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.

Suffocation Risks for Pets

pet suffocation

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

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

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

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

Protecting Your Pet Against Suffocation

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

Diet-Related Canine Heart Disease

dog diets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immune Mediated Thrombocytopenia

immune mediated thrombocytopenia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun Feline Facts

cats playing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catnip and its Alternatives

catnip

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

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

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

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

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

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

Explaining the FVRCP in Feline Vaccines

cat vaccine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Strange Cancers from the Animal World

melinda at AMC

Being a veterinary oncologist by training, an article about cancer always catches my attention. I wanted to share some strange cancer news from the animal world for this week’s blog post.

Contagious Cancer in Dogs
I have a very special patient right now, Melinda, a recipient of a grant from AMC to the Rescue, the Animal Medical Center’s fund to support specialty care for animals in need of a forever home. Melinda has a strange cancer called transmissible venereal tumor. This tumor is contagious and typically spreads between dogs during mating. Even though this tumor can look ugly, it is usually curable with several rounds of chemotherapy, and Melinda is responding well to treatment. Analysis of the cells in transmissible venereal tumor finds fewer chromosomes than in normal dog cells. The chromosomes in the tumor are shaped differently than normal dog chromosomes. Transmissible venereal tumor was first reported in 1876, but genetic analysis tells us the tumor is thousands of years old.

Cancer Immunotherapy for Tasmanian Devils
Beginning in the 1990’s, wildlife biologists identified a new type of cancer in Tasmanian devils. Like the transmissible venereal tumor of the dog, the devil facial tumor has chromosomal abnormalities and is spread when a male devils fight over a potential mate. The tumors are fatal and in certain areas of Tasmania, nearly 90% of devils were lost to this disease. But in March 2018, an encouraging report was published in Nature. Scientists at the University of Tasmania created an antitumor vaccine from devil facial tumor cells which were modified to make them induce an immune response against a tumor already present on the face of a Tasmanian devil. In three of five devils treated with the vaccine, the tumors regressed. This is the first step to helping eradicate this tumor from wild devils and also saving this rare and endangered species.

No Cancer in Elephants
Studying cancer in animals helps researchers understand cancer in humans. For example, bone cancer or osteosarcoma occurs more commonly in dogs than in children and for years, the dog has served as a model for developing new osteosarcoma treatments. Elephants are a species less likely to get cancer than other animals, like humans and dogs. By studying the DNA of elephants, scientists have found clues to why these majestic creatures are resistant to cancer. One reason is elephants have multiple copies of a gene TF53. The gene codes for a protein p53 which helps to remove mutant cells before they become cancerous.

In a second study, scientists found elephant’s cells repair damage quickly and that keep cells from going rogue and becoming malignant. Understanding the unique resistance of elephants to cancer may lead to methods of cancer prevention in creatures more susceptible to cancer.

Cancer is a frightening and devastating disease in everyone, including pets, wildlife and humans. But by studying the biology of cancer in multiple species, we can make progress in understanding and treating this dreaded disease.

Housekeeping Tips to Prevent Fleas and Ticks

fleas and ticks

Summer is officially here, and everyone is looking forward to the next few months of outdoor activities. For those of us with furry family members, summer is the time of year when they drag unwanted visitors, like fleas and ticks into our homes. The “yuck factor” for these critters is high, but fleas and ticks can expose human family members to serious diseases. Here are three housekeeping tips to prevent a home infestation with

Va-voom the Vacuum
Fleas spend very little time on your pet, which means if you see a flea on your pet, you can assume there are plenty of fleas in your carpet, furniture and bedding. The sight of a flea should send you straight to the closet for your vacuum cleaner. By vacuuming carpets and upholstery, you will remove not only adult fleas but flea eggs as well. Vacuum extra diligently in pet areas like near their beds, crates or the cat tree where fleas and ticks are most likely to fall off your pet. Once vacuuming is completed, throw away the vacuum cleaner bag. If you leave the bag inside the vacuum, the flea eggs will hatch and only make your infestation worse.

Washer Workout
Rather than vacuum your pet’s bedding, just throw it in the washer. The hot water cycle and detergent will kill fleas and ticks in the bedding. Ditto for soft pet toys like stuffless dog toys. While you are cleaning up, use your dishwasher to clean your pet’s food and water bowls and hard toys. You wouldn’t eat off dirty dishes and neither should your pet.

Tidy the Yard
Any fleas and ticks on your pet come from the outdoors. If the outdoors your pet experiences is your yard, these simple gardening tips can decrease the flea and tick burden in your yard. Fleas and ticks prefer cool, moist, shady places. Prune bushes, trim trees and mow the lawn to create an environment hostile to fleas and ticks. Allow your lawn to dry out between waterings as fleas love moisture. Make sure all leaf litter, branches and any clutter is removed from your yard so it does not harbor ticks, fleas and their eggs. If you are an ambitious gardener, create a border of cedar chips around your yard. The smell of cedar helps to keep fleas away and the border provides a zone of protection between the perimeter of your yard and the lawn to restrict flea and tick migration.

Protecting Your Pet
A recent survey of pet owners says one-third of pet owners do not regularly give the flea and tick medications prescribed by veterinarians like me. In part due to global warming, both the habitat and season for fleas and ticks is expanding. My final tip is to give these critical medications to protect your pet against fleas and ticks so everyone has a healthy and parasite-free summer.