In The Cat, the Professor and the Poison, the second book in Leann Sweeney’s Cats in Trouble series, we once again join Jillian Hart and her beloved three cats, Merlot, Chablis and Syrah. Jillian, busy with her cat quilt making business, is settling into the small town of Grace, South Carolina, where she moved with her husband, looking forward to a long retirement. Within a few months of moving there, John died from a sudden heart attack and Jillian found herself alone in a strange town. But now, she has found a new best friend in Deputy Candace Carson, and once again, she gets involved in helping solve a murder. It all begins with a missing milk cow from a friend’s farm, which leads to the discovery of fifty stray cats and a dead body – a victim of cold-blooded murder.
As Jillian gets involved with helping to save the stray cats, even taking one calico mother and her kittens home with her, she also gets drawn ever deeper into the murder investigation. And if that weren’t enough, in the middle of all of this, her husband’s daughter arrives for an unannounced, and apparently open-ended, visit. A former journalist, she becomes intrigued with the mysteries hiding in the small town of Grace, and also begins to look into clues to the murder and possible suspects – and there are plenty of those. Even the cats get in on the act! From academic research to dysfuctional family dynamics to cat food, the investigation takes Jillian on a wild ride as she comes ever closer to helping solve the mystery.
This book will delight readers of amateur sleuth stories and cat lovers alike. Interspersed with plenty of fascinating facts about cats, this book is a fun and entertaining read and is very hard to put down. It’s the purrfect book for curling up with your favorite feline for an afternoon of suspense, cat trivia and small town charm.
The Cat, the Professor and the Poison will be released on May 4.
Leann Sweeney was born and raised in Niagara Falls and educated at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Lemoyne College in Syracuse, NY. She also has a degree from the University of Houston in behavioral science and worked for many years in psychiatry. Currently a school nurse, she began writing about fifteen years ago, fulfilling her lifelong dream. After perfecting her writing skills with classes and a small fortune in writing books, she joined MWA and Sisters in Crime. Her short fiction won many awards and several mysteries were published in small market mystery magazines. One novel and another mystery novella went straight to audio. Leann is married with two fabulous grown children, a wonderful son-in-law and a beautiful daughter-in-law. She has lived in Texas for almost thirty years and resides in Friendswood, Texas with husband Mike and her three cats. You can learn more about Leann and her books at http://www.leannsweeney.com.
FTC full disclosure: I received an ARC copy of this book from the author.
It is always the case that we vets deal with the same problems at home that we counsel our clients about. And not always terribly well. I’m certainly no exception. Years ago, I had a long-haired cat who threw up hairballs frequently, but unlike most hairball-barfing cats, she did not just hack up the offending wad and then go about her business as though nothing had happened. Nope, she would obviously feel ill for minutes to hours afterward. And probably beforehand, too, had I had the vision to see it.
I tried all the time-honored remedies that I prescribed every day for my patients. I dosed her with various brands of flavored petroleum jelly. I fed her diets purporting to help with hairballs by the inclusion of extra fiber. I brushed her constantly, which fortunately she loved. None of these things helped. Eventually I shaved her, leaving the adorable puffs on her legs and tail that made her look like a fat little old lady in tight leotard and legwarmers. As long as I did this three or four times a year, there were no more hairballs. Oddly enough, however, she continued to have vomiting episodes, albeit less frequently, and minus the hair. Diagnostics revealed inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually my poor sweet girl succumbed to intestinal lymphoma.
While rooming with a brilliant feline practitioner at a medical conference shortly after, still grieving, I confessed my frustration with the seemingly insignificant problem of hairballs. Her answer blew me away. There is no such thing as “just a hairball,” she says to me. Think about it. Cats developed stringent grooming behaviors in the course of evolution because grooming is a positive survival factor, probably through controlling parasitism and other diseases. So they are going to ingest a lot of hair. Does vomiting as a daily method for expelling this hair seem evolutionarily sound? Stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance. While vomiting as an emergency mechanism to rid oneself of the occasional nastiness seems reasonable, it seems unlikely that the daily vomiting of hairballs is the “normal” thing that the medical community has assumed it to be.
