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.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity

Buster Brown

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month and every blog post in June will focus on some aspect of our furry feline friends. Today’s topic is obesity.

I saw one of my favorite patients the other day. Okay, I admit, all my patients are my favorite. Buster Brown is a mink-coated Tonkinese cat, just a bit over one year of age. Because he is young and healthy, I haven’t seen him since before he was neutered and was a bit shocked when I put him on the scale. He had gained three pounds during the five months since I had last seen him. When his family saw the numbers on the scale, they asked, “How did this happen?” Below, I have outlined a few of the contributing factors to feline obesity that cat families can use to keep their furry friend at an ideal body condition.

But My Cat is Big-Boned
You are right, the significance of weight gain depends somewhat on the size of your cat. A slinky Siamese can gain less weight and still have a good body condition than the king of cats, the Maine Coon, but adding three pounds is probably too much for just about any cat. When I assessed Buster B’s body condition score, a scale which looks at a cat’s distribution of fat in various parts of the body, he scored 8/9, which is considered obese for a cat of his size.

Fixing Him, Even Though He’s Not Broken
Although Buster B is extremely handsome, he is a pet and was not going to make babies. Thus, he was neutered before he had a chance to start spraying urine on the furniture or drapes. Male cats that have not been “fixed” have very stinky urine and for that reason, pet cats are typically neutered. Neutering is a known risk factor for obesity in cats and portion control is a good practice after neutering. Decreasing a cat’s food intake by approximately one-third after neutering surgery is a good rule of thumb to prevent unwanted weight gain.

He Likes Crunchies and I Hate Those Smelly Cans in the Fridge
I am with you on this point. Cats like what they like and I find those little cans of congealed salmon and tuna pate revolting sitting next to my kale and organic chicken breasts. But, a diet of more than 50% dry food has been shown to be associated with obesity. If you feed your cat dry food fed free choice, without regard for portion control, your kitty can pack on the pounds. Ditto for treats; limit how many your cat consumes per day since snacking predisposes cats to obesity.

Kitty Gymnasium
In a recent scientific study published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine, risk factors for obesity in cats at two years of age were identified. Cats kept indoors were more likely to be overweight or obese. I suspect this is related to exercise or the lack of it in a confined space like your apartment. While research indicating cat calisthenics helps to keep weight off is lacking, exercising your cat with a laser light, fishing pole toy or encouraging them to run up and down the stairs can’t hurt. Better yet, provide a cat tree for climbing as cats love to be up high.

One third to one-half of American cats are considered overweight or obese. Be proactive and keep your kitty slim and trim by controlling his food portions, including some canned food in his diet, and making sure he gets plenty of exercise.

Canine Influenza Q&A 2018

dog flu

Recently the Gothamist, an online New York City-centric news site, reported on a canine influenza outbreak centered in the borough of Brooklyn; although veterinarians expect the outbreak to expand to other boroughs. Compared to diseases like rabies and distemper, canine influenza is a relatively new disease, first described in 2005. Because many dogs have never been exposed to canine influenza, they have no immunity and the disease can spread like wildfire through entire neighborhoods. Drawing on prior blog posts, I will answer common questions about canine influenza.

What causes canine influenza?
Canine influenza is a viral disease, and two different strains of canine flu virus have been described – the original H3N8 and H3N2, first described in 2015.

What are the symptoms of canine influenza?
Canine influenza causes an upper respiratory illness with runny eyes, sneezing, and a runny nose. Most dogs with the flu have a cough. If the flu causes a fever, dogs typically are not very energetic. Occasionally, dog flu progresses to pneumonia which can be life-threatening. This list of clinical signs is not specific for canine influenza and could be due to a bacterial infection or allergies.

How do dogs get the flu?
Dog flu spreads when the virus is coughed or sneezed into the environment or onto an uninfected dog. Keeping your dog away from other dogs will help to protect them against contracting canine influenza. Humans can transport the virus on their hands or clothing. The virus is wily because dogs can transmit the virus before showing clinical signs and continue to shed the virus after clinical signs have resolved. This means a dog that looks healthy could give the flu to your dog.

Can dogs get flu shots?
Humans get flu shots in the fall because influenza in humans is seasonal. Since I am writing about canine influenza in May, you have probably guessed canine influenza is not seasonal and can occur any time of the year. The canine influenza virus does not change annually like the human flu virus and vaccines against both H3N8 and H3N2 are available from veterinarians year round.

