Why the Animal ER is the Right Place in an Emergency

pet emergency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five Reasons to Go to the Animal ER NOW!

Pet families often ask me how they will know when it is time for their pet to go to an animal ER, like The Animal Medical Center’s 24/7 emergency room. This blog lists five things that should make you stop what you are doing and head to the closest animal ER.

Acute Collapse or Inability to Walk
The problems potentially responsible for a pet’s inability to walk are legion. They cover the entire gamut of body systems, including a slipped disc in the back, the pet version of vertigo, abnormal heart rhythms, orthopedic problems, non-functional adrenal glands and internal bleeding from a tumor, like hemangiosarcoma.

Not all of these are bona fide emergencies, but to the eyes of a pet family, these conditions can all look very serious. To the trained eyes of an ER team, these conditions can quickly be sorted out as serious or not.  The AMC’s ER staff use a triage system to determine treatment priority based on the severity of the condition. If they assess your pet’s condition as life-threatening, your pet moves to first in the treatment queue while other less sick pets must wait their turn.

Poisoning
Ingestion of medications, human or pet, is the number one reason for calls to pet poison control. Keep the numbers at the end of this blog handy in case you find your pet has ingested a medication by accident. The pet poison control hotlines can also advise you as to the type of emergency care your pet needs if he has eaten a plant, household cleaning product, paint balls or gorilla glue. For sure, if your pet has eaten rat poison, antifreeze, grapes, raisins, or products containing xylitol, go to the ER immediately.

Bloat
Two related conditions involving air distension of the stomach occur in dogs: 1. Bloat, which is simply stomach distention with air (gastric dilatation) and 2. Torsion twisting of the air filled stomach (gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV). The second is worse, but both are life threatening and dogs with either need ER attention immediately. The distended stomach impedes blood flow and your dog will develop shock. Dog families will readily recognize symptoms of bloat, which are unproductive vomiting, collapse, distended abdomen and general discomfort.

Breathing Problems
Respiratory distress stems from a problem anywhere between the tip of the nose and the lining of the lungs. Pneumonia can occur at any time of year, but is more frequent in dogs than in cats. Common in small breed dogs like Yorkshire terriers and Pugs is collapsing trachea.

Respiratory distress in cats may be the result of asthma or heart disease. Dogs too develop heart disease, which causes fluid to accumulate in their lungs, resulting in difficult respiration. The AMC’s cardiologists recommend an ER visit if the respirations in your pet are greater than 40 breaths per minute.

Trauma
Pets involved in vehicular accidents and those that have been accidently sat on, tripped over or have fallen from a height need to be evaluated immediately. Obviously if the pet is unable to walk or is having breathing problems, you would rush them to the ER, but even if your pet looks fine on the outside, internal injuries as still possible. Identification of invisible internal injuries such as burst bladders, leaking lungs and damaged diaphragms require sophisticated testing available in animal ERs. Early detection of these injuries can mean the difference between life and death.

Missing From This List
Readers may be scratching their heads and asking themselves why vomiting and diarrhea or bleeding did not make my top five list. While these clinical signs might require an emergency room visit, good judgment should prevail and if these signs persist, are substantial or accompany any of the five symptoms on the list, an ER visit is definitely in order.

Here are the numbers for animal poison control:

ASPCA Animal Poison Control
888-426-4435

Pet Poison Hotline
800-213-6680

Demystifying General Anesthesia, Part II: General Anesthesia

In my previous blog, I wrote about the steps leading up to general anesthesia designed to minimize anesthetic risk. This blog continues with medications used prior to the anesthetic agent and concludes with recommendations for pet owners.

Premedications

Successful anesthesia is not just about the main inhaled or injected anesthetic agent. Most times, several drugs are administered in the hours or minutes prior to induction of anesthesia. These drugs reduce the amount of anesthetic agent required, calm the patient, and make the process better for everyone involved. If postoperative pain is anticipated, pain management may be initiated during this period.

Induction and anesthesia maintenance drugs

After the premedications take effect, administration of an agent to induce anesthesia begins. Sometimes the same drug is used to maintain anesthesia for the procedure; other times a second maintenance agent is administered. Typically a breathing tube is secured in place to allow free passage of oxygen and anesthetic gas into the lungs and carbon dioxide out. The breathing tube has a little expandable balloon cuff which acts as a safety feature. The cuff is expanded to prevent aspiration of saliva or stomach contents into the lungs during the procedure.

