Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Cat Questions

Kelly Roper
Ask the Cat Experts

Past cat experts have answered some commonly asked questions about cat behavior and health. Review these questions to see if their answers may help with your current feline issues!

Past Ask the Cat Experts Questions

Why Is My Cat Sneezing?

Dear Lori,

My cat Cicero is a short-haired, domestic tiger cat, orange in color. His teeth are in good shape, and he doesn't seem to be lethargic or losing weight, and he is alert and playful, even at 14 years old. However, he used to be an outdoor cat before I adopted him, and I've noticed that for the past year or two he seems to get sneezy in phases.

Sometimes he will sneeze four times in a row. He has discharge from both eyes that crusts to a brown color. From time to time, a small amount (tiny drip) of clear liquid is present at the end of his nose. His breathing and purring, when relaxed, are sometimes a little congested/labored sounding, though he doesn't appear in any discomfort. Even so, he does appear to be swallowing hard when just lying down (not eating or drinking anything). I've noticed he sneezes more when he is very relaxed and lying on his stomach or side, with his head tucked under his arms, or totally relaxed; head at an angle and facing the ceiling. He sneezes when he gets up from these positions. Can you help me understand what might be happening? Thank you in advance.

~~Susan

Expert Reply

Hi Susan,

There are a couple of things that might be going on with Cicero. Since he used to be an outdoor cat, it is possible he has contracted the Cat Flu virus at some point. This disease can cause a lot of respiratory infections and seems to impact very young and very old cats the most.

The other possibility is that Cicero has developed some allergies. Cats can have allergies just as people do. You may want to look around your environment and try to see what might have changed, paying particular attention when he goes through the sneezing phases.

My recommendation would be to go ahead and take him to the vet and have him tested for the virus. If he does have the virus, he will need some medication. If not, at least you will have ruled that out and can begin to try to eliminate other causes.

Hope this helps!

~~Lori

Cat With Allergies

One of my cats, Scheherezade, began having asthma-like symptoms last year. She wheezes and coughs (no sneezing) for about 30 seconds, 3-4 times daily, especially after chasing her pal around the house. The vet said she has no unusual sounds in her lungs, and no fever, but she has raspy sounds in her throat. Antibiotics help until she has been off them for about two days, then the wheezing starts again. She was X-rayed and nothing was found; she tested negative for heartworm. Now she gets a steroid shot once a month, and that seems to help a lot, but she is only three years old, and I'm hoping she won't have to have that shot every month for the rest of her life. I do cat rescues, but I keep all the rescued cats separate from my "keepers." We moved into a different house just before this wheezing started; come to think of it, my teenaged daughter got pneumonia just after we moved. Could it be environmental? I must mention that I make minimum wage and cannot afford expensive tests...Thank you very much.

~~Karen

Expert Reply

Hi Karen,

It sounds like your cat probably does have some allergies. Cats can have the same allergies as humans. Mold seems to be a big culprit for respiratory type infections. The fact that your daughter grew ill as well also points in that direction. Also, steroid shots are often given for allergies and do show an improvement in some cats. Although cats have a much milder reaction to the side effects of steroids than we do, I agree that keeping her on those shots for the rest of her life is something to be concerned over.

You may want to check for any visible mold. It will appear black and may be there because of a roof leak or in a bathroom. It often hides behind paneling or wallpaper. If you find it, treat it with bleach. Ideally, experts would come in and remove any mold, but that may not be in your budget. Bleach will kill mold, if the mold isn't inside the walls.

Also, if you can replace or remove any carpeting and paint that may help as well. Change your furnace filter regularly. This will reduce some of the allergens and is fairly inexpensive. Hope this helps and your cat feels better soon.

~~Lori

Can Cats Sense Pregnancy?

My wife is pregnant, and our cat seems to be acting odd around her. At times, the cat is a little aggressive. Can cats sense when a person's pregnant?~~Jerry

Expert Reply

Hi Jerry,

There is no scientific evidence that cats sense pregnancy, but many animal trainers and veterinarians report this phenomenon. Likely, the animal senses the change in moods in your wife and is reacting to that more than anything else. These moods and emotions may not even be noticeable to you, but pets are often very sensitive to them.

While I have your attention, please be sure that you are changing the cat litter for your wife during her pregnancy to avoid her contracting Toxoplasmosis.

Hair Loss and Scabs on Skin

My cat has recently started losing hair on her back, by the base of her tail. I also noticed a scabby patch, which might be caused by her rolling around, because she is in heat. Is there anything that I can do for her?~~Erica

Expert Reply

Hi Erica,

Hair loss can be caused by any number of things, from stress to illness. The scabs concern me a bit. Is it possible that she has picked up a flea or parasite? If she were my cat, I would probably go ahead and take her to the veterinarian to have this analyzed. If you can take in a sample of her feces as well, the vet will be able to check for worms at the same time. You may want to have her spayed, while there, if you are not planning to breed her.

