Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cat Food Labels Decoded

You know that proper nutrition is an important factor in helping to keep your cat healthy. But what does that mean? How do you know what is good and what is just clever marketing? Here are some facts, tips and labeling definitions that can help you navigate the shelves of cat food options.

First of all, did you know that pet food products are among the most highly regul
ated items in a typical grocery store? Pet food ingredients, the manufacturing processes and package labeling are all governed both at the state and federal levels. Almost all of the state laws and regulations are based on the work of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization of state officials who regulate animal feed, which includes pet food. AAFCO has established a standardization of ingredient definitions, nutritional requirements, labeling and other guidelines. This has helped to create uniformity between states so you know you are getting the same quality regardless of where you are buying the food, or where it was manufactured.

At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) all have regulatory authority over pet food. In addition to specific state requirements, the FDA also has specific requirements for all food products, human and pet. These include ensuring that the products are "pure and wholesome", "free of harmful or deleterious substances", and "truthfully labeled". In a
ddition, canned pet food has to meet the same conditions as human food canning requirements.

To read more about labeling requirements at both the state and federal levels, visit The Pet Food Institute.

So in keeping with the "truthfully labeled" requirement, what do all those different words mean?

Holistic - This sounds as though it would be a great option, doesn't it? However, under the AAFCO labeling requirements, there is no legal definition of the term "holistic". This means that any company can put the word holistic on their cat food labels without having to defin
e just what makes their food holistic.

Natural - This is also a great sounding option, and it actually does have specific AAFCO requirements to be
included on a label. However, "natural" simply means the food consists of ingredients that have not been subjected to chemical synthesis. Plus, natural does not mean organic.

Organic - Just as with human foods, in order for a cat food to be allowed to carry the USDA organic seal at least 95 percent of the content by weight must be organic. And organic is defined as a product that is grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers.

By-Products - Many of us think that by-product is a dirty word. Not the case at all, and in fact, by-products actually can provide a great deal of nutritional benefit for your cat. A by-product is simply the parts of the animal that are not used for human food production, such as fat, internal organs, etc. If you think about how your cat's wild cousins hunt and eat, they don't waste those parts of the animal and focus only on the whole meat. Many wild animals actually start with the so-called by-products, saving the whole meat for last because the internal organs contain essential vitamins and minerals not found in the whole meat. For example, the liver provides vitamin A and iron, and bone marrow and bones provide calcium, fatty acids and antioxidants. Poultry by-product meal, or chicken meal, can actually be quite beneficial for cats as it contains taurine in much higher levels than in whole meats. Taurine is essential for cats' cardiace and ocular (eye) health.

AAFCO does regulate what is considered a by-product fit for inclusion in pet food. They do not include feathers, hair, hide, hooves, manure or stomach content. As an added green benefit, the use of by-products helps to reduce waste since these are products that would otherwise be trashed.

And now for some of the trickier labeling definitions:

Formulated to meeting nutritional levels established by AAFCO: If your pet food h
as wording similar to this on it, it has not gone through any feeding and/or digestibility trials. While the formulation method is still highly regulated, there is no documentation on how this particular formula will affect your cat. A much better label wording is animal feeding test using AAFCO procedures substantiate that this food provides complete and balanced nutrition.

. Just as
in human food labels, ingredients in cat food are listed by weight in descending order. For example, a cat food label that begins "chicken, corn meal, poultry by-products...." has a greater weight of whole meat chicken than corn meal. But be careful. Although ordered by weight, there is nothing that indicates how much more chicken than corn meal may be in there. The weight difference could be as little as less than a tenth of a percent or it could be 20 percent more.

"Beef Dinner" "Chicken Platter" "Seafood Entree" "Liver Formula" You pick up a can that's labeled "seafood entree". That means it's going to be full of yummy seafood for you cat, right? Not necessarily. Diets with these examples of labeling are only required to contain 25 percent of the main labeled ingredient.

"with Chicken!" Any label that has this type of wording, whatever it might be with, is only required to contain 3 percent of that ingredient.

And the silliest labeling requirement of all: "Flavor". As long as the "flavor" is "recognized by the pet", a product can be so labeled. No word on how a flavor is "recognized", though...

It is a good habit to read the labels of your cat's food. Just keep in mind that manufacturers will obey the letter of the labeling laws as far as the content of their products. We hope that this blog has helped you to become a little savvier in reading between the lines.


For more information on all things pet food related, visit these websites:
AAFCO - Association of American Feed Control Officials
AAHA - American Animal Hospital Association
ACVN - American College of Veterinary Nutrition
The FDA Pet Food Site
NRC - National Research Council for nutrient requirements of dogs and cats
Pet Food Institute

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bringing an Outdoor Cat Inside

In an earlier, recent blog, we discussed many of the hazards and dangers for cats in the outdoors. So how can you make sure a cat that's used to living outside can be happy becoming an indoor cat? With patience and persistence, that's how.

Nowadays, it's a sad fact that many of the cats roaming outdoors have actually been turned out or otherwise abandoned by families that can't take c
are of them any longer. That means that many of them are already at least familiar with being indoors on a regular basis. Some of these cats will be happy to have a family again and will make the transition more easily. But what about those cats that have only ever known the outdoors?

Stray cats brought indoors, or feral cats trapped, neutered and re-homed sometimes have a difficult adjustment period if kept indoors. Even though to our point of view that living indoors is preferable and cushy, to the cat that has never been confined indoors, the experience can be one of terror and suspicion. In addition, many have never seen a litter box, much less know that's where they should do their "business". Some other common behaviors can be door dashing, constantly meowing at doors and windows, scratching at carpets and even the walls, etc.

You can alleviate the stress these cats face by understanding their behavior and redirecting it in a positive direction. Again, patience and understanding is the key when helping these cats make this big adjustment.

Most importantly, before you bring any cat into your house, be sure to have the cat examined by your veterinarian, spayed or neutered if needed, and vaccines updated. It's also important to check for parasites and have the cat dewormed before coming inside. This is especially important if you already have resident cats. In fact, make sure your resident cats are up to date on their vaccines as well.