Emergency preparedness

Nearly every veterinary hospital has a poster of drug doses to be used in emergency situations. At The AMC, we calculate the exact dose of a long list of emergency medications for every patient undergoing anesthesia. The paper stays with the pet throughout the anesthetic procedure. Emergency equipment is also available in the anesthesia area, including tracheal suction and defibrillators. During every procedure, heart rate, respirations, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level are recorded every few minutes, so if a negative trend is occurring it can by recognized and corrected immediately.

Recovery period

The most critical time in anesthesia is the three hours following discontinuation as this is when the most anesthetic-related deaths occur. Pets are carefully monitored until they are fully awake, once again able to swallow and ambulate normally. Here is a description of Spencer in The AMC’s recovery room.

The pet owner’s role

In addition to asking questions about the procedure and understanding the precautions your pet’s veterinary team is taking to safeguard your pet, you have other important roles. Following your veterinarian’s directions about withholding food and water before the procedure are critical in safeguarding your pet’s health. A full stomach could result in vomiting, leading to aspiration pneumonia.

In most hospitals, you will be asked to sign an informed consent document only when you understand the procedure, its risks, and have had the opportunity to ask questions of the veterinary staff. Finally, if your veterinarian recommends your pet stay overnight and recover under their supervision, listen and heed their advice. On the few occasions I have given in to client pressure and released a pet before I wanted to, both the client and I regretted it. Leaving your pet overnight allows the team to adjust the pain medications, while taking her home means she waits until morning if the prescription needs adjustment.

Fracture Repair in Dogs and Cats

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a reporter about pet owner administered first aid for dogs and cats when an injury may have resulted in a fractured bone. The article has good information for pet owners to read now in preparation for a potential emergency in the future. This blog post will pick up where that article left off and explain the fracture repair techniques used by veterinary surgeons The Animal Medical Center.

For the veterinarian, the critical piece of successful fracture management is to immobilize the fracture. This can be accomplished using one of several different methods. For some fractures, more than one method might be appropriate and for others there may be only one solution to fix the broken bone. All x-rays were taken by the AMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Service.

For centuries, fractures have been treated by immobilization using casts or splints. These days the old style plaster of Paris cast has been replaced in human medicine by plastic or fiberglass. In animals we tend to use splints of fiberglass or plastic for repair of simple fractures where the bones do not need realignment. The arrows in the photo to the right point to two toe fractures in a young dog which healed when the paw was placed in a splint.

Optimal healing of a fracture requires the joints above and below the fracture be immobilized. When the fracture occurs in a location where these joints cannot be adequately immobilized by an external bandage or cast, the fracture must be repaired internally via a surgical procedure. The x-ray to the left shows the use of two small pins in the front of the hind leg bone known as the tibia.

If a bone is fractured in multiple places or spirals along the length of a bone, a simple pin will not provide enough support to immobilize the fracture and allow healing. Shown below are before and after x-rays of a fractured arm (radius and ulna) in a dog. Notice the splint on the before films. The AMC’s Emergency Service placed the splint to immobilize the fracture until surgery could be performed. The AMC surgeons chose to repair the leg with a plate and screws since both bones of the leg were broken.

As research discovers more about fracture healing, methods of repair are changing. When possible, minimally invasive procedures are chosen as large invasive surgeries disturb the covering of the bone (periosteum), the blood clot at the fracture site and the muscles which provide the blood supply to the fracture. The AMC surgeons are using a new technique called MIPO (minimally invasive plate osteosynthesis) or percutaneous plating. This method of fracture stabilization, involves application of a bone plate through small skin incisions on either end of the fracture site. The fracture is aligned and the plate and screws are placed using guidance from a special intraoperative x-ray machine. Not all fractures are amenable to MIPO.

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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.

Images: AMC Diagnostic Imaging Department

National Pet Fire Safety Day

Last Friday, July 15, 2011, was National Pet Fire Safety Day. When we hear about pets and fires in the home, we often think of the dog who awakens his owner, saving lives with a warning bark about a fire in the house.

But pets are also the victims of fire. According to Pet Safety Alert, 40,000 pets are killed in fires annually, most of them in residential fires.

Every year, The Animal Medical Center provides care to pets who have been trapped in burning buildings and rescued by New York’s bravest, our friends at the NYC Fire Department.

As a pet lover, you can take action to prevent pet-related fires and to protect your pet if there is a fire.

