Canine and Feline Heartworms: The Long and Skinny for Pet Owners

March 21, 2014
Photo: American Heartworm Society

Photo: American Heartworm Society

Just in time for spring, the American Heartworm Society has released its updated 2014 Canine and Feline Guidelines for treatment and prevention of heartworm disease. We always think about heartworms in the spring because they are spread by mosquitoes that become active at this time of year. These days, with global warming and urban heat islands, mosquitoes have expanded their season and their territory; the American Heartworm Society has amended its guidelines to provide up-to-date recommendations for your dog and cat 

Treat Your Dog Year-Round with a Heartworm Preventative
This recommendation is designed to offer your dog maximum protection against heartworms, with minimal effort on your part. Heartworm disease is a serious and life-threatening illness in dogs. Although treatment of the disease can be successful, it is far more prudent for pet owners to administer a medication that is safe and simple than to treat a dog that has contracted the disease. Here at The AMC in NYC, where we have experienced a more severe winter than in recent years, there is clearly not a mosquito around to spread heartworms. However, I have recently signed many health certificates for travel to warmer, mosquito filled climates. If these patients are on year round heartworm medication, their families have one less travel worry in preparation for a trip down south.

Get Your Dog an Annual Heartworm Test
Most cases of canine heartworms can be diagnosed using less than a teaspoon of blood and an in-clinic test. Annual heartworm screening can detect infections early, before the cardiopulmonary system has been damaged due to the presence of heartworms within the heart and the blood vessels of the lungs. Early diagnosis gives your dog the best chance of recovering from a heartworm infection.

Don’t Think of Your Cat as a Small Dog When it Comes to Heartworms
Cats are susceptible to heartworm infection, but less so than dogs and they tend to have fewer worms than dogs do; however, given the small size of cats, a few worms is enough to cause serious heart and lung disease. Heartworms persist in cats for 2-3 years and then they die. When adult heartworms die, that is when they are most dangerous for your cat. Dead heartworms can cause blood clots to form in the lungs which can be fatal. Prevention of heartworm infection in cats is critical since the Heartworm Society reports there is no treatment that prolongs survival of cats diagnosed with adult heartworms. Cats can take a monthly heartworm preventative, just like dogs do.

Follow These Simple Rules

  1. Test your dog annually for heartworms. Any dog over 7 months of age is old enough to have contracted the disease.
  2. Talk to your veterinarian about which type of heartworm preventative—pills, topical or injectable—is best for your pet’s lifestyle.
  3. Give heartworm preventative on schedule. A late dose can result in heartworm infection.
  4. Avoid taking your pet out at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active, and keep them away from standing water where mosquitoes breed or tall grass where they reside.

Want more information about heartworms? Read these previous posts:


Five Medical Tests Your Cat Can’t Live Without

June 20, 2013

kittens in pink bedThis 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.

Last week was the annual meeting of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in Seattle. This meeting is a beehive of educational activity for board certified veterinarians in oncology, internal medicine, neurology and cardiology. Veterinarians from The AMC attended. Some took tests leading to board certification, some attended educational talks and others presented new scientific information to their colleagues. One of the most important abstracts presented changed my way of thinking about feline health. The results of the study were presented by one of The AMC’s board certified cardiologists, Dr. Philip Fox.

Dr. Fox and his international team of researchers evaluated over 1,300 cats from 20 countries across five continents. Two groups of cats were studied: cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the most common form of feline heart disease, and cats that were believed to be healthy and not have heart disease. The cats were studied for five years and the results demonstrate cats with heart disease have a shorter lifespan than cats without heart disease. The healthy group of cats did not stay healthy forever and the investigators found the most common causes of death in cats without heart disease were cancer, kidney failure and intestinal disease.

So what does this mean to the diligent cat owner? Talk to your veterinarian about how the following tests might help your favorite feline furball:

  1. Have a heart-healthy feline checkup at least once a year. Cats with heart disease frequently have a heart murmur that can be detected using a stethoscope. A routine physical examination can detect feline heart disease early. But if your cat never goes to the veterinarian, the murmur can’t be heard.
  2. Prevent cancer in your cat by keeping them indoors and having them tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. These viruses increase your cat’s risk for cancer, one of the common causes of feline fatality. If your cat tests negative for these viruses and you keep her indoors, she can’t get infected as the infection comes from other cats.
  3. Have your cat weighed. Weight loss is a common clinical sign associated with intestinal disease, cancer or kidney failure. If your cat loses weight and your veterinarian recommends additional testing, please agree for your cat’s sake.
  4. A simple urine test can help determine if your cat has early kidney disease. Collect a urine sample and take it to your cat’s next visit with his veterinarian. The results of a urine test plus a blood test gives your veterinarian a more complete picture of your cat’s health. Here are some helpful hints for collecting urine.
  5. Older cats lose weight from overactive thyroid glands and this disease is diagnosed with a routine blood test. Treatment of hyperthyroid cats can restore them to their optimal weight.

