Is the way I'm feeding my cats making them sick?
August 17, 2007 3:51 AM   Subscribe

How can I avoid killing my friend's cats? I'm taking care of them and I'm terrified that I'm doing a very bad job.

Sorry for the length, but I want to give as much detail as possible. Clues and key facts are in bold.

Okay, so I agreed a month and half ago to take care of a friend's 9-10 month old kittens while he was away. Mostly they've been great, although they were serious scratchers for a while and still are occasionally.

The thing is, I am worried that I am doing something wrong when feeding them. I was trying to feed them kitten food since apparently they need different nutrition. However, they would not eat it and occasionally puked it up, so I gave up on trying to get them to eat kitten food and have been feeding them normal cat food instead.

About a week and a half or so ago, I bought a bag of high quality cat food that they seemed to like very much, and so I was able to go through the whole bag (on the kitten food I fed them 1/4 of the bag before I gave up on it. So, they seemed to really love it. The thing is, when I went back to the store to buy some more, the bag said it was supposed to last for 30 days. With the two cats, it lasted maybe 8 or 9 days so I think I'm overfeeding them? They poop a lot -- more than I remember my cat back home pooping. They can completely fill a kitty litter with poop in 2 days.

They really really love carob, so sometimes I add a few pieces of carob to their food (crushed pod pieces, not processed carob) to induce them to eat it I read somewhere that carob is what's used for pet treats, so I assumed it was okay, and they've eaten it in the past with no ill effects.

The Problem:
Okay, so now one of the cats is puking. I don't know if it's because of the new cat food (When I bought the new bag, I switched from "Active" to "Housecat" since they're indoors all the time), the bug spray (see below), or if the cat is just sick. His eyes look sort of red (as if they were irritated) and he seems unhappy.

There was an ant infestation (the ants decided that cat food was some kind of highly desireable commodity and both bowls were swarmed over by ants) so I washed out the bowls, moved them elsewhere, and I sprayed their old eating area with lots of ant killer. The spray floated a bit but the cats weren't close to it at all -- the one who got the heaviest dose was me, and I'm fine.

Another possibility is plastic. The one who's sick now loves to chew on plastic and is a master of finding it in the house, even when I put it inside of boxes high on shelves. Is it possible he's ingested plastic and this is what has made him sick? Again, he hasn't seemed to get sick from it in the past, and indeed recently I did a "sweep" of the apartment and threw away all of the bottles, etc littering the floor (I'm something of a slob, especially with the cats around).

Is heat a factor? I'm in Cairo and it's in the low to mid 30s C (Around 90-90F). But they're Egyptian cats and they've gone through much hotter days without a problem.

Finally, they have only ever used clay kitty litter without scent, and yesterday I put in Fresh Scoop kitty letter which is scented. I assume that they would make it safe for cats to ingest accidentally, right?

The other cat appears healthy and also seems to be a less voracious eater.

I will head to the vet tomorrow if necessary, but it's something of a risk since I don't actually know if the vets here (in Egypt) are any good, how much it will cost, or if they will be able to help or will just say I'm imagining things.

Please, hive mind! Help me regain my cat sanity.

I've lived with cats most of my life, but never had to take care of kittens. Maybe that's the problem.
posted by Deathalicious to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Firstly, unless the cat is puking loads (like, more than 2 or 3 times) it's probably nothing to worry about.

9-10 month old kittens are fine on cat food. Hell, tiny kittens were fine on cat food until the pet marketeers decided to try and sell us another product. So it's not the food. I'm guessing the upmarket food you fed them was IAMS, right? My cats get through that much faster than they're supposed to - I think you're meant to weigh out how much to give them and not let them graze, it's concentrated stuff, but it won't kill them, particularly if they're only eating 1.5 times as much as they should.

Litter won't kill them either. But that said, cats are creatures of habit. You should stick to what they're used to if you can, so I'd go back to clay litter, and if you can find out what they're used to eating feed them that.

One possibility is worms, especially if there were flies/insects around the pet food. Try to get some worm powder/tablets and see if that helps.
posted by handee at 4:03 AM on August 17, 2007

My cats puke all the time unfortunately and they are still around so I don't think that is a problem.

However, I was a little worried about all the ant killer you put in their old food area. They may have gone to see if their food was there and got the ant killer on their paws/fur and ingested it. Cats are much smaller than we are and this could have affected them.

On the other hand, I would probably just wait it out. They could have 100 and 1 problems most of which will likely resolve themselves.
posted by aetg at 4:50 AM on August 17, 2007

What is the cat throwing up? If it's mostly recognizable kibble, he's overeating. Hairballs look more like poop, there's usually a long log involved. If it's just a thin fluid, that's more of a cause for concern. Cats will also puke (more, that is, cats are yakkers, it's what they do) over changes in food, so that's probably what's going on. Stop changing things, stick to whatever you're feeding them now, and feed them the recommended amount on the bag. Don't worm them or give them medicine.

