National Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day

Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day

Even though it is the dog days of summer, Wednesday, August 22nd is National Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day. Only half of American cats see a veterinarian on a routine basis. The lack of medical care means feline health concerns remain unaddressed until the condition is severe and more difficult to treat. #Cat2VetDay is a gentle reminder to cat families that their favorite feline deserves preventive health care just like the family dog.

Barriers to Vet Visits
A survey of cat owners, conducted by the pet food company Royal Canin, identified four common excuses cat families use for skipping cat checkups. The barriers include:

  1. Difficulty getting your cat to the veterinarian – read “My cat hates its carrier.”
  2. Belief in the urban myth that cats need less veterinary care than dogs.
  3. Reluctance to ask for time off work to make a trip to the veterinarian.
  4. Cost of veterinary care.

Overcoming Barrier #1
This is the easiest barrier to overcome. First, leave the carrier out all the time, fill it with a soft, comfy fleece bed and a catnip toy or two, and usually the problem solves itself.


If your cat is really difficult about the carrier, check with your veterinarian about safe, effective and cost-conscious drugs to use when transporting your cat.

Overcoming Barrier #2
The fact that you are reading this post is overcoming the dangerous myth that cats require less health care than dogs. Because sick cats can hide their illness until they are nearly dead, it is easy to see how this myth has been perpetuated. Undoing the myth is a challenge and part of the reason for Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day.

Overcoming Barrier #3
Since over 30% of American households have a feline member, there is a good chance your boss has a cat and will understand if you need to leave early for a veterinary visit. If your boss is not feline-friendly, then look for a cat clinic with evening or weekend hours.

Overcoming Barrier #4
A routine preventive health care visit for your cat is designed to identify problems before they become big expensive ones or require an animal ER visit. To help manage pet health care costs, check with your employer’s human resources office to see if pet health insurance is an option in your benefits package. If not, consider purchasing a policy after reviewing these insurance FAQs answered by AMC’s Usdan Institute for Animal Health Education.

Celebrate #Cat2VetDay by using the steps above as a road map to getting your cat to see their veterinarian annually. Check out these additional resources to help make your cat’s veterinary visits a positive experience for everyone.

Making the Most of Your Pet’s Microchip

microchip

The annual Check the Chip Day is Wednesday, August 15th. This pet health event reminds pet families to have the microchip in their pet checked by the staff in their veterinarian’s office to be sure it is working, as well as to update any information in the microchip database which links your pet’s microchip number to your contact information.

Microchip Basics
A microchip provides a permanent method of identifying your pet; it is not a GPS device. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. A veterinarian implants the chip under the skin over the shoulders. The microchip has no battery or moving parts, but emits a unique radiofrequency code and is designed to last for up to 20 years. Animal shelters and veterinary offices have microchip scanners to “read” the chip. Watch Nugget get his microchip scanned below. A microchip is typically a prerequisite for international pet travel.

And Also a Collar and Tag
A microchip is essential because many pets are not wearing a collar when they are separated from their family. But a collar with an ID tag displaying your phone number will get your pet home faster since anyone can read an ID tag, but only some have access to a microchip scanner. You might also consider putting your pet’s microchip number on their collar, but some folks choose to keep that information private.

The Power of a Chip
One of my patients escaped out the window when a workman inadvertently left the window open after doing repairs. Despite canvassing their neighborhood and following other suggestions for finding a lost pet, Sneezy was nowhere to be found. The little guy was MIA for two months until someone in the neighborhood noticed a scrawny, but very friendly cat they had not seen before. The kind neighbors scooped him up and delivered him to the local shelter. It took all of about ten minutes for the shelter staff to scan Sneezy, find his microchip and contact his jubilant family.

To make your lost pet story have a happy ending like Sneezy’s, be sure your pet’s microchip registration is up to date. If you only know the chip number, look up the company online. Also check the information on your pet’s ID tags and replace them if the information is out of date. If you want to keep your pet’s microchip information handy, download and print out this postcard from AMC’s Usdan Institute and keep it with his/her records.

Suffocation Risks for Pets

pet suffocation

Last week I noticed a recall on a pet water dispenser from the popular furniture and home accessories giant IKEA. Although I can’t quite wrap my head around how two pets could get their head caught in a water dispenser and die, IKEA is doing the right thing by recalling the product and refunding the cost of the water dispenser to prevent more tragic deaths.

Most pet owners would think suffocation is an uncommon cause of pet death, but Prevent Pet Suffocation and The Preventive Vet would argue otherwise.

