DEAR JOAN: I have a 18-year-old cat by the name of Sweetie, and she deserved her name.
The other day I was petting her very gently on the back, where she likes it, and she turned and bit me -- hard enough that she drew blood with both her top and bottom teeth.
What would cause her to do that? Was it a sign of affection or of anger?
DEAR JEFF: I would say it was neither. I think it was a reaction to pain.
At 18, she's getting very near the end of life. Hopefully she will be around, healthy and happy, for a good time to come, but at that age she may be suffering from arthritis or some other illness.
Her sudden and extreme reaction to your gentle stroking leads me to suspect you inadvertently touched a very sore spot.
She may also be suffering from a little age-related dementia and she just suddenly got tired of being petted, and she struck out.
Take her to vet for a checkup, and be sure to explain what happened.
If she shows signs of not wanting to be petted in the future, honor those wishes. She's still your Sweetie.
DEAR JOAN: I have three active hummingbird feeders on my property. The one closest to my window seems to be a refuge for one very bedraggled bird.
He looks like an old veteran of many battles. I'm afraid he has some nasty growths on his beak and that he's not long for this world. How long do hummers live?
I'm probably supposed to take my feeders down to avoid spreading whatever ails this old dude, but he seems to bask there in the sun. The others zip around but allow him to remain static on "his" feeder. They move on to the other feeders.
Shall I allow him his final spot of refuge? Once he no longer appears, I'll clean the feeder and disinfect it. Your thoughts?
DEAR GAYLE: That's a good question. On the one hand, you risk spreading whatever ailment he may have to healthy birds. On the other hand, it seems sort of cruel to deprive him in what could be his last days. As the other birds are giving him a wide berth, I'd leave him be and take precautions to clean the feeders. You'll need to protect yourself, too, so wear gloves and a mask.
I sent your photo to my favorite go-to guy on birds, Mike Williams. Mike had never seen anything like it and he sent it to John Schaust, chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited in Carmel, Ind. John couldn't draw any concrete conclusions from the photo, but gave us three ideas for what it might be.
It could be a fungal infection, which can result in black, bulbous growths on the bill; avian pox, which creates wartlike growths typically at the base of the bill, around the eyes, under the wings and on the legs and feet; or an injury in which the healing process has created an abnormal growth of extra tissue that may also have become infected.
A deformed bill can also be the result of a birth defect, but he didn't think that was likely in the case of your bird. Avian pox probably isn't the problem, either, as it wouldn't cover the entire bill like that, leaving us with a fungal infection or an injury.
Hummingbirds live, on average, about four years.
Contact Joan Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org.