immune system

Support Your Cat’s Immune System

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The immune system is an intricate system of biological processes and structures that protects the body against disease. A healthy immune system is able to recognize and fend off invaders such as viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Keeping your cat’s immune system strong will help prevent health problems and protect her against disease.

In order to protect and boost your cat’s immune system, consider the following:Continue Reading

What Is IMHA and How Did My Cat Get It?

IMHA-cat

Immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is a condition where the cat’s immune system turns against itself and attacks the patient’s own red blood cells. The immune system’s antibodies (blood proteins that are designed to counteract substances the body recognizes as alien, such as viruses and bacteria) target red blood cells for destruction. When too many red blood cells are destroyed, the patient becomes anemic.Continue Reading

Probiotics: One of the Most Important Supplements for Your Cat

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There has been a fair amount of research on the human side on how critical a healthy gut is for a strong immune system, healthy body weight and composition, and even mental health. A healthy gut also minimizes the risk for numerous diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Probiotics are crucial to promoting good intestinal health, and while there are far fewer studies about the beneficial effects of probiotics for animals, the studies that do exist have found that probiotics have the same positive effect on animals as they do on humans.Continue Reading

Benefits of Digestive Enzymes for Cats

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Enzymes are tiny protein molecules that are found in every living cell. They are responsible for vital chemical reactions in your cat’s body, including proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. A lack of enzymes in your cat’s system will result in digestive upsets and a less than optimal immune system.

Benefits of Enzymes

  • Aid in the digestion and absorption of the vitamins and minerals in the cat’s diet
  • Promote normal body weight
  • Support healthy cell growthContinue Reading

Can you give your cat the flu?

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With flu season upon us, it’s time to think about boosting your immune system so you don’t get sick. And if you need even more incentive to stay healthy this winter, consider this: it turns out that humans can give the flu to cats.

The first case of a cat getting the flu from humans was identified in 2009, when the H1N1 (swine flu) strain was identified in a cat in Iowa. Since then, there have been a handful of other cases of the flu being passed from humans to cats, dogs or ferrets. Veterinary researchers at Oregon State University and Iowa State University are working to find more cases of this type of disease transmission and better understand any risks they pose to people and pets.

Even though this phenomenon appears to be rare, it’s something to be aware of if you get sick this winter.

If your cat were to get the flu, Continue Reading

Natural Remedies for Feline Asthma

cat in grass

Feline asthma is a respiratory condition that involves inflammation and excess mucous build-up in the airways. Muscles spasms cause constriction of the airway, resulting in respiratory distress. Feline asthma shares some characteristics with asthma in humans, including symptoms.

Signs of feline asthma may be as mild as an occasional soft cough and/or a wheeze. At times it may seem as though your cat is trying unsuccessfully to bring up a hairball. In extreme and chronic cases, one might notice a persistent cough along with labored, open-mouth, harsh breathing. At this point, an asthma ‘attack’ could culminate in a life-threatening crisis.Continue Reading

Living with cat allergies, and cats

black and white cat with flowers

When someone is allergic to cats, the most common advice given by physicians is to get rid of the cat. Allergies are also one of the top five reasons why cats are returned to shelters. However, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, nearly 10 million people choose to share their homes with cats and dogs despite being allergic.

Contrary to what most people believe, cat allergies are not caused by cat hair, but  by a protein found in a cat’s saliva, urine and dander (dried flakes of skin). How could one tiny little protein cause the wheezing, sneezing, runny eyes, hives, asthma and even breathing problems that some people experience when they’re around cats? People with allergies have oversensitive immune systems that mistake harmless things like cat dander for dangerous invaders, and mount the same response as they would against bacteria or viruses. The symptoms of the allergy are the side effects of the body’s battle against the perceived threat.

Even though you may never be able to get rid of your allergy symptoms, you don’t have to give up your cat. There are a lot of things you can do to help you cope with allergy symptoms and still enjoy the love and companionship of your cat.

