Feline Health

Raw Food for Cats: Separating Myth from Fact

raw-food-for-cats

We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the healthier they are for us.  This is no different when it comes to feline nutrition.  Cats are obligate carnivores and as such need animal-based proteins to thrive.  They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.

Commercial pet foods are highly processed and most are too high in carbohydrates for cats, leading to all kinds of health problems.  Dry food in particular can be the source of many of the degenerative diseases we see in cats, ranging from allergies to intestinal problems to diabetes and urinary tract issues.  While a quality grain-free canned diet may be a better choice, the meat in those diets has to be cooked.  Cooking degrades the nutrients, leading to loss of enzymes, vitamins and minerals.  To make up for this, pet food manufacturers must add in supplements to make up for these losses.  Supplementation is not always exact, and depending on the manufacturer, may be done with synthetic rather than natural supplements.

There are numerous benefits from feeding a raw diet to your cat, including improved digestion, reduced stool odor and volume, increased energy, ability to maintain ideal weight, better dental health, and better urinary tract health.  With the numerous pet food recalls over the past several years, raw feeding has gained wider attention.  Embraced for decades by holistically oriented pet parents and holistic veterinarians, it is becoming more mainstream as pet parents look for alternatives to feeding commercial pet foods.  But many pet owners are still leery of the idea of feeding raw meat to their pets, and myths about raw feeding abound.  This article will help sort through the myths and facts surrounding raw feeding.

Myth:  Cats need dry food to keep their teeth clean.

Fact:  Dry kibble does not clean your cat’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.  Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is 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.

Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meat because it contains bacteria.

Fact:  Cats have highly acidic digestive tracts, which makes them pathogen resistant.  Their digestive tracts are also much shorter than humans – food passes through their digestive system in about 12 hours, compared to two or three times as much for humans.  This doesn’t give bacteria enough time to proliferate in their system.   As long as you use safe handling procedures with raw meat, the risk to your cat is minimal.  In fact, the emphasis on safe handling that you’ll hear from most proponents of raw feeding is for the humans in the household, not for the cat.

Caution:  this applies to healthy cats.  Bacterial resistance in cats with an already compromised immune system may be diminished.

Myth:  Raw feeding is complicated and requires grinding of meat, bones and a lot of preparation time.

Fact:  Raw feeding doesn’t have to be complicated.  While some cat owners want to make their own raw foods, there are many companies that offer frozen raw food that is already nutritionally balanced. You can find my recommendations here.  It really comes down to thaw and feed – no more effort than opening a can!

Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meet because it may contain parasites.

FactReputable raw food producers source their meat from reputable farmers and test for pathogens and parasites.  Of course, there is no way to be 100% sure, but then, neither is there a 100% guarantee that commercially prepared foods are going to be free of toxins, pathogens or other contamination, as the 2007 pet food recall showed us in such tragic proportions.  Do your research and find out where the company you’re buying from sources their ingredients.  Reputable manufacturers will be happy to answer your questions.

Myth:  Raw diets are not complete and balanced.

Fact:  That depends on the diet you choose to feed.  Some raw diets are balanced and include proper levels of supplements, others will require adding a good vitamin and mineral supplement.  The reality is that no one food can be nutritionally complete.  True nutrition comes from a varied, whole foods diet.  This is why it’s a good idea to mix and rotate different meats and maybe even different manufacturers.

Photo by Kevin N. Murphy, Flickr Creative Commons

Pet-Friendly Cleaning Tips

Did you know that many commercial cleaning products can be extremely toxic, and even deadly, to your pets?  Cats are especially susceptible since they groom themselves by licking and as a result ingest anything that comes in contact with their feet or fur.

Dangers of Chemical-based Household Cleaners

Many household cleaners contain contain hazardous ingredients such as organic solvents and petroleum based chemicals which can release volatile organic compounds  into your indoor air. Some ingredients in household cleaners are known to cause cancer in animals and are suspected human carcinogens. Inappropriate use, storage and disposal of these hazardous household substances may impact your personal health and the health of our environment.  Lysol, Pine-sol and other products containing phenols are deadly to cats as they can cause serious liver damage.  Chlorox bleach, especially when concentrated, can cause chemical burns when it comes in contact with sensitive pet paws.

Non-toxic Cleaning Products

With the wide variety of naturally based and non-toxic cleaners available, there is no need to continue to use unsafe, toxic products.  Brands such as Seventh Generation and Method offer every type of cleaner imaginable and are available in all major grocery stores.  If you have cats, try to steer clear of natural products containing essential oils.  Even though many manufacturers of essential oils claim that they are safe to use around cats, this is not always the case.  Tea tree oil in particular can be deadly to cats.

