Tips for Using the Internet Wisely: Pet Healthcare

June 1, 2012

I can spot an internet-savvy client a mile away. They usually have a ream of computer printer paper poking out of their handbag or stuffed in the storage pocket of their cat carrier. If the pet owner has consulted a good website, my job is easy. We can have an informed discussion of their pet’s medical problem and I can build on their self-taught knowledge base. If they visited an inaccurate website, my job becomes more difficult, as I have to undo myths and misconceptions. Since 30-40% of pet owners with a sick pet visit a website before they visit their veterinarian, I have created three guidelines for wise internet use in the pet healthcare field.

1. Use reputable websites.

When I am searching for health information for myself, I go to the websites of well-respected institutions and organizations: National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, or Johns Hopkins University, for example. The same holds true when you search for pet health information – visit websites of well-respected institutions like The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration Veterinary Page. Visit the WebMD Healthy Pets Community to see more reputable websites for pet health information.

2. Know the author.

When deciding whether or not to believe the information you find on the internet, check the author’s credentials. Each WebMD Expert has a biography page where you can read about them and learn their areas of expertise. Some websites just list the author as “ACME website staff.” This gives you no opportunity to determine how qualified the author is to write on the particular topic. Recently, I found a website where medical information was being dispensed by a dog walker. While this person is knowledgeable about dogs, I would look elsewhere for information on medical care for my dog.

3. Understand the website’s editorial policy.

Once an article has been written for a website, ask how that article has been “vetted.” You might find that information in the “About Us” section of the website.

I checked with Susan Segrest, executive editor of Vetstreet.com. She says, “For all of our medical content, not only are many pieces written by veterinarians, the articles go through an additional veterinary review. During this stage, veterinarians who are also editors will assess facts and advice and send questions back to writers for more information. They may also discuss the articles with other members of the Vetstreet medical team or request that we send the article on to a veterinary specialist for additional review.”

While you are clicking and printing, keep in mind the internet can only provide information; those of us who write for websites cannot diagnose and treat your pet’s medical condition by bits and bytes, only your veterinarian can do that.


Managing Tracheal Collapse in your Dog

May 29, 2012

A Facebook friend of The Animal Medical Center posted a question asking how they might prevent tracheal collapse in their dog. Unfortunately, tracheal collapse may not be preventable, but dog owners can help lessen the impact of a collapsing trachea on their dog’s quality of life. Since tracheal collapse is an important problem in dogs and is likely to flare up more now that spring is here, I have expanded on my Facebook response for the readers of Fur the Love of Pets.

The problem

If you are a large dog owner, you may not know what tracheal collapse is since the disorder is most common in toy and miniature breed dogs – Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Poodles, Shih tzus, Lhasa apsos, and Yorkies. In a normal dog, the tubular shape of the trachea comes from cartilage in the C-shaped tracheal rings. The two ends of the C are joined by a soft membrane completing the circle. In dogs with tracheal collapse, the cartilage loses it rigidity and becomes flabby. The flabby rings pull on the soft membrane, stretching it and flattening the tubular trachea into an oval with a narrow inner dimension. With each inspiration, the flabby trachea collapses, producing noisy respirations and a cough. Sometimes the cough progresses to full-blown respiratory distress requiring a trip to the animal ER for a stay in an oxygen cage pictured above.

Weight control

Overweight dogs have more difficulty breathing and being overweight contributes to the chronic cough typical of tracheal collapse. If your dog is already overweight, see your veterinarian to develop a plan of diet and exercise to take off the extra pounds. In a small dog like a Yorkie, 1/4-1/2 pound of weight loss may make a big difference.

Change your restraint method

Use a harness and not a collar when walking your dog. You may want a collar for the ID tags (and don’t forget the microchip too) but hook the leash to a harness, which pulls less on the throat and neck. Less pulling usually means less coughing.

Avoid heat and humidity

As the weather warms up and the humidity climbs, owners of dogs with tracheal collapse will begin to worry about the impact of heat and humidity on their dogs’ respirations. When it is hot outside your dog should be inside if she is one with tracheal collapse. Every veterinarian will tell you when the humidity is up, coughing increases and the oxygen cages in animal ERs are full. To prevent your dog from being in the ER oxygen cage, take them out only in the cool of the early morning or late evening to avoid provoking coughing spells instigated by breathing heavy, wet summer air. Keep your dog in the air conditioning on days the air can be cut with a knife.

For other tips to prevent heat-related health issues in your pet, click here.


Ruptured Air Sac: A Unique Bird Disease

March 28, 2012

Raquel the macaw

In 1984, The Animal Medical Center established one of the first Avian and Exotic Pet Services in a veterinary specialty hospital. At that time, the patients seen by the Avian and Exotic animal veterinarians reflected the most popular exotic pets such as ferrets, iguanas, and exotic cats. Over the years the popularity of various pets has waxed and waned, including the rise and fall of the hedgehog, sugar glider, prairie dog, and an occasional frog.

But the presence of birds in our waiting room has been a constant.

Raquel is a talkative blue and gold macaw that is at least 27 years old. She came to see Dr. Katherine Quesenberry for a dime-sized swelling in her axillary area (equivalent to our armpit) between the base of her wing and flank. Dr. Quesenberry suspected a ruptured air sac and scheduled a CT scan to investigate further.

Evolution made birds lightweight for flying. To lighten their bones, some bones contain air (pneumatic bones) as part of their respiratory system. Like reptiles and mammals, birds also have lungs, but bird lungs function differently than ours. With each breath, our lungs fill and empty with air due to movement of the diaphragm. Birds lack a diaphragm, and air moves through the lungs and into and out of the air sacs in two cycles as their sternum expands and contracts with each breath. While air is in the lungs, exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide occurs. The air sacs help keep birds “light as a feather” and buoyant for flight.