All of us at the Animal Medical Center wish the flu-stricken dogs in Brooklyn a speedy recovery and hope all healthy dogs stay that way!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Summertime Travel Tips for Pets

pet travel

Pet travel has been all over the news these past months from the changes in service animal travel regulations to the errant shipping of pets to destinations other than their planned one. Seems like there has been a new pet travel crisis reported daily. Managing pet travel from the veterinary standpoint has been challenging too. Airline travel forms are being changed so quickly that if pet families print the form a few days before their trip, the forms are no longer valid when the pet gets to the airport. Here are some tips for smoothing out the bumps in pet travel.

Travel to Rabies-Free Countries
Orchestrating travel with your pet to a foreign country can be one of the most complex organizational tasks ever involving negotiating the airline’s rules and government regulations. Rabies-free countries pose the greatest challenge as many require not only proof of rabies vaccination, but laboratory documentation of protective titers based on a blood test. Most of the rabies-free countries are island nations with complex rules about pet travel.

Although Hawaii is not a foreign country, its pet travel regulations rival those of England and Australia. I started in April working on administering the proper vaccines and submitting the blood tests for a patient of mine hoping to make a trip to Hawaii in August. The take home message here is to keep your pet’s rabies vaccination up to date and start early if you plan to fly internationally with your pet. Requirements for vaccinations other than rabies vary between countries, so be sure your pet has the required vaccines administered well in advance of travel.

Automobile Safety
The classic American vacation involves piling the whole family, including the pets, into the car and driving to the beach, mountains or a National Park. Before you load up, make sure your pet is safely secured in her seat. Pet should not be allowed to roam free in the car because in a crash, your pet becomes a free flying projectile capable of injuring a person riding in the car or sustaining severe injuries themselves. Your pet should be in a crate in the back seat or cargo area and the carrier should be secured to the child restraint loops between the seat and backrest. If your pet must sit on the seat, be sure to use a harness to prevent them from becoming a distraction when you are driving.

The Center for Pet Safety certifies products based on safety testing using animal crash test dummies. They also author independent safety standards to keep your pets safe. The Center for Pet Safety website lists products meeting their standards to keep your pets safe during a road trip vacation.

Riding the Rails
Just like the airlines, Amtrak has rules about pet travel, so be sure to read the fine print on their website before riding the rails with your pet. Your pet will need a reservation and will have to pay a fee to travel on Amtrak. The California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco is out if you are traveling with Fluffy or Fido since pets can only travel on trips less than seven hours. My current foster kittens, Nathaniel and Nino, would not be welcome on Amtrak since they are only 20 days old and pets must be eight weeks of age to travel on the train. Not all trains accept pets, so be sure to plan your travel schedule around trains accepting pet passengers.

If there is one unifying theme for pet travel it is to plan ahead. Get your pet’s travel papers in order and double check exactly which forms you need, investigate pet-friendly accommodations, and make airline reservations well in advance to ensure your pet will be allowed to board.

Is Your Pet’s Water Bowl Half Empty? Disorders of Water Drinking

cat drinking water

A common reason pet families bring their pets to the veterinarians at the Animal Medical Center is an increase in water consumption, or polydipsia in doctor speak. If the pet family doesn’t mention water consumption, the veterinarian will usually ask about any changes in water drinking habits. In today’s post, I outline some of the more common causes of increased water drinking. While an increase in water consumption may signal a serious medical condition, sometimes the increase is a normal physiologic condition.

Too Much In Or Too Much Out?
Increased drinking can occur because of excessive loss of fluid in the urine or because of a condition that increases the stimulus to drink water. The former is much more common and, from a veterinary perspective, much easier to diagnose than the latter.

Drugs
A number of drugs frequently prescribed for dogs and cats increases water intake. They include: prednisone (or any steroid), phenobarbital and Lasix® (furosemide), which is a diuretic. Obviously, Lasix® increases urine output, causing your pet to drink more water. Similarly, steroids impact the kidney’s ability to conserve water resulting in increased thirst. Why phenobarbital, an antiseizure medication causes polydipsia is unknown.

