Feline Health

Research Says Cats Have Healing Powers

tabby cat sunset

Guest post by Liz Eastwood

Believe it or not, our sweet-bundles-of-fur are probably saving us a bundle in medical bills.

This is another reason I’m into natural cat care—not only is it more ecological and vet-bill preventative, but our cats contribute so much to our well-being that we want to give them more life-extending love. Wait til you hear all this!

While cats in particular have healing powers, research on pet companionship in general is also impressive.

According to research discussed in this news report, people with pets save the Australian health service about $880 million per year and save Germany about $6.6 billion per year. The research found that people with pets:

  • need fewer visits to their doctor each year
  • have fewer sleeping difficulties
  • are less likely to need heart condition medicine

I was really excited about some research I found on cats in particular.

Cats may reduce heart attack risk by 40%

While a study showed that both cats and dogs  reduced stress-related blood pressure more than ace inhibitor medication, a study at the University of Minnesota found that cats in particular may reduce your chances of a heart attack by 40%.

The study, which looked at 4,435 Americans aged 30 to 75, showed that those who did not have a cat had a 40% higher risk of having a heart attack and a 30% greater risk of dying from other heart diseases than those who have or have had a cat.

I was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia many years ago. That’s a crazy erratic, racing heartbeat that happens periodically in varying degrees of intensity and threat.

I did not have a cat at the time. A bit later I lived with cats again and a bit later I stopped having arrhythmia. Didn’t think much of it.

Fast forward many years to when my only cat, Bastet, was dying. I started having bouts of terrible heart arrhythmia symptoms. After she died it got worse–and by worse I mean nearly constant.

It stopped the day we brought home two new purring youngsters named Phil and Joel. The arrhythmia disappeared that day and hasn’t returned since. Were there other factors that may have affected my heart arrhythmia in these cases? Probably. But the timing of the healing was uncanny.

What’s at the root of a cat’s healing power?

There’s certainly some mystery as to exactly how cats and dogs manage to be good for our health. So far my investigation has uncovered these research nuggets about the healing power of kitty cats:

  • Stress symptoms are lowest in people with cats

In a study by Dr. June McNicholas, stress symptoms were lowest in cat owners, second lowest in dog owners, and highest in people without pets.

  • Purring heals—a lot of things!

The Fauna Communications Research Institute found that every cat in their study created purr vibrations within the range that is medically therapeutic (20-140 Hz) for:

  • bone growth and healing
  • pain relief
  • swelling reduction
  • wound healing
  • muscle growth and repair
  • tendon repair
  • joint mobility
  • dyspnea (shortness of breath) relief

Wow!

Other good news about having an animal friend at home

Well, this has been humbling!

Excuse me while I go see what Phil and Joel are up to.

Liz Eastwood is a writer and holistic nutritionist and the author of the Natural Cat Care Blog where she shares tips, insights and the joy of soul companion cats.

Image: Morguefile

Radiation concerns and your pets

Two women walk in a tsunami devastated street in Hishonomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15, 2011

Our prayers go out to the victims of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. As the world watches events at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, worries about a nuclear diaster abound, and with it, fears of what radiation exposure might mean to those exposed. Several of my readers, especially on the US West Coast,  have indicated concern about what this  might mean for pets.

I don’t know much about nuclear energy or radiation, so I look to the experts to get my information, and among them, the consensus seems to be that the only people currently at risk are the workers at the affected plant.  Nevertheless, there has been a run on radiation pills in the United States, as reported in this article on AOL News.

Jonathan Links, director of the Center for Public Health Preparedness at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, is quoted in an article on NPR.org as saying that not only do the pills offer limited protection, but the nuclear plant hasn’t released enough radiation to cause health problems in most of Japan, let alone in the U.S. In the AOL News article, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jazcko is quoted as saying “You just aren’t going to have any radiological material that, by the time it traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American public.”

So any fears for humans or pets appear to be based more on media hype than fact, but that does not make them any less real for those who are concerned about their pets.

The most frequent question I received from concerned pet owners was about potassium iodide, a supplement that is said to have protective properties against certain radioactive isotopes, and whether it can be given to pets as a precautionary measure. I asked a number of veterinarians for their input.

Potassium iodide should never be given to cats, it can have serious side effects. Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veterinarian, cautions that commercial pet foods already contain high levels of iodine. Adding the potassium iodide supplement on top of that could cause serious health problems.

Obviously, this is a developing story, but as you follow the news, please use common sense and consider the source before you panic. As with all issues affecting your pet’s health, consult with your veterinarian before giving supplements or medications.

