Ask a vet about your cat

Our pet expert, Lena C. France, DVM, offers free advice for pet owners

Q: Sometimes when I’m playing with my cat, it scratches me, and it hurts! Can I get the cat to stop?

A: Your cat is exhibiting normal play-aggression behavior. The trick is to learn when it is about to become rough. Watch for dilated pupils, a twitching tail, turned-back ears and unsheathed claws. If you see any of those signals, stop and walk away or let your cat leave the room. In addition, don’t encourage play with your hands. For example, dangling your hand in front of your cat will make it think it’s OK to attack you. Also, reward good behavior. When your cat is calm, give it a treat or a rub so that it will repeat the behavior.

Q: I decided to keep my cat indoors, but now she’s constantly howling to get out. What can I do?

A: Smart move―inside cats are less likely to catch diseases like rabies and feline leukemia, and they’re less likely to be lost or hit by a car. To train your cat to be happy indoors, buy some new and interesting toys, such as feather danglers and laser pointers, and play with your cat for at least 30 minutes a day. Provide a scratching post; this will satisfy your cat’s need to climb. Also be sure she’s spayed―she will not want to mate, so she won’t be so eager to go outside. With these measures, hopefully your cat will adjust soon.

Q: My cat won’t eat pet food―only table scraps. What should I do?

A: Have your vet check your cat for a metabolic, endocrine, nutritional or stomach issue. If your feline is healthy, there’s likely a behavioral problem. Make a plan with your vet. You might cut out the scraps and feed your cat only once at night and once in the morning. Put the food out for an hour; if it doesn’t eat, take the food away. Ignore any begging, but don’t let your pet starve―it shouldn’t go 24 hours without eating (if it does, set out human food but keep trying to wean the cat off of it).