Hot Dogs, Cool Cats
On a hot day, your dog pants to cool off. Panting evaporates saliva from the mouth, but leaves your dog very thirsty to replenish the body’s water supply. Fever will do the same thing. Your dog or cat loses body fluids through panting or their sweaty little paws and they will drink more to compensate.

Food
Increased water intake frequently happens with a diet change for your pet. Canned food is approximately 75-80% water. Switching from a canned diet to a dry diet will cause a noticeable increase in water drinking. Swap your pet’s canned food for dry and your dog or cat will need to replace the water previously consumed in food by drinking more. Switch from dry food to canned food and you will notice you need to fill the water bowl less often.

A prescription diet to dissolve bladder stones works in part because it has been formulated to promote water consumption. Increasing urine production lowers the concentration of stone-forming minerals in the urine and dissolves the bladder stones. The stone-dissolving diet contains low concentrations of minerals found in bladder stones and must be used under the guidance of a veterinarian and with proper patient monitoring.

Pyometra
In unspayed female dogs, pyometra, or a severe uterine infection, causes increased loss of fluid through the kidney and a compensatory increase in water consumption. The bacterium associated with pyometra is E. coli. This bacterium produces a toxin that impairs the kidney’s ability to regulate water and increases urine output. Female dogs with pyometra often come to the veterinary clinic because the family notices an increase in water intake in response to the increased urine output.

Other well-known diseases associated with increased water intake include: Cushing’s diseasediabeteskidney disease, and feline hyperthyroidism.

If you think your pet is drinking more water than normal, see your veterinarian as soon as possible and take along a urine sample from your pet. Your vet will thank you.

Doc, My Dog Has a Rash

itchy dog

Last month, Nationwide Pet Insurance announced the top pet insurance claims for the 650,000 pets they insure. The top four are skin issues. Number one and four are both skin diseases. Allergic dermatitis and pyoderma (skin infection) result in a skin rash which is the topic of this blog post.

Atopic or Allergic Dermatitis
Allergies are common in dogs and can be seasonal or non-seasonal. About this time of year, dogs with seasonal allergies start scratching and itching because pollen, mold or some beautiful spring plant is the source of their allergies. If your dog scratches year round, then the allergen might be dust, wool, feathers, or even the family cat! The itch-scratch cycle makes the skin red and inflamed. The itch-scratch cycle also sets off a cascade of events that can lead to infections in the hair follicle. Hot spots are a localized inflammation of the skin stemming from allergies. A severe hot spot can become infected with bacteria or yeast.

Bacterial Infection
A bacterial infection in the hair follicles is called pyoderma and was the number four most common insurance claim paid by Nationwide in 2017. If your dog has pyoderma, you will see a red, bumpy rash Pyoderma occurs most commonly as a result of allergies. Puppy pyoderma can be found on the tummy of puppies, likely because their immune system is not quite grown up yet. Flea bites, mange, clipper burn, and hair mats can also incite a skin infection. Licking and scratching a skin infection can make it much worse and is why veterinarians often recommend the dreaded cone in patients with skin infections.

Yeast Infection
Fungal or yeast skin infections are another allergy-induced skin problem. Certain breeds, like the West Highland white terrier, are predisposed to yeast skin infections, but any dog can get one. Face folds or skin folds in general hold moisture promoting the overgrowth of yeast which can be very itchy.

Ears Are Really Just Skin
The ear flaps are actually skin folded over on itself. Number two on the list of insurance claims is ear infections. Like skin infections, ear infections are tied to allergies. Follow your veterinarian’s instructions on managing the allergies and the ear infections will abate. Occasionally we see ear mites causing infections in dogs, but bacteria and yeast are much more common organisms causing an infection.

While clearly allergies are the most common cause of skin rashes, keep in mind systemic diseases such as Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism may trigger a rash.

Q&A on SiriusXM Radio

Ann hohenhaus and carly fox

Last week was somewhat of a personal record for me. I appeared on three different radio programs on SiriusXM in a single week. On Tuesday with my good friend Dr. Frank Adams on “Doctor Radio” (channel 110) powered by NYU Langone Medical Center, on Thursday night with “Just Jenny” on SiriusXM Stars (channel 109) and then on my own show, “Ask the Vet,” which is also on SiriusXM Stars.