One of the ways to ease transition is to use a pheromone diffuser like Feliway. The Feliway brand is a synthetic c
opy of the natural feline facial pheromone. These specific pheromones let a cat know an object is safe and familiar. Using these types of diffusers can help to reduce the stress and marking behavior in cats.

A good way to start this transition is to time it with the outdoor weather. If you live in colder climes, the cat may be more apt to settle inside during the winter. In Arizona and other hotter areas, summer may be the better season to start this transition.

Here are some additional tips to help your outdoor cat transition to being an indoor cat:
  • When the cat first comes indoors, keep him in a small room with non-absorbable surfaces (such as a bathroom). Provide several litter boxes in the area. You can even try different types of litter in the different boxes to see if the cat has a preference. If the cat refuses to use the box, you can try using an organic potting soil or clean sand on top to simulate what is outside. There are also several products available that can be added to the litter to draw a cat to the box.
  • Provide places to hide. You don't have to spend a lot of money on fancy cat furniture. A cardboard box, or an old, large carrier without a door, with a towel draped over it will be more than enough for the cat. Unless you have provided soft surfaces for the cat outside, many outside cats have never encountered cushions, so experiment with different textures to see what he prefers, including straw, sawdust or pet bed shavings.
  • Plant cat appropriate plants and grasses in a small container, such as catnip or catmint. Many pet stores have pre-planted containers to grow the grasses, and some specialty retailers have organic versions. This gives the cats fresh vegetation to eat, which they would do outdoors, and will discourage the cat from going after houseplants.
  • Play with your cat. An outdoor cat possesses a higher prey drive than an inside cat. This prey drive has kept him alive. There are many types of interactive cat toys on the market, and you may need to experiment to see which type your cat prefers. Plus, the more you play with your cat, the stronger the bond you will create with him, adding to his sense of security.
If you already have cats in your house, make sure you take the time to properly introduce the new cat into your family. Whether your new cat has lived with other cats or not, your house has a new set of dynamics for him to integrate into.

If your resident cats are not finicky about where they eat, while the new cat is still confined, feed the resident cats near the closed door. This will help them associate something they enjoy with the smells of this new cat.

Once you are certain the new cat is safe with fabrics and other absorbable surfaces, swap bedding between the new cat and the resident cat as another way to get used to each others' scents. You can also switch out toys and scratching posts. These are good ways for the cats to get used to each other without having direct, face-to-face interaction.

If the introduction is not going smoothly, and/or their interactions are too aggressive, separate the cats again and start over. Again, with patience and time, your cats can become a family.

Overall, bringing a cat indoors can be a very rewarding experience for both you and the cat.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Case of the Week: Koli Poki

Koli Poki is an eight-year-old Burmese that was brought into the clinic to have her teeth checked. Her owners were concerned because she did not seem to be eating well. When I examined her, I found that she had moderate tartar build-up over most of the teeth and the gum above her upper left carnassial tooth was very inflamed. The carnassial tooth is the fourth premolar (cats typically do not have the first premolar present) and has one large and two small roots.

I prescribed an antibiotic to start right away and scheduled her for a dental procedure. I knew I would need to extract this tooth but would also probe and radiograph (x-ray) all of her teeth to see if there were any other problems.

Once Koli Poki was anesthetized for her dental procedure, I was able to thoroughly examine her mouth and discovered many problems with her teeth. She was already missing seven teeth, including her upper right carnassial tooth. Two of her premolars had resorptive lesions - erosions of the enamel of the teeth - which are usually progressive and painful. She had gingival recession at multiple spots including the upper left carnassial and there was gingivitis around most of the teeth. I also did radiographs of all her teeth and found a large amount of bone loss around the roots of her incisors, premolars and molars.

I extracted all of the teeth that were mobile, had resorptive lesions, or a large amount of gingival recession and periodontal bone loss. In all, I extracted fourteen of Koli Poki's teeth. I closed the gum tissue with sutures that dissolve, usually within one to three weeks. I then treated all the extraction sites with the Companion Therapy Laser. Unlike our surgical laser that we use to cut tissues, the therapy laser works to reduce inflammation and pain and helps to speed healing. We also gave her an injection of an anti-inflammatory medication, which also helps with pain, and prescribed oral pain medication for a few days.

The following day, Koli Poki's owner reported that she was doing well. She was eating and acting normally. At her progress exam a week later, her owners were very happy with her recovery. They said she was more active and affectionate than she had been for a while. Her gums were healing very well although they were still a little inflamed. She was eating well and did not seem to have any pain.

Most of our patients develop some dental disease over their lifetime. Even though Koli Poki did show some symptoms of a problem, it was subtle and many cats do not show any signs of pain. Although Koli Poki's owners did notice a problem, they had no idea how severe her dental disease was. They are very happy that we were able to relieve her pain.

A thorough dental exam and radiographs under anesthesia are the best way to investigate any possible problems. At every physical exam, we look for any indication of dental disease and can recommend if your cat needs a dental cleaning and a more thorough exam under anesthesia. Tooth lesions can be very painful but the symptoms a cat will show can be very subtle. Many of our clients, like Koli Poki's owners, are not able to see how much the painful teeth are affecting their cat until they see how much better their cat feels after the problems are resolved.


Dr. Judy Karnia

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Dangerous Outdoors

Have you ever watched a cat stalk its prey through the tall grass, looking so much like its wild, big cat cousins? Seeing this image, it's easy to believe that being outside is the best life for a cat. However, an outdoor cat lives a more stressful life than an indoor cat, and stress leads to a myriad of physical and psychological disorders. Outdoor cats on the street, or even in the country, are faced every day with territorial disputes, threats from other animals, people or cars, and environmental noises that can cause panic. In addition, the physical threats, illnesses and parasites outside can put free-roaming cats in immediate jeopardy. As a result, indoor cats generally live longer and healthier lives than outdoor cats.

It is a myth that cats easily return to a wild existence and are able to care for themselves after having been pets. Although all cats retain the instinct to hunt, they are no longer
adapted to life in the wild. Domestication has suppressed or even silenced many of the wild skills necessary for survival. As such, feral cat populations are most commonly found in and around well-populated human areas because even feral cats require human intervention to survive.


