Feline Health

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Diet

Far too many cat parents accept occasional, or even chronic, vomiting and diarrhea as a fact of life with cats.  Cats just do that sometimes, don’t they?  Well, no.  Healthy cats don’t vomit on a regular basis, nor do they have diarrhea.  Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and, if left untreated, can become life threatening.

The most common cause of gastrointestinal problems for cats is Inflammatory Bowel Disease.   Although cats of all ages can be affected, it is typically seen in middle-aged or older cats.  The term IBD is used for a number of chronic gastrointestinal disorders.  Physiologically, it is characterized by an infiltration of inflammatory cells into the lining of the digestive tract.   The location of the inflammation can help determine the specific type of IBD.

Symptoms of IBD

Symptoms most typically include chronic vomiting and diarrhea, but sometimes, constipation can also be a problem.  Some cats present with weight loss as the only clinical sign.

Diagnosis of IBD

To rule out other causes of gastrointestinal problems, your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests that may include complete blood cell counts, blood chemistry, thyroid function tests, urinalysis, fecal analysis, abdominal x-rays, and ultrasound.  The most definitive way to diagnose IBD is through biopsies of small samples of the intestinal lining.  These samples can be obtained through endoscopy or abdominal surgery.  These procedures require general anesthesia.

Medical Treatment

IBD is usually treated with a combination of medical and dietary therapy.  Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant properties, and they can also serve as an appetite stimulant.  However, steroid therapy carries serious longterm side-effects.

The Diet Connection

There are commercially manufactured diets available for the treatment of IBD, most of them containing so-called “novel proteins,” ie., proteins that the cat may not have been exposed to before such as rabbit, venison, and duck.  (We used to call them the “Disney diets” when I still worked at a veterinary clinic – Thumper, Bambi and Donald…).

However, increasingly, holistically oriented veterinarians are seeing a connection between diet and IBD.  These vets believe that commercial pet foods, especially dry foods, are a contributing factor to the large numbers of cats with chronic IBD.  They also discovered that many cats improve by simply changing their diets to a balanced grain-free raw meat diet.  Similar results may be achieved with a grain-free canned diet, but a raw diet seems to lead to quicker and better results.

Vomiting and diarrhea are not something you, and your cat, should learn to live with.  Take your cat to a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.  After ruling out other conditions or diseases as causes, the solution might just be something as simple as changing your cat’s diet.

Photo by Kim Newberg, Public Domain Pictures

New Dr. Goodpet banner

 

Hyperthyroidism in Cats

Hyperthyroidism is a common disease that typically affects middle-aged and older cats.  It is caused by an excess production of thyroid hormones, which are produced by the thyroid gland, located inside the cat’s neck.  Thyroid hormones affect nearly all organs, which is why thyroid disease can sometimes cause secondary problems such as hypertension, heart and kidney disease. 

What causes hyperthyroidism?

The most common cause is an increase in the number of cells in the thyroid gland.  Groups of these abnormal cells form small nodules called adenomas on the gland.  Most of these adenomas are formed by non-cancerous cells, only a very small percentage of hyperthyroidism is caused by malignant tumors.

More recently, there has been speculation on a possible link of an increase in thyroid disease in cats and the coating used on cat food cans.  Another theory is that flame retardants used in furniture and carpeting may be linked to hyperthyroidism in cats.

What are the signs of hperthyroidism?

Afflicted cats often develop a variety of signs, and some of them can be subtle.  The most common signs are weight loss, increased appetite without weight gain, and increased thirst and urination.  Hyperthyroidism can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, and hyper-activity.  The haircoat may become matted and dull.  Some cats will begin to vocalize more frequently.  Rapid heart rates are common, and cats can also present with heart murmurs and high blood pressure.

How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?

You cat’s veterinarian will perform a physical exam and palpate externally alongside the trachea with thumb and forefinger to feel for any enlargement of the thyroid gland.  Heart rate and blood pressure will be checked, and a complete blood chemistry will be run.  Most hyperthyroid cats will have elevated levels of the thyroid hormone T4 in their blood stream.  However, sometimes a cat with concurrent kidney, heart or gastrointestinal disease may have normal T4 levels.  If other symptoms and exam findings point to hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian may order additional testing to arrive at a diagnosis.

How is hyperthyroidism treated?

