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Published March 09, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Cat craves cobwebs as treats

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a 15-year-old seal tortie point Siamese cat named Minerva (Minnie for short). She is on several medications, including Denamarin for a liver problem and Zeniquin for a respiratory problem. She eats well and keeps her weight at 11 pounds, which is good for her size.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a 15-year-old seal tortie point Siamese cat named Minerva (Minnie for short). She is on several medications, including Denamarin for a liver problem and Zeniquin for a respiratory problem. She eats well and keeps her weight at 11 pounds, which is good for her size.

But we have noticed that for the past several months, she searches for cobwebs everywhere in the house, and if she finds one, she eats it. We work hard to remove these, but she finds a few from time to time. She does this before eating her regular food, and it appears that she may have some dietary deficiency.

We know that humans who have an iron deficiency sometimes crave and eat yeast, ice or dirt, and we wonder if it is possible that animals can experience the same sort of problem and cravings. Is there anything you can recommend for Minnie that will help her end her constant search for cobwebs? – D.M.R., Silver Spring, Md.

Dear D.M.R.: Your cobweb-craving cat may be seeking materials in your house that she can consume as “roughage.”

Minnie may delight in a pot of sprouted wheatgrass or other green sprouts like alfalfa, which you can grow for her or purchase in pet stores. Also, try a pinch of dried organic catnip. If she drinks well, adding ½ to 1 teaspoon of psyllium seed husks to her food every three to four days may be beneficial, especially if she (like many old cats) is constipated. Additionally, a daily teaspoon of plain yogurt may help reduce her pica, which is the craving for nonfood substances – usually dirt and plant materials.

Pica can be a sign of anemia or other nutritional deficiencies, or it could be discomfort from digestive problems and more serious chronic diseases. Giving her a supplement of pediatric multivitamins and minerals, ½ teaspoon of brewer’s yeast and a drop or two of fish oil daily may help your cat. One tablespoon of lightly cooked calf’s liver every few days is also a good idea.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have a 3-year-old Brussels griffon named Callie who was recently diagnosed with Addison’s disease.

I have been able to get some information regarding this disease from my veterinarian and the Internet. Initially, when Callie was diagnosed, I was relieved because he was so sick (in “crisis”), but now I am overwhelmed by the disease.

It has been only three weeks since his diagnosis, and now I’m concerned about his long-term health requirements. Callie’s vet told me that she will be testing him every four to six weeks to determine his progress with regard to his Percorten injection and his daily prednisone requirement.

Currently, Callie seems to be doing great: His appetite is back, he is up and running again and his bowels are normal (considering he did not eat for about five days). Could you please give me some advice about Callie’s long-term care? His daily dosage of 1.25 mg of prednisone is not a good thing for the long term, right? Can it be replaced by something else? How about his diet? Currently, he is on a home-cooked diet in combination with an excellent quality kibble. – A.E.S., Fairfax, Va.

Dear A.E.S.: Your dog is suffering from an all-too- common malady for which there is no simple remedy. There is also no definitive answer as to what causes the adrenal glands to stop functioning.

Many diseases of the endocrine glands seem to fall into the class of autoimmune disorders where the animal’s immune defense mechanism goes haywire and attacks certain cells in the body.

Genetics can also play a role in susceptibility to environmental triggers in food, vaccines and infections that disrupt the immune system.

Discuss with your veterinarian giving Callie daily probiotics. Once he is stabilized, continue monitoring his condition while giving him oral melatonin, which may give some relief.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have always felt sorry for cats who are kept indoors, never allowed to smell the sweet outdoors, roam over their terrain and come inside the house again when they are ready.

I realize you have given substantial reasons for NOT letting cats outdoors, but the happiness and freedom the cat will have outweigh all of your reasons. One can always get the cat fixed, microchipped and vaccinated.

Even though they are expensive breeds, I have always allowed my Norwegian forest cat, calico Maine coon and mixed Russian blue/Persian/Siamese to roam around the yard and neighborhood. None has been declawed. – H.C., Trumbull, Conn.

Dear H.C.: As much as I appreciate your sentiment, vaccinations and microchips will not protect cats roaming the neighborhood from cat-killing dogs, vehicular traffic and, in some regions, rat poison, traps and those who enjoy using cats for target practice.

There are also diseases cats can get from other infected cats that vaccinations do not protect against. Eating rodents can cause toxoplasmosis, which can be passed on to humans. Outdoor cats also bring home ticks and fleas that can transmit other diseases to humans, such as Lyme disease.

While not all cats are hunter-killers, many are. These cats can decimate local songbird populations and negatively impact wildlife ecosystems by competing with natural, indigenous carnivores, like foxes and bobcats, and spreading diseases to them. Furthermore, the domestic cat is a descendant of Felis lybica, the African desert cat – it simply does not belong outdoors as a free-roaming hunter in North America!

Responsible people do not let their dogs roam the neighborhood. Nor should cat owners allow their cats outdoors except into an enclosed cat home or a properly fenced backyard. Some cats enjoy walking in a harness, and cat walking is catching on.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.