For ants, you can take a good-sized plate or casserole dish and put enough water in it that there's no "land bridge" between the edge of the plate/dish and the food bowl when you set the bowl down in it. Ants generally won't cross water to get into the food. Make sure it's not so big a contraption that they can't reach the food or have to step in the plate.

Make sure they're getting a fresh change of water at least once, better twice a day. Rinse out the water dish (avoid dish soap, just give it a detergentless scrub with hot water) when you refill it.

Go back to the clay litter. The red eyes may mean an allergy (could be the food as well, but with eyes it's most likeley an irritant). I had a similar problem with an older cat recently after buying a different type of clumping litter with more scent.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:55 AM on August 17, 2007

Cats are tough little carnivores. They know how much they need to eat, at least when they're young.. they can get fat when they get older, but that won't be an issue in this case. If they weren't eating the kitten food, they were probably very hungry, and did some serious chowing on the cat food they liked.

Also, kittens eat a lot because they're growing. They need lots of energy to get big. Basically, don't worry about the volume, just feed them what they want for now.

The carob thing I just don't know about, maybe someone else will. Were it me, I'd call a local vet and ask; I imagine they'd tell you something simple like that over the phone. If you see carob in pet treats, it's probably fine. Cats are, however, predominantly carnivores, so I'd suggest not overdoing it.

A few pukes is no biggie. If they do it for more than about three days, it may be time for a vet visit. You can try some of the anti-hairball stuff... hairballs are the most common cause of this problem. My mother gets something for her cats that she dabs on their paws, and they lick it up afterward. Seems to work very well.

Basically: don't panic. You're not doing anything wildly wrong. If you keep having that ant problem, the best solution is to fill a large dish with water, and then put the cat bowls inside that. Ants won't cross water to get to food, so that completely insulates it. There are cat bowls out that have a lip for water built right in, but I imagine you won't want to buy new dishes when a plate with water will probably work fine.
posted by Malor at 6:00 AM on August 17, 2007

Cats puke a lot, don't worry about it. Give them food they like and plenty of water. But:

They know how much they need to eat, at least when they're young.. they can get fat when they get older, but that won't be an issue in this case.

That's true if they get enough exercise, but that may not be the case in a small apartment. Do they run around a lot? If they spend a lot of time just lying around, you might want to get (or make) a cat tree for them to play on.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on August 17, 2007

No better advice than what's already been offered, just wanted to say thanks for the early morning laugh. It's amazing how easily kittens can render a human nearly helpless. Gotta love 'em.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:33 AM on August 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Some cat types puke more than others. Siamese are especially known for this, I believe.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:35 AM on August 17, 2007

We need more information about how much the cat is puking (how often) and what it’s puking up, but it’s probably ok. If he’s a voracious eater, he could just be gobbling food down too fast and then throwing it up. If that’s the case, try serving smaller meals more often. A couple of notes:

I’d stop feeding them carob. Clearly they don’t need to be induced to eat.

What brand of food are you feeding them now, and what was it before? Does the bag of the new stuff say it should last 30 days for just 1 cat? In that case, going through it in 8-9 doesn’t sound too bad. Do try to follow the suggestions for how much to feed—they should be acting hungry by the time you feed them the next meal (though of course you don’t want them to go crazy—just hungry enough to come right to the bowls when they hear the food going in).

High-quality food should make them poop less, not more, though filling up the box in 2 days doesn’t sound terribly unusual to me. The type of litter you’re using sounds ok. I prefer unscented (which is also recommended if the cats start being finicky about using the box), but that’s pretty standard.

Definitely don’t use the ant spray in places that the cats can get to. Even if you got the heaviest dose and are unaffected, you weigh (I’d think) at least 10 times as much as the cats do. They would be affected by much smaller doses.

DEFINITELY keep plastic away from the plastic-eater. If ingested, plastic could get caught in the intestines (or in the throat), which would certainly cause vomiting. Try to get some other toys that won’t break into pieces (which they’ll probably ignore, but it’s worth trying).

When I’m worried about the heat, I freeze a couple of water bottles over night and leave them out for the cats. I don’t think they ever use them, but they can lie next to them to cool down or (more likely) lick the cool condensation off the bottles. Just make sure your plastic-eater can’t gnaw off a piece.