Even though The AMC’s 64-slice CT scan is lightning fast, general anesthesia is required for the procedure. The bird’s unusual respiratory system makes anesthesia a greater challenge than in dog and cat patients. While birds are under anesthesia, we assist their breathing to prevent a build up of anesthetic gases in their air sacs. The advantage that birds have over mammals is that because their respiratory cycle is so fast, they wake up from anesthesia rapidly once the anesthetic gas is discontinued.

On the right you see a reconstructed image of Raquel from her CT scan. Although you can’t see it, her head is at the top, legs at the bottom. The image clearly shows the abnormal air sac exactly as the examination described it, under the right wing. The image is reversed and the right side is shown on the left.

The cause of ruptured air sacs is unknown; even so, they can be successfully treated. A small stent was sutured into Raquel’s ruptured air sac to remove the accumulated air. A follow-up visit showed resolution of the swelling. Raquel is now doing well and hopefully will stay in good health for at least another 27 years!

Photo: Photo of Raquel courtesy of Lynne Freeman-Gassem

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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.


Spa Day for Kittens

February 6, 2012

Abyssinian kittens Elizabeth Barbara and Moby came to The AMC for a spa day of sorts. Below, you can watch a video of Elizabeth in the tub. Readers of Fur the Love of Pets know these kittens from their debut in the “ABC’s of Feline DNA.”

When their owner called to alert me of a dark spot near Elizabeth’s ear, I was concerned one of these rambunctious kittens had gotten burned. But because kittens are prone to a fungal infection known as ringworm, I sent a hair sample to the lab for testing. About two days before the result came back from the lab, Moby developed a similar lesion on his ear and then I knew it was ringworm. At that time I prescribed a topical antifungal cream called ketoconazole, and when the lab confirmed the result it was time for a bath.

Dermatophytosis

Ringworm is the most common infectious and contagious skin disease in cats and gets its name from the characteristic ring lesion seen in humans. WebMD has a slideshow demonstrating the appearance of the characteristic skin lesions.

Dermatophytosis is the scientific name for ringworm, which in cats is typically caused by the organism Microsporum canis. This fungus requires a break in the skin to cause infection. The photograph doesn’t show the marks, but Elizabeth had punctures around the base of her ear about the same width as the space between Moby’s fangs. Because their immune system is not fully mature, kittens more commonly contract ringworm than adult cats.

Scabby, scaly kittens

The clinical hallmarks of ringworm in cats are hair loss, hair breakage, scaling, and crusting of the skin. Infected cats may be very itchy. Like Moby and Elizabeth, most lesions occur on the face, ears, and paws. In some cats, ringworm lesions spread all over the body.

The gift of ringworm

We will never know where these kittens came into contact with M. canis, since it is ubiquitous within the environment and also carried on the fur of cats. We do know they gave the infection to their family. One of the first things I did when I suspected ringworm was to ask the family if they had any skin lesions and to warn them about the possibility. I also wrote down what I though the kittens might have on my prescription pad so the human dermatologist could call me if need be. Communication between veterinarians and physicians is critical in cases of zoonotic disease – diseases passed between animals and man.

The spa day

A bath is part of the treatment for ringworm. Additionally, oral and topical antifungals are often used. This is no flowery, bubbly soak. We rinse ringworm patients with lime sulfur dip, which is more like “taking the cure” at Saratoga Springs than spending a day at Elizabeth Arden. Lime sulfur carries the pungent odor of rotten eggs and on the day of the bath, someone commented the bathing area smelled like a chemistry lab where the experiment had gone badly. The smell may have been bad, but the bath went well and the hair is already growing back in on Moby’s and Elizabeth’s ears.

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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.


Winterizing Your Pet: Cold Weather Tips for Your Dog and Cat

January 12, 2012

Cold weather presents a number of hazards for your pet. Some are related to cold weather and some to the escape to warmer climates from colder ones. If you are a SiriusXM subscriber, these comments are taken from my December 30 interview on Samantha Heller’s Diet and Exercise program on “Dr. Radio,” powered by the NYU Langone Medical Center on Channel 81.

Be anti-antifreeze
Winter brings with it the need for certain products to help us continue our day-to-day lives in the cold. Often, these same products pose a danger to our pets. Automotive anti-freeze, for example, contains ethylene glycol which is a potent toxin to the kidneys. It is not the same as propylene glycol, which is a safe compound found in many household products. If your pet even licks a bit of the yellow-green antifreeze from the ground, head straight to your veterinarian’s office for treatment. Pets can be saved if treated early.

Salt safety
Rock salt is another winter hazard, especially for city dogs walked on salt-treated sidewalks. The salt dries and cracks the paw pads. There are several options to prevent this problem. The simplest way is to wash your dog’s feet when she comes in after a walk. Boots are another solution, but not all dogs find boots fashionable. Finally, musher’s wax can be applied to form a protective barrier between the elements and your dog’s pmusher’s wax, companion animal parasite council, dogaws.

Avoid heat hazards
Everyone is looking to warm up during the cold winter months. Heaters, heat lamps and warm car engines are appealing to pets feeling the chill, but can result in injury. A fluffy tail might easily ignite if it brushes against a space heater. Heat lamps can cause a serious thermal burn and should never be directly aimed at a pet. A snug, warm dog house will be a much safer way to keep your dog warm outside. Cats find a nice warm car engine a cozy place for the night, but when the engine is started up the next morning, they can sustain severe trauma. On cold mornings, bang on the hood with your fist before starting the car to wake any sleeping cats to alert them before the engine turns over.