Petfinder.com offers the following tips:

    1. Designate your bedroom as a cat-free zone. Begin your program of allergen reduction by washing bedding, drapes and pillows. Better yet, replace them. Use plastic covers that are designed to prevent allergens from penetrating on your mattress and pillows. Allergen-proof covers are available from medical supply outlets. Don’t expect results overnight. Cat allergens are one-sixth the size of pollens, and it may take months to reduce them significantly.
    2. Restrict your cat’s access to designated areas inside your home. If you have a safe outdoor enclosure, allow your cat some time outside where dander will waft away in the wind. Brush your cat in the fresh-air enclosure to prevent loose, allergen-carrying hair from dispersing through your home.
    3. Eliminate allergen traps such as upholstered furniture and rugs. Carpet can accumulate up to 100 times the amount of cat allergens as hardwood flooring, so replacing the wall-to-wall with wood will keep allergens from accumulating as much. If ripping up the carpet is not an option, have it steam cleaned as often as needed.
    4. Vacuuming blows as many allergens through the air as it removes, so when you vacuum, use an allergen-proof vacuum cleaner bag or a vacuum cleaner with a high efficiency particulate arresting (HEPA) filter.
    5. Get some fresh air. Highly insulated homes trap allergens as well as heat, so open the windows to increase the ventilation in your home, and run window fans on exhaust. (But remember to always screen windows so kitty stays safely indoors.) Also, clean the air inside your home. Although nothing will remove all of the allergens present, running an air cleaner with a HEPA filter will help.
    6. Wipe the dander away. Bathing a cat often is suggested as a way to reduce the dander, but experts disagree on its effectiveness. “Bathing a cat was once believed to be helpful,” say Dr. Robert Zuckerman, an allergy and asthma specialist in Harrisburg, PA, “but the cat would have to be washed almost daily.” Instead, daily use of products such as Pal’s Quick Cleansing Wipes™ will remove saliva and dander from your cat’s hair and are less stressful for felines who prefer not to be rubbed in the tub.
    7. Spray allergens away. Anti-allergen sprays are a convenient way to deactivate allergens, including those produced by pets. Allersearch ADS, made from plant-based, non-toxic substances, can be sprayed throughout the house to take the sting out of household dust by rendering allergens harmless.
    8. Clean the cat box. Cat allergen is found in urine and is left in the litter box when your cat makes a deposit. To help prevent allergic reactions to the litter box, use a brand of litter that is less dusty and have someone in the household who is not allergenic clean the box.
    9. Take your medicine. Over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops and aerosol inhalers will help reduce the symptoms, although they do not eliminate the allergy. If you prefer to take a holistic approach, try Nettle tea, a bioflavinoid called quercetin or acupuncture. In recent studies antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E have demonstrated significant anti-allergen effects.
    10. Get tested. An allergy specialist can determine the exact source of your allergic reactions by a simple prick of the skin on your arm or back.
    11. Look at the whole picture. Because allergies rarely come individually wrapped, other culprits, such as dust mites and pollen, may be causing reactions, too. “An individual rarely has a single allergy,” says Zuckerman. “A cat owner may be able to tolerate contact with the cat in winter, but when spring arrives, all the allergies together may prove unbearable.”
    12. Build up resistance. There is no cure for allergy to cats, but immunotherapy may help increase your tolerance. Immunotherapy involves getting allergy shots once or twice weekly for up to six months, then monthly boosters for three to five years. Some individuals develop complete immunity, while others continue to need shots, and still others find no relief at all.

There may also be hope in the form of a vaccine for allergy sufferers. Science Daily reports that researchers have developed a vaccine that successfully treats people with an allergy to cats. The vaccine, developed by immunologist Mark Larché, professor in the Department of Medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in Allergy & Immune Tolerance, is said to be effective and safe with no side effects. Read the entire report about the vaccine on Science Daily’s website.

Are you living with cat allergies and cats? What has helped you?

Image: morguefile.com

Related reading:

Natural allergy relief

Allergy relief from a Neti Pot

 

FIV: Separating Myth from Fact

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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

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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.

Make a Conscious Choice to Be Healthy

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With flu season looming, or, if media reports are to be believed, already in full swing, we are all looking for ways to boost our immune system and stay healthy. Nobody wants to catch the dreaded flu. Even a cold can lay us flat for a few days, or at the very least, make us miserable. The media has done a good job to make us afraid of this season’s latest threat, the swine flu (read my post Afraid of the Swine Flu? Don’t Be. for my take on how not to get caught up in fear-based thinking around this issue).  So what can we do to stay healthy?