March 17 update: UC Davis released this statement today: Pet owners cautioned against giving potassium iodide to animals

March 18 update: The VIN (Veterinary Information Network) News Service also cautions against giving potassium iodide to pets in this article: Fearing overseas radiation, Americans seek potassium iodide for pets

For information on how to help support animal rescue efforts in Japan, please read:

Help the animals in Japan

Photo credit CNN.com: Two women walk in a tsunami devastated street in Hishonomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 15, 2011

Cats and Cancer

Feebee

While cancer in cats is not as common as it in dogs, it is still one of the leading causes of death in older cats.  According to the Animal Cancer Foundation, 6 million cats will be diagnosed with cancer in the United States along. And because cats are masters at masking illness, it is often harder to detect.  Cancer used to be a death sentence for cats, but recent advances in feline cancer research have made treatment possible in many cases.  Just like with human cancers, early detection is key to successfully treating feline cancers.

Common cancers in cats

One of the most common forms of cancer in cats is lymphoma. Other frequently seen cancers are oral squamous carcinomas, similar to what people get.   Fibrosarcomas, or soft tissue sarcomas, are tumors developing in muscle or in the connective tissue of the body.  These are generally associated with injections and vaccinations.  Other forms of cancer are less common, but they do occur in cats:  lung tumors, brain tumors, nasal tumors, liver tumors.  There are fewer incidences of mammary tumors (yes, cats can get breast cancer, too) since more cats are spayed and spaying is one of the best ways to prevent this particular cancer.

Symptoms of feline cancer

People and cats both show similar symptoms when it comes to cancer:

  • Lumps, especially lumps that seem to be getting bigger
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Unexplained bleeding or a strange discharge from any body opening
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Breathing problems
  • Lameness or stiffness that persists over a period of time
  • Bad odor
  • Having trouble eating or swallowing food

If you notice your cat showing any of these symptoms, take him to your veterinarian for a thorough examination.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis will vary, depending on the presenting symptoms.  An exam will most likely include a complete blood chemistry, blood count, and urinalysis.  Your veterinarian may take x-rays, perform an ultrasound, and take tissue biopsies.  Depending on where the biopsies are taken from, this may require sedation, or full anesthesia.  Biopsies will be reviewed by a veterinary pathologist to determine the type of cancer.

Treatment

Treatment options for cats are almost as varied as treatment options for human cancers, and will depend on the type of cancer.  Surgery is the most common treatment for any lumps or growths that need to be removed.  In some cases, surgery can be curative.  Other cancers may require chemotherapy or radiation.  Cats tend to tolerate chemotherapy much better than people, and can have good quality of life for many months and sometimes even years following treatment.  Radiation therapy may be used for tumors that can’t be removed.  This is a more stressful therapy for cats, since it will require sedation or anesthesia for each treatment.

Causes

There isn’t as much research into the causes of feline cancer as there is on the human side, but I don’t think it’s much of a leap to assume that some of the same environmental toxins that cause cancer in humans also cause cancers in our cats.  There have been some studies looking at secondhand smoke and feline cancers.  Vaccinations and other injections have been proven to be responsible for fibrosarcomas, and these findings have led to changing vaccine protocols for cats.

Prevention

While some cancers are caused by genetic mutations, there are still things cat owners can do to lessen the likelihood that their cats get the disease.

A wholesome, species-appropriate, meat-based diet is one of the most important foundations for preventing cancer, or any other health problems in cats.  A balanced grain-free raw meat or canned diet provides the best nutrition for your cat.  As obligate carnivores, cats do not need carbohydrates in their diet.  In fact, commercial dry cat foods have been linked to many of the degenerative diseases we’re seeing in cats such as diabetes, kidney failure, and inflammatory bowel disease.  The latter is often a precursor for intestinal lymphoma.  The one best thing you can do for your cat’s health is to eliminate all dry food from his diet.

Environmental toxins and stressors are also linked to cancer in humans, and probably cause cancers in cats.  Avoid exposure to commercial cleaning products and use natural products instead.  Make sure your cat always has pure (bottled or distilled) water available.  Most municipal water systems are contaminated with anything from heavy metals to chlorine.  Don’t use chemical flea and tick products on your pets, use natural alternatives instead.  Minimize vaccinations, and if your cat already has cancer, do not vaccinate the cat at all.

Cancer is a devastating disease, but early detection, combined with ever increasing treatment options, makes it possible for cats to continue to live with good quality of life.

You may also enjoy reading:

In memory of Sophia: cat owner runs half marathon to benefit cancer research

Feline nutrition: who bears the responsibility?

Photo is of Feebee, my first cat.  I lost him to lymphoma two days before his sixteenth birthday.

 

Anesthesia in veterinary dental care

Guest post by The Animal Medical Center 

When people go to a human dentist, we sit in the dentist’s chair, often time grasping the armrests tightly with white knuckles in anticipation of the procedure about to happen. When the dentist or hygienist tells us to say “ahhhhhhhh” or turn our head, or open our mouths, we may be reluctant, but we can follow their directions to facilitate their work. When they place x-ray films or digital sensors in our mouths and tell us to hold them while they walk out of the room, we do as they say.