There are many threats to an outdoor cat, including other cats, dogs, and even predators such as birds of prey and coyotes. The latter become especially hazardous if the outdoor cat is hunting the predator's natu
ral prey such as rabbits. Fights with other cats over territory and food can lead to scratches and bites that can easily become infected, to say nothing of passing infectious diseases. Many dog breeds kept as pets have a high "prey drive", meaning they will see your free-roaming cat as something to attack. Not every cat will be able to get out of the way quickly enough, especially if there is more than one dog.

Sadly, another very real threat to your cat is intolerant neighbors. Not everyone is
fond of cats. Avid bird watchers may be angry that your cat is stalking the birds at their feeders. Others may not appreciate muddy paw prints on their cars. Animal care and control agencies have numerous cases of cats that have been deliberately burned, stabbed, kicked and even poisoned by humans (see this recent blog posting from The Phoenix New Times).

Even if your neighbor doesn't have it out for Fluffy, normal parts of human lifestyle
s can pose tremendous hazards to your cat. Grooming after walking across treated landscaping can lead to poisoning. Another possible danger is fluid spilled from a car, such as oil or antifreeze. These every-day car essentials are poisonous to animals and can cause them to become incredibly ill. Outdoor cats are especially drawn to this hazard as they are naturally curious and tend to explore unfamiliar fluids tongue first. Cats may also scavenge in garbage when something smells too enticing to pass up. Small bones, plastic wrappers or even some medications can be found in neighborhood trash, all of which could threaten a cat's health.

The number one killer and crippler of outdoor cats is cars. Even a quiet residential street has enough traffic to pose the danger. It only takes a moment for even a street-wise cat to lose concentration and dash into oncoming traffic when being chased by a dog, pursuing prey, or distracted by other kitty delights. Even parked cars can pose a risk if it's a cold day and the cat goes inside a warm engine block for shelter. The cat can be injured, if not killed, the next time the engine is started.


Cats who roam in the great outdoors are at much greater risk of exposure to diseases and parasites, some of which they can pass on to their human owners.

The Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) compromises a cat's immune system. While there is an effective vaccine against FeLV, no vaccine can be 100% effective. Once a cat is in
fected with FeLV, his or her immune system is compromised, and the cat will have difficulty fighting off any other type of infection and can even develop cancer. The virus is shed in bodily fluids and is primarily spread through biting, although there is a small risk from grooming and sharing dishes. Kittens can be infected by their mother while in the womb or during nursing after birth.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) also affects a cat's immune system and is ultimately fatal. There is no cure for this virus or for FeLV. There is a vaccine for FIV but it is not proven effective and will always cause any tests for the virus to come up as "positive" making it impossible to know if the cat is really infected. FIV leads to chronic infections and can affect organs
and bone marrow. The most common transmission of the virus is through bite wounds and the carriers are most commonly un-neutered, free-roaming males.

Rabies is a caused by virus, which can infect warm-blooded mammals, including cat
s, people, wildlife, and farm animals, and is always fatal. Outdoor cats are at risk of contact with rabid wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats. As noted in a previous blog, in Maricopa County one of the most common carriers of rabies is bats. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cats are the domestic animal most commonly found to be rabid. Cats are closely associated with people and rabid cats often become aggressive. These two factors increase the risk of human exposure. Bites are the most common means of transmission. Rabies is lethal if not detected and treated immediately. Rabies attacks the central nervous system, resulting in paralysis and death.

Plague is cause by the bacterium, Yersinia pestis, and is transmitted primarily by wild rodent fleas mainly in the states of NM, AZ, CO and CA. Cats can become infected from flea bites or from eating infected small mammals. In 2011, a barn cat in Oregon tested positive for plague. The most frequent route of transmission to humans is via the bite of an infected flea. People can also contract the illness by direct contact with the secretions of an infected animal
or person through scratches or bites, or from inhalation of infective droplets released by coughing or sneezing. In recent years, almost all human cases of the most lethal form of the disease, pneumonic plague, have been linked to domestic cats.

There are additional parasites, including roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, Giardia, toxoplasmosis and bacteria that cats can become exposed to while roaming outside. Most of these are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted to humans. For more information about zoonotic parasites, visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council website.

So while it may seem that allowing your cat to indulge his or her "wild side" by roaming free outside is the natural thing to do, the reality is that it can be dangerous and stressful for both your cat and your family.


Coming up in future blogs: how to transition an outdoor cat to an indoor cat; how to enrich an indoor cat's life

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Case of the Week: Orange Boy

Orange Boy was a young neighborhood stray cat. He visited many houses, but when he had a bad fight a few months ago, he came calling to the right house. His new owner saw the terrible wound on his face and knew he needed treatment right away.

When Orange Boy was brought into the clinic, he had a large wound on the rig
ht side of his face about three inches in diameter. There was a large scab from under which oozed green, puss filled liquid. We sedated him so we could clean the wound and evaluate it better.

The most likely cause of Orange Boy's wound was a ruptured abscess due to a cat bite. Outdoor cats will often fig
ht over territory and can inflict a large amount of damage on each other with teeth and claws. The cat canine tooth, or fang, is long and pointed and will puncture another cat's skin. The wound in the skin is only a few millimeters deep and heals over quickly. However, when the tooth punctures the skin, it injects bacteria deep inside. These bacteria will replicate and cause severe infection. The body of the cat will attempt to fight the bacteria by sending white blood cells to the site leading to pus being formed. This can form a large soft pocket under the skin called an abscess. The abscess usually causes a fever, pain and lethargy in the cat. The skin over the abscess usually will die and slough off, leading to oozing of the pus. In some cats, such as Orange Boy, the amount of skin that dies can be quite large.

