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.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Feline Obesity

Buster Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proteinuria in Pets

proteinuria

When your pet has an annual physical examination, your veterinarian will often request a urine sample. Once you collect the sample, your veterinarian will have the urine analyzed in the laboratory. Urinalysis is a test which assesses nearly 20 different parameters. This blog post will focus on one particular parameter of the urinalysis, protein.

Protein is Not Normal
In a normal dog or cat, very little protein passes through the kidneys and into the urine. When a routine urinalysis identifies an increase in urine protein, a number of tests are performed to determine the source of the protein. If the source is thought to be the kidneys, a follow-up test called a urine protein creatinine ratio is performed. This ratio helps us determine if the protein in the urine is elevated to a level where medical intervention is needed. Multiple assessments of a pet’s protein creatinine ratio may be necessary before a diagnosis of excessive protein in the urine is made. The condition where excessive protein is lost in the urine is called proteinuria.

Causes of Proteinuria
Chronic kidney disease is probably the most common cause of proteinuria, but veterinarians see it in pets with other chronic diseases as well. Diabetes, Lyme disease, and Cushing’s disease have all been associated with increased urine protein levels. But a bladder infection or fever might cause increased protein in the urine. The key to determining the cause of proteinuria is a complete diagnostic evaluation which will include blood tests, blood pressure measurement, and possibly even an ultrasound.

Protein is a Problem
Proteinuria is problematic on several levels. Protein in the urine signals a problem with the kidneys. The leakage of protein though the kidneys damages the kidneys and decreases their ability to remove waste products from the body, leading to kidney failure. Loss of protein in the urine can deplete the protein in the body, putting the patient at risk for swelling of the limbs and blood clots. High blood pressure has also been associated with protein loss in the urine. In both dogs and cats with chronic kidney disease, proteinuria correlates with an increased risk of death from chronic kidney disease when compared to patients without proteinuria.

Treating Proteinuria
Once a diagnosis of proteinuria has been established, any underlying disorders, such as Lyme disease, will be treated. Successful treatment can resolve the proteinuria. If the cause of the proteinuria is chronic kidney disease, then lifelong treatment will be required. Non-drug interventions include a kidney-friendly diet and anti-inflammatory supplements like fish oil. Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors like enalapril or benazepril, and newer medications like telmisartan (an angiotensive receptor II blocker) are administered to decrease protein loss. If pets have high blood pressure, antihypertensive medications will be prescribed and blood pressure monitored. Some pets with serious protein loss need medications to prevent formation of blood clots.

Help Keep Your Pet Healthy
You are part of your pet’s healthcare team. Your efforts in collecting a urine sample helps veterinarians like me take better care of your pet. Better care means you and your pet can have more healthy and happy years together.

The Difference Between Diagnostic Radiology, Radiation Therapy and Interventional Radiology

radiation therapy

At first glance, these three disciplines within veterinary medicine seem pretty much the same, but at the Animal Medical Center, diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy, and interventional radiology represent three different groups of veterinarians with three very different sets of background and training. What ties these three disparate groups together is their use of radiation to diagnose and treat disease.

Diagnostic Radiology
These days you are more likely to find a Department of Diagnostic Imaging in a hospital than a Radiology Department. Radiology is an older term, used when x-rays were the only testing modality using radiation available in medicine. Today, AMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Service uses not only traditional x-rays but also ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the diagnostic evaluation of patients. AMC’s Diagnostic Imaging Service also has a fluoroscopy unit, which is like a video x-ray. This machine allows us to watch bodily functions like blood flow or swallowing in real time. To see an example of fluoroscopy, read about Molly the Ganaraskan. Every veterinarian at AMC depends on our diagnostic imaging team for their expertise in imaging sick pets and helping us to make an accurate diagnosis.