Avoiding the Knife: Preventing Pet Surgeries

April 11, 2013

At The Animal Medical Center, our board certified surgeons and neurologists perform approximately 1,500 surgeries each year. A recently released pet insurance study completed in 2012 listed the top ten surgery claims for both dogs and cats:

Top-10-Canine-Conditions-large

Survey attributed to VPI Pet Insurance 2012

Since none of us want our pets to be subjected to the difficulties most surgeries pose, I will devote this blog to suggestions on how to avoid some of the most common canine and feline surgeries.

Tooth extractions

Topping the surgery list for cats and coming in at number three for dogs were tooth extractions. Keeping your pets’ teeth healthy means daily brushing and annual dental cleanings. The American Veterinary Dental College website provides good information about home dental care in dogs and cats. Remember, doggy breath often means periodontal disease, so if your pet has smelly breath, see your veterinarian for treatment before extractions become necessary.

Skin abscess, inflammation and pressure ulcers

This list of skin conditions ranks number two as a reason for surgery in both dogs and cats. Pressure ulcers generally occur in older dogs with limited mobility. Padding, padding and more padding will help prevent pressure ulcers on their elbows and thighs. Investigate orthopedic beds for your dog and try to keep him from laying on hard surfaces like the bathroom tile floor which can aggravate pressure sores. Promote mobility in your dog through regular exercise and management of arthritis with diet and medications.

Feline bite wounds

When I was a veterinarian in a more suburban area, we treated cat bite wounds on a daily basis. Preventing cat bite injuries is as simple as keeping your cat indoors. Cat bites not only cause wounds which can become abscesses, but cat bites transmit the feline immunodeficiency virus and possibly blood parasites as well. Priceless is how I define the value of keeping your cat indoors and healthy.

Aural hematoma

The tenth most common surgery in dogs was to repair an aural (ear) hematoma. Cats can develop aural hematomas too, just not as commonly as dogs. This condition is essentially a blood blister inside the ear flap. Blood accumulates in the ear flap when your dog incessantly shakes his head or scratches her ears. Usually, the shaking and scratching is in response to an allergy or an ear infection. If you see this behavior, check inside the ear for redness or discharge. See your veterinarian immediately to treat the cause of the shaking and scratching to prevent the development of an aural hematoma.

While some surgeries are unavoidable, these are prime examples of how a visit to your veterinarian for routine preventive care can help your pet avoid surgery.


World AIDS Day 2012: Getting to Zero for Cats Too!

November 30, 2012

outdoor catsThe World Health Organization marks December 1st as World AIDS Day. For 2012, the chosen theme is “Getting to Zero.” World AIDS Day remembers those who have died from this terrible disease and educates those at risk of contracting it. This year’s theme focuses attention on the hope that someday there will be no human patients with AIDS.

Cats too suffer from a virus similar to HIV/AIDS in humans. Like our hope for zero AIDS patients, cat lovers everywhere hope to someday get to zero feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infections. This connection between AIDS and cats gives us a good opportunity to think about the thousands of cats infected with FIV and then talk about how to prevent your cat from this serious viral infection.

I started thinking about FIV recently when a feline patient, Yuki, came to The Animal Medical Center for an internal medicine consultation with a fever and an FIV infection.

Location, location, location

American cats are lucky: FIV infection is uncommon here, occurring in approximately 2.5% of all cats. Yuki came to the USA from Japan where, according to a recent survey, nearly 25% of cats are infected with this virus.

A high prevalence of FIV infections occur in countries where cats roam freely outdoors.

Although Yuki is a female cat, the typical cat with an FIV infection is male. Males have a greater risk of becoming infected with FIV due to their propensity for fighting and biting, which transmits the virus to uninfected cats.

