Feline Health

Happy 4th of July – Keep Your Pets Safe

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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 Tips for Your Pets

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In summertime, the living isn’t always easy for our animal friends. Cats and dogs can suffer from the same problems that humans do, such as overheating, dehydration and even sunburn. By taking some simple precautions, you can celebrate the season and keep your pets happy and healthy.  The ASPCA offers these hot weather tips for pets:

– A visit to the veterinarian for a spring or early summer check-up is a must; add to that a test for heartworm, if your dog isn’t on year-round preventive medication. Do parasites bug your animal companions? Ask your doctor to recommend a safe, effective flea and tick control program.

Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle-hyperthermia can be fatal. Even with the windows open, a parked automobile can quickly become a furnace in no time. Parking in the shade offers little protection, as the sun shifts during the day.

– Always carry a gallon thermos filled with cold, fresh water when traveling with your pet.

– The right time for playtime is in the cool of the early morning or evening, but never after a meal or when the weather is humid.

– Street smarts: When the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog stand on hot asphalt. His or her body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn. Keep walks during these times to a minimum.

A day at the beach is a no-no, unless you can guarantee a shaded spot and plenty of fresh water for your companion. Salty dogs should be rinsed off after a dip in the ocean.

Provide fresh water and plenty of shade for animals kept outdoors; a properly constructed doghouse serves best. Bring your dog or cat inside during the heat of the day to rest in a cool part of the house.

Be especially sensitive to older and overweight animals in hot weather. Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus, as well as those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

– When walking your dog, steer clear of areas that you suspect have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals. And please be alert for coolant or other automotive fluid leaking from your vehicle. Animals are attracted to the sweet taste, and ingesting just a small amount can be fatal. Call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 if you suspect that your animal has been poisoned.

Good grooming can stave off summer skin problems, especially for dogs with heavy coats. Shaving the hair to a one-inch length – never down to the skin, please, which robs Rover of protection from the sun – helps prevent overheating. Cats should be brushed often.

Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.

– Having a backyard barbecue? Always keep matches, lighter fluid, citronella candles and insect coils out of pets’ reach.

– Please make sure that there are no open, unscreened windows or doors in your home through which animals can fall or jump.

Stay alert for signs of overheating in pets, which include excessive panting and drooling and mild weakness, along with an elevated body temperature.

Water Safety

For a lot of families, summertime means swimming time. If your pooch will be joining you on your adventures, be it lakeside, oceanside or poolside, please read our following tips:
– Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool.
– Not all dogs are good swimmers, so if water sports are a big part of your family, please introduce your pets to water gradually.
– Make sure all pets wear flotation devices on boats.
– Try not to let your dog drink pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause GI upset.

For more information about the ASPCA, go to http://www.aspca.org/

Arthritis in Cats – How to Recognize and Manage It

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Arthritis, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 adults, also affects our pets.  It is a condition in which an animal’s joints become inflamed.  It is accompanied by pain, heat, and swelling in the joints, and it usually results in increasing stiffness and immobility.   Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in animals as well as in humans. Over time, the cartilage that cushions joints wears down and bones start rubbing against each other. As the condition progresses, the friction can wear down and damage the bones themselves. This kind of arthritis is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.

Osteoarthritis is a common, but under-recognized condition in senior cats.  The signs are often subtle, and can can be hard to distinguish – cats can’t complain about their aching joints, so all that pet owners see is a response to pain.   Cats with arthritis might avoid the activities they used to enjoy, some may become depressed or change their eating habits, others may simply seem grumpier than usual.  Since these symptoms can also indicate other very serious problems, a veterinary visit is imperative to ensure proper diagnosis.