Radiation Therapy
A very accurate description, AMC’s Radiation Oncology Service uses radiation to treat tumors. Specifically, we have a linear accelerator (linac), a giant machine that creates various types of radiation depending on patient needs. Our state-of-the-art linac can make electrons for superficial treatments, produce high energy pinpoint beams for stereotactic radiosurgery, and stereotactic body radiation therapy. Diagnostic Imaging’s CT scanner interfaces with Radiation Oncology’s 3-D computer planning system. The interface allows the linac’s multileaf collimator to sculpt the radiation beam to precisely target the tumor being treated. The veterinarians working in radiation therapy have training in both the physics of radiation as well as the management of cancer.

Interventional Radiology
Specialists in interventional radiology use minimally invasive techniques to make image-guided diagnoses and also deploy high tech treatments for a variety of diseases. Using a range of techniques which rely on the use of images generated by diagnostic radiology equipment such as fluoroscopy, ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI imaging, the interventional radiologist precisely targets various organs with treatments such as stents, occluders and medications. Watch a video where AMC’s interventional radiology team uses fluoroscopy to close off abnormal blood vessels in the liver. The veterinarians in our Interventional Radiology Service have diverse backgrounds in surgery, internal medicine plus specialized training to use minimally invasive equipment.

Linked together by their use of radiation as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool, diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy and interventional radiology are just a few of the highly trained specialists at AMC working to make sick pets healthy again.

The Horrors of Halloween: The Pet Version

halloween pets

When witches go riding, and black cats are seen. The moon laughs and whispers, ‘tis near Halloween. – 19th century postcard

Although black cats are one of the spooky creatures connected with Halloween, many cats and dogs may not be as excited about Halloween as their families are. Halloween has become one of America’s premier holidays, and according to the National Retail Foundation, the total spending for the holiday in 2017 is expected to reach $9.1 billion. But have pets fallen under the magical spell of Halloween like their families have? Candy, costumes, witches and wizards can make Halloween downright frightful for pets.

Tricks Not Treats
About one-third of the money spent on Halloween goes towards the purchase of candy. But the trick or treat bags should be off-limits for pets. Chocolate contains theobromine, a substance similar to caffeine. The amount is lowest in white chocolate and highest in dark chocolate, but any chocolate consumption is risky in pets because chocolate causes vomiting, diarrhea and hyperactivity. Some health conscious spirits distribute little boxes of raisins as an alternative to candy. But when dogs consume raisins, these healthy little snacks become tricks, not treats, and can damage your dog’s kidneys. If your dog eats sugar-free Halloween treats containing xylitol, expect a hair-raising trip to the animal ER because xylitol can be lethal in dogs.

Keep the candy cauldron out of your pet’s reach to prevent grave consequences.

Creepy Costumes
Most pets rush to the door when the doorbell rings, but the appearance of ghosts, goblins and the Grim Reaper at your door screaming “Trick or Treat” may be your pet’s version of a zombie apocalypse. Keep your pet safely confined and well away from the front door to prevent an accidental escape when unexpected apparitions startle your pet.

Of the 179 million Americans celebrating Halloween, 28 million will purchase a costume for their pet. Not all pets think dressing up is bloody good fun. Hazardous hats and tight tu-tus may turn your pet’s Halloween into a nightmare. Do a costume trial run before the big night to prevent Halloween from becoming a bad dream.

Which Witch is Pet Safe?
To create a haunting aura on Halloween, half of Americans plan to decorate their homes this year, although not all decorations are pet safe. Jack-O-Lanterns add to the eerie atmosphere of Halloween night, but the candle inside can easily set a curious cat or dog’s fur on fire. Use battery operated flickering lights in place of the traditional candles in your carved pumpkin. I love to decorate with fake cobwebs and plastic spiders. If you have cats, I don’t recommend using this scary décor since cats love to eat anything that is stringy. Strings can easily lodge in your cat’s intestine causing a blockage.

All of us at the Animal Medical Center wish you and your pets a safe and fun Howl-oween.