I’m hooked. Go on, I say. She continues.
Why would we think that “lubrication” of the gut with petroleum products would help? A cat is not a car. And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with “lubricants” to survive or to thrive. Likewise, cats in the wild would never eat a “high-fiber” diet, and so would seem unlikely to benefit from one. On the contrary, it would appear logical that a cat would thrive better on what a cat has been evolved to eat – namely a mouse or a reasonable facsimile thereof – and that feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.
No, she says, I think it likely that a “hairball,” far from normal, is probably a common early symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Impaired motility of the gut would account for the balling up of hair that should pass right through, if stomach-emptying time is the 0.2 – 2 hours it is reported to be in a normal cat. A cat shouldn’t be able to swallow enough hair fast enough to outrace normal stomach emptying time.
This is making sense to me. Particularly as I just lost my own cat to this. And as I think back, I realize that “hairballs” have been in the histories of a disproportionate number of the patients I’ve treated with IBD and lymphoma.
She tells me that she’s been changing her patients over to low-fiber diets (grain-free and low carbohydrate) for a while now, and she’s seeing a precipitous drop in the whole “hairball” thing. I can see the long-term implications of this line of reasoning: if cat food containing an unnaturally high level of fiber and carbohydrates is associated with an increased incidence of impaired GI motility and vomiting, and if cats fed this way are at higher risk to develop IBD and lymphoma, then a drop in hairball vomiting might mean that a cat has a lower risk of these two nasty diseases. Sounds as though a grain-free diet might be a better way to go.
This all made sense to me. No science to it back then, but neither was there any to support the idea that hairballs are normal. No one had at that time asked if a carbohydrate-based diet could possibly have long-term negative consequences for cats.
Well, they have now. Every day, there’s more scientific evidence that these “mere” hairballs we see so often may respond, not to grease and not to fiber, not to brushing and not to shaving, but to feeding a diet that looks like what a cat was evolved to eat.
In the intervening years, I’ve changed my own cats over to grain-free, low-carb canned foods, and I’ve seen nary a hairball from anyone for a very long time. In my esteemed colleague’s footsteps, I’ve been changing my patients over to these same diets. I hear about fewer hairballs, and my patients are slimmer, fitter, and healthier in many ways. Is this a panacea? Of course not. There’s no one cure for everything. But I now have serious trouble believing that a feline diet in which the calories are derived primarily from carbohydrates, which are much cheaper than proteins, is beneficial to anything other than the manufacturer’s bottom line.
So next time someone tells you that malt-flavored grease, fiber additives, brushing or shaving are the only ways to help with those annoying hairballs, think again. Hairballs may be more than just a stinky mess for you to clean up. They might well be a sign that your cat has a real health problem, and should see the veterinarian. And your cat might be telling you that her gut would be happier with “mouse” than with breakfast cereal.
Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.
In honor of Peaches, animal artist Bernadette Kazmarski’s cat who is turning 20 years old on May 1, a number of blogs are participating in the birthday celebration by posting articles about living with and caring for older cats.
Cats are living longer and healthier lives, thanks to improved veterinary care, better nutrition, and the fact that most pet cats are indoor cats; but even at that, not many live to the ripe old age of 20. The definition of an older cat is usually preceded by the term “senior” or “geriatric.” Cats are considered senior between the ages of 11 and 14, and geriatric over the age of 15. The following provides some pointers to help you keep your older cat happy and healthy.
Regular veterinary care
This is important at any age, but becomes particularly important as cats age. Typically, veterinarians recommend annual visits for healthy cats up to age 6 or 7, and bi-annual visits after that. I explained in a previous post what a senior cat wellness visit entails and why it’s so important.