There is no cure for arthritis, but it can be managed holistically: 

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements such as Cosequin and omega-3-fatty acids can be useful in cats with mild to moderate disease. 
  • Adjust your cat’s environment – add steps or ramps to allow easier access to favorite sleeping areas, use litter boxes with a low entry for easy access and high sides for cats that can no longer sqat, use a fine consistency litter that’s easier on the paws.
  • Manage obesity to reduce additional stress on your cat’s joints.
  • Gently massage the large muscles around joints if your cat will tolerate it.
  • Acupuncture can be an affective treatment if your cat tolerates the visits to the acupuncturists’s office and the needles.
  • I’ve found Reiki to be a wonderful modality to help alleviate the pain and stiffness that can come with arthritis, especially in advanced cases when massage can be too painful. 
  • I recently started Amber, who has some mild arthritis in her hindlegs, on a Flower Essence Blend called “Run and Play.”  She seems to be a bit more playful since I started her on it, so I’m going to keep going with it. 
  • For severe cases, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.

By being aware of subtle changes in your cat and making the necessary adjustments, arthritis does not need to become a debilitating condition, and you can do much to keep your arthritic cat comfortable.

The Senior Cat Wellness Visit

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Regular veterinary exams are important at any age, but they become even more important as your cat ages.  Typically, veterinarians recommend annual exams for healthy pets up to age 6 or 7.  There is some controversy in the profession regarding the frequency of exams in younger cats, but most experts agree that even healthy senior cats should be examined at 6-month intervals.  This is important because:

  • Many disease conditions begin to develop in cats in middle age.
  • Health changes in cats can occur very quickly, and cats age faster than humans.
  • Cats are masters at masking disesase and by the time symptoms appear, they can present as acutely ill.
  • Cat parents may not always recognize the existence or importance of sublte changes, especially in multi-cat households.
  • Early detection of disease results in easier management and better quality of life.

A typical senior wellness visit will include the following:

  • Obtaining information from the cat’s person  regarding any behavior changes, changes in activity or litter box habits, changes in eating or drinking, current diet and supplements, and more.
  • A thorough physical exam that includes checking weight, skin and haircoat quality, oral cavity, ears, eyes, thyroid gland palpitation, listening to the heart, abdominal palpitation, checking of joints and muscle tone.
  • Bloodwork to check a complete bloodcount, chemistry screen and thyroid profile.  For more information about why bloodwork is so important, read “Bloodwoork For Your Pet:  What It Means and Why Your Pet Needs It.” 
  • Urinalysis to assess kidney function and bladder health.

Senior Feline Care Guidelines

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The American Association of Feline Practitioners has completed an updated version of the Senior Care Guidelines.  The guidelines will be published in the September issue of The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.  They address a broad range of issues including medical, behavioral and lifestyle considerations and will help veterinarians deliver consistent high quality care for older cats.  I’ll be sharing some of the highlights from these guidelines over the next weeks to help you make informed decisions about care for your own cats.

While there is no specific age at which a cat becomes a “senior” since individual animals age at different rates, the AAFP uses the following definitions:  “mature or middle-aged” (7-10 years), “senior” (11-14 years), and “geriatric” (15+ years).  The guidelines use the term “senior” to include all of these age groups.

The guidelines address the recommended frequency of wellness visits, the minimum database of lab values such as bloodwork and urinalysis that should be obtained at each visit, routine wellness care, nutrition and weight management, dental care, anesthesia and the special needs of the older cat, and monitoring and managing specific diseases.

The guidelines are dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jim Richards, the famed “kitty doctor” and former director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2007.  Two of his favorite quotes were “Cats are masters at hiding illness” and “Age is not a disease.”

Look for more information on the Senior Care Guidelines in future posts.

Thunderstorm Anxiety in Your Pets

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Few people are happy to endure the the sounds of a severe thunderstorm, complete with darkening skies, strong winds, flashes of lightning and crashing thunder.  Some become extremely anxious, and for some, the fear of thunderstorms turns into a full-blown phobia.

Some pets, especially dogs, are also affected by thunderstorm anxiety to varying degrees.  While some pets may tremble, whine, pace or hide under the bed during storms, in more severe cases, panicking dogs have been known to destroy furniture, jump through windows or otherwise harm themselves during storms.  In either case, this type of behavior is the sign of a very unhappy pet.