Resources for National Dog Bite Prevention Week 2017

This year, National Dog Bite Prevention Week® has moved from May to April, and will remain a signature April event in the future. Sponsors of National Dog Bite Prevention Week moved the event up in the calendar in an attempt to educate the public and prevent more bite injuries. Bites occur most commonly in children, and more bite injuries occur in the summer months. The exact reason for these phenomena are unknown, but perhaps because children and dogs are frequently together outdoors in the warmer months or maybe dogs are cranky, just like the rest of us are when the weather is hot and sticky.

The Coalition
Dog bite injury affects many facets of society and the coalition sponsoring the event reflects that. The coalition includes the American Veterinary Medical Association, United States Postal Service, State Farm Insurance, American Humane, Insurance Information Institute, and Positively®, Victoria Stilwell. Each one of these organizations brings valuable information from their perspective about dog bite prevention. I have summarized some of those resources below.

American Veterinary Medical Association
Doggie Do’s and Don’ts: Dog Safety and You, the AVMA bilingual coloring book. You can download a copy for free for your child or order enough for a whole classroom of children.

State Farm Insurance
Insurance companies pay millions of dollars each year for dog bite claims and have a vested interest in decreasing the annual number of dog bites. State Farm’s website provides information about preventing and responding to a bite incident. The site also has several other dog safety related articles of interest to pet families.

American Humane 
If you are a teacher looking for a lesson plan about animals, check the website of American Humane. Although not directly focused on dog bite prevention, these prefabricated plans have been devised for students 5-7 years of age and run 45 minutes in length. The plan includes worksheets and coloring pages which can easily be reproduced for classroom use.

Positively, Victoria Stilwell
This British television dog trainer and promoter of positive re-enforcement methods of dog training has recorded a podcast with tips to stop dogs from biting. Download the podcast and make listening to it a family activity.

A Few Personal Favorites
Dog bite prevention information is not limited to coalition members. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a podcast on bite prevention.

Dogs participating in obedience training are less likely to bite and I recommend all puppies and dogs successfully complete an obedience training course. One of the many courses available is the Canine Good Citizen program sponsored by the American Kennel Club.

Finally, for the most updated information on bite prevention, tune into the National Dog Bite Prevention Week coalition’s press conference on Thursday, April 6, featuring:
• Demonstrations by veterinary specialists on dog bite prevention
• Release of the number of postal carriers bitten in 2016
• Announcement of the average cost of dog bite claims nationally in 2016, as well as the top 10 states with the largest number of dog bite claims in the U.S.

Everyday Medicine: Pulse Oximetry

pulse oximetry

Everyday medicine is an intermittent series of blog posts highlighting tests, treatments and procedures commonly used at AMC. Some past examples of this type of blog post include “What are Vital Signs” or “Five Reasons Veterinarians Love Fluid Therapy.” Today’s blog post will tackle the topic of pulse oximetry, a common monitoring tool used at AMC.

In the last publication of Everyday Medicine, I wrote about oxygen therapy and how veterinary patients depend on this vital element. Today, I am writing about a non-invasive method we use to monitor oxygen therapy, pulse oximetry.

The Device
A pulse oximeter is a portable device with two main parts: 1) a box that contains the software and a display panel, and 2) a sensor which attaches on one end to the box and on the other end to your pet. In people, the sensor is often attached to a finger, toe or ear lobe, but the hairy nature of paws and the thick pads make toes a less than ideal location in pets. Veterinarians typically attach the probe to the tongue or cheek, or the web of skin between the toes in anesthetized patients. In conscious patients, we use the ear flap.

The Measurement
The pulse oximeter measures how much oxygen is attached to the hemoglobin molecules within the red blood cells. The machine display reports the percent of the hemoglobin molecules that have oxygen attached to them, a value called the oxygen saturation. In a normal dog or cat, we expect the oxygen saturation to be near 100%. When oxygen saturation is less than approximately 94%, oxygen therapy is administered.

The Clinical Application
I bet AMC veterinarians use the pulse oximeter a couple of dozen times a day in a variety of situations. The most common use is as a monitoring tool for pets undergoing general anesthesia. Oxygen gas is used as part of the anesthetic protocol. If the pulse oximeter indicates the oxygen saturation is falling in an anesthetized pet, it is a clue for veterinarians and veterinary technicians monitoring the pet to adjust the anesthetic and oxygen levels. In pets with diseases affecting the lungs, like pneumonia or asthma, the pulse oximeter can assess the impact of oxygen therapy and also improvements in the pet’s underlying disease following administration of antibiotics or anti-inflammatory drugs.