Snowbird suggestions
Over the past few weeks, a number of my patients have departed for Florida or other warm-weather states. Taking your pet on a winter holiday involves some advance planning. The Companion Animal Parasite Council, a body of experts who make recommendations to veterinarians on parasite prevention, recommend year-round preventative medications for fleas, ticks and heartworms. The southern United States are a hotbed for parasites and a vacation puts your pet at risk for acquiring one or more of the parasite-borne diseases. If for some reason you have discontinued these medications in your pet or have forgotten to give them recently, check with your veterinarian about restarting them before you head south. Every winter I see dogs and cats coming home from Florida scratching and itching from southern fleas.

Some sort of travel will be required to get to a warmer climate. If you and your pet are traveling by airplane, check the airline’s website for pet travel requirements and be sure your pet’s vaccinations meet the airline’s rules. If you and your pet are driving, visit DogFriendly.com for dog- and cat-friendly hotels on your route.

No matter how you travel, be sure your pet has both a collar with an ID tag and a microchip in case your pet escapes.

For more cat and dog travel hints, click here.

Do you have a question for Dr. Hohenhaus? Leave it in the comments section below.

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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.


Needleless Vaccinations

November 14, 2011

Vaccinations have been long associated with needles, but needleless vaccinations are gaining in popularity since they may be less painful and cannot spread disease if an unscrupulous medical professional reuses needles and syringes. Needleless vaccination increases safety for the medical professional administering a vaccine since there is no risk of a needlestick injury.

Intranasal Vaccines
Many parents are familiar with intransal vaccines through the pediatrician’s office. Pet owners may have also experienced intranasal vaccination for their dog against kennel cough (boradetella) or the intranasal vaccine against feline rhinothracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia. Now there is a second type of needleless vaccination, a vaccine injected into or under the skin without a needle. Merial produces a feline leukemia vaccine administered using a needleless syringe. The system consists of an injector, which uses a spring system or compressed carbon dioxide to “blast” the vaccine through the skin.

A needleless delivery system is also used for the canine melanoma vaccine. Watch a video of one of my dog patients receiving a melanoma vaccine.

You might be getting a needleless flu vaccine this year using the same technology we use for needleless feline leukemia and canine melanoma vaccines. The manufacturer of our devices announced needleless flu vaccines will be given in the 2011 flu season at Publix Markets and Fred Meyer stores.

How about that? Human medicine seems to be catching up to veterinary medicine this time!

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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.


ABC’s of Feline DNA

November 10, 2011

Nearly everything about us and our cats is determined by a molecule called DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).  Due to the wonders of molecular genetics, DNA has been harnessed as a method of diagnosing diseases in our feline companions. Because members of a breed are closely related, genetically based diseases are often first identified in a family of purebred cats.  Purebred cats, such as those you can meet at the 2011 AKC Meet the Breeds show at the Javits Center in New York City on November 19 and 20, have contributed to the advancement of DNA testing – testing benefitting all cats.

DNA and Disease
Ragdoll and Maine Coon cats may both develop cardiomyopathy, a disorder of the heart muscle causing the muscle to become very thick and resulting in heart failure. Analysis of the DNA in these two breeds has identified mutations associated with the development of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Breeders often use this test to help select the healthiest cats to parent future litters of kittens. The AMC’s Cardiology Service does not use this test to predict the development of cardiomyopathy because all cats with the mutation do not go on to develop this type of heart disease. The AMC’s staff cardiologists, Dr. Betsy Bond and Dr. Philip Fox, perform echocardiography to diagnose cardiomyopathy in cats.

The red blood cells of the Abyssinian cat and its cousin, the Somali, are affected by a genetic disease called pyruvate kinase deficiency. The enzyme pyruvate kinase can be found in the biochemical pathway responsible for providing the red blood cell with energy. Cats lacking this enzyme have weak red blood cells. The shortened survival of these weakened red blood cells renders affected cats sick and anemic. Domestic cats have also been diagnosed with this genetic disease.

Chronic upper respiratory infections and chronic diarrhea result from infection with a variety of organisms. DNA testing can be used to determine the cause. DNA testing identifies the presence of DNA belonging to a disease-causing virus, bacteria, parasite or mycoplasm, thus determining the cause of infection and directing therapy.

Conducting DNA Testing
DNA testing can be performed on a variety of samples. The sample submitted to the laboratory by your veterinarian will depend on the test being performed. If the test is looking for a mutation in your cat’s DNA as the cause of a disease, cardiomyopathy, for example, the sample must contain your cat’s DNA. Cheek swabs and blood samples are typically submitted for this type of test. If your veterinarian is looking for an infectious organism, the site of the infection might be sampled. A conjunctival swab can be used to detect feline upper respiratory viruses; feces can be used to identify the causative agent of diarrhea. Some tumors carry genetic mutations and the actual tumor sample is submitted to the laboratory to identify the mutation and the type of tumor.

Meet Purebred Cats
To meet all the purebred cats I have highlighted in the blog and more, join us at the 2011 AKC Meet the Breeds show at New York City’s Javits Center on November 19-20.  Billed as an event where families can meet 160 dog breeds and over 50 cat breeds, the event promises to have something for everyone. Don’t miss this great opportunity to meet wonderful purebred cats, ask questions about them, and learn which one is the best one for your family. Stop by the Animal Medical Center booth to say hi! You can meet some of the staff and veterinarians who work with us and ask questions about your cat’s health.

Image: Elizabeth and Moby. See adorable purebred cats like these at AKC Meet the Breeds®
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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.


A Case for the Indoor Cat

October 6, 2011

Rosie waits to be let in.

The other day I was walking down First Avenue, not too far from The Animal Medical Center. Outside a deli, there was a big, fluffy white cat waiting to get inside. I have walked by the deli several more times and figured out Rosie is their resident cat.