February is Veterinary Dental Month. Our pets need the same dental care as we do; maybe more, since they don’t brush or floss twice a day. Our pets are not as cooperative when it comes to saying “ahhhhhhhh” or when it comes to following directions, yet they often experience the same anxiety as their owners when a stranger is poking and squirting things around their mouths.

There has been recent movement to perform anesthesia-free dental cleanings on veterinary patients. The rationale for performing dentistry on awake dogs and cats is that it will be cheaper for the client and safer for the patient. This movement is in direct opposition to the American Veterinary Dental College’s position statement entitled, “Companion Animal Dental Scaling without Anesthesia.”

I understand that many people are reluctant to perform proper dental procedures because of the need for general anesthesia, especially in the older patient. I am a firm believer that “age is not a disease,” and age should not be the deciding factor in determining the safety of general anesthesia for any patient. Pre-anesthesia testing can help determine the risk associated with general anesthesia and aid in the decision whether or not to perform a dental procedure. These tests help determine the function of the internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs, which are necessary to help the body safely handle anesthesia.

Proper anesthesia starts with the pre-op testing but also involves choosing the proper anesthetic drugs safest for each pet. The Animal Medical Center’s Dental Service always places an intravenous catheter to administer drugs, fluids and emergency drugs if needed. We also place an endotracheal, or breathing, tube to protect the airway and deliver the anesthetic gas and oxygen mixture to the lungs. Anesthetized dogs and cats at the AMC are connected to various monitoring equipment to measure the vital signs such as pulse rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure, electrocardiogram, and carbon dioxide levels. Finally, we monitor at regular intervals to make sure the vital signs are stable. If any painful procedures need to be performed, we also have the ability to utilize local anesthesia to minimize the amount of general anesthesia needed.

There are many advantages to performing any dental procedures under general anesthesia. First, when we scale the calculus (also known as tartar) off the teeth, there are often large or small pieces of calculus removed. If an animal is properly intubated with a breathing tube, then this calculus cannot be aspirated into the lungs or “swallowed down the wrong pipe.” The biggest advantage to working on a patient under general anesthesia is the ability to work around every side of every tooth. In the awake patient, the veterinary dentist has a very limited view of most of the teeth in the mouth. It’s easy to see the outside of the front teeth, but virtually impossible to evaluate the inside surfaces of many teeth and impossible to see many of the back teeth. A proper cleaning involves cleaning off all of the calculus from every surface of every tooth, both above and below the gum line. In the awake patient, the area below the gum line cannot be seen, yet under anesthesia it is much easier to fully visualize this area.

Once the teeth are cleaned, they need to be evaluated for periodontal disease. This involves gently probing under the gum line in several areas around each tooth in the mouth to measure periodontal pockets, or separation of the gums from the tooth root surface. Imagine trying to do this in an awake dog.

Approximately 75% of cats presenting for dental procedures have a decay of their teeth called tooth resorption. These are holes or decay in the teeth that often start at the gum line. They are quite painful and diagnosed by probing along the gum line with an instrument called an explorer. Again, this is not the type of procedure that could be tolerated by a cat without general anesthesia.

Proper dental procedures require intra-oral x-rays to make a diagnosis. A piece of film or a digital x-ray sensor is placed in the pet’s mouth. The person taking the x-ray steps out of the room and exposes the film or sensor and then walks back in the room. Not too many awake pets will tolerate this type of procedure.

Finally, with 75% of cats having tooth resorption and 80% of all dogs over the age of 5 years having periodontal disease, most veterinary dental patients need some type of surgical procedure to correct the abnormality. Finally, it is much easier to perform oral surgery when I’m not working on a moving target.

Given the complexity of the procedures necessary to clean, diagnose and treat a pet’s mouth, it is easy to understand why general anesthesia is so vital to performing proper veterinary dental care. My recommendation to anxious pet owners over the years is to use a little general anesthesia every year in order to maintain a healthy mouth, rather than wait until the mouth has severe disease and needs several hours of surgery to clean up a messy and painful mouth.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

You may also enjoy reading:

Safe Anesthesia for Pets

Caring for your cat after surgery

Preventive Dental Care for Your Cat

Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in cats.  Seventy to ninety percent of cats have some level of dental disease.  If left untreated, it can lead to health problems for your cat, ranging from bad breath, dental pain and loose teeth to systemic illnesses that can be life-threatening.

Normal teeth in cats should be white or just a little yellow.  Gums should be light pink and smooth (except in breeds with pigmented gums).

What is dental disease?

