My Cat Just Ate a Mouse! Should I Be Proud or Worried?

cat and mouse

I received an email from a cat patient’s family. They have recently moved to the suburbs and with the move came a mouse! The mouse problem didn’t last too long since Tigger killed and ate the mouse right in front of the entire family. While their initial reaction was pride at Tigger’s new found prowess as a huntress, they soon realized a rodent repast might not have been a healthy meal choice on Tigger’s part.

Here are my answers to their concerns about a mouse meal for their cat.

1. If the mouse ate poison, could it be dangerous?

Since mice are small compared to your cat, veterinarians believe a cat would need to eat several poisoned mice to develop toxicity from mouse bait, but it is not impossible to do so. If you have mouse bait out in your home, place it out of range of your cat. One type of mouse bait causes internal bleeding and the other elevated blood levels of calcium. If you have mouse bait in the house and your cat is ill, be sure to tell your veterinarian since you may not know your cat has been lunching on poisoned mice. A better alternative would be to trap mice in mechanical traps rather than poison them.

2. Can I peppermint oil my entire apartment to keep mice away and will the peppermint oil be safe for Tigger?

Recently, there has been concern expressed by experts about toxic effects of essential oils in cats. Cats lack the enzymes required to process essential oils and can become ill if exposed to the oils via ingestion, contact or inhalation. In a previous blog post, I suggested using peppermint oil soaked cotton balls as a mouse deterrent, but think I should redact that statement in the light of new information.

3. They sell sonic pest repellents; would she be okay with one?

As far as cat safety, these devices seem to be okay. The jury is out on the efficacy of the devices when it comes to pest control.

4. Obviously, the mouse wasn’t cooked. Could Tigger get sick from the raw mouse?

The short answer is yes, and one of the reasons to try and keep your cat from eating mice. Mice can be infected with roundworms, which can in turn infect your cat. Mice also carry Toxoplasma gondii, the agent of Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a greater risk to human family members than to feline family members, but since the health of the entire family is important, keeping mice out of the home is also important.

If you have a serious mouse problem requiring an exterminator, mention your cat and follow their directions on post-extermination clean up to protect your cat.

Are Purebred Dogs Sicker than Mutts?

westminster dog show

This week was the week New York City went to the dogs; the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was in Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday and there were activities all over the city related to man’s best friend. The Animal Medical Center veterinarians were at the Show triaging dogs unlucky enough to get sick during the second longest running sporting event in the United States.

I always love to visit the rows and rows of cossetted purebred dogs in the benching area of the show. But all those purebred dogs made my veterinary mind drift to lists of diseases prevalent in certain breeds: Addison’s disease in Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers, renal dysplasia in Shih Tzu dogs, or cardiomyopathy in the Doberman pinscher, to name a few. I can also assure you all three of these diseases are not exclusive to purebred dogs and can be diagnosed in any dog.

Is Hybrid Vigor a Myth or “Dog”-Ma?
The list of diseases associated with purebred dogs is long, but does that mean purebred dogs are less healthy than the basic Heinz 57 model? Probably not. One way to assess health is to look at cause of death. In a study of over 70,000 dogs from North America where the cause of death was known, the number one cause in most breeds was cancer, but the number one cause in mixed breed dogs was also cancer! The fact that cancer is so common in our canine companions reflects the high-quality medical care available to dogs in the United States and Canada. Well cared for dogs don’t die of distemper or parvovirus, they get vaccinated. Dog owners use heartworm preventative and flea/tick medications to prevent parasitic and tick-borne illnesses. Few people let their dogs off leash unattended, protecting them against trauma from automobile accidents. Good health care allows dogs to live to a ripe old age where they are at risk for developing cancer.

Common Diseases Occur Commonly
A recent study of Border Terrier health from England looked at common disorders in this healthy, hearty breed. When seen by a primary care veterinarian, dental disease, ear infections and obesity topped the list of diagnoses in this group of British Border Terriers. Compare that to a widely published list of pet insurance claims and you see the same disease in a large population of insured American dogs, where ear infections and tooth abscess are included in the top ten list. Seems that no matter where you look, dogs all seem to have similar problems.