Seeing a cat outdoors on a busy avenue in Manhattan begs the question, “Should cats ever be allowed outdoors?” The American Veterinary Medical Association advocates that veterinarians engage cat owners in a discussion about the risks of free roaming cats.

Here are my reasons for having an indoor cat:

1. Indoor cats are safer.

Aside from the obvious dangers Rosie and other city cats face outdoors, such as motor vehicles and poisons left out for rodent control, there are many other scenarios that make outdoor living dangerous for cats. I attended a meeting this week with a veterinary colleague from Colorado. He told a shocking story of fox attacks on pet cats in his area. Because of the interface between suburban homes and the forest habitat of the foxes, the foxes have been preying on the family pet as it suns itself on the front porch or back deck. Being an ER veterinarian, my colleague patches up the poor cats after fox attacks. Foxes are not the only wild animals that will attack cats. Here are links to two other frightening stories of pets being attacked by wolverines and other wild animals.

2. Indoor cats protect the integrity of the environment and ecosystem.

Several years ago I spoke at a veterinary meeting in Australia. During dinner one night, the conversations centered on how pet cats were hunting small marsupials indigenous to Australia. Predation of the small rodent-sized marsupials by outdoor cats, an introduced species, and habitat destruction by humans threatens to force several species of marsupials into extinction.

Closer to home, roaming cats can seriously deplete the resident songbird population. Both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy list roaming cats as a major threat to birds.

3. Keeping your cat indoors protects the health of other animals.

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan infection of cats. Surprisingly, recent research indicates marine mammals, such as sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions, can be infected with Toxoplasma gondii. The source of the infection is unknown, but scientists speculate cat feces contaminating fresh water entering the marine ecosystem carry the infectious Toxoplasma organisms, which threaten the health of marine mammals.

4. Indoor cats have a lower risk of feline diseases.

Outdoor cats have the opportunity to socialize with other cats, and those cats may carry diseases that can make your healthy cat sick. Feline upper respiratory viruses are highly contagious between cats. While upper respiratory infections are not typically fatal, sometimes cats take weeks to fully recover. More serious are infections with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus. These retroviruses are related to the human AIDS virus and, once infected, a cat cannot be cured of the infection. Close contact with infected cats is required for transmission of both of these viruses, but cats living indoors are protected from contact with infected cats.

Keep your cat healthy and safe. He or she can go outdoors safely, but not if allowed to roam freely. For tips on safe enjoyment of the outdoors with your cat, click here.

Do you keep your cat exclusively inside? Tell us what you think.

Photo: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

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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.


Hemangiosarcoma: A Common Tumor of the Spleen

August 25, 2011

The Animal Medical Center’s ER struggled to save Walker last week. Walker was an apparently healthy, 10-year-old German shepherd. He collapsed at home and was rushed to the ER. Examination by the ER staff was quickly focused on a triad of abnormalities – anemia, abdominal distension and shock. These findings immediately suggested internal hemorrhage from a tumor of the spleen common to German shepherds called hemangiosarcoma.

Hemangiosarcoma is a tumor arising from blood vessels. Unlike lymphoma, which is common in both humans and pets, hemangiosarcoma is not a human cancer. Walker’s tumor developed in his spleen, but the right side of the heart and skin are other common locations for hemangiosarcoma in the dog. Occasionally it develops in an unusual location like the eye, prostate, bone, retroperitoneal space (an area outside the abdomen but inside the body, near the kidneys). Almost any breed of dog can develop hemangiosarcoma. Most large breed dogs are at risk for this deadly tumor, including German shepherds like Walker, Golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers and schnauzers. Cats are affected by hemangiosarcoma, but it typically occurs in the skin and rarely occurs in the spleen. For those with large animals in their lives, horses and sheep also develop hemangiosarcoma.

The acute collapse Walker’s owner observed is a common sign of hemangiosarcoma. The tumor bleeds easily resulting in anemia and weakness. Sometimes, if the bleeding is only slight, the signs are more subtle – weakness followed by normal energy or difficulty jumping into the car or onto the sofa. If hemangiosarcoma occurs in the heart, it may block the heart from pumping blood, causing collapse.

Veterinarians do not know what causes hemangiosarcoma. Because we don’t know what causes it, we can only treat the tumor, not prevent its occurrence. The emergency surgeon often handles the first part of treatment, splenectomy.

The spleen is removed to stop the internal hemorrhage and also test the spleen for malignancy. Similarly skin tumors can be removed with surgery, but tumors of the right side of the heart are not so easily removed. In some cases, treatment stops there, but in other cases, dog or cat owners elect follow-up chemotherapy. Chemotherapy has been shown to prolong survival compared to dogs treated with surgery alone, but virtually all dogs relapse.

Walker’s family wanted to give him every chance and he has just gotten his first treatment. I am happy to report he has had no reaction and we will keep our fingers crossed.

Some of you may be wondering what the impact of removal of the spleen will have on Walker. I’ll address your question in my next post.

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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.


Managing your Pet’s Medications: The Importance of Compliance

August 22, 2011

On a daily basis, the veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center prescribe pills, capsules and tablets to cure, control and prevent diseases. We have pockets full of prescribing information, access dosing online and carefully follow guidelines to use medications safely and wisely.

Correct prescribing by the veterinarian is critical to medication success, but the other half, administering medications as prescribed is equally important. Pet owners, upset by the illness of their pet often misunderstand directions or adjust medication dosing without consulting their pet’s veterinary healthcare team. If you think no one would do this, here is summary of this week’s medication conversations.

Becky
Poor Becky had major dental surgery this week, including eight extractions and resulting in a prescription for pain medications. Becky, a dachshund, belongs to an employee of The AMC and I stopped by her office the next day to check on the dog. It just happened to be medication time and Becky’s owner was worried Becky was painful (highly likely given eight extractions) and she though she would give only half the prescribed dose of pain medications. I reassured her the amount prescribed had been carefully calculated for Becky’s size and pain level and that the entire dose should be given.

