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.


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.

Cats Can’t Steal Your Breath, But Asthma Can Steal Theirs

June 11, 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. 

Photo courtesy of AeroKat

Photo courtesy of AeroKat

My mother was a dog person, not a cat person. Because of her views on cats, she was convinced that the minute I brought her grandson home from the hospital, my beloved cats would jump into the crib and suck the life out of her new grandchild. Where this myth came from, I have no idea, but the cats would have nothing to do with the little screamer and all of us managed to survive the experience of a new baby in the household.

Even though cats cannot suck the breath out of you, they may develop breathing problems of their own. One cause of breathing problems in cats is heart disease. Heart disease occurs frequently in cats, and with it comes fluid in the lungs. Fluid buildup in the lungs causes cats to breathe quickly since the fluid blocks the ability of the lung to extract oxygen from each breath. The respiratory rate increases in an attempt to compensate for a lack of oxygen in the body.

Like humans, cats can also develop asthma. Although the underlying disease process in cats is not identical to that in humans, both human and feline asthma patients suffer from sudden, intense bouts of coughing, wheezing and respiratory distress. Cat owners sometimes mistake coughing episodes for unsuccessful attempts to yack up a hairball.

When I examine a cat with asthma, I usually see an increased respiratory rate and hear wheezing lung sounds with my stethoscope. X-rays will show thick bronchi (breathing tubes in the lungs). The bronchi thicken as the walls fill up with cells called eosinophils. These cells cause inflammation and block airflow to the lungs. Sometimes veterinarians treat asthma based on clinical and x-ray findings. Other times we perform a tracheal wash or a bronchoalveolar lavage to get samples of the cells inside the lungs and also to see if there is a concurrent bacterial infection.

Treatment for cats is similar to treatment for humans with asthma and includes bronchodialtors to make breathing easier and steroids to decrease inflammation. These medicines can be given orally, but oftentimes side effects can be limited by using inhalation therapy with a metered dose inhaler and a special cat mask and spacer as shown in the photograph.

Can’t tell coughing from vomiting? In either case, see your cat’s veterinarian for an evaluation.

Practice counting your cat’s respiratory rate when she’s healthy so you recognize an increased respiratory rate. Normal cats breathe about 30 times a minute. Remember one breath equals an inspiration and expiration.

Not sure you have the technique quite right? Your veterinarian or veterinary technician can help you learn.


Coping with Cat Claws

June 19, 2012

Lacey is available for adoption through Petfinder (see below)

This is the third in a series of blogs written about our fabulous felines for Adopt-A-Cat Month.

I just finished fostering a litter of six kittens. Having them was a delight, but also a responsibility. I enjoyed every minute I could spend watching them cavort about in my spare room, but knew my job was to raise them to be good pets in their forever homes. So I took having the kittens — right down to their toenails — very seriously.

Promoting proper scratching

Lucy, the mother cat, liked to scratch on my sofa, so I purchased a sisal scratching mat for her at my local pet emporium and worked to redirect her scratching to the mat. I taped the mat to the floor with duct tape since cats like to feel resistance against their feet when they scratch and the mat wrinkled if it was not taped down. I also sprinkled the mat with cat nip and taught her to sit on the mat for a treat, making it a popular cat hangout. Lucy also liked to scratch cardboard boxes, so I kept one or two in the cats’ room for that purpose. Once they were old enough, the kittens followed their mother’s lead.

Nail care

At about one week of age, the kittens’ toenails were like razors. To protect my skin and their devoted nursing mother, I clipped 24 feet’s worth of kitten nails. Approximately every week after, I clipped another round of 24! By the time the kittens were ready to go back to the adoption agency to be spayed or neutered, I could clip all the nails without a struggle as the kittens learned to accept nail clipping. My hope is their new families will be able to continue clipping with ease.

Cat scratch behavior

Scratching is normal behavior for cats. Scratching sharpens the claws and helps to shed the outer layers of the claw. It also help a cat mark their territory by leaving behind both a visual and olfactory mark for other cats.

Controlling claws

I realize not all cats get the right start in life with regard to scratching behavior and nail clipping. In addition to working to modify scratching behavior like I did with Lucy, one solution to protect your family and furniture is to use nail covers. Cat owners attach these colorful covers to their cat’s nails with special glue. Your family and furniture are protected while your cat can safely exercise his desire to scratch.

Declawing a cat is considered a last resort to controlling scratching behavior. An alternative procedure is tendonectomy, also called tenectomy. This surgical procedure severs the tendon responsible for extending the claw. Cats still have nails, requiring trimming, but cannot injure family or damage furniture since the nail cannot be extended. Cat owners must commit to weekly clipping of the nails or they will grow very long and possibly injure the cat’s delicate foot pad.

