Feline Health

Can classical music lead to better veterinary care for cats?

Nora the piano cat

While cats outnumber dogs as pets (according to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there are 78.2 million households that own dogs versus 86.4 million that own cats), cats receive significantly less veterinary care than dogs. A veterinary study by Bayer shows that dogs visit the vet about 2.3 times a year compared to 1.7 times a year for cats. One of the most cited reasons by cat owners is the stress cats (and their owners) experience with a typical visit to the veterinarian, both on the way there and while at the clinic.

A new study at Colorado State University is looking at how classical music can help make a veterinary visit less stressful and thus lead to better veterinary care for cats.

Numerous studies in human medicine have shown that classical music can reduce stress in patients by lowering pain levels, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates.  This response appears to be the same in animals. For example, one study of dogs in rescue shelters showed that classical music changed their behavior to produce more periods of rest, less time standing and more quiet time.

From the Colorado State University Office of Public Relations news release:

“If this study finds that classical music lowers the stress levels for cats and their caretakers during veterinary visits, veterinarians can start using calming music in their waiting room immediately and improve the emotional health of those in their clinic — human and four-legged,” said Dr. Narda Robinson, a veterinarian at Colorado State University.

In addition to the potential stress-reducing benefits of music for felines and their caretakers, relaxed cats are easier for veterinarians to examine and need less restraint.

Robinson and fellow researcher Lori Kogan, a psychologist with Colorado State University who specializes in veterinary and animal issues, want to enroll 50 cats and their caretakers in the study. Cats will need to visit the Veterinary Teaching Hospital two times to be randomly exposed to one of two different soundscapes — either no music or slow, classical music– during each visit while in an exam room for about 15 minutes. The waiting time will be videotaped and behavior will be noted through an observation window by independent observers who will not know if music is playing in the exam room. Clients will also fill out surveys about their own as well as their cat’s stress levels before and after the session. An appointment with a veterinarian is not necessary, and cats enrolled in the study will not be examined by a veterinarian as part of the study.

If you live in the Ft. Collins, CO area, your cat may be eligible to participate in the study. Qualifying cats must be able to hear and meet some minimal health requirements, while caretakers must be able to bring cats to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital during afternoon, evening, or weekends for two visits at least two days apart.

I’m excited about this study. Coming on the heels of the Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines issued by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, it’s encouraging to see that more major organizations are making efforts to make cats’ lives better.

Do your cats respond to music? If so, what kind of music do they like?

Photo of Nora the Piano Cat, photo credit: Burnell Yow! , used by permission. According to Burnell, Nora’s favorite composer is Bach.

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Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines to make vet visits easier for cats

Is your vet cat-friendly?

Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines to Make Vet Visits Easier for Cats

cat with stethoscope The Conscious Cat

Vet visits for cats should become a little easier in the future, thanks to the new Feline Friendly Handling Guidelines just released by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine.

While cats outnumber dogs as pets (according to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there are 78.2 million households that own dogs versus 86.4 million that own cats), pets receive significantly less veterinary care than dogs. Cat owners often express a belief that cats “do not need medical care.” According to Dr. Michele Gaspar, DVM, DABVP (Feline), “there is a misconception that cats are independent and they don’t need the level of care that dogs do.”

Additionally, many cat owners cite the difficulty of getting the cat into a carrier, driving the cat to the clinic, and dealing with a scared or stressed cat at the clinic as reasons for fewer visits. The goal of the feline-friendly handling guidelines is to reduce these barriers by helping cat owners understand feline behavior, preparing the cat and the client for the vet visit, creating a cat-friendly environment at the veterinary practice, and training veterinary staff on how to meet the unique needs of their feline patients.

The guidelines suggest that by understanding the unique social and behavioral characteristics of cats, and by recognizing early signs of fear, vet visits can be made less stressful for both cat and owner. Recommendations include the following:

• Rehearse trips to the veterinary practice by using positive reinforcement (treats)
• Rehearse clinical exams at home by getting cats used to having their paws, ears and mouth handled
• Get cats used to carriers
• Locate the cat well before the scheduled visit to the vet clinic
• Bring items that carry a familiar scent
• Notify the veterinary team in advance if the cat is easily stressed.

For veterinary practices, the guidelines offer suggestions on how to make the hospital more cat-friendly:

  • minimize wait times
  • schedule cat appointments during quieter times of the day, or
  • schedule dog and cat appointments at different times
  • dedicate an exam room to cats only
  • provide a cat only ward for cats who need to be hospitalized.