Some of the safest and least expensive cleaners are baking soda and white distilled vinegar.  Some suggestions for use are:

Baking Soda:

  • Pour a layer in the litterbox before adding fresh litter to quell odors.
  • Add 1/2 cup to the laundry to freshen pet bedding.
  • Use as an abrasive cleaner for sinks, bowls, and non-porous surfaces.

White Distilled Vinegar:

  • Use to disinfect feeding dishes, the litterbox, and non-porous toys.
  • Add 1 cup to the wash cycle to freshen and soften pet bedding.
  • Apply a diluted solution (one part vinegar and one part water) to help remove the appearance and odor of urine stains from carpets.
  • Baking soda and white vinegar combined make a great non-toxic drain cleaner – pour some baking soda down the drain, follow with a cup or so of vinegar.  The mixture will foam, and the foaming action will clear your drain.  Repeat if necessary.  For tough drains, follow with hot water.

If your pet does come into contact with toxic chemicals, contact the Animal Poison Control Center for help.

Photo source: Miele USA website

Feline Life Stage Guidelines

The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the American Animal Hospital Association released the Feline Life Stage Guidelines, a 12-page document designed to promote important information regarding wellness care for cats.  The guidelines have been developed in response to statistics that show that while cats outnumber dogs as pets, they receive significantly less veterinary care.  Studies have also shown that many cat owners are unaware of their cats’ medical needs, citing an inability to recognize signs of illness or injury. 

The guidelines address wellness exams, recommending annual visits for healthy cats under 7 years of age, and twice yearly visits for cats 7 or older.  They address a lenghty list of items that should be covered in an annual or bi-annual exam, including looking at behavior and environment, medical and surgical history, elimination, nutrition and weight management, dental health, parasite control, diagnostic testing, and vaccinations.

The guidelines also address how to overcome barriers to veterinary visits.  Many pet owners perceive cats as being self-sufficient because they hide any discomfort, pain or illness so well.  There can also be a lot of stress associated with getting kitty to the vet – many pet parents don’t want to be the “bad guy” by putting their cat in a carrier and taking him to the vet’s.  Recommendations include ways to reduce the stress of transport, making cat and cat parent comfortable at the clinic, and keeping the clinic environment as calm and stress free as possible.  (For more on how to tell whether a vet clinic knows how to accommodate cats’ unique needs, read Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly.)

There is only one area where the guidelines fall short, and that’s nutrition.  I would have liked to have seen a firmer stand on what constitutes good nutrition for cats.  With statements such as “both canned and dry foods have been found to support health during all life stages”, “satisfactory diets for cats contain all the required nutrients in proper balance, are palatable and digestible, and are free of spoilage and contaminants. The specific source of nutrients in feline diets is irrelevant when these criteria are satisfied” do not make me feel comfortable that there has been much progress when it comes to educating veterinarians about nutrition.  The guidelines cite evidence-based studies for the effects of feeding canned vs. dry food (including contribution to dental health) and state that based on the available data, specific recommendations in favor of any of these practices cannot be made.  I supsect that most of these studies have been funded by major pet food manufacturers.  Thankfully, many veterinarians are starting to see evidence that their feline patients who are fed grain-free, canned diets or raw diets have fewer degenerative health issues, maintain their weight, have healthier teeth and gums and fewer allergies and intestinal problems, and are recommending these diets to their patients. 

However, aside from the section about nutrition, the Feline Lifestage Guidelines are an important step towards getting cats the care they deserve.  Ultimately, cats and their parents will benefit from these guidelines.

Benefits of Digestive Enzymes for Pets

I previously wrote about how to choose healthy foods for your pet.  In the article, I said that I was not a proponent of a raw food diet, because I felt that the risks outweighed the benefits.  However, I have since come to the conclusion that feeding raw food is truly the healthiest way to feed our pets.  We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the better for us, and the same holds true for our pets.  Additionally, cats are carnivores, and as such, they are designed to eat raw meat.   That being said, some pets, especially cats, can be difficult to transition to raw food .  For those pets, the the next best thing for achieving the same results you get from raw feeding may be supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.

