Dear Doctor – February 2014

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians


Why does Felix have nipples?

Q My ten-year-old daughter recently asked me a very good question — and I didn’t know how to answer her. While playing with our male cat, Harley, she rubbed his belly and discovered that he had nipples. She wants to know the purpose of them. And quite frankly, so do I. Hopefully, you can help!

Elizabeth Moscott

A Dear Elizabeth: When babies are first developing inside their mother they look pretty much the same. Both males and females have nipples at birth, but only the female will ultimately use them to nurse young. At a later age the female produces special hormones (estrogen, progesterone) that allow gland development and the ability to produce milk.

According to the Darwinian theory of evolution, there simply wasn’t a survival advantage for males to stop having nipples.

So both males and females have nipples at birth, but only the female will ultimately use them to rear her young.

Michael Stone, DVM

Clinical Assistant Professor

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

A cat with a greens obsession

Q I have an adult female cat named Rosie, and she has the most unusual habit that I want to share with you. Whenever I make a salad — or really, anything that involves greens of any kind — she gets very excited and seems to be beckoning me to share them with her.

I have given her pieces of veggies and greens, and mostly she wants to play with them, not eat them. I’m not sure what this may mean. Otherwise, she is healthy and very well-behaved in our home.

Alice Moscowitz

A Dear Alice: Thank you for sharing Rosie’s interest in greens with us! While cats are primarily carnivores, some of them do enjoy munching on grass and leafy greens. From a cat’s perspective, veggies can make great playthings too. Veggies can smell irresistibly fresh and pique a cat’s curiosity. They also tend to be lightweight, making them perfect for batting and carrying about.

The fact that these playthings are edible is an added bonus for Rosie. As long as you stick to providing her with non-toxic versions of green plants, Rosie can benefit from having these interesting playthings available to her for mental stimulation. However, if you would prefer that Rosie not routinely beckon you to share these items with her, refrain from giving them to her. Instead provide her with her own fresh cat grass or an alternate food-based plaything, like a kitty play-n-treat ball.

Nicole Cottam, MS, ACAAB

Behavior Service Coordinator

Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine


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