Lifestyle and Disease
Lifestyle may play as much a role, if not more, than breed does when it comes to health. The study of 70,000 dogs reported infectious disease as the most common cause of death in Treeing Walker Coonhounds. These dogs are commonly used as hunting dogs and their outdoorsy lifestyle may predispose them to infections. The bold Jack Russell Terrier most commonly fell victim to trauma, perhaps due to daredevil personality. Age plays a role in cause of death as well. Young dogs were more likely to die from traumatic causes, but rarely cancer.

The best way to have a healthy dog, purebred or mutt, is to keep him at an ideal body weight, feed a good quality food, make sure he has plenty of exercise and at a minimum, an annual veterinary visit. Hats off to all the Westminster competitors, all of us at AMC think you are all top dogs.

Genetic Testing for Your Dog

dog DNA

Watch the news or read the paper and you are sure to come across a story where genetic testing plays a role, such as these stories:

But what about dogs? Has science advanced to the point of genetic testing for dogs?

Several companies provide a test like “23andMe” for dogs, except dogs have 39 pairs of chromosomes – 16 more pairs than we do! These tests can tell you about the genetic background of your dog and suggest what breeds lie behind that fuzzy face or those flopped over ears. Some tests report on traits like coat color or expected adult body size. Think of this type of test as the dog version of PBS’s “Finding our Roots” minus Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.

Finding Law Breakers
Most cities have laws requiring dog owners to pick up dog waste. To enforce those rules, some neighborhoods require residents to keep a genetic “fingerprint” of their dog on file. If dog waste is not removed, the DNA contained in the feces can be analyzed and matched to the DNA of resident dogs. Owners are then fined based on the DNA analysis. Reports indicate this type of program improves neighborhood hygiene.

Determining Health
Possibly most important to dog families is the health of their furry member. Veterinarians use a variety of different genetic tests in daily practice. Australian shepherds, Collies and Border Collies (to name a few) have a genetic mutation resulting in increased sensitivity to certain drugs. These breeds can be tested for the mutation and the dangerous drugs avoided in dogs with the mutation. I use genetic testing on certain tumors where mutations in genes help identify the exact diagnosis or determine the course of treatment. Genetic testing can also be used to determine if bladder stones are due to an inherited predisposition. Other genetic tests can be performed in dogs used for breeding to decrease the transmission of inherited disorders of the eyes or hemophilia.

Genetic testing can even help you with your last-minute holiday shopping. The Wisdom Panel, Pawprint Genetics, and Embark are having holiday promotions for their canine DNA tests. Might be the perfect gift for your favorite dog.

Why the Animal ER is the Right Place in an Emergency

pet emergency

I suspect every veterinarian hears this at least once a week, “But I want you to see my pet, not the ER.” Yet sometimes the animal ER is just the place your sick pet needs to be. I get it, I would rather see my regular physician than someone I don’t know in the ER. And yes, I hate the thought of a long wait in the ER. But think about it, if you are waiting in the ER, you should count your blessings because it means you are not the sickest patient; you are just an impatient patient.

Here are four really good reasons the ER handles urgent and emergent cases best.

1. The ER Sees it All
A specialist like me is really good at managing a limited number of medical conditions. The ER staff sees everything, and one of their best skills is determining what the problem is and what type of veterinarian is best to handle the emergency situation. Take for example a cute terrier who didn’t want to go to the ER. His family thought he should see a board certified neurologist. Begrudgingly, he came to the ER. In about a second, the ER veterinarian recognized this terrier had inflamed joints and transferred the cute terrier to an internal medicine specialist. Specialists worry we won’t pick up on a disease we rarely see as quickly as our ER colleagues will.

2. The Animal ER has Different Equipment
Each work area in a hospital like the Animal Medical Center is organized to promote efficiency. Case in point: my work area in The Cancer Institute has a machine to count blood cells. The AMC ER does not. This is because nearly all my patients need a blood count, but those in the AMC ER don’t. But the ER has equipment commonly used to manage emergencies not available in The Cancer Institute. With the right equipment, the animal ER is better able to manage urgently ill pets than specialists working in other areas of the hospital. Keep in mind, your urgently ill pet may not have the luxury of time in an emergency for the essential pieces of equipment to be assembled outside of the ER.

3. ER Veterinarians Have Different Training
ER veterinarians are trained to recognize and react to life-threatening abnormalities like low oxygen, massive bleeding, or severe trauma. The ability to recognize and react are critical skills in emergency situations. Internal medicine specialists are trained to evaluate a sick patient and make a diagnosis and then manage long-term care. Not emergency skills at all. Pets with emergencies benefit from the skill and rapid care provided in the animal ER.

