My Pet World: Biting kitten could simply be hungry

January 25, 2011|By Steve Dale

These reader questions were answered at the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. on Jan. 15-19.

Question: I brought in a three-week-old kitten I found under a viaduct. The kitten licks my arms, then bites down hard and won't let go. How can I stop this?

— J.E., Zephyr Hills, Fla.

Answer: "This kitten might be hungry and seeking a nipple, receives no milk (from your arm), so maybe then even bites down harder," says feline veterinarian Dr. Margie Scherk, of Vancouver, British Columbia. "You may certainly say, 'Ouch.' But don't punish your kitten. Remove her and give her a bottle or something (else) to suck on."


Scherk recalls research from years ago conducted on monkeys. Some monkey infants were given a mechanical nipple, others were given a nipple from a furry plush animal, and still others were held by people and cuddled as they were offered a bottle. The monkeys deprived of touch, or even the chance to hold a plush animal, grew up socially maladjusted. Scherk says that while no such research has been done on kittens, it seems logical that holding your kitty while you offer a bottle would likely be reassuring.

If your kitty isn't hungry, you can still offer the pet something to suck on, perhaps a plush animal. Also, congratulations for saving this kitten's life.

Q: My 16-year-old cat never liked to travel. On our most recent long trip, for the last 90 minutes we rode with the noise of a smacking flat tire. We were lucky to make it home. Once we arrived, our cat walked out of the carrier, meowed and died. What happened?

— R.S., Henderson, Nev.

A: "There's no way to determine for sure what happened to your cat," says veterinary cardiologist Dr. Bruce Keene, of North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Raleigh, N.C. "Cats, especially older cats, are prone to hypertension (high blood pressure), which could cause sudden death. Other possibilities include hyperthyroid, heartworm disease, or that the cat somehow ingested something toxic. Statistically, the most common cause of sudden death in cats is a heart condition called feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), though this generally occurs in cats who [are] younger."

Unfortunately, HCM is a very common cause of death in cats, especially those typically from around ages 3 to 10. Some cats live long lives, symptom-free with HCM, but many aren't so lucky.

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