Dangerous Bags
The bags supplied with snack food, pet food and treats, and breakfast cereal pose a serious risk to your pet. Even your average zipper bag can be lethal if your pet’s head becomes trapped in a bag which is impervious to air. As your pet tries to get the last chip crumb from the taco chip bag, every breath forms a tightening seal around your pet’s head, preventing her from getting oxygen. It takes only a few minutes for hypoxia and suffocation to occur.

Any Pet is At Risk
The IKEA recall warns about a danger to small dogs and cats, and the memorials to pets lost to bag suffocation show no boundaries. Most of the tributes are photographs of dogs, but all types and sizes: dogs with flat and pointy noses, big and little dogs. There are even a few cats who have succumbed to this preventable death.

Protecting Your Pet Against Suffocation

  • Don’t leave bagged food on the counter or anywhere your pet might get access to a bag
  • When disposing of empty chip, cereal, and zipper bags, cut off the closed end to open the bag and allow airflow if your pet finds the bag in the trash
  • Consider transferring food to plastic containers rather than storing them in bags
  • Be extra vigilant when you and your pet visit friends who might have bagged food unsafely stored
  • Use trash cans with locking lids
  • Alert your guests to the risk of bagged food or empty food bags
  • Sign up for pet product recalls and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations if you own a product that is recalled. A couple of suggestions are @AVMARecallWatch on Twitter and PetMD Recalls.

Distemper in Pets

canine distemper

This week, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a veterinary alert about canine distemper virus infections in Central Park raccoons and both Fox 5 News and ABC 7 News visited Animal Medical Center to talk about the story.

An alert from the Health Department about sick raccoons dying from a dog virus may seem a bit outside their normal purview, but the alert is important to dog families and humans alike.

What is Distemper?
Although named canine distemper virus, this virus can affect a wide number of species, hence the sick raccoons in Central Park. Canine distemper occurs worldwide, especially in regions of the world where vaccination is uncommon. Veterinarians in the United States rarely diagnose canine distemper since the vaccine is very effective. In the United States, stray dogs are those most likely to be unvaccinated and ultimately diagnosed with canine distemper.

Recognizing Canine Distemper
Canine distemper virus infection has a wide range of clinical signs. Early in the disease, dogs have runny noses and red eyes, with some vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases may develop pneumonia. As the disease progresses, dogs and raccoons exhibit neurologic signs like paralysis, twitching, and a wobbly gait. A strange type of seizure called a “chewing gum” fit is common. Some dogs appear to recover from distemper only to develop neurologic signs months to years later. This syndrome is called old dog encephalitis.

Why Are Officials Concerned?
Because distemper has a wide range of clinical signs, this disease can resemble other important infections, most notably rabies. The rabies virus circulates in NYC in cats, raccoons, and this week in a fox.

Both rabies and canine distemper can cause neurologic signs, making it difficult to differentiate the two diseases without specialized testing. New York City has recently experienced a dog flu outbreak.

To further complicate the picture, early distemper may resemble canine influenza and also “kennel cough.”

Protecting Your Dog
Veterinarians consider distemper vaccine a “core” vaccine. Core vaccines are those veterinarians recommend for every dog. Current best practice for distemper vaccination is a series of puppy shots, a booster around one year of age, and then triennial boosters. Check with your veterinarian to confirm your dog is up to date on his distemper vaccine. Distemper virus is transmitted via bodily fluids from an infected animal. If you are walking your dog, avoid contact with raccoons and consider keeping your dog on-leash to prevent him from coming in contact with urine or feces from an infected raccoon or the remains of a deceased raccoon.

Diet-Related Canine Heart Disease

dog diets

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an investigation into diet-related heart disease in dogs.

I suspect most dog families would be surprised to learn diet may play a role in the development of heart disease in their favorite fur baby. Here is a summary of the FDA announcement.

Heart Disease in Dogs
Veterinarians diagnose three main types of heart disease in dogs. The most common is degeneration of the valves between the chambers of the heart, leading to congestive heart failure. The least common form is congenital heart abnormalities. This form of heart disease might be considered a birth defect. The third form of canine heart disease is an abnormality of the heart muscle called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Canine DCM is a disease of a dog’s heart muscle and results in an enlarged heart that can easily be seen with a chest x-ray. The enlargement is due to thinning of the heart muscle, making the pumping action of the heart ineffective. The heart valves become leaky, leading to a buildup of fluids in the chest and abdomen. Like heart valve disease, DCM often results in congestive heart failure. Breeds that are typically more frequently affected by DCM include large and giant breed dogs, such as Great Danes, Boxers, Newfoundlands, Irish Wolfhounds, Saint Bernards, and Doberman Pinschers. There are also two small breed dogs prone to DCM, American and English Cocker Spaniels. The underlying cause of DCM is not truly known, but is thought to have a genetic component because of the strong breed associations. If caught early, heart function may improve in some cases that are not linked to genetics.

