How Important is Food?

We all know food provides the energy and nutrients each of us, including our pets, need every day. But as a veterinarian, food is more important than just providing nutrients; it is an integral component of disease and recovery.

Food and disease

Food is also related to common illnesses veterinarians diagnose on a regular basis. Take for example Jack, the cat lost at JFK, who succumbed to hepatic lipidosis, a disease provoked by inadequate food intake and treated by feeding!

Excess food intake often results in obesity. Obese animals live shorter lives and have more medical problems, including arthritis, bladder problems, and respiratory disease.

Food as medicine

Veterinarians have been using specially formulated diets as a component of medical therapy since the 1940’s.

“Prescription” diets are now manufactured by several pet food companies. These diets are available by prescription only since the nutrients have been modified to address certain nutritional differences in pets with a variety of diseases, so they are not appropriate for every pet. Take for example the reduced protein diets used in dogs and cats with liver problems. Too much protein can cause seizures in these patients. Protein-restricted diets are commonly prescribed to minimize the protein-induced seizures. For pets with suspected food allergies, diets have been formulated with novel ingredients to facilitate diet elimination trials. The exotic ingredient list for these diets – kangaroo, rabbit, duck, peas, and sweet potato – help veterinarians to eliminate common causes of food allergies, like beef, chicken, corn, and wheat, while maintaining a convenient source of nutrition for your pet. Specially formulated kidney friendly diets are one of the most important types of therapeutic diets and have been shown to minimize clinical signs of severe kidney failure (uremia) while maximizing survival in both dogs and cats with kidney disease.

For The Animal Medical Center’s brochure on feeding pets with kidney disease, click here.

Food and insurance

Can you believe food just got more important? The Trupanion Pet Insurance Company recently expanded coverage to include veterinarian prescribed diets.

Here is the coverage as listed in the sample policy:

Therapeutic Pet Food

(1) Therapeutic Pet Food – We will cover the incremental cost of therapeutic pet food when recommended and dispensed by your veterinarian in the treatment of injuries or symptomatic illnesses covered by this policy for up to two months of feeding. If you continue to feed your pet the veterinarian recommended therapeutic pet food as a long-term replacement diet, you will be eligible for a discount to your monthly premium. This coverage is not for routine/preventive care.

This is great news for pets and pet owners. Clearly, Trupanion understands the importance of food and I hope other pet insurance companies will recognize it too!

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This may also be found in the Tales from the Pet Clinic blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Cat Food Myths Debunked

A few months ago I wrote about cats and “cat salad.” Since we are at the end of Adopt–a-Cat month, I hope there are many new cat owner readers who will be interested in these food myths about cats. These myths have come from conversations with my cat-owning clients at The Animal Medical Center.

All cats like fish.
Partial myth. Cats’ food preferences are strongly influenced by those of their mother. If the mother liked and ate fish, the kittens are likely to crave fish as well. But the food preferences of the finicky feline are not so simply categorized. Despite the daredevil behaviors of young cats – flying from cabinet to refrigerator and scaling bookshelves with abandon – they are not so adventurous when it comes to food. Young cats fed the same diet consistently are often reluctant to eat a different diet if one is offered to them later in life. A cat food with a “good” smell is more likely to be chosen by a finicky feline, and if your cat doesn’t find any of the food attractive based on smell, it may taste several before choosing one. One fun fact about cats’ food preferences is cats probably don’t chose food based on salty or sweet flavors since their taste buds are insensitive to salts and sugars.

Cats should have milk to drink.
This is a companion partial myth to “cats like fish.” Some cats like milk, some don’t. Most cats lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, responsible for digestion of lactose, or milk sugar. A bowl of milk may lead to an upset stomach or diarrhea in cats. This situation can be avoided by treating your cat to a bowl of low fat lactose-free milk or one of the cat milk products available at the pet store. Since treats should comprise only 10% of the daily caloric requirement, keep the amount of milk to about 1/3 of a cup, or roughly 30 calories per day for the average 8 pound cat. Cat milk products have the added advantage of supplemental taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.