4. The Animal ER Can Prioritize the Most Critical Patients
The veterinarians in your neighborhood and at a specialty hospital like AMC use a schedule of appointments to manage care for pets. Appointments control the flow of patients throughout the day to avoid overcrowding the clinic and allow pet families to budget their time. An emergency visit in the middle of appointments derails the entire schedule and disrupts the scheduled patients. Properly prioritizing a pet with an emergency is tricky when you have a full day of scheduled appointments. The animal ER has no appointments, which allows them to prioritize the most critical patients and save lives.

Experience, equipment, training, and the ability to prioritize sick pets by their medical needs makes the animal ER a great place for your pet’s emergency visit. Not sure what an emergency is? AMC’s board certified emergency and critical care specialists have provided a list to help pet owners recognize an emergency.

Purging Your Pet’s Closet

pet closet

A common recurrent theme in magazines like Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, and Glamour is closet organization. These publications recommend purging closets seasonally to prevent accumulation of unwanted clothing and accessories. Many of us with pets have a small cabinet or closet devoted to our pet’s belongings. Taking a cue from these glossies, I am going to give some tips for cleaning out your pet’s closet.

If He Won’t Wear it, Recycle it
When you get to the back of your pet’s closet and find that really ugly sweater from Aunt Sally your dog has never worn or his favorite raincoat from when he was a puppy, but it no longer fits, cut the cord and send these unused items to a textile recycling center. Ditto for worn leashes and collars which present a safety hazard for your pet. In New York City, greenmarkets collect unwanted clothing, shoes and other fabric items for recycling.

Rid the Closet of Expired Medications
I am quite confident that when you clear out the closet you will find expired pet medications. Why? Because many of my clients call asking if they can use a medication for their pet found in the back of the closet. First thing I ask them is to tell me the expiration date on the box and usually that medication expired many months prior. The expiration date of medications is printed on the pharmacy label or the box. If you have outdated medication, use the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines to dispose of the drugs properly.

Toss the Expired Food
Before you replace any dog or cat food in the closet, check the expiration date on the bag or can and if outdated, dispose of it. Opened bags of dry food that have not been sealed tightly are likely to be stale or even rancid. Dispose of them as well.

No Need to Store Bones
Board certified veterinary dentists at the Animal Medical Center caution all dog owners against using natural bones or synthetic bones made of nylon as dog chew toys. Both types of bone are the cause of tooth fractures. When a tooth fractures and exposes the pulp cavity, either extraction or a costly restoration is needed. Avoid an emergency trip to the veterinary dentist by choosing tooth-friendly toys such as those made of hard rubber or fabric.

What? You Still Have Jerky Treats?
Between 2007 and December 31, 2015, the FDA has received approximately 5,200 complaints of illnesses associated with consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats from pet owners. The cause of these illnesses is unknown. Since jerky treats are not a required part of your pet’s diet, veterinarians recommend selecting other types of treats for your pet. If you are feeding jerky treats and your pet becomes ill, tell your veterinarian about the jerky treat ingestion. If you believe your pet has become ill from consuming a jerky treat, please provide the FDA with valuable information by reporting it electronically through their Safety Reporting Portal or your local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.

Once you have that closet cleaned, spend some quality time with your pet and play with all the fun toys you re-discovered while cleaning out your pet’s closet.

Memorializing Your Pet

memorialize a pet

Since antiquity, humans have memorialized animals. Dog and cat graves have been found in Germany, Cyprus, and China dating from nearly 10,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian tombs contain mummified remains of dogs, cats, and pet birds. The oldest, continuously operating pet cemetery is just north of the Animal Medical Center in Hartsdale, New York and has been in operation since 1896. At AMC, we often make a clay paw (shown here) to memorialize our patients. Sunday, September 10th is National Pet Memorial Day and to help honor pets who have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I have collected some ideas for you on how to memorialize your favorite fur baby.

Create a Memory
Use the jangling mass of tags from your pet’s collar to form the basis of a memory bracelet. Hunt down animal-shaped charms or ones that remind you of your pet – like a fire hydrant, tennis ball, or the mouse your cat lovingly left for you on the back porch. If you already have a charm bracelet, have a custom charm made incorporating your pet’s photograph.