There are currently three treatment options:  medication, surgery, and radioactive iodine therapy.  Each option comes with advantages and disadvantages, and you should carefully weigh all options and make the best decision for your cat and your lifestyle in conjunction with your veterinarian.

Medication

Drug therapy, using a drug called methimazole (Tapazole), controls, but does not cure the disease.   It is typically given twice a day in either pill form or as a transdermal gel that is rubbed on the inside of the cat’s ear.  Methimazole therapy will be required for the rest of the cat’s life.   While some cats tolerate the drug well, it can have serious side effects including elevation of liver enzymes, low white blood cell counts, low platelet counts, itchiness of the face, and gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting and loss of appetite. If these signs occur, the medication has to be discontinued and other treatment pursued.

Surgery

Surgical removal of the thyroid gland is an option, although many hyperthyroid cats won’t be good candidates for surgery due to the anesthetic risk caused by their elevated heart rates.  Even though removal of the thyroid gland is a fairly straightfoward procedure, it should only be done by an experienced surgeon, since there are potentially serious complications, including damage to the parathyroid glands, which lie close to or within the thyroid glands and are crucial in maintaining stable blood-calcium levels.

Radioactive Iodine

Radioactive Iodine, also called I-131, is the gold standard for treating hyperthyroid cats.  It involves a one-time injection of radioactive iodine under the skin.  The radioactive iodine will destroy the abnormal thyroid tissue but does not damage the surrounding tissue or the parathyroid gland.  The cat will have to remain hospitalized for a specified period of time (typically 3-10 days, depending on geographical location, the length of the stay is regulated on the state level).  It will be released with some special care instructions, such as limiting contact with the cat and special disposal of urine and feces for a few days following treatments.  The treatment is only available at special facilities that are typically found at large veterinary referral centers, and is somewhat costly, but it is curative, and needs to be weighed against the cost of lifelong medication.

Regardless of which treatment is chosen, unless there are other, underlying diseases complicating things, treatment is usually successful and most cats will lead normal, healthy lives.

The photo above is of Amber, taken the day she went for her radioactive iodine treatment at Radiocat in Springfield, VA.

National Take Your Cat to the Vet Week

August 16 through 22 is National Take Your Cat to the Vet Week.  This event was created by the makers of Feline Pine, a natural cat litter, to raise awareness, together with veterinarians nationwide, that cats need annual veterinary examinations just as much as dogs do.  According to statistics, cats are substantially underserved when it comes to veterinary care.  Even though cat owners consider their cats just as much members of the family as dog owners do, a 2006 study showed that dogs were taken to veterinarians more than twice as often as cats, averaging 2.3 times/year, compared with 1.1 times/year for cats, and significantly more dogs (58%) than cats (28%) were seen by a veterinarian one or more times/year.  Cat owners often express a belief that cats “do not need medical care.”   According to Dr. Michele Gaspar, DVM, DABVP (Feline), Feline Pine’s in house veterinarian, “there is a misconception that cats are independent and they don’t need the level of care that dogs do.  Cats also don’t show disease well. We can have cats who look normal but they are covering up a serious illness.”

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. In addition, semi-annual exams allow for more frequent communication with the owner regarding behavioral and attitudinal changes, and education about preventive health care.”

Veterinary care is not inexpensive, but is is a fact of life of being a responsible pet parent.  By taking your cat for regular check ups, you may avoid not only higher veterinary bills in the long run, but more importantly, you will ensure that your cat will live a long, healthy life.

Feline Heartworm Disease

Most people think of heartworm disease as a problem that affects only dogs, but even though cats are more resistant hosts to heartworms, and they typically have fewer and smaller worms than dogs with a shorter lifespan, it is considered a more serious threat in cats and can lead to significant pulmonary damage and even sudden death.

What causes heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite that is carried by mosquitoes, and cats become infected when a mosquito bites into a cat for a blood meal and deposits heartworm larvae into the cat’s bloodstream.  These larvae migrate and mature through several lifestages into adult worms.  At about 3-4 months, they usually settle into the arteries and blood vessels of the cat’s lungs, where they continue to mature into adult worms for another 4-5 months.  Worms do not have to develop into adults to cause symptoms.

Which cats can be affected?

While outdoor cats are more susceptible, even indoor cats can be affected (all it takes is one mosquito bite).  Studies have shown infection rates as high as 10-14% in endemic areas.

What are the clinical signs of heartworm infection?