Cats can be vegetarians.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one. Nutritionally speaking, cats are obligate carnivores. Everything about their physical structure says “meat eater” from their sharp pointy fangs to their short digestive tract. Veterinarians will discourage owners from preparing vegetarian or vegan foods at home for their cats. Without the input of a specialized veterinary nutritionist, homemade vegetarian and vegan diets for cats are frequently deficient in taurine, arginine, tryptophan, lysine and vitamin A. Taurine deficiency leads to heart failure and a cat fed a diet without arginine may suffer death within hours. Both taurine and arginine are found in meat.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Day at the Museum: The Animal Medical Center Sequel

The Animal Medical Center has a computer system to manage our diagnostic imaging, including x-rays, ultrasound, CT scans and MRIs. The Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) lists all the images for any given day. If you looked at the list for June 17, you would see my patient Dakota, who got a chest x-ray, Chippie, the dog who had a full series of dental x-rays, and BooBoo who had a brain MRI — a typical list for a Friday.

But reading down the list you get to Croc 1, Bird 2, Snake 3 and Ibis 4. These images come from the oldest patients ever seen at The AMC. No, not a 25 year old dog or a 30 year old cat. These 32 patients are 2,500 year old animal mummies.

Like many AMC patients, these animals came to The AMC across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Unlike any other AMC patients, these patients belong to the Brooklyn Museum’s Egyptian collection.

Like all patients who come to The AMC, they came for our diagnostic expertise, utilizing our state of the art equipment. In this case, the animal mummies came to The AMC for CT scanning in our 64-slice CT scanner.

The AMC’s 64-slice CT scanner rapidly produces high quality images. So fast, all 32 were scanned in one day as outpatients! Rapid is better for our usual patients, since the faster the scan, the shorter the anesthesia time. For the animal mummies, the high quality images are critical in helping AMC’s board certified radiologist, Dr. Anthony Fischetti, collaborate with the curators from the Brooklyn Museum to decipher the mummy’s contents. The 64-slice CT scanner can recreate three dimensional and multiplanar images of the patient. In our usual patients, we use these features to better diagnose and treat illnesses. Our colleagues at the Brooklyn Museum plan to use the reconstructed CT images to study the mummies’ contents without disrupting the intricate linen wrapping.

If our CT scanner is so fast and can scan thirty two mummies in one day, you might wonder why your AMC veterinarian wanted your pet here all day when it had a CT scan. A CT scan in one of our usual patients requires administration of a short-acting anesthetic. Obviously, an animal mummy does not require anesthesia, the associated monitoring of the heart, respiration and blood pressure and does not have to recover from anesthesia. All these differences shorten the procedure time.

Most of our usual patients have two CT scans back to back. The first scan is before and the second is after administration of a contrast agent. The contrast agent highlights abnormalities the veterinarians are hunting for, such as inflammation and tumors. Administration of contrast was not possible or necessary in the animal mummies.

This animal mummy project between The Animal Medical Center and the Brooklyn Museum will culminate in an exhibition in 2013, so mark your calendars now!

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Preventing Foodborne Infections in Pets

Foodborne illness has been in the news all week. First, the massive multi-country European outbreak of E. coli has sickened over 1,000 people and killed more than 20.

Closer to home, the United States Food and Drug Administration notified consumers of multiple recalls due to possible salmonella contamination in pig ear treats and a raw diet for cats. This type of news has veterinarians, including us at The Animal Medical Center on alert for illness possibly related to food.

Food and water can become contaminated with salmonella and E. coli bacteria if they come in contact with fecal material or if the processing plant is contaminated. Cooking readily destroys both of these bacteria. Neither of the recalled pet products was cooked. One was a diet designed to be fed raw, and pig ears are frozen and dried, but not cooked.

Both salmonella and E. coli are enteric bacteria and are commonly spread when contaminated food and water are ingested. Ingestion of salmonella or E. coli contaminated food or water can result in gastroenteritis, fever and abdominal pain in both humans and pets.

How can pet owners protect their pets and themselves? The June 1 issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association offers suggestions on safe feeding practices. I have summarized them here.

  • Avoid feeding raw food diets.
  • Avoid purchasing bulk pig ears, buy individual packets.
  • Return pet food to store if it is discolored or has a bad smell.
  • Store pet food according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Save packaging and product codes for pet food to facilitate identification of a recalled food.
  • Children, the elderly and immunosuppressed humans should not handle pet food and treats.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling pet food and treats.
  • Wash pet water and food bowls regularly.
  • Keep human and pet foods separate.
  • Discourage humans from eating pet foods and treats.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Keeping Your Cat Young

For those families adding a feline member during Adopt-a-Cat Month this June, keeping your cat young and in good health is a priority. Here are The Animal Medical Center’s top six tips to achieving purrfect health and maintaining a long life for your feline family member.

