with no nutritional benefit. Pet food manufacturers thrive on marketing foods for very conceivable medical or pseudo-medical-related issues. I see very little difference among them.
You can try adding Slippery Elm bark to your cat’s wet food. It’s available in health food stores in capsule form. You can sprinkle a capsule over the food. Or you can make a syrup by heating about a teaspoon of Slippery Elm and 1/2 cup of cold water and whisking until a syrup consistency forms. Give it to the cat before a meal or add it to her food. Slippery Elm is gentle and has a lot of nutrients. It coats the stomach lining and provides for a smooth exit. Papaya also can be used. And, a holistic vet, Jean Hofve, swears by petroleum jelly – smear a dab on the nose or paws.
The twice-a-day brushing is definitely a good thing, especially if your cat is a longhair.
I firmly believe that a high-quality meat-based diet (with a minimal amount of dry food) is best in terms of hairball prevention and overall health.
Hope this helps,


Q: Dear Sally,

I will soon be moving into a house with Toby, a kitty I am adopting from a friend. My new roommate already has a kitty and I want to make the transition as smooth as possible. Any tips?


A: Dear Elizabeth,

A lot of changes are going on here and you all need to go slowly to make a successful introduction. You and Toby are both in a new environment and the resident kitty is experiencing a change in his environment, which may make him feel insecure. The resident kitty has to be assured that his territory is still safe, and Toby needs to feel secure in his new environment.

First off, keep the two cats separated for a few days before attempting any kind of introduction. They’ll both know something is up soon enough anyhow. Flower essences can be helpful here in addressing feelings of insecurity. Spirit Essences ( has an adjustment remedy, Ultimate Adjustment remedy, (that can be started before the move) and Peacemaker remedy – these can all help. Bach flower essences are also good. Rescue Remedy is an old stand-by. Walnut offers protection from change and Mimulus and Aspen work on fear. Bach remedies are available at health food stores.

After a couple of days, you can start a “scent exchange” by taking a towel or T-shirt with the scent of one cat and introducing it to the other.

The next step is to do a room exchange. Let the new kitty explore the resident kitty’s territory and vice versa.
Depending on the reactions to these steps you can proceed to a “formal introduction,” a supervised meeting with both owners present. You may consider putting the new kitty in a carrier and introducing them that way – let the resident kitty sniff the new kitty and if that goes well, let out the new kitty.

Under your supervision, try feeding them together or engage in some play with a fishing pole toy. Try to keep the atmosphere relaxed.

Some growling or hissing or posturing is not unusual. Keep the introductory sessions short and continue until the cats seem comfortable with each other. Keep up the flower remedies as well.

All cats are different – some may become best buddies, others may tolerate each other, and still, others may never get along. But slowly introducing the kitties will give them the best chance to start out together on the right paw.


Q: Dear Sally,

My 17-year-old calico, K.C., walks around okay. A lack of sprightliness is only obvious when she’s doing her “patting down the nest” circle.

I massage her hindquarters every day to encourage blood flow. She just had a geriatric blood test that showed everything is fine, except slightly elevated creatinine (2.7).

Is this anything to worry about?

Claire Webb

A: Dear Claire,

At the age of 17, your kitty may have some arthritis in her rear legs. Can she still jump up on the bed or counter? Is there any sensitivity when you touch certain areas? Is she clumsy in any way? Lots of supplements are available to help with arthritis – Cosequin for kitties, fish oil, MSM, Wobenzym, acupuncture – plus, of course, a top-quality diet.

As you said, creatinine at 2.7 is only slightly elevated (normal is 0.3 to2.1). Elevated creatinine may be indicative of arthritis (as well as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and a few other things). Keep in mind that blood work is only a snapshot in time and can vary according to the stress level of the kitty and whether or not she has fasted.

On a more serious side, significant weakness or sudden paralysis in the rear end may indicate thrombosis, a blood clot that’s indicative of heart disease.

Since her blood work is good (a geriatric blood panel is definitely a good way to monitor the overall health of an older kitty), make sure you discuss your concerns with your veterinarian. Radiographs may show if there’s degeneration associated with arthritis.


Q: Dear Sally,

Are there household plants that could be dangerous or poisonous to my domestic short hair cat?

Thank you, Georgia

A: Dear Georgia

With Easter coming up, lilies are at the top of the list of poisonous plants. According to the ASPCA National Poison Control Center, all parts of the lily are considered toxic and may cause kidney failure in cats. Other common lilies considered poisonous include the Tiger lily, Rubrum, Japanese show lily, and Day lily. Among the very long list of other poisonous plants are Aloe Vera, Amarylis, Asparagus Fern, English Ivy, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Peace lily, Philodendron, Chrysanthemum, Hyacinth, Pothos, Dracaena, and Dieffenbachia. A comprehensive list can be found at

The good news is that thereÅfs an equally long list of non-toxic plants, including African violets, Lipstick plant, Begonia species, BurroÅfs tail, Cast Iron plant, rex begonia, purple passion vine, Prayer plant, Spider plant (always a favorite for cats to nibble on), Rubber plant, Strawberry, Hardy gloxinia, peperomia, and Zebra plant. For a more complete list, visit

A good way to discourage cats from munching on houseplants is to grow a pot of cat grass or fresh catnip. Although cats are obligate carnivores, most enjoy chewing on some greenery. The Animal Poison Control Center provides 24/7 telephone assistance to veterinarians and animal owners. If you suspect your cat has been poisoned, call 1-888-426-4435. There is a $50 consultation fee.