The guidelines go into great detail on how to interact with cats in the practice. The mantra “go slow to go fast” applies in almost every interaction with cats, from getting the cat out of the carrier to minimizing the stress of medical procedures. Veterinary staff should be trained to recognize and respond to cat signals, especially feline body language. Restraint should be minimal whenever possible. I was particularly delighted to see that the panel does not condone lifting the cat or suspending its body weight with a scruffing technique.

The guidelines offer recommendations for working with fearful or aggressive cats, ranging from pre-visit techniques that may include medication to using restraint methods, including chemical restraint, if required, stressing the need to be sensitive to each individual cat’s response.

A section on how to help cat owners cope with cats returning home from their vet visit and possibly upsetting other resident cats, and a comprehensive resource section, rounds out the guidelines. You can read the complete guidelines here.

Photo: dreamstime.com

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Quality of Life: What Does It Mean for You and Your Cat?

Buckley's Story

Last updated June 2019

Making a decision about whether or when the time is right for euthanasia is one of the hardest things someone loving a pet will ever go through. Unlike human medicine, veterinary medicine is fortunate to be able to legally offer the option of gently ending suffering when there seems to be no hope for recovery. It is a difficult decision to make at best, and it can be nearly impossible for some pet owners. There are so many factors that play into it.

What is quality of life?

The term that is used the most in this context is “quality of life.” But what does that really mean? Are there hard and fast rules as to what constitutes good quality of life? Of course not. Quality of life means something different for every person, and for every animal.

There are some fairly obvious markers. Pain is one of them. No pet owner wants to see a beloved pet suffer. Animals, especially cats, are masters at masking pain, so this can be difficult to detect. Another marker is appetite. For most pet owners, the first indication that something is wrong is usually when a pet stops eating. A third important marker is dignity: Is the pet still able to relieve herself on her own, or does she need assistance with urination and defecation?

But even these three markers are not always helpful when trying to make a decision. Pain can be managed with medication. Some pets stop eating or eat very little but are still happy and are enjoying life. And who is to say that the dog that needs assistance with being carried outside to urinate or the cat who needs help to get into the litter box and needs to be cleaned off afterwards does not appreciate this level of care from his loving human and is otherwise happy and content?

A final gift of love

It is often said that making the decision to euthanize a pet is the final gift of love we can give our animals. I wholeheartedly believe that, but it still does not make the decision process any easier. Love and denial can be intricately linked, and it can sometimes be difficult to separate one from the other.

I’ve had to make this decision with three of my cats: with Feebee in April of 2000, when he was losing his seven-month battle with lymphoma, with Buckley in November of 2008, when her heart disease was complicated by multiple other issues, and much too soon again with Amber in May of 2010 , after she came down to a sudden, unexpected illness, which was, most likely, virulent systemic calici virus.

All three of the decisions were agonizing for me, but I also know that each time, I made the right decision – for my cat, and for me. That’s not to say that it would have been the right decision for someone else, or for someone else’s cat.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads.

Ultimately, the only way any of us can make this decision is by listening to our animal friends with our hearts, not with our heads. It becomes a decision of love, not something to be reasoned out on an analytical and intellectual level.

No easy answer

I think it’s impossible to ever be completely comfortable with the decision to end the life of someone we love so much. We do not want our pets to suffer, and when we are really in tune with our animals, we know when they are ready to make their transition. Any remaining doubt is usually caused by our sadness and grief at the thought of having to go on without their physical presence in our lives. I also believe that sometimes, our animals also love us so much that they often stick around longer than they might want to because they know how much we will miss them when they’re gone.

There is no easy answer for the question of what quality of life means. It’s going to mean something different for each person, and for each cat. And as your cat’s guardian, you’re the only one who can answer it.

Have you had to make this decision for your cat? What does quality of life mean for you and your cat?

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Portions of this post are adapted from Buckley’s Story: Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher.

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New pain medication for cats comes with some cautions

pain management in cats The Conscious Cat

Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

Within the next few months, there will be a new pain medication available for use in cats. Called Onsior®, the new medication has been approved by the FDA and is expected to be available to veterinarians as a prescription product for their feline patients within the next 10 months.

A welcome addition to the limited number of pain medications approved for cats

Because there are very few pain medications that have actually been approved for use in cats, Onsior® is a welcome addition to the arsenal of medications that can control feline pain. Onsior®, once available, will provide veterinarians and cat owners another weapon for relieving feline pain. Currently, when compared to dogs, the number of choices for pain relief in cats is somewhat limited.