Dental disease begins with a build up of plaque and tartar in your cat’s mouth.  Without proper preventive and therapeutic care, plaque and tartar buildup leads to periodontal disease, which manifests in red and/or swollen and tender gums, bad breath, and bleeding.  When the gums are swollen, they can be painful – a good rule of thumb is that if it looks like it might be painful, it probably is.

As bacteria from the inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease is released into the bloodstream, this can lead to damage to other organs such as the heart, kidney and liver, resulting in serious health problems.  Dental disease in cats can also be an indicator of immune system disorders.

One common dental problem that generally shows up around the age of four or five in 25-70% of cats are feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, also known as neck lesions, cavities or root absorptions.    Patients affected with FORLs may drool, bleed, or have difficulty eating.  A portion of affected cats do not show clinical signs.

What are the symptoms of dental disease?

  • bad breath
  • decreased appetite
  • changes in eating habits
  • drooling
  • chewing on one side of the mouth
  • loose or missing teeth
  • red or swollen gums
  • pain when mouth or gums are touched
  • bleeding from the mouth

Since cats are such masters at hiding pain, they frequently don’t show any symptoms until the situation is literally life-threatening.  They will eat even when their level of chronic mouth pain would send a person to the emergency room.  They almost never paw at their face, even with loose or abscessed teeth.  They can get pretty smelly breath from eating cat food, so it’s tough to tell by smelling the breath whether your cat has dental disease or has just eaten.  But even though they don’t show us much in the way of outward symptoms, chronic dental/periodontal disease can cause severe and often irreversible damage to internal organs.

What can you do to prevent dental disease in your cat?

Regular veterinary exams, at least once a year, and twice a year for cats seven and older or for cats with a known history of dental problems, are a must.  During the exam, the veterinarian will assess your cat’s teeth to determine the degree of dental disease.

Since our cats won’t just sit still and open their mouths to have their teeth cleaned like humans, dental procedures for pets require general anesthesia, something that makes many pet owners nervous.  While there are always risks with anesthesia, they can be minimized with a thorough pre-anesthetic check up, including bloodwork to assess kidney and liver function and rule out other underlying health issues.  This will allow your veterinarian to customize the anesthesia to your pet’s health status and potential special needs.  Keep in mind that leaving dental disease untreated may present a far greater risk than anesthesia.

What can you do at home to keep your cat’s teeth healthy?

Brushing

The most effective way to prevent dental disease is to brush your cat’s teeth.  Ideally, you get your cat used to this when she’s still a kitten, but even older cats can learn to accept having their teeth brushed.

Diet

Contrary to what you may have heard, dry food does not clean your pet’s teeth.  Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in.  What little they do chew shatters into small pieces.  Some pet food manufacturers offer “dental diets” that are made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole.  Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

Cats do best on a grain-free canned or raw diet.  In fact, the moisture in these diets may actually help wash away some of the plaque, rather than allowing it to adhere to teeth.  Additionally, the enzymes present in raw food may help prevent plaque.  You can also give your cat raw chicken necks to chew on.  Never give cooked bones to your cat, they are brittle and can splinter and lodge in your cat’s intestines.

Dental treats 

Dental treats such as Greenies are simply dry food in disguise, and won’t do anything to prevent plaque.  The chlorophyll added to some of these treats may help your cat’s breath smell better, but this may mask more serious health problems.

Dental sprays or water additives

There are a number of dental sprays and water additives on the market that claim that they can prevent and even eliminate plaque.  Be very careful when evaluating these products.  Some may help, but others, at best, do nothing except provide cosmetic benefits by making the teeth appear whiter and masking more serious disease, and at worst, may actually harm your cat.  Any product taken internally can have harmful side effects, even if it’s “natural” or “herbal.”  Be especially wary of “proprietary formulas” and/or products that don’t disclose their ingredients.

I brush Allegra and Ruby’s teeth every night. Despite counseling clients in the veterinary clinics I worked at on how to do this, I confess that I never did it with my own cats until I got these two. I used a four-week program to get them used to having their teeth brushed, and they both took to it surprisingly well. So don’t rule out brushing your cat’s teeth with an immediate “no way” response. Give it a try. It may just be the best thing you do for your cat’s health.

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Minimizing Stress for Cats Can Decrease Illness

 

A study conducted at the Ohio State State University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that stress is not just detrimental to human health, it affects our cats’ health, too.

The 3-year-study looked at 32 cats.  Twelve of the cats were healthy, and twenty had FIC (feline interstitial cystitis), an often painful, inflammatory condition of the bladder and urinary tract.  There are multiple, sometimes unidentified causes for this condition, but stress is believed to be a component.

During the first part of the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats, including their cages, litter boxes, food, music, toys, time spent with the other cats and time spent with human caretakers.  Researchers were careful to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats.  Says Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate participating in the study:  “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats.”