Q: Dear Sally,

Hopefully you can help me…I’ve been on the Internet and asked my vet with no real answer. My daughter gave me a beautiful calico DSH this spring. When I took her to the vet a week after I got my Ms. Lilly we suspected she was separated from her mom way too early and at that point she was probably 4-5 weeks old. (She ate well on her own and knew the litter box right away). She’s a joy and entertaining as all kittens are except for one thing. Lilly likes to suck her tail. I’ve tried occupying her mind on other things and if I gently hold her tail she will go after it, her paw digging deep into it. The sound is awful as you can imagine. She likes to sleep with me but I have to take her off the bed. Is there anything I can do to cure her of this habit?!

Thanks, Laura

A: Dear Laura,

What you describe is a variation of a relatively common problem in cats. It can manifest itself in sucking on companions, the owner’s hair, clothing. Our cat Coco, who also happens to be a calico, will grab the corner of my husband’s robe or a sweater of mine and knead it and twist it with a glazed look in her eyes. She and your kitty are obviously getting comfort and satisfaction from the act.

Since Lilly is still young, she may grow out of it, maybe once she is spayed. In the meantime, you can try distracting her with play (a fishing pole toy is always good). Something bad-tasting like Bitter Apple can be tried, but I doubt that will be effective. She may be feeling anxious, given her background, so the sucking gives her comfort.
Flower remedies may be helpful ( and They work in a kind and gentle manner on various emotional and behavioral issues. Check into ones for neediness, insecurity, and/or obsessive behavior.

The big concern would be if she is mutilating her tail and that might require a different approach. Cats, and calicos in particular, can be very quirky!


Q: Dear Sally,

I found my now 16-month-old cat, Jessie-Jane, when she was abandoned in an alley at age 3 weeks. Since her first day home, she is obsessed with sucking on two particular fuzzy blankets. She will do it for half hour at a time, 10-15 times daily or as often as I pet her (each and every time I pet her) while she is lying on the blanket. If you look closely, only one thread of yarn at a time is in her mouth. If one of her blankets is not on the bed and I start petting her, she will look around for it to lie upon. Is this because she was taken away from her mother too early? My girlfriend has a 9-year-old cat that has also done this all her life.


A:  Dear Janis,

This is a relatively common behavior in cats that can manifest itself in various ways – eating or sucking on wool, nursing on another kitty or their own paw, sucking the hair of their caregiver, or kneading soft items.

My cat, Coco, who is 12, loves my husband’s bathrobe and certain sweaters of mine. She will mount them, grab a corner of the fabric in her mouth, then twist and knead them, getting an almost glazed look in her eyes. Tekla, another one of my cats, has eaten fringe off a small Aubusson rug and some throws. A couple of my other cats will knead my chest when I pick them up to cuddle them.

I ran across a rather amusing term for this behavior – smurgling. Yes, it is often thought the behavior results from early weaning and that may be the case with your kitty since you found her at just 3 weeks. Oriental-type breeds are likely to engage in wool sucking and chewing, something that can really raise havoc with your collection of cashmere sweaters!

Some veterinarians recommend feeding high fiber foods (uncooked, unsweetened pumpkin or a little grated carrot) – that may or may not work. Toys can be used for redirection if the caregiver feels the behavior is a problem or excessive. If the behavior results from anxiety, flower essences can be used.

However, I see it as a “feel good” thing that provides comfort to the kitty. Jessie-Jane seems to associate both your petting and her blankets as objects of comfort. She feels secure in your presence (and her blanky’s!) Cats do have a lot of amusing and quirky behaviors. If you feel Jessie-Jane’s sucking is excessive, you might want to alternate petting with play sessions (tossing a ball or using a fishing-pole toy) or giving her a little treat.


Q: Dear Sally,

My 13 year old calico cat Daisy has been pooping outside the box for months now and I’d love to know why. I’ve tried 2 litter pans, different litter, a more private place, a more open place, different food, some scolding etc.. I took her to a vet but he said she was too excited to sedate so he did nothing. It was a fight to get her there since she doesn’t like to be picked up and it all gets very traumatic. I have sedation pills but I really don’t like to do that to her. I think she’s a little thin but she seems fine otherwise. Do you have any words of wisdom for me?


A: Hi Dorothy,

There could be a number of reasons for Daisy’s litter box avoidance – it’s usually one of the most frustrating issues cat owners experience. It does sound like you’ve been doing the right things so far. Since Daisy is 13, her age may be factor in what’s happening. Is she arthritic at all? It may be difficult for her to climb in and out of the box, and her footing may be affected when she is trying to defecate, especially if she is a little constipated. One of my cats (who probably has some neurological issues) starts in the box and sometimes ends up outside the box.