According to Onsior’s manufacturer, Novartis Animal Health, “Onsior tablets are indicated to control of postoperative pain and inflammation associated with orthopedic surgery, ovariohysterectomy and castration in cats weighing at least 5.5 pounds and 6 months old. A tablet can be given to cats on an empty stomach prior to surgery and again for the next two days following the procedure.”

A dark cloud in the silver lining for the new pain medication for cats

Onsior® contains, as its active ingredient, a drug known as robenacoxib. Robenacoxib is part of a group of medications known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs. Historically, veterinarians have been cautious in using NSAIDs in cats because of the danger of side effects.

NSAIDs have been used extensively in dogs and there are many such canine drugs available, such as Rimadyl®, Etogesic®, Deramaxx®, Metacam® to name just a few. However, in cats, only Metacam® has been approved and widely used. Unfortunately, Metacam® has been responsible for kidney issues in some of the cats that have received the medication. As a result, the FDA placed a warning on the Metacam® label.

The concern with the new drug, Onsior®, is that similar problems might accompany its usage as well. So, while many veterinarians are cautiously optimistic about having a new option to relieve pain in cats, they are also somewhat fearful of the potential side effects of the medication.

Interestingly, both Metacam® and Onsior® have been used in European countries much more extensively for pain control in cats than here in the United States. And there have reportedly been significantly lower numbers of adverse effects with Metacam® than what has been seen here in the United States. The reason for this is unclear. One hypothesis is that the labeling for Metacam® is less restrictive in European countries than it is here in the US. As a result, veterinarians overseas have greater access to educational materials pertaining to the proper use of the medication. Here in the United States, the FDA has strict rules prohibiting the manufacturer of a drug from giving any advice about using the medication in an off-label fashion. As a result, the theory suggests that veterinarians here in the US have more limited access to the proper educational materials and are therefore less apt to use Metacam® in a safe manner than veterinarians overseas.

I’m not sure about the reason for the difference in safety between European countries and the US. Perhaps the theory about education is correct. I have used Metacam® for pain relief in my feline patients on occasion without any adverse effects. However, I have never used the medication in an off-label manner.

That being said, I am happy to see a new medication being made available for pain relief in cats. However, I will probably rely more heavily on choices that I am more comfortable in providing (buprenorphine, tramadol, etc.) until Onsior® has been around long enough and been used in enough cats here in the US to prove itself not only effective but safe as well.

Lorie Huston has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Besides a successful career in a busy small animal hospital in Providence, RI, Lorie is also a successful freelance writer specializing in pet care and pet health topics. 

Photo: morguefile.com

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Helping Your Cat Through a Move

moving with cats

Cats don’t like change, and moving probably ranks high on their list of least desirable activities. If cats had their druthers, they’d stay in the place they’re alredy comfortable in for the rest of their lives.

Moving is stressful for humans, and it’s even more stressful for cats.  Unfortunately, at some point in their lives, most cats will have to make a major move with their humans. Making the transition as stress-free as possible for your cat can go a long way toward avoiding problems associated with moving, such as fear-based house soiling, hiding, and aggression.

There are three phases to helping your cat through a move with as little stress as possible: preparation, the actual move, and settling into the new home.

Preparation

Get your cat used to his carrier. Leave the carrier out where the cat can always see it. Leave a few treats in the carrier every now and then so your cat can discover them on his own. You can also try feeding your cat in his carrier so he will associate it with something pleasant. If your move involves a lengthy drive, start taking your cat on increasingly longer rides in the car so he can get used to it.

Put moving boxes out several days, or even weeks, before you actually start packing so you cat can explore the boxes, and get used to their presence. Most cats consider boxes fun toys, and allowing them to become familiar with the boxes can create a pleasant association. When you actually start packing, watch your cat closely. If she seems to become agitated or nervous watching you pack, you may want to confine her to a quiet room away from all the action.

If your cat is easily stressed in general, this is the time to think about using anti-anxiety medications or natural anti-anxiety products. I highly recommend Stress Stopper,  a holistic remedy developed by feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. I also like Composure Calming Treats. Some people also have good success with the Comfort Zone Feliway Diffusers when it comes to managing stress for cats.

Moving Day

Confine your cat to a quiet room or bathroom that the movers do not need to access. Post a sign on the door asking so movers keep out of that room. Make sure your cat has a litter box, fresh water, and comfort items such as a bed and favorite toys in the room with him. If you have multiple cats who get along, place all of them in the same room together. However, if you have cats that don’t get along, make arrangements to keep them in separate rooms.

Some people recommend boarding your cats for moving day, but unless your cat is used to and loves the boarding facility, I don’t recommend this. It adds yet another layer of stress to an already stressful situation.