Symptoms can be non-specific and are often similar to those of other feline diseases.  Affected cats may exhibit general signs of illness such as intermittent vomiting, lack of appetite, coughing, and asthma-like signs such as difficulty breathing or wheezing.  Some cats may show acute symptoms, often related to the organs where the adult worms are thriving.  Cats with an acute onset of symptoms may die quickly without allowing sufficient time for diagnosis or treatment.

How is heartworm disease diagnosed?

Heartworm disease in cats is much harder to diagnose than in dogs, once again proving the old adage that cats are not small dogs.  Physical examination will often be non-specific.  Further diagnostics may include x-rays, echocardiogram, and blood testing.   Diagnostics have limitations, and sometimes, even a negative test cannot rule out infection.

How is heartworm disease treated?

Currently, there are no medications approved in the United States for treatment of feline heartworm disease.  Cats who don’t show any clinical signs will often simply be monitored periodically and given time for a spontaneous cure.  Monitoring through x-rays every 6-12 months may be all that is needed.  If there is evidence of the disease in the lungs or blood vessels, treatment is generally focused on supportive care, sometimes using gradually decreasing doses of prednisone, a steroid.  Cats with severe manifestation of infection may require additional supportive care such as intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, antibiotics, cardiovascular drugs, and restricted activity through cage confinement.

Can heartworm disease be prevented?

Currently, there are four heartworm preventive products approved for use in cats:  Heartguard for Cats (Merial), Revolution (Pfizer), and Advantage Multi for Cats (Bayer).  Heartguard is taken orally, Revolution and Advantage are topical products.  All of these products come with known side-effects, and deciding whether to use them for your cat will require an informed risk assessment in conjunction with your veterinarian.   It is recommended that cats are tested for antibodies and antigens prior to beginning use of these preventatives.  Never give heartworm or any other parasite prevention product for dogs to cats.

As with all parasites, it is believed that a healthy immune system makes cats more resistant to them.  A healthy diet is key to a healthy immune system.  Feeding a species-appropriate grain-free canned or raw diet may help prevent heartworms and other parasites.

New Dr. Goodpet banner

How to Control Fleas Without Chemicals

Many of the flea and tick treatments available today contain toxic chemicals that can be hazardous to pets and to people. Even when these products are used according to the manufacturer’s directions, these chemicals are not safe for pets or humans. The Environmental Protection Agency, in coordination with the Food and Drug Administrations Center for Veterinary Medicine, is pursuing a series of actions to increase the safety of spot-on products for pets. These actions are designed to help consumers use these pesticides safely. However, many pet owners prefer to not use these products at all and are looking for safer, more natural alternatives instead.

There are safer, natural ways to control fleas. They may require a bit more effort on your part, but isn’t that effort worth it if it’s safer for you and your pet?

Combing

Use a good flea comb with tightly spaced teeth. Comb your pet daily during flea season and drop any fleas you find into a bowl of soapy water to kill them.

Bathing

Bathe your pet with a gentle shampoo such as oatmeal. You don’t need to use harsh flea shampoos – most of them have chemicals in them, which is what you’re trying to avoid by not using the pesticide spot-ons in the first place.  Fleas tend to accummulate in bedding, so wash your pet’s bedding as well.

Vacuuming

Vacuum thoroughly, including on and under furniture and in crevices and near baseboards. Discard the vacuum bag immediately after vacuuming to prevent fleas and eggs from reinfesting your home. Severe infestations may require professional steam cleaning.

Diet

Feeding a high quality, varied diet can help prevent fleas. A stronger diet leads to a stronger immune system, and it is believed that this can contribute to your pet being more resistant to fleas. Pet owners who feed raw or homemade diets have reported that their pets no longer have flea problems.

Maintain Outdoor Areas

Keep your grass mowed and keep shrubbery trimmed short in areas where your pet spends time. This will increase sunlight and dryness, which will help reduce the flea problem. Sprinkle diatomaceous earth in your yard to cut down on the flea population. Diatomaceous earth also makes a great natural pantry bug killer, it works for all insects. It’s reported to be safe around pets, but don’t sprinkle it directly on your pet. Be sure to use “food grade” diatomaceous earth only.

Natural Flea Control Products

There are numerous natural flea control products on the market, but not all of them are safe for pets.  In particular, avoid using products containing essential oils such as Pennyroyal, Tea Tree or Citrus oils.  None of these are safe to use around pets, especially around cats. Some manufacturers of essential oils claim that their oils are pure and safe to use around cats, but quite frankly, I wouldn’t take any chances on statements of that nature unless they’re backed up by research by an independent toxicologist.