The reason raw food is so good for our pets is because it still contains all the digestive enzymes.  When food is processed and cooked, enzymes are destroyed.   Enzymes aid in food absorption by breaking food down into simple, soluble substances that the body can absorb.  Enzymes are important building blocks for a multitude of metabolic functions and can help the body fight the degnerative processes that come with aging, aid in better absoprtion of vitamins and minerals, and help build a healthy immune system.  Enzyme deficiency can show itself in poor haircoat, allergies, intestinal problems, and voluminous stools, often with the fat still clearly visible. 

If you’re not able to feed raw, you may want to consider supplementing your pet’s diet with digestive enzymes.  There are numerous products on the market.  One I like is Dr. Goodpet’s Feline Digestive Enzymes.  In addition to enzymes, it also contains probiotics.  It also has absolutely no scent or flavor, which can be an issue with cats.  Amber readily accepted it on the very first try and has been taking it for the last few weeks.  The most noticeable difference so far has been a marked decrease in the size and the smell of her stools. 

The research, and testimonials, for the benefits of digestive enzymes, are convincing.  Like pets on raw diets, enzyme supplementation can help your pets  look and feel great.  Pets on a raw diet tend to have glossy coats, clear ears and eyes, and better teeth.  They maintain their ideal weight.   They don’t have allergies or intestinal problems.   If you’re not able to feed raw, enzyme supplementation can help you achieve the same results.

As a side note, I wanted to test the benefits of digestive enzymes for myself, so I began taking them right along with Amber (not the feline version, though!  I choose a product designed for humans, Enzymedica Digest).  While I can’t say that my coat has gotten glossier, I’ve definitely noticed an improvement with my digestion!  I’ve also noticed that I don’t get hungry as quickly as I used to in between meals.   My – completely unscientific – assumption is that it may be due to the fact that my body is absorbing nutrients better as a result of the added enzymes.

Please note:  if your cat is diabetic or immuno-suppressed, digestive enzymes may be contra-indicated.  Check with your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet or adding supplements.

Safe Toys for Your Cat

What should I play with today?
There are hundreds of cat toys on the market, and as anyone owned by a cat knows, there is no way of telling for sure which toy will delight your cat, or which will generate a quick sniff, followed by a look of disdain and a turned tail.  So if you’re like most cat parents, you will continue to bring home toys in your quest to amuse and spoil your feline charges.

When shopping for cat toys, the most important thing  is the safety factor.  Cat toy safety really comes down to one thing:  if it can be swallowed, it’s dangerous.  

This means stay away from toys that have small parts that can come loose during an energetic play session.  Anything with glued on parts, metal pieces, tassles or strings should be a no-no.  Sometimes you can remove these parts (which is how Amber ended up with a lot of what we call “blind and deaf mice” – once the glued on eyes and ears are removed, these mice turn into perfectly safe toys).  But it’s always best to find a toy that doesn’t require removal of loose parts.

Toys with strings and rubber bands can be fun for your cat as long as you supervise play.  Never leave these toys with your cat unattended – rubber bands can loop themselves around your cat’s neck and choke her, strings can be chewed and ingested, and can present a life-threatening emergency if the piece of strings wraps itself around the cat’s intestines.  

So which toys are safe for your cat?

Amber loves anything that’s stuffed with catnip.  The fewer adornments, the better.  A great source for simple, and safe catnip toys is The Mouse Factory – they have a wide selection of fun toys, and their catnip is seriously potent.

The Kong line of cat toys offers a lot of fun and safe choices as well, you can find a sampling in the Conscious Cat Store and you’ll also find them in many pet stores.

Interactive cat toys are great fun for you and your cat – after all, what’s more fun than a rigorous play session with your kitties?  Some of these interactive toys, such as the feather teaser (a feather toy on the end of a string) require supervision because of the string part, but they can provide hours of fun for cat and human.

Of course, there are plenty of choices for toys that don’t require a trip to the pet store – paper bags, boxes, empty toilet paper rolls, or even just a wadded up piece of paper can be as much fun for your cat as expensive, store-bought toys.

Whatever safe toy you choose for your cat, have fun!

Amber’s current favorite is a fuzzy crab-like toy on the end of a long fuzzy string.  She allowed me to film her for a few seconds while she was playing with it:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuIeNptmc-w

What are some of your cats’ favorite toys?

Chronic Renal Disease in Cats

stalking cat

Guest post by Renee L. Austin

As cats age, we watch for physiologic changes that may affect the long term outlook for health. Many health concerns arise because we notice shifts in behavior, appearance, and activity levels. One condition associated with aging and cats is so inconspicuous that once the physical signs do become apparent, the disease is already quite advanced.

