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Licking (but not eating) magazines shouldn't hurt your cat

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NEW ORLEANS, LA. -- These cat questions were answered by Winn Feline Foundation board members attending the 36th Annual Winn Feline Foundation Symposium here on June 26. The foundation is a non-profit that supports funding for cat health studies.

Much of what veterinarians know today about feline health, from understanding a myriad of feline diseases to even what most people feed their cats, was funded by grants from Winn. The symposium featured experts speaking about feline infectious peritonitis (a typically fatal disease) and heart disease. Learn more at http://www.winnfelinehealth.org.

Q: Why does my cat love to lick magazines? While sometimes she ignores them, at other times she'll lick until we hide the magazines. -- J T., via Cyberspace

A: Is this Cat Fancy magazine? That would explain the problem; any smart cat wants to read this publication.

"More likely, it's the coating on the magazine," says Dr. Vicki Thayer, of Lebanon, OR, executive director of the Winn Feline Foundation. "Or who knows? Some cats just like certain textures for reasons only they know."

It's also possible someone in the household has given the kitty attention for licking. For example, someone is benignly reading a magazine and the cat begins to lick the pages. The response might be to pet the cat, but even if the response is scolding, attention is attention.

In any case, as long as your cat is merely licking and not ingesting magazines, there's no harm, Thayer says.

Q: Our 6-year-old Korat cat has aggressive tendencies and will bite even without provocation. Other times, he's adorable and sweet. Can you help? -- C.A., Milwaukee, WI

A: "Some cats you can pet forever, for hours at a time and they love it. Others become over-stimulated very quickly without very much petting at all," says Winn Feline Foundation Board President Dr. Glenn Olah, of Albuquerque, NM.

For these jumpy cats, the idea is to predict the biting before it occurs. Cats usually offer warning signs that their patience with petting is running out, which typically include one or more of the following: their ears become erect, their eyes dilate, the hair stands up on their backs, rippling skin, a lashing tail, vocalizing (such as a soft, low growl). Translated from cat language, they're saying: "Enough!" Sometimes we don't know what the cats are trying to tell us, or we don't pay attention.

The idea is to quit petting before any of these cues occurs, even if that means you only stroke your cat for 15 seconds. Some cats end up asking for more attention (cats are, after all, control freaks).

"Other cats just don't want to be petted all that much," says Olah. "But that doesn't mean they don't want to be with you."

Now, if you're talking about the cat "attacking" when people are merely walking down a hallway, that's normal kitten behavior.

"Except that you need to redirect that play to a toy," says Olah. Make certain your cat gets a few play sessions daily with an interactive toy, such as a fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric. You may even toss toys in one direction preemptively, so the kitten attacks those instead of you.

"Never punish the cat;, it may seriously harm the relationship family members have with the him," says Olah.

Q: My fat cat drives me nuts, leading me to the dish to pet him while he eats. If I don't, I feel guilty. (I hate to take away the dish because my other cat is thin.) My son starting petting the fat cat as he ate when he was a kitten. He meows for food like he's starving. I'm the one who's desperate. Any suggestions?-- E.S., Woodbury, MN

A: In general, all cats do best with their own individual food dishes. For you, the issue is how to offer food 24/7 to the skinny cat without the fat cat muscling his way in.

Dr. Brian Holub, Boston, MA-based Winn Feline Foundation board member and Chief Medical Officer of VetCorp, has some ideas.

Put the skinny cat's food dish in a special room and close the door. Cut a hole in the door to the room which only the skinny cat can ease squeeze through. There are also various manufactured cat doors available online; some even include a collar your skinny cat can wear that allow the flap to open only when she wants in.

Holub also suggests asking your veterinarian about Hill's Pet Nutrition prescription Metabolic Diet, which is based on a science called nutrogenomics (the study of how individual genetic makeup interacts with diet). The fat cat will have a bunch of genes that the diet turns on or off (whatever is required) to help the pet lose weight. Meanwhile, the skinny cat eating the same diet will have individual genes turned off or on diet to help him gain weight.

You didn't mention the age of the cats, if they're already on specific diets, or if the skinny cat is especially thin due to illness, such as hyperthyroid disease (which occurs in older cats). It's also important to know if your overweight cat is healthy, since so many overweight or obese cats suffer from diabetes and other health issues. See your veterinarian before taking any action.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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