The National Resource Defense Concil’s Green Paws website has a comprehensive directory of flea and tick products, including natural products, and lists ingredients and toxicity warnings.

If you’re using natural products to control fleas for your pets, please share with us what has worked for you in a comment.

Warning: Garlic is highly toxic to cats

Editors  Note: Multiple comments have suggested using garlic to prevent fleas. While it is true that fleas dislike the taste of garlic, it is highly toxic to cats. Garlic, as well as onions, shallots and chives, has been shown to cause damage to feline red blood cells which can result in hemolytic anemia and eventual death.

New Dr. Goodpet banner

Providing Hospice Care for Cats

hospice_care_for_cats

As veterinary care for cats is becoming more and more sophisticated and as more cat guardians understand the importance of  a lifetime of preventive care, cats live longer lives.  But despite all of that, cats still get sick, and when they do, there are often numerous treatment options.   However, some illnesses are considered terminal, and in the past, euthanasia was often the only option pet guardians would consider at that stage.  An alternative to premature euthanasia that is garnering more attention in the world of pet care is hospice care.

Hospice care is about providing good quality of life

The definition of a terminal illness is an illness for which there is no cure.  It is an active, progressive, irreversible illness with a fatal prognosis.  Hospice care provides a loving alternative to prolonged suffering and is designed to give supportive care to cats in the final phase of a terminal illness.  The goal is to keep the cat comfortable and free of pain, with a focus on quality of life and living each day as fully as possible.

The decision to stop treatment and begin hospice care can be made at any point in the progression of a terminal illness.   Decisions may range from choosing to forego aggressive surgery after receiving a cancer diagnosis because of a poor prognosis, discontinuing chemotherapy or radiation because the cat is either not responding or is dealing with side-effects that are rapidly diminishing his quality of life, or discontinuing medications because medicating the cat is difficult or impossible for the cat owner.  Rather than opting for euthanasia, cat owners may choose to provide hospice care for their cat.

Hospice care is not about giving up

Hospice care is not a last resort, and is not about giving up, or about dying.  It’s about finding ways to live with a terminal illness, and it may actually involve providing more care and not less.  The decision to provide hospice care should be made in conjunction with your veterinarian, who will become an integral partner in the process.

What does hospice care involve?

Hospice care involves the following:

  • Comfort:  Provide clean, soft bedding with easy access to food, litter boxes, favorite sleeping spots and interaction with family members.  Handle cats gently because many terminal medical conditions create discomfort and pain.
  • Nutrition and Hydration:  Provide easy access to food and water.  You may need to experiment with special foods to tempt ill cats.  In addition to feeding a high quality, grain-free canned or raw (if you cat is immunocompromised, raw food is not recommended) diet, you may need to offer foods such as meat-based baby food (make sure that there is no onion powder in the brand you buy), tuna juice or flakes of tuna spread on top of the cat’s regular food, and slightly warming the food to increase palatability. Make sure the cat always has fresh water available.
  • Cleanliness:  Sick cats may not be able to groom themselves.  Assist your cat with this by gently brushing, and keeping eyes, ears, the area around the mouth and around the rectum and genetalia clean if she can’t do it by herself anymore.
  • Pain Management:  Cats are good at hiding pain.  Watch your cat for signs of pain – subtle signs may involve hiding, avoiding contact with family members, or changes in sleeping positions.  Rarely will cats vocalize when they’re in pain.  Work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate pain control program for your cat.
  • Holistic Therapies:  There are many non-invasive, gentle holistic therapies that can provide relief to terminally ill cats.  Energy therapies such as Reiki, Healing Touch, Tellington Touch and others are particularly effective.

A time of peace for cat and human

Despite the logistic and emotional challenges hospice care presents for cats and their humans, it can also be a time of great peace and increased bonding with your beloved feline companion.  It also allows for a gentle preparation  for the impending loss for both cat and human.   Diagnosis of a terminal illness does not have to be the end – it can be the beginning of a deepening, peaceful, final phase of life for both cat and human.