A vet check-up, including blood work, is definitely recommended. Since she is a little thin, a T4 test as part of the blood work would show if she is hyperthyroid. You can try giving her some Rescue Remedy in lieu of sedation (you’re right about not wanting to sedate her). Rescue Remedy can be found at health food stores. A few drops can be put in her water and/or rubbed on her ears. Another option may be a mobile vet, who can come to your home.

In the meantime, there is a litter called Cat Attract (, which is available at independent pet stores. You also might want to put the poop back in the litter box and show it to her (without scolding) in case she’s getting a little on the forgetful side.

Calicos can be quirky, and I hope with some patience Daisy will resume her normal litter box habits.


Q: Hello Sally,

My kitty, Chloe, is about 15 – we don’t know her exactly age since we adopted her as a stray. Lately she’s lost weight though she’s been eating more than ever. Her coat doesn’t look all that great either and she’s been vocalizing a lot, which is unusual since she’s normally a pretty quiet cat.
What do you think is going on here?

Nancy, New Haven

A: Hi Michelle,

Have you taken Chloe to your veterinarian for a geriatric blood panel? Included will be her T4 levels, which measure the number of thyroid hormones in the blood and may be indicative of hyperthyroidism, a common but treatable disease that’s often found in older cats. A normal reading is between 1.5 and 4.8. Other symptoms may include excessive thirst and excessive urination.

It’s important to get a diagnosis since hyperthyroidism can ultimately affect the kidneys and heart. The good news is that the disease is treatable. Three methods are commonly used: Surgery to remove portions of the thyroid, which can be tricky; radioactive iodine therapy, which is effective, but expensive and requires isolation of the cat (Radiocat in Middletown does the procedure) or medication using Tapazole (Methimazole). Tapazole can be simple and effective if your cat tolerates pilling and the medication; the medication can also be applied transdermally. It’s important to follow up with regular blood tests to monitor the T4 levels and determine whether the medication needs to be adjusted.

This website – – has lots of informative articles about hyperthyroidism.


Q: Dear Sally,

My cat, Lacey, has been scratching, licking and biting herself a lot. In fact, she’s even lost her fur on her back near her tail. I don’t think she has fleas since she stays indoors. What could be the problem?


A: Dear Barbara,

A problem like this requires some investigation, starting with a trip to your veterinarian and blood work to make sure Lacey is otherwise healthy. Three cases come to mind: (1) a flea allergy (2) a food allergy or (3) a behavior disorder. Although fleas may not be obvious, they may be tracked in from outside or by the family dog. If a cat is supersensitive to fleas, it just takes one to create a problem.

Cats may develop allergies to the grains in highly processed dry food, with corn and wheat being the biggest culprits. Switch to a meat-based canned food or consider an elimination diet, which involves feeding a novel protein (a prescription diet of venison and peas, for instance). After she is on the elimination diet for a couple of months, gradually reintroduce new foods and watch for symptoms to re-occur.

The scratching and licking may be triggered by stress. Have there been any changes in Lacey’s environment – new additions to the family, separation, a move? Remember, cats perceive stress differently than we humans. Flower essences may be helpful or Comfort Zone by Feliway, which is the essence of feline facial pheromone. Your vet may want to do a culture and sensitivity test to determine the source of the allergy. They’re not always foolproof, but they may be a starting point. Avoid the use of steroids since they just mask the symptoms and do not treat the cause of the problem.


Q: Dear Sally,

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about feline nutrition and I’m trying to upgrade my cat’s canned food from the grocery store brands that have a lot of by-products and fillers to a higher quality food. The problem is that my cat just doesn’t like the new food. What can I do to get her to accept the better diet?

Emily, Finicky Francey’s mom

A: Dear Emily,

Congratulations on wanting to improve Francey’s diet. As you’ve seen, it can be hard to transition a cat to a new diet if he or she has been eating the same food for a long time. I always recommend that cat owners start out feeding a variety of foods from the beginning to avoid fussiness and tummy upsets if a new food is introduced.

Pet food manufacturers like to build brand loyalty, but variety also ensures that your cat will receive a full range of vitamins and minerals.

There are some tricks to get Francey to accept her new food. First, try mixing the old food with the new food, gradually adding more and more of the new food. Bribe foods are also helpful. You can use dried Bonito flakes, found in health food stores or sold in pet supply stores, as Kitty Kaviar. Halo’s Chicken Liv-A-Littles are irresistible to most cats. In addition, you can run some dry food through a blender and sprinkle it on the canned food.

The options for better cat foods are increasing, so there are certain to be several that will appeal to your cat. Remember, too, that it should take a lesser amount of better quality food to satisfy your cat.


Q: Dear Sally,

I just adopted a kitten, Chloe, from a local shelter. She is about 4-months-old and checked out healthy. She is my only cat. I work all day so she is alone in my apartment. She has access to tall scratching posts and windows to look out of. The problem is that when I come home at night she insists on attacking my ankles and jumping out in front of me. I’m afraid I will trip and fall or step on her and hurt her. What can I do to spare my ankles and keep Chloe from harm?