When it’s time to move your cat, place her in her carrier while she’s still in her safe room. With all the furniture and boxes gone, the rest of your house will no longer be familiar territory, and your cat could get spooked and bolt.

Settling in your new home

Before you even move your cat into your new home, cat proof the entire house. Check window screens and make sure  they’re secure and can’t be pushed out by an excited kitty who’s not used to the new sights and sounds yet. Close off any nooks and crannies where a scared cat could hide. Make sure that any chemicals such as pest control traps or cleaning supplies that may have been left behind by the previous owners are removed.

Set up a quiet room for your cat that includes a litter box, fresh water, and his comfort items. This can be your bedroom if you cat sleeps in the bedroom with you. Scatter some cat treats around the room before you let the cat out of her carrier to explore. For the first few days in the new home, especially while you’re still unpacking boxes, it may be a good idea to confine the cat to her quiet room. Moving in is a busy time, but make sure you spend time with your cat in her safe room to reassure her that some things in life haven’t changed. Play with her, or just sit with her while you’re reading.

When the initial rush of unpacking is done, start giving your cat access to the rest of the house and let him explore gradually. Supervise your cat during these exploration sessions until he’s comfortable. Place litter boxes in their permanent locations in the house during this phase so that you can eventually eliminate the litter box in the safe room. Alternately, you can keep the litter box in the safe room and gradually transfer it to a permanent location.

Let your cat’s temperament be your guide as to how long this initial settling in phase needs to be, and how quickly you can move from one stage to the next. As with new cat introductions, no two cats will react to the stress of moving the same way. Some cats will immediately explore and take over their new house, while others will take weeks to venture out of their safe room.

 

Photo ©Ingrid King

How to Prevent Litter Box Problems

cat using litter box

There is nothing as distressing for a cat owner as having a cat that eliminates outside the litter box. It’s also one of the most common reasons why cats are returned to shelters.

The reasons why cats eliminate outside the litter box vary, and include litter box aversion, urine marking, hormonal problems, and medical issues. When faced with inappropriate elimination (and this can be urine as well as feces), a thorough veterinary exam should always be the first step.

There are quite a few things owners can do to prevent litter box problems from happening in the first place, and the first step is to understand what cats want when it comes to their litter boxes. While some cats may be particularly fussy and need to have their bathroom preferences catered to in special ways, there are common errors that many cat owners, especially those new to cats and their needs, tend to make. These include:

Too few boxes

The rule of thumb is that you should have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one extra. This may mean that even if you only have one cat, you may need to have two litter boxes. This is especially important in multi-level homes.

The wrong location

Humans tend to want litter boxes out of sight, so they often end up in laundry or utility rooms or in dark corners of the basement. This may be fine for many cats, but it can cause problems if the area is not quiet. If the litter box is placed next to a noisy washer or dryer, or a furnace, and if the appliance starts up just as your cat is doing her business, she may never use that box again. Good spots for litter boxes are bathrooms, or a quiet room that isn’t used much.

The wrong type of litter

There have never been as many choices of cat litters as there are now. Unfortunately, many of the litters are designed more with the human in  mind than the cat. There is no perfect litter – each type has its advantages and its drawbacks. Most cats prefer a sandy substrate like clumping clay litter. While some cats readily accept some of the more environmentally friendly litters such as pine, wheat or corn, others will simply refuse to use a box containing those products.

Never use scented litters or scented litter deodorizers. Cats sense of smell is far more sensitive than ours, and the overpowering scent of these litters can be a big turn off for them.

Not enough litter

Keep at least 2-3 inches of litter in the box at all times – add fresh litter after you scoop out waste to maintain this level. Most cats like to scratch and bury what they produce, and they will get frustrated when there’s not enough litter to allow them to do that.

The box is too dirty

Scoop the box at least twice a day and remove all urine and feces waste. This is only possible with clumping litter. If you use a non-clumping litter, you should discard the entire content of the box whenever there is waste in it, and replace with fresh litter. If you use clumping litter, you should replace the entire litter about once a month.

The box is too clean

Don’t use harsh chemical cleaners to clean the litter box. All you really need to use is hot water and some mild, unscented dish soap. Let the box dry thoroughly before you replace litter. If you feel you must “sanitize” your box, use some bleach and hot water, but be sure to rinse thoroughly with hot water to eliminate any remnants of the scent of bleach.

Liners

Most cats don’t like liners. They don’t like the crinkly sound the plastic makes when they walk on it, nor do they like the way it feels under their paws.