Chronic Renal Disease or Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) is often seen in aging cats. It results in a gradual decrease in the function of the kidneys. The kidneys serve a number of purposes; they produce urine and filter waste products from the body, regulate electrolytes such as potassium and phosphorous, they produce erythropoietin which stimulates red blood cell production by the bone marrow, and they contribute toward regulating blood pressure. Once the loss of function begins it is not reversible, and other vital organs are affected along with how your cat may feel in general.

Signs of CRF can be very subtle at first, especially with a species that relies upon masking illness and appearing healthy for its survival. Watch for increased thirst and urination, vomiting or other signs of nausea, lethargy or depression, poor hair coat, loss of appetite, lingering over the water bowl, eating cat litter, constipation, a strong ammonia-like odor to the breath, and changes in vision and hearing.

CRF is diagnosed beginning with a thorough physical examination and simple diagnostics run through your veterinarian’s office. Changes in the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine and flush out waste are one of the earliest means of detecting the disease and will be assessed in a urinalysis. Blood tests will check for increases in Blood Urea Nitrogen and Creatinine to determine whether there is waste ‘build-up’ in the blood. Any changes in electrolyte levels and general blood cell health will be measured as well. Your cat’s doctor will also want to monitor blood pressure and perform a careful eye exam which may include measuring ocular pressures. 

There is no cure for CRF, but once it is diagnosed there are a number of actions you can take to help slow its progression and keep your cat comfortable at home. Dietary management, supplements, medication, and fluid therapy are all options that your veterinarian may discuss with you.

It is best to catch CRF before you notice signs at home by making routine visits to your veterinarian for examinations and lab work.  By doing this, subtle changes can be detected and monitored over time and preventative measures can be taken in the earliest stages. A good dental maintenance program will also help support overall organ health. Once-a-year visits may be appropriate for the younger feline, but as the years advance, more frequent visits might be in order.

Changes that occur as cats age are complex, and signs of CRF can be similar to many different disease processes. Be certain to make those appointments with your veterinarian and work closely together to understand your cat’s aging issues, as well as steps you can take to manage Chronic Renal Failure. 

Renee AustinRenee L. Austin is the founder of Whimsy Cats, a specialized home care business for cats with chronic medical conditions and special needs. She also provides consulting services for veterinary practices. For more information visit http://www.whimsycats.com

Book Review: Unexpected Miracles by Dr. Shawn Messonier, D.V.M.

unexpected-miracles-book-coverUnexpected Miracles – Hope and Holistic Healing for Pets is a must read for anyone interested in integrative medicine, holistic health and natural remedies for pets.  Dr. Shawn Messonier, D.V.M.  is a nationally recognized authority on holistic pet care and integrative medicine.  He is the author of the award winning Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, the host of the weekly radio show Dr. Shawn, The Natural Vet on Martha Stewart Radio, and his column  The Holistic Pet is featured in newspapers throughout the United States.  He owns Paws and Claws Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas.

From the publisher:  Dr. Shawn Messonnier has been a veterinarian for more than fifteen years. Once a conventional practictioner, he’s embarked on a crusade to help pet owners keep their treasured furry friends healthy and happy, treating each patient not as a disease but as a unique living entity. Dr. Messonnier brings the reader into his waiting room and introduces them to some remarkable animals…and the courageous owners who never gave up on their pets. Using case studies and higlighting diseases that commonly afflict our pets, Dr. Messonnier shows us the integrative methods he has developed to help these creatures not only survive the maladies they were originally diagnosed with but in many cases go on to live long and healthy lives.  Unexpected Miracles will change the way you think about your  pet’s healthcare forever.

The book is a fascinating collection of often heartwarming stories of cats and dogs who were either given a poor prognosis, a death sentence or a completely wrong diagnosis, and whose owners were coming to Dr. Messonier in hopes of finding a cure or at the very least a way to help their pet live a longer life.  It also offers a thorough look at what truly integrative medical, or in this case, veterinary, care really means.  An integrative approach to veterinary care uses both conventional treatments, commonly thought of as Western medicine, and natural, alternative and holistic treatments ranging from supplements to herbs to acupuncture.  By taking a truly holistic approach, Dr. Messonier treats the patient, not the disease, and uses the best of all available treatment options to achieve optimal healing for each individual patient.  This includes looking at the pet’s environment and potential exposure to toxins, reducing vaccinations from the old paradigm of annual “shots” to only those required by law or no vaccinations at all, to eliminating by-products and low quality ingredients from the pet’s diet.