Montana
Montana is getting chemotherapy and also some antinausea pills. When I reviewed his prescriptions, his owner reported she was giving half a pill twice daily rather than one pill once daily. She thought the antinausea effect would last longer if she gave the pill more often. The problem with this logic is the antinausea medicine stays around a long time, hence the once a day dosing recommended by the manufacturer. By giving half a dose, Montana may not have gotten a high enough level of antinausea medicine in the bloodstream to have a full effect.

Harvey
Finally, there’s Harvey and his chemo pills. He started a new regimen and I called a couple days later to see how it was going. Harvey felt great. I should have listened to my inner doctor voice saying, “Hmm, seems too good to be true.” Turns out his owner made an honest mistake, misread the label and was giving only one pill instead of two. Now he is on the correct dosage and is feeling better than ever since his tumor is shrinking.

Medication Pointers

  • Read the label. Read it again and if you have questions, call your veterinarian’s office.
  • Give the medication as prescribed on the label. Don’t adjust the amount, frequency or duration of administration without talking to your veterinarian.
  • If you are having trouble administering medications, stop by your veterinarian’s office for a lesson in administration.
  • If the medication schedule does not fit with your schedule, ask your veterinarian if there is an alternative drug with a different schedule.
  • If your pet won’t take a pill, ask if the medication comes in a liquid or can be formulated into a liquid to ease administration.
  • If you think your pet is having a bad reaction to the medication, stop the medication and call your veterinarian immediately. For after hours trips to the animal ER, be sure to take all the medications with you and show them to the ER staff.

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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.


Will that be One Lump or Two? A Guide to Lumps on Your Dog

August 4, 2011

My telephone and email have been ringing and pinging this week with questions about lumps on dogs.

Lump near the tail base of a standard poodle.

The subject line of the first email said “Lump on Rump” which sounded like a line from an oncology book written by Dr. Seuss. When I examined the dog, I found a firm mass below the skin just to the right of the tail. Since this was a standard poodle, I suspected a sebaceous cyst, a common lump in this breed. But since you can never determine a benign or malignant lump by observation, I performed a fine needle aspiration using the same size needle I would use to administer a vaccination. Within 24 hours the laboratory confirmed my diagnosis. The worried owners were relieved, especially since no surgery was required for this benign lesion.

Small pea sized lump on the shoulder of a dog

The second call was from an AMC colleague who has just adopted a foster dog. He’s been vaccinated, groomed and has a spiffy new collar. His owner was petting him and found a lump over his right shoulder. The combination of the recent vaccination and the location of the lump (right where he would have been vaccinated for distemper/parvovirus) made me think it was a small-localized vaccine reaction. Since this dog comes to AMC most days, we carefully measured it on the first day and again a week later and it was already getting smaller. I will continue to monitor this lump but suspect it will go away in another couple of weeks.

The third call was from a friend of mine who is a veterinarian. She had found a lump on her own dog and performed an aspiration which diagnosed a mast cell tumor.

Because these tumors sometimes require specialist level care, she wanted input from the AMC about how best to approach this tumor surgically and input from me regarding an potential chemotherapy.

If you have a lumpy dog, have each lump evaluated by your veterinarian. I keep a line drawing of a dog’s body in each dog’s medical record. On the drawing I sketch the lump, record the size based on measurements and indicate the date aspiration cytology was performed. This process makes short work of determining if this is a new lump or not.

If your veterinarian recommends aspiration cytology or a biopsy, go for it. Without additional information, it is impossible for me or any veterinarian, to give an owner bad news or good news about the lump on their dog.

Don’t hesitate to seek the opinion of a specialist. A dog with a lump in a difficult location may need a advanced imaging to define the tumor location, a specially trained surgeon to successful remove a lump or a cancer specialist to provide follow up chemotherapy.

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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.


Animal Hoarding: How Many Pets are Too Many?

August 2, 2011

When most people think of animal hoarding, they think of the extreme cases shown on Animal Planet’s Confessions: Animal Hoarding, or similar programs on A&E and Discovery networks. Others think of the crazy, elderly cat lady, exemplified by Arabella Figg, the Squib cat dealer who served as Harry Potter’s occasional babysitter on Wisteria Walk. Despite such stereotypical descriptions of animal hoarders, no particular group of people is at risk for the disorder. All types of people and multiple species of animals, not just dogs and cats, can be involved in hoarding.

Is the clinic client with 10 cats a hoarder?

The answer is not as simple as the question seems. If the 10 cat owner is able to provide a clean, disease-free home environment, preventive healthcare, and emergency services for the 10 cats, AND is able provide themselves with food, clothing, a clean home and pay his bills, he is probably not an animal hoarder. But, if he is behind in his rent, only brings in sick cats in poor physical condition and denies the cat has a serious medical problem, the veterinarian may be dealing with an animal hoarder.

What are some of the risks for animals, animal hoarders or for those living in a community with a hoarder?

Because animals that are hoarded do not have adequate food, medical care and hygiene, hoarding is considered to be a form of animal cruelty. In addition to neglecting their animals, hoarders often neglect themselves or other family members such as children and the elderly. The squalid conditions found in hoarding situations affect not only the animal hoarder and the animals, but may hurt the community as well. There is an increased risk of fire, poor air quality and transmission of infectious disease from sick animals to humans.

If you suspect someone is an animal hoarder, what can you do?

