What Causes Bloat in Dogs?

July 16, 2014
An x-ray of a dog taken from the right side, showing the gas-filled stomach typical of a dog with bloat.

An x-ray of a dog taken from the right side, showing the gas-filled stomach typical of a dog with bloat.

A few weeks ago, social media couldn’t stop talking about the risks of giving ice water to dogs, based on a blog written by a pet owner. As the story goes, a dog owner gave a bowl of ice water to her overheated dog. When the dog later arrived at an emergency clinic, the ER veterinarian admonished her for giving ice water, blaming it for causing the dog’s bloated stomach. Multiple veterinarians took to Twitter, Facebook and traditional media to debunk this urban legend.

What is bloat?
Bloat is the colloquial name for one of two canine stomach disorders: gastric dilatation (GD), where the stomach fills with gas; and gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV), where the gas-filled stomach then twists on itself. Both can cause shock because the distended, gas-filled stomach obstructs blood flow. Gastric dilatation can be relieved by pumping the stomach, but GDV requires emergency surgery to untwist the stomach and save the dog’s life.

So if ice water doesn’t cause bloat, what does?
Urban legend still prevails here. Hot food, cold food, big kibble, little kibble, too much food, too much exercise, too many carbohydrates, and stress have all been touted as causes of bloat, but remain unsubstantiated. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown that breed is a risk factor for developing bloat. Large and giant breed dogs with deep chests and narrow waists, like the Weimaraner, St. Bernard, Gordon setter, Irish setter, Rottweiler and Standard poodle, but even Chihuahua’s can experience bloat. Dogs with a littermate that has experienced bloat also have an increased risk of developing the disorder themselves. The risk of bloat increases as a dog ages. One study showed the presence of a foreign object in the stomach predisposed dogs to bloat. Nervous dogs, food gulpers and dogs fed once daily also may have an increased likelihood of bloat, and dogs engaging in a moderate amount of exercise are less likely to bloat. More bloat cases seem to occur in November, December and January, but they occur all year round, so dog owners must always monitor their dog for abdominal distension and nonproductive retching, which are two of the common signs of bloat.

Can bloat be prevented?
Families with one of the at-risk breeds previously mentioned or other large or giant breed dogs should discuss prophylactic gastropexy with their veterinarian. I recommend my patients of these breeds have their stomachs tacked in place at the time of neutering. This surgery can be done using minimally invasive techniques. This surgery does not prevent gastric dilatation, but has been determined to be cost-effective in preventing GDV.

Since once daily feeding and gulping food have been associated with bloat, divide your dog’s food into two daily portions and feed the food in a feeding toy or a specially designed go slow bowl. Be sure your dog gets daily exercise and maintains a healthy body weight.

 


Making a Specialist Visit Special

April 2, 2014
A French bulldog is examined by AMC's Ophthalmologist

A French bulldog is examined by AMC’s Ophthalmologist

Your pet needs a second opinion from a board certified veterinary specialist and your veterinarian has helped you set up the appointment with the right specialist. You know this is going to be different than seeing the familiar veterinarian you have trusted with your pet’s care since you brought him home from the shelter in a cardboard carrier. How can you make this nerve-wracking experience efficient and affect the best possible outcome for you and your pet?

Look at a consultation with a veterinary specialist at The Animal Medical Center or another specialty hospital like you do any other meeting. If you are running a meeting at your office, you will be sure the right people are invited to attend the meeting; the meeting will have an agenda agreed upon in advance; it will have a start and stop time and meeting attendees will be assigned tasks to complete after the meeting is over. All of these points also describe your appointment with a veterinary specialist.

The Right Attendees
I am a veterinarian and my job is to take care of sick pets. To me, your pet is a critical participant in the specialist consultation. While your role of transporting your pet to the appointment and being its spokesperson is also crucial, I really need to examine your pet and see first-hand the problems that need correcting. You would be surprised at how many people come to see me without their pet. If you choose to leave your pet at home and fly solo at a consultation with me, I can guarantee one of your tasks after the meeting will be to bring your pet to The AMC for an examination.

Specialist Agenda
A veterinary specialist has been trained to approach patients with a basic agenda:

  • Ask about the past history and review any documentation from the primary care veterinarian
  • Perform a physical examination
  • Make a list of possible diagnoses
  • Create a list of tests to determine which diagnosis is the correct one
  • Interpret the test results once they become available

Pet owners can streamline that agenda by having medical records, x-rays and blood tests sent in advance of the scheduled consultation.

Pet Owner Agenda
Simply put, the pet owner agenda for a specialist consult revolves around one of three issues: making a diagnosis, treating a disease or improving the quality of life. For some pet owners there may be other issues that are equally important, such as having the pet attend a family function. If there is an important issue for you and your pet, be sure to let the specialist know what it is and how you feel this issue might impact the recommended diagnostic and therapeutic plan.

The To-Do List
At the end of the consultation, the specialist or a member of their team will explain the plan for your pet. It might be to give medications or schedule a follow up test at your veterinarian’s office. Following the plan exactly and scheduling tests or treatments on time will help get your pet back on its feet as soon as possible. And having a healthy pet is what makes any visit to the veterinarian’s office special.


Medicine By the Numbers

March 26, 2014
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

We all rely on numbers to help us make decisions. The stock market is above 16,000; time to sell. Your chance of winning the Powerball Jackpot with a two dollar ticket is one in 175 million, but it’s only two dollars so you buy yet another losing ticket. One in four Americans dies of heart disease every year; more exercise and less butter for you. In my line of work, veterinary medicine, quoting numbers is not nearly as easy.

I have been struggling with a particularly complicated cancer case the past few weeks. After hours of discussion and many more of pondering the options, a clear plan has emerged for this patient. And then the client asked the number one question: “What are the chances my pet will benefit from this procedure?” Having never been much of a math whiz or very successful at gambling, explaining the concept of odds is difficult. The odds of A versus B are calculated from a large group of patients with the same disease. But when I am talking about Fluffy or Fido, it becomes harder to predict the outcome for an individual patient. In some ways it’s a 50-50 coin toss. Your pet gets better or it doesn’t. Because medicine rarely has 100% certainty, no doctor, human or animal, will ever guarantee a 100% chance of success. Even with a 99.9% chance of success, there will be some patients who do not have the desired outcome after the test, treatment or surgery is completed.