On a physical level, there are many different ways to boost the immune system.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Don’t let the cold weather stop you from getting your exercise.  Just 30 minutes a day of light aerobic exercise can help keep your immune system healthy.
  • Wash your hands frequently.  Studies have shown that nothing prevents a cold better than thorough and frequent handwashing.  If you can’t get to a faucet, use anti-bacterial gel or wipes.
  • Limit your intake of sugar and highly processed foods – both have been shown to depress the immune system.
  • Take a good daily multi-vitamin.  Do your research and make sure the brand you take has good bio-availability.  Most over the counter brands don’t.
  • Take extra vitamin C.  I take 1000 mg a day, and if I’m around anyone who’s sick, I double that dose.
  • New research shows that probiotic supplements contribute to a healthy immune system.  As with all supplements, be sure you research the brand you use to make sure it really contains quality ingredients.
  • Make sure you get enough vitamin D.  While the best way to get your vitamin D is through 15-20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure each day, those of us living in the northern hemisphere may find it challenging to get that much during the winter months.  If you are taking vitamin D supplements, you may want to get your vitamin D blood levels tested periodically.
  • Look into holistic or natural products you can take to prevent colds, or at the early stages of a cold to lessen the duration and the severity.  Products containing zinc can be very effective.  There are also a number of homeopathic products that work well.
  • Eat chocolate!  Dark chocolate contains lots of anti-oxidants and is actually good for us (in moderation!).
  • Reiki and other energy therapies can help boost your immune system by alleviating the damaging effects of stress.  Stress is the major culprit when it comes to weakening our immune system.

But beyond these physical immune boosters, there’s another way to boost your immune system and stay healthy this winter, and it’s available to all of us at no charge.   Your mindset plays a major role in your overall health.  Cutting edge research by scientists such as cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D. has shown that our thoughts can actually alter the cells in our bodies, down to the level of changing our genes.  So why not use this powerful tool to our advantage rather than disadvantage?  Instead of worrying about getting sick, why not focus on being healthy and having lots of energy?  Make a conscious choice to be healthy!

Afraid of the swine flu? Don’t be.

You can’t turn on the computer, look at a newspaper, let alone watch television without being bombarded with news about the swine flu.  Words like epidemic and pandemic are becoming part of everyone’s vocabulary.  It’s hard not to be afraid in the face of this barrage of fear-inducing rhetoric.

This is a good time to use your head, and to harness the power of your thoughts.  To begin with, don’t let yourself get caught up in irrational fears.  Think this through.   Statistically, more people die in car accidents than in an epidemic, and yet, we all get into our cars each and every day without giving it much thought.  Today, we have the best medical care, the best public health system, and the best world-wide communication methods in the history of the planet.  This is not 1918.  This is the flu – not the black plague.

Make smart decisions that support your well-being.   Make small choices each day that add up to make a difference in how you feel.  Eat healthier, get more exercise, cut back on sugar.  All of these choices contribute to boosting your immune system.  Find things that bring you relaxation – get a Reiki treatment or a massage, take a hot bath scented with relaxing aromatherapy oils, read a good book, watch a funny movie.  And of course, spend time with your pets!  That’s the best way to relax that I know of. 

And above all else, stop worrying.  Worry creates stress, and stress weakens your immune system.  One of the Reiki precepts is “Just for today, I will not worry”.  If that’s too tall an order, try it for an hour.  Another way to get a handle on worry is to allocate a specific time each day for worrying – during that time, let yourself go nuts.  Worry all you want.   Take it to the ultimate worst case scenario.  You’ll quickly realize how crazy most of your worries actually are.  In fact, take a clue from your pets – they never worry.  They live in the moment.  When you live in the moment, there’s no place for worry.

And those of you who’ve followed me for a while already know what I’m going to say next:  don’t watch the news!  Don’t fill your energy with all that negativity.  You have the power to choose where you direct your attention and what you let into your energy field.  You don’t have to stick your head in the sand, but make the choice to not let what’s going on in the world affect your mental and physical health.