Fear is a normal response to a fear-inducing situation, whereas phobias are irrational, extreme reactions in which the fearful response is magnified to the point of dysfunction.  Behaviorists are not sure which part of the storm frightens pets the most – the lightning flashes and thunder, the winds blowing around the house or the sound of rain hitting the roof.  Some dogs even show signs of anxiety an hour or more before a storm hits, leading to the theory that they are reacting to changes in barometric pressure.

Many cats become nervous during storms and generally hide from the disturbance under beds or in dark, quiet corners.  Unlike dogs, they tend to not progress to the phobic stage – they simply wait out the storm in their safe place and come out of hiding when the storm has passed.

So what can you do to help your pet deal with thunderstorm anxiety?

Probably the best treatment is avoidance.  If there’s a place where your pet feels safe, be it a kennel or crate or a finished basement that is relatively light and sound proof, you can have your pet ride out the storm in his safe place.

Another option is desensitization.  This approach gradually retrains your pet by exposing her to gentle reminders of a thunderstorm such as a recording of distant thunder, and rewarding her for staying calm.  The idea is that over time, the response to the stimulus decreases. 

There are a number of natural remedies that work well for mild cases of thunderstorm anxiety.  My favorite is Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower Essence blend.  There are other natural calming aids available, Holistic Pet Info offers a good selection along with some good advice on how to handle situations that cause stress for your pet.

It is important that you remain calm when your pet is afraid.  Our pets pick up on our emotions, and if we’re anxious, they’ll be anxious as well.  While it’s tempting to cuddle and comfort your pet during a storm, in your pet’s mind, this rewards the fearful behavior.  It’s much better to provide your pet with a safe, familiar place where he can ride out the storm.

In severe cases, a visit to your veterinarian is in order.  Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication to help keep your pet calm during storms.

Amber hates thunderstorms.  She chooses the shower stall in our small, windowless bathroom in the basement as her safe place during storms.  I’ve tried to sit with her during storms and comfort and reassure her, but she much prefers to be there by herself.  Once the storm passes, she comes back upstairs.  She would like to add that she particularly hates storms that come through during breakfast or dinner time.

Distance Healing for You and Your Pet

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As those of you who’ve been following me for a while know, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a Reiki Master Practitioner.  You can find out more about my work with pets and with people on my Healing Hands website.  One aspect of Reiki that is often intriguing to people new to the concept of energy healing is distance healing.

Distance healing, also known as remote healing, is an energetic healing process that can be best explained through the principles of Quantum physics.  It has been proven to be extremely effective, sometimes even more effective than local, hands-on healing.

How does it work? 

Quantum physics shows us that everything is made up of energy, and everything is connected.  Everything is part of the same, continuous whole.  Long distance healing is “wireless” healing.  We accept that cell phones, televisions and even our garage door openers work in this wireless way.  It’s not much of a leap to accept that all energy travels that way, including the energy of healing.

In a distance healing session, the practitioner connects with the person or animal requesting the healing energetically.  Every living being has a unique frequency, and the practitioner tunes into that unique energy.  We are all part of the same unified field of consciousness, and it’s simply a question of “dialing in” to the correct frequency.  Once the connection is made, the practitioner sends the healing energy to the recipient.  

Recipients of distance healing report the same sensations recipients of hands-on healing experience, such as a sense of heat or tingling in certain parts of the body, a sense of calm and peace, and a deep sense of relaxation. 

Success Story (human):

A client needed major dental surgery and requested distance Reiki to help with pain control and accelerate healing.  Reiki was sent the day before the procedure, during the procedure, the evening after the procedure, and twice more in the days following the procedure, two days apart.  The client reported less pain, less bleeding and more rapid healing than with prior surgeries of a similar nature.

Success Story (pet):

The owner of a fifteen-year-old cat with virulent nasal discharge caused by calici virus requested distance Reiki.  The cat was not eating or drinking and was frail and had very little energy.  After just one distance Reiki session, this kitty started eating – in fact, she got up towards the end of the session and went to her food bowl and ate for the first time in days.  Improvement continued with subsequent sessions.  Her owner reported that she had more energy and seemed stronger.