An article in last week’s New York Times ‘Science Section’ written by a physician, numbers and their connection to disease appear again. Dr. Abigail Zuger writes about using a reasoned numerical approach (“30 percent of people with your problem of X will develop Y”). Yet, she writes, “many studies (and all casinos and lotteries) illustrate how abysmal is the average person’s understanding of risk when couched in mathematical terms.” Her patients have a hard time grasping the importance of risk factors on their future health or as she calls them “pre-diseases.”

If two medical professionals have difficulty using numbers in their daily practice, then how can people or pet owners make well-informed decisions on healthcare matters?

  1. Preventing disease is much easier (and cheaper) than correcting a problem. If your veterinarian gives you numbers on preventing disease, pay close attention. For example, obesity quadruples your dog’s risk of cruciate ligament rupture. Getting your dog’s weight down saves money two ways – you buy less food and your dog doesn’t need an expensive reconstructive knee surgery.
  2. There are actually some medical conditions that doctors can predict the outcome with reasonable certainty; for example, diabetes. Without administration of insulin, which is deficient in dogs and cats with diabetes, your pet will die of high blood sugar within days.
  3. Since not all diseases come with certainty of outcome like diabetes, think about quality of life. If your pet’s current problem is decreasing their quality of life, consider a treatment to improve it. Keep in mind this is where numbers can become overwhelming and sometimes a decision is made based on your heart rather than your head.

Adrenal Gland Yin and Yang

March 5, 2014

puppy-yinyangLast week was a big week for adrenal gland disorders at The Animal Medical Center. Not one, but three dogs were admitted by The Animal Medical Center’s 24-hour Emergency Service with a diagnosis of Addison’s disease, or hypoactivity of the adrenal gland. Additionally, I evaluated two of my patients for adrenal gland hyperactivity, or Cushing’s disease.

Small but Mighty
Adrenal glands are tiny organs, one sits atop of each kidney. The normal width of a dog’s adrenal gland is less than half an inch. In cats, adrenal glands are half that size. Small compared to the liver or kidneys, these glands are powerhouses pumping out an array of hormones critical to maintaining normal homeostasis. Because the adrenal glands produce so many different hormones, either condition hypo- or hyperactivity can cause a wide variety of serious clinical signs. The hormone most important in Cushing’s and Addison’s disease is cortisol.

Poodle Problem
Two of last week’s ER patients with Addison’s disease were poodles. This was no coincidence. Addison’s disease is inherited in the Standard Poodle and also the Portuguese Water Dog, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and the Bearded Collie. Cats very rarely develop Addison’s disease. What is strange about the dogs at AMC is the diagnosis of Addison’s disease in three dogs in one week, since the prevalence of the disease in dogs is thought to be 0.6-0.28% of all dogs. Dogs with Addison’s disease have vague, nonspecific clinical signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. One reason your veterinarian performs blood tests when your dog has vomiting and diarrhea is to identify the characteristically low blood concentrations of sodium and chloride and the high concentration of potassium, classic for a diagnosis of Addison’s disease. The consequences of missing a diagnosis of Addison’s disease are dire. Dogs become progressively dehydrated and the potassium climbs to levels which can stop the heart from beating. The AMC ER has a machine which can test blood concentrations of sodium and potassium in minutes, speeding the diagnosis of Addison’s disease.

Too Much Water; Too Much Pressure
The adrenal glands of dogs with Cushing’s disease produce too much of the hormone cortisol, either because of an adrenal tumor or because the pituitary gland in the brain forgets to tell the adrenal glands to stop producing cortisol. The two patients I evaluated for Cushing’s disease had different medical problems. One dog had an increased amount of protein in her urine, high blood pressure, and an elevated liver test. All three disorders are known to occur as a result of Cushing’s disease. The other dog was drinking too much water and having accidents in the house — two more signs of Cushing’s disease. Neither dog had hair loss, but it is another common problem we see in dogs with an overactive adrenal gland. Cushing’s disease, like Addison’s disease, is rare in cats.

Giving and Taking Away
Treatment for these two opposite diseases is opposite! For Addison’s disease we give hormones, and for Cushing’s disease we take the hormones away by suppressing the adrenal glands. Dogs with Addison’s disease respond rapidly to either oral or injectable forms of the missing adrenal hormones. Treatment of dogs with Cushing’s disease takes a month or two, while oral medications are adjusted to individualize the dose for each dog.

Recognizing the Yin and Yang of Adrenal Gland Disease in Your Dog
Even though Cushing’s disease is more commonly seen than Addison’s disease, both diseases can be readily diagnosed with blood tests. Your veterinarian will suggest testing if your dog is showing the following signs:

Cushing’s Disease

  • Excessive drinking and urinating
  • Hair loss on the trunk
  • Elevated liver tests
  • High blood pressure
  • Protein in the urine
  • Pot-bellied appearance

Addison’s Disease

  • Waxing/waning vomiting and diarrhea
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • High blood potassium
  • Low blood sodium and chloride

When Life Gives You Lemons, You Need a Buddy

February 20, 2014

gray tabbyTracy and her 14 year old grey tabby, Baller, have experienced a few bumps in the road this past year. In April, Tracy noticed Baller, named after a rap song, was defecating outside his litter box. He also had diarrhea, but he didn’t seem very sick since he was eating well and was his usual playful self. Her neighborhood veterinarian examined Baller and found two pounds of weight loss. Tracy thought she could breathe easier when she heard the blood tests were normal, but an abdominal ultrasound revealed Baller had colon cancer.

Minimally Invasive Testing
Tracy brought Baller to The Animal Medical Center for a consultation with one of our board certified oncologists. Baller’s oncologist, Dr. Maria Camps, explained the most common type of cancer in cats is lymphoma, and recommended a minimally invasive approach to diagnosis since lymphoma is treated with chemotherapy, not surgery. Ultrasonography was used to direct a small needle into the colon tumor and retrieve cells from the tumor. Within hours, Tracy found out she and Baller were facing an uphill battle against lymphoma. The anticipated survival time for a cat with lymphoma treated with chemotherapy is less than one year.