Emergency Preparedness for Your Pet: 8 Things I Learned from 8 State Hurricane Kate

Guest Post by Jenny Pavlovic

8 State Hurricane Kate, an old Australian Cattle Dog, was rescued in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. I met her at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales, LA, where rescued animals were taken for care and shelter, almost three weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Her paperwork said that she was rescued from a rooftop nine days after Katrina, with no known ID or address. She was lost, down for the count, and quickly running out of options, so I decided to foster her. When we had to evacuate for Hurricane Rita, I drove 1,200 miles home to Minnesota with Kate in the back seat. We traveled through eight states, which is how she got her name. I listed her on Petfinder and went to great lengths to find out where she came from. I even posted this “Do You Know This Dog?” video on YouTube.  Yet now, almost 5 years after Hurricane Katrina, I still don’t know what her life was like before August 29th, 2005. Somebody must still wonder what became of her.

Kate was a dog, but her story holds valuable lessons for cats and other animals as well.  All that I learned from my journey with Kate inspired me to write the Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book, to keep all of my dogs’ information in one place, for daily use, travel, and emergencies. This book includes important information from Noah’s Wish, a group dedicated to taking care of animals in disasters.  The following tips can help keep you and your pets safer and happier.

8 Things I Learned from 8 State Kate

1. Microchip your pet. We learned after Katrina how easily lost pets can lose their collars and ID tags. A microchip implanted under the pet’s skin is the only sure way to have permanent ID and to verify ownership. A microchip is a small electronic chip with a unique ID number, in a capsule about the size of a grain of rice. Once implanted, the chip is read by a hand-held scanner and the microchip company is notified of the ID number. You need to register your contact information with the microchip company so they can use the ID number to reach you. A microchip will only reunite you with your pet if the company knows how to reach you. You may also register the microchip and your information at http://www.petlink.net/, a 24-7 registry and recovery service. Even if your pet never leaves the house, I recommend a microchip. A flood, tornado, hurricane, or even a surprise bolt out the door can separate you. A cat that carries no other ID is especially vulnerable without a microchip. Some communities now offer single-fee lifetime licensing for pets that are microchipped. 

2. Keep good pet records, including a current photo of you with your pet (to verify ownership) and photos of your pet’s unique identifying characteristics (markings, scars, etc.). Store your pet’s vet, food and medication records in one place (like the Not Without My Dog book). Include information like the pet’s daily routine, words the pet knows, and other tips that would be useful to someone taking care of your pet in an emergency situation. Make sure a designated family member, friend or neighbor knows where your pet’s information is stored, in case something happens to you. 

3. Make a disaster plan for your family and pets. Be aware of the most likely disasters in your area: floods, fires, tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, chemical spills, etc. Be prepared to survive without outside assistance if you must stay in your home during a natural disaster. Prepare a disaster kit to meet the basic needs of your family and pets for three days or more. Store it in waterproof containers that are easily accessible. Know the local evacuation routes and where you will take your pets if you must leave your home. Do not leave your pets behind. Know how you will transport them and where you will go. Have plan A, B, and C destinations (emergency shelters for people most often do not allow pets). http://www.petswelcome.com/, and http://www.pet-friendly-hotels.net/ may provide helpful information, but remember that hotels may fill quickly in a disaster situation. Does your family, including pets, fit in one vehicle? If not, how will you transport everyone to safety? Do you have carriers, leashes, and harnesses for all of your pets? 

4. Have a family communication plan in case a disaster occurs while you’re separated at work and school. Know where your family will meet if you can’t reach each other by phone. If all family members are away from home during the day, identify a neighbor or petsitter who will get to your pets quickly if they need help. It’s better to ask for help now than to be without a plan. 

5. Make sure your pets are properly vaccinated and treated for fleas and ticks, and on heartworm preventative. Healthy pets are better prepared to survive anything, including possible displacement, and housing with other animals. Accepted vaccination protocols are changing and some over-the-counter flea and tick treatments are not approved by veterinarians. Do your own research and decide what is best for your pet. 

6. Train and socialize your pets. A positively trained pet will be more comfortable and less likely to get lost. Socialize dogs and cats so they’ll be confident (not fearful) in different situations. Make sure your pets are comfortable riding in their carriers in the car and know how to walk on a leash/harness. Teach your pets to wait before jumping out of the car (after a pause, give them a treat). You may think that you can’t train a cat. But I used to have a cat that came when I called “Come get a fishy treat!” because I always produced a “fishy treat” when she arrived (ok, maybe she was training me!). This trick can help you find a pet that’s hiding under a foundation or lost in the neighborhood. 