1. Give your cat a routine. Research has shown changes in feeding schedule or in caretaker can result in “illness behaviors” such as having a poor appetite, vomiting and not using the litter box. Basically, cats don’t like surprises.

2. Provide your cat with an interesting environment. Cats need climbing structures where they have a good view of the room and a window with an outdoor view. The perch should be comfortable for resting. Leave a radio on tuned to quiet music when you are away.

3. Encourage your cat to hunt. Not outdoors, but indoor hunting. Use food dispensing toys such as the FunKitty line. Keeping your cat’s brain active by having her “hunt” for her food will keep her engaged and active longer.

4. Cats may have a “hands off” personality, but when it comes to healthcare you need to be hands on, and the hands should be those of your cat’s veterinarian. Visit your cat’s veterinarian for routine health checks at least once a year and twice a year if your cat is 10 years of age or older.

5. Clean your cat’s teeth regularly. The American Veterinary Dental College and the AMC Dental Service recommend daily tooth brushing and annual cleanings under general anesthesia.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Prescription: A Cat and a Cardboard Box

June is Adopt a Cat Month. Since I am hoping many cats will be getting new homes this month, I am going to devote my Wednesday blogs in the month of June to cat issues to help new cat owners raise healthy happy cats.

“She’s not eating,” wailed one of my cat owning clients the other day on email. This cat has a complicated set of problems, all of which could decrease her appetite. Later that morning, we examined the cat and could find no specific reason for her not to be eating. Blood tests were A-OK, but she seemed more anxious than usual.

Valium, Prozac, Xanax? No, I prescribed a cardboard box, nothing fancy, a generic Staples copy paper box. I sprayed the box with Feliway® and set my little friend up in a quiet cage with a plate of food, a water bowl and the open side of the box facing the back of the cage.

All day long she relaxed, safely hidden from prying eyes, and snacked on her plate of food until it was licked clean. At the end of the day, I sent the box home with the owner.

Why a cardboard box? Cats are mostly solitary creatures who like their privacy. When they are ill or upset, privacy is even more important to them. Providing a safe place for them to hide… and eat, is just one way we humans can improve their environment. Feliway is another.

Feliway is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring substance called a pheromone. Pheremones are produced by the cat’s body and serve as a chemical signal to other cats. The signal induced by Feliway is one of comfort and reassurance, just what my patient needed that day.

Would your cat be happier with a cardboard box and Feliway? Check with your veterinarian. For other great suggestions on improving your cat’s (and dog’s) home environment, review the great materials on the Indoor Pet Initiative website.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

10 Reasons to Go to the Pet ER Now!

Although I regularly share pet healthcare information on the AMC blog, I also like to remind readers that this information is not a substitute for a vet visit. You should always contact your veterinarian in an emergency. In case you are unsure as to what constitutes a pet emergency, here are my top ten reasons to take your pet to the ER (in no particular order):

1. Vomiting or diarrhea — not the run of the mill variety, but more than 2 or 3 times in an hour or if it is bloody. If the retching is unproductive in a dog with a distended abdomen, worry about bloat.

2. Red eye, runny eye or an eye injury. The littlest eye injury can quickly turn into a big problem.

3. Ingestion of a possible toxin, such as antifreeze (ethelene glycol), rat poison, human medications or a toxic plant.

4. Difficulty breathing or excessive coughing. Your dog might hold her head and neck extended to get more air or your cat might start breathing through his mouth.

5. Traumatic event such as being hit by a car or falling from a window. On the outside your pet might look fine, but internally may have suffered a serious injury.

6. Straining to urinate, especially if no urine is being produced.

7. Collapse, loss of consciousness or a possible seizure. Early intervention could prevent another one of these frightening episodes.

8. Bleeding from anywhere: a cut, a torn toenail or serious bruising under the skin.

9. An acute allergic reaction, especially if it involves swelling of the face and could compromise breathing.

10. Just to show the ER doctors how much better your pet is feeling and to thank them!

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

You Learn Something New Everyday…About Pet Food

Pet food is important to pet lovers since we all want to feed our pets a diet which will help to keep them healthy family members for as long as possible. Many veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center prescribe special diets as part of the treatment for medical conditions. Research into various disease states has resulted in the development of “prescription diets” to meet the nutritional needs of pets while treating a medical condition.

Heart diets have lower sodium, joint diets contain ingredients to promote healthy joints and other diets are easily digestible for pets with gastrointestinal problems. These diets are an important part of many medical interventions. In fact, kidney-friendly diets have been shown to prolong survival in pets with kidney disease.

