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Published February 18, 2011, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Older cat needs new diet

Dear Dr. Fox: We’re trying to do the best for our two cats, Mushy and Petals, who were adopted from shelters in North Carolina. Both cats are 11 years old and get regular checkups. This year, we decided for no shots, except rabies.

By: Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: We’re trying to do the best for our two cats, Mushy and Petals, who were adopted from shelters in North Carolina. Both cats are 11 years old and get regular checkups. This year, we decided for no shots, except rabies.

We had blood work done on Mushy this year, and his kidney numbers were slightly elevated, but all else seemed fine. Our veterinarian said this is common in older cats, so we put both cats on Purina NF and Hills k/d. We were advised not to give Mushy the occasional pieces of cheese, cat milk or protein (phosphorous), as they could make his kidneys worse.

Mushy does not like the canned k/d food, so is there anything we might add to make it taste better? Or do you have any other suggestions? – I.V., Toms River, N.J.

Dear I.V.: Older cats with poor kidney function need some good-quality protein in their diets, along with fish oil or safflower oil, which can help improve kidney function.

Manufactured diet/prescription-only cat foods often contain questionable ingredients and additives, so it is best to prepare your cats’ food from known ingredients. For details, visit; and for helping cats with kidney problems, see my review at

Veterinary-formulated recipes made from more palatable ingredients that you prepare at home are available for a nominal fee to help cats and dogs suffering from a variety of conditions calling for special diets. For more information, call (888) 346-6362, or visit

As with a human’s failing kidneys, supplements such as vitamins B-complex and D, potassium and a phosphate binder can be beneficial for older cats (and dogs, too). Complications such as high blood pressure, associated impaired vision and anemia need to be closely monitored as the kidney disease progresses.

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a neutered, 15-year-old bearded collie who licks his paws until they are raw. This has been going on for the past several months. Our veterinarian checked him out and found no health problems but recommended sprays and lotions, none of which have worked.

He has plenty of attention and toys he loves to play with. He also used to lick the walls until there were holes in them; we eventually covered the lower portions of his favorite spots with clear heavy vinyl material. We would appreciate any advice you may have. – B.P., via e-mail

Dear B.P.: Anxiety associated with some internal discomfort, notably chronic indigestion and food allergy, can trigger compulsive licking. In older animals, chronic discomfort from cancer or other degenerative diseases should be considered. A thorough veterinary examination is called for. Some dogs, out of sheer boredom, become obsessive paw lickers, and secondary bacterial or fungal infections in the paws will need treatment.

If the veterinarian considers a food allergy a possibility, transitioning your dog onto a hypoallergenic diet like rice or potato and lamb could make a world of difference. Corn, soy, beef, egg and dairy products in manufactured pet foods are common allergens for dogs, as are grains like wheat, which cause digestive problems and skin reactions and can be at the root of ear- and anal-gland inflammation, as well as your dog’s compulsive licking.

Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil, chondroitin, glucosamine, probiotics and glutamine may help. The underlying discomfort/anxiety may be alleviated with daily treatment with valerian or Valium under veterinary prescription.

Dear Dr. Fox: My 14-year-old Burmese cat has trouble climbing stairs. He is somewhat overweight, and I haven’t been able to help him lose it. We have another cat, and they both will eat only Purina natural dry food.

How can I help him be more comfortable? He appears to hate heat of any kind and loves spreading out under the ceiling fan or in front of the A/C vent. Would chondroitin and glucosamine help? How can I get him to take it? – B.M., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Dear B.M.: If your cat is not seriously overweight, he most likely has arthritis that can make it painfully difficult to navigate stairs. One of our rescued feral cats has arthritis and solicits deep massage along his back and around his hips. My book “The Healing Touch for Cats” will help your cat feel better.

Give him a teaspoon of fish oil (like Nordic Naturals) in his food daily, beginning with just a couple of drops on the dry cat food until he gets used to it. Switching to a grain-free dry cat food like Evo or Wellness may also help, along with crushed 50 to 100 mg of glucosamine and chondroitin mixed in with some of the dry food, which you should moisten and mush with a little water. This is an alternative to giving these supplements in pill form, because many cats do not like to be pilled.

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 website at