Behavior and environment
Environmental needs may change as cats age. Cats often loose some mobility as osteoarthritis, a common ailment in older cats, begins to set in. It becomes important to make sure that they have easy access to the litter box. Some litter boxes may be too high for older cats to get in and out of comfortably. Make sure that beds are easy to access – if kitty can no longer jump up on beds or other favorite sleeping spots, consider getting a ramp or steps to make it easier for her.
Watch for subtle behavior changes such as increased vocalization, problems with elimination, or changes in routine. They may be indicators of medical problems and may require veterinary attention.
As cats become older, they’re typically less playful and less mobile, and weight gain can become a problem. Don’t turn to senior diets – while they are marketed as “light” and lower in calories, they are high in carbohydrates and contraindicated for cats, who are obligate carnivores. I previously wrote about weight management for senior cats. There is no reason to change a cat’s diet as she gets older. If you feed a healthy raw or grain-free canned diet, only minor adjustments in quantity should be required to keep your cat healthy through her senior and geriatric years.
Bi-annual vet exams should include a thorough examination of your cat’s teeth and mouth. Good dental health is one of the most important health issues for cats, especially as they get older. Dental disease not only causes pain and decreases quality of life, but it can result in damage to other organs such as kidneys and heart.
Depending on your cat’s lifestyle (indoor vs. outdoor), regular fecal examinations are recommended. Discuss parasite control with your veterinarian, but be aware that many of the leading flea and tick control products are pesticides. Look for natural alternatives instead.
Work in partnership with your veterinarian to evaluate risk, and determine whether there is a need for continued vaccinations. Consider blood tests in lieu of vaccinations to determine protection levels. For a comprehensive overview of feline vaccinations, click here.
Life with an older cat is a joy that is to be savored, and following these guidelines should help you keep your feline companion happy and healthy well into her golden years.
Did you miss last night’s Ask the Vetteleseminar with Dr. Fern Crist? If so, you missed a fantastic hour packed with information every cat parent should know. Dr. Crist answered questions about dental health, feline nutrition, anesthesia, and how to get your cat to loose weight. But not to worry! You can still listen to the interview by clicking on the link below. You can also save the recording to disk so you can listen to it on the media player of your choice by right clicking on the link, and then selecting “save target as” (for PC’s) or “save link as” (for Mac’s).
Thanks to everyone who joined us on the call, and for asking such great questions!
Almost Perfect – Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them, an anthology of eleven stories of animals with special needs edited by Mary A. Shafer, is more than just a collection of heartwarming pet stories. I’ve always believed that animals come into our lives to teach us, and the lessons from these wonderful animals with often seemingly insurmountable challenges and their compassionate human caretakers are truly inspirational. You will learn about courage from a blind Huskie mix who trades the horrible life of a puppy mill for living on a farm. You will be inspired by the grace with which a paralyzed tuxedo cat finds moments of joy each and every day. You will be amazed by a Labrador-Doberman mix with a devastating muscle wasting disease who gives new meaning to the term “roll with the punches.”
These wonderful stories will remain with you long after you’ve read them. They will delight and inspire you. You will laugh, and you will cry, and you will get a better understanding of why caring for a disabled pet can be immensely rewarding.
The Conscious Cat is delighted to present a teleseminar titled Inspired and Inspiring – The Rewards and Challenges of Living with Disabled Pets. On Tuesday, May 11 at 8pm Eastern, Mary Shafer will join Barbara Techel, the author of Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Dog and Frankie the Walk ‘n Roll Therapy Dog Visits Libby’s House to share how their disabled pets have enriched their lives in ways they never could have imagined. You will get an opportunity to ask questions or share your own stories. The seminars are free, but long distance phone charges may apply. To participate in the conference, simply dial 1-712-432-3100. When prompted, enter conference code 674470.
Mary and Barbara are offering autographed copies of their books to one lucky winner each. If you’d like to be entered into the drawing for the books, you will need to register for the seminar here.
FTC full disclosure: this book was sent to me by the publisher.