We anesthetized Orange and scrubbed his wound. I removed the scab over his wound and trimmed the dead tissue around the edges. I also cleaned the wound with surgical scrub to remove any infected material. The wound had some good pink granulation tissue, which is the healing tissue, extending three inches in diameter across the whole side of his face. There was also firm swelling on the lower part of the wound due to inflammation from the infection. Because the wound extended from the base of his ear almost to his mouth, I was not able to close it surgically. I therefore left the wound to close on its own by what is called "second intention" in which the normal healing process of the skin closes the wound with time. As the body tries to heal, the skin edges on a wound contract and tissue gradually rejuvenates from the edges of the wound inward. Since the wound was so large, though, I thought I might need to do surgery at a later time to close the wound completely.

While Orange Boy was under anesthesia, we took care of some other preventative measu
res and tests. A blood panel showed that he was negative for the Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. His white blood cell counts and protein levels were increased due to the infection on his face, but his organ function tests were all normal. We also neutered him. Neutered males are much less likely to be territorial and get into fights.

I prescribed antibiotics for Orange Boy along with a medicated spray to keep the wound clean and help healing. When he came in for his progress exam a little more than a week later, the wound had already improved greatly. The wound was half the original size, much more shallow and much of the inflammatory swelling had resolved. I removed some scabbed tissue from the top of the wound and cleaned it thoroughly. After another week and a half, the wound was down to a 1x2cm scab with scar tissue around it.

Now Orange Boy spends a good deal of time indoors in his new home. He is up to date on all of his vaccines and has been treated for possible intestinal parasites.

Cats have a great ability to heal well and often surprise me with how well they handle many injuries or illnesses. However, when they go outdoors there is a great chance that they will be exposed to bites and other types of injuries or be exposed to infectious disease and parasites. If your cat does go outdoors, be sure to protect him or her from disease by keeping vaccines up to date and giving parasite medications (including heartworm prevention). If you notice any wounds or swellings, bring your cat to your veterinarian promptly so that any infection can be treated as quickly as possible. This will reduce your cat's pain and distress and often save money by addressing the problem early.

Dr. Judy Karnia

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cats Can Have Allergies Too

Any allergy sufferer will tell you how uncomfortable those allergies can be. But did you know that your cat can also suffer from allergies?

An allergy is a hypersensitivity to a substance that is otherwise considered harmless. Some of the most common allergens - those things that cause the reactions - include pollens, dust mites, molds, insect bites, fibers, foods and dander. The most common contact with allergens is through physical contact, inhalation (breathing in) or ingestion (eating). This contact causes the body's immune system to overreact and produce antibodies to attack the invading allergens. These can show up as skin and/or eye conditions, respiratory issue
s, or even gastrointestinal issues.

Allergies are an inherited trait and a lifelong condition because they are the result of an immune system imbalance. The tendency to develop allergies is a genetic trait. When one parent is allergic, there's an increased likelihood that his/her offspring will also be allergic. Allergies are not curable, but they can be managed with immunotherapy treatment, medications that treat symptoms and simple avoidance of the offending allergen.

Cats, just like people, can suffer allergic reactions to a wide variety of allergens. In f
act, there are estimates that about 15% of cats suffer from one or more allergies. Research has shown that the immune system imbalance that causes allergies in humans is essentially the same in cats.

There are four known types of allergies in the cat: contact, flea, food, and inhalant. Each of these has some common expressions in cats, and each has some unique features. These allergies might be why your cat has itchy skin, respiratory problems, sneezing, or even vomiting and diarrhea, the latter being possible indications that your cat has a food allergy.

Contact allergies are the least common of the four types of allergies. They result in a local reaction to the skin. Examples of contact allergy include reactions to flea collars or to types of bedding, such as wool. If the cat is allergic to such substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact. Removal of the contact irritant solves the problem. H
owever, identifying the allergen can require some detective work.

Flea allergy is common in cats. A normal cat experiences only minor irritation in response to flea bites, often without any itching. The flea allergic cat, on the other hand, has a severe, itch-producing reaction when the flea's saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bit causes such intense itching that the cat may severely scratch or chew itself, leading to the removal of large amounts of hair. There will often be open sores or scabs on the skin, allowing a secondary bacterial infection to begin. The most commonly involved area is over the rump (just in front of the tail). In addition, the cat may have numerous, small scabs around the head and neck. These scabs are called miliary lesions, a term which was coined because the scabs look like millet seeds.

The most important treatment for flea allergy is to get the cat away from all fleas. Therefore, strict flea control is the backbone of a successful treatment. Unfortunately, this is not always possible in warm and humid climates, where a new population of fleas can hatch out every 14-21 days. However, a topically applied monthly parasite treatment that covers fleas may kill fleas before they have a chance to bite your cat.

Inhalant allergies are the most common type to affect cats. Cats may be allergic to all of the same inhaled allergens that affect us. These include pollens, molds, mildew and the house dust mite. Many of these allergies occur seasonally, while others are with us all the time, such as molds, mildew and house dust mites. When humans inhale these allergies, we manifest the allergy as a respiratory problem, or hay fever. The cat's reaction, however, usually produces severe, generalized itching. In fact, the most common cause of itching in the cat is the inhalant allergy.

Most cats that have an inhalant allergy are allergic to several allergens. If the number is small and they are the seasonal type, itching may last for just a few weeks at a time during one or two periods of the year. If the number of allergens is large or they are present year-round, the cat may itch constantly.

The second most common type of allergy to affect cats is food allergies. Generally cats will develop allergies to food products they have eaten for a long time. The allergy most frequently develops to the protein component of the food; for example, beef, pork, chicken or turkey. A food allergy may produce any of the clinical signs previously discussed, including itching, digestive disorders, and respiratory distress.

Treating allergies depends on the type of allergy that the cat is suffering. As noted, the contact allergy is the easiest to treat, once determined, as it simply involves removing the offending item. Limiting exposure to fleas by keeping your cat inside and treating with a regular, monthly parasite control will help. Inhalant allergies may need to be treated with steroids to control seasonal outbreaks. Food allergies may require a specialized diet in order to prevent recurrance.