This Type is Different
The FDA initiated the investigation last week because the dogs recently identified with DCM are breeds not appearing on the list above. The cases that have been reported to the FDA have included Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Whippets, a Shih Tzu, a Bulldog, and Miniature Schnauzers, as well as mixed breed dogs. The other common finding in the recently diagnosed dogs is their diet. When the families of the dogs recently diagnosed with DCM were interviewed, they reported their dog’s diet contained potatoes or multiple legumes such as peas, lentils, other “pulses” (seeds of legumes), and their protein, starch and fiber derivatives early in the ingredient list, indicating that they are main ingredients. Early reports from the veterinary cardiology community indicate that the dogs consistently ate these foods as their primary source of nutrition for time periods ranging from months to years. High levels of legumes or potatoes appear to be more common in diets labeled as “grain-free,” but it is not yet known how these ingredients are linked to cases of DCM.

If You Are Worried About Your Dog or Your Dog’s Diet
Check with your dog’s veterinarian before changing his diet. The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinary professionals to report cases of DCM in dogs suspected of having a link to diet by using the electronic Safety Reporting Portal or calling their state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. Please see “How to Report a Pet Food Complaint” for additional instructions.

Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia

immune mediated thrombocytopenia

I recently wrote about the concept of immune disease – those disorders where the immune system goes haywire and attacks normal cells in the body. In a more recent blog, I wrote about one of the important canine immune diseases, immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA). Today’s blog post focuses on a disease similar to IMHA, immune mediated thrombocytopenia (ITP or IMTP).

Defining ITP
The cell targeted by the out of control immune system in ITP is the platelet or blood clotting cell. The platelet is a powerhouse of coagulation. Under the microscope, a platelet is the smallest of the blood cells, yet the sticky platelet provides the first level of defense against hemorrhage. Platelets are in a large part responsible for the formation of a scab when you cut your skin while chopping vegetables or scrape your knee in a bike accident. Dogs, and the rare cat, with ITP can’t form a blood clot if nicked by the groomer because the immune system has destroyed their platelets. The lack of platelets can also result in spontaneous hemorrhage.

Recognizing ITP
You, as the healthcare advocate for your pet, may be the first one to recognize clinical signs of ITP. The hallmark of a low platelet count is little pinpoint hemorrhages on the skin, in the mouth or on the whites of the eyes. Hemorrhage may occur internally making the stool dark like tar or the urine bloody. One of my patients with ITP recently relapsed and came to the ER with a bloody nose. But, not every pet with a low platelet count or bleeding has ITP.

Causes of ITP
There are many other causes of low platelets that must be investigated before a diagnosis of ITP is made. Infectious disease tops the list of potential diagnoses for low platelets. Diseases transmitted by ticks top the list. Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Anaplasmosis may resemble ITP, but some readily available laboratory testing can quickly identify these diseases. Cancer, especially lymphoma or hemangiosarcoma can cause low platelet counts. Occasionally a reaction to a drug like an antibiotic can cause ITP. When a veterinarian cannot find an underlying cause of a low platelet count and a diagnostic evaluation is unremarkable, by the process of elimination, the diagnosis is ITP.

Treatment of ITP
Even though the blood cell affected in ITP is different than in IMHA, the treatment is similar since the overactive immune system needs to be suppressed to prevent more platelets from being destroyed. The first line therapy involves the use of drugs like prednisone to suppress the immune system. A chemotherapy drug, vincristine, when administered to dogs with ITP increases platelet release from the bone marrow and helps normalize their platelet count faster and shortens hospital stay. Dogs are often hospitalized for several days in case hemorrhage is severe enough to warrant blood transfusion. Most dogs recover from ITP, but some require additional drugs to suppress the immune system long term.

Other diseases affecting the immune system include polyarthritis and a variety of immune mediated skin diseases which will be the topic of a future blog post.

Heatstroke

heatstroke

It’s that time of year when the Animal Medical Center’s ER prepares to see dogs and cats with heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when the ambient temperature overwhelms the body’s cooling mechanisms. Both heat and humidity contribute to the development of heatstroke. When humidity is high, pets cannot cool themselves by panting, a form of evaporative cooling. When the air is full of water, evaporation from panting occurs slowly and cannot keep the body temperature in a safe range.