The callers asked very interesting and important medical questions, many of which I have written about here previously. In case you missed the radio programs, I will recap them here.

Thyroid Disease
The caller explained her dog had an overactive thyroid gland, a very uncommon occurrence. Typically, dogs have an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and cats have an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism).

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
I always grit my teeth when a caller asks about this feline disease. FIP is pretty much always fatal, and because cat lovers usually have multiple kitties, a cat with FIP poses a risk to the healthy cats in the family. Not only has the family lost a cat to FIP, but they are now distraught over the health of their other cats.

Behavior
Whenever I am interviewed on a call-in program, I can be sure to have questions on behavior primarily relating to normal, destructive, or bad behaviors in pets. Recently, Dr. Jean DeNapoli of Pieper Memorial Veterinary Center in Middletown, CT, spoke at a Usdan Institute for Animal Health Education event at AMC. Dr. DeNapoli completed a behavior residency and shared useful information about pet behavior with pet owners in attendance. View a video of her presentation.

Bladder Stones
Two callers asked about bladder stones. In both the dog and cat, calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of bladder stone, but struvite or triple phosphate is a close second. Veterinarians have a variety of methods to treat bladder stones. The type of stone often dictates the best treatment.

Feeding Cats
A cat owning caller was concerned about her cat’s passion for dry food and lack of interest in wet food. Cat’s taste preferences are set during kittenhood and some cats just want what they want and nothing else. Read more about cats and food in this post from Adopt-a-Cat Month 2011.

Have a question that was not answered here? Follow us on Twitter @amcny to learn when AMC expert veterinarians will be speaking in public or tune in to SiriusXM Stars 109 for “Ask the Vet” which airs the first Friday of every month from 1-2 pm ET and call 888-94-STARS (888-947-8277) to ask your pet health questions.

#PreventDogBites

dog bite prevention week

April 8-14, 2018 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week® sponsored by the National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition. Although any dog can bite, this post is based on recent research into the causes of dog bite injury and is devoted to helping readers recognize situations where a bite injury is imminent. If this blog prevents even one bite injury, it will have achieved its goal.

Telltale Signs
Animal behaviorists talk about a canine body language ladder of aggression. The higher the behavior on the ladder, the level of aggressive behavior increases. Low-risk behaviors include blinking and lip licking. At the top of the ladder is biting. The rungs in between include crouching, hair standing on end, ears pinned back, yawning, tucking the tail between the legs, and spinning. Recognition of canine body language cues is critical to protection against bite injuries. A recent study of an adult’s ability to recognize these canine body language cues found adults observing child-dog interactions do not always recognize anxious or fearful dogs. Important point: be sure you monitor your dog’s interactions with children and remove her if she exhibits anxious or fearful behaviors.

Snarling = Bite Danger
In the past, bite injuries have been linked to dogs tied up on the family’s property. Veterinary researchers at Ohio State University studied the bite history of dogs confined to their family’s property by fences, tethers and electronic fences. Four percent of dogs had bitten a person in the past, and twice that number had bitten another dog. The type of confinement system was not related to a past history of biting, but dogs greeting other dogs or humans by snapping, snarling or growling were more likely to bite than dogs greeting others by sniffing or licking. Important point: protect yourself by steering clear of snapping, snarling or growling dogs.

Children at Risk
The National Trauma Data Bank contains a large amount of information on traumatic injuries. In a paper published just last month, nearly 8,000 dog bite injuries in children under 17 years of age were studied over a seven year period. One-third of the injuries were to children less than two years of age and another third were girls six to twelve years of age. Eighty percent of the bites occurred at home and by a dog known to the family rather than a stray dog. Important point: always supervise dog-child interactions as children may be too young to recognize warning signs of an impending dog bite.

Friendly Dogs Can Bite
A dog that is normally very friendly may bite if put in the right situation. Resource guarding and pain are two common reasons a friendly dog may bite. A tragic story from a local television channel reported bites to the face of a toddler who tried to take a bone away from a friendly dog. Important point: never take food away from a dog. Teach your dog the “drop it” command for the times when he picks up some undesirable treat from the sidewalk. If a friendly dog is sick, injured or painful, he may bite. Important point: if you find an injured dog, alert the authorities and let professionals transport the injured dog to a veterinary hospital.

Download a cute, informative and FREE poster on dog body language.

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.