If you are concerned your cat may be suffering from an allergy, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to review and discuss your concerns.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Case of the Week: Duke

One-year-old Duke and his brother Sebastian are two cute and sweet cats waiting for adoption at Safe Haven for Animals. Duke and Sebastian had developed a severe upper respiratory infection at the rescue home. It is very common for shelter kittens to develop viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections due to the wide exposure to other cats and the stress on their bodies from changes in their life. When I first saw Duke, he was very congested, not eating well, and was very thin and lethargic. He had a fever of 104 degrees and his lymph nodes under his chin were enlarged. I prescribed an antibiotic for him, started L-Lysine which helps fight herpes virus, and switched him to a high calorie prescription food.

He improved quickly. He gained one and a half pounds in three weeks and his sneezing and nasal discharge cleared. However, he still had a loud noise when he breathed through his nose. This presented a difficult challenge for me. When feeling a cat's soft palate way back in his mouth, he only gives you a second or two to get a feel before jerking away or biting. In that brief
moment, I thought I could feel a firm mass above Duke's palate. This, and the noise in his nose, led me to suspect a growth or foreign body up in his nasal sinus.

I placed Duke under anesthesia, pulled back his soft palate, and found a large, soft, pink growth. With firm but gentle traction, I was able to remove the growth from his sinus. The growth was a 1.5 cm spherical polyp with a long stalk. Polyps are inflammatory growths that can form in the nasal sinus or ear canal of cats. They mainly cause problems by blocking the interior of the sinus or ear canal stimulating discharge and causing discomfort. Removal by traction - that is, pulling the polyp until it comes loose - can be successful in many cases although some may grow back. Removal by surgery is needed in those cases. In Duke's case, it appeared I had removed the entire stalk of the polyp, which minimizes the chance of it recurring.

Since his procedure Duke has been doing great. He breathes without any noise and does not have any nasal discharge. He is very active, and we are hopeful that this marks the end of his problem.

Dr. Judy Karnia

For more information about Duke, his brother Sebastian, or any of the other cats available for adoption through Safe Haven For Animals, please visit their website at www.azshfa.org

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Case of the Week: Romeo

This week's case is about a one and a half year old blue point Siamese. Romeo moved from New Jersey to Arizona at the beginning of 2011. His owner brought him into the clinic because he had been coughing for a few months. His previous veterinarian had done x-rays and saw that he had bronchitis - inflammation of the airways - but was not able to determine the cause. His owner told me that Romeo was mainly an indoor cat, but he did sit outside in a large cage for a while some days. Hearing that the cat had some outdoor contact, my first thought was to rule out heartworm disease.

Heartworms are injected into a cat by a mosquito. The heartworm larva will then travel throughout the blood stream and pass through two more larval stages before becoming a worm. We obtained a blood sample from Romeo and ran an antibody and antigen heartworm test. The antibody test would show if he had any exposure to heartworms sometime in the last months or years. The antigen test detects if there is an adult female worm in the cat's body. Cats are actually good at fighting off the heartworm infection and will only have immature worms or one or two adult worms if any survive. Dogs, on the other hand, tend to have many worms in the heart and lungs.

This ability to resist the parasite makes it difficult to definitively diagnose heartworm disease in cats since many infected cats have no worms that will cause the antigen test to turn positive. The cat may also completely fight off the parasite and have his antibody test turn negative after months or years. But even if a cat has beaten the parasite, his lungs may still have lasting damage from the heartworm. While fighting off the parasite, the immune system will mount an inflammatory response that leads to significant lung disease. This is called Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (H.A.R.D.). The disease can be mild to severe and can cause various symptoms including coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy.

Romeo's antigen test was negative but his antibody test was positive. This did not tell us if he had any heartworms currently in his system but it did tell us that he was exposed at some point. I prescribed steroids for Romeo to help reduce the inflammation in his lungs. This decreased the irritation and mucus secretions so that he would not cough. I hoped it would also prevent further damage to his airways. He immediately improved and is no longer coughing. He is back to himself, and his owner is protecting him from being infected with heartworm again with the regular use of Revolution, a monthly heartworm preventative.

We still do not know how much damage has been done to Romeo's lungs and if he will need to be on steroids for the rest of his life or not. He likely was exposed to the heartworms back in New Jersey before he moved here. However, heartworm disease is becoming more prevalent in Arizona and can be spread by mosquitoes here just as easily as anywhere in the country. We strongly encourage heartworm preventative for all cats living in the valley.

Dr. Judy Karnia

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lending a Helping Paw - Champagne Hermann

Very few animal lovers would dispute the soothing quality of an animal's companionship. Animals have a wonderful way of making us feel better even on our worst days. And cat owners in particular know how uplifting a purring cat can be even in the darkest times.

For years, therapy dogs have visited nursing homes and hospice facilities, bringing moments of happiness and ease to the patients and residents. In recent years, there have been increasing requests for cats to become therapy animals as well.

One of our patients here at Scottsdale Cat Clinic, Champagne Hermann, recently became part of the Hospice of the Valley's Pet Connections Program. Says his owner, Linda Hermann, "One day I received this friendly phone call from a friend of a friend who had personally met Champagne and observed his interactions with an 8-year-old boy and his triplet 6-year-old sisters. Who was this friend who called? Ann Roseman, Pet Team Coordinator with Hospice of the Valley.

"At first, I was surprised as I have heard of dogs being involved in this program and did not realize there was a calling for cats too. Champagne and I jumped at this opportunity to be involved with Hospice of the Valley. How delighted we are to visit each patient and see the joy that we bring to the patient and their families. Our visits are one or twice a month. Champagne makes himself comfortable in the patient's lap as the patient pets him and scratches his ears, brushes his fur, or feeds him treats. It's apparent Champagne and the patient have a unique bond. As we leave, I remind the patient that Champagne and I will be coming back soon; and we all look forward to that time."

Officially, research theories vary widely on whether there is true therapeutic value to animal visits, but those on the receiving end of those encounters seem to find them very uplifting. According to Ann Roseman of the Hospice of the Vally, "As an officially registered pet therapy cat, Champagne (and his pet parent, Linda) has already brought much joy to many Hospice of the Vally patients, family members, and caregivers since joining us this past November. He has visited patients in their own private homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, skilled nursing facilities, and our Hospice of the Valley inpatient units. Depending on the patient, his visits range from 10 to 60 minutes, from one time only to once every several weeks.