A: Dear Diane,

For kittens, the world is one big place to explore and you are the center of her universe. Since you are away all day, Chloe is eager for your company. Pouncing and chasing are skills kittens learn in the wild from their mothers, and you and your ankles are a perfect way for her to hone her newly developing skills. You need to find ways to channel your energies. For people who are away all day, I often recommend adopting kittens in pairs – they’re more likely to wrestle with each other than your anatomy. If that is not possible, set aside some dedicated playtime in the morning and evening. Fishing pole toys such as Da’Bird, the Galkie Kitty Tease, or a feather on a stick allow her to run around and burn off energy. You can also toss sparkle balls or furry mice and she might even learn to play fetch. Keep plenty of cardboard scratchers around (they are inexpensive and cats love them) in addition to a couple of good sturdy scratching posts. The play sessions will improve the bond between you and channel Chloe’s energy constructively.
Most of all enjoy your kitten – they grow up very quickly!


Q: Dear Sally,

My 13-year-old kitty, Samantha, has started yowling late at night, usually a short while after I turn off the lights and go upstairs to bed. In the past she would follow me to bed, but if she’s sleeping on her favorite chair, I don’t want to disturb her. She seems healthy otherwise though I’ve noticed she has lost a little weight. What do you think is going on?


A: Dear Eleanor,

The first thing I would suggest is a geriatric check-up with your vet, including blood work. Excessive vocalization and weight loss can be associated with hyperthyroidism, so be sure to have her T4 checked. As cats age, they may experience feline cognitive dysfunction, which can be compared to senile dementia. They may miss the litter box, become more aloof or clingy, or disoriented. Your vet should rule out physical causes before making that diagnosis.  Samantha may be experiencing hearing loss – if she is sleeping soundly, she doesn’t hear you go to bed, she wakes up confused and wonders where you are. If her health checks out fine, you may want to give her a bedtime snack and play with her a bit to assure her that all is well.

Make sure she is eating a high-quality diet to maintain her immune system, weight, muscle mass, and coat. Older kitties can benefit from frequent smaller meals. Some good information on geriatric cat care can be found at the Winn Feline Foundation website,


Q: Dear Sally,

My cat, Tootsie, goes out with me on supervised walks. Another cat, Pierre, lives in a nearby condo and stays mostly outside. Tootsie and I usually stay in one side of the yard and Pierre stays on the other; they keep some distance from each other. A neighbor has told me that after I have Tootsie out, Pierre traces over our paths in the yard. The other day Tootsie edged closer and closer to Pierre, which I allowed because they both seemed calm. When she got very close (he was on his porch), he made that angry sound, which I took to mean “back off.” She starts crying and moves closer. She cries and cries and he just ignores her. At that point, I just thought that she was asking him to be friends and that he was being a bit of a cad or a loner needing his space, and that she was not welcome in his territory.

Then they both started hissing and Buster started to growl. I didn’t know if they were flirting or getting ready to fight, but it seemed like they were getting ready to fight. So, I picked up Tootsie and she bit me repeatedly really hard in the arms, scratched my hands and ripped my jacket. As soon as we got inside, the aggression was over. What did I do wrong?


A: Dear Susan,

This was a classic case of redirected aggression. Tootsie was fixated on Pierre. Whether or not they were going to fight is almost a non-issue since cats seem to do more vocalizing and posturing than actually fighting.

By interfering when Tootsie was in “confrontation-almost-attack” mode (which can be almost trance-like), you caused her to strike out at whatever was closest — You. Don’t feel bad (except for the pain…). It’s a common mistake cat owners make when trying to break up confrontations — It happened to me years and years ago when I attempted to snatch up one of my cats when he was in confrontation mode.

Two things:
Keep in mind that you can’t schedule playdates with cats as with dogs. They usually maintain their own territories outside. Since Pierre is mostly outside, Tootsie was probably testing the limits, which is why he traces the paths afterward. Cats usually come to an understanding about the boundaries, but seldom become buds.

Also, if it happens again (and I would recommend avoiding another confrontation) distract Tootsie with a fishing pole toy or clap your hands loudly, then “herd” her back to her own zone. That should break their concentration and get Tootsie back to her own area. It would be helpful if she is on a harness when she’s outside.


Q: Dear Sally,

We have a 2-1/2-year-old Abyssinian male, Max, that is very feisty and adventurous. He goes out on a harness and leash, but has slipped the harness and escaped. We would like to travel with him, but are afraid that he will escape and get lost. How can we make sure he stays safe?


A: Dear Joanna,

Abyssinians are known for their energetic personalities and it sounds as if Max is no exception.

First of all, I would suggest that you get Max microchipped so that if he is picked up without a collar, his identity can be traced. He should also wear a collar with two ID tags when you travel – one with your regular address and another with the address of your destination. A couple of manufacturers make cat-walking jackets, which are more secure than a harness. He should always be in a hard-sided crate while riding in the car – he’ll feel safer not seeing everything whizzing around and be safer in the event of an accident. (Get him used to the car by taking him on short jaunts and gradually increasing the amount of time in the car.) When outside, there’s also the Kitty Walk stroller (

Consider clicker training him. Karen Pryor is the goddess of clicker training and wrote a book, “Getting Started: Clicker Training for Cats.” Since Abys are very intelligent, the training may help channel his energy and prevent boredom. He can also be clicker-trained to come on command, which may help if he escapes.

