Shedding Light on Feline Hairballs

April 22, 2015

Feline HairballsHairball Awareness Day is April 25th. Most of us become aware of hairballs in the middle of the night, either when we hear that characteristic yacking sound made by a cat about to deposit a hairball on the sheets or as we inadvertently step on a cold, slimy furball deposited on the darkened bedroom floor.

Even though cat families believe hairballs are a common problem, a survey of British cats found most had never vomited a hairball – at least that their family discovered. Intuitively, the same study found long haired cats were more likely to vomit hairballs than short haired cats.

Why do cats get hairballs?
Cats may spend as much as 25% of their waking hours grooming. When a cat grooms, the barbs on her tongue act as a comb and brush. The shed hairs get caught in the barbs and are swallowed. In normal cats, ingested hair is excreted in the stool. Because most ingested hair is excreted in the feces, an uptick in the frequency of hairball production suggests a problem in your cat.

Can hairballs indicate a medical problem?
The simple answer is yes. Formation of hairballs suggests a cat is suffering from excessive hair ingestion or is not excreting ingested hair normally. Excessive hair ingestion can result from overzealous grooming behavior leading to hairball formation. Excessive grooming is a clinical sign of several feline health concerns such as fleas, itching due to allergies, an overactive thyroid gland, food sensitivity or stress.

Decreased grooming behavior is frequently a sign of illness in cats. If the illness progresses, hair mats develop. Once the cat resumes grooming, hairballs may form and you may also notice increased hair in your cat’s stool.

An increase in the frequency of hairball vomiting may also signal some sort of gastrointestinal problem preventing normal passage of hair out in the stool. My patient Sunshine developed an intestinal obstruction from a hairball when intestinal lymphoma disrupted her ability to pass hair in her stool.

Cat families often talk about “coughing” up a hairball, but if your cat is coughing, that is a completely different problem that should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention.

What can cat families do to minimize hairballs?

  • Control loose hair with regular brushing. Don’t just smooth over the top coat, but use a deshedding tool to remove dead undercoat. Many cat resist brushing, so start with short grooming sessions and use rewards liberally.
  • Feed commercially available food, treats and supplements formulated to improve intestinal motility and facilitate hair excretion.
  • Consider a lion cut to decrease the amount of hair ingested. Check out a photo of my patient Toby who tangled with a nasty hairball and now routinely gets clipped.
  • An increase in hairball vomiting can be a sign of illness. Report any increase to your cat’s veterinarian.
  • Ask to your veterinarian about medications that might help facilitate hair movement through the intestinal track.

Flea and Tick Prevention: 2015 Update

April 8, 2015
Photo: Vetstreet.com

Photo: Vetstreet.com

When I started my career as a veterinarian, the options for flea and tick control were limited, smelly and messy. I dispensed cans of spray, bottles of dip, and cartons of powder, but hardly ever prescribed a flea collar. Back then, the collars were not that effective and some thought the only way a flea collar killed a flea was by squashing it when you put the collar on your pet. Thirty years later, the options for pet owners to prevent ectoparasite infestations are infinitely better and way more numerous.

Better flea and tick control has resulted in healthier pets. I used to routinely see dogs and cats crawling with fleas from head to toe. Many developed flea allergic dermatitis, often complicated by a superficial skin infection. While we still see allergies in pets, flea allergic dermatitis is much less common and pets are much more comfortable, thanks to these new products.

Top Spot Products
The big revolution in flea and tick prevention started when top spot products were introduced. These are the little tubes of liquid that come in multipacks for monthly application to the nape of your pet’s neck. The product then distributes throughout the haircoat and kills fleas and ticks when they come in contact with the medicine on your pet’s hair. They also come with stickers for your calendar or an app for your mobile device to remind you when to apply the medication. Many of the manufacturers of these products have videos on their website demonstrating proper application of the product.

Oral Flea and Tick Prevention
Oral products can be active against only fleas or prevent multiple species of ticks as well. Most oral products come as tasty chew treats and are administered monthly; although long lasting products are also available. Not all oral products start working instantly. If your pet has a flea infestation because you missed a dose, check with your veterinarian about a rapidly acting oral product for quick flea takedown.

Long Lasting Collars
Unlike the early flea collars, today’s models last for months at a time. Depending on which collar your veterinarian prescribes, modern flea collars may be active against a single species of tick or fleas and multiple species of ticks. If you choose a collar, check the label carefully as some collars may take a week to reach full strength on your pet.