Covered or hooded boxes

I don’t like covered or hooded boxes, and most cats don’t like them, either. They’re often too small for the cat to comfortably turn around in and do their business, and they trap odors inside, making it very unpleasant for the cat to use. Dust can also be much more of a problem in a covered box, as it becomes more concentrated. Cats will always breathe in dust when they dig in the litter box, but in a covered box, this becomes a bigger problem. If you must use a covered box, at the very least, remove the filters provided by some manufacturers. They’re designed to trap dust and odors, making it nice for you, but not so nice for kitty inside the box!

Litter mats

These mats are designed to trap litter that’s stuck to your cat’s paw and prevent it from being spread further throughout the house. The trouble with them is that they’re often made with nubs or deep grooves that don’t feel good on sensitive kitty paws, and this might stop a cat from going anywhere near the box.

By approaching the issue of litter boxes from the cat’s point of view, you can prevent many of the problems associated with inappropriate elimination.

Graphic: dreamstime.com

There’s No Such Thing As “Just a Hairball”

feline-soul-mate

Most cat owners accept that hairballs are just a normal part of life with cats.  While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”

What is a hairball?

Traditionally it has been thought that hairballs develop because of how cats groom themselves. As cats lick their fur, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair. Inevitably, some hair gets swallowed in the process. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair wads up in the stomach instead.

However, more recent findings show that hairballs form because the affected cat’s intestinal motility (the movement of food content from the stomach to the intestines) is impaired, something that most commonly occurs secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, which in turn is caused in almost epidemic proportions by grain-based diets and their adverse effect on the gut flora. Gut flora is the collection of microscopic organisms that live within the intestinal system. Predominantly made up of healthy bacteria, it carries out many important functions for the cat’s health, such as the absorption of nutrients, support for the immune system, and the ability to fight disease-causing organisms.

A healthy cat with a healthy gut system should be able to eliminate hair ingested through grooming in her stool. Vomiting as a daily, or even weekly, method to eliminate hairballs is almost always an indicator that there is something else going on. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a good check up.

What can a cat owner do to eliminate hairballs?

Regular brushing or combing to get rid of loose hair before your cat ingests it certainly helps. But even more importantly, there seems to be a strong connection between diet and hairballs. More and more evidence points to a grain-free canned or raw diet as the answer to hairball problems. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their digestive systems are not designed to digest grains and carbs well.

What about diets marketed as hairball diets? These diets are high in fiber, and the theory behind them is that the fiber helps propel the hair through the digestive system. However, the opposite seems to happen in many cats, and the unnaturally high fiber levels contribute to impaired intestinal motility and actually lead to more vomiting. Since impaired intestinal motility is often a precursor to IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and intestinal lymphoma, a grain-free diet seems to be a much better way to go.

What about hairball remedies such as Petromalt or Laxatone? These products are petroleum based, and petroleum is derived from crude oil. Does this really belong inside a cat’s stomach? Says feline veterinarian Dr. Fern Crist: “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. Feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.”

My own personal experience with cats and hairballs goes all the way back to Feebee, my first cat. I didn’t know any better back then, so he grew up on a vet-recommended commercial diet, and he ate mostly dry food. He coughed up hairballs at least a couple of times a week, despite frequent brushing and regular dosing with Laxatone. He also developed all the classic feline diseases now associated with dry food and foods high in carbohydrates: urinary bladder stones, and later, IBD and intestinal lymphoma, which eventually took his life at age 16 in April of 2000.

When I adopted Amber three months after he died, I transitioned her from the vet-recommended dry food with the occasional canned grocery store brand canned food that she was fed at the clinic to a quality natural, protein-based grain-free canned diet. She didn’t have a lot of problems with hairballs even prior to the diet change, but after the change, she never had a hairball again.

Buckley had a major hairball problem while she was my office cat. She, too, was being fed the standard clinic diet of dry food with occasional canned food. When I took her home, she ate the same grain-free canned food Amber ate, and her hairballs virtually disappeared.

Allegra is my first raw-fed kitty. She has never had a hairball in the year she’s been with me. She also doesn’t shed. I’ve always brushed all my cats daily, but I’ve never had a cat who doesn’t shed. She also has the shiniest coat of all of my cats. I brush Allegra every day because she likes it, but the amount of hair I pull out of the brush after each session, compressed into a ball, is smaller than the size of my thumbnail.

Are hairballs a problem for your cat?

Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, which is sponsored by Furminator, Inc., and to mark the occasion, they have generously offered a Furminator Deshedding Tool for Cats to go to one lucky reader. Come back tomorrow to enter our giveaway!