  • Call your local humane law enforcement organization. If you are not sure who is in your jurisdiction, ask your veterinarian.
  • Animal hoarding is not just an animal problem; it is a human one as well. Management of a hoarding situation includes contacting a social services organization to help the hoarder understand.
  • Support only legitimate animal rescue groups. Don’t confuse an animal hoarder with not–for-profit rescue groups, shelters or animal sanctuaries. Volunteer or give money to documented 501(c)(3) corporations with a reputation for providing high quality animal care.

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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.


Doggy Dash and Distemper

July 25, 2011

Dr. Nate Lam and his dog, Cali

On Sunday, August 7, The Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash will give man (or woman) and his or her best friend the chance to compete in tandem over a 5-mile run course in New York City’s Central Park.

The AMC’s Doggy Dash is part of the 11th Annual Nautica NYC Triathlon and one of The AMC’s own — Dr. Nate Lam — will be participating in the triathlon to raise money, in part, for The AMC’s Buddy Fund for Cancer Care.

Dogs in the Dash must be healthy and current on vaccinations. One Doggy Dash participant contacted The AMC asking what the “D” in DHPP vaccine was so he could find out if his dog had been properly vaccinated. This question gives me an opportunity to write about canine distemper – the “D” in DHPP.

Before the distemper vaccine was developed in the 1950s, canine distemper caused serious illness and could wipe out an entire neighborhood’s dog population. Today, distemper in dogs can easily be prevented, and vaccination against distemper is considered a “core” vaccination for dogs. Distemper vaccine is commonly administered in a combination vaccine often called DA2PP or DHPP for distemper, adenovirus 2 (also called canine infectious hepatitis), parainfluenza and parvovirus. Rabies vaccination is the other core canine vaccine. Non-core vaccines include bordetella (kennel cough), canine influenza, Lyme disease, leptospirosis and corona virus. Vaccination guidelines recommend non-core vaccines be administered only to dogs with risk factors for the disease.

The name canine distemper is a bit misleading. The disease does not cause an ill temperament in an infected dog. The word comes from a Middle English word meaning to upset the balance of the humors. Medieval theories of medicine proposed the body was composed of four substances called humors and when the humors were out of alignment, illness occurred. The distemper virus infects a wide variety of animals including the black-footed ferret, Tasmanian tiger, African wild dog and lions. Distemper virus cannot infect humans but genetically it is closely related to the measles virus.

Distemper has several clinical manifestations. The initial clinical signs are fever, vomiting and nasal or ocular discharge. These might go away without treatment, or could progress to systemic illness such as pneumonia. Neurological signs such as seizures may accompany the illness, or may occur months later. Dogs may also develop thickened footpads or nasal planum (the hairless part of their nose) giving the disease its colloquial name, hardpad disease. Years after their initial infection, old dogs may develop “old dog encephalitis” in which the brain becomes inflamed from chronic distemper virus infection. Canine distemper virus can even affect the teeth. Puppies infected before their permanent teeth develop have a decreased amount of enamel covering their teeth.

Distemper virus infection is easily prevented by vaccination. Following a puppy series of shots, your veterinarian will discuss the frequency of distemper vaccination that is appropriate for your dog during its annual physical examination.

For more information about other diseases veterinarians commonly prevent with vaccinations, click on the following links:

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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.


National Pet Fire Safety Day

July 18, 2011

Last Friday, July 15, 2011, was National Pet Fire Safety Day. When we hear about pets and fires in the home, we often think of the dog who awakens his owner, saving lives with a warning bark about a fire in the house.

But pets are also the victims of fire. According to Pet Safety Alert, 40,000 pets are killed in fires annually, most of them in residential fires.

Every year, The Animal Medical Center provides care to pets who have been trapped in burning buildings and rescued by New York’s bravest, our friends at the NYC Fire Department.

As a pet lover, you can take action to prevent pet-related fires and to protect your pet if there is a fire.

To help firefighters find all of your pets, the folks at ADT Home Security Systems offer a free window cling to alert firefighters to the presence of pets in the home. You can request one through their website.

Firefighters want to help pets suffering from smoke inhalation, but the oxygen masks designed for humans are not shaped to fit a pet’s nose. If you are feeling philanthropic, donate a pet oxygen mask to your local firefighting team.

Pet proofing your home can help to prevent a catastrophic fire. Candles are a huge danger for pets. A wagging tail can knock a candle off the coffee table and into a pile of flammable papers. My own cat, who had a big puffy tail, swished it over a lit candle and nearly went up in flames! Space heaters and backyard grills present a hazard, as they can easily be knocked over by a pet and start a fire.

To protect the entire family, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have their batteries changed twice a year. A good time to change the batteries is when you change the clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall.

Like people, pets can suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. If everyone in the family is ill and your pet is exhibiting the following signs, see your veterinarian and mention you are concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Cough
  • Loss of exercise stamina
  • Disturbances in gait

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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.

Photo: iStockphoto


The Pen Cap May Be Mightier than the Sword…

July 15, 2011

But it can’t beat a bronchoscope!

Barcley

One thing I love about pets is their unpredictability. You just can never guess what they will do next. Here’s the story of Barcley, the French bulldog and the nearly fatal pen cap.

The beginning seemed innocent enough: a dog playing with a bright blue highlighter pen. Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe and his owners rushed him to The Animal Medical Center. Quick administration of oxygen and a sedative by the ER staff seemed to alleviate the breathing problem enough to allow a chest x-ray to be taken.

No one would have predicted the x-ray would show Barcley’s windpipe contained what looked like the cap of the bright blue highlighter!

Barcley’s chest x-ray. Arrows point to outline of pen cap in his windpipe.

The ER staff had to think quickly and cleverly. Barcley needed anesthesia and a bronchoscope to remove the highlighter pen cap, but the standard anesthetic plan of placing a breathing tube into the windpipe was out of the question; it was already full of the highlighter cap. To further complicate matters, Barcley is a brachycephalic (short nosed) dog, a type of dog known to have a greater risk of anesthetic complications.