Choosing What’s Right for Your Pet
When selecting from this array of products, consider the following criteria:

  1. Talk with your veterinarian about the types of parasites in your area. Selecting a product with a profile that fits your area’s parasite population is critical.
  2. Top spot products often repel as well as kill fleas and ticks. If you live in a geographic locale with high numbers of fleas and ticks, you might want this added protection.
  3. Certain collars and oral preventatives last for months at a time. If you are busy and forgetful, one of these products might be a good choice.
  4. Not all top spot preparations and collars are waterproof. If your dog is a swimmer, choose a waterproof product or consider an oral flea and tick preventative.
  5. If you have a puppy or kitten, make sure the product you select is safe for the newest family member. Some products are not labeled for pets < 6-12 weeks of age.
  6. Use dog products for dogs and cat products for cats. Never switch, or you may need a trip to the animal ER.

Hound’s Tooth and Cat’s Teeth: A Photo Blog in Honor of National Pet Dental Health Month

February 4, 2015

The AMC Gives Not Just at Christmas, but All Year

December 24, 2014

For over 100 years, The Animal Medical Center has held fast to the mission of community service embraced by our founder, Ellin Prince Speyer. In 1910, Mrs. Speyer and her organization, the New York Women’s League for Animals, established a dispensary and out-patient clinic for all animals whose owners could not afford to pay for medical treatment. The clinic treated 6,028 animals in the first full year. To this day, in addition to caring for New York City pets 24/7, The Animal Medical Center continues to give back to the community.

AMC TO THE RESCUEAMC TO THE RESCUE
Because The AMC’s main mission lies in promoting the health and well-being of companion animals through advanced treatment, research and education, we recently created a new Community Fund, AMC TO THE RESCUE, to provide subsidized specialty care to animals currently cared for by rescue groups. Through AMC TO THE RESCUE, we have provided a means for needy animals to receive care from one of our 30 board certified veterinary specialists. Since its inception in 2013, 20 dogs, 15 cats and one rabbit have received medical care supported by AMC TO THE RESCUE, which has led to the adoption of many of these pets into a forever home. Without the specialty care provided by The AMC’s board certified ophthalmologist, neurologist, internist, dentist, cardiologist, soft tissue and orthopedic surgeons, these pets might be spending yet another holiday as homeless and unadoptable rescue animals.

AMC at the WKC showThe Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
Veterinarians from The AMC volunteered their time to manage minor health issues and triage emergencies for the dogs competing at the 2014 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from the start of the First Annual Masters Agility Championship until the moment GCH After All Painting the Sky captured the 138th Westminster Kennel Club Best in Show. Our doctors happily donated their time and skills to ensure the health and welfare of these beautiful animals.

Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash at the NYC Triathlon
For the past seven years The Animal Medical Center has been the title sponsor of the Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash. Doggy Dash gives a runner and their best canine friend the chance to compete in tandem over a 5 mile course through Central Park, finishing at the NYC Triathlon finish line. Twenty-nine dogs and their human runners participated in 2014. To ensure the health and safety of the canine participants, seven AMC veterinarians and four licensed veterinary technicians volunteered to perform the pre-race health certification and monitor canine participants on the hot and steamy day of the race.

AMC trains first respondersEmergency Medical Training for NYC First Responders
A new program for 2014, involving AMC veterinary volunteers, was a canine first aid and critical care workshop for first responders. AMC veterinarians and technicians provided training using canine dummies and cadavers to teach such practices as venipuncture, catheter placement, intubation, CPR, oxygen administration, and treatment of dogs in shock. Thirty-two medical operations personnel, including men and women from the FBI, undercover agents, fire department EMTs, paramedics, physicians, and even an Air Force para-rescue jumper benefited from the expertise and time of AMC volunteer instructors.

Partnering with Angel On A Leash
The AMC and Angel On A Leash are both champions of the human-animal bond and its role in enhancing human health and quality of life, believing in the positive role of therapy dogs in health care facilities, schools, rehabilitation, hospice, extended care, correctional facilities, and crisis intervention. Because of our shared missions, The AMC and Angel On A Leash again worked together this past September on the Ronald McDonald House Family Fun Walk held in Carl Schurz Park.

