intestinal health

Intestinal Parasites in Cats and How to Treat Them

cat-in-grass

Cats can get a variety of intestinal parasites. Some of these are often referred to as “worms.” Outdoor cats and indoor/outdoor cats who are exposed to soil where other animals defecate are at risk for infection. While worms are usually easily treated, cats who do not receive regular veterinary care, especially kittens, can develop complications from internal parasites.Continue Reading

Probiotics: One of the Most Important Supplements for Your Cat

probiotics_for_cats

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

There’s No Such Thing As “Just a Hairball”

feline-soul-mate

Most cat owners accept that hairballs are just a normal part of life with cats.  While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”

What is a hairball?

Traditionally it has been thought that hairballs develop because of how cats groom themselves. As cats lick their fur, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair. Inevitably, some hair gets swallowed in the process. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair wads up in the stomach instead.

However, more recent findings show that hairballs form because the affected cat’s intestinal motility (the movement of food content from the stomach to the intestines) is impaired, something that most commonly occurs secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, which in turn is caused in almost epidemic proportions by grain-based diets and their adverse effect on the gut flora. Gut flora is the collection of microscopic organisms that live within the intestinal system. Predominantly made up of healthy bacteria, it carries out many important functions for the cat’s health, such as the absorption of nutrients, support for the immune system, and the ability to fight disease-causing organisms.

A healthy cat with a healthy gut system should be able to eliminate hair ingested through grooming in her stool. Vomiting as a daily, or even weekly, method to eliminate hairballs is almost always an indicator that there is something else going on. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a good check up.

What can a cat owner do to eliminate hairballs?

Regular brushing or combing to get rid of loose hair before your cat ingests it certainly helps. But even more importantly, there seems to be a strong connection between diet and hairballs. More and more evidence points to a grain-free canned or raw diet as the answer to hairball problems. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their digestive systems are not designed to digest grains and carbs well.

What about diets marketed as hairball diets? These diets are high in fiber, and the theory behind them is that the fiber helps propel the hair through the digestive system. However, the opposite seems to happen in many cats, and the unnaturally high fiber levels contribute to impaired intestinal motility and actually lead to more vomiting. Since impaired intestinal motility is often a precursor to IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and intestinal lymphoma, a grain-free diet seems to be a much better way to go.

What about hairball remedies such as Petromalt or Laxatone? These products are petroleum based, and petroleum is derived from crude oil. Does this really belong inside a cat’s stomach? Says feline veterinarian Dr. Fern Crist: “A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with ‘lubricants’ to survive or to thrive. Feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.”

My own personal experience with cats and hairballs goes all the way back to Feebee, my first cat. I didn’t know any better back then, so he grew up on a vet-recommended commercial diet, and he ate mostly dry food. He coughed up hairballs at least a couple of times a week, despite frequent brushing and regular dosing with Laxatone. He also developed all the classic feline diseases now associated with dry food and foods high in carbohydrates: urinary bladder stones, and later, IBD and intestinal lymphoma, which eventually took his life at age 16 in April of 2000.

When I adopted Amber three months after he died, I transitioned her from the vet-recommended dry food with the occasional canned grocery store brand canned food that she was fed at the clinic to a quality natural, protein-based grain-free canned diet. She didn’t have a lot of problems with hairballs even prior to the diet change, but after the change, she never had a hairball again.

Buckley had a major hairball problem while she was my office cat. She, too, was being fed the standard clinic diet of dry food with occasional canned food. When I took her home, she ate the same grain-free canned food Amber ate, and her hairballs virtually disappeared.

Allegra is my first raw-fed kitty. She has never had a hairball in the year she’s been with me. She also doesn’t shed. I’ve always brushed all my cats daily, but I’ve never had a cat who doesn’t shed. She also has the shiniest coat of all of my cats. I brush Allegra every day because she likes it, but the amount of hair I pull out of the brush after each session, compressed into a ball, is smaller than the size of my thumbnail.

Are hairballs a problem for your cat?

Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, which is sponsored by Furminator, Inc., and to mark the occasion, they have generously offered a Furminator Deshedding Tool for Cats to go to one lucky reader. Come back tomorrow to enter our giveaway!

Photo: Feebee.

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Some startling new thoughts on cats and hairballs

Inflammatory bowel disease and diet

Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

Guest post by Fern Slack, DVM

It is always the case that we vets deal with the same problems at home that we counsel our clients about.  And not always terribly well.  I’m certainly no exception.  Years ago, I had a long-haired cat who threw up hairballs frequently, but unlike most hairball-barfing cats, she did not just hack up the offending wad and then go about her business as though nothing had happened.  Nope, she would obviously feel ill for minutes to hours afterward.  And probably beforehand, too, had I had the vision to see it.

I tried all the time-honored remedies that I prescribed every day for my patients.  I dosed her with various brands of flavored petroleum jelly.  I fed her diets purporting to help with hairballs by the inclusion of extra fiber.  I brushed her constantly, which fortunately she loved.  None of these things helped.  Eventually I shaved her, leaving the adorable puffs on her legs and tail that made her look like a fat little old lady in tight leotard and legwarmers.  As long as I did this three or four times a year, there were no more hairballs.  Oddly enough, however, she continued to have vomiting episodes, albeit less frequently, and minus the hair.  Diagnostics revealed inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually my poor sweet girl succumbed to intestinal lymphoma.

While rooming with a brilliant feline practitioner at a medical conference shortly after, still grieving, I confessed my frustration with the seemingly insignificant problem of hairballs.  Her answer blew me away.  There is no such thing as “just a hairball,” she says to me.  Think about it.  Cats developed stringent grooming behaviors in the course of evolution because grooming is a positive survival factor, probably through  controlling parasitism  and other diseases.  So they are going to ingest a lot of hair.  Does vomiting as a daily method for expelling this hair seem evolutionarily sound?  Stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance.    While vomiting as an emergency mechanism to rid oneself of the occasional nastiness seems reasonable, it seems unlikely that the daily vomiting of hairballs is the “normal” thing that the medical community has assumed it to be.

I’m hooked.  Go on, I say.  She continues.

Why would we think that “lubrication” of the gut with petroleum products would help?  A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with “lubricants” to survive or to thrive.  Likewise, cats in the wild would never eat a “high-fiber” diet, and so would seem unlikely to benefit from one.  On the contrary, it would appear logical that a cat would thrive better on what a cat has been evolved to eat – namely a mouse or a reasonable facsimile thereof – and that feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.

No, she says, I think it likely that a “hairball,” far from normal, is probably a common early symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Impaired motility of the gut would account for the balling up of hair that should pass right through, if stomach-emptying time is the 0.2 – 2 hours it is reported to be in a normal cat.  A cat shouldn’t be able to swallow enough hair fast enough to outrace normal stomach emptying time.

This is making sense to me.  Particularly as I just lost my own cat to this.  And as I think back, I realize that “hairballs” have been in the histories of a disproportionate number of the patients I’ve treated with IBD and lymphoma.

She tells me that she’s been changing her patients over to low-fiber diets (grain-free and low carbohydrate) for a while now, and she’s seeing a precipitous drop in the whole “hairball” thing.  I can see the long-term implications of this line of reasoning:  if cat food containing an unnaturally high level of fiber and carbohydrates is associated with an increased incidence of  impaired GI motility and vomiting, and if cats fed this way are at higher risk to develop IBD and lymphoma, then a drop in hairball vomiting might mean that a cat has a lower risk of these two nasty diseases.  Sounds as though a grain-free diet might be a better way to go.

This all made sense to me.  No science to it back then, but neither was there any to support the idea that hairballs are normal.  No one had at that time asked if a carbohydrate-based diet could possibly have long-term negative consequences for cats.

Well, they have now.   Every day, there’s more scientific evidence that these “mere” hairballs we see so often may respond, not to grease and not to fiber, not to brushing and not to shaving, but to feeding a diet that looks like what a cat was evolved to eat.