I’m sure with the proper equipment and strict attention on your part, Max will become a seasoned traveler.


Q: Dear Sally,

I have an adult cat that is fixed and declawed. She is very friendly and shy at times. My older cousin found her and some other kittens together in a box. She kept one of them (the one I have now) and gave away the others. I was thinking of bringing in a few-week-old kitten. I’m not sure what gender, but my parents say if we bring in another cat my cat will get jealous and start marking her territory with her “pee.” But my friend had an adult cat and brought in a kitten and nothing happened! My parents don’t believe me. Can you please tell my parents and me what will happen if I bring in a kitten?

Yours truly, Ebony

A: Dear Ebony,

People add cats and kittens to their households all the time, that’s how multiple-cat families evolve! It’s the way the cats are introduced that makes the difference. It’s important to keep the cats separated at first and introduce them gradually. Keep the new one in a separate room with food, a litter box, and bedding, chances are the resident kitty will suspect something is up, but that’s okay.

After a few days do a scent exchange and let the resident kitty smell the bedding of the new kitty and vice versa. Ideally, some screening placed in the doorway will enable the two cats to view each other safely. You can place the new kitty in a carrier and allow the resident kitty to smell and see the new kitty. Some hissing and growling may occur, that’s not unusual. You may even have to back-step a bit. Once the cats are face-to-face play with them together using a fishing pole toy. The key is to introduce the cats gradually. Be sure to give plenty of love, affection, and reassurance to the resident kitty. There’ll be plenty of time for kisses for the newcomer once things are settled down.

Flower essences are kind, gentle remedies that are helpful for behavior and emotional issues. One of my favorite companies is Spirit Essence ( which has a remedy called “New Beginnings.” It’s good for adjustments to major life changes. Also, Bach’s Rescue Remedy (available in health food stores) is tried and true for stressful situations. These remedies are easy to give. Just place a few drops in the cats’ water bowls or rub a couple of drops on the ears.

If you go slow and have some patience your kitties will have a good chance of becoming buddies.


Q: Dear Sally,

I thought perhaps you could offer a suggestion. We adopted a kitten on New Year’s Eve and he is approximately 8 weeks old. He was neutered the week before we got him. The problem is that he will not stop licking me, and or my clothes every time I pick him up. He does not do this to my husband, or to our other cat who is a 1-1/2-year-old female. Possibly she clobbers him if he tries. He acts like he’s looking for a teat. After these licking sessions he usually falls asleep.

The strange thing is the second I pick him up even in the midst of play he will be begin licking. Any ideas?

He and his siblings were rescued by an organization, and given complete vet check ups etc. so he is very healthy.


A: Hi Marleen,

Sounds as if your little guy has been through a lot at a tender young age–living in tough conditions, being separated from his mom and siblings, neutered. He’s picked you as his purrson to bond with and feel secure with and sees you as his mama. In a perfect world, cats probably should not be separated from their families until 11 or 12 weeks.

It should get better as he gets older and feels more secure in his surroundings, but if it really bothers you, you can try distracting him with a fishing pole toy or give him a toy to lick while you’re holding him.

Tekla, our Russian Blue girl, will lick me on the face and even my mouth when she gets into a deep snuggle mode, even though she’s almost 4. We picked her up at the airport after a long trip and I was the first one she bonded with. You also might want to look into flower essences, which are keyed to various emotional and behavioral issues ( or


Q: Dear Sally,

I have a question about my cat, Pompeii, whom I found at the animal shelter about 2 years ago when she was 1-1/2-years-old. Almost every time I walk up to her she flops head-first onto the floor and rolls around on her back. If she is already lying down and I come over, then she will flip over onto her back and proceed with the rolling around. The flipping is especially intense when I’ve been away for a few hours or after I’ve just gotten up in the morning. I am wondering why she does this. What does it mean? Have you ever met a cat that does this? I’ve never had another cat with this behavior.  

I also wonder if there is any way Pompeii could ever become a lap cat. She will not sit on my lap and every time I put her there she jumps off and runs away. Is there anything I can do about it? Thanks for any information you might be able to provide.  


A: Dear Irene,

Pompeii may not be a lap kitty, but she is certainly demonstrating her affection for you. You’ve been away and she is happy to see you. If you notice, she is probably purring while she is “flipping” and the “flipping” may become more intense if you talk to her. It’s definitely one of the cutest interactions we can have with our kitties. She is also demonstrating her trust in you by exposing her vulnerable tummy.

Our Coco is also a “flipper” and while she is very sweet and affectionate, she is not a lap kitty. However, she sleeps on my hip every night.

Some cats are just not lapping cats, but they show their affection in different ways. You might want to try to clicker train Pompeii to join you on the sofa, by clicking (using a clicker or making clicking noise) and offering her a treat. You can play with her using a fishing pole toy, get her to jump on the couch and pet her, then give her a treat. Also, try grooming her on the couch and giving her a treat for staying with you.