While each story shared in this book is about the individual pet and the condition the pet’s owner sought help with, there are definite commonalities in all the cases, and it’s these commonalities that will give the reader a thorough understanding of what an integrative approach to health is truly all about.

In addition, the book is a testament to how much we love our pets and that most of us will go to great lenghts to find ways to keep these wonderful creatures happy and healthy by giving them the best possible care.

I think this book should be on every pet owner’s book shelf as not only a reference book, but also as a reminder that sometimes, hope is the best medicine.

For more information about Dr. Messonier, visit his website at http://www.petcarenaturally.com.

Everybody’s Gone Surfin’ (Part Two)

cat-on-computer

How to Effectively Communicate with Your Veterinarian

Guest Post by Nancy Kay, DVM

I happen to enjoy hearing about what my clients are learning online.  I sometimes come away with valuable new information, and I’m invariably amused by some of the extraordinary things they tell me- who knew that hip dysplasia is caused by global warming!  Surf to your heart’s content, but be forewarned, not all veterinarians feel as I do.  Some have a hard time not “rolling their eyes” or quickly interrupting the moment the conversation turns to Internet research.  Who can blame them- they’ve grown weary of spending valuable office visit or telephone time talking their clients out of crazy cyberspace notions and reining them in from online wild goose chases.  How unfortunate this is.  Nowadays, people rapidly and reflexively reach for their keyboards to learn more about their pet’s symptoms or disease diagnosis online.  It’s only natural (and in their pet’s best interest) that they will want to discuss what they’ve learned with their veterinarian.

Is there an effective way to communicate with your vet about your online research that is neither irritating to her nor intimidating for you?  I truly believe it is possible, but it involves some work and planning on your part!  Listed below are some secrets for success- things you can do to converse about your Internet research in a manner that is comfortable for you and your vet and, most importantly, beneficial for your pet’s health.

-I may be preaching to the choir, but I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with a vet who is happy and willing to participate in two-way, collaborative dialogue with you. Your opinions, feelings, and questions are held in high regard and enough time is allowed during the office visit to hear them. A veterinarian who practices this “relationship centered” style of communication is far more likely to want to hear about your online research than the veterinarian who practices “paternalistic care” (far more interested in telling you what to do than hearing about your thoughts, questions, or concerns).  Remember, when it comes to veterinarian/client communication styles, you have a choice. It’s up to you to make the right choice!

-Let your vet know that you appreciate her willingness and patience in helping you understand how best to utilize what you’ve learned online.

Ask your veterinarian for her Web site recommendations– those that have already been “vetted”.  This is a collaborative approach that lets her know you intend to spend some time learning more, plus a respectful recognition of the fact that she is the one who has spent her career learning about your dog’s health issues. 

Wait for the appropriate time during the office visit to discuss what you’ve learned on line.  Allow your veterinarian to ask questions of you and examine your precious poopsie rather than “tackling” her with questions and discussion about your Internet research questions the moment she sets foot in the exam room.

Be brief and “to the point” with your questions.  Remember, most office visits are scheduled for 15 to 20 minutes, max. 

Let your veterinarian know that you’ve learned how to be a discriminating surfer!  You know how to differentiate between valuable online resources and “cyber-fluff”. You ignore anecdotal vignettes and Web sites trying to sell their products in favor of credible information provided by veterinary college Web sites and forums that are hosted by well-educated moderators who provide cited research references that support their recommendations.  If you need a little refresher course on how to be a “selective surfer,” I encourage you to read Part One of this article.  When you begin conversation about your Internet research, I encourage you to choose your wording wisely.  Communicate in a respectful fashion that invites conversation as opposed to  “telling” your vet what you want to do. Most veterinarians don’t like being told what to do by their clients, and who can blame them?  After all, we expect veterinarians to provide a collaborative approach- it’s only fair that they expect the same from their clients.  Consider the following conversation starters about Internet research:

Approach one:  “I’m wondering what you think about mixing some canned pumpkin in with Sophie’s food.  I’ve been doing some Internet research about diarrhea and this suggestion seems to comes up frequently.”

Approach two:  “I’ve been doing some online research and learned about the benefits of canned pumpkin.  I want to begin mixing this in with Sophie’s food.”

Approach three:  “I’d like to give Sophie some canned pumpkin for her diarrhea.  A moderator from an online forum suggested I do this.”