Dr. Stacy Burdick of The AMC’s Internal Medicine Service was called in at 1:30 am to perform the procedure which took 20 minutes, but seemed like a lifetime. She placed a small rubber tube in the windpipe to deliver oxygen and administered an injectable anesthetic agent into Barcley’s vein. Dr. Burdick cautiously advanced the bronchoscope down Barcley’s windpipe. She was worried the windpipe could have been damaged as the cap went down, or worse, the windpipe could tear when she pulled it back up.

Pen cap in windpipe

On the right, you can see what Dr. Burdick saw when the cap came into view. The cap blocked the entire lumen of the windpipe. Knowing she had to work quickly to restore the delivery of oxygen to the lungs, she passed a special grabber device through the bronchoscope, grabbed the cap and gently pulled it gently out through the mouth as she pulled out the bronchoscope.

Barcley’s life was saved from the pen cap by the mighty bronchoscope and the skilled Dr. Burdick.

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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.


Dogs and Cats as Diana and Orion, the Hunters

July 13, 2011

Photo: Hemera

Pet owners believe their well-fed, or more likely overfed, dog or cat should have no reason to hunt, but lately it seems my patients are on a hunting spree.

Most cat owners who allow their cats outside, become accustomed to freshly killed gifts of mice and other small rodents carefully placed as an offering on the back stoop. But this week the take has been much more substantial.

Take Francie, for example, a special needs Cavalier King Charles Spaniel on anti-seizure medication. Twice last week she captured an unidentifiable furry creature and dragged it in through the doggie door. One unfortunate victim was hauled into Francie’s crate and the other left with pride in the middle of the kitchen floor. Franice’s family was outwardly distressed over her behavior, but the diminutive “Diana” seemed pleased with her hunting success.

Dixie and Mabel, a pair of Labradors, have not been hunting because they are, of course retrievers! To their owners’ initial horror, they were about to retrieve what appeared to be a dead possum, when the possum stopped “playing possum” and safely scampered back into the woods.

The Orion of the group is Willie, a handsome black Standard Poodle. He was out romping in his yard when a fawn strolled by. He tackled the fawn and was immediately tackled by his owners, who saved the fawn and had it safely transferred to the care of a wildlife rehabilitator.

I can share all these stories with you because the pet owners called me; not to brag, but out of concern for their pet’s health. Most were concerned about the potential for rabies transmission from wildlife. This is a real concern for pet owners and just one very good reason for having your pet vaccinated for rabies. Rabies vaccines are very effective and rabies is very uncommon in vaccinated dogs and cats.

Another concern is for parasite which can be carried by wildlife and transmitted to your dog or cat. The Dianas and Orions need annual fecal examinations and routine year round parasite prevention as recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council.

These pet owners also called wondering how to handle injured wildlife. First, you should not attempt to touch or move injured wildlife as you may be bitten. In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation licenses wildlife rehabilitators who can provide assistance and care for injured wildlife. There is also a FAQ page with great information about wildlife in your yard.

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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.


Everything Old is New Again: Plague and Leprosy

July 7, 2011

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

Last week there were two very interesting stories in the news about the intersection between people and animals. Both reported on diseases we rarely hear about anymore: plague and leprosy.

Leprosy is the older disease and has been reported since Biblical times. The first reported epidemic of plague occurred somewhat later, in the 6th or 7th century. Bubonic plague, or the Black Death, was the scourge of the Middle Ages.

Plague is an infectious disease caused by the bacteria Yesinia pestis. The usual source of Y. pestis is the rat flea, but hunting pets can contract the plague from eating infected rodents or rabbits. Even though Y. pestis is predominantly found in California, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada, cases can be seen throughout the country if a human or pet travels to one of these areas and contracts the disease before they return home. An infected pet can, in turn, infect humans. The possibility of plague transmission is one reason prairie dogs may not make the best pets.

The name bubonic comes from the word bubo, which is a fancy word for enlarged lymph node. Wikipedia shows an illumination from a medieval Bible of sinners afflicted with buboes.

Both humans and pets with bubonic plague have enlarged lymph nodes, which are painful. Fever, malaise and non–specific flu-like symptoms are typical for plague in both humans and pets. Although last week’s plague case occurred in a dog, in general, cats are more susceptible to plague than dogs.

Leprosy was in the news too; not because of a sick dog or cat, but because of armadillos. Those prehistoric-looking armored mammals carry the leprosy bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae. Most leprosy cases occur outside the United States, but cases occur in people who have not traveled outside the USA. This finding puzzled researchers until the DNA of the M. leprae was studied. Both armadillos and humans infected with M. leprae in the USA share the same unique strain of the bacteria. This bacterium is different from the strain of M. leprae found outside the USA. The New England Journal of Medicine article concluded humans can contract leprosy from infected armadillos.

To help protect yourself and your pet from contracting diseases of wildlife:

  • Keep your pet leashed or indoors to prevent contact with wild animals which can cause serious diseases.
  • Never approach, pet or handle wildlife even if they are acting friendly.
  • If your pet is sick, always tell your veterinarian where your pet has traveled and do the same when you visit your physician. It may be just the perfect clue to the diagnosis.

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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.


Summer Noise Phobias

July 5, 2011

Lovely weather, summer holidays and a relaxed atmosphere make summer everyone’s favorite season – everyone except for dogs with noise phobias. Fireworks and thunderstorms create unexpected loud noises, frightening to many dogs and cats as well. The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center see dogs and cats injured and lost over the Fourth of July weekend as a result of their noise phobias.

