Ask a vet: Why does my cat drink from puddles, and other questions

9 August 2018, 11:03 | Updated: 9 August 2018, 11:06

Vet Samantha Taylor

By Emma Gritt

We asked Heart.co.uk readers for their cat problems - here vet Samantha Taylor gives her expert opinion.

My cat is always licking its fur, so much so there are bald patches, should I be worried about this? 

The simple answer here is yes I am afraid. As all cat owners know, cats love to groom, and can spend half their time grooming. 

However, this shouldn't be obsessive or lead to anything but a shiny coat. Bald patches and overgrooming may suggest a skin problem. 

The most common cause we see is flea infestation, and some cats can be allergic to fleas and have a severe reaction to even one single bite. They can become very itchy and groom so much they remove hair and make themselves rather sore. 

Sometimes environmental treatment is also needed as unfortunately what you see on the is the tip of the iceberg and 95% of the fleas (including eggs and larvae) will be in the carpet and soft furnishing! 

My adult cat doesn't have diarrhoea and seems healthy, do I need to worm him? 

Cats are masters of hiding illness and unless a very severe worm burden, most adult cats won't show outward signs of worms, although very unpleasantly with tapeworms you may see evidence on the cat's bottom! 

Infestations with roundworms similarly may not cause an adult cat to show any outward indications of illness, but are potentially a human health risk, and could cause the cat problems if not treated. Regular worming is important to keep your cat healthy. 

My cat loves sitting on plastic bags, is that normal? 

Very normal! My cat does this too. We think there are a few reasons they like to do this. Some maybe like the crinkly noise the bag makes, and the feel of the plastic, perhaps it feels a bit warmer than the floor (as plastic is an insulator) and for the same reason cats love to sit in boxes, perhaps it seems a safer place than the open room/floor. 

Make sure there is no chewing of the bag though, as this can cause problems! You can buy crinkly bags for cats, and also make sure your cat has lots of cardboard boxes here and there to play in. 

My cat has chewed through several pairs of headphones – he even steals them from my bag. Why do cats like wires? 

Some cats can't resist wires and other string and wool. Some of this is a playing instinct, and the wires are something fun to bash around and chew on. Perhaps the cat has some dental health issue and so wants to chew, worth a vet check up. 

But it may be simply a fun game and a habit. Make sure your cat has enough to do, so enough toys, cardboard boxes to play in and that you play with your cat regularly, perhaps using a fishing type toy. This can be more of an issue in indoor cats, where you need to work very hard to keep your cat entertained. 

Read more: Meet the British lady saving street cats in Oman

My cat grabs my hand when I stroke him and bites and scratches me. I know he is play wrestling, but how can I make him stop? 

This one is a bad habit, often it starts as kittens when people have played with the cat using their hands or feet, with a kitten it is fun, not so with an adult cat! 

In some cats it may be frustration related so environmental enrichment can help a lot - keeping them busy using puzzle feeders, toys, climbing frames etc, the International Cat Care website can help. 

Then redirect the behaviour onto a toy, so fishing or wand toys are good as your hand is well away from the cat. 

It may be that your cat doesn't like being stroked, or as commonly happens, they do initially, and then change their mind. This behaviour may be related to a fear of being vulnerable. 

Make sure you read your cat's body language, only stroke your cat briefly before moving your hand away. Watch for signs your cat is not comfortable such as stopping purring, tail swishing or ears going back and immediately stop petting. 

My cat eats all sorts of human food like beans, rocket, and hummus. Is it safe? 

Some of the food you mention is, and some isn't. In general it is better to stick to a 'cat' diet, as cats are carnivores and need certain nutrients found in cat food. Too much human food can make their diet unbalanced. 

Certain human foods can be toxic to cats such as garlic, so hummus is not safe. 

Generally vegetables are ok, but again not needed by the cat so in general I would use cat treats or part of their normal daily diet if they are asking for human food. 

Why does my cat miaow repeatedly when he sees another cat outside? Do cats recognise each other? 