As you can see, the point is to make being with you a pleasant experience.  While she may not stay on your lap you can train her to stay next to you.


Q: Dear Sally,

My husband and I adopted a 5-year-old female tiger cat from the local shelter. They told us that she was shy. She had been at the shelter for a long time, had been adopted twice previously and returned both times. They told us that originally she had been found in a sealed box in a parking lot with her litter of kittens.

We have had her for four months and she still won’t let us get near her. She runs away whenever she thinks we are getting too close. Initially, she stayed under the bed. Gradually she came out and sat on the bed. She likes to play with toys and does so either at night when we’re asleep or when we’re not home (scattered rugs and moved toys are the evidence). She’s very curious and alert – any door left open is an open invitation to explore.

She loves to eat and will meow at us from a safe distance if she feels we are a little late in giving her the Fancy Feast. She waits until we leave the room or I’m sitting a safe distance away before she’ll go to her bowl – she immediately bolts if you go anywhere near her while she’s eating. She is like an invisible cat – she never approaches us – obviously we’ve never been able to pet her.

She doesn’t destroy anything-she likes her scratching post. She’s a perfect cat – you would never know we had a cat. I considered adopting a friend for her but a subsequent call to the shelter revealed that she also takes a dim view of other cats. Our household is extremely quiet. She has the house to herself and there’s just my husband and me. I quite frankly wanted a cat that I could interact with. I naively thought that the “shyness” would have been overcome by now. Is she a hopeless case? I’ve considered bringing her back to the shelter but I hate to give up on her but I would really like to have a cat. She always walks around with her tail down – I’ve never seen it held up. We’ve given her a lot of latitude – we never confront her. If she’s asleep on one of the beds, I’ll speak softly to her from the doorway but if I enter the room, she’s gone. As far as I can tell she would be very happy if we moved out and left her the house. I’ve looked at some articles about fearful cats but they don’t seem to apply to America–the name given to her at the shelter.

I’d appreciate any suggestions, Gail

A: Dear Gail,

Patience, patience, patience. This kitty has been through a lot and it’s going to take time to build her trust. Four months is not all that long in five years of mistrust and it does sound as if she’s making progress.

Talk to her as much as possible so she gets used to the sound of your voice. Maybe think about shortening her name to “Merry,” which sounds brighter and has the high-pitched sound that cats seem to respond to. When you and she are in the same room, just sit there and read a book so she gets used to your presence and even read the book out loud, again so she gets used to the voices. Leave a TV on, a radio with classical music, or soft jazz.

Just adopt a matter-of-fact attitude, and say hello when you walk in the door and in the morning even if you don’t see her. Keep a bright pleasant attitude. Don’t creep around, just go about normal business (but don’t go around slamming doors either…)

There are lots of flower remedies that might work: Bach: Rock Rose (terror or fright); Aspen (fear of unknown things); Mimulus (fear of known things); Larch (lack of confidence). Spirit Essence ( Self Esteem, New Beginnings, Scaredy Cat. The essences can just be dropped in her water, even food. In her case, the essences should really be used consistently.

While she may not be the cuddly cat you wanted, she should come around to be more interactive. Speaking of interactive, try playing with her with some fishing pole toys that don’t require getting too close. Or toss some treats (fried chicken), so she associates something yummy with your presence.

A kitty-friend may work if introductions are done properly and the right kitty is chosen. You wouldn’t want to end up with two scaredy cats or worse yet, a bully.

You really need to be patient!


Q: Dear Sally,

I just adopted a young adult cat from my local animal shelter a month ago. Amos is neutered and the shelter requires that he stay indoors as part of the adoption agreement. However, he has a tendency to run for the door when we go in and out to grill on the deck or work outside. (I think he may have been an outside cat in his previous life…) I’m afraid of him bolting and, of course, getting lost. But I hate to deny him fresh air and sunshine. What is a good compromise?


A: Dear Jennifer,

Congrats on adopting a shelter kitty! There are so many cats that need homes.

First, make sure your kitty has access to the windows of your house – it’s like kitty TV, and the sunnier the better. You’ll need to create an indoor environment that’s as entertaining as the outdoors…well, almost. Provide Amos with a good sturdy cat tree (Arubacats has great ones, 603-382-8418), preferably placed in front of a window. Regular playtime is also important. A fishing pole toy is always popular along with balls that can be filled with treats. Clicker training is also a good way to stimulate that furry little brain.

Window enclosures are available as are enclosures that can be used outside such as those made by Kitty Walk (, which also makes pet strollers. Teaching him to walk on a leash may be a Catch 22; either he’ll hate it or be even more insistent about going outside.

Since Amos is somewhat of a Houdini, consider microchipping him and/or make sure he wears a collar with an ID tag.

It may be best not to encourage his call of the wild by enriching his indoor environment and keeping him entertained.


Q: Dear Sally,

My Persian Gabbie was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis. When I return home after leaving her for a few days, she is spending all of her time in the litter box, without peeing much, it’s very bloody and she also tries to pee other places.