Chemotherapy Helps
Dr. Camps actually gave Tracy so much hope, and Dr. Mollica, Baller’s regular veterinarian and a former AMC intern, was also very supportive. These two veterinarians really gave Tracy that extra oomph she needed to continue Baller’s treatment. Ms. Koch says, “I knew the chemo was working almost immediately. Right after his first treatment he was feeling better again. He is one to make it known when he has issues by hiding under the bed, not eating and not able to use the bathroom. But, it was amazing that right after his first treatment he was back to his normal routine. I thought it [the chemotherapy] would help a bit, but I didn’t realize how much better it would make him feel. He was like a whole new cat, which makes me sad because who knows how long he was feeling bad before he really started to show it.”

About one third of the way through his prescribed course of chemotherapy, and just when Baller’s cancer seemed to be in control, a roadblock obstructed the path to further cancer treatments; Tracy was laid off.

Buddy Fund Helps Out
This is where the Buddy Fund comes in to assist Tracy and Baller. The Buddy Fund, one of AMC’s Community Funds, was established to provide financial support for AMC patients with cancer whose owners could otherwise not afford to treat their four-footed family members. The name of the Buddy Fund has a double meaning. The original donors to the fund had a very special cat named Buddy and the fund acts as a “buddy” to owners of pets with cancer. Baller’s oncologist recommended him for the fund because he was responding exceptionally well to the prescribed course of chemotherapy. Discontinuation of treatment would put him at high risk for relapse of his cancer.

Thanks to the Buddy Fund and its generous supporters, Baller completed his chemotherapy protocol just before Thanksgiving and without missing a single treatment. At his most recent follow up appointment he was given a thumbs up because no tumors were detected during the examination. Going forward, Baller will continue to be monitored for tumor recurrence. As the one year anniversary of his diagnosis approaches, everyone has their fingers crossed for Baller. Tracy looks forward to a time when she is employed again and can be a “buddy” to another deserving cat through a contribution to AMC’s Buddy Fund.


National Veterinary Technician Week 2013

October 15, 2013
Christina and a patient in ICU.

Christina and a patient in ICU.

This week, October 13-19, is National Veterinary Technician Week when we honor veterinary technicians or nurses for their role as critical members of the veterinary healthcare team. The technicians at The Animal Medical Center are a unique group in many ways.

A whole lotta’ techs
The AMC employs 75 technicians, each and every one licensed by the State of New York. These critical veterinary team members provide exceptional care to your pets no matter if it is high noon or 3 o’clock in the morning. The lowest number of technicians on duty in the hospital at any time during a 24 hour cycle is at 3 am when there are eight licensed veterinary technicians on the premises. These multi-tasking technicians run lab tests, take x-rays and provide compassionate patient care 24/7.

Trish and a canine patient.

Trish and a canine patient.

Big skill set
Because The AMC is a specialty hospital, our technicians learn specialized skills to support the veterinarians and patients on their team. We have technicians trained to perform hemodialysis, administer chemotherapy, prep patients for surgical procedures and assist in the operating room. Technicians maintain our delicate equipment like endoscopes and cage-side laboratory equipment to keep us ready for any emergency situation. Some of our long term technicians have worked in multiple areas throughout the hospital and have multidisciplinary skills, including care of exotic pets, plus administering radiation treatments or evaluating intraocular pressure and blood pressure!

Frankie assists Dr. Quesenberry with an examination of a swan

Frankie assists Dr. Quesenberry with an examination of a swan

Lifelong learning
Continuing education is required to maintain a veterinary technician license in New York State. To facilitate continuing education credits for our technicians, The AMC sponsors lectures on topics important to technicians, such as diabetes and heatstroke, through our Partners in Practice lecture series, and welcomes the participation of technicians from other veterinary practices as well. On a national level, the numbers of specialty certified technicians is small, but growing. The AMC is leading the pack with some of the first North American Veterinary Technician Academy (NAVTA) certified specialty technicians in the country. We currently have a total of five NAVTA certified technician in emergency critical care and anesthesia. The Tina Santi Flaherty Rehabilitation & Fitness Service has two technicians certified as Canine Rehabilitation Assistants and more in training.

A heartfelt thank you to vet techs everywhere
On behalf of veterinarians and the patients who benefit from the skills and knowledge of our technician team members, thank you for your hard work and dedication. Pets and vets need techs because we can’t do it without you.


Meet the Breeds: Ask a Question

October 9, 2013
Dr. Ann Hohenhaus at the 2013 AKC Meet the Breeds Show

Dr. Ann Hohenhaus at the 2013 AKC Meet the Breeds Show

During the last weekend of September, The Animal Medical Center staffed an information booth at the American Kennel Club’s annual Meet the Breeds Show at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center. I spent several hours answering questions from pet owners on Sunday afternoon. The questions were important ones for all pets, so I decided to share my answers with everyone through The AMC blog.

Are caterpillars toxic?
A concerned dog owner found her dog snacking on the big, furry caterpillars that had invaded the potted plants on her terrace. Certain insects can injure pets if they are venomous, like wasps or bees. Most caterpillars are not venomous and are not listed as toxic on Animal Poison Control or Pet Poison Hotlines‘ websites. Although Survivorman eats caterpillars, the hairs on the skin of certain ones can be very irritating and for me, just thinking about a dog swallowing these hairy little creatures makes me gag. It is best not to let your dog (or cat) eat caterpillars, but consumption of one or two probably carries a low level of risk.

Is a one hour walk a day enough for my older dog?
Just like your doctor recommends you practice a well-rounded fitness routine, your dog needs more than a walk on a nice flat street. The Mayo Clinic recommends exercise include aerobic fitness, muscular fitness, stretching, core exercise and balance training. Challenge your dog by walking up and down hills. Be sure to include games like fetch to encourage your dog to run to increase her heart rate. Don’t forget to include stairs as part of your dog’s routine. For stretching and balance fitness, view The AMC’s exercise tips for dogs.

My 7 month old Chihuahua has a pink lump that comes and goes in the corner of his eye. Is this serious?
Without seeing this dog, I can only speculate as to what the problem is. However, I am guessing the dog has a condition veterinarians call “cherry eye.” Cherry eye is the tear gland from the third eyelid, an important source of tears to keep your dog’s eyes moist, and it occurs most commonly in Cocker Spaniels and English Bulldogs. The AMC’s ophthalmologist, Dr. Alexandra van der Woerdt recommends the gland be tacked back into place during a minor surgical procedure to preserve its function. The cause of cherry eye is suspected to be a weakness in the ligament that holds the gland in place.