Simple and indispensable, the pulse oximeter is an essential device for the daily practice of veterinary medicine.

Pancreatitis in Dogs

pancreatitis in dogsThe pancreas is a thin, elongated organ that is shaped a bit like a pounded piece of chicken tenderloin. The pancreas lies along the initial portion of the small intestine called the duodenum. As the bile duct leaves the gall bladder, it traverses the pancreas before it enters the duodenum. The pancreas is probably best known for producing insulin, the hormone deficient in patients with diabetes. The pancreas also produces digestive enzymes essential for breakdown of food into its nutrient component parts.

-itis = inflammation
When a body part is inflamed, the suffix “-itis” modifies the root word to indicate the disease process of inflammation. Tennis elbow is really inflammation of the elbow bone and in doctor speak is epicondylitis. Inflammation of the appendix is appendicitis. Inflammation of the pancreas is pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the most common condition of the dog and cat pancreas.

Causes of pancreatitis in dogs
The exact trigger for pancreatic inflammation in dogs is elusive. High fat meals, such as one obtained illicitly from the kitchen trash can are often blamed. Miniature Schnauzers are a dog breed with an increased risk of pancreatitis. Some diseases, like diabetes, hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism increase a dog’s risk for pancreatitis. Blunt force trauma, like an automobile accident or a fall from a height can injure the pancreas and set off the inflammatory cascade. Whatever the cause of the inflammation, it promotes release of the digestive enzymes from the pancreatic cells. The enzyme release worsens the inflammation and also the clinical signs.

Clinical signs of pancreatitis
Pancreatitis can be either an acute fulminant illness or a more insidious, chronic problem. The list of clinical signs attributed to pancreatitis is quite long: vomiting, anorexia, weakness, dehydration, abdominal pain and fever. Dogs may assume a “praying” position with their elbows on the floor and their rump held high. Veterinarians interpret this as a response of the dog to abdominal pain. Since the major signs of pancreatitis are nonspecific, vomiting and anorexia, a battery of blood tests, x-rays, and an abdominal ultrasound may be necessary to establish a diagnosis of pancreatitis.

Treatment of pancreatitis
There is no specific treatment for pancreatitis like there are antibiotics for bacterial infection. Veterinarians treat dehydration with fluids, control vomiting with anti-nausea medications, and manage pain with pain medications. We also rest the gastrointestinal tract of patients with pancreatitis by withholding food and water until the vomiting ceases, followed by a low fat, bland diet. Dogs may take several days to recover from a serious case of pancreatitis.

To help prevent pancreatitis, restrict your dog’s intake of human foods, especially fatty ones. There will be less dieting for him in the new year and hopefully no pancreatitis to spoil his fun.

Everyday Medicine: Oxygen Therapy

oxygen therapyEveryday medicine will be an intermittent series of blog posts highlighting tests, treatments and procedures commonly used at the AMC. Some past examples of this type of blog post include “Vital Signs” or “Five Reasons Veterinarians Love Fluid Therapy.” Today’s blog post will tackle the topic of oxygen therapy, a common treatment at the AMC.

Oxygen is a colorless, odorless and tasteless chemical and despite this seemingly innocuous profile, we can’t live a minute without it. Every veterinary hospital has a stash of green metal cylinders containing compressed oxygen for use in patients needing oxygen therapy.

What pets need oxygen therapy?
The lungs collect oxygen from inspired air and transfer it to the red blood cells. The heart distributes blood throughout the body and thus moves oxygen to every organ. Any disease that impairs lung, blood or heart function, if severe enough, may impair oxygen delivery. Examples of diseases where oxygen delivery is compromised include: pneumonia, bruised lungs, anemia, and congestive heart failure.