"The Hospice of the Valley care team members are constantly referring new patients for cat visits. So if your cat is good at riding in the car and arriving at their destination calm and ready to interact, please consider getting your cat tested to be a therapy cat. One of the tests will be to see if your cat can lie comfortably in the laps of several people for several minutes each. Your cat will also have to be comfortable in a collar or harness and leash. They need not walk on the leash, but it must remain attached to them and in your hands at all times."

The Delta Society is a national organizations that helps prepare pets to be part of their Pet Partners program. For more information, visit their website at www.deltasociety.org.

For information on becoming part of the Hospice of the Valley Pet Connections Program with your cat (and/or dog), please contact Hospice of the Valley Pet Team Coordinator by email at aroseman@hov.org or by phone at 602-287-6660.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Feline Dental Health - It's Always Important

Every February, several veterinary groups, including The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS) designate the month as Pet Dental Health Month. During this time, the importance of regular dental care is emphasized.

While the official Pet Dental Health Month is drawing to a close this year, the effec
ts of gingivitis and periodontal disease in cats can be so far-reaching it seems as though every month should be dedicated to dental health. According to the AVDS, 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age three, and 85% of all adult pets have periodontal disease. Left untreated, harmful bacteria from the oral cavity can spread throughout the bloodstream to infect the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.

Dental disease is the most common disease in cats, and studies confirm a strong relationship between the presence of dental disease and poor general health. Even though cats are very good at hiding any problems, dental disease is a painful condition. Left untreated, many pets suffer silently and age prematurely. As several of our recent Cases of the Week illustrate (see: Bianca; Tommy; Sweetheart), preventing and treating dental disease will keep your cat healthier and improve his quality of

Dental disease begins when a combination of food, bacteria and saliva combine to form plaque on the teeth. If plaque is not removed, it mineralizes and forms calculus. As plaque and calculus build up, they lead to gingivitis, an inflammation along the gum line. This is painful for your cat and encourages bacterial toxins to form along the gum. At this stage, gingivitis is reversible with professional dental cleaning and oral home care.

If gingivitis is untreated, there will be a progression to periodontal disease, a destructive process causing a breakdown of the supporting structure of the teeth. This will cause oral pain, loose teeth, and more severe oral infection. As periodontal disease progresses, the gums recede and become more permeable. This allows bacteria to enter and travel through the bloodstream leading to heart, liver, and kidney disease.

Whether your cat is a youngster with shiny white teeth or has advanced dental disease and halitosis, the combination of your good home care and our medical treatment will ensure a healthy mouth and body for your cat. Your cat will live a happier, more comfortable, and longer life.

The first step to ensuring your cat's dental health is a visit to your veterinarian for a
thorough exam of the mouth and the entire body. If tartar, calculus, gingivitis, or periodontal disease is already present, your cat will need dental treatment. During the exam, home dental care will also be discussed. If the tartar and gingivitis is moderate to severe, a professional dental cleaning will be needed.

To perform a thorough, safe, and comfortable dental treatment, your cat must be anesthetized. In many cases, the veterinarian can only determine which teeth may have lesions and/or need extraction after the teeth are cleaned and dental xrays are reviewed.

Many cat owners are understandably concerned with having their cats anesthetized.
While there is a slight risk with anesthesia, there is much greater likelihood that continued dental infection will adversely impact your cat's health and comfort. Healthy teeth are well worth the risk of general anesthesia. At Scottsdale Cat Clinic, your cat's safety and comfort are our primary concern during anesthesia. We use very safe anesthetic agents and monitor your cat closely throughout the procedure.

Please contact us if you would like more information about our dental care and cleanings. You may reach us by phone at 480.970.1175 or by email at info@scottsdalecatclinic.com

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Make New Friends

Friends are a great addition to anyone's life, and the best friend of all is one that can guarantee unconditional love and acceptance. Animals are the perfect example of this. They don't judge us when we have a bad day, or tsk when we sneak that extra helping of ice cream or cookies. And after a long day, there are few things more rewarding than a purring bundle of fur sitting on your lap, or even just near you on the couch.

Making New Friends Method 1 - Adopt a Cat
If you are considering adopting a cat, consider adopting an older cat instead of a kitten. As anyone can tell you, rescue organizations are in the difficult situation of having to turn away cats that are found and/or need to be surrendered. In a few short months, "kitten season" will begin and organizations will be inundated with litters and litters of kittens.

There is no denying that kittens are adorable and are a blast. But they are babies, and like any baby, they require a great deal of attention and energy. Because many people who are looking to adopt a cat want a kitten, older adult cats are often overlooked and stay in shelters longer. And yet, for many families an adult cat would be a better fit.

Adult cats will most likely require less energy in caring for them as they are already up to date on vaccines, neutered and litter box trained. Since cats generally reach their social maturity around 3 years of age, you will already have a good idea of an adult cat's personality. An adorable kitten could grow up to be a grumpy adult. In addition, you won't have to "kitten proof" your house, watching them constantly to make sure they don't try to eat every foreign object they come across. And if you already have a cat in your home, an older cat introduced properly will present less stress as they come in cautiously, unlike kittens who seem to have no fear in new territory.

Making New Friends Method 2 - Foster a Cat
If adopting a cat is not feasible for you right now, consider fostering one. One of the greatest needs many rescue organizations face is the space to help all of the cats who need them. If a rescue does not have a physical facility, the number of cats they can help is limited to the number of foster volunteers they have.

Fostering is not for everyone, especially if you are prone to bonding with every cat you meet! Giving up the cat to her new permanent home can be heart wrenching, even while you have the satisfaction of knowing you gave her the time she needed to find them. Additionally, some rescues cannot financially support all the day-to-day needs, relying on their fosters to provide food, litter, etc. If you already have other animals, you will need to make sure they are fully vaccinated, and that you can keep your foster and your family animals separate.

While fostering is a crucial part of most rescue organizations, think carefully before diving in. Do your research, both in terms of general requirements for fostering and the specific requirements of the rescue you are interested in helping. Discuss the options thoroughly with family and with the rescue, and make your decision from there.