My dog woke up one morning and couldn’t walk, so I gave him some of my medications and now he’s better. Should I keep giving the pills?
The answer to this question is not about pills but about the need to see your veterinarian to get pet-safe prescriptions. Every year, thousands of dogs and cats are sickened from accidental ingestion or purposeful administration of human medications. Veterinarians do sometimes prescribe human medications for dogs and cats, but you should never give your pet any medications without clearing it through your veterinarian first.


How to Recognize a Sick Cat

October 2, 2013
Abyssinian cat

Abyssinian cat

Cats are the masters of disguise. Here we see a beautiful Abyssinian cat decoratively perched on a pedestal and disguised as a piece of sculpture- that is until she changes her mind and becomes something else!

Although cats in disguise bring enormous enjoyment to our lives, many cat owners are frustrated with their favorite fur person’s Academy Award-winning ability to masquerade as a healthy cat until hospitalization and intensive care are required. Sick cats commonly hide under the bed or in the closet; however, many cat owners mistakenly believe this behavior is simply their cat expressing its feline independence rather than a potential sign of serious illness. Another sick cat behavior frequently mistaken for bad cat behavior is a loss of litter box training.

Common illnesses, common signs
According to Best Pets Insurance, the top five medical claims for insured cats include: chronic kidney diseasehyperthyroidism, allergies, cancer and diabetesThese five diseases make up one-third of all feline claims to Best Pets Insurance. I don’t want to minimize the important impact allergies have on your cat’s quality of life but, in general, allergies are not life threatening and because they manifest on the outside of your cat, allergies are easy to detect. This blog will focus on how to recognize the big four: chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer and diabetes.

Weight loss in all
Many cat diseases look the same, which is one reason it is difficult for cat owners to identify that their cat may be ill. In fact, weight loss is a common clinical sign in cats with chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, cancer and diabetes.

Increased water drinking in most
When I talk to cat owners at an annual physical examination, I ask about water consumption. Increased drinking can result from chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Only occasionally, does cancer cause cats to drink more water.

Hungry all the time in a few
Hyperthyroidism causes metabolic rate to soar. Hyperthyroid cats are hungry all the time to compensate for their increased metabolic rate. Diabetic cats lack insulin, which allows nutrients to enter the cells. Diabetic cats are hungry because their bodies cannot utilize the food they eat. Cats with cancer and kidney disease usually have poor appetites.

Early recognition

  • An annual physical examination by your veterinarian will go a long way to detecting weight loss, which is a common feature of the big four.
  • Collect a urine sample and take it to your cat’s annual physical exam, since abnormalities like sugar in the urine will help diagnose diabetes early.
  • If your pet is showing any of these signs, discuss blood testing with your veterinarian to help identify your cat’s medical condition.

Choosing a Veterinary Hospital

July 31, 2013

Exotics1Is there a new puppy in your family? Has the backyard cat installed himself on your family room sofa? Have you inherited grandma’s piano and her parrot? If so, you won’t want to leave the important decision regarding the choice of your new pet’s healthcare provider to chance. Here are some tips for choosing the right veterinarian and veterinary hospital for your pet.

Location, location, location
In Sunday’s New York Times, healthcare reporter Elizabeth Rosenthal, talks about choosing a hospital for your own care. She writes, “Indeed, with thousands of good hospitals across the nation, the best selling point for routine medical care may simply be convenience…” Whether or not you agree with her point of view regarding your personal healthcare, proximity may be a consideration in choosing a primary care veterinarian. A new puppy will need several rounds of vaccines and a spay or neuter surgery requiring transporting the pet to and from the hospital on multiple occasions. But if you have a parrot, the closest veterinary hospital may not have a veterinarian with expertise in avian medicine and you will need to choose a clinic providing bird care, not necessarily the closest clinic.

Proximity plays an even more important role in the selection of an emergency hospital. When your pet is hit by a car and in shock, has serious bleeding or can’t breathe, time is of the essence and the closest animal ER is the best ER for your pet.

Assessing hospital quality
If you personally needed a heart valve replacement, for example, you might look for data on outcome for valve replacement surgery at the various hospitals in your area. In New York State we have the New York State Hospital Report Card. You could also search the doctor ratings on the website of your healthcare provider. Since this type of information is lacking for veterinary hospitals, you might turn to online sources to read the opinion of pet owners who have posted their experiences. I must admit, to me, these online reviews can often seem more like rants and may not provide the objective information you need to guide your pet healthcare decision making process.

A better method of assessing hospital quality would be to look for a hospital accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Their website also allows you to search for the AAHA accredited hospital nearest you. Choosing an AAHA accredited hospital assures pet owners that the hospital they select has the staff, equipment, medical procedures and facilities that AAHA believes are vital for delivering high-quality pet care. The Animal Medical Center has been AAHA accredited since 1976, and to maintain our accreditation we voluntarily receive triennial evaluations on over 900 standards of small animal hospital care.

Finding the right specialist
The easiest way to find a specialist for your pet is for your primary care veterinarian to recommend one she works with on a regular basis. This will ensure a good line of communication and seamless medical care. If your veterinarian doesn’t have a recommendation:

  • Search the website of the type of specialist you are looking for, e.g. veterinary cardiology, veterinary surgery or veterinary dentistry.
  • For a cutting edge therapy, you might have to travel a good distance to find the specialist your pet needs. Use a scientific search engine like PubMed or Google Scholar. Search for the procedure your pet needs. When the search identifies a particular hospital where the procedure is commonly performed or a veterinarian who is a frequent author of scientific articles on the procedure, focus your search on this clinic or veterinarian. Examples of this type of procedure include repair to a ruptured ligament in the knee or image modulated radiation therapy.

Quick tips on finding the right veterinary hospital

  • Know where the closest animal ER is and keep its address and phone number in your GPS device, cell phone and on the refrigerator list so you are prepared for an emergency.
  • Don’t be afraid to visit potential veterinary hospitals before booking an appointment. Find out if their clinic schedule matches your availability. Ask the receptionist about their preventive healthcare protocols.
  • In case your pet develops an unusual medical condition or requires specialized surgery, ask your trusted primary care veterinarian about the network of specialists they recommend.

