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.

Four Tips to Ensure Safety at the Grooming Salon

February 23, 2012

As a veterinarian, I know that keeping your pet well groomed helps to keep them healthy.

A dog being groomed

In between visits to the groomer, pet owners should brush their long-haired cat or dog; otherwise mats appear. Ignore the mats and they start to hold moisture and grime against your pet’s delicate skin which can result in a skin infection under the mat. Pets’ nails must be trimmed on a regular basis, otherwise an overgrown nail can tear into the paw pad, causing pain and infection.

Recently, several of my clients have expressed concern over tragic stories in the news about dogs being injured while at the groomer. While I have no personal knowledge of these particular cases, I do have some suggestions for pet owners to help ensure a safe and beautifully groomed pet:

1. Do your homework

Ask friends and colleagues who grooms their pets. Visit the grooming salon. Is it clean or does it have a bad odor? Do the dogs look beautiful and their owners look happy as they are leaving? One person I talked to choose a salon with a glass viewing panel which allows owners to unobtrusively watch grooming as it happens. Not all groomers are willing to have you watch. Not because they are hiding something, but because your little darling behaves better on the grooming table when you are not there to distract him.

2. Talk to your groomer

Has it been a long time since the last pedicure or doggy up-do? Warn the groomer your dog may be out of practice on the grooming table or her nails maybe need limited trimming since the nail quick lengthens when the nails are untrimmed and a full trimming may cause bleeding. Does your dog have warts or little skin tags? Point them out to your groomer in advance to prevent them from being nicked by the clippers. Maybe your dog is anxious at the groomer. If so, be prepared to cut the session short. In some cases, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to help your pet cope better.

3. Listen to your veterinarian

Is your dog a “fraidy cat?” Some veterinarians offer grooming as a service to their clients. For the frightened dog, this facilitates sedation and a quick comb-out. Sedation is safest in the veterinarian’s office, where the medical staff can monitor the pet while it is being groomed.

Some medical conditions impact grooming. Does your pet have diabetes? If so ask your veterinarian how to advise the groomer to be prepared in case a hypoglycemic attack occurs during the salon session. Hairy small breed dogs are those commonly in need of professional grooming and are also breeds commonly affected by a collapsing trachea. These dogs should not be placed in a heated dog dryer. The same is true for dogs and cats with squashed faces like Bulldogs and Persians.

FURminator products

4. Maintain a regular grooming schedule

Professional grooming can transform your underdog to a wonderdog, but without some maintenance work at home, your dog will quickly become shabby. Daily brushing will keep long-coated dogs and cats from matting, but short-coated pets benefit from the use of a deshedding tool like the FURminator®. These professional quality tools help remove hair, which decreases the accumulation on your sofa and helps prevent nasty, soggy cat hairballs on your floor or bed. Frequent deshedding helps decrease hair in your home and in turn helps those with allergies to pets. If you have a new puppy or kitten, start early, teaching them good grooming habits by trimming their nails one paw at a time and brushing them daily.

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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.


Pet Resolutions for 2011

December 30, 2010

This time of year everyone is making New Year’s resolutions. Our pets are so much a part of our lives that when making resolutions for ourselves this year, why not consider a resolution or two that will help both you and your pet get a fresh start in the new year. Here are some possibilities to consider.

Choose healthy snacks in 2011.

Keep the amount of calories to 10% of your pet’s daily calorie requirement. Your veterinarian can help you assess how many calories this is. Choose healthy snacks like the 5 calorie baby carrot or the 50 calorie ½ apple. CittiKitty now markets Tuna Treats, premium bonito flakes for treating your cat, but a fish loving dog will find them tasty too. Because the tuna is dried and flaked paper thin, one cup has 35 calories. Using 10 flakes a day as a treat will contribute minimal calories and the taste will be a huge hit with your cat.

Get down to and maintain an ideal body condition.

Weight loss is on almost everyone’s New Year’s resolution list. Because pets come in so many sizes and shapes, it is hard to say your cat should weigh 5 or 10 or 15 pounds. What matters is maintaining an ideal body condition. Veterinarians commonly assess this during an annual examination. It is based on your pet having a waist and skeletal features you can feel with your hands. If your pet doesn’t have these, he/she is likely overweight. To see the dog and cat body condition scale, visit:

Take your pet to the veterinarian at least once a year.

Comparing 2001 and 2006, a decrease of 1 million veterinary visits was recorded and visits have fallen further due to the Great Recession beginning in 2007. This means pets are medically underserved and small problems can quickly become big ones. Preventive healthcare prevents potentially fatal infectious diseases and difficult to treat disorders such as heartworms. Senior pets may need twice yearly visits as a pet’s lifespan is compressed into fewer years than ours are.

Give to less fortunate dogs and cats.

Local animal shelters and rescue group are always in need. Cleaning out your old and shabby towels? Call your local shelter and see if they could use them to give a homeless pet a place to curl up. Check with your local rescue group or food pantry about pet food donations. People without enough to eat may also have pets in the same situation. Offer to walk dogs or brush cats at your local shelter. I am sure any help you offer will be more than appreciated.

Spend quality time with your pet.