7. Tune in to your pets. They’re tuned in to you. Give them opportunities to do what they were bred to do. Help them relax and be confident. Appreciate them for who they are. The more connected you are to your pets, the better you will weather anything together. 

8. Be resilient. An old girl who has lost everything can recover with dignity and grace, and be happy. Kate taught me this too.  

Jenny Pavlovic is the author of the award-winning 8 State Hurricane Kate: The Journey and Legacy of a Katrina Cattle Dog and the new Not Without My Dog Resource & Record Book. There just may be a Not Without My Cat Resource & Record Book in her future.  You can learn more about Jenny on her website or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.   (Photo credit:  LS Originals of Fridley, Minnesota)

Read my review of 8 State Hurricane Kate here.

FIV: Separating Myth from Fact

FIV_separating_myth_from_fact

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is an often misunderstood condition.  According to the Feline Health Center at Cornell University, the virus affects approximately 1.5 to 3 percent of healthy cats in the United States, with slighly higher rates in cats that are sick or at high risk for infection.  FIV is a lentivirus, which means it moves very slowly, and it gradually affects a cat’s immune system.  It is passed from cat to cat through blood transfusions and serious, penetrating bite wounds.   FIV cannot be transmitted to humans.

There are a lot of misconceptions about this virus, and contrary to what many people believe, FIV cats can live long, healthy lives if cared for properly.  My former office cat, Virginia, lived to be 14, despite her FIV positive status.  This article hopes to dispel some of the myths surrounding this virus and provide a better understanding both for those who live with an FIV positive cat, but also for the many FIV positive cats in shelters and with private rescues who are looking for loving homes.  The fact that a cat has the virus should not automatically eliminate her from being considered for adoption!

Myth:  FIV can be spread through casual contact, such as cats sharing the same food or water bowls, or cats grooming each other.

Fact:  FIV is transmitted primarily through deep, penetrating bite wounds.  Casual, non-aggressive contact of cats living in the same household does not spread the virus.  On rare occasions, the virus is transmitted from the mother cat to her kittens, usually during passage of the kittens through the birth canal, or when they ingest infected milk.

Myth:  Cats infected with FIV show symptoms immediately.

Fact:  Infected cats may appear normal for years.  The only way to diagnose FIV is through a blood test.  A positive test indicates the presence of antibodies.  Since there is the possibility of false positives, veterinarians often recommend retesting, using a test with a different format.  In kittens born to an FIV positive nursing mother, antibody tests will most likely show positive results for several months, although these kittens are unlikely to be infected.  The kittens should be retested every two months until they’re six months old.

An infected cat may not show any symptoms at all, or his health may either deteriorate progressively,or show a pattern of recurring illness followed by long periods of good health.  Once FIV positive cats become symptomatic, you will typically see poor coat condition, loss of appetite, fever, inflammation of the gums and mouth (gingivitis or stomatitis), chronic and recurring infections of various organ systems, persistent diarrhea, slow weight loss, and various cancers and blood diseases.  Since all of these symptoms can be indicative of any number of other conditions, it’s important to work closely with your veterinarian if you have an FIV positive cat.  A case of “just not doing right” in a healthy cat that may resolve on its own in a day or two could be a precursor to a more serious condition in a cat with a compromised immune system.

Myth:  There is no treatment for FIV.

Fact:  While there is no cure for FIV, the disease can be managed by keeping FIV positive cats indoors, providing a healthy, balanced diet (due to the compromised immune system in these cats, raw feeding is not recommended), and regular, at least bi-annual veterinary check ups.  Vigilance and close monitoring of health and behavior is even more important in these cats than it is in other, healthy cats.

Myth:  Cats with FIV don’t live very long.

Fact: Many cats with FIV live well into their teens if they are receiving proper care and monitoring throughout their lives.

There is a vaccine available that is supposed to protect cats against contracting FIV, but the effectiveness is poorly supported by current research, and there is also a small risk of the cat developing sarcomas at the injection site.  Additionally, cats will always test positive for FIV after receiving the vaccine, so if they become ill later in life, there will be no way to eliminate FIV from the diagnosis.

An FIV infection does not have to be a death sentence, and it is not necessary to get rid of a cat who tests positive.   It also shouldn’t preclude adoption of an FIV positive cat.