One of my patients, a French bulldog being treated for allergies, eats a Royal Canin novel protein diet composed of duck and potatoes. He has responded well to this diet and scratches much less when than when he was eating a regular dog food. His owner called me a day or so ago because the bag design had changed. The label said the food was the same, but when the bag was opened the nuggets were a different color.

I called the veterinary hotline staffed by customer service representatives of Royal Canin to check and be sure the food was really the same inside the bag since the outside had changed. The very helpful staff confirmed the food is being made in the same plant and the only change to the recipe was an increase in some vitamins to improve coat health. They also mentioned other consumers had called because of the color change in the food. According to the representative to whom I spoke, there is seasonal variation in the color of the duck meat and potatoes used to formulate the diet. This most recent batch was lighter than usual.

If you have a question about your pet’s food, check the label on the bag. Most pet food companies have a consumer hotline and, as I found out, they can be very helpful. Or call your veterinarian. They are a wealth of information and already know your pet’s medical issues. For tough nutritional issues, your veterinarian may suggest you consult a board certified veterinary nutritionist.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Amos, a 5 Year Old “Living Legend”

Every year, The Animal Medical Center honors “Living Legends,” patients who have survived what seemed to be insurmountable odds. Unlike most living legends, who have distinguished careers and are silver haired recipients, the 2011 AMC Living Legends are two youngsters who both have long lives left to live because of the care given at The AMC. Today, I am writing about Amos, a 5 year old Burmese cat. Our other living legend is Herbie, who I have written about previously.

Amos’ story starts in early 2007, when he was just 10 months old. After a normal kittenhood, he began vomiting and his regular veterinarians determined he had developed a gas-distended and inflamed esophagus and stomach. It seemed nothing was going out of the stomach and everything was coming back up. Pretty much all cats vomit, but poor Amos was losing weight and was down to barely six pounds.

Amos came to The AMC when treatment elsewhere was unsuccessful. Dr. Janet Kovak McClaran of the Surgery Service performed a Bilroth I surgery. Named after a 19th century human surgeon, the Bilroth I performed on Amos removed a thickened part of his stomach which was blocking the exit of food into the intestine and reattached the stomach directly to the small intestine. Within three weeks following surgery, Amos was a new cat. He was not vomiting and had gained one pound on his way to being an eight pound cat.

But the story doesn’t stop here. Eight months ago, Amos returned to The AMC. This time he was critically ill, requiring urgent, emergency surgery. Dr. Sarah Petre was the emergency surgeon on call. The AMC veterinarians were concerned for an intestinal blockage or worse, leaking intestines. What they found during an abdominal exploratory surgery was an eight inch segment of intestine twisted upon itself and deprived of its blood supply, but unrelated to the previous surgery. Amos underwent a second remodeling of his intestine to remove the twisted segment and reattach the ends. Without this surgery, Amos would have certainly died.

Both Amos and our other Living Legend, Herbie, will be attending The AMC’s Third Annual Living Legends Luncheon. If you would like to attend the luncheon and meet these incredible animals click here for more information.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

Lilies and Your Cat

The genesis of this week’s blog did not come from one my patients at The Animal Medical Center, but from a trip to my local Food Emporium. As I walked in through the produce section, the smell of lilies wafted towards me. They were beautiful…and deadly, at least to cats.

The entire lily family, including Easter lilies, Asian lilies, the elegant calla lily and even the feline named tiger lily should be off limits for cat owning households. The toxic substance in lilies is unknown but the toxin appears to affect only the cat and not the dog. In addition to finding a freshly mangled plant on the windowsill, cat owners will see vomiting and diarrhea following lily ingestion. Blood tests often reveal kidney failure which in some cases can require treatment with dialysis and may be fatal.

Lily ingestion is a year round problem because some cats cannot resist sampling the vegetation used to decorate the house — and the problem is not just with lilies. Many other ornamental plants can be toxic to cats. Common springtime flowers on this list include amaryllis, crocus, narcissus, daffodil and azalea. Cat owners must carefully select their houseplants to avoid a trip to the emergency room following unplanned consumption of a toxic cat salad.

If your cat inadvertently ingests one of these plants or any other plant for that matter, contact your veterinarian’s office to determine if treatment is necessary. You may also contact one of the animal poison control services included in the links below. These services are open 24 hours a day to advise pet owners and veterinarians on optimal management for pet poisonings.

Animal Poison Control Center

Angell Poison Control Hotline

Pet Poison Helpline

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.