Making New Friends Method 3 - Volunteer
If you cannot adopt or foster right now, consider volunteering with a rescue organization. Rescues that have a physical facility, or shelter, generally need volunteers to help with the care of the animals in their charge. These needs can range from social interactions with the cats to physically keeping the shelter clean.

Even organizations that do not have a physical facility have need for volunteers. Many need people to help participate in events, providing support at information tables or fundraisers. Do you have a particular skill such as photography? Offer to take photos of the cats in their care to help get them adopted. Even purchasing food and other supplies, or a straightforward cash donation can help rescues continue their important work.

Volunteering with a rescue organization can help you meet some amazing cats who will greatly benefit from your help. You will also have an opportunity to meet some amazing animal-loving people, and you never know who might become your new best friend.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Quit Smoking

Are you a smoker? We don't need to tell you the health risks associated with smoking. We probably don't even need to tell you about how bad second-hand smoke is too. But have you realized how bad it is to smoke around your cat?

While there has been extensive, long-term research on the effects of cigarette smoke and nicotine on humans, there hasn't been much documenting the effects on our feline friends. However, recent research has revealed some startling information about second-hand smoke and our cats.

Based on a 7-year study at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine, cats in smoking households seem to be at a much higher risk of developing lymphoma, a type of cancer, than cats that live in smoke-free environments. This study also determined that cats who live in homes with one smoker have twice the risk of developing lymphoma and cats who live in households with two ore more smo
kers have four times the risk. Also, cats who are exposed to a smoking environment for over 5 years and those who live in households with over 100 cigarettes smoked per day are also at a significantly higher risk. The exact cause of this increase risk of lymphoma is not known at this time.

New studies suggest that cats are also at increased risk of feline oral squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) when exposed to environments with tobacco smoke. This may result from smoke and nicotine residue landing on the cat's fur. The fastidious nature of cats and their grooming habits cause oral exposure to the carcinogens.

In addition to an increased risk of developing cancer, cats that live in smoking environments are also predisposed to
lung disease and eye irritation. Although second-hand smoke alone has not been shown to cause the lung disease or eye irritation, the primary culprit is thought to be chronic exposure to smoke in poorly ventilated areas. If you think about it, smokers don't spend their entire day inside. Most people do spend some time outside. But most cats do not, and thus are forced to breathe and rebreathe the same stagnant, contaminated air. Therefore, environmental tobacco smoke cannot be entirely filtered out through ventilation systems or special fans. It can take many hours for the smoke of a single cigarette to clear.

There are also other dangers to your cat from the nicotine itself. If you leave ashtrays around with cigarette butts, your cat may accidentally ingest one, or part of one if it decides the butt is a toy to bat around. Your cat may also try to eat nicotine replacement gum or patches.

Obviously the best option for everyone would be to simply quit. However ideal that may be, it's not always easy. If you cannot quit smoking, even for your cat, here are some tips to minimize her exposure to the dangers and to improve her health:

  • Designate smoke free areas: Consider smoking outside, or smoke only in rooms where pets are not allowed. The less the exposure, the greater the changes your cat will stay healthy. The smoke-free area should include your car. If you are transporting your cat anywhere, don't smoke while she is in the car.
  • Use air filters: Air filters may help remove harmful chemicals in the air, reducing how much your cat is breathing into her lungs.
  • Clean your pet and your house: Regular baths, or at the very least wipe-downs with a damp cloth, can help remove smoke residue from cat fur. Vacuum and keep all cigarette butts, tobacco products and even nicotine patches out of sight and reach to prevent accidental illness, poisoning or even death.
  • Look for symptoms: Excessive drooling or difficulty eating are symptoms of oral cancer, while labored breathing is a sign of lung cancer. Observe your cat frequently, as catching as early as possible always helps with treatment. If something is out of the ordinary, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Case of the Week: Amadeus

For our case this week, we look at a trembling cat and learn what we discovered when we investigated this minor change in behavior.

Amadeus is a four-year-old domestic shorthair that has been coming to the clinic for two years. On his first visit, he weighed seventeen pounds and had a body score of 8/9. A body score of 5/9 is ideal and 9/9 is obese, so Amadeus was quite portly. We started him on a prescription diet food and he began losing weight well. He developed constipation but did well with a regular stool softener added to his food. Over two years, he eventually lost four pounds and decreased to a body score of 6/9.

In December, he came in for an exam before going off to college with his owner. She had noticed him trembling in the past few days and wanted to have him checked out before they left town. He also was not eating as well and seemed constipated again. When I examined him, I did not find any neurological problems or any other medical problems except that his colon was very full with stool. We gave him an enema, which was, to put it delicately, very successful.

We also ran a full blood panel to check his overall medical health. His blood counts and thyroid level were normal. However, his blood chemistry test showed that both of his kidney values were increased and his potassium level was a little low. Muscles need potassium to function well so the low potassium was likely the cause of Amadeus' trembling. The kidney values could have been elevated due to dehydration associated with the constipation or an indication of kidney disease. This would be unusual in such a young cat so we needed to do more tests.

A urine sample showed that Amadeus' kidneys were not concentrating his urine properly. Normally, cats have very high urine concentration, called specific gravity. Amadeus' urine was mildly concentrated but nowhere near what is normal for a cat.

We suspected something was wrong with his kidneys. We had Dr. Green, an internal medicine specialist, perform an ultrasound of Amadeus' abdomen at our clinic. He found stones in each of Amadeus' kidneys but the structure of the kidneys appeared normal. The stones could have formed because of early onset kidney disease or due to diet related factors. We do not typically remove kidney stones in cats because of the high rate of complications with the surgery and most cats do not pass the stones. A special diet and increasing fluid intake can be used to prevent the growth of the stones and help slow kidney decline.

We started Amadeus on a potassium supplement and a prescription urinary diet. We showed his owner how to give him fluids under the skin and she will give him fluids twice weekly. The trembling could also be due to discomfort from the stones. If it does not stop with the potassium supplement, we will see if pain medications help. We will need to examine him and check his blood levels regularly to monitor his kidneys and see if other medications are needed.