To help firefighters find all of your pets, the folks at ADT Home Security Systems offer a free window cling to alert firefighters to the presence of pets in the home. You can request one through their website.

Firefighters want to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation, but the oxygen masks designed for humans are not shaped to fit a pet’s nose. If you are feeling philanthropic, donate a pet oxygen mask to your local firefighting team.

Pet proofing your home can help to prevent a catastrophic fire. Candles are a huge danger for pets. A wagging tail can knock a candle off the coffee table and into a pile of flammable papers. My own cat, who had a big puffy tail, swished it over a lit candle and nearly went up in flames! Space heaters and backyard grills present a hazard, as they can easily be knocked over by a pet and start a fire.

To protect the entire family, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have their batteries changed twice a year. A good time to change the batteries is when you change the clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall.

Like people, pets can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. If everyone in the family is ill and your pet is exhibiting the following signs, see your veterinarian and mention you are concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Loss of exercise stamina
  • Disturbances in gait

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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.

The Pen Cap May Be Mightier than the Sword…

But it can’t beat a bronchoscope!

One thing I love about pets is their unpredictability. You just can never guess what they will do next. Here’s the story of Barcley, the French bulldog and the nearly fatal pen cap.

The beginning seemed innocent enough: a dog playing with a bright blue highlighter pen. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe and his owners rushed him to The Animal Medical Center. Quick administration of oxygen and a sedative by the ER staff seemed to alleviate the breathing problem enough to allow a chest x-ray to be taken.

No one would have predicted the x-ray would show Barcley’s windpipe contained what looked like the cap of the bright blue highlighter!

The ER staff had to think quickly and cleverly. Barcley needed anesthesia and a bronchoscope to remove the highlighter pen cap, but the standard anesthetic plan of placing a breathing tube into the windpipe was out of the question; it was already full of the highlighter cap. To further complicate matters, Barcley is a brachycephalic (short nosed) dog, a type of dog known to have a greater risk of anesthetic complications.

Dr. Stacy Burdick of The AMC's Internal Medicine Service was called in at 1:30 am to perform the procedure which took 20 minutes, but seemed like a lifetime. She placed a small rubber tube in the windpipe to deliver oxygen and administered an injectable anesthetic agent into Barcley’s vein. Dr. Burdick cautiously advanced the bronchoscope down Barcley’s windpipe. She was worried the windpipe could have been damaged as the cap went down, or worse, the windpipe could tear when she pulled it back up.

On the right, you can see what Dr. Burdick saw when the cap came into view. The cap blocked the entire lumen of the windpipe. Knowing she had to work quickly to restore the delivery of oxygen to the lungs, she passed a special grabber device through the bronchoscope, grabbed the cap and gently pulled it gently out through the mouth as she pulled out the bronchoscope.

Barcley’s life was saved from the pen cap by the mighty bronchoscope and the skilled Dr. Burdick.

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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.

Dogs and Cats as Diana and Orion, the Hunters

Pet owners believe their well-fed, or more likely overfed, dog or cat should have no reason to hunt, but lately it seems my patients are on a hunting spree.

Most cat owners who allow their cats outside, become accustomed to freshly killed gifts of mice and other small rodents carefully placed as an offering on the back stoop. But this week the take has been much more substantial.

Take Francie, for example, a special needs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on anti-seizure medication. Twice last week she captured an unidentifiable furry creature and dragged it in through the doggie door. One unfortunate victim was hauled into Francie’s crate and the other left with pride in the middle of the kitchen floor. Franice’s family was outwardly distressed over her behavior, but the diminutive “Diana” seemed pleased with her hunting success.

Dixie and Mabel, a pair of Labradors, have not been hunting because they are, of course retrievers! To their owners’ initial horror, they were about to retrieve what appeared to be a dead possum, when the possum stopped “playing possum” and safely scampered back into the woods.

The Orion of the group is Willie, a handsome black Standard Poodle. He was out romping in his yard when a fawn strolled by. He tackled the fawn and was immediately tackled by his owners, who saved the fawn and had it safely transferred to the care of a wildlife rehabilitator.

I can share all these stories with you because the pet owners called me; not to brag, but out of concern for their pet’s health. Most were concerned about the potential for rabies transmission from wildlife. This is a real concern for pet owners and just one very good reason for having your pet vaccinated for rabies. Rabies vaccines are very effective and rabies is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs and cats.