Why choose distance healing over hands on? 

Other than the obvious reason – the person or animal requesting the healing is not in the same geographical area as the practitioner – distance healing can be a good option for animals who are skittish about being with strangers or too hyper to sit still in a strange environment.  It can also be great in an emergency situation, since a distance session can usually be scheduled with very little advance notice.  For humans with busy schedules, distance sessions allow them to benefit from the energy without having to make time to drive to and from the session.

I offer distance Reiki sessions for pets and for people.  Distance sessions for pets typically run 15-20 minutes, distance sessions for people 20-30 minutes.  Please contact me to schedule a sesssion for your pet or for yourself.

If you have any questions about distance healing in general, or Reiki in particular, please post them here!

A Veterinarian’s Thoughts on Cat Food

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I recently posted an article titled “How to Choose Healthy Foods for Your Pets“.  In it, I acknowledged how difficult it is to find the “right” diet for your pet, given the varying and often confusing information available on this topic. 

As a follow up to my article, I’d like to post a comment Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM, left on The Pet Connection Blog.  Dr. Pion is the founder of the Veterinary Information Network, and he is responsible for saving millions of cats’ lives by being the first to discover the link between taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in cats in 1987.  He is also the co-author of “Cats for Dummies“.   This is what he has to say about cat food:

“The only definitive comment I’ll make about the cat food debates is that anyone who tells you they know THE ANSWER is not worth listening to.

Pet food companies want you to buy their food — and for the most part if you stick to a major brand you can’t go too wrong. Still — without doubt, RESULTS WILL VARY 🙂

Feeding from cans and bags is convenient. And since for most it seems to work, that isn’t a bad place to start.

I still believe in mixing up what you feed. But I can’t say that my wife (also a DVM) follows that. But our cats seem happy and healthy and that’s about all you can hope to achieve.

Plant based dry foods are not a natural foundation for a cat’s diet, but for convenience and cost, they are commonly fed and most cats seem to do just fine.

How much commercial foods are at the root of diseases like feline hyperthyroidism and diabetes are intriging questions.

The hard part is sifting through all the opinion, emotion, marketing hype, and researcher bias when trying to decipher the “science.” Suffice it to say I won’t be surprised if we figure out how commercial diets are leading to these conditions in some cats.

At the same time, it is hard to argue with the observation that cats seem to be living longer in the decades since commercial cat food feeding has become more popular. Cause and effect? Who knows.

I won’t get into the raw food debate, other than to say I wouldn’t be happy if my wife (can you tell she does all the pet care) decided to go down that path. Suffice it to say, my concerns are more for human health than feline health. But still, I won’t claim that I know the definitive answer on this topic.

Raw foods, dry foods, canned foods — my observation is that consumer choices are often made more to please the pet owner (influenced by advertising, peer pressure, and pseudoscience) than the pet.

I probably have said too much already. But I’ll end reminding everyone that everything and everyone dies. Somewhere in the midst of spending huges amounts of time, energy and money trying to cheat death, we have to remember to enjoy life and accept imperfection — it’s the best we got right now.

I personally would much rather live well (for me that means purposefully and doing what I believe is right for those I love and all whose lives my actions effect) than long (or even prosperously).

And to set the record straight, although I consume a lot of diet coke, I have not had a devil dog in over a decade 🙂 ”

(quoted with permission from Paul D. Pion, DVM, DACVIM)

Loss of Appetite in Your Pet

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For most pets, eating is a joyful part of their daily routine.  So when a pet doesn’t want to eat, it is a reason for concern for most pet owners.  When loss of appetite is short-lived, it’s usually nothing to worry about.  But when your pet stops eating for unknown reasons for longer than 24 hours, a visit to your veterinarian might be in order. 