When the cats were subjected to moderate stressors – and to a cat, anything from a loud noise, a dirty litter box, or unwanted attention can constitute stress – the cats would vomit, urinate or defecate outside the litter box, and eat less, according to OSU researchers.

What the study found was that during healthy and stress-free times, both healthy and affected cats got sick once a week on average.  During the weeks when their routines were changed,  the healthy cats got sick 1.9 times a week and the others twice a week.  Levels returned to normal when the stress had passed.

So what’s the take home for cat owners?  Not surprisingly, just like in people, stress causes illness in cats.  By reducing common stressors, and enriching cats’ environment, illness can be decreased.

“This study shows that an enriched environment – one that includes hiding areas, toys, bedding and other physical features, plus an everyday routine including a consistent caregiver, feeding and play times – reduces or altogether prevents some common signs of feline sickness such as decreased appetite, vomiting or eliminating outside of their litter boxes, ” said feline veterinarian Jane Brunt, a member of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson.

I thought it was particularly interesting that the researchers noted that their own stress levels also affected the cats.  I had previously written about this topic, so this aspect came as no surprise to me.  It’s also something I keep in mind when I make decisions about my home that might affect my own cats.  For several years now, I’ve been wanting to do some minor remodeling, but somehow, there always seems to be a reason to not go ahead with it.  First, Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease, and the noise and disruption associated with even minor projects would have been way too stressful for her.  You’d think that with Allegra, who’s a young, healthy cat, I could finally get some of these projects done.  But Allegra hates being closed up in a room and is afraid of loud noises.  My remodeling projects will have to wait – and that’s okay.  I’d rather keep my cats happy and as stress-free as I can and live with some outdated floors and kitchen cabinets.

Quotes from “Ohio State studies symptoms of cat stress, disease” by Sue Manning, The Associated Press

You may also enjoy reading:

Stress and your pets

How to keep your indoor cat happy

Keeping your single cat happy

Making Medical Decisions for Your Cat

During these past couple of weeks, two friends had to make difficult decisions about medical care for their cats, and it got me thinking about what a challenging task this is for so many of us.

Advances in veterinary medicine make it possible to treat medical conditions in cats that would have been a death sentence a decade ago.  From chemotherapy to kidney transplants, cats can now receive almost the same level of medical care as humans.  But just because these treatments are available doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for each cat.

To treat or not to treat: two stories

Pandora is an 18-year-old calico in chronic renal failure.  It’s unclear which stage her disease is currently in, because my friend has chosen not to pursue medical treatment beyond the basics:  Pandora is on medication to control her high blood pressure, and she gets a thorough check up every six months to monitor her lab values.  Pandora goes through phases were she doesn’t want to eat and becomes withdrawn, but so far, she has always bounced back after a few days.  My friend has chosen to keep Pandora comfortable at home, and when that’s no longer possible, she’ll be ready (or as ready as any of us will ever be) to let her go.

The decision for Bob, a 14-year-old orange tabby belonging to my friend Robin over at Covered in Cat Hair, was more difficult.  He’s FIV positive,  and a recent ultrasound showed a large mass that was wrapped around his liver.  Without a biopsy, there was no telling what was going on.  Surgery is always a risk, but especially for a senior FIV positive cat.  The surgeon told my friend that, in a worst case scenario, if it was cancer and it had spread, she needed to be prepared to authorize euthanasia while Bob was still on the table.  On the other hand, there was also a chance that the mass could be removed, and Bob could have many more months, if not years, of good quality of life.  My friend agonized over this decision, and eventually decided to have the surgery done.  The mass was removed, and as of this writing, Bob has recovered from his surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Not every cat owner would have made these decisions for their cats.  In Pandora’s case, some would choose more aggressive treatment and more frequent visits to the vet, and possibly hospitalization for IV fluids.  In Bob’s case, some would have elected to forgo surgery and just let him live out however much time he may have left without intervention.  These situations are never black and white, and there is no one right decision.  The only wrong decision in these cases would be indecision when it translates into pain and suffering for the cat.

So what factors should a cat owner take into account when faced with making medical decisions?

Get the facts first

The most important thing is to get all the facts first.  Be sure you understand the medical condition your cat is dealing with.  It can be difficult to know what questions to ask your veterinarian when faced with a frightening diagnosis, so don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions once you’ve had a chance to process the initial information.  Make sure you understand all the treatment options, along with cost, side effects, and prognosis for each option.  Get a second opinion and/or go see a specialist if you’re not comfortable with what your veterinarian tells you.

By all means, research your cat’s condition on the internet, but use common sense and look for sites that present facts and not just anecdotes and opinions.  Dr. Nancy Kay, the author of Speaking for Spot:  Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Healthy, Happy, Longer Life has written a series of fantastic articles about how to find accurate pet health information on the internet.

