Q: When I take off my makeup, I use baby oil. Each time I do this, my cat, Daisy, sits on the sink waiting to lick the top of the bottle. Is baby oil harmful to cats? – M.H., St. Petersburg, FL
A: “Baby oil isn’t particularly dangerous, assuming Daisy is just getting a few licks,” says veterinary toxicologist and emergency medicine specialist Dr. Justine Lee, of www.petpoisonhelp.com.
Still, cats can’t metabolize oil well. That’s why Lee suggests offering Daisy a more interesting treat or catnip, or closing the bathroom door to keep her safely on the other side in the first place.
Q: We found our cat, Lucky, on the side of the road when he was very small. He has sucked the tip of his tail ever since we’ve had him.
In the winter, when he goes outdoors, the end of his tail freezes. We figure he does this because he lost his mother at such a young age, and it’s a self-calming behavior.
Our dog, Ozzie, displays a similar behavior. He’s compulsively licked inanimate objects for a decade – his bedding, pillows, rugs, the couch, anything. He can go at it for up to an hour. He does this mostly in the evening, and I believe it’s also a self-calming behavior. When we first rescued him, he was terrified of everything, cowering all the time. He even had to be taught to chew a puppy biscuit. Today, he’s a normal, happy dog. Any insight into these behaviors? – J.P., Midlothian, Va.
A: Congratulations on rescuing both these pets. It’s interesting that you have two pets with somewhat similar issues, but the problems may not be as similar as you think, according to St. Louis, Mo.-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz.
Concerning Lucky, one real concern may be frostbite. When it’s very cold outside, I’d keep him indoors. Generally, though, if Lucky isn’t truly harming himself, and focusing on his tail doesn’t seem to impact his quality of life, do nothing, Horwitz suggests. You might try distracting the cat with an interactive toy (a fishing pole-type toy with feathers). When Lucky goes to lick his tail, pull out the toy and redirect him with play.
Your guess that Lucky’s behavior is a compulsive, self-calming behavior may be right on target. If you do think the behavior is affecting his quality of life, speak with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist about possible pharmacological intervention.
Your dog’s behavior may be a different story. Horwitz says new studies demonstrate that a significant number of dogs thought to lick inanimate objects as a compulsive behavior turn out to have a gastrointestinal issue. Many of these dogs may actually be nauseous. It’s interesting that Ozzie apparently most often licks objects after eating a large meal. Horwitz suggests your veterinarian seriously consider this possibility, which might include a referral to an internal medicine specialist.
Horwitz says if Ozzie’s quality of life seems affected by the constant licking, and if GI issues are ruled out, consider seeing a veterinary behaviorist, or ask your veterinarian about appropriate medication.
Q: I recently took in a stray and tests show the cat has heartworm disease. The veterinarian advised that I do nothing until the cat begins to have problems. However, I’d feel better being proactive rather than waiting. What do you suggest? – J.M., Greensboro, N.C.
A: Dr. Ernie Ward, of Calabash, N.C., explains that testing in cats potentially demonstrates exposure to heartworm larvae, which might or might not mean your pet actually has the disease.
“After additional testing, if I can’t find anything definitive, and there are no symptoms, the hope is that the heartworm infection has cleared,” Ward says. He explains that there is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats; only some symptoms may be treated (if they occur).
Not to scare you, but in truth, one symptom is sudden death. Respiratory problems can occur (called heartworm associated respiratory disease), and that can be treated.
“It’s wonderful you took in this cat, and are really conscientious about doing the right thing, but your veterinarian’s advice is correct,” Ward says.
Ward understands that there was no way for you to prevent heartworm since your cat was a stray, but there’s a lesson here for others about using an oral or topical medication to prevent heartworm in cats.
Steve Dale welcomes questions and comments from readers. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and state.