In conclusion: They’re probably fine! Just keep an eye on the puker for other symptoms: lethargy, not eating/drinking, strange bathroom behavior (going where they shouldn’t, not going).
posted by CiaoMela at 7:48 AM on August 17, 2007

Some cats lick plastic when they're nauseated. That may be why the one cat is doing it. A few pukes are no big deal, but ongoing vomiting warrants a trip to the vet, cats, especially young ones, can go downhill very rapidly if they're sick.

I agree that "high quality" food (which is, incidentally, NOT what Iams is) should make them poop less, but if you're overfeeding them, that may be part of the reason for this.
posted by biscotti at 8:23 AM on August 17, 2007

I agree with Lyn Never, and just wanted to add that both of mine lick and eat plastic with no apparent ill effects. (I try to keep this to a minimum, but as you note, they will find it.)
posted by desjardins at 8:53 AM on August 17, 2007

From desjardins:
I agree with Lyn Never, and just wanted to add that both of mine lick and eat plastic with no apparent ill effects. (I try to keep this to a minimum, but as you note, they will find it.)
Yep. One of mine loves plastic, particularly plastic bags. I can't tell you how many nights I wake to the conspicuous crinkling sound of the bag in the bathroom garbage pail. So. Irritating.

My plastic-obsessed dude even chews my plastic plants -- he's not interested in the real kind.
posted by loiseau at 10:13 AM on August 17, 2007

Cats are expert pukers, especially if they are distressed that their owners are away. They can also get distressed by a change in food or litter. I would say that you shouldn't panic unless they are throwing up anything other than food (if it's green/yellow and frothy, vet time), and unless they stop eating/drinking and using the litterbox.

9-10 months old is plenty old to eat adult cat food. Lots of cats overeat, especially if they LOVE their new cat food. And the overeating can certainly make them throw up. If you visit daily, just give them each about 1/2 - 1 cup a day from now on, and just stick with the brand you are feeding them now. I would also avoid spraying bugspray around near their dishes. It's probably not why they are vomiting, but cats' livers are a lot more sensitive to toxins than ours are.

Seriously, just make sure they are eating, peeing & pooping, and if so, then most likely all is right with the world.
posted by tastybrains at 10:51 AM on August 17, 2007

Bring 'em to the vet for a checkup, on your own dime. Have a diary of the previous week's feeding time and amounts. The vet will guide you from there.
posted by davejay at 12:19 PM on August 17, 2007

Response by poster: UPDATE: Okay, so the little fella does not seem to be puking anymore. The only thing that's of concern is that the puke was liquid, which sounds like is a bad thing? But that might have been that some of the cat food got soaked with water at one point and then he gobbled it all down.

Do they run around a lot?

Tragically, unfortunately, sadly...yes. All the time. Basically I have to barricade myself in my bedroom to get sleep (and often have to drive them both out as soon as I go in my bedroom). They fight an awful lot, not exactly sure how to deal with that. I think it's 50% play, 50% not play.

But yes, they get plenty of exercise, so I have decided to follow the advice of Malor and just keep the bowl topped up regularly.

If you visit daily

If only. I live with the little devils. I love them dearly, but it is quite a challenge. I think that ADHD and kittens are not a perfect match. I never had problems with a cat. They're generally nice and slow, keep to themselves, and you generally have known them long enough that you can recognize their bullcrap -- "No way, Miriam! You already had your wet food for today. Just munch on the dry if you're still hungry." Two kittens requires a bit more organization and planning. On several occasions I've had to run out for replacement kitty litter, hoping the whole time that neither of the cats decides to dump a load while I'm gone (as I am more or less completely pedestrian, the prospect of hauling anything heavier than a 10lb bag of litter is not that appealing).

Thanks everyone for your help. It seems that the general consensus is "relax". I am very fond of these cats and really want them to stay perfectly safe the whole time they are here. I guess I just have to trust that they're smart enough to watch over themselves too so long as I don't make too much of a mess of things.

I just wish I spoke cat. Or something. I feel such pain when one of the cats looks at me and starts mewing plaintively. "What do you need?!?"
posted by Deathalicious at 7:04 PM on August 17, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, and I am feeding them Royal Canin Indoor Cat food. Last week I was feeding them Royal Canin Adult Fit.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:11 PM on August 17, 2007

I would try to avoid so many changes at once! When you change their food, you need to transition over a few days by blending new food with old. All that change can be stressful for cats.
posted by radioamy at 3:59 PM on August 18, 2007

Response by poster: UPDATE
Okay, so I stuck to the same cat food, the one cat puked a few more times after that, intermittingly. It never got bad and they're both now in good health and with their proper caretaker. I can finally sleep peacefully at night.

So why am I staying up till 6am on metafilter?
posted by Deathalicious at 8:42 PM on October 4, 2007

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