Vaccination against debilitating and fatal diseases has vastly improved the well-being of humanity. It’s difficult now for us to imagine a world with widespread polio, kids dying daily of whooping cough, or smallpox decimating whole cities. Without our indispensable vaccination programs, such diseases would re-emerge quickly. It does not follow, however, that an individual will achieve better health through more frequent vaccination, nor will the population as a whole. Neither does it follow that the best vaccine plan for a child in, say, South Africa would be the same as for a child in Canada.
Likewise, there is no single vaccine protocol that is right for all cats. Every cat has different risk factors. And while many mistakenly believe that vaccinations are entirely safe, and entirely effective, neither is true. There is always a risk of adverse events associated with vaccination, which must be balanced against the benefit, if any, from a vaccine for your cat. Yet the serious and often fatal diseases we fight with vaccines are still out there.
The Diseases Most Cats Should Be Protected Against
Panleukopenia (“Feline distemper”) used to be a common veterinary hospital visitor, highly contagious and commonly fatal. The virus is a resilient organism which can sneak into your house on your clothes or shoes. Indoor cats must therefore be protected.
The “distemper” combination vaccine includes antigens for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Calici virus. While rarely fatal, both diseases cause much easily preventable suffering.
Indoor cats must also be protected against Rabies. It is contagious to humans, and is nearly 100% fatal if not treated immediately. Cats are very susceptible to it. Vaccination laws are strong, as they should be, to protect the citizenry. Fortunately, there is a feline vaccine available that utilizes a unique technology which delivers excellent protection with minimal inflammation. If other, unnecessary vaccines are eliminated, the repeated administration of such a relatively innocuous one can be better tolerated.
Only these two vaccines, the Rabies and the Panleukopenia /Calicivirus / Viral Rhinotracheitis combination, are recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners for all cats, including those living completely indoors.
Other Available Vaccines
Feline Leukemia (FeLV): The FeLV vaccine is worthwhile, but only for cats who spend time outside or have other lifestyle factors that put them at risk, such as living with another cat who has the Feline Leukemia virus. Even then, the level of protection against a strong challenge in a vaccinated cat is far from perfect.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV): FIV is not a significant risk for most cats, because contagion nearly always requires a bite wound. It should be used only for cats at demonstrable risk, such as outdoor cats who fight. This vaccination induces antibodies that can’t be differentiated from those produced by actual infection, so a vaccinated cat will always test positive, complicating identification of cats who actually have the disease. This is not a vaccine to be used lightly.
Chlamydophila felis: A nearly useless vaccine which is included as a fourth ingredient in many of the commercially available “distemper” vaccines. The addition distracts the cat’s immune system from the other three, much more important antigens, while engendering nearly no effective protection itself. Unless there is a specific, test-confirmed need for it, this should not be used.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): There is no measurable benefit from this vaccine for almost any pet cat, but it still poses all the risks of the “good vaccines”. Avoid this one entirely.
Serious Risks Associated With Vaccination
Vaccine-Associated Fibrosarcomas: Also known as injection site sarcomas, these are very malignant cancers which arise at the site of an injection. The incidence is estimated at between 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 vaccinations. These tumors must be treated extremely radically. For this reason, some vets now administer feline vaccines as far down the legs as possible, and sometimes even in the tail. Should tumors occur, amputation of a limb can save the cat’s life.
Inflammatory Insults: Much worse and probably more common is the danger deriving from repeated inflammatory insults. Many leading scientists now believe that vaccinations induce systemic inflammatory responses, which can lead to chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, pancreatitis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as hyperthyroidism and numerous others. The actual risk for a given cat is likely to be closely proportional to how many vaccines he receives over his life.
Anaphylactic Reactions: True anaphylaxis is quite rare, but does happen. Even with immediate treatment, death may ensue.
Vaccination can cause many lesser problems such as itching, hives, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and local hair loss, to name a few. Most of these are transitory, and are not serious health risks.