Photo by Dan Davison, Flickr Creative Commons

New Dr. Goodpet banner

Feline Heart Disease

feline-heart-disease

Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease in February of 2007 and succumbed to the disease in November of 2008, so this is a topic close to my heart.   A check up prior to dental surgery revealed a heart murmur, and a subsequent cardiac ultrasound showed that she had restrictive cardiomyopathy.  As a result, I’ve experienced the challenges of caring for a cat with heart disease firsthand.

Feline heart disease is far more common than most cat owners realize, and it can strike any breed of cat at any age.  What makes feline heart disease very challenging is the fact that cats rarely show the warning signs that are typical for heart disease, such as shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, coughing or weakness) until the disease is quite advanced.

Diagnosis

For many cat owners, the first time they even learn that their cat has heart disease is during a regular check up, when their veterinarian may discover a heart murmur.  Not every murmur is an indicator of heart disease, but it definitely requires further diagnostics, such as an ECG, or electrocardiogram, chest x-rays, and a cardiac ultrasound.  These tests will show changes to the size and shape of the heart, whether there is fluid present in the chest, and abnormalities of the heart valves.  A cardiac ultrasound can actually determine the degree of heart disease, not just the presence of it.

There are three types of feline heart disease.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

HCM is the most common form of feline heart disease.   The walls of the heart are thickened, reducing the amount of blood pumped out with each beat. As a result, the heart has to work harder.  These changes in the heart can lead to leakage at the valves and development of a murmur. As the disease progresses, the heart can become so thickened that it cannot pump blood adequately.  This usually results in fluid accumulation in the lungs.  Typically, the age of onset is young adulthood, although it has been diagnosed in cats as young as six months old.  It is most common in middle-aged male cats, but can be seen in either gender.  There appears to be a genetic component as some breeds, especially Maine Coons, Ragdolls, Persians and American Shorthairs, seem to be predisposed to this condition.  HCM is the most treatable form of heart disease.

Dilated cardiomyopathy

DCM presents with an enlarged heart chamber and thinned heart walls, which means that the weakened heart cannot pump efficiently.  This can cause fluid accumulation in the lungs and/or chest (similar to congestive heart failure in humans).  This form of heart disease has become less common, because research a few years ago showed that a deficiency of taurine in feline diets was one of the main causes.  Since then, most commercially manufactured diets for cats have been formulated with taurine.

Restrictive cardiomyopathy

RCM is a less common type of heart disease in cats. It is more difficult to detect, as many cats will have near normal echocardiograms, but their heart walls seem hardened and sometimes even form scar tissue.  As a result, the heart becomes less efficient at pumping blood.  This form of heart disease has a very poor prognosis.

Treatment

Treatment of feline heart disease depends on the type of disease diagnosed and the severity of the condition.  Therapy is geared toward supporting the strength of heart contraction and reducing fluid build up.  Many of the medications used to treat feline heart disease, such as betablockers, diuretics, calcium channel blockers and vasodilators are the same medications used in the management of human heart disease.  Dietary management may be part of the treatment.

Blood Clots

Blood clots are a potentially deadly complication of heart disease. These clots can form when changes in the shape of the heart walls cause blood to move through the heart in an abnormal flow pattern, leaving stagnant spots were coagulation can occur. The vast majority of these clots lodge at the very end of the aorta, the biggest artery in the body, where it branches off to supply the rear legs and tail. When this happens, the affected cat will be literally fine one second and paralyzed the next. The pain is excruciating. This is a life-threatening crisis with a very poor prognosis for survival. It is a frightening scenario for any cat owner to contemplate.  Medications such as aspirin or Plavix can help thin the blood to prevent clotting, but are not without side effects.

The outlook for a cat suffering from heart disease depends on many factors:  age, form and severity of the disease, other health issues, and more.  As with most diseases, early detection and intervention can be key.

Photo by John Seidman, Flickr Creative Commons

Happy 4th of July 2010

Happy 4th of July from The Conscious Cat!

Independence Day is one of our favorite holidays.  As we mark the day with parades, picnics and fireworks, remember that noisy celebrations can be a scary time for our pets.

