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.

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.

Flu Season is Here, But This Time for Cats

Cat avian fluUpdate: Late on the afternoon of 12/22/16, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced one person, of more than 350 people screened, has been found with H7N2; this person is a veterinarian who had prolonged close exposure to respiratory secretions of sick cats at Animal Care Centers of NYC’s (ACC) Manhattan shelter and has recovered from mild illness. Read the full press release.

Influenza hit the news last week when cats at a New York City shelter were diagnosed with avian influenza. As of this writing, the significance of this species jump of the avian influenza virus is yet unclear, but if you know anything about flu, a jump of an influenza virus between species is no surprise.

Horses to Dogs
In 2003, a respiratory illness affected greyhounds at Florida racetracks, resulting in illness severe enough to cause death in some dogs. Study of that virus showed it originated in horses, and as early as 1999 acquired the ability to infect dogs. Over time, the virus has been found nationwide and is considered one of the pathogens responsible for “kennel cough” complex.

Dogs Again
Over 1,000 dogs in the Chicago area were affected by a respiratory illness in 2006. First suspected to be caused by the same virus as the 2003 outbreak, the cause was ultimately determined to be a new canine flu virus. This second strain of flu virus infecting dogs originated in Southern China and Korea. Occasionally cats can catch this strain of flu virus. Just this year a single vaccine has become available to protect dogs against both strains of the canine flu virus.

Humans to dogs, cats and ferrets
During the 2009 human flu season, a limited number of dogs, cats and ferrets with diagnosed with a human influenza virus infection. They were tested for human influenza because one of their family members was sick immediately prior to the pet’s illness. This is just another example of how flexible flu viruses are.

Now Birds to Cats
Last week, the New York Post reported a feline influenza outbreak in a New York City shelter. Officials have identified this virus as a Type A influenza virus typically found in birds. It is a low pathogenic avian influenza virus and not the same type of flu that ravaged commercial poultry farms in the United States in 2015. As of right now, no dogs in the shelter have turned up positive for the virus and experts think dogs may not be susceptible to this particular strain. This strain of flu virus is not thought to infect humans and no shelter workers have become infected. But stay tuned as flu viruses can infect unexpected hosts.

Do Your Flu-Diligence

  • Agree to influenza testing if your pet has a respiratory illness typical of the flu.
  • Check with your veterinarian about your dog’s risk factors for contracting canine flu and consider vaccination if the risk is determined to be high.
  • If you get the flu, quarantine yourself from all family members including the dog, cat and ferret to prevent an interspecies infection. Wash your hands before petting your dog and cover your sneezes to protect your cat.
  • Consider getting a flu shot for yourself, just to protect your pets.

Giving Indoor Cats Outdoor Time

adopt a shelter cat monthJune is the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month and I am hoping many cats will get a forever home during this month. In a prior blog, I made a case for making your cat an indoor animal for safety reasons. But to help all the new cat owners get ready for their new furry friend and to inspire current cat owners to enrich their cat’s lives, I have some suggestions on how to safely bring the great outdoors to your indoor cat.

Cat Harness and Leash
The simple method of giving your indoor cat outdoor time is a leash and harness. Notice, I did not say a collar because cats can slip out of a collar and also many harnesses. One snug, but comfortable looking harness is the Kitty Holster, made of cotton and with a top zipper closure, it appears very secure for a walk outdoors with your cat.

Cat Gazebo
Using the search words “cat gazebo” or “cat enclosure,” I found a number of outdoor play spaces that can easily and quickly be set up in your backyard or on your deck. I would choose a cat tent with a roof or canopy to provide shade on a sunny day. Because cats love to climb, I would also select one with a built in perch or two. Some cat gazebos are very elaborate and become an integral part of your outdoor living room.

cat connectorCat Connector
While nearly all of the products I identified to bring your indoor cat outdoors require you to transport your cat to the structure, I did find one system where your cat can have free access to her outdoor space. Using a connector kit that looks something like a dryer hose, the cat can exit the house via the tube installed into a window and end up in the outdoor cat condo, giving your cat total independence.