Approach four:  “I’ve been following an online forum about canine diarrhea. One of the moderators suggested I consider adding canned pumpkin to Sophie’s diet.  How do you feel about this?”

Which of these approaches sound like invitations for discussion? Which are more likely to be a “turnoff” for your veterinarian? If you’ve selected approaches one and four as successful ways for broaching the topic of Internet research with your vet, well done!  Give your dog a hug and yourself a pat on the back!

In the Internet, we have an extraordinary tool at our fingertips. I encourage you to be critical when choosing which Web sites you intend to take seriously and which ones you wish to visit for a good chuckle.  Approach conversations with your vet about your Internet research thoughtfully and tactfully. These strategies are bound to create a win-win-win situation- for you, your veterinarian and your beloved best buddy! 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

speaking for spot coverPlease visit http://www.speakingforspot.com/ to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Order  a copy of Speaking for Spot personally signed by Dr. Kay – http://www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html

Join Dr. Kay’s email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for Dr. Kay on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

Everybody’s Gone Surfin’ (Part One)

computer cat

Finding Reliable Pet Health Information Online

Guest Post by Nancy Kay, DVM

When you or a loved one develops a medical issue, chances are you’ll be inclined to do some Internet research.  While I say, “More power to you!” other medical professionals might roll their eyes at the thought of “wasting” valuable time discussing potentially “whackadoodle” notions gleaned from cyberspace. 

Part one of “Everybody’s Gone Surfin” will teach you how to find instructive, accurate, worthwhile Internet information while avoiding “online junk food.”  Part two (coming soon to your home computer) will provide tools to assist you in comfortably discussing what you’ve learned online with your veterinarian, in a way that promotes collaborative discussion. By the way, although I’m a veterinarian teaching people how to better care for their furry and feathered family members, please know that this information also applies to your own health care. 

So, let’s begin.  How can you determine whether or not a Web site is dishing out information that is worthy of your time? Here are some general guidelines: 

  1. Ask your veterinarian for her Web site recommendations.  She might wish to refer you to a specific site that will supplement or reinforce the information she has provided.
  2. Veterinary college web sites invariably provide reliable information.  Search for them by entering “veterinary college” or “veterinary school” after the name of the disease or symptom you are researching.
  3. Web addresses ending in “.org,” “.edu,” and “.gov,” represent nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, respectively.  They will likely be sources of objective and accurate information.
  4. If your dog has a breed-specific disease, pay a visit to the site hosted by that specific breed’s national organization.
  5. Avoid business-sponsored Web sites that stand to make money when you believe and act on what they profess (especially if it involves purchasing something).
  6. Be ever so wary of anecdotal information.  It’s perfectly okay to indulge yourself with remarkable tales (how Max’s skin disease was miraculously cured by a single session of aromatherapy; how global warming is the cause of hip dysplasia), but view what you are reading as fiction rather than fact.  As fascinating as these National Enquirer type stories may seem, please don’t let them significantly influence the choices you make for your dog.
  7. I really love disease-specific online forums.  Check out those sponsored by Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com/).  Not only do they provide a wealth of educational information, members can be a wonderful source of emotional support- always a good thing for those of us who share our homes and hearts with an animal.  If you are considering joining an online forum, I encourage you to look for a group that focuses on a specific disease (kidney failure, diabetes, etc), has lots of members, and has been around for several years.  For example, an excellent Yahoo group K9KidneyDiet (addresses issues pertaining to dogs with kidney failure) has 3,391 members and has been up and running for eight years.  A large group such as this typically has multiple moderators who provide more than one point of view (always a good thing) and greater round-the-clock availability for advice and support.  Look for presentation of cited references (clinical research that supports what is being recommended). Such groups should have a homepage that explains the focus of the group and provides the number of members and posts per month (the more the better).  They may have public archives of previous posts that can provide a wealth of information.

Listed below are three Web sites that discuss Addison’s disease (an illness that can affect dogs and people- John F. Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison’s disease).  Now that you are an expert on evaluating Web sites, here is a little test of your skills.  Which one of these three sites is worthy of your time and attention? Have a look and let me know what you think! 

  1. http://addisonsdiseasebreakthroughs.com/
  2. http://www.addisondogs.com/
  3. http://www.natural-dog-health-remedies.com/addisons-disease-in-dogs.html 

Keep an eye out for Part Two of Everybody’s Gone Surfin’ in which I will give you some tools for comfortably and effectively broaching the subject of your Internet research with your veterinarian! 