Photo: Feebee.

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Stress awareness in cats

Guest post by Corinne Mitchell

April is National Stress Awareness Month . This campaign was launched to increase public awareness about the causes of stress and possible cures. Now, while it is true that this campaign is geared towards people of all ages, did you know that your cat can experience stress and anxiety too?

What is stress?

Physiologically, stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain that interferes with normal physiological equilibrium. It can include physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.

What is anxiety?

Physiologically, anxiety is a multi-system response to a perceived threat or danger, causing a state of uneasiness and apprehension.

Given these two definitions, you can see that cats certainly can and do experience stress and anxiety.

What causes cats to be stressed?

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons for your cat to feel ill at ease. Some cats are more naturally prone to stress. A cat’s past experiences may also lead to them being stress; they may have significant issues due to past traumas. The more in tune you are with your cat and their personality, the more aware you will be if they are stressed or anxious.

Major events in your cat’s life that can lead to stress include:

* Separation from family
* Loss or addition of family member or cat
* A health problem or pain
* Moving to a new home

Other causes may be less evident but are just as influential and include:

* Changes to daily routine
* Loud noises
* Fear
* Inadequate nutrition
* Boredom
* Lack of exercise / play

Signs your cat is stressed:

Depending on your cat’s temperament and personality, they will show signs of anxiety or stress in their own way. Changes in your cat’s personality or behavior may indicate they are suffering from stress. These symptoms may include:

* Changes in appetite – eating less or more
* Loss or gain of weight
* Excessive vocalizing
* Changes in litter box usage – going outside of the box
* Box sitting – a cat sitting in their litter box
* Excessive grooming
* Restlessness
* Noticeable health issues
* Excessive salivation or panting
* Frequent vomiting
* Destructive behaviors – such as scratching the carpet or furniture
* Aggression
* Trembling
* Lethargy
* Depression

Effects of stress on your cat:

If you have ever been stressed or anxious, then you know how uncomfortable and unhappy it makes you. The same is true for your cat.

If your cat becomes stressed or anxious, and you do nothing about it, your cat can become severely depressed, develop behavior problems and develop health issues due to a compromised immune system.

Ways to prevent and treat cat stress:

Depending on the source of the stress, there are several things you can do to try to minimize stress and anxiety in your cat’s life. Whenever possible, remove the source of the tension or help your cat overcome their reaction to the cause.

Physical Methods:

* Give your cat new toys and cat games to play with
* Play laser with your cat
* Grow or buy some catnip or catnip toys
* Grow or buy cat grass
* Add a new scratching post or cat tree to your home

Emotional Support:

* Spend quality time with your cat
* Have brushing and petting sessions with your cat
* Make sure your cat has a ‘safe’ spot to take a time out

Always make sure your cat is getting nutritious cat food, fresh water, and a safe and secure environment.

If you have any doubt, you should always bring your cat to a vet to rule out any possible medical causes of stress. And in some cases, the cat may need over the counter or prescription anti-anxiety medications or the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist.

Treating anxiety in your cat may take some time, but if you are willing to work with your cat, you can help your cat find relief.

Corinne Mitchell is a cat socializer and an animal ambassador for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. She lives with her husband and three rescue cats with the additional of an occasional foster in Coronado, CA. She has devoted countless hours to helping with the cats from The Great Kitty Rescue and is using what she learned to teach cat socialization, to help orphaned cats everywhere find homes and to establish a network for cat care givers.

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Easter Lilies Are Deadly to Cats

lilies_are_deadly_to_cats

As we approach the Easter holiday, it becomes vitally important once again to ensure that all cat owners know that Easter Lilies are deadly to cats. The information below comes to us courtesy of Dr. Lorie Huston of the Pet Health Care Gazette, and the veterinarians at the Pet Poison Helpline.

The Pet Poison Helpline, a national 24/7 animal poison control center, receives hundreds of calls this time of year from pet owners and veterinarians concerning cats that have ingested Easter lilies.

Easter lilies are deadly to cats“Unbeknownst to many pet owners, Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats,” said Ahna Brutlag, DVM, assistant director at Pet Poison Helpline. “All parts of the Easter lily plant are poisonous – the petals, the leaves, the stem and even the pollen. Cats that ingest as few as one or two leaves, or even a small amount of pollen while grooming their fur, can suffer severe kidney failure.”

In most situations, symptoms of poisoning will develop within six to 12 hours of exposure. Early signs include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and dehydration. Symptoms worsen as kidney failure develops. Some cats will experience disorientation, staggering and seizures.