Giving Tuesday
On #GivingTuesday, the global day dedicated to giving back, the staff of The AMC gave not of time, but of money when they participated in a raffle. The proceeds, nearly $1,000, were donated to SAVE – Seniors’ Animal Veterinary Effort – a community fund supporting pet care for New York City seniors’ pets.

The AMC wishes you and yours the best of the holiday season and a 2015 filled with healthy and happy pets.


Keeping Your Senior Pet Healthy

November 19, 2014

senior petsSince November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month, this image posted on Twitter by @PetLiving caught my eye. Adopting a grey muzzle pet bypasses the need to housebreak, train and socialize your pet, all necessary tasks when you adopt a puppy or kitten. The text accompanying this photo highlights just two of the health issues, loss of vision and hearing, that you might expect when you adopt a senior pet.

Do you have a senior pet?
A dog or cat is considered a “senior” when he or she is in the last 25 percent of the breed’s expected lifespan. So a Great Dane with a life expectancy of 8 years might be a senior at 6 years. Conversely, a miniature poodle with an expected lifespan of 15 years might not be a senior until 11 or 12 years. The lifespan of cats remains more consistent across breeds than in dogs, and cats over 10 years of age are considered seniors.

Keeping your senior cat healthy
Essential to keeping your senior cat healthy are regular preventive care visits to the veterinarian. Over the past 10 or so years, the frequency feline patients see their veterinarian has dropped to less than one time per year. Without routine care, small problems become big ones. Take for example feline teeth. In a British study of over 140,000 cats, nearly 15 percent suffered from periodontal disease.

Periodontal disease is a painful condition which can be nipped in the bud by routine dental prophylaxis. Wait too long to have your cat’s teeth treated and the need for multiple extractions increases. Preventive health care visits allow your cat’s veterinarian to perform blood tests which can reveal kidney disease at a time when dietary therapy can be effective. Routine visits to your cat’s veterinarian also help to keep tabs on your cat’s weight. Overweight cats have a greater risk of developing diabetes and bladder problems.

Keeping your senior dog healthy
Three critical factors in keeping your senior dog healthy are preventing obesity, promoting mobility and monitoring for cancer.  A multi-year study of Labrador retrievers demonstrated the negative impact of obesity on longevity. Dogs fed a restricted amount of food lived nearly two years longer than dogs fed a higher number of calories.

Keeping your senior dog in lean body condition is directly tied to maintaining mobility. Overweight senior dogs with creaky joints have a much more difficult time getting around than their slimmer counterparts. More time sitting on the sofa translates to a decline in muscle strength and turns into a dog that can barely walk. During your twice yearly senior pet checkup, your veterinarian has in her pharmacy a variety of medications to keep your senior dog moving comfortably. Experts estimate that almost 50 percent of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer, making this a significant problem in the senior dog. You can easily monitor for skin cancers by simply doing a through belly rub and petting your dog from nose to tail. If you find any lumps or bumps, bring them to the attention of your veterinarian immediately.

Better medical treatment means pets can live longer and healthier than ever before. Don’t assume your senior pet is just slowing down as a normal part of aging. Slowing down could indicate your pet is developing a disease. That’s why veterinarians recommend your senior pet see them twice yearly. Make an appointment for your senior pet today!


National Pet Cancer Awareness Month: Pet Cancer Treatment Options, Part II

November 12, 2014

dog receiving chemotherapyNovember has been designated National Pet Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about the causes, prevention and treatment of dogs and cats with this terrible disease. To raise awareness of the possible treatments for pet cancer, this second part of my two-part blog on cancer treatments for pets discusses three additional treatment therapies: chemotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted therapy. Part I focused on surgery and radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy
Although the use of radiation therapy in humans preceded the use of chemotherapy, chemotherapy was more widely used in pet cancers before radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is administered when a biopsy indicates a tumor has spread or might spread, such as in feline breast cancer.

Chemotherapy can also be administered when a tumor is too widespread for either surgical removal or radiation therapy. At the top of the veterinary list of pet cancers treated with chemotherapy is lymphoma.

Veterinary oncologists treat both dogs and cats for lymphoma using a variety of chemotherapy drugs. Most commonly used is the CHOP protocol. CHOP is an acronym representing the first letter of each chemotherapy drug in the protocol and is repurposed from human oncology. Despite the bad reputation chemotherapy has, both cat and dog owners report a good quality of life in their pets receiving chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy
The concept of harnessing the cancer patient’s own immune system to fight cancer is an idea that has been around a long while. The idea came to fruition when a vaccine to treat melanoma in dogs was approved in 2010.