Your Cat and Your Unborn Child

June 26, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Good Day @The AMC!

March 15, 2013

I had an especially good day at The Animal Medical Center one day last week and so did everyone else. Our hard work was rewarded with positive outcomes for many wonderful pets.

A cancer check up

Becky swimming

Becky

Becky, a graceful Golden Retriever, had an appointment for a follow up on her thyroid tumor which was surgically removed nearly a year ago. After surgery, she received a total of four chemotherapy treatments. I administered two drugs, doxorubicin and carboplatin, using an alternating treatment protocol. Now she needed a new chest x-ray since the lungs are where thyroid tumors spread most commonly. It was a tense wait for everyone, her owner and her oncology team, but we were rewarded when the radiology report indicated her tumor had not spread.

A happy heart

The cardiologists saw a Boxer who suffers from a form of heart disease found commonly in this dog breed. In Boxers, fat replaces the normal heart muscle and causes abnormal heart beats which can lead to sudden death. This disease, known as arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, was first diagnosed by cardiologists working at The AMC and studying Boxers with heart problems. This particular Boxer and her cardiologist were having a good day, like I was. At first she had 22,000 abnormal heart beats measured using a continuous heart monitor called a Holter monitor. Initial results indicated treatment with heart medications decreased the number of abnormal beats to only 51 abnormal beats in over 110,000 beats counted in a 24 hour period!

Renal medicine rejoices over urine

Since every pet urinates, you might think urine would not be a cause for celebration, but The AMC’s Renal Medicine & Dialysis Service does. When kidneys suffer from serious infection or obstruction, they can actually completely stop making even the smallest drop of urine. Using dialysis, AMC’s kidney specialists can replace the filtration function of the kidneys and prevent serious illness from a buildup of toxins in the bloodstream. But until the kidneys start to heal, cats and dogs may not urinate for days. The first time a dialysis patient urinates, an average day becomes a great day since we know the kidneys are finally getting better.

Surgeons perform less surgery and are glad

Henry was diagnosed with a lung tumor. Because his doctors made an early diagnosis, his tumor was small making it amenable to a minimally invasive removal. The surgeons used a thorascope – a device with a tiny camera attached. The camera was inserted into Henry’s chest through a small incision. Its progress toward the tumor was viewed on a large screen monitor. Once the exact location of the tumor was identified, a second small incision was made through which the lung tumor was removed using a surgical stapler. Because of the minimally invasive approach, Henry was discharged from the hospital the next day rather than several days later, which is typical when traditional surgery is used.

Even though these stories are about different pets, different diseases and different veterinary specialists, they share a common theme, improving the health of pets so they spend as little time as possible @The AMC and spend more time at home with their families enjoying life.


Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency: Cats Get it Too!

December 28, 2012

cat_at_the_vetRecently, I highlighted a common pancreatic disorder in dogs, pancreatitis. The following day, the New York Times “Well Pet” blog wrote about a much less common, but equally serious pancreatic disorder, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI). The article focuses on EPI in dogs, but cats also can suffer from this disease.

Pancreatic function

The pancreas has two main functions: first to produce the hormone insulin to control blood sugar and second to produce digestive enzymes. Production of insulin is the pancreas’ endocrine function and production of digestive enzymes is an exocrine function. Deficiency of insulin is called diabetes.

Deficiency of the digestive enzymes has a much more descriptive name – exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.

What a cat with EPI looks like

The classic cat with EPI is skinny, greasy, and has bad diarrhea. The absence of digestive enzymes prevents the gastrointestinal tract from breaking food down into it components, and if they are not broken down, the nutrients cannot be absorbed. If your cat has this disorder, he will eat lots of food and lose weight rapidly. Cats with EPI are greasy because they cannot digest fats without pancreatic enzymes and all the undigested fat in their stool gives them nasty diarrhea.

The causes of feline EPI

This disorder is thought to be inherited in certain dog breeds, most commonly German shepherds. Cats never want to be like dogs. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency in cats does not appear to have a genetic component and is more likely to be the result of chronic damage to the pancreas from long standing pancreatitis. These cats may also be diabetic if the pancreatic damage is severe enough to prevent production of both digestive enzymes and insulin.

Testing the skinny cat

When I see a cat with weight loss, I commonly collect blood for what The Animal Medical Center (AMC) calls a GI panel. This quartet of tests looks at the digestive function of the pancreas and small intestine. One of the tests measures trypsin-like immunoreactivity and is the diagnostic test of choice for feline EPI. Another important test on this panel measures vitamin B12 or cobalamin. A study of feline EPI cases at The AMC and Purdue University found all cats with EPI were deficient in this important vitamin.

Replacement therapy

Once lost, the pancreas do not typically regain exocrine pancreatic function. Management of EPI requires lifelong supplementation with pancreatic enzymes and vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 supplementation is simple: a small injection given under the skin once a week. Pancreatic enzymes come as a powder and are sprinkled on the food. This is where cats can be challenging since many cats refuse food that has been embellished. Raw pancreas (which contains the digestive enzymes) has been recommended, but I haven’t tried it on any patients, yet. The good news is our study of feline EPI showed most cats will respond to therapy.

Resources on pancreatic disease

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Pancreatitis

Texas A&M University

WebMD

IDEXX Laboratories


What’s On the Mind of Pet Owners?

December 5, 2012

older man with catA recent survey of both pet owners and veterinarians interrogated the pet health issues each group thought were most important. In last week’s post, I discussed the issues from the veterinarian’s point of view. In this blog I will write from the pet owner’s point of view.

Pet owners said they were primarily concerned with vaccinations, fleas and ticks, heartworms, intestinal parasites, and spending money on medications. This list appears to overlap with the veterinary list on the topic of intestinal parasites, and both owners and vets are squarely focused on preventive healthcare; care to keep their favorite furry, feathery, or scaly companion healthy.

Vaccinations

Vaccinations float to the top of most pet owners’ lists because they save pets’ lives. Before vaccinations were available for common diseases like canine distemper and feline panleukopenia, these diseases spread through neighborhoods like wildfire, often resulting in the deaths of many pets. Decreases in the recommended frequency of some vaccines, coupled with the association between injections and tumors, has raised many questions in pet owners’ minds.

