My Pet World: Biting kitten could simply be hungry

These reader questions were answered at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. on Jan. 15-19.

Question: I brought in a three-week-old kitten I found under a viaduct. The kitten licks my arms, then bites down hard and won't let go. How can I stop this?

— J.E., Zephyr Hills, Fla.

Answer: "This kitten might be hungry and seeking a nipple, receives no milk (from your arm), so maybe then even bites down harder," says feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, of Vancouver, British Columbia. "You may certainly say, 'Ouch.' But don't punish your kitten. Remove her and give her a bottle or something (else) to suck on."

Scherk recalls research from years ago conducted on monkeys. Some monkey infants were given a mechanical nipple, others were given a nipple from a furry plush animal, and still others were held by people and cuddled as they were offered a bottle. The monkeys deprived of touch, or even the chance to hold a plush animal, grew up socially maladjusted. Scherk says that while no such research has been done on kittens, it seems logical that holding your kitty while you offer a bottle would likely be reassuring.

If your kitty isn't hungry, you can still offer the pet something to suck on, perhaps a plush animal. Also, congratulations for saving this kitten's life.

Q: My 16-year-old cat never liked to travel. On our most recent long trip, for the last 90 minutes we rode with the noise of a smacking flat tire. We were lucky to make it home. Once we arrived, our cat walked out of the carrier, meowed and died. What happened?

— R.S., Henderson, Nev.

A: "There's no way to determine for sure what happened to your cat," says veterinary cardiologist Dr. Bruce Keene, of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Raleigh, N.C. "Cats, especially older cats, are prone to hypertension (high blood pressure), which could cause sudden death. Other possibilities include hyperthyroid, heartworm disease, or that the cat somehow ingested something toxic. Statistically, the most common cause of sudden death in cats is a heart condition called feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), though this generally occurs in cats who [are] younger."

Unfortunately, HCM is a very common cause of death in cats, especially those typically from around ages 3 to 10. Some cats live long lives, symptom-free with HCM, but many aren't so lucky.

HCM touched our life when our cat, Ricky, died of this disease in 2002. We began the Ricky Fund at the Winn Feline Foundation to raise money for research, since there's no cure or effective treatment. The fund was used to help develop a cheek swab test Maine Coon and Ragdoll breeders can now use to determine if a cat is carrying the gene responsible for the genetic defect responsible for HCM. We must do more, and solve the problem for all cats. Learn more about the Ricky Fund and HCM at

Regardless of the cause of your cat's death, please accept my condolences.

Q: My 10-year-old Miniature Pinscher has a dry, hacking cough. Our veterinarian did an ultrasound and X-rays but so far, there's no diagnosis. What do you think?

— G.M., Cyberspace

A:Dr. Keene recommends that you videotape the cat coughing so your vet can actually see it. Is it a cough resulting from a collapsing trachea? That presentation is unique, so seeing a video could help.

There are many other diagnostic possibilities. Keene is an expert on cardiac issues and said your dog might have chronic valve disease, surprisingly common in smaller older dogs. The problem could also be lung disease. Keene says, "There's a new test, which has value determine one from the other called Pro BNT (Cardiopet.)." If heart and lung disease are ruled out, there are many other possible explanations. Consider seeing an internal medicine specialist (

Q: Do you have information on how brewer's yeast can prevent fleas? This was recommended to me rather than chemicals. It seems like a wonderful option, particularly since my cat likes to be outdoors.

— M.T., Safety Harbor, Fla.

A: Dr. Michael Dryden, of Kansas State University-Manhattan, is among the world's most renowned experts on fleas. He even has a colony of fleas in his lab. It turns out that young fleas (the larvae) will actually eat brewer's yeast.

"Using brewer's yeast will have either no effect, or very possibly help a flea population to thrive," Dryden notes. "Especially living in Florida, and with a cat that goes outdoors, you're just asking for fleas. It's just a matter of time. Ask your veterinarian about a flea product, or perhaps even two, to be used to compliment one another."

STEVE DALE welcomes questions from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD@STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute."

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