An animal’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours, and so the noises are much more intent for them.  Add to that the lack of understanding of what is going on and you can have a very scared pet on your hands.  But celebrations like the 4th of July don’t have to cause such anxiety for your pets.  Here are some tips for helping your pet cope with fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises:

  • Don’t take your pets to outdoor celebrations. The loud noises and colorful skies may be fun for you but they are not enjoyable for your pet. In fact, they can be quite dangerous. A scared dog, running through crowds and/or traffic in the dark is a recipe for disaster.
  • Ideally, leave them at home with a human companion. If you must leave them alone, place them in a secure room or crate. Cover the crate with a blanket to help reduce the noise. Shut the curtains and drapes and turn on lights to lessen the flash of the fireworks.
  • Leave on a TV or music to drown out the noise from the fireworks. (This works during thunderstorm season as well.)
  • Make sure that they are wearing their identification tags and that the information is current.
  • Exercise them before the festivities begin — tire them out with a rigorous game of fetch or a long walk. Be sure to do this an hour or two before you leave them to give them time to calm down and enter a restful state.
  • Consider a natural calming aid like Rescue Remedy.

Hot Weather Safety Tips for Pets

The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) reminds pet parents and animal lovers how to keep pets safe and healthy during summer’s dog (and cat) days.

“Summertime is a wonderful time for family and friends to get together and enjoy themselves, often with a beloved pet,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Animal Health Services. “However, even the healthiest pets can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn if they’re overexposed to the heat.”

Here are just some of the ways animal lovers can help ensure their pets have a safe summer:

  • Visit the Vet. A visit to the veterinarian for a spring or early summer check-up is a must. Make sure your pet is up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations. Pets should also be given a blood test for heartworm every year in the early spring. The deadly parasite is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and it is recommended that dogs and cats be on a monthly preventive medication year-round.
  • Keep Cool. Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so give your pets plenty of water when it is hot outdoors. Also make sure your pet has a shady place to escape the sun, and when the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt. Being so close the ground, your dog’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn. “Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle,” adds Dr. Louise Murray, Director of Medicine at the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital. “On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heatstroke can develop, which is potentially fatal.”
  • Know the Symptoms. According to Dr. Murray, “the symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, seizures, and an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.” “Animals with flat faces, like pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively,” she says. “These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.”
  • Just Say No. Summertime is the perfect time for a backyard barbeque or party, but please remember that the food and drink you serve your guests may be poisonous to pets. “Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets, as they can cause intoxication, depression, comas, or even death,” says Dr. Hansen. “Similarly, remember that the snacks you serve your friends should not be a treat for your pet; any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments.” Avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol.
  • Pest-Free Pets. Commonly-used flea and tick products, rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), insecticides, and herbicide lawn products can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested, so keep them out of reach. While there are flea products that can be used safely on dogs, these same products can be deadly to cats, because of the presence of the chemical permethrin. Be sure to read directions on these products carefully. When walking your dog, steer clear of areas that you suspect have been sprayed with insecticides or herbicide lawn products. Keep citronella candles, oil products and insect coils out of pets’ reach as well.
  • Water Safety is Pet-friendly. Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool, as not all dogs are good swimmers. Introduce your pets to water gradually and make sure pets wear flotation devices while on boats. Rinse your dog off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from his fur, and try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause stomach upset.
  • Beware of “High Rise Syndrome.” “During warmer months, we see an increase in injured animals as a result of ‘High-Rise Syndrome,’ which occurs when pets fall out of windows or doors and are seriously or fatally injured,” says Dr. Murray. “Pet owners need to know that this is completely preventable if they take simple precautions.” Keep all unscreened windows or doors in your home closed and make sure adjustable screens are tightly secured.
  • No Fireworks for Fido. Please leave pets at home when you head out to Fourth of July celebrations, and never use fireworks around pets. Dr. Hansen explains, “While exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns or trauma to curious pets, even unused fireworks are hazardous. Many types of fireworks contain potentially toxic substances such as potassium nitrate, copper, chlorates, arsenic and other heavy metals.”

If your dog or cat accidentally ingests a potentially toxic substance this summer, it is important to contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 for immediate assistance. For more information on having a fun, safe summer with your pet, please visit http://www.aspca.org.

Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is the first humane organization established in the Americas and serves as the nation’s leading voice for animal welfare. One million supporters strong, the ASPCA’s mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. As a 501 [c] [3] not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA is a national leader in the areas of anti-cruelty, community outreach and animal health services. The ASPCA, which is headquartered in New York City, offers a wide range of programs, including a mobile clinic outreach initiative, its own humane law enforcement team, and a groundbreaking veterinary forensics team and mobile animal CSI unit. For more information, please visit http://www.aspca.org.