Intestinal parasites

Both pet owners and veterinarians agreed intestinal parasite control was an important issue for pets. How could it not be? Intestinal parasites are high in yuck factor, high in pet discomfort, and on the list of diseases people and pets can share.

Fleas and ticks

These critters are very similar to intestinal parasites with regard to yuck factor and pet discomfort. A pet with a flea infestation may mean you also have a house or apartment with a flea infestation since fleas spend more time off your pet than on. Pet owners want to avoid an expensive exterminator bill by preventing fleas on their pet. Pet owners also want to prevent fleas and ticks to protect their pet against diseases like Lyme disease and blood parasites.

Heartworms

Because heartworms are a serious health concern in both dogs and cats, they are an important medical issue for most pet owners. Nearly every state in the United States reports cases of heartworm in resident dogs and cats. This map shows heartworm cases by state.

Year-round heartworm preventative is a “two-fer” since most prevent both heartworms and some intestinal parasites.

Pet medications

Pet owners want the best for their pet. In my mind, the best are veterinary-specific products. I prefer to prescribe medications developed specifically for veterinary patients rather than human or compounded medications. Veterinary-specific medications assure you, the pet owner, the product has been tested in dogs or cats and will be absorbed, metabolized, and effective in your pet. But, because most pets do not have insurance and medications are paid for “out of pocket,” many times pet owners can be surprised at the cost. As a pet owner myself, I believe that these veterinary-specific medications are worth paying for.

After looking carefully at the two lists of pet healthcare issues, one from pet owners and the other from veterinarians, are they really so different? Both groups’ lists really have only one item and it’s the same one: healthy, happy pets.


Dog Strollers: A Do or a Don’t?

October 17, 2012

Belle takes a stroll. Photo courtesy the Rabb Family.

One of my most favorite things to do here in New York City is to walk in Central Park.

Filled with beautiful trees, twittering birds, and, of course, dogs, Central Park provides a shady, calm respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. As of late, I have been noticing more dogs being rolled about the park and wheeled to The Animal Medical Center in special dog strollers. Then last week, one of my friends called and asked my opinion about these devices, which he had also noticed were growing in popularity with city dog owners.

Just following doctor’s orders

All I said was, “Your dog needs six weeks of cage rest,” and I could see the pet family slumping in their chairs. They had plans for attending their children’s soccer match and picking pumpkins on the weekend. The thought of excluding their dog from these important events was dreadful. To follow my no-dog-exercise rule, they zipped Rover into a dog stroller and everyone got out of the house for some fresh air while still following doctor’s orders.

Getting there is half the battle

Many of the dogs I have seen in the park have been taken out of their strollers to enjoy the grassy park lawns. Often I notice these dogs are recovering from orthopedic or neurologic disorders and are a bit unsteady on their feet. The stroller allows them to come to the park, walk on the grass, and get stronger. Falling while walking to the park on the hard asphalt and concrete of the city would be dangerous, but a tumble on the grass is much safer until they completely recover.

Tired, small dogs

Small dogs are popular with city apartment dwellers. A Sunday afternoon walk to see the leaves changing color sounds just right for a fall afternoon, but halfway through the walk, your pooch poops out and refuses to walk another step. Either you drag your dog by its leash all the way home or you carry it. Dragging is not appropriate and carrying even a tired 10 pound dog for more than a block or so is hard work; a stroller lets you continue on the walk without breaking your back carrying a tired dog.

A crate on wheels

Many people are proponents of crate training for dogs. Think of a dog stroller as a crate on wheels. You can give your dog a safe place of her own while still being part of the family. The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday represents a perfect time to use the dog stroller. Your dog doesn’t like strangers or children or Uncle Mortimer. Prevent a holiday mishap by keeping your dog zipped in the dog stroller and Uncle Mortimer safe during dinner.

A do or don’t

Doctor’s orders, dog safety, and your back – all good reasons for dog strollers to be on your “Doggie Do” list. A stroller is a don’t for healthy dogs who need regular exercise to maintain themselves in option body condition.


National Veterinary Technician Week 2012

October 12, 2012

AMC LVT, Monika Wright

October 14- 20, is a celebration of the contributions to the healthcare of animals made by veterinary technicians. Often called “nurses,” these licensed professionals practice under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. In New York State, veterinary technicians prepare and give medications as ordered by the veterinarian, take x-rays, induce and maintain anesthesia, and assist with medical and surgical procedures. Most importantly, they are critical members of the team caring for your pet. Last year, in honor of Veterinary Technician week, I wrote about the care received by Jack Black the Cat.

Just as in human healthcare, nurses for animals are in great demand. Not only are career opportunities available for veterinary technicians to work in general veterinary offices, but specialization in various disciplines such as oncology or anesthesia, participation in biomedical research, enlistment in the military and even working as a technician in zoo and wildlife medicine are also widely available.

Like all professionals, there is a backstory about the day-to-day life of veterinary technicians. If you are considering a career as a veterinary technician or just know someone whose job it is to be a technician, you may be unaware of what a typical day entails. Hopefully this blog will give you a bit of the inside scoop and provide a greater appreciation for the labors of love they each perform every day for our pets.

Fashionistas need not apply

Looking for a job where you look great and wear fabulous clothes? Unless your skin tone becomes more ravishing when you wear scrub-suit green, being a veterinary technician is probably not for you. However, if you like to change clothes frequently, we can accommodate your needs. A shake of the head can send ear drops flying right onto your freshly laundered ensemble or a pooch with a bloody nose can change you plain shirt into a polka dot one!

Adoption options

Seeing cute animals all day, every day brings a smile to every technician’s face, since like veterinarians, they love being around animals. But loving animals occasionally has a darker side. Every animal hospital provides its employees with plenty of options to adopt a new pet: a basket of kittens left on the doorstep or a dog tied to the lamppost, but every family, even those with a member skilled in providing pet care, has a limit to the number of pets they can handle, both emotionally and financially.

Compassionate technicians may run the risk of trying to help too many of the animals in need that they encounter. Reliable resources for helping these animals are at the tip of the fingertips of the best technicians who know or have learned the limits of their care.