Wishing you and your four-legged family members abundant good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine 

speaking for spot coverPlease visit http://www.speakingforspot.com/ to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller. 

Order  a copy of Speaking for Spot personally signed by Dr. Kay – http://www.speakingforspot.com/purchase.html

Join Dr. Kay’s email list – http://speakingforspot.com/joinemaillist.html

Look for Dr. Kay on Twitter – http://twitter.com/speakingforspot

Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Listen to Dr. Kay’s interview – A Veterinarian Advises “How to Speak for Spot” on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross

How To Stay Healthy During Flu and Cold Season

sneezing cat

With flu season upon us, we’re all looking for ways to stay healthy.  This year, many of us are particularly worried because of the H1N1 swine flu.  It’s hard to know which information is simply media hype, and which information is based on fact and can be trusted.  I offer the following tips to help you navigate the flu season with your health, and your sanity, intact.

Vaccinate or Not?

First of all, don’t panic, no matter what the media tells you.  Humanity has dealt with the flu for thousands of years.  Flu viruses change from season to season, and while a flu vaccine may be necessary and even effective for some people, keep in mind that this season’s flu vaccine is based on last year’s virus and may not offer complete protection.  Additionally, the new H1N1 vaccine was brought to market much faster than vaccines of the past, and there is, as of yet, no information on potential long term side effects.  The decision on whether to get vaccinated should be an individual decision and take your health history as well as your risk of exposure into consideration.  While your physician should always be your ultimate source for health information, keep in mind that not all physicians take a holistic view when it comes to preventive health care.  Do your homework, and get educated.

Common Sense

Common sense precautions against the flu have not changed over the years. Frequent hand washing is still the best precautionary measure against the flu as well as colds.  But don’t waste your money on antimicrobial and antibacterial soaps – they don’t work against viruses and provide no added value over soap and water.  In fact, they may contribute to the spread of resistant bacteria.  Don’t touch your face unless you’ve just washed your hands – that’s a direct route for viruses to get into your respiratory tract.  So far, the common wisdom is that the H1N1 virus is airborne, so listen to what you mother taught you:  cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing, and throw the used tissues away – don’t leave them for someone else to deal with.

Boost your Immune System

  • Take a good multi-vitamin.  Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability.  Most grocery store brands do not meet this requirement.
  • Take extra vitamin C.  I regularly take 1000mg a day, and I double or triple this when I’ve been exposed to someone who is sick.
  • Sip warm fluids.  Sipping hot tea can make your mouth unfriendly to microbes and reduces your risk of getting sick even after you’ve been exposed.  Gargling with warm salt water can have the same effect.
    Use a Neti Pot (nasal saline rinse) regularly to flush your sinuses before microbes have a chance to get a hold in your system.
  • Avoid inflammation promoters such as sugar, alcohol and tobacco.
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels.  Generally, the more optimal your vitamin D levels, the less your chances of getting the flu or a cold.  Ideally, you should have your vitamin D levels tested, but if you live in the Northern hemisphere and don’t want to pursue testing, experts feel that it’s safe to take at least 1000-2000 IU’s of vitamin D during the winter months.
  • Support your intestinal flora with probiotics.  It may seem odd that your intestinal tract’s health has anything to do with flu and cold prevention, but most inflammation begins in the gut, which in turn, affects your immune system.
  • Get enough sleep.  This is one of the best ways to keep your immune system rested and healthy.
  • Exercise regularly.  Better yet, exercise outside.  
  • Listen to your body.  We all get early warning signs when we’re about to catch a cold or come down with the flu.  For some, it may be a tickle in the throat, for others, a mild stomach ache, nausea, or simple that “just ain’t right” feeling.  Gargle with warm salt water, use your Neti pot, increase your vitamin C and D supplementation, and get some rest.  Sometimes something as simple as slowing down can boost our immune system enough to ward off a cold or the flu in the early stages.
  • Maintain a positive attitude.  If you constantly worry about getting sick, chances are, you will get sick.  Picture yourself healthy with a strong immune system, and don’t stay glued to the news reports of flu outbreaks and pandemics.

H1N1 and Your Pets

Most pet owners are worried about whether their pets can contract the H1N1 swine flu.  Since this is an evolving story, it’s not possible at this stage to have a yes or no answer to this question.  So far, there have been reports of ferrets and birds as well as several cats who contracted the virus.  It’s important to know that in all the cases of the cats, the virus was transmitted from humans in the households who were sick with the virus to the cats, and not the other way around.  There has been one report of a dog being infected with H1N1 in China.  It appears as though in this case, too, the virus was passed from human to dog and not the other way around. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) maintains an information page on their website with the most recent information on H1N1 and how it affects pets.