Cats certainly do recognise each other, remember their senses are superior to ours! The meowing may have many reasons, in fact researchers have identified 19 different types of meow communicating different things! 

Your cat may feel threatened by the outsiders, or frustrated they cannot go outside to defend their territory. Your cat may be reacting to the body language of the cats outside - friendly or unfriendly. As you have a house cat, make sure they are adequately stimulated indoors, with opportunities to play, climb, scratch etc that they may be missing outdoors. 

Read more: Five unusual cat facts you never knew... including if they recognise their owners 

Why does my cat get her food and drop bits all over the floor to eat it? She stands in her cat food. 

This does sound a little unusual. I would have a check up at the vets as dropping food can be related to dental disease which is unfortunately very common, and cats often show few signs yet can be in lots of pain.

Standing in her food also sounds a little unusual - has she always done this? Again if a new behaviour have a chat with your vet. I have seen behaviours like this in hand reared cats, and some Persians, as though they missed a lesson in being a cat early on! I think a check up at the vet is the place to start. 

My cat would rather drink dirty water from outside than her clean water inside. Why is this? 

This is common, a lovely water bowl in the house, but they prefer the outdoor water! A few reasons for this include a preference for water away from their food - so is your bowl close to their food bowl? Cats in the wild don't like to drink near a kill as the water may be contaminated so move the bowl. They also may not like the type of bowl - plastic can taint the water and metal has reflections they may not like. Also narrow bowls may mean their whiskers touch the sides. Try a wide brimmed, full to the top ceramic bowl. I would also put a similar bowl outside to catch rainwater so it is a little less dirty! 

Is it cruel to take a cat for walks on a lead? 

This really depends on the cat. If a cat has been trained and is used to this from a kitten or young cat then they may tolerate it well. Others would find it very frustrating and even distressing. I would want to know how the cat seems on the harness and lead - happily sniffing and walking along, or struggling or showing signs of frustration and distress. For some cats a taste of outdoors is better provided with a fenced in garden or a garden room/area if free access to outdoors is not available and this may be preferable.

Why do some cats refuse to wear a collar? 

Some cats are very active and lose collars all the time, they catch them in trees and bushes and this is why microchipping is an absolute must for all cats. Some cats may not tolerate a collar if they are not used to it, if they haven't had one as a kitten for example. If a cat has a collar it must be a 'quick release' type that opens if caught to avoid injury.

Why is my cat sensitive about having the base of his tail rubbed? 

Several reasons could explain this, perhaps the area is sore for some reason, this is an area we see fleas and the itch from flea bites. Otherwise it may be a preference of the cat - cats often like their faces rubbed and sometimes down their backs, but for your cat the tail base may be an area they don't like stroking as it makes them feel a bit vulnerable. 

My kitten keeps sucking on my jumpers, why is this? 

This behaviour is common in young cats, and mimics suckling their mothers. Some breeds are more inclined to do this than others and it can be a problem in Siamese and Oriental breeds. We also see this more in kittens that have left their mums a bit early. For some it is a little like thumb sucking in children, it provides them with reassurance and comfort. It can however, be a problem as ingestion of wool or fabrics can block the intestines. Make sure your kitten has all they need and enough to do, so opportunities to scratch, play, pounce and lots of comfy beds.

What other advice do you have for cat owners?

The 'Instinctively close' report has made really interesting reading and highlights some important points. In this report almost half of owners could not tell if their cat was sick. This is because cats hide signs of illness (this is an evolutionary behaviour, in the wild they live alone and it would be a sign of vulnerability). Therefore, preventing illness, and diagnosing it early have to be my priority as a Feline Specialist. 

Additionally, the report shows clients think cats do have nine lives and they use 'Dr Google' as a source of health advice. Unfortunately, as vets we often diagnose illness in cats at a late stage when treatment is difficult, so this report shows we need to encourage cat owners to visit the vet regularly for check ups and feel confident to talk to their vet or nurse about health issues.