Protection With Minimal Vaccination
Where possible, I recommend replacing annual or triannual vaccination with annual blood tests, also known as titer tests, which measure antibody levels. If the titer is insufficient, and if there are no contraindications, I may recommend revaccination. There are admittedly flaws in the concept of titering. Most importantly, we don’t accurately know what level of antibody is protective. Our evidence comes more from experience than from studies. But that is changing, and hopefully there will be more reliable evidence to work with in the future.
Panleukopenia vaccinations induce an enduring immunity in most cats. Many will carry a protective level of antibody for most of their adult life after only kitten shots and one adult injection. Repeated vaccinations are usually not needed. Some Panleukopenia vaccines are approved for 3-year intervals, but even that is more than is needed for most cats. Titering is an excellent alternative for this disease.
There are titer tests available for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus also; single-ingredient vaccines can be given should your cat pass one titer and fail another. Some of these can also be given as drops into the eyes and/or nose. The lack of a “shot” reduces the risk of an injection site sarcoma.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Indisputably, every vaccination is an inflammatory event, and all inflammatory events have a systemic component, ripples from the stone thrown in the pond. These insults may be small, but they add up, and so vaccinations should be kept as few as possible. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; a choice to avoid vaccines entirely leaves your cat at risk for some pretty horrible awful diseases. Vaccines are not all good or all bad. They are tools to be used with good judgment for the right purposes. The best vaccine plan for your cat will balance on the tightrope between disease risk and vaccine risk. A good feline vet will take the time to learn about your cat’s lifestyle and history, and then help you learn about the risks and benefits of the vaccination choices to be made for your cat.
Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.
Today’s review is about a book with a d-o-g in it, but thankfully, Amber allows me to read them every one in a while. I would have hated to miss One Good Dog. In the tradition of Marley and Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain, this is a moving book about how a dog changes a human’s life for the better.
Adam March, a ruthless, self-made Boston millionnaire seems to have it all, living a picture perfect life, surrounded by wealth and privilege. Then, in one instant, all of that changes, and he finds himself alone, unemployed, and doing community service in a homeless shelter. Chance, a pit bull mix bred as a fighting dog, living in a dark and vicious world, takes a random moment to escape from his captors. Human and dog come together, and as One Good Dog unfolds, both fight for a chance at a new life. This is a tale of love, loyalty, new discoveries, and redemption, told from the point of view of Adam March, but also from the point of view of Chance, the former fighting dog.
Wilson masterfully lets Chance tell the story in his own words. Some of the passages describing his fighting life are disturbing, but his gradual introduction to the world of being a pet dog is charming and touching. I found this book hard to put down. The narrative from the two different points of view was fascinating and added to the pace of the story. You’ll find yourself routing for the initially extremely unlikeable character of Adam March and for the tough dog with the rough beginning.
Entertaining, moving, and heartwarming, fans of dog memoirs, or pet memoirs in general, will thoroughly enjoy this book.
I’m giving away one copy of this book to one lucky reader. For a chance to win, please leave a comment telling me why you want to win this book . For an extra chance to win, tweet about the giveaway or share on Facebook and post the link in a separate comment. This giveaway ends Friday, April 30.
I’ve previously written about the foods I recommend based on what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive. In general, the progression from most desirable to least desirable is a raw food diet (either commercial or homemade), a home cooked whole food diet, grain-free canned food, and, if cost is a consideration, any canned food. I do not recommend any dry food for cats (read The Truth About Dry Cat Food for more on why this dry food is not a good choice). But even within these parameters, the available options can be overwhelming. Pet food labels should be a useful tool to help pet owners decide which foods to select. Unfortunately, unless you know how to interpret the often confusing information on the labels, they may only add to the confusion.