Julie Andrus of Holistic Pet Info takes a look at what loss of appetite can mean:

Moving to a new home or the addition of a new family member can cause stress on your pet and they may not feel like eating.  This type of appetite loss is usually short-lived and can be remedied with coaxing and extra attention to your pet.  When your dog or cat stops eating for unknown reasons, it is time to take a closer look. 
 
A sudden loss of appetite or one that develops over time and continues for several days could indicate a variety of illnesses, including:
 
Digestive Disorders – Partial blockage of the digestive tract (foreign objects or possibly tumors) can make it difficult to swallow and can result in your pet’s unwillingness to eat.  Parasites, ulcers or bacterial infections, even food allergies can cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract which make it uncomfortable to eat. Additional symptoms to watch for are increased salivation, diarrhea and vomiting.
 
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas secretes its corrosive digestive juices on itself and the surrounding internal organs and tissues rather than on the food in the intestine. The resulting inflammation causes pain and stress in the animal, eventually leading to a complete loss of appetite.  Vomiting and listlessness often accompany your pet’s loss of appetite when the pancreas is affected.
 
Kidney Disease – The kidney’s job is to remove waste products from the blood.  When the kidneys begin to fail, toxins begin to build up in the blood stream and sometimes cause ulcers in the mouth and stomach.  You may notice your pet has stopped eating (because of the ulcers) yet they are drinking and urinating more often because of the kidney disease. With kidney disease, vomiting and lethargy are often present.
 
Dental Disease – One obvious but often overlooked reason for loss of appetite is that your pet experiences mouth pain when eating.  Abscesses, tooth decay and gum disease can sideline even the hungriest pets. 
 
Your pet’s loss of appetite may mean something as simple as his dislike for a new brand of food or it may indicate a more serious medical condition.   If other symptoms are present (difficulty breathing, vomiting, lethargy, drooling, excessive thirst), schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.   A physical exam, x-rays, fecal tests and or blood work can diagnosis the problem and a treatment plan can be determined. 

Remember that early intervention can mean a better prognosis for recovery and less discomfort for your beloved pet.  

Julie Andrus is the owner of Holistic Pet Info.  If you are looking for information on how to manage your pet’s health with holistic or natural pet care products like nutritional supplements, vitamins, nutraceuticals and other natural medicines, Holistic Pet Info is the place for you.  They carry more than 100 natural pet products including vitamins and nutritional supplements, nutraceuticals and other natural medicines.  The site also offers a wide range of well-written and researched articles and other information on animal health issues.

Abnormal Love of Cats?

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Those of us who love our cats sometimes wonder whether “normal” people might consider us a bit, shall we say, eccentric?  The following are some definite signs that you’re a cat lover:

  • You cut your after-work activities short just so you can get home to see your cat.
  • You dare not move a muscle when you cat falls asleep at your feet, even if you need to get up to go use the bathroom.
  • You sleep in the oddest positions, just so you can accommodate your cat, even if she chooses to plonk herself in the middle of your bed.
  • You take your cat’s name as your online name. 
  • When you’re telling a friend about having to take the cat to the V-E-T, you whisper and your eyes dart furtively around the room to make sure your cat isn’t within earshot.
  • You feel naked if your clothes aren’t covered in cat hair.
  • If you own more than one cat, you can tell which cat threw up just by looking at the pile.

Of course, none of us cat lovers consider any of these things abnormal!

Photo: morguefile.com

Bloodwork for your pet: what it means and why your pet needs it

Regular and routine blood testing is an important part of your pet’s preventive healthcare.  It used to be that veterinarians only recommended blood work for older pets, but it’s equally important for younger healthy pets.  It’s the best way to detect potential health problems before they become evident through symptoms.  It’s also critically important before your pet undergoes any kind of anesthetic procedure, even a routine dental cleaning.

Typically, your vet will run a blood chemistry panel and a complete bloodcount. The College of Veterinary Medicine of Washington State University has an excellent explanation of what these lab tests mean.

Amber, who is probably 11 years old (best guess – she was a stray when I got her as a young adult), gets complete veterinary exams and blood work (CBC, chemistry and thyroid) twice a year.