Too Hot
The normal body temperature of dogs and cats is 100-102°F. AMC’s ER does not become concerned when a fever is as high as 104 or 105°F. Heatstroke is a body temperature 106-108°F. When the body gets that hot, multiple organs begin to fail.

Hot Pets
While heatstroke can happen to any pet, certain dogs are at greater risk. Snub-nosed dogs are unable to use evaporative cooling via panting as well as dogs with longer noses, and thus are a greater risk of developing heatstroke. Dark-coated dogs, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, overweight dogs, and those not acclimated to the heat are also at increased risk.

Heatstroke Symptoms
Hot skin, vomiting, panting, distress collapse, incoordination, and loss of consciousness are all indicators of heatstroke. If your pet is developing heatstroke, you will notice nonstop panting, hot, red skin and weakness. This may progress to incoordination, collapse and loss of consciousness. At the first hint of heatstroke, head to your local animal ER.

Head to the Animal ER
If you suspect heatstroke, go immediately to the closest animal ER, do not delay. Experts say trying to cool your pet off on your own wastes valuable time. But, if on your way out the door you can grab ice packs or frozen food from your freezer, put the frozen food on your pet in the car on the way to the ER.

Heat Injury
The extent of illness may not be apparent upon arrival in the ER. Heatstroke is a multi-organ system disorder. Pets experience circulatory shock from fluid loss from panting. Heat damages normal tissues like the brain and other vital organs. Damaged brain neurons cannot be replaced and may result in cognitive decline following an episode of heatstroke. Abnormalities in blood clotting and kidney function may not become apparent until hours after arrival in the ER.

Tips to Prevent Heatstroke
Preventing heatstroke is critical since data indicates half of pets suffering from heatstroke don’t recover.

1. Don’t exercise in heat of the day, only early or late. Heatstroke occurs most often in the afternoon.
2. Don’t leave pet in a hot car, even with the windows cracked. In one study, a hot car was the number one cause of heatstroke.
3. Provide access to cold water. Consider choosing a water bowl designed to keep water cool or add ice cubes to the bowl.
4. Provide shade with an umbrella or a covered kennel.
5. Try out a cooling jacket or mat.

Click for more suggestions on keeping your dog cool during the hot summer months.

Fun Feline Facts

cats playing

For my final blog post of Adopt A [Shelter] Cat Month, I am going to be less medical and more fun. To that end, I am going to share with you my latest collection of fun feline facts.

Purring Pussycats
One of the most endearing qualities of cats is their ability to purr. In my mind, there is nothing better than a cat on my lap, snuggled in and purring away. Everyone can recognize purring, but I suspect few can define it. In Mammal Review, purring is defined as a continuous sound produced on alternating (pulmonic) egressive (breathing out) and ingressive (breathing in) airstream. Purring results from neural oscillation – neurons which turn on and off rapidly causing rhythmic contraction of the laryngeal muscles 20-30 times per second. Based on the above definition of purring, not all felines can purr. Those that do not purr are those that roar: the lion, tiger, jaguar, and leopard. All other felidae can purr.

Are Right-Handed Cats Nicer?
This is really two fun facts rolled into one. First, did you even consider your cat could be right or left handed? Probably not. But in a recent study in the International Journal of Neuroscience, female cats exhibited right handedness more than males when tested with a food reaching test. About 10% of all cats were ambidextrous. Although an ambidextrous cat might sound intriguing, a behavioral study found ambidextrous cats less affectionate and more aggressive than righty or lefty cats. Strongly right or left-pawed cats were determined to be more confident and affectionate than those with weaker paw preference.

Are Cats or Dogs Smarter?
The answer to this question is open to a great deal of bias depending on your affinity for felines or canines. Scientists have tried to answer this question with data rather than their heart. In a study published in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, researchers found dogs possess about 530 million neurons in the cortex, while cats have about 250 million. Neurons in the brain often go unused, so just having more neurons does not necessarily make dogs smarter. In fact, when you think about cats, they are phenomenal hunters and can easily out hunt humans with their neuron-loaded brains. So the number of neurons in the cat brain is not necessarily related to intelligence; the answer may lie in the function of each of those neurons. This quote from Dr. Brian Hare at the Duke University Canine Cognition Center answers the question thoughtfully. “Asking which species is smarter is like asking if a hammer is a better tool than a screwdriver. Each tool is designed for a specific problem, so of course it depends on the problem we are trying to solve.”

Are you coming late to Adopt A [Shelter] Cat Month? Did you miss the first three feline-focused blog posts? Catch up here:

  • Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity
  • Explaining the FVRCP in Feline Vaccines
  • Alternatives to Catnip

Catnip and its Alternatives

catnip

June is Adopt a [Shelter] Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is catnip and other plants cat families can use to enrich their cat’s home environment.