How do veterinarians know a pet patient needs oxygen therapy?
Nearly any emergency patient showing signs of difficulty breathing will be immediately treated with oxygen therapy, while initial testing is performed to determine the cause of the breathing impairment. The AMC ER uses a device called a pulse oximeter to measure the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. The probe clips onto the ear, lip or tail. Pets with low oxygen levels will continue to receive oxygen therapy.

How is oxygen administered?
The AMC’s ER and ICU both have specially designed cages for administering oxygen. Instead of bars, the doors are solid Plexiglas and the cage features a valve to control the amount of oxygen delivered into the cage. Oxygen might also be administered via a mask held over the dog or cat’s nose. For pets needing to move about the hospital for tests and procedures, this is a portable oxygen delivery method. This method is commonly used if a pet in congestive heart failure needs an EKG or a cardiac ultrasound. Really big dogs don’t fit into most oxygen cages. In those dogs, veterinarians administer oxygen directly into the nasal passages using special tubes.

What other uses are there for oxygen?
Pets undergoing general anesthesia for surgery or teeth cleaning receive oxygen as part of the anesthesia protocol. Once the breathing tube is placed into their trachea or windpipe, a mixture of oxygen and anesthetic gas is pumped through the breathing tube to maintain the pet under anesthesia. When the procedure is finished, the anesthetic gas is discontinued and the pet breathes only oxygen until adequately awake from anesthesia.

Oxygen, a chemical element required by all living things, is critical to veterinarians’ ability to provide lifesaving treatments to our patients.

Understanding Cat Tail “Language”

cats | animal medical centerJune is the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, and June 4 was International Hug Your Cat Day. I need no better reasons to write a blog on cat “language” than those two cat celebrations.

Cat Talk
Some cat words are universally used by cats and understood by humans. For example, consider the wail emitted by your cat when you accidently step on their toes as they dance under your feet in the kitchen; you can hear that sound from another room and immediately know some kitty toes got crunched. How about the cat morning alarm sound which is readily translated to: “Get up you slug and serve breakfast!” Everyone knows purring is the sound of a happy, contented cat. Veterinarians quickly recognize the yowl of a male cat with a urinary obstruction. Certain cats have a large vocabulary, trilling and chirping about their day when you come home.

Cat Body Language
A recent scientific study demonstrated changes in facial features are one way a cat exhibits pain. But observing your cat’s tail may be the best method of listening to what your cat is trying to tell you.

Tail Straight Up
A happy cat has its tail straight up when it greets you at the door. This should be the normal position of your cat’s tail most of the time because she telling you what a good mood she is in. Some happy cats will wave their straight up tail back and forth, not like the wag of a dog, but more like the wave of Queen Elizabeth.

Tail Straight Out
This tail position is usually seen when your cat is crouched low to the ground in attack mode. The ancestral cat hunted for food. In order to disguise their intentions to their intended lunch, cats crouched low to avoid being sensed by their prey. Your cat probably exhibits this behavior when you bring out a new fur mouse or when hunting your slippers or another cat.

Tail Puffed Up
Bigger is better when you are facing enemies and the wild beast in your cat comes out when they are frightened by a strange human or the neighbor’s drooly dog. The tail puffs up as part of the “fight or flight response” mediated by adrenaline in an effort to say, “I am big and bad. Go away.”

Tail Flicking
When your cat is flicking her tail, leave her alone and teach your children to do the same. Tail flicking is your cat’s way of saying, “I am angry and about to go ballistic.” Remove the cause of her anger and steer clear until she calms down or someone could really get hurt.

Tail Injuries and Illness
Doors inflict a number of injuries on tails: lacerations, fractures and degloving (scraping) injuries. These are reasonably easy to recognize. A tail that is not moving may indicate a neurologic disorder. Tails can also develop tumors. If your cat holds her tail in a strange way, she is telling you a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Tail amputation may be the recommended treatment for certain diseases of the tail. Here is more information about tail amputations.

Pay close attention to the tail language of your cat as she may have something important to tell you!