While nothing can quite fill the hole left in your heart after your pet dies, a Petsie or Cuddle Clone may help fill the hole. Both are custom, plush, stuffed animal look-alike of your pet. Might be fun even if your pet is healthy!

The Other Pet
An interesting study from Australia and New Zealand asked the question, “Do pets grieve?” By surveying pet families using a specially developed questionnaire, the researchers identified behavior changes in the surviving pet after the loss of their animal companion. The questionnaire evaluated ordinary animal behaviors like feeding, sleeping, vocalization, elimination, aggression, affection, and territoriality. The study found both dogs and cats were more affectionate, clingy or needy after the death of the companion animal. Both dogs and cats exhibited territorial behavior and changes in appetite for up to six months after the companion animal died.

Many pet families ask me if they should allow the surviving pet to view the body of the deceased pet. This study could find no difference in the behavior change between pets who viewed the body and those who did not. But, the changes in the behavior of the surviving pet may be interpreted as their way of grieving.

Children and Pet Loss
Children may be particularly close to the family pet, and the death of that pet can be very upsetting. This topic was addressed in a recent New York Times “Well” blog post. Be sure to read the comments as they also have important observations and ideas on how to memorialize a pet. If you are a parent, teacher or just know a child who has recently lost a pet, this one-page handout will be very helpful to you as the loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death.

Do Cats Faint?

We ascribe many human characteristics to our pets: the loyal dog and the cunning cat. Pets and people share many of the same diseases, such as leptospirosis and Lyme disease. But what about fainting? In Victorian times, women commonly “swooned” when receiving shocking news or viewing a grotesque injury. Cats could make us swoon by depositing a special “gift” at our feet, but it is not likely cats swoon from extreme emotions like we do. The question then becomes, can cats faint from a medical condition?

What is fainting?
First, I need to define fainting. Another way to describe fainting is “blacking out.” The medical term is syncope or the temporary loss of consciousness followed by a rapid return to full wakefulness. The temporary loss of consciousness may cause falling or collapsing.

What looks like fainting, but is not?
Fainting, to the untrained eye, may look similar to several other medical conditions. For example, a seizure causes loss of consciousness but is a short circuit in the wiring of the brain. Head trauma may cause a loss of consciousness, but that type of injury would be considered a concussion. Vertigo, or severe dizziness, causes falling and collapsing, but not a loss of consciousness. Severe ear infections are a common cause of feline vertigo.

What might cause fainting in cats?
Since the brain requires a large blood supply to function normally, anything disrupting blood flow to the brain can cause fainting. Cats are especially prone to diseases of the heart muscle, resulting in a decreased ability to deliver blood to the brain.

Cats with heart muscle disease often have abnormal heart rhythms and both conditions decrease blood flow to the brain and thus can cause fainting. A decrease in the amount of blood in the blood stream will decrease blood flow to the brain, so both anemia and dehydration can cause fainting in cats. Coughing and straining (to urinate or defecate), two conditions not obviously related, can both cause fainting in cats via the “swooning” mechanism. Swooning occurred because extreme emotions activated a very important nerve, the vagus nerve. Stimulation of the vagus nerve slowed heart rate and dilated blood vessels inducing a fainting episode. Coughing and straining also stimulate the same nerve, and feline swooning often accompanies a coughing fit or a trip to the litter box.

Even though you swoon over your cat, your cat is not likely to swoon back unless they have a medical condition.

Doc, My Dog is Shaking

shaking dogs

Like the Jerry Lee Lewis song, some dogs “got a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.” If your dog is shaking, a trip to the veterinarian is in order. Below you will find a list of some of the more common causes of canine shaking. Please note, some of these are emergency conditions and should prompt a rapid trip to the veterinarian.

A Shaking New Mom
Gestating a litter of puppies requires a large metabolic effort as does nursing hungry pups. When a mother dog begins producing milk, a large amount of calcium is required. This shift of calcium into the milk leaves the rest of the body depleted. The mother dog may be observed to neglect her puppies, act nervous, pant and exhibit stiffness or whole body tremors as a result of the low calcium. This is an emergency and in the animal ER, calcium is administered intravenously to correct the problem. Postpartum low blood calcium (hypocalcemia) is most common in small breed dogs and with first litters.