“There is no effective antidote to counteract lily poisoning, so the sooner you can get your cat to the veterinarian, the better his chances of survival will be,” said Brutlag. “If you see your cat licking or eating any part of an Easter lily, call your veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline immediately. If left untreated, his chances of survival are low.”

Treatment includes inducing vomiting, administering drugs like activated charcoal (to bind the poison in the stomach and intestines), intravenous fluid therapy to flush out the kidneys, and monitoring of kidney function through blood testing. The prognosis and the cost – both financially and physically – to the pet owner and cat, are best when treated immediately.

There are several other types of lilies that are toxic to cats as well. They are of the Lilium and Hemerocallis species and commonly referred to as Tiger lilies, Day lilies and Asiatic lilies. Popular in many gardens and yards, they can also result in severe acute kidney failure. These lilies are commonly found in florist bouquets, so it is imperative to check for poisonous flowers before bringing bouquets into the household. Other types of lilies – such as the Peace, Peruvian and Calla lilies – are usually not a problem for cats and may cause only minor drooling.

Thankfully, lily poisoning does not occur in dogs or people. However, if a large amount is ingested, it can result in mild gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Photo of cat with Tiger lilies: istockphoto, photo of Easter lily: morguefile.com

Another Furball? It Might Be Feline Asthma

Guest post by Andrea Tasi, VMD

Has your cat been coughing? Watch the video below and you may recognize that sound. Many people assume that the cat is trying to cough up a hairball and don’t realize that their cat could have asthma. Untreated, asthma can progress and even be fatal. But, like human asthmatics, cats can be treated and the disease can be managed.

It is estimated that about 1% of cats suffer from asthma. Siamese, Burmese and other Oriental breeds show a greater incidence, but any breed can have asthma. It usually first occurs in young to middle-aged cats between the ages of two and eight.

It is widely recognized that asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens in the environment such as pollens, dust, smoke, fumes, mold, fragrances and aerosols. Heat, cold, stress and exertion can also trigger attacks.

What is Feline Asthma?

Feline asthma is a disorder of the lower airways, called bronchi and bronchioles, in which inflammation causes increased production of mucus, spasms of the airways and difficulty moving air out of the airways. It is considered to be an immune-mediated condition, which means that the inflammation is triggered by some allergic or over-active response of the cat’s own immune system.

What are the Symptoms of Feline Asthma?

Different cats may be affected in different ways, but the most common symptom is a wheezing or gagging cough, often called a hairball-type cough. In my professional experience however, hairballs do not cause coughing, as they are gastrointestinal and not respiratory in origin. Hairballs can cause retching, gagging and vomiting. With an asthmatic cough, most cats will stretch their necks out, get in a hunkered down posture and then cough in either a dry or moist sounding fashion. They may stick their tongues out a bit when coughing. Often it sounds and seems as if they are coughing some mucus up and then swallowing it.

Other symptoms may include decreased activity, becoming winded by normal activity, increased rate and effort of breathing and even open-mouth breathing in severely affected patients who are having trouble moving air out of their lungs.

Feline asthma in its most severe form can cause death by asphyxiation: the cat simply can’t breathe.

How is Feline Asthma Diagnosed?

A cat presenting with a history of coughing, wheezing and/or respiratory difficulty will usually need the following tests to determine what is going on:

• A thorough physical examination, including listening carefully to the lungs and heart.

• Chest radiographs, commonly known as x-rays. These help rule out other causes of respiratory symptoms like heart enlargement, fluid in or around the lungs, tumors or pneumonia. Many cats with feline asthma have prominent airways and hyperinflated lungs, which means too much air is trapped in the lungs. It is important to note that cats can be severely asthmatic and have normal chest radiographs.

 • A complete blood count: a blood test which looks at red and white blood cell numbers and helps determine if a patient is responding to inflammation or infection. Many cats with feline asthma have an increased number of eosinophils, a white blood cell type that responds to allergic and parasitic inflammation.

• A heartworm test. Heartworm disease can mimic the symptoms of feline asthma.

• A fecal test for intestinal parasites. Some intestinal parasites have life stages that migrate through the lungs and can cause inflammation and respiratory symptoms.

In general, the diagnosis of asthma is made by ruling out other causes of coughing and respiratory difficulty, as there is no one test that determines with 100% assurance that a cat has asthma or not.

How is Feline Asthma Treated?

Conventional medical treatment of feline asthma is based upon two main drug types:

• Corticosteroids: This class of drugs is anti-inflammatory in nature. Oral prednisone or prednisolone, and/or inhaled forms of corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammation in the airways. Side effects of corticosteroids can include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight gain, diabetes, lowered resistance to infection, and even behavioral changes.