Dogs suffering from melanoma are given four vaccinations over two months and then boostered every six months. This treatment protocol prolonged survival by 300 days or more in dogs receiving the vaccine. In people with lymphoma, treatment using monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan® has dramatically improved patients’ survival time. In a similar vein, AMC oncologists are currently studying a monoclonal antibody against T cell lymphoma and a monoclonal antibody against B cell lymphoma is also available.

On the horizon for the treatment of lymphoma is a new cancer vaccine for a particular type of lymphoma in dogs called large B cell lymphoma.

Targeted Therapy
In 2009, toceranib phosphate, known as Palladia®, became the first targeted therapy approved for use in dogs diagnosed with mast cell tumors.

A second targeted therapy, mastitinib, known as Kinavet®, has conditional approval for the treatment of the same tumor. Targeted therapies exploit a physiologic abnormality in tumor cells, not present in normal cells. Targeted therapies commonly work by turning on or off a cellular process critical to cancer growth and metastasis, halting tumor growth. In the future, expect to see more targeted drugs used in dogs and cats.

Because cancer is diagnosed in over six million pets each year, you may be faced with this diagnosis in your favorite furry friend. But treatment of cancer in pets is possible. You and your pet have more treatment options and more specially trained veterinarians than ever before to help you achieve a good outcome if your pet is diagnosed with cancer. To find a board certified veterinary cancer specialist in your area, visit the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine website and use their search function.


Feline Stomatitis: A Pain in the Mouth

October 29, 2014
Stomatitis

Redness and swelling indicative of stomatitis

You can bet with a high degree of certainty that any medical condition ending in -itis is painful. Think appendicitis, neuritis and bronchitis. The suffix –itis means inflammation. Stomatitis means inflammation of the mouth, and in cats, the redness and swelling seen in the photo on the right characterizes feline stomatitis.

Don’t confuse stomatitis with gingivitis
This cat has gingivitis. The thin red line at the tooth-gum junction seen in the second photograph is gingivitis, which is much less painful and much easier to treat than stomatitis. Gingivitis is a mild, localized form of oral inflammation and stomatitis is more widespread.

Gingivitis

Gingivitis in a cat

Causes of stomatitis
A recent research publication reported on over 5,000 cats. Cats with oral disease were more likely to test positive for either feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Stomatitis was most strongly associated with FIV infection. An exuberant immune reaction to plaque buildup on the teeth has been suggested as a cause of stomatitis. Feline calici virus infection may be the trigger for the exuberant immune reaction against the plaque.

Recognizing stomatitis in your cat
You might not even know your cat has gingivitis unless you lift their lip and look in their mouth. Recognizing stomatitis in your cat is easier. Cats with stomatitis paw at their face, refuse their favorite cat food, drool and yawn. Sometimes you will notice blood in the drool or your cat screaming when she yawns. Any of these clinical signs should provoke a visit to your cat’s veterinarian.

Treatment of stomatitis
A professional dental cleaning will remove plaque, but in severe cases of stomatitis, teeth cleaning may not be enough to correct the problem on a long-term basis. Antibiotic treatment may also provide a short-term benefit through temporary reduction of bacteria levels in the mouth. If these measures do not resolve stomatitis and your cat is still painful, tooth extraction will likely be the next recommended treatment. How many teeth are extracted depends on the severity and location of the oral inflammation. A routine tooth cleaning and extractions of diseased teeth may cure or control the mild cases, but extraction of all molars and premolars is a common prescription. In some cases, removal of all the teeth, including the fangs and the tiny front teeth called incisors is necessary to control stomatitis. After a post-operative recovery period, cats can eat canned food and have an improved quality of life once the stomatitis has resolved. While this sounds drastic, research has shown 80% of cats have resolution of oral pain with tooth extraction.

Cat owner’s role in preventing stomatitis

  • Train your kitten to accept tooth brushing during kittenhood, and brush daily.  This will help to keep levels of plaque low.
  • Treat your cat with products designed to removed plaque and tartar as recommended by your veterinarian.
  • Take your cat to the veterinarian for annual examination and recommendations about dental cleaning.
  • Keep your cat indoors to protect them against infection with the feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus.

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