A personal decision

Once you understand the medical facts, the decision becomes more personal.  Factors that come into play are your cat’s temperament, your comfort level with providing any follow up care that may be required at home, and your finances.

In my years of managing a veterinary practice, a question many clients often asked was “what would you do if it was your cat?”  I wish I could have answered it, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because, first of all, I’m not a veterinarian.  I also couldn’t have answered it because what I would do for my cat could be completely wrong for the client’s cat.

But after having faced having to make difficult decisions for two of my cats in recent years, I now have an answer I would give these clients.  For me, it comes down to this:  Listen to your heart.  After weighing all the factors, try to set aside your fear and worry for your cat long enough to connect with your center.  Some call it gut instinct, or intuition.  And then make the best possible decision for your cat.  Because when it comes down to it, the one thing you know better than all the veterinarians in the world combined is your cat.

Photo of Bob by Robin A.F. Olson, used with permission.  Bob passed away peacefully, surrounded by those he loved, in September of 2011.

7 Tips for a Healthy, Happy New Year for Cats and Their Humans

cat-clover-grass

Happy New Year to all of you!  Thanks to your support, The Conscious Cat is growing rapidly. We have some exciting new things in mind for the new year, and we’re looking forward to continue to bring you all the information you need to keep your cats (and yourself) happy and healthy.

The seven tips listed below will get your year off to a good start and help make this your best year yet, for you and your cats!

1.  Feed a species appropriate diet

Nutrition is the foundation for good health. Cats are obligate carnivores and they need meat to thrive.  If you’re not already feeding a raw or grain-free canned diet, consider making this the year you make the switch. Your cats will thank you for it. You’ll find a wealth of information on feline nutrition, and on how to switch your cat to a healthier diet, right here on The Conscious Cat.

2.  Regular veterinary check ups

The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends a minimum of annual wellness examinations for all cats in its Feline Life Stage Guidelines. According to the guidelines, “semi-annual wellness exams are often recommended for all feline life stages by veterinarians and veterinary organizations.Their reasoning includes the fact that changes in health status may occur in a short period of time; that ill cats often show no signs of disease; and that earlier detection of ill health, body weight changes, dental disease, and so on, allows for earlier intervention.”

3.  Keep your cat’s teeth healthy

Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem for cats, and, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems including heart, kidney and liver disease. For more on why good dental health is so important for your cat, click here.

4.  Regular playtime

Make time to play with your cats. Regular playtime will not only keep your cat happy, it’s also a wonderful time for you to bond with your cat, and it helps you relieve your stress. Additionally, it provides exercise for kitty. Interactive toys make playtime fun for both of you. Consider puzzle toys for the times when you can’t play with your cats.

5.  Meditate with your cat

The benefits of meditation for humans have been scientifically proven. It just so happens that cats make the ideal meditation companion. For more on how to meditate with your cat, click here.

6.  Educate yourself about cat health

You are your cat’s guardian when it comes to health issues, and the more you know, the better off your cat will be.  You can count on us to bring you the latest information on everything you need to know to keep your cats happy and healthy.

7.  Do something for less fortunate cats

Helping others is an integral part of a life well lived, and it’s good for your health.  Even though we’d like to be able to, we can’t save every cat in need of a home, but there are things you can do to help, from donating money to your favorite shelter, to fostering cats for a local rescue, to volunteering time at a shelter to give the cats some love and attention.

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Trim Your Cat’s Nails the Right Way, and Nobody Gets Hurt

Allegra and I are getting mother daughter pedicures today.  I’ll be going to my local nail salon.  Allegra’s nail technician makes a house call.  Yes, I admit it:  despite trimming countless cats’ nails as a veterinary assistant, and educating clients on how to do it, I can’t trim Allegra’s nails  without having someone help me.

Cats’ nails, especially when they’re kittens, are very sharp, and they don’t just hurt when they’re used on you, they can also damage furniture and carpet.  Having plenty of scratching posts and training your cats to use them will help with that aspect, but keeping cats’ nails trimmed is important for other reasons.  Cats’ nails grow very fast, and if not trimmed, can grow into the pads of the paws, which is a very painful condition that will require veterinary attention.

The time to get your cat used to having her nails trimmed is when she’s a kitten.  Play with her paws, squeeze the paw pads, touch the nails, but stop as soon as the kitten fights you or starts to bite at your hand.  Eventually, as the kitten gets used to having her paws handled, you can start using nail trimmers especially designed for pets.  Do not use scissors, they can split your cat’s nails.  You’ll also want to have some styptic powder on hand in case you cut the nails too short and make the quicks bleed.  If you don’t have styptic powder, a black (caffeinated) tea bag applied with gentle pressure works equally well.  To avoid cutting the quick, clip only the tip of the nail; when in doubt, err on the side of caution and take off  less than you think you can.  You’re better off doing more frequent nail trims than making it a painful experience your cat will dread every time she sees you bringing out the nail clippers.  You may only be able to do one or two nails at a time – always stop when the cat starts resisting or struggling.