When clipping cat nails, I prefer to use a human nail clipper or a special nail clipper for cats that looks like a small scissor with curved cutouts in the blade. Ask your veterinarian for additional tips on how to clip your cat’s nails, or have your veterinarian or groomer do it for your cat.

Lacey is available for adoption through Petfinder.


Failing Feline Kidneys: No Need to Think the Worst

June 12, 2012

This is the second in a series of blogs about our fabulous felines written for Adopt-A-Cat Month.

Maggie is available for adoption (more info below)

An annual visit to your cat’s veterinarian will result in blood tests being submitted to a veterinary laboratory to test for a variety of diseases such as hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney disease. To the typical cat owner, a diagnosis of kidney disease sounds ominous, but it’s not always as bad as it sounds. Take for example my nephew cat BeeDee. He had a rough start in life, abandoned as a kitten at The Animal Medical Center following a head trauma incident. My sister adopted him and he lived a good life, twenty-one years to be exact, despite having been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease at age eighteen.

Kidney disease: The diagnosis

Estimates suggest one to three percent of cats will develop kidney disease during their lifetime and one in twelve geriatric cats has kidney disease. The diagnosis of chronic kidney disease in a cat like BeeDee is based on elevations in two blood tests: blood urea nitrogen, commonly abbreviated BUN, and creatinine plus evaluation of urine-specific gravity. In chronic kidney disease, the urine-specific gravity is neither concentrated nor dilute; it falls in a middle range known as isothenuric because the impaired kidneys no longer have the ability to concentrate or dilute the urine. Creatinine and BUN can be elevated in disorders other than chronic kidney disease such as a kidney infection or dehydration. Taking a urine sample from your cat to his annual examination will win you a gold star from your veterinarian and allow the urine to be tested to determine if chronic kidney disease is likely. For suggestions on how to collect feline urine, click here.

Severity scoring

The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) developed guidelines to grade the severity of chronic kidney disease in cats and dogs. The IRIS guidelines rank kidney disease from stage I to stage IV as the creatinine increases. Since as many as twenty percent of cats with chronic kidney disease have hypertension, your cat’s veterinarian will recommend blood pressure monitoring. Blood pressure, urine protein level, and organ damage from hypertension all play a role in IRIS staging. As your cat’s stage increases, so does the need for treatment.

A low score wins!

A study of 211 cats with chronic kidney disease, performed at The AMC, showed IRIS stage based only on creatinine levels in the blood correlated with the cat’s longevity. Cats diagnosed with Stage IIb had a creatinine >2.3 mg/dl, stage III greater than 2.8 mg/dl and stage IV greater than 5 mg/dl. Those cats with IRIS stage II kidney disease survived on average over 1000 days, stage III cats nearly 800 days and stage IV cats only about 100 days.

If your cat’s diagnosis is low IRIS stage chronic kidney disease, try not to worry. Treatment can help keep your cat around for years to come. I can’t guarantee your cat will do as well as my nephew cat and live to the ripe old age of 21 – but you never know!

Maggie is available for adoption in NYC through Petfinder.


Getting Another Cat After a Diagnosis of FIP

June 5, 2012

Jamie is available for adoption (details below)

June is Adopt-A-Cat Month® and to celebrate felines, I will devote one blog a week to them during the month of June.

Recently, I had a series of conversations with a pair of cat-owning clients about the diagnosis of feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) in their beloved cat. I use the term “diagnosis” a bit cautiously since one of the difficulties in these conversations is the lack of a specific diagnostic test for this devastating disease. Contradiction defines FIP. The only clear feature of this disease is that it affects cats. Feline infectious peritonitis is infectious, caused by a coronavirus, but the FIP-causing form of the virus appears not be too highly contagious. Peritonitis, or inflammation of the abdominal cavity, is only one feature of this systemic disease, which can cause ocular inflammation, neurological signs, liver problems, and fluid around the lungs. If that list of problems sounds bad, it gets worse. Feline infectious peritonitis is invariably fatal. My most recent conversation with this cat-owning- family has centered on their wish to add another cat to their household without causing themselves FIP heartbreak all over again.

The easy part

Coronaviruses, the FIP virus included, are not very sturdy viruses and can be removed from the household environment by common household cleaners like bleach. There is no need to dispose of bowls, blankets and litter boxes since the dishwasher, clothes washer and a good scrub will decontaminate these articles. But the extra cautious cat caretaker might want to start fresh for the new arrival. The entire home should be carefully vacuumed to remove any traces of old cat litter (and fecal contamination) from the environment. Any traces of the virus should dissipate in about one to two months, and after that time, a new cat may re-enter the home as soon as the family is emotionally ready. If the family has another cat, one exposed to the cat diagnosed with FIP, the proper timing of the arrival of the new cat is questionable as I found contradictory information when researching the topic.