We all lead busy lives. It is often very easy to overlook spending good quality time with that four-legged, furry member of your family. Instead of just walking your dog to the corner and back, vow to take him to the park, play fetch or check out the new dog run in the neighborhood. Change your cat’s toys frequently to prevent boredom. By giving your pet this quality time once a day or even once a week, your pet will return the favor with love and devotion. And, guaranteed it will improve your own quality of life!

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

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For nearly 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.


Bedbugs and Pets

November 1, 2010

A few weekends ago, I was volunteering at The AMC’s “Ask the Vet” booth during AKC’s Meet the Breeds show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. A pet owner came to the booth with questions about bedbugs and pets. I know there is a nationwide epidemic of bedbugs, but in veterinary school parasitology, I remember learning bedbugs are a nuisance to humans not animals. I decided to do some reading and here is what I found.

First, a bit about bedbug biology. They belong to the family Cimicidae and are flightless, so they crawl to their host. Like most parasites, bedbugs are very specific in their choice of host. And fortunately for your pet, bedbugs prefer people over pets. The blood of humans, dogs and cats is different and bedbugs have evolved to feast on human blood. Bedbugs climb on their host only to feed and spend the rest of the time in mattresses, furniture and crevices. As nocturnal creatures, they feed at night, attacking their sleeping host, hence their colloquial name bedbug. For more information on bedbug biology from entomologists (bug experts), go to http://www.oasas.state.ny.us/AdMed/FYI/bedbugs.cfm.

Bedbugs live in environments, not on pets or people, and can easily be confused with other household bugs. If your pet has critters crawling in its fur, black specks deposited on its blanket and is scratching up a storm, most likely your pet has fleas, not bedbugs. This time of year when the weather gets cold, fleas are looking to move indoors and you might be more likely to see them in your house. 

If you do discover bedbugs, there are a few things you can do to decrease the number of bedbugs in your home. Wash bedding in hot, soapy water and dry them in a hot dryer (>120 degrees F). Vacuuming thoroughly and discarding the bag after each vacuuming session will help decrease bedbugs in the environment. Ultimately, most people need a professional exterminator to clear the bedbugs from their home. For more information on eradicating bedbugs from your home, go to http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/vector/bed-bug-guide.pdf.

If you use the services of a professional exterminator, follow his directions explicitly. Keep in mind, insecticides are common causes of toxicity in pets. Insecticides used in the treatment of environmental bedbugs are generally safe for pets if used properly. 

If your pet has previously experienced reactions to flea and tick preventatives, check with your veterinarian to determine if the product your exterminator recommended is safe for your pet.

This blog and many others may be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.
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For nearly 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.


Taking Better Care of Our Cats

January 20, 2010

It seems that cats are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to veterinary care. Research has shown that cat owners are taking their cats to the vet less often. Research sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association determined 83% of dogs see a veterinarian annually while only 64% of cats see a veterinarian annually.

Cats are medically underserved, in part because owners are unaware how sick their cat is. Cats, being the clever creatures that they are, can hide illness until it has reached catastrophic proportions.

cat-vaccineThe veterinarians at The AMC recommend annual examinations for all healthy younger cats and for senior cats (>7 years of age) twice annual examination. During the examination, your cat’s veterinarian will monitor your cat’s weight and body condition score as a measure of his/her overall health. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends the minimum database in senior cats include a complete blood count, chemistry screen, and urinalysis.  Once cats pass their 10th birthday, testing thyroid function and blood pressure are recommended. Together, you and the veterinarians will discuss your cat’s lifestyle and decide on what preventive healthcare measures are required to keep you cat in tip top condition. The preventive measures include: vaccinations, parasite prevention, behavioral interventions and nutritional recommendations. Your cat’s veterinarian may suggest testing for occult infections such as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia virus and feline heartworms.

People other than just those of us at The AMC are thinking about cats and cat health too. There is an interesting new cat website (www.kittytest.com).  This website displays the frequency of important cat diseases by geographic location. The information contained in kittensthis website will help the cat owner determine how often a disease is diagnosed in their county and open the door for a risk analysis for their cat with the family veterinarian. This website is similar to, but not the same as, a registry of disease for people like the governmental vital statistics bureau. The data shown on the website is compiled from the tests performed since 2000 by only one laboratory, but it will help cat owners to know how common these diseases are in their neighborhoods and give them some information with which to open a discussion with their veterinarian. Ultimately, any medical tests and treatments should be customized to the lifestyle issues of your cat.

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For nearly 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.


How to Make Your Cat “Green”

March 10, 2009

green-catWhen Cat Fancy magazine asked me about making a cat “green,” my first thought was, “How can these fluffy balls of fun contribute to our carbon footprint?”  Cats don’t operate motor vehicles and they don’t contribute to landfill much, except for the occasional sofa shredded beyond recognition.  And, those disgusting hairballs we end up stepping on in the middle of the night are totally organic and biodegradable.