I have never boarded her because I didn’t want her to get stressed – I have left her with “grandma,” which caused this problem and I have left her home with her best friend Maggie our golden and have someone come in to check on them several times per day. That didn’t work either!

She seems so miserable and the doctor said that there isn’t much that can be done – no medicine that can help and that she should clear up in 8-10 days.

I feel so sorry for her – does any of this make sense to you?


A: Dear Diane,

Stress is a biggie in urinary issues/IC/FLUTD, but each case and course of treatment is unique. It’s a matter of working with your veterinarian (perhaps you should look into a second opinion and/or a holistic veterinarian) and trying various supplements and foods until you hit upon a combination that works. The pH of the cat’s urine can determine which supplements to choose. In addition, Spirit Essence ( has several flower essences – UR Fine, Stress Stopper, and Separation Anxiety – that may help with Gabbie’s emotional issues.

Check out Dr. Tony Buffington has done a lot of research on this issue and mentions that the small adrenal gland as being a cause with IC as a symptom. Emotional and physical problems are often intertwined and it often takes some detective work to figure out what is going on.


Q: Dear Sally,

We have a neutered male Persian who drives us nuts. He likes to loudly screech in the middle of the night and has been doing this for a long time. It could be 2 or 4 a.m. and he just likes to meow so loud that he almost sounds like a Siamese. My husband wants me to get rid of him. We yell at the cat, mist him with a spray bottle, but it seems he just gets louder. After everyone is awakened so early, he just goes about his way and settles somewhere. He also can do this in the middle of the day. It truly is unnerving.

My other 3 Persians are quiet. They all get enough attention and I feel he’s on his way out soon unless I get some help.

But who would take him? They would certainly return him or put him to sleep. I think he does this to annoy us, as many times we shooed him out, he’ll come back night after night and do the same. My husband works second shift and this cat annoys him and my kids. If the cat is in the basement, we can hear him, he’s that loud. Help!

Liz and family

A: Dear Liz,

We have our own loudmouths, Pulitzer, and Tekla, who is a Russian Blue, another supposedly quiet breed. As people, I think some cats are just more vocal than others. If he were older, I would say look into feline cognitive dysfunction (Kitty Alzheimer’s) and/or deafness. (Deafness is something that you may want to check.) Please do not think that he “likes” to screech or does it to “annoy” you. There’s something going on in his brain that he is responding to. He could be seeking attention and by you yelling and spraying he is getting attention, albeit negative.

Cats often vocalize when they’re shut out of places – does he vocalize when he’s removed from family activities? Is he isolated from the other kitties? If you suspect he may be hungry, give him a snack before bedtime – a little bit of dry food or a teaspoon or two of canned food as close to your bedtime as possible. Also, some quality playtime may tire him out and help him sleep through the night.

Flower essences are also helpful in dealing with behavior issues. Visit and look into Hyper Helper, Obsession, and Separation Anxiety remedies.

Finally, euthanasia or getting rid of him is more than a bit harsh – would you do that to a child who cries during the night? Invest in a good pair of earplugs. I’ve used them when my husband snores.


Q: Dear Sally:

I saw your article in Pets Press and wondered if you could help us with our new 2- month-old kitten. We do not know if is a boy or girl. Any suggestions?


A: Hi Renee:

Determining the gender of a kitten can be tricky especially when they’re really young. Simply, a boy kitten should look like this : (a colon) and a girl kitten should look like this ; (a semi-colon). According to Washington State University’s Web site, “The color of the kitten may suggest its gender. Almost all (but not ALL) kittens of calico (black, white, and orange) or tortoiseshell (black and orange) color are females. More orange kittens are male than female although the association between color and sex is not as strong as in the calico/tortoiseshell colored kitten.” The photos shown on this website ( may be helpful since they’re of a kitten about the same age as yours. It can also be helpful to compare two kittens to see the difference. Of course, as a boy kitten gets older the difference will be apparent!

Kittenhood doesn’t last long, so enjoy it. Mollie is almost 6 months old now and growing right before our eyes!


Q: Dear Sally,

I have a problem with my 6-year-old Seal point Siamese, Ziggy. I have an 8-year-old female Siamese, Rose who is the sweetest cat ever. Ziggy, a male, has been aggressive since we brought him home from the breeder at 10 weeks. He has always chased and jumped Rose. They bite on each other but never viciously. Ziggy has always wanted Rose’s spot wherever she is. He is truly an aggressive alpha male.

He is very bright – he can open every door in the house and loves to be involved with anyone who comes to the house. He will tend to scratch both my husband and me if we are playing with him – to be expected.

I was away visiting my mother. When Ziggy went after Rose, my husband went to stop him. He attached himself to my husband’s arm scratching him very badly. When he finally was able to get him off, Ziggy was growling. My husband is freaked out about it. Do you have any suggestions for family peace?