Also, I would look at whether she is eating and drinking normally. If so, then it is not as much of an emergency, but she should still see the vet.

Good luck!

~~Lori

Sexual Behavior in Cats

I have a nine-month-old kitten. He is neutered, but has recently started humping on me. This behavior began, out of the blue, about a month ago. Now, when he's kneading on my arm, it seems as if he's getting excited.. What is the deal with him? Is this normal? My husband and I find it rather disturbing.~~Cassie

Expert Reply

Hi Cassie,

This is actually a common problem with male cats. I have had a lot of owners tell me their cats do this, even after neutering. It is likely more of a dominant behavior than sexual. He is trying to show you that he is your boss. Obviously, this behavior is not acceptable. How embarrassing it would be to have a visitor come over, and your cat start humping the visitor's arm.

You will need to train him to not do this. It is going to require that you be very firm with him (remember, he thinks he is boss right now), and very consistent. Here are some tips that should help you:

  • The kneading is normal. This is something that kittens do to their mothers. It means he feels safe and secure with you. I wouldn't scold him for kneading his paws.
  • Watch his pupils. If they begin to dilate, he is likely getting ready to hump you. Put him on the floor immediately, when you see this signal and ignore him.
  • If his kneading and purring increase, stop petting him. If he is still growing excited, place him on the floor.
  • If he humps anyway, firmly tell him no and place him on the floor.

Since he is still young, he should be fairly easy to train. He also may outgrow this behavior on his own. If not, or if the situation worsens, take him to the vet and have his hormone levels test to be on the safe side.

Hope this helps!

~~Lori

Is My Cat Grieving?

Our cat meows constantly. If he is outside and wants in, he comes in for a few minutes and wants out again and vice versa. We originally had two cats, but one disappeared a few months ago. Would it help to get another cat to keep him company?~~Karin

Expert Reply

Hi Karin,

It sounds like your cat is probably grieving for the other cat. I have owned a couple of cats with this inside/outside problem over the years. When I was a young girl, one cat would sit under my bedroom window and yowl until I let him inside. If he did not meow when you owned the other cat, then another cat might help. However, you should also consider the stress that adding a new cat to the household will bring. Many cats have a hard time adjusting to a new animal in the household. There are specific steps you should take when introducing a new animal. If you choose to go that route, please come back here and let us know, so we can offer some additional advice.

You may also want to try keeping him indoors full-time. I no longer allow my cats to go outside. There are many dangers involved in allowing cats outdoors. For example:

  • Roaming dogs that might attack your cat
  • Coyotes (these are often in the city too)
  • Other cats and their diseases
  • Cat fights, where your cat may get injured
  • Cars
  • Poisons neighbors accidentally put out
  • Plants that are poisonous

These are just a few of the dangers out there. I really do urge you to consider keeping him inside and not allowing him outside as a possible solution to your problem. He may drive you crazy for a while, meowing to go out, but ultimately he will live a safer and potentially longer life.

~~Lori

Was My Cat Poisoned?

My two-year-old cat came in today and lay down and was sluggish. He looked like he had vomited, as there was some on his head. He usually naps all day, after being out all night. Tonight, he had a half hour of convulsions, and foaming at mouth (after a couple seizures) and then died. There was no time to get him to the vet, once he started convulsing. Could he have been poisoned? This was so quick and sudden. Or would this be Distemper? He had his shots. Help! We have another cat - what should we do for him?

~~Maureen

Expert Reply

Hi Maureen,

I'm so sorry to hear this. How horrible for you and the cat. The symptoms for Distemper usually show up slowly, over time, and are a bit different than what you describing. Plus, he had been vaccinated and was not a kitten or elderly cat. That leads me to believe it wasn't distemper in this case, although only an autopsy would show for certain. It does sound a lot like some type of poisoning, because of the convulsions. Is it possible he got into antifreeze or mouse poison? This is often unintentional on a neighbor's part. They don't realize the cat will get into antifreeze that has leaked onto the ground. Or, if they put out poison, and the cat eats the mouse, the cat can be poisoned.

I would probably go ahead and take your second cat to the vet and have him checked over, just to be on the safe side. He will likely check out fine, but it will give you some peace of mind that you need right now. Please check back and let me know if the other cat is okay.

Sending some cyber-hugs your way.

~~Lori

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Expert Answers to Frequently Asked Cat Questions