Another concern is for parasite which can be carried by wildlife and transmitted to your dog or cat. The Dianas and Orions need annual fecal examinations and routine year round parasite prevention as recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

These pet owners also called wondering how to handle injured wildlife. First, you should not attempt to touch or move injured wildlife as you may be bitten. In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation licenses wildlife rehabilitators who can provide assistance and care for injured wildlife. There is also a FAQ page with great information about wildlife in your yard.

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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.

Everything Old is New Again: Plague and Leprosy

Last week there were two very interesting stories in the news about the intersection between people and animals. Both reported on diseases we rarely hear about anymore: plague and leprosy.

Leprosy is the older disease and has been reported since Biblical times. The first reported epidemic of plague occurred somewhat later, in the 6th or 7th century. Bubonic plague, or the Black Death, was the scourge of the Middle Ages.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yesinia pestis. The usual source of Y. pestis is the rat flea, but hunting pets can contract the plague from eating infected rodents or rabbits. Even though Y. pestis is predominantly found in California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, cases can be seen throughout the country if a human or pet travels to one of these areas and contracts the disease before they return home. An infected pet can, in turn, infect humans. The possibility of plague transmission is one reason prairie dogs may not make the best pets.

The name bubonic comes from the word bubo, which is a fancy word for enlarged lymph node. Wikipedia shows an illumination from a medieval Bible of sinners afflicted with buboes.

Both humans and pets with bubonic plague have enlarged lymph nodes, which are painful. Fever, malaise and non–specific flu-like symptoms are typical for plague in both humans and pets. Although last week’s plague case occurred in a dog, in general, cats are more susceptible to plague than dogs.

Leprosy was in the news too; not because of a sick dog or cat, but because of armadillos. Those prehistoric-looking armored mammals carry the leprosy bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. Most leprosy cases occur outside the United States, but cases occur in people who have not traveled outside the USA. This finding puzzled researchers until the DNA of the M. leprae was studied. Both armadillos and humans infected with M. leprae in the USA share the same unique strain of the bacteria. This bacterium is different from the strain of M. leprae found outside the USA. The New England Journal of Medicine article concluded humans can contract leprosy from infected armadillos.

To help protect yourself and your pet from contracting diseases of wildlife:

  • Keep your pet leashed or indoors to prevent contact with wild animals which can cause serious diseases.
  • Never approach, pet or handle wildlife even if they are acting friendly.
  • If your pet is sick, always tell your veterinarian where your pet has traveled and do the same when you visit your physician. It may be just the perfect clue to the diagnosis.

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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.

Summer Noise Phobias

Lovely weather, summer holidays and a relaxed atmosphere make summer everyone’s favorite season – everyone except for dogs with noise phobias. Fireworks and thunderstorms create unexpected loud noises, frightening to many dogs and cats as well. The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center see dogs and cats injured and lost over the Fourth of July weekend as a result of their noise phobias.

Signs of noise phobia:

Destructive behavior

  • Scratching/digging at door or wall
  • Chewing
  • Loss of housebreaking

Anxious behavior

  • Clinging to owner
  • Drooling
  • Hiding, especially cats
  • Panting
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Dilated pupils

Abnormal behavior

  • Skipping meals
  • Jumping out of windows/running out of doors
  • Shaking
  • Loss of training, i.e., not responding to commands

Home Remedies
Consider trying home remedies for noise phobia. One of my patients with thunderstorm phobia calms down if her owner wipes her fur down with a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets may decrease the buildup of static electricity caused by the impending thunderstorm. I suggest the unscented ones, since dogs don’t like smelling like an ocean breeze. Anxious dogs may feel calmer during storms or fireworks if you apply a dab of lavender oil to their ear tips. The lavender oil fragrance has calming properties and is available at health food stores and on the internet.

Noise Phobia Products

  • Along the lines of the antistatic dryer sheet is the Storm Defender Cape which has a special lining to diffuse static electricity.
  • The Thundershirt is a snug fitting dog T-shirt which some of my dog owners have used for anxiety related to car rides, veterinarian visits, as well as thunderstorms.
  • An interesting product I found is dog ear muffs, but I don’t have personal experience with them.

For additional tips on managing fireworks phobia in dogs read a previous blog, "Fireworks and Your Dog."

If you need professional help managing noise phobias in your pet, a behavioral consult with a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists can help set your dog or cat on the road to recovery.

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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.