A: Dear Cheryl,

It sounds as if Ziggy has a lot of pent-up energy that needs to be channeled constructively. Cats, and yes, Siamese, that is very smart and active, can be troublemakers! You need to watch his body language – if he’s playing with you or you’re petting him, you’ll see the signs of when to back off, which should eliminate scratches. Tail twitching, dilated pupils, and stopping purring are all indicators.

If he’s preying on Rose, you can intervene by tossing a toy between them, clapping your hands, or walking between them. Ziggy’s attack on your husband has redirected aggression – Ziggy was startled and your husband became his target. It’s never a good idea to try to grab cats that are in the middle of a confrontation. Better yet, try to distract him before a confrontation takes place, i.e. if you notice him staring at Rose or posturing. Don’t yell, just be a matter of fact. Your aim is to break his concentration, not punish him.

Even though Ziggy is claiming to be a top cat, make sure Rose gets attention as well to sustain her sweet nature. 

Look into flower essences ( and to help with overstimulation, aggression, and self-confidence, as well as Clicker training ( to help make the most of Ziggy’s intelligence.


Ask the Vet!

Lauren Mascola is the veterinarian at Petcare Veterinary Services in West Hartford. She studied at UConn for an undergraduate and at Tufts for Veterinary Medicine. She has over 10 years of experience and 2 dogs and 3 cats of her own. She is excited to answer your questions!

Q: Dear Dr. Mascola,

I have a 14-year-old cat who has recently been howling at night.  It started out only once in a while, but now she does it every night.  I can’t figure out any reason why she does it and nothing has really changed in the house.  What might be going on?

Thanks, Laurie

A: Dear Laurie,

Thanks for the question.  This can be a frustrating problem with cats, because it not only worries their owners, it sleep deprives them, too!  Unfortunately, most of the time, there is no apparent reason cats begin howling at night.  That said, here are a few ideas. 

An un-neutered cat may howl as part of the mating process, even if its partner is outside and 1 block away.  Cats may also just be communicating with outdoor cats which they can sense (likely smell), that we do not even know are there.  Finally, a very common condition in older cats, called hyperthyroidism, can sometimes cause them to be awake and vocalize at times they used to sleep.

I would recommend a visit to your vet for a checkup and have some senior labwork did which includes a thyroid profile.  Hopefully, you will get some answers and then some sleep!

Good Luck, Dr. Mascola

Q: Dear Dr. Mascola,

My 4-year-old male cat has stomatitis. It is located in the back molar area only. The medicine he is given is prednisolone (5 mg/ml) and he has been on this for 3-4 months. Antibiotic hasn’t made much of an impact.

Thursday my cat will have an x-ray, three molars removed and a cleaning.  The veterinarian said there may be bone loss also, and removing these teeth doesn’t guarantee it will stop his infection.

He eats fine and favors hard food. He doesn’t lap as often as usual, which is understandable and his neck glands are not swollen.

What would be your treatment? And are we going the right direction?

Concerned kitty owner

A: Hello,

It sounds to me like all of the listed treatments your veterinarian is recommending are appropriate.  With chronic stomatitis/gingivitis cases, sometimes the gums become healthier after the affected teeth are extracted.  Many times, these cats need almost all of their teeth extracted, and they seem to do just fine. In fact, their quality of life may actually be better.  If your cat has not been tested for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, have your veterinarian take blood to test for these, as they can be an underlying issue with oral inflammation.

Good Luck, Dr. Mascola

Q: Dear Dr. Mascola,

I have 4 cats and one of them has tested positive for FIV.  He is not showing any signs or symptoms of the disease.  Why must I keep him away from my other cats?  My other cats have been vaccinated against FIV. Two of my cats are indoors only and one goes in and out.  I feel bad keeping him in his own room, however he does come out in the evening when I put the other cats in our den for the night and keep the door shut. Will he ever be able to interact with the other cats or must I keep them separated forever?


A: Dear Lori,

Thanks for the question.  That is great of you to keep an FIV-positive cat in your household, as there are still people out there who believe positive cats should be euthanized.  They can have an excellent quality of life.  As far as his exposure to your other kitties, if they are vaccinated, they should be safe from developing the disease.  There has even been some work done showing that FIV-positive cats can live among negative cats and not transmit the disease by incidental contact (grooming, shared food, and water bowls).  It is much more common for the disease to be spread via a bite wound as it is saliva-transmitted and a bite wound delivers saliva deep into the skin and muscle.

He should remain an indoor cat so that he will not transmit the disease to others outdoors.  But, if he were mine, I would feel comfortable allowing him to be with other vaccinated cats, indoors.

Good Luck, Dr. Mascola

Q: Dear Dr. Mascola,

I have a kitty who terrorizes my Christmas tree every year. Are there any solutions for slowing him down?

Thanks, Kathryn

A: Dear Kathryn,

Thanks for the question. By nature cats are very drawn to dangling, shiny bright objects. It is tough to keep them from investigating. I have had some luck with only decorating the top half of my tree, which is not as pretty, but my cats seem to notice it less.

Another tip for cat, and dog owners as well, is to make sure to check the tree’s water supply often. If your pets drink from the tree’s bowl, as mine does, it will dry your tree out prematurely.

Good Luck, Dr. Mascola

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