Toxicity Shaking
The top reason for calls to animal poison control is accidental ingestion of medications, many which can cause shaking. Inadvertent contact with pesticides, snail bait, moldy food or compost, and the most dangerous of all, antifreeze are all associated with shaking. When you take your shaking dog to the veterinarian, be prepared to answer questions about exposure to these inciters of shaking.

Sick and Shaking
The adrenal glands are small, typically only a few millimeters in length, but when they stop functioning as in Addison’s disease, a serious illness results. Addison’s disease is more properly termed hypoadrenocortism and when the adrenal glands stop producing essential hormones, electrolytes like sodium and potassium become abnormal. Since these electrolytes are critical for normal nerve and muscle function, dogs with hypoadrenocortism frequently shake in addition to being weak and lethargic. Many dogs with hypoadrenocortism develop vomiting and diarrhea.

Weak and Shaking
In addition to the role electrolytes play in controlling nerve and muscle function, blood sugar (glucose) levels play a similar role. When blood sugar drops too low, your dog will become weak, have muscle spasms, lose consciousness and may also have a full blown seizure. In their most severe form, seizures from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) cause recumbency, paddling of the limbs, chomping of the teeth and can also result in urination and defecation. The sole source of fuel to power the brain is glucose and without glucose the brain malfunctions.

Finally, Shaking White Dogs
One of the strangest shaking dog syndromes is little white shaker disease. Named for the little white dogs like Maltese, Westies and Bichons that commonly develop this strange syndrome, a dog of any coat color can develop white shaker disease. The whole body tremors characteristic of this disease are terrifying for pet families. Despite the frightening appearance of affected dogs, most recover following treatment with oral medications.

So while a whole lotta shakin’ might be fun with Jerry Lee Lewis, you can see a shaking dog is not so much fun. See your veterinarian if your dog has the shakes, unless of course it is a happy shake because you just came home!

Understanding Cat Tail “Language”

cats | animal medical centerJune is the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, and June 4 was International Hug Your Cat Day. I need no better reasons to write a blog on cat “language” than those two cat celebrations.

Cat Talk
Some cat words are universally used by cats and understood by humans. For example, consider the wail emitted by your cat when you accidently step on their toes as they dance under your feet in the kitchen; you can hear that sound from another room and immediately know some kitty toes got crunched. How about the cat morning alarm sound which is readily translated to: “Get up you slug and serve breakfast!” Everyone knows purring is the sound of a happy, contented cat. Veterinarians quickly recognize the yowl of a male cat with a urinary obstruction. Certain cats have a large vocabulary, trilling and chirping about their day when you come home.

Cat Body Language
A recent scientific study demonstrated changes in facial features are one way a cat exhibits pain. But observing your cat’s tail may be the best method of listening to what your cat is trying to tell you.

Tail Straight Up
A happy cat has its tail straight up when it greets you at the door. This should be the normal position of your cat’s tail most of the time because she telling you what a good mood she is in. Some happy cats will wave their straight up tail back and forth, not like the wag of a dog, but more like the wave of Queen Elizabeth.

Tail Straight Out
This tail position is usually seen when your cat is crouched low to the ground in attack mode. The ancestral cat hunted for food. In order to disguise their intentions to their intended lunch, cats crouched low to avoid being sensed by their prey. Your cat probably exhibits this behavior when you bring out a new fur mouse or when hunting your slippers or another cat.

Tail Puffed Up
Bigger is better when you are facing enemies and the wild beast in your cat comes out when they are frightened by a strange human or the neighbor’s drooly dog. The tail puffs up as part of the “fight or flight response” mediated by adrenaline in an effort to say, “I am big and bad. Go away.”

Tail Flicking
When your cat is flicking her tail, leave her alone and teach your children to do the same. Tail flicking is your cat’s way of saying, “I am angry and about to go ballistic.” Remove the cause of her anger and steer clear until she calms down or someone could really get hurt.

Tail Injuries and Illness
Doors inflict a number of injuries on tails: lacerations, fractures and degloving (scraping) injuries. These are reasonably easy to recognize. A tail that is not moving may indicate a neurologic disorder. Tails can also develop tumors. If your cat holds her tail in a strange way, she is telling you a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Tail amputation may be the recommended treatment for certain diseases of the tail. Here is more information about tail amputations.

Pay close attention to the tail language of your cat as she may have something important to tell you!