Injury report

Like many businesses, The AMC tracks statistics on workplace injuries. No surprises here: topping the list are bites and scratches, followed by back injuries. Fortunately, licks and kisses are not considered injuries, just part of the fun of being a tech.

A heartfelt thanks to all veterinary technicians

During National Veterinary Technician Week 2012, the veterinarians of The AMC would like to recognize our nearly 80 technicians – and every technician nationwide – for their commitment to their profession and the support of ours.

If you are thinking of a career as a veterinary technician, visit http://www.veterinarytechnician.com.

You will find lots of useful information and even job opportunities in your area.


The Compounding Pharmacy Problem: What Pet Owners Should Know

October 10, 2012

A rare form of human meningitis has recently been in the news. The outbreak, believed to stem from fungal contamination of a medication compounded to treat back pain, has resulted in several fatalities. The manufacturer of the implicated medication is not a big pharma or an overseas company; the medication was produced by a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts. The Food and Drug administration has identified fungal organisms in a sealed vial of methylprednisone acetate produced by the compounding pharmacy.

Pets not affected

This outbreak is unusual since the fungi involved, aspergillus and exserohilum, live in soil and water. Exactly how they came to contaminate the medication is under intense investigation. Since veterinarians don’t treat back pain in dogs and cats with steroids like methlyprednisone acetate injected around the spinal cord, there are no reports of fungal meningitis in pets, but veterinarians do use compounded medications, and understanding their role in managing disease in your pet is important.

Compounding defined

Compounding is the alteration of the original drug dosage form for the purposes of ease of administration or because the original dosage form is unsuitable for the purpose intended. Translated for the pet owner, compounding is flavoring a medication to hide the bad taste, dissolving pills into a liquid to facilitate administration, or putting multiple medications into one capsule to help a pet owner comply with a multidrug treatment protocol. Without a good compounding pharmacy, my job would be impossible.

Compounding dangers

Compounding is not regulated by the FDA because it is a process initiated by prescription and on a case-by-case basis. In veterinary medicine, compounding rules have been stretched in an attempt to create cheaper medications. Some compounding pharmacies offer expensive medications at unbelievably low prices. I suspect these cheaper products are being produced by what is known as bulk compounding from raw materials. Just last week, I had to advise a pet owner against using the compounding pharmacy’s cheaper “house” brand of an expensive medication. That medication is not currently available as a less expensive generic. Although I am sympathetic to the financial burden of treating a pet with cancer, my overriding concern is for the patient and the efficacy and safety of the prescribed treatments. Prescribing an approved medication provides some assurance of efficacy and safety for my patients.

Medication safety

Listen to your veterinarian. If they believe a particular medication is better, ask why. If they are concerned about the safety and efficacy of a compounded medication, I recommend trying to make the standard formulation work for your pet.

Learn more about safely medicating your pet.


Misty of Chincoteague

October 3, 2012

I spent my summer vacation at the beach looking for Misty and Stormy. You may think I was hoping to play beach volley ball with recently crowned Olympic three-peaters, but I was looking for Chincoteague ponies. Misty and her foal Stormy inspired two of my favorite childhood books: Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal, both books by Marguerite Henry.

Assateague and Chincoteague Islands are barrier islands on the eastern coast of the Delmarva Peninsula. From their names, you might think Misty and Stormy came from Chincoteague Island; today the wild ponies live on Assateague Island, just to the east of Chincoteague. Assateague Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and one of the few places in the United States where wild ponies can be seen. Divided between Maryland and Virginia, Assateague National Wildlife Refuge provides homes to two separate herds of ponies, one in each state. I was lucky enough to see the pony herd in Virginia from the beach road and also when using my binoculars from Memorial Park on Chincoteague Island.

Pinto ponies like Misty dominate the herd, although I saw one or two solid color ponies. Chincoteague ponies are ponies because of their small stature, although genetically they are more like horses. Scientists theorize the small stature of Chincoteague ponies resulted from adaptation to the harsh environment of Assateague Island — salty water, limited plants for grazing, and mosquitoes.

Misty of Chincoteague centers on Pony Penning Day, when during slack tide, the ponies swim to Chincoteague and the foals are auctioned to raise money for the Chincoteague Fire Department. Although the ponies are considered wild, they are owned by the Chincoteague Fire Department and they have a veterinarian, Dr. Charles Cameron. They receive twice yearly veterinary care and emergency treatment as needed. Dr. Cameron was kind enough to speak with me about the ponies’ medical care.

Dr. Cameron reports that in just a couple of weeks the ponies will be rounded up for a fall deworming, but the major medical care comes in the spring when the adult ponies and the spring foals swim to Chincoteague for the annual pony auction. At that time, blood is drawn for equine infectious anemia testing and for the last 24 years, the ponies have been vaccinated against common horse diseases such as eastern and western equine encephalitis, tetanus, west Nile virus, and rabies. Rabies is an issue at the shore due to the other wild animals on Assateague Island. During the spring roundup the new foals are microchipped and registered with the United States Department of Agriculture. For the last five years a GPS microchip has been used to allow ponies to be tracked wherever they roam. Unlike the Maryland herd of Chincoteague ponies, the Virginia ponies do not receive any birth control. Management of the herd size relies on the spring foal sale.

A unique medical condition of the ponies seems to be hypocalcemia tetany associated with foaling, also called milk fever in cows. Most veterinary textbooks say this disorder is relatively uncommon in horses, but Dr. Cameron hypothesizes the limited grazing on Assateague Island puts the ponies at risk for this disorder. Treatment with intravenous calcium quickly corrects the problem.

Ponies are like your cat and dog. Pet owners should pay close attention to the care provided to the wild ponies as their care is what your pet should be receiving.

Current AAHA-AVMA canine and feline preventive healthcare guidelines suggest a minimum of one yearly veterinary visits. Microchipping, vaccinations appropriate to your pet’s lifestyle, and annual testing for infectious diseases are required to keep your dog and cat healthy a horse!


Plan, Prepare and Respond: Disaster Planning for Your Pet

September 24, 2012

September is Disaster Preparedness Month. Whether it is a hurricane, flood, or fire, disasters affect every member of the family, pets included. To help the furred and feathered members of your family weather a disaster safely, here are The Animal Medical Center’s suggestions for disaster planning.