Catnip
Those of us who have had more than a few cats in their lifetime know not all cats react to the herb Nepeta cataria, colloquially known as catnip. Passion for catnip depends on a cat’s age and genes. Kittens less than about 8 weeks of age do not respond to catnip. In the population of cats at large, 25% of cats are not genetically programmed to respond to neptalactone, the substance in catnip that induces a kitty high – rolling, rubbing, sniffing, and chewing. Since not all cats enjoy a catnip high, a recent article in BMC Veterinary Research provides some suggestions of other plants which your cat may safely enjoy.

Silver Vine (Actinidia polygama)
This plant, also known as cat plant, is native to China and Japan. The plant can grow to a height of six feet and has pretty white flowers. Nearly 80% of cats responded positively to sliver vine. I found several products on pet websites containing silver vine, including sticks and dried leaves. In case you have a green thumb, you can also purchase seed packets to be used in a do-it-yourself cat garden.

Tatarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica)
You might find this Siberian import in your yard or nearby woods as it is considered a noxious and invasive species. Tatarian honeysuckle is a bush with pretty pink flowers found in hardy to Zone 3 areas. Some feline-centric websites offer honeysuckle sticks for your cat. Fifty percent of cats appear to enjoy the olfactory stimulation provided by honeysuckle.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Valerian-based products can easily be found in health food stores because the plant has a long history as an herbal therapy for promoting sleep. About half of cats given valerian root have a positive response. Directions on how to grow Valerian in your garden and prepare the roots for your cat can be found here. Both you and your cat will enjoy this plant since the flowers are dramatic balls of white flowers which will be lovely in a vase on your table.

Catnip, silver vine, Tatarian honeysuckle and valerian all provide safe olfactory entertainment for your cat, but not every houseplant or flower is feline-friendly. Check this list of plants toxic to cats and avoid having them in your home.

Explaining the FVRCP in Feline Vaccines

cat vaccine

June is Adopt a [Shelter] Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is one of the “core” feline vaccinations, FVRCP.

Vaccines for cats are categorized as core and non-core. Core means veterinary infectious disease and public health experts recommend all cats receive vaccines considered core. Rabies vaccine is considered a core vaccine for both dogs and cats. The other core vaccine for cats is FVRCP or feline viral rhinotracheitis, calici virus, and panleukopenia. The rhinotracheitis virus and calicivirus are the top two causes of feline upper respiratory infections. The panleukopenia virus causes a severe viral diarrhea.

Basis for the Core Designation
One of the reasons FVRCP is considered a core vaccine for cats is there are no specific treatments for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calcivirus or panleukopenia virus. The diseases must run their course and veterinarians can only treat symptoms: fluids for dehydration, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections, eye ointments for corneal ulcers. It’s better to prevent these diseases with vaccination than to have your cat suffer from one of these debilitating viral infections. Should you fall in love with a shelter cat suffering from an upper respiratory infection due to rhinotracheitis virus and calicivirus, the cat is likely to make a full recovery and become a lovable member of the family.

The FVR
Feline viral rhinotracheitis is caused by a herpes virus. Similar to herpes virus infections in humans, once a cat is infected with a herpes virus, the virus will lay dormant until a cat is stressed and then clinical signs can flare up. Clinical signs of rhinotracheitis include lethargy, sneezing, conjunctivitis, and ocular and nasal discharge. Severe cases can have corneal ulcers and pneumonia. Young kittens are often the most severely affected.

The C
Feline calicivirus causes clinical signs similar to rhinotracheitis, but much milder. Cats with an upper respiratory infection due to calicivirus are likely to develop oral ulcers, especially of the tongue. Some cats develop joint inflammation leading to lameness but the lameness lasts only 1-2 days. Occasionally, a more virulent strain of calicivirus circulates in feline populations resulting in severe systemic disease.

The P
Panleukopenia is the medical way to say “a very low white blood cell count.” Closely related to the better known canine parvovirus, the feline panleukopenia virus infects the rapidly dividing cells of the bone marrow and intestinal tract. The impact on the bone marrow is a low white blood cell count which leaves panleukopenia virus-infected cats open to severe infection. Infection of the gut cells leads to severe diarrhea. Once a cat is infected with the panleukopenia virus, successfully treating this disease becomes very difficult. Fortunately, vaccination works well to prevent panleukopenia.

As part of your family’s celebration of June’s Adopt a [Shelter] Cat Month, check with your cat’s veterinarian about the need for FVRCP vaccination for your cat, the best type of vaccine and the schedule of administration.