Cat Run
Another search term that identified some nice outdoor spaces for cats was “cat run.” Cat runs come in both vertical and horizontal versions which can be zipped together to form a large outdoor space for more than one cat at a time. The cat runs I found collapse into a small carrying case, making them portable for a traveling cat.

cat solariumCat Solarium
Fitting into a window like a window air conditioning unit, the cat solarium creates a cat sized bay window hovering over your yard. The windows on three sides give your cat a panoramic view of the great outdoors.

Bring Your Cat Closer to the Outdoors
If you don’t have a yard for a cat gazebo or your persnickety condo board won’t allow a solarium, consider bringing your cat closer to nature with a window hammock, a carpet covered window sill extender or a hanging window basket cat perch.

Whether you choose a solarium, a gazebo or just a window hammock, your cat will now be able to safely enjoy the great outdoors.

Cat Myths Debunked

Cats are the masters of disguise. They have the innate ability to masquerade themselves as a healthy cat until hospitalization and intensive care are required. Sick cats commonly hide under the bed or in the closet; however, many cat owners mistakenly believe this behavior is simply their cat expressing its feline independence rather than a potential sign of serious illness. Another sick cat behavior frequently mistaken for bad cat behavior is a loss of litter box training. Check out our slideshow debunking 4 common myths about cats.

Feline Stomatitis: A Pain in the Mouth

You can bet with a high degree of certainty that any medical condition ending in -itis is painful. Think appendicitis, neuritis and bronchitis. The suffix –itis means inflammation. Stomatitis means inflammation of the mouth, and in cats, the redness and swelling seen in the photo on the right characterizes feline stomatitis.

Don’t confuse stomatitis with gingivitis
The cat on the left has gingivitis. The thin red line at the tooth-gum junction seen in the second photograph is gingivitis, which is much less painful and much easier to treat than stomatitis. Gingivitis is a mild, localized form of oral inflammation and stomatitis is more widespread.

Causes of stomatitis
A recent research publication reported on over 5,000 cats. Cats with oral disease were more likely to test positive for either feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Stomatitis was most strongly associated with FIV infection. An exuberant immune reaction to plaque buildup on the teeth has been suggested as a cause of stomatitis. Feline calici virus infection may be the trigger for the exuberant immune reaction against the plaque.

Recognizing stomatitis in your cat
You might not even know your cat has gingivitis unless you lift their lip and look in their mouth. Recognizing stomatitis in your cat is easier. Cats with stomatitis paw at their face, refuse their favorite cat food, drool and yawn. Sometimes you will notice blood in the drool or your cat screaming when she yawns. Any of these clinical signs should provoke a visit to your cat’s veterinarian.

Treatment of stomatitis
A professional dental cleaning will remove plaque, but in severe cases of stomatitis, teeth cleaning may not be enough to correct the problem on a long-term basis. Antibiotic treatment may also provide a short-term benefit through temporary reduction of bacteria levels in the mouth. If these measures do not resolve stomatitis and your cat is still painful, tooth extraction will likely be the next recommended treatment. How many teeth are extracted depends on the severity and location of the oral inflammation. A routine tooth cleaning and extractions of diseased teeth may cure or control the mild cases, but extraction of all molars and premolars is a common prescription. In some cases, removal of all the teeth, including the fangs and the tiny front teeth called incisors is necessary to control stomatitis. After a post-operative recovery period, cats can eat canned food and have an improved quality of life once the stomatitis has resolved. While this sounds drastic, research has shown 80% of cats have resolution of oral pain with tooth extraction.

Cat owner’s role in preventing stomatitis

  • Train your kitten to accept tooth brushing during kittenhood, and brush daily.  This will help to keep levels of plaque low.
  • Treat your cat with products designed to removed plaque and tartar as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Take your cat to the veterinarian for annual examination and recommendations about dental cleaning.
  • Keep your cat indoors to protect them against infection with the feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus.

What Can I Possibly Have in Common with Howard Stern?

Yes, I mean THE Howard Stern, shock jock, “America’s Got Talent” judge and the “King of All Media.” Are you surprised at this comparison – me, a NYC veterinarian and Howard, a media mogul? Don’t be, because the love of pets can be a great equalizer.