Checking cat health

Since most American homes with a cat actually have more than one cat, a diagnosis of FIP causes double upset: the illness of one cat and possible exposure of the other cat to a serious infectious disease. Although FIP may commonly strike an entire litter of kittens, my experience tells me unrelated adult cats rarely pass the fatal form of the virus between each other. The healthy cat will likely have blood tests indicating exposure to coronavirus for the 3-6 months after the death of the sick cat. Some experts recommend waiting six months before getting another cat; others recommend periodic blood tests to monitor antibodies against coronavirus and introducing a new cat only when the test is zero. Keep in mind the lack of a specific diagnostic test for FIP and that the available tests are general, identifying a coronavirus, not the specific FIP-causing coronavirus. Coronavirus antibody tests are not standardized, so the test should be performed by the same laboratory to allow results from one test to be compared to the next test.

Selecting the new cat

While I couldn’t guarantee the worried cat owners their next cat would not develop FIP, I did suggest some steps for choosing a healthy cat:

  1. Kittens are the most susceptible to contracting FIP and coronavirus is ubiquitous in the feline population. Kittens starting life as strays, in a shelter or from a coronavirus-infected cattery may have had early exposure to coronavirus. Prospective kitten families should choose a kitten from a coronavirus-free cattery or perhaps a kitten reared in a private home, without exposure to other cats, which decreases the possibility their new kitten has been exposed to coronavirus.
  2. Kittens exposed to coronavirus may not have a positive antibody blood test until after 10 weeks of age and if the prospective family wants to keep their feline friends free of coronavirus, testing should be performed after the kitten is 10 weeks of age.
  3. Once a lucky kitten is chosen as the new family member, it should be kept indoors to prevent future exposure to coronavirus and other outdoor dangers.

For more information about FIP click here.

Jamie is available for adoption from the Humane Society of New York. For more information on how you can adopt Jamie, click here.


Keeping Your Cat Young

June 9, 2011

For those families adding a feline member during Adopt-a-Cat Month this June, keeping your cat young and in good health is a priority. Here are The Animal Medical Center’s top six tips to achieving purrfect health and maintaining a long life for your feline family member.

1. Give your cat a routine. Research has shown changes in feeding schedule or in caretaker can result in “illness behaviors” such as having a poor appetite, vomiting and not using the litter box. Basically, cats don’t like surprises.

2. Provide your cat with an interesting environment. Cats need climbing structures where they have a good view of the room and a window with an outdoor view. The perch should be comfortable for resting. Leave a radio on tuned to quiet music when you are away.

3. Encourage your cat to hunt. Not outdoors, but indoor hunting. Use food dispensing toys such as the FunKitty line. Keeping your cat’s brain active by having her “hunt” for her food will keep her engaged and active longer.

4. Cats may have a “hands off” personality, but when it comes to healthcare you need to be hands on, and the hands should be those of your cat’s veterinarian. Visit your cat’s veterinarian for routine health checks at least once a year and twice a year if your cat is 10 years of age or older.

5. Clean your cat’s teeth regularly. The American Veterinary Dental College and the AMC Dental Service recommend daily tooth brushing and annual cleanings under general anesthesia.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


Prescription: A Cat and a Cardboard Box

June 2, 2011

June is Adopt a Cat Month. Since I am hoping many cats will be getting new homes this month, I am going to devote my Wednesday blogs in the month of June to cat issues to help new cat owners raise healthy happy cats.

“She’s not eating,” wailed one of my cat owning clients the other day on email. This cat has a complicated set of problems, all of which could decrease her appetite. Later that morning, we examined the cat and could find no specific reason for her not to be eating. Blood tests were A-OK, but she seemed more anxious than usual.

Valium, Prozac, Xanax? No, I prescribed a cardboard box, nothing fancy, a generic Staples copy paper box. I sprayed the box with Feliway® and set my little friend up in a quiet cage with a plate of food, a water bowl and the open side of the box facing the back of the cage.

All day long she relaxed, safely hidden from prying eyes, and snacked on her plate of food until it was licked clean. At the end of the day, I sent the box home with the owner.

Why a cardboard box? Cats are mostly solitary creatures who like their privacy. When they are ill or upset, privacy is even more important to them. Providing a safe place for them to hide… and eat, is just one way we humans can improve their environment. Feliway is another.

Feliway is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring substance called a pheromone. Pheremones are produced by the cat’s body and serve as a chemical signal to other cats. The signal induced by Feliway is one of comfort and reassurance, just what my patient needed that day.

Would your cat be happier with a cardboard box and Feliway? Check with your veterinarian. For other great suggestions on improving your cat’s (and dog’s) home environment, review the great materials on the Indoor Pet Initiative website.

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit http://www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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