• Bronchodilators: This class of drugs helps open up the airways. Both oral and inhaled forms of bronchodilators are used. Side effects are generally minimal with bronchodilators, but these drugs should never be used alone, as that can actually worsen the condition. Special inhalant masks are available for cats to administer these medications.

• Several other drugs, such as antihistamines and anti-leukotrienes, are also used by some veterinarians. Holistic veterinarians may use alternative medical therapies to treat some asthmatic cats.

If a cat is in an emergency situation in a veterinary clinic, oxygen therapy will also be used.

How Does Diet Relate to Feline Asthma?

In over two decades of feline practice, I have attended many continuing education seminars on feline asthma and rarely heard diet discussed as a potential cause or trigger for the condition.

However, I have had several clients who, on their own initiative, changed what they fed their cats and found that the symptoms of asthma were either greatly reduced or eliminated. What was the change they all made? They removed all dry food and all grain-based products from their cat’s diet.

Most did this by simply switching to grain-free canned cat foods. Some used balanced commercially prepared or home-made grain-free, raw meat cat foods, either as the only food fed or in combination with some grain-free canned foods. After observing this effect, I incorporated diet changes into my case management of cats with asthma. I began to see many cases where my patients no longer needed medication — or much reduced doses — to control their asthma symptoms. It is important to note that not all cases of asthma will improve with the elimination of dry food and grains. But it is worth considering this change as a much less intrusive method of reducing or controlling symptoms. I have never observed a worsening of a cat’s asthma from a gradual and nutritionally balanced diet change.

Why does this diet change help some cats? It is my opinion that the processed and fractionated grain products in many cat foods are strong triggers for allergic or overactive inflammatory responses in some cats. Remove these triggers, and these cats get better or are even cured.

If you have an asthmatic cat on medication and are interested in this approach, you must do this in consultation with your veterinarian. Do not, under any circumstances, simply stop giving your cat his/her medications.

If your cat is on high doses of corticosteroid drugs, it is also important to remember that these drugs can be suppressive to the immune system, rendering a cat more susceptible to infection. In these cases, I would advocate using either a canned or home cooked grain-free, nutritionally balanced food, not a raw diet.

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Andrea Tasi, VMD owns and operates Just Cats, Naturally, a housecall based, feline-exclusive practice dedicated to the holistic, individualized approach to each cat. Dr. Tasi uses classical  homeopathy, nutritional therapy, and behavior/environment-related techniques to help healthy cats stay well and help ill cats regain their health.

This article originally appeared on the Feline Nutrition website, and is re-posted here with their permission. The Feline Nutrition is dedicated to providing thoroughly researched information on feline health and nutrition. If you care about cats and their health, please consider joining the society. Membership is free, and a growing membership base will help the organization spread the word about species-appropriate nutrition for cats.

Winning the FIP Fight – 33rd Annual Winn Feline Health Symposium

Feline Infectious Peritonitis is probably the most dreaded diagnosis for cats. It is caused by a coronavirus and affects the cells of the intestinal tract. The corona virus in itself is a common virus in cats, and cats may not even show symptoms other than perhaps a mild gastrointestinal upset. But for reasons that have eluded researchers so far, in some cats, the benign virus mutates into a highly infectious version that then causes FIP. It usually affects kittens and young cats, and has been considered fatal. Until now.

Finally, new research brings hope, and the findings will be announced at the at the 33rd Annual Winn Feline Symposium on June 23, 2011, in Reston, VA, just outside of Washington, DC. 

World renown researchers Dr. Niels Pederson, director for the Center of Companion Animal Health at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis and Dr. Al Legendre, professor at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, Knoxville will highlight the event.

Dr. Susan Little, a feline practitioner in Ottawa, Ontario Canada and past president of the Winn Feline Foundation, is quoted on Steve Dale’s Petworld as saying “finally, momentum and results when it comes to FIP research. Getting these two legends of veterinary medicine together at the same time is very rare, and to actually allow time for Q & A. I don’t know a veterinarian, a cat breeder or a cat lover who wouldn’t benefit.  FIP touches everyone.”

The symposium is open to veterinarians, breeders and cat lovers. Cost for the symposium, including dinner, is $45.

I will be attending and will be reporting back to you right here on The Conscious Cat.

The Winn Feline Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 1968 that supports studies to improve cat health. Projects funded by Winn provide information that is used every day to treat cat diseases.

Photo credit: morguefile