Until we know more about how H1N1 affects pet, take the same common sense precautions you would with a human family member if you do get sick:  follow proper hygiene and sanitation measures to prevent the spread of the disease.  Try to isolate the sick family member from others as much as possible, wash your hands frequently and wipe down common surfaces with a good cleaner or sanitizer.

I hope these common sense precautions put your mind at ease and help protect you and your family members, both human and furry, from flu and cold viruses.

Holiday Safety Tips for Your Pets

christmas_cat_dog_wreath

It’s that time of year again!  As you get ready to celebrate the holidays, keep in mind that some of our most cherished holiday traditions can be hazardous for our pets.  The ASPCA offers the following holiday safety tips:

Try to keep your pet’s eating and exercise habits as close to their normal routine as possible. And be sure to steer them clear of the following unhealthy treats, toxic plants and dangerous decorations:

O Christmas Tree

Securely anchor your Christmas tree so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing possible injury to your pet. This will also prevent the tree water-which may contain fertilizers that can cause stomach upset-from spilling. Stagnant tree water is a breeding ground for bacteria and your pet could end up with nausea or diarrhea should he imbibe.

Tinsel-less Town

Kitties love this sparkly, light-catching “toy” that’s easy to bat around and carry in their mouths. But a nibble can lead to a swallow, which can lead to an obstructed digestive tract, severe vomiting, dehydration and possible surgery. It’s best to brighten your boughs with something other than tinsel.

No Feasting for the Furries

By now you know not to feed your pets chocolate and anything sweetened with xylitol, but do you know the lengths to which an enterprising fur kid will go to chomp on something yummy? Make sure to keep your pets away from the table and unattended plates of food, and be sure to secure the lids on garbage cans.

Toy Joy

Looking to stuff your pet’s stockings? Choose gifts that are safe.  Dogs have been known to tear their toys apart and swallowing the pieces, which can then become lodged in the esophagus, stomach or intestines. Stick with chew toys that are basically indestructible, Kongs that can be stuffed with healthy foods or chew treats that are designed to be safely digestible. 

Long, stringy things are a feline’s dream, but the most risky toys for cats involve ribbon, yarn and loose little parts that can get stuck in the intestines, often necessitating surgery. Surprise kitty with a new ball that’s too big to swallow, a stuffed catnip toy or the interactive cat dancer-and tons of play sessions together.

Forget the Mistletoe & Holly

Holly, when ingested, can cause pets to suffer nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. And many varieties of lilies, can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. Opt for just-as-jolly artificial plants made from silk or plastic, or choose a pet-safe bouquet.

Leave the LeftoversFatty, spicy and no-no human foods, as well as bones, should not be fed to your furry friends. Pets can join the festivities in other fun ways that won’t lead to costly medical bills. 

That Holiday Glow

Don’t leave lighted candles unattended. Pets may burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Be sure to use appropriate candle holders, placed on a stable surface. And if you leave the room, put the candle out!

Wired Up

Keep wires, batteries and glass or plastic ornaments out of paws’ reach. A wire can deliver a potentially lethal electrical shock and a punctured battery can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus, while shards of breakable ornaments can damage your pet’s mouth.

House RulesIf your animal-loving guests would like to give your pets a little extra attention and exercise while you’re busy tending to the party, ask them to feel free to start a nice play or petting session.

 Put the Meds AwayMake sure all of your medications are locked behind secure doors, and be sure to tell your guests to keep their meds zipped up and packed away, too. 

Careful with Cocktails

If your celebration includes adult holiday beverages, be sure to place your unattended alcoholic drinks where pets cannot get to them. If ingested, your pet could become weak, ill and may even go into a coma, possibly resulting in death from respiratory failure.

A Room of Their Own

Give your pet his own quiet space to retreat to-complete with fresh water and a place to snuggle. Shy pups and cats might want to hide out under a piece of furniture, in their carrying case or in a separate room away from the hubbub.

New Year’s Noise

As you count down to the new year, please keep in mind that strings of thrown confetti can get lodged in a cat’s intestines, if ingested, perhaps necessitating surgery. Noisy poppers can terrify pets and cause possible damage to sensitive ears.

The Conscious Cat
wishes you and your furry family members
a  happy and safe holiday season!