If you’ve tried the desensitization approach and your cat still won’t let you trim her nails, there are several options.  You can try wrapping your cat in a towel (the kitty burrito approach), exposing one leg at a time.  You can get someone to help you, so one of you can restrain the cat while the other person trims the nails.  Make sure that your helper knows how to properly and safely restrain a cat.  And of course, you can also take your cat to your veterinary clinic for her pedicure.

An alternative to nail trims are soft nail caps that are glued onto the cat’s claws so they can’t do any damage when the cat scratches.  You can do this yourself, or have it done at your veterinary clinic.  I’m not a fan of these nail caps.  The cat’s paws will still have to be handled to apply the caps, and nails have to be trimmed prior to application, so if you’re able to do that, then why not just trim the cat’s nails, period.  Additionally, once the caps are on, cats won’t be able to retract their claws, and I can’t imagine that feels very good to them.

I tried the desensitization approach described above with Allegra when I adopted her at seven months old – with very little success.  She was a play biter and touching her feet only encouraged her to bite.  I was using multiple behavior modification methods to get her to stop biting, and I realized I was pushing my luck trying to get her used to nail trims until I had addressed her other issues.  So for now, a friend helps me, and nail trims take 30 seconds for all four paws.  There are plenty of treats afterwards (for Allegra, and for my friend, too).

How do your cats feel about having their nails trimmed?

Pain management for cats

Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

None of us want to think that our cats might be in pain. And no responsible and caring cat owner would refuse to provide his/her cat with pain relief. However, pain is not always as easy to recognize in cats as one might think.

Recognizing Feline Pain

It makes sense, from a logical perspective, that if your cat has just had surgery or is recovering from an injury, he is likely to be painful. But how can a cat owner evaluate how much pain the cat is experiencing?

And what about chronic pain? Do you think you would easily recognize that your cat is suffering from arthritis? It is estimated that as many as 80-90% of senior cats show radiographic evidence of arthritis. However, very few cat owners recognize that their older cat may actually be painful from arthritis. Worse, many veterinarians overlook this possibility as well.

One of the problems in evaluating feline pain is that cats are so good at masking their symptoms. If your cat is experiencing a great deal of pain, it may be immediately obvious to you. However, especially in more chronic diseases like arthritis, the signs of pain may be very subtle and difficult to spot even for the most observant of cat owners.

What are the signs that you may see if your cat is painful?

  • Crying or vocalizing
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to sleep or rest comfortably
  • Soiling outside the litter box
  • Seeking solitude
  • Seeking extra attention
  • Experiencing pain when handled or held
  • Licking or chewing at the painful area
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • A sudden or gradual change in behavior

The Importance of Treating Pain in Cats – Why Is Pain Control Important? 

Of course, the obvious answer is that you should manage your cat’s pain because pain hurts. However, the problem actually goes much deeper than that. Being in pain will not only cause discomfort for your cat, but it can also have a deleterious effect on your cat’s health.

Pain can adversely affect your cat’s body by causing stress and resulting in a number of physiological changes. Ultimately, pain can delay wound healing, can affect major organ systems (such as the muscles and kidneys), can alter your cat’s ability to metabolize nutrients and can inflict emotional damage on your cat.

In the worst case scenario, pain can cause a cat to become so unresponsive and so depressed that a decision to euthanize may be reached erroneously assuming that the cat’s condition is not improving and is beyond hope.

If there is any doubt about whether your cat is in pain, some form of pain management is in order.

Methods to Control Pain for Your Cat 

There are many different ways to treat pain and the solution for your cat will depend on your cat’s individual situation and health.

In most cases, pain control should be multi-faceted, involving more than one form of pain medication or pain control technique. In this way, drug doses can often be reduced to safer levels and different parts of the “pain cascade” can be targeted, resulting in more effective pain control.

Some of the drugs commonly used in controlling pain in cats are:

  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Butorphanol (very short acting pain relief)
  • NSAIDS (such as meloxicam) – the use of these drugs is controversial in cats
  • Gabapentin
  • Amitryptiline
  • Amantadine

Other forms of pain control that may be used in cats include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Laser therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

These forms of pain control can be coupled with pain medications to provide more complete pain relief. In addition, pain medications can often be used in tandem also. For instance, buprenorphine may be combined with an NSAID to assure adequate pain control.

A note about aspirin and acetaminophen is warranted here. These drugs are not generally used for pain control in cats and should never be given unless advised by your veterinarian to do so. Aspirin does have some uses in cats but the dosage strength and dosing interval is much different in cats than in people. Acetaminophen and aspirin both have the potential to be toxic to cats. Both of these drugs can cause fatal toxicities.