Plan

Advanced planning is critical. Identify a safe place to take your pets in an emergency. New York City shelters will house animals in the event of emergency, but not all shelters will. Check NOW to see if your local emergency shelter plan includes pets. If not, find a boarding facility that will. Make a list of pet-friendly hotels in your area. Visit PetsWelcome.com for a state-by-state listing.

In case you and your pet are separated, be sure you pet is both microchipped and is wearing a collar with ID tags for quick identification.

Prepare

Create a Pet Go Bag for each pet in your household. The Pet Go Bag should contain information about your pet and necessary supplies. These include: your pet’s medical records and contact information for your veterinarian, proof of identification (including microchip number, photo of you and your pets), food, water, medications – enough for one week, pet first aid kit, leash, muzzle, toys, a sheet to use as bedding or to cover the carrier, towel, litter and pan, trash bags. Keep everything together with your pet’s carrier and consider storing your pet’s medical records in the “cloud” using a service like Microsoft Health Vault.

Respond

Remember first responders’ primary goal is helping people, but keep these following tips in mind once disaster strikes: Take your Pet Go Bag if you and your pet are evacuated. If your pet has sustained injuries administer first aid until veterinary help is available. Bathe your pet as soon as possible to clean wounds. Feed your pet only safe food such as that in your Pet Go Bag. Register your family and your pet as “Safe and Well” using the Red Cross website.

For more information about disaster planning for your pet, go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.


Let’s Move: Simple Activities to Get Your Cats Moving

September 20, 2012

First Lady Michelle Obama believes in physical activity as a way to combat childhood obesity in America. Her program, Let’s Move, aims to raise a healthier generation of kids.

Americans are also raising a generation of obese cats because most cats now live indoors. Research has shown that cats living in apartments and inactive cats have the highest risk of becoming obese. Cats with a bowl full of food available at all times are more likely to be obese when compared to cats fed at specific meal times. Many cat owners are unable to recognize obesity in their pet, so there is little early intervention. Here are my suggestions for simple, inexpensive cat activities to get your feline friend moving as part of a healthy cat lifestyle.

Going up, going down

One of the features lacking in most apartments, which may contribute to cat inactivity, is stairs. Using stairs is a good way to build strong muscles in your kitten or cat. My apartment doesn’t have stairs, but I have a step stool which I use to get to the top shelves in my kitchen. Some days I put the step stool out with a favorite treat or toy on top to encourage my kitten to move. The photograph shows my kitten playing on the step stool.

Cats recycle

Kittens don’t need expensive toys; in fact they find trash to be treasure. One of the favorites in my house is an empty toilet paper, paper towel or wrapping paper roll. They can chew, scratch and roll the tubes to their hearts’ delight and the toys are easily replaced when completely destroyed. Another great toy is a wide, sturdy ribbon. I saved one from a gift and tied it to the kitchen drawer handle. I pull the drawer out four or five inches so the ribbon flutters in a breeze. My kittens love to jump up and bat the ribbon and at the same time get excellent exercise.

Cats like shopping [bags]

A shopping day means a bonanza for your cat. Maybe they get a cute new toy, but what they are most excited about is the pile of shopping bags you bring home. My kittens adore a large shopping bag with a small cardboard box slipped inside. The box supports part of the bag where the kittens play king of the hill. The box also creates a space inside the bag for hiding, resting and planning a surprise attack on my ankles. If given a choice, they like bags with stiff paper loop handles which they slip through like children with a hula hoop. The photograph shows how I set up the bag and box and how much my kitten likes playing in it!

Do you have a favorite kitten or cat activity? Write back and let everyone else know how you keep your cat moving.


I Took My Kittens to the Vet: My View From the Other Side of the Table

September 13, 2012

I did something new last week: I took my kittens to the veterinarian!

Since my father was a veterinarian, he cared for my childhood pets and, of course, I and my colleagues at The Animal Medical Center have taken care of my recent pets. Consequently, I have never made an appointment or sat in the waiting room of a veterinary clinic other than to chat with a pet owner.

Foster care kittens

Last week things changed. You may remember my last foray into fostering.

My family and I temporarily adopted a pregnant cat, helped her deliver her kittens, and subsequently cared for her babies until it was time to let them go. This time, I am fostering two kittens already weaned from their mother. They are both underweight and under socialized. They came to me for a bit of TLC to spiff them up before getting a forever home. The female turned the corner the previous weekend when she started asking for attention and food. Her renaissance made the little orange male look even more malnourished and he retreated into a scruffy ball of fur with no appetite, even for delicately poached chicken breast or the most expensive kitten food from my local pet store.

Had the orange boy been my personal kitten, he would have come to work with me and undergone a full battery of tests. But, my foster care agreement specifies sick kittens come back to the rescue organization for medical care. So, I contacted them first thing in the morning and arranged for an appointment late in the day.

A day of worry

I spent the entire time, from making the appointment until leaving for the clinic, worrying about what was going to happen. Was the kitten so sick it couldn’t be helped? Could the whole problem be the healthy kitten spent all day pouncing on the little one, hoping for a playmate, preventing the little one from eating? The worst worry: what if the healthy kitten was ready for a forever home, the sick kitten required hospitalization, and I had to go home with an empty kitten carrier to an empty kitten palace because both kittens had to stay at the clinic?

The clinic visit

Luckily one of my friends at work drives past the rescue organization on her way home so the kittens and I got a ride, supplemented by a comforting conversation during the trip; the familiar face of the foster care coordinator was reassuring as well. The veterinarian, who might have been young enough to be my son, kindly thanked me for my participation in the foster care program, but when he said the kitten had lost 6 ounces, my pleasure melted away. Because the young veterinarian sees foster kittens daily and kittens are definitely not my core patient base, he gently explained foundling kittens frequently just stop eating for no apparent medical reason. The fix for the problem is simple: force feeding the kitten in the clinic for a few days to jump start their appetite and get them back on track. He also listened to my concern about the disparity in the size and energy level of the kittens. Together we decided the kittens should be separated and I would keep the healthy one while the poor-doer would stay in the hospital.

The moral of the story

I know from experience, it is impossible not to worry about your sick pet. And I also know your veterinarian wants your sick pet to get better almost as much as you do! But a kind word, an open ear, and a treatment plan that took my input about the kittens into consideration put my mind at ease and got the sickly kitten back on the road to good health.


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