Take for example, dinnertime:

In addition, both Howard and I live and work in New York City and can be heard on Sirius XM Satellite Radio. Of course, Howard has his own show, and I am a regular guest on “Doctor Radio” from NYU Langone Medical Center, with my friends Dr. Frank Adams and Samantha Heller. But the biggest similarity between us is our passion for foster kittens.

Families, like Howard’s and mine, who are willing to temporarily shelter young kittens provide a critical component of the adoption process. The Stern family works with the foster care team at North Shore Animal League and my fosters are part of the ASPCA program. If left in animal shelters, these young kittens are prone to contracting severe upper respiratory infections, which delay their adoption into forever homes. Moreover, kittens raised in homes develop better social skills and manners than those living in cages.

If you would like to learn more about my fun with foster kittens, read “What to Expect When You're Expecting Kittens” or “Kitten Questions.” For insight into Howard’s foster care experience, read one of his recent blog entries about Tarzan, the cat.

There are always lots of young kittens in need of a “temporary” home before they find their way to their forever home. Join Howard and me in this important work by contacting your local shelter to become foster parents to some needy kittens.

And don’t forget, if you are already a foster mom or dad to a pet who may be experiencing health problems which could hinder adoption of the pet, check out AMC TO THE RESCUE. The AMC has established a fund for 501(c)(3) registered animal rescue organizations to aid in the cost of specialty care. It is The AMC’s way of helping pets find a forever home.

Your Cat and Your Unborn Child

This blog is written in honor of our furry feline friends. Remember, June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, so visit your local animal shelter to add a feline to your family.

I frequently get telephone calls from expectant mothers who are worried about the impact of how interacting with their cat might impact the health of their unborn baby. Foremost in most people’s mind is toxoplasmosis, but if you are “in the family way” there are other issues regarding your cat and the expected arrival that you might want to consider.

What is toxoplasmosis and how is it contracted?
Pregnant women and their obstetricians worry about toxoplasmosis, which is an infection caused by a parasite carried by many warm blooded animals, especially cats. If you become infected with Toxoplasma gondii while you are pregnant, the organism can cross the placenta and make your baby sick. Because this organism is widespread in nature, pregnant women can be exposed to Toxoplasma through mechanisms other than their pet cat. Consumption of undercooked meat or unwashed vegetables, exposure to cat feces while gardening and contaminated cutting boards are all potential sources of Toxoplasma organisms. Wash all vegetables before you eat them and scrub your cutting boards with hot soapy water or sanitize them in the dishwasher.

Litter box dangers
If you are a cat owner, you’ll need to avoid contact with your cat’s litter box. Cat feces become infectious with Toxoplasma organisms about 24 hours after defecation. Daily removal of solid waste from your cat’s litter box is critical to protect your baby, but should be done by someone else in the household. Litter boxes should be thoroughly cleaned with scalding hot water on a weekly basis to destroy Toxoplasma organisms. Protecting your family against toxoplasmosis is just one more reason to keep your cat indoors since cats contract toxoplasmosis when they consume rodents and other small mammals.

Avoiding a fall
Although you may be radiant due to your “delicate condition,” you may also be a bit clumsy and prone to falling. In one study, over a quarter of women reported falling during pregnancy. Take extra care at feeding time or other times when your cat is likely to be under foot and might cause you to fall and hurt yourself or your baby.

Scratches and bites
In your efforts to have everything perfect for the arrival of your baby, you may think about giving your cat a comb out and pedicure. My recommendation is to have the grooming done by a professional before baby arrives to help keep scratches to a minimum and to save you from a bite or scratch which might be more serious than normal.

A new baby and a new cat?
Although June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, I recommend you exercise caution when adding a new cat to your family when you are pregnant. Adopting a cat with an unknown health history or a cat who recently lived outdoors could be risky. Kittens from shelters would be more likely to pose a risk to your unborn baby than a kitten born and raised by a loving family in their home.

With reasonable precautions, you can have it all – your favorite furry feline and a healthy, happy baby.