What I didn’t know was that traditional clay cat litter is not biodegradable.  It is made from clay which is strip mined making it tough on the ecosystem both coming and going.  The dust from clay litter contains substances which contribute to the development of feline lung diseases.  Furthermore, cat feces, which end up in our costal waterways, may be harming wildlife such as sea otters (delightful creatures almost as cute as cats).  It seems that there is an epidemic of Toxoplasmosis in sea otters traced back to cat feces flushed down human toilets.

Below are some suggestions to make your cat “green.”   They range from simple to creative and I think there is something for everyone. They are divided into 4 major areas: 

Food and Treats
catnip200Purchase cat food in recyclable containers – bags or cans are most commonly recyclable.  Then recycle the containers.

Grow your own cat grass and cat nip – your cat will love you and you can erase a little of your carbon footprint.

Cat Litter and Litter Boxes
Litter box issues are tough and nothing causes more friction between a cat and its owner, so if you plan a switch do it slowly and be prepared to revert to your previous litter and litter box on a moment’s notice.

Toilet train your cat.  This is a no-no if you live in a coastal region.
http://www.mingusmingusmingus.com/Mingus/cat_training.html

cat-on-toilet200Use litter from recycled materials, such as recycled newspaper
http://www.yesterdaysnews.com/?D=1102642&T=4768447

Use a biodegradable litter:
• Pine based flushable litter – This litter is specially processed to make it safe for cats. Do not use pine chips for your garden as they may not be safe. http://www.naturesearth.com/

• Corn based flushable litter
http://www.worldsbestcatlitter.com/Products/WBCL/default.aspx

• Wheat based flushable cat litter http://www.swheatscoop.com/

Make your own litter from old newspapers
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/08/diy-newspaper-cat-litter.php

Disposable litterbox – Great for travel, but may not be great for the environment so be sure it is biodegradable; no plastics

This self washing litter box has reusable pellets instead of litter.  It looks like a very cool device, but it really needs a carbon audit
http://www.catgenie.com/

bamboo-scrathing-postProtect the delicate natural environment
Keep cats inside to protect native wild birds

Put cat feces in the garbage or compost it if you live in coastal areas to protect native water species. In Australia, keep cats inside to protect native small marsupials.

Environmentally friendly products
Environmentally friendly toys

Environmentally friendly grooming products

Book on making cat toys
http://www.makeyourowncattoys.com/PeekGreenventory.html
http://www.makeyourowncattoys.com/PeekGreenventory.html

Sustainable bamboo scratching posts/cat trees
http://www.trendycat.com/?Click=42


The AMC Holiday Gift List

December 2, 2008

At The AMC we know how much animals enrich our daily lives.  This holiday season, we have prepared a list of wonderful gifts for all the pets and pet lovers in your life.

Gifts for Pets
Microchip: When it comes to giving your pet a holiday gift, good things really do come in small packages.  A microchip is only the size of a grain of rice, yet contains enough information to send your beloved back to you if you should accidentally get separated.  Your veterinarian can implant a microchip in minutes. 

 

Chew Toys: Toys are always a popular holiday gift.  If you are selecting a chew toy for a dog, be sure to pick a tooth-safe chew toy such as a Kong®. http://www.kongcompany.com/ 

 

A nifty price conscious cat toy is the virtually indestructible Cat Dancer® which provides hours of entertainment for your cat. http://catdancer.com/products.htm

 

Seat belt: A safer trip to Grandma’s includes the addition of a doggie seat belt for your four-legged back seat driver.  They are easy to use and available at stores from Petsmart to Orvis.  Here’s one on-line at: http://www.petsafetybelts.com/

 

Pet insurance: For a gift that keeps on giving, pet insurance is one that pleases both the pet and the pet owner. With rising costs of veterinary care, pet insurance can help take the bite out of routine and specialty care.  Just make sure you read the fine print when choosing the policy that’s the best fit for your pet.

 

Grooming: Pamper your pooch or fluff your feline by getting them a gift certificate to their favorite grooming parlor.  A warm bath and a hair cut will perk up any pup.    

  

Pheromones: Too many holiday guests?  Help pets cope with the “holiday blues” with Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)® spray or a Feliway® diffuser.  Available from various web sites.  
 

Gifts for Humans
Books: The Complete Dog Book for Kids, by the American Kennel Club http://www.akc.org/store/detail/index.cfm

 

The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition. Available in the pet section of your favorite bookstore.

 

Pet Hair Remover: Having a party?  Use Scotch brand Fur Fighter™ to remove the hair from your furniture instead of having it stick to your guests’ clothes.

 

Cookbook: For the epicurean pet lover, try the Pet Treat Kitty Cookbook or Pet Treat Cookbook Doggy Bone Cookbook.  Just remember no more than 10% of your pets daily calories should come from snacks. 

 

Gifts to Help The Animal Medical Center
Give to your favorite pet charity, just by shopping.  Do your holiday shopping on www.petgive.com and list The Animal Medical Center as your charity.  View The AMC wishlist.

 

Toast the New Year with a bottle of Syrah from Lieb Family Cellars.  Twenty percent of the proceeds from its sale benefits The Animal Medical Center.  http://www.amcny.org/supportamc/syrah.aspx 

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Please note: The use of product names and websites within this post is for reader information and does not imply endorsement by The Animal Medical Center of any product or service.


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