Signs of noise phobia:

Destructive behavior

  • Scratching/digging at door or wall
  • Chewing
  • Loss of housebreaking

Anxious behavior

  • Clinging to owner
  • Drooling
  • Hiding, especially cats
  • Panting
  • Expressing anal glands
  • Dilated pupils

Abnormal behavior

  • Skipping meals
  • Jumping out of windows/running out of doors
  • Shaking
  • Loss of training, i.e., not responding to commands

Home Remedies
Consider trying home remedies for noise phobia. One of my patients with thunderstorm phobia calms down if her owner wipes her fur down with a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets may decrease the buildup of static electricity caused by the impending thunderstorm. I suggest the unscented ones, since dogs don’t like smelling like an ocean breeze. Anxious dogs may feel calmer during storms or fireworks if you apply a dab of lavender oil to their ear tips. The lavender oil fragrance has calming properties and is available at health food stores and on the internet.

Noise Phobia Products

  • Along the lines of the antistatic dryer sheet is the Storm Defender Cape which has a special lining to diffuse static electricity.
  • The Thundershirt is a snug fitting dog T-shirt which some of my dog owners have used for anxiety related to car rides, veterinarian visits, as well as thunderstorms.
  • An interesting product I found is dog ear muffs, but I don’t have personal experience with them.

For additional tips on managing fireworks phobia in dogs read a previous blog, “Fireworks and Your Dog.”

If you need professional help managing noise phobias in your pet, a behavioral consult with a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists can help set your dog or cat on the road to recovery.

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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.


Cat Food Myths Debunked

June 30, 2011

A few months ago I wrote about cats and “cat salad.” Since we are at the end of Adopt–a-Cat month, I hope there are many new cat owner readers who will be interested in these food myths about cats. These myths have come from conversations with my cat-owning clients at The Animal Medical Center.

All cats like fish.
Partial myth. Cats’ food preferences are strongly influenced by those of their mother. If the mother liked and ate fish, the kittens are likely to crave fish as well. But the food preferences of the finicky feline are not so simply categorized. Despite the daredevil behaviors of young cats – flying from cabinet to refrigerator and scaling bookshelves with abandon – they are not so adventurous when it comes to food. Young cats fed the same diet consistently are often reluctant to eat a different diet if one is offered to them later in life. A cat food with a “good” smell is more likely to be chosen by a finicky feline, and if your cat doesn’t find any of the food attractive based on smell, it may taste several before choosing one. One fun fact about cats’ food preferences is cats probably don’t chose food based on salty or sweet flavors since their taste buds are insensitive to salts and sugars.

Cats should have milk to drink.
This is a companion partial myth to “cats like fish.” Some cats like milk, some don’t. Most cats lack the digestive enzyme, lactase, responsible for digestion of lactose, or milk sugar. A bowl of milk may lead to an upset stomach or diarrhea in cats. This situation can be avoided by treating your cat to a bowl of low fat lactose-free milk or one of the cat milk products available at the pet store. Since treats should comprise only 10% of the daily caloric requirement, keep the amount of milk to about 1/3 of a cup, or roughly 30 calories per day for the average 8 pound cat. Cat milk products have the added advantage of supplemental taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.

Cats can be vegetarians.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one. Nutritionally speaking, cats are obligate carnivores. Everything about their physical structure says “meat eater” from their sharp pointy fangs to their short digestive tract. Veterinarians will discourage owners from preparing vegetarian or vegan foods at home for their cats. Without the input of a specialized veterinary nutritionist, homemade vegetarian and vegan diets for cats are frequently deficient in taurine, arginine, tryptophan, lysine and vitamin A. Taurine deficiency leads to heart failure and a cat fed a diet without arginine may suffer death within hours. Both taurine and arginine are found in meat.

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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.


Recognizing Arthritis Pain in Your Cat

June 28, 2011

When working with the Animal Medical Center veterinarians participating in our post graduate training programs, I often say, “Cats are not little dogs.” What I really mean is, a particular disease in dogs does not appear the same as the disease does in cats. For example, dogs with heart disease typically have heart failure from leaky heart valves, while cats with heart disease commonly have abnormalities of their heart muscles, not their valves. When it comes to disorders of the thyroid gland, dogs suffer from an under active thyroid and cats from an over active thyroid.

Normal hips in a cat. Arrows point to nice, smooth joint surfaces.

A pet’s behavior in response to arthritis pain is also different between cats and dogs.

Arthritis is a common cause of pain in dogs and owners of arthritic dogs are quick to point out their dog is limping. Despite the fact that x-rays show evidence of arthritis in somewhere between 15-65% of cats, limping is really uncommon in feline patients. 

Cats with arthritis suffer from weight loss, anorexia, depression, urinating outside the litter box, poor grooming and, in some cases, lameness. One of my 21-year-old feline patients had to be moved onto a single floor of the house because he was too painful to use the stairs to the basement to get to his litter box. He got a new litterbox too, which had lower sides since he couldn’t step into his old one with higher sides.

Both hips in this cat are affected by arthritis. Arrows point to roughened edges of joint.

Pain in cats is difficult for both veterinarians and cat owners to assess. From my veterinarian’s viewpoint, if I put a cat on the exam room floor in an attempt to watch it walk, it will immediately run under the desk and hide. It will definitely not limp as it rockets underneath the desk.

In a recent study evaluating pain assessment in cats by veterinary researchers in North Carolina, cat owners reported they found it difficult to identify mild pain in their cats. Cat owners believed they could correctly identify changes in their cat’s function and activity. Dog owners more readily identify how pain interferes with their dog’s activities, possibly because dogs participate more fully in family activities such as ball toss, Frisbee and hiking.

If you notice your cat moving around less, not using the litter box or showing reluctance to go up and down the stairs, see your veterinarian for an arthritis evaluation.

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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.


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