By recognizing that cats suffer pain in much the same way humans do and being able to recognize the signs of pain in your cat, you will be better prepared to determine if your cat requires pain control. Providing adequate and complete pain control will not only make your cat more comfortable, but it will also help your cat heal faster and keep him healthier.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

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 by Kim Newburg, Public Domain Pictures

Caring for Your Cat After Surgery

The only surgery for most cats, if they’re lucky, will be their spay or neuter surgery.  But as cats get better care, and potential problems are diagnosed earlier, they may also need surgery for other conditions.  According to Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a feline veterinarian who owns and operates Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City, “the most common surgeries we perform, after spays and neuters, would be removal of skin lumps or masses. Bladder stone removal would also be high on our list.”

Regardless of the type of surgery, caring for your cat after surgery can be a challenge.  Cats may be uncomfortable, experience pain, and their ability to move around freely may need to be temporarily restricted.  Knowing what to expect, and what to watch out for, can make caring for your cat after surgery less stressful for you and help your cat recover faster.

Talk to your veterinarian before and after the surgery  

Make sure you understand the type of surgery your pet needs, as well as any pre-surgical requirements such as withholding food the night before.  Find out what the expectations for recovery are.  This will depend on the type of surgery, and your cat’s age and health status.   Will your cat need to spend the night at the veterinary hospital, or will you be able to bring her home the same day?  Dr. Plotnick sends most  of his surgical patients home the same day, only about a third may need to spend the night.

Ask your veterinarian about post-surgical care instructions.  If your cat requires medication such as antibiotics or pain medication, make sure that you know how, and how frequently to give the medication, and what to do if you miss a dose.  Ask whether the medication has any side effects so you know what to expect.

Discuss financial arrangements prior to the surgery so that you don’t experience “sticker shock” when you pick up your cat.  Most veterinarians will provide you with an estimate for their services.

Provide a safe and quiet place for your cat

Cats may still be a little groggy after anesthesia, and they’ll need a quiet place to rest.  You may need to keep them away from other pets or small children.  You may want to set aside a bedroom or bathroom, instead of giving the cat full run of the house right away.  Put soft blankets or your cat’s favorite bed in the room, and make sure your cat has easy access to a litter box and to water.

Keep an eye on the incision site

Most cats will try to lick the area, and in the process, may chew or rip out their stitches or staples.  While licking and biting at the incision site is a natural healing process for cats, if you notice that the stitches are coming loose, you will need to put an E-collar (Elizabethan collar) on your cat.  Traditionally, these collars were made out of hard, cone-shaped plastic, which made simple actions such as eating, drinking, sleeping and even walking up and down stairs difficult and uncomfortable for cats.  Thankfully, there is now an alternative to these collars.  The Trimline Veterinary Recovery Collar is a soft, lightweight and flexible Elizabethan-style collar that provides a barrier to the treatment area from licking and biting, while still allowing pets to move around comfortably and easily.

Not all surgical patients will need E-collars.  Dr. Plotnick only sends E-collars with cats whose  sutures are placed in a location where they could be chewed out or traumatized by a paw.  “For example,” says Dr. Plotnick, “when doing a delicate eyelid surgery, you don’t want the cat to rub hereye and damage the incision, so an Elizabethan collar is often placed on these cats.”  Dr. Plotnick likes the Trimline collars “because they’re softer and more comfortable. I like that, in some instances, you can fold them down, so that they point toward the body (rather than up as a cone around the head). When they’re directed down, toward the body, cats can eat more comfortably and they still have their full peripheral vision.”

Watch for any redness, swelling or discharge from the incision.  Call your veterinarian if any of these are present.

Watch for any signs of pain

Cats are masters at hiding pain.  The instinct to hide pain is a legacy of cats’ wild origins. In the wild, an animal that appears to be sick or disabled is vulnerable to attack from predators, and survival instinct dictates to act as if nothing is wrong, even when something most definitely is.

A good rule of thumb is that a procedure that is painful for humans will also be painful for cats.  Some signs to look for that may indicate that your cat is in pain are behavior changes (quieter than normal, hiding, pacing, aggression), decreased or no appetite, increased respiratory rate, or vocalization.

Pain control is important – not just because you don’t want your cat to hurt, but because pain causes stress in the body and stress slows down the healing process.  Pain management should never be optional, but rather, an integral part of managing a surgical patient.

It’s always upsetting when your cat is facing surgery, but knowing what to expect, and how to care for your cat after the surgery can make it a less stressful experience for cat and guardian.

Trimline Recovery Collars are available from Amazon.

Photo provided by Trimline Recovery Collars, used with permission.

The information shared in this post, and on this website,
is not a substitute for veterinary care.