Pet food packaging is all about marketing
Pet food packaging is all about marketing. Our pets couldn’t care less what container their food comes in, or whether it has cute pictures of kittens and puppies on it. They don’t care about pretty label and brand colors, but you can bet that pet food companies spend major marketing dollars on determining which colors appeal to pet owners. Don’t let pet foods labelled as “natural” mislead you – just because the label has the word “natural” and pictures of wholesome vegetables and grains on it does not necessarily make it so. The only way you can be sure to understand what’s in a food is by reading the label. Here are some things to look for:
Pet food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order; in other words, the most predominant ingredient has to be listed first. Look for meat based proteins as the main ingredient. Avoid anything that lists corn or soy and their by-products – these two ingredients are some of the prime culprits for causing allergies in pets. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a food is good for your pet because it lists ingredients such as peas, carrots, cranberries, blueberries and the like. Pets don’t really need these ingredients to thrive, but they make for good marketing to the pet’s human. They can be a source of antioxidants and vitamins, but in many foods, the amounts are not significant enough to make a difference.
Manufacturers are required to list basic nutrient percentages on the label. Typically, this portion of the label will list crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, moisture, and ash content. Note that there is no listing for carbohydrates on food labels, which is a very important consideration when it comes to feeding cats, who are obligate carnivores. However, it is not difficult to calculate approximate carbohydrate contents. Simply add all of the listed nutrients and subtract the total from 100% – this will give you a fairly accurate number.
This is probably the most misunderstood item on pet food labels. AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is the organization which is charged with establishing and enforcing animal feed requirements across all fifty state governments. Its primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of feed for human food producing livestock. The AAFCO statement on most pet food labels indicates that the food has been tested and approved as “complete and balanced for the life of a pet.” This is sadly misleading. The tests are conducted on very small groups of animals and for very short periods of time. The only real long-term tests of pet food happen when pet owners feed these diets to their own pets!
Just like selecting food for yourself and your human family members, choosing healthy food for your pets comes down to educating yourself, reading labels, and not falling for marketing hype. Your pets will thank you for it.
Elizabeth Hodgkins, a successful veterinarian for more than twenty years, formerly served as Director of Technical Affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and as such, has had an insider’s view of one of the giants of the pet food industry. In her book Your Cat – Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, Dr. Hodgkins raises the alarm regarding the dry pet food we feed our cats and the degenerative diseases that result from a diet that is completely contrary to what an obligate carnivore like the cat needs to thrive.
From kitten through adult life to the senior years, Dr. Hodgkins explores the full spectrum of proper cat care, and offers a closer look at the common chronic diseases that afflict so many cats – diabetes, kidney disease, thyroid disease, allergies, heart disease, and more. The underlying cause for many of these diseases, as well as the key to managing or even curing them, is nutrition.
I’ve been passionate about feline nutrition for a long time, and I’ve done a lot of research and reading about it, but I have not found a book that presents the reasons why cats need protein and not carbohydrates as the mainstay of their diet as succinctly and convincingly as this one. Going back to the cat’s origins as a desert-dwelling predator, Dr. Hodgkins explains why cats cannot thrive on dry food, but need a high protein, low carbohydrate, moisture-based diet. She examines the problems with today’s pet food industry with an insider’s view and explains in detail why dry food is so harmful for cats. She offers her recommendations for what we should feed our cats, including how to choose the best canned food, or how to safely prepare raw food for cats.
She also takes a thorough look at many common feline diseases, sharing case histories of cats she has treated in her practice. The stories are convincing and provide a wonderful resource as well as hope for cat owners who may be dealing with these conditions.
This book should be required reading for all cat parents – in a way, it’s almost like an “owner’s manual” for cats. It should also be required reading for veterinarians. Sadly, most veterinarians receive very little education on nutrition in veterinary schools, and what little they do receive is sponsored by the large pet food companies. The science presented in veterinary school nutrition courses is based on limited in-house studies by the pet food companies that typically only test their products with an eye to proving what they want the studies to prove. Dr. Hodgkins explains the limitations of these studies in detail in her book.
This book will change the way you view what you’re feeding your cat. It will also change your view of the pet food industry and what you may have considered good cat nutrition. Your cat will thank you!
Coming on Monday on The Conscious Cat: learn more about why dry food is not a good choice for your cat.