FIV-related illnesses

Like AIDS, FIV infection can be asymptomatic, but there are certain diseases which are known to be associated with FIV infections. If your cat develops one of these diseases, your veterinarian will recommend FIV testing as part of a disease management strategy. Tops on my list of FIV-associated diseases are oral inflammation, ocular inflammation, neurological disorders, and bone marrow failure. FIV-infected cats are also predisposed to infections such as toxoplasmosis, giardiasis, ringworm, and recurrent upper respiratory viruses. Although this sounds grim, the lifespan of FIV-infected cats appears to be similar to uninfected cats.

Cats are first when it comes to a vaccine

For cats at high risk of developing FIV infection, a killed vaccine to protect against FIV is available. This vaccine is considered “non-core” and not all cats need to be vaccinated against FIV. FIV vaccination complicates FIV testing. The antibodies induced by the vaccine make FIV tests performed in veterinary clinics positive, even when the cat is not infected with the virus. Additional testing is needed to differentiate the FIV-infected cat from the vaccinated cat.

Getting to feline zero

  • Test all kittens and cats for FIV before they meet your other cats.
  • Keep FIV-infected cats separated from FIV-negative cats.
  • Keep your cats indoors so they are not exposed to other cats infected with FIV.
  • Neuter male cats to help prevent biting behavior which spreads infection.
  • If you have an FIV-infected cat, make it an only cat and an indoor cat to prevent spread of the virus.
  • Because the FIV vaccine is not considered a “core” vaccine, talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s risk of contracting this virus and the need for vaccination.

Will My Pet Have Quality of Life?

October 4, 2011

As an Oncology specialist, I am frequently asked how cancer treatments will affect the quality of life for the dogs and cats in my care at The Animal Medical Center. I give these discussions with my clients as much time and attention as they need because I know my explanation will impact the pet owners’ decisions to treat their pets for cancer.

Quality of life is an important topic for most veterinarians and frequently discussed at meetings and professional seminars. It has been the topic of various research studies. For example, veterinary cardiologists studied quality of life in cats with heart disease as perceived by cat owners.

For the cat owners who took part in this study, appetite, litter box habits and sleep patterns were important markers of quality of life in their cat. And, these owners stated they would trade longevity for an improved quality of life for their pet with heart disease.

The study also showed that illness does not only impact the quality of life of the sick pet. Having a sick cat increased the owner’s stress with an increasing number of medications prescribed by the veterinarian.

Making the decision to amputate a pet’s limb, whether for an irreparable fracture or cancer, is another example of a wrenching experience for all pet owners and where the discussion of quality of life is inevitable. A recent study of cats undergoing amputation found a normal quality of life following amputation in nearly 90% of cats.

Dog owners feel the same way about their dog’s quality of life following amputation.

What, then, is the definition of quality of life for your pet? Is there a universal answer? Unfortunately not. Every pet owner has his or her own definition of quality of life for his or her pet. My clients have shown me through the love of their cats and dogs, the knowledge and understanding of their pets’ personalities how they have answered these difficult quality of life questions. The following video, photographs and one endearing text message illustrates how pet owners interpret their pets’ quality of life.

Dakota likes to fish. When his cancer relapsed, and he needed to start chemotherapy again, quality of life came up in our discussions. Here is a video of him fishing shortly after he restarted chemotherapy. As long as he can fish, his family knows he has a good quality of life.

Argos on a successful hunt.

Argos, like his mythical namesake, had superior tracking skills, especially for ducks. In this photo, Argos appears to be more successful at his chosen sport than Dakota! To maintain a high quality of life for Argos, his cancer treatments were scheduled around duck hunting season and, like Dakota, he could still have fun while being treated for cancer.

Penny accompanying her owner on a Maine bike ride.

Penny loves to romp in the Maine woods in the summer. It is her break from the heat and humidity we New Yorkers suffer from in the summer. This past summer, her cancer treatments were seamlessly transferred to a Maine-based veterinary specialist for her vacation in order to maintain both quality of life and remission.

And finally, a text message from an owner who was worried quality of life was waning:

“He played sock today and trotted around with a pair in his mouth. He’s back to himself.”

I think that is what quality of life is: being yourself and doing the things you love to do. I am sure this is true for both man and beast.

________________________________________________________

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 http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Everything Old is New Again: Plague and Leprosy

July 7, 2011

Nine banded armadillo, which can carry leprosy, seen in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood at modern:ANTHOLOGY.

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.

________________________________________________________

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

June 30, 2011

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.

________________________________________________________

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.


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