My Pet World: Adopted chubby kitten needs a weight-loss plan

ORLANDO, Fla. — These reader questions were answered by experts attending the North American Veterinary Conference here Jan.14-18.

Question: We adopted a kitten from a shelter, and at only 7 months she already weighs 14 pounds. We feed her a half a can of canned food each morning and have dry food available all the time. Sparky even sleeps near the food bowl, and eats often. I believe she must have gone hungry before she came to us. To cut calories, I have switched to adult dry food. Our other cat is 13 and is a healthy weight. How can we help Sparky lose weight? — D.H., Las Vegas

Answer: Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the nonprofit cat advocacy CATalyst Council, says, "It's great you're concerned about your cat's weight, as this is a critical issue. It sounds like Sparky may be obese, which can lead to health problems. See your veterinarian to insure Sparky is healthy and also to devise a (weight-loss) plan."

That plan will likely include adjusting Sparky's diet, as well as the way you feed this cat. You may be urged to feed Sparky on a schedule rather than leaving food out all the time.

"When he looks for food, instead take a toy and play, or groom him," says Brunt, of Baltimore, Md.

In fact, exercise is a good idea. Hiding treats in food-dispensing toys and puzzles would also force Sparky to exercise as she searches for the goodies.

Work with your veterinarian to develop a schedule, so you can keep tabs on Sparky's weight loss. And, of course, no crash diets!

Q: We've had our 7-month-old Shih Tzu for just 10 days. Over the past five days, he's been having strange episodes -- running around the house licking the floor or cabinets, then vomiting. This usually happens in the evening. The rest of the time, he seems like a very normal dog. What's going on? — P.M., via cyberspace

A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, suggests your dog has "a gastrointestinal problem, not a behavior issue. Also, sometime dogs do lick when they feel nauseous."

Your veterinarian might suggest a limited protein diet for allergies to see if that clears up this problem. Also, checking for intestinal parasites makes sense.

Q: We've raised several cats with a cat who had feline AIDS (or the feline immunodeficiency virus, FIV). We didn't know Scout had FIV at the time. This cat eventually became ill and died, but in his lifetime he shared water bowls, food dishes and litter boxes with our other cats, and slept with these cats. Yet he never passed on FIV. Were we just lucky that our FIV cat didn't make our healthy cats sick? -- J.C., via cyberspace

A: "FIV is the fighting, biting virus," says Dr. Susan Little, a past president of the non-profit Winn Feline Foundation that funds cat health research, and author of "The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management" (Elsevier/Saunders Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 2011; $180). "So when cats are getting along fine and simply sharing food, water bowls and litter boxes and grooming, the risk is extremely low of spreading the virus. Now, feline leukemia is another kind of virus all together, spread by cats who like one another, through saliva from cats who groom one another, and sharing food and water bowls."

If you have healthy cats at home, is it a good idea to adopt a cat with FIV? "Probably, you will not have a problem, assuming the cats get along reasonably well," says Little, of Ottawa, Canada. "Everyone (tolerates) a different level of risk. While transmission of FIV to healthy cats is not likely, it's not impossible."

Q: Many years ago, in the Bronx, our family adopted a beautiful cat we named Tom. My mother fed Tom only tuna and he began to develop a reddish coat. Unfortunately, the cat soon died. Now, 67 years later, I still feel bad about this and wonder if a diet of only tuna is harmful. What do you think? — E.M., Clearwater, Fla.

A: "Cats do not do well on a diet of solely tuna, or any one human food source," says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, medical director for Banfield the Pet Hospital.

Giving your cat a bit of tuna as an occasional treat is one thing. However, as an exclusive diet, tuna lacks significant amounts of vitamin E, potentially leading to a dangerous vitamin E deficiency. Felines fed too much tuna can develop other nutrient deficiencies, too, because most de-boned fish lacking calcium, sodium, iron, copper and several other vitamins. Mercury, frequently present in tuna, also presents a potential danger.

"Even feeding exclusively tuna cat food is not idea good idea; mix up the flavors," says Klausner, of Portland, Ore. "Of course, nearly 70 years ago, we didn't know as a much as we do today, so don't be too hard on yourself. I often think if I only knew then what I know now."

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