In the intervening years, I’ve changed my own cats over to grain-free, low-carb canned foods, and I’ve seen nary a hairball from anyone for a very long time.   In my esteemed colleague’s footsteps, I’ve been changing my patients over to these same diets.   I hear about fewer hairballs, and my patients  are slimmer, fitter, and healthier in many ways.  Is this a panacea?  Of course not.  There’s no one cure for everything.  But I now have serious trouble believing that a feline diet in which the calories are derived primarily from carbohydrates, which are much cheaper than proteins, is beneficial to anything other than the manufacturer’s bottom line.

So next time someone tells you that malt-flavored grease, fiber additives, brushing or shaving are the only ways to help with those annoying hairballs, think again.  Hairballs may be more than just a stinky mess for you to clean up.  They might well be a sign that your cat has a real health problem, and should see the veterinarian.  And your cat might be telling you that her gut would be happier with “mouse” than with breakfast cereal.

Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.

Benefits of Probiotics for Cats and Dogs

Probiotics for Cats and Dogs

Source:  Holistic Pet Info

Many of us think of bacteria as harmful, or even deadly, but did you know that certain bacteria are not only desirable, but necessary for your pet’s good health?

“Friendly” bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifido-bacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus are just a few of the helpful microorganisms that can reside in your dog or cat’s intestinal tract where they play an important role in defending his body against disease and illness. These kinds of bacteria are referred to as “friendly” because, rather than causing illness and disease, they serve to defend your pet from harmful organisms which can invade his body from time to time.  

Keeping this complex ecosystem of microorganisms in balance, however, is not always easy.  In this ongoing “tug of war” between friendly and harmful bacteria, sometimes the friendly bacteria get outnumbered due to a number of causes:  

  • The use of prescription drugs
  • The aging process
  • An inadequate diet
  • A compromised immune system
  • Fertilizers, pesticides and chemical pollutants
  • Stress 

Probiotics and Antibiotics

One of the most common ways that the ratio of friendly-to-harmful bacteria gets nudged out of balance is through the use of antibiotics. Of course, the use of these drugs is not always avoidable, especially if your dog or cat is fighting a serious infection.

Unfortunately, antibiotics are not able to distinguish between friendly and harmful bacteria, so when eradicating the harmful bacteria (the source of many serious infections), they also kill off a large number of friendly bacteria. This leaves your pet with even less of a defense the next time he is exposed to harmful microorganisms.  

Chemicals in the water supply and soil can have much the same effect. They do eliminate many of the harmful bacteria your pet is exposed to; but they also upset the balance between good and harmful bacteria. In this way, chemicals can also have a negative impact on your pet’s health.  

Even a natural event such as aging can affect the balance of good and harmful bacteria in your pet’s intestinal tract. Regardless of the cause, if your pet shows any of the signs of an unhealthy intestinal tract, this should serve as a red flag: It’s time to intervene and help your pet get his intestinal ecosystem back on the right track. Some of the most common symptoms of an unhealthy digestive tract are the following:  

  • flatulence
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • sluggishness
  • skin problems
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
    Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS)    

Probiotic Supplements for Dogs and Cats

One of the simplest and most effective remedies for poor digestion is to administer probiotics to your pet. Probiotics are  supplements comprised of different kinds of friendly bacteria. The ingredients in them may vary from brand to brand, as do the methods of delivery. For instance, probiotics may come in capsule, paste, liquid, or tablet form. They may even be included in some brands of commercial pet food, although this is not considered the best source since, according to some studies, certain brands do not contain the amount or even the kind of probiotics that are stated on the labels. For this reason, supplements are considered the more effective way to go.  

The Right Formula

So what should you look for when shopping around for probiotics? Above all, you want a formula that is comprised of quality ingredients that will help restore the balance of microflora in your pet’s intestinal tract. A formula that contains a 1:1:1 ratio of Lactobacillus Casei, Bifidobacterium Thermophilum, Enterococcus Faecium should address this need.

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.