Although kidney disease occurs much more frequently in older cats, it can develop in young cats as well. Cats are very good at hiding symptoms and often owners do not know that there is a medical problem developing. Amadeus' owner was right to be worried about an apparently minor change in behavior. The sooner we diagnose kidney disease and other medical problems, the more we are able to do to treat the disease. We recommend that all cats be examined every six to twelve months by their veterinarian. A full blood panel should be done at least once after the cat's first year and then regularly starting at six or seven years of age.

Dr. Judy Karnia

Thursday, February 3, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Get More Exercise

We all have made the resolution to exercise more at least once in our lives, especially after the holidays. And this is a great resolution to share with your kitty too. Domestication of cats into indoor house pets has removed the need for cats to hunt for live prey, decreasing their exercise and their mental stimulation. This has led to weight gain, boredom, and stress in our cats' daily lives.

Kittens seem to have the natural ability to keep themselves entertained and will exercise themselves silly. However, some cats seem to lose that ability as they get older and will need your help to keep them engaged with stimulating exercising. While it is nor
mal for a cat to sleep eighteen or more hours a day, we still need to ensure that her daily life is mentally stimulating and that she is getting daily exercise. Dedicating some time every day, even ten to fifteen minutes, to play with your cat and providing opportunities to "hunt" will help keep her healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally as well as strengthen the bond between you.

Here are some quick tips to help your cat get more exercise:

  • Toys: Homemade or pet shop toys help to encourage your cat to get moving. Every cat has different tastes in toys so it may take a few purchases to find her favorite. It's also good to rotate toys every week to keep her from becoming bored with them.
  • "Catch the Light": Shine a flashlight or laser light on the floor and walls and let your cat play.
  • Boxing: Let your cat play in a box or paper bag. You can interact with her during this game by scratching at the outsides to get her to punch the sides.
  • "Hunting": Put your cat's food in different places each day (including on top of tall furniture) and bring out her inner huntress.

Another great idea, courtesy of petfit.com, is to incorporate ways to engage your cat to exercise with you. Not only will you both get a good workout, but you will both have a good time, strengthening your relationship. Celebrity fitness coach Gunnar Peterson has come up with three great ways to exercise with your cat:

  • "Light" Cardio: Everyone knows that many cats love to chase beams of light so why not get your heart rate up at the same time? Try jumping an invisible rope while holding flashlights or laser lights in your hands. You and your cat are sure to get a solid workout. The light should move up and down the wall and in circles, so your cat can have a blast trying to catch it.
  • "Light" Abs: Ever do sit-ups with a flashlight or laser light in your hands? When you get to the top of the sit-up, hold your position and crunch your abs for a few seconds while moving the light beams on your wall.
  • Curious Cat Curls: Tie an elastic band to a toy around your dumbbells. As you curl, watch your cat go crazy trying to catch the toy as it ascends and descends. Just make sure you keep the elastic band out of reach when not playing so your cat doesn't accidentally swallow it.

Click here to see demonstration videos for these great exercises. The cat videos are about halfway down the page.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Case of the Week - Trosper

For this case study, I'm going to discuss the rather smelly end of the veterinary profession. We've all cleaned up the final product of our cats' daily business. It's mildly unpleasant, but usually routine. In this case, we'll learn a bit about what can happen when that process no longer goes smoothly.

Trosper is an eight year-old Turkish Angora that first came to the clinic nine months ago in distress. He had been having constipation and had needed multiple enemas in the past. When I examined him at the clinic, he was again severely constipated. In addition, his anal sacs were very full. These scent glands are located right inside the anus and create a very strong smelling liquid secretion that cats use to mark their territory. They typically express regularly with defecation or when a cat is nervous. In some cats, the secretion does not get released and starts to build up inside the sacs. The secretion can thicken and build until the sacs are very distended. When this happens, the cat feels discomfort and irritation, especially during defecation. This can then lead to less frequent defecation and finally constipation. I express these glands by basically doing a rectal exam and squeezing them from the inside.

We expressed Trosper's anal sacs to remove all the built-up secretion and gave him an enema. Unfortunately, the enema was not enough to allow Trosper to defecate because of the severity of his constipation. We had to anesthetize him so that I could manually remove the feces from his colon. I was able to push his feces to the end of his colon so I could then pull it out through his anus. (This might qualify me for the Dirtiest Jobs show)

Trosper had been on Lactulose, a stool softener, and Cisapride, a medication that increases the muscle strength of the colon. When a cat is prone to constipation, I have the owner adjust the dose of the Lactulose so that the stool stays soft but formed and the cat is defecating daily. I had Trosper's owner increase these medications to every 8 hours instead of every 12 hours, and increase the dose of the Lactulose.

Trosper took a few days to recover his appetite completely but has been doing well since. He has come in every four months to have his anal sacs expressed so that they do not build up too much and cause him discomfort. On the last check, the sacs were quite full so we will check him every three months now. He is still on his medications and has been defecating very regularly. We've also been working with his owner to get Trosper to lose weight. In otherwise healthy cats, constipation occurs more commonly if cats are overweight. His weight loss is not going as well as hoped, but he has lost a little. We can also see constipation in cats that have other medical problems that frequently lead to dehydration such as kidney disease or intestinal disease. Cats with recurrent constipation should be tested for underlying disorders.

Constipation can cause serious problems beyond just the pain, so it's important to treat it seriously. Just like in your house, when the plumbing isn't working, nothing else seems that important.

Dr. Judy Karnia

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Year's Resolution: Lose Weight

We are already one month into our New Year and most of us are still committed to, or are revising, our list of resolutions. Why not take a moment or two and see if your cat needs to be part of those resolutions too?

If a poll were taken, losing weight would probably be number one on anyone's new year resolution list, especially after all the indulgences available during the holiday season. And even if your kitty did not indulge with you, he or she may also be in danger of being overweight.

You invest a lot in your cat's health, from vaccinations and neutering to regular veterinary wellness visits. Yet one of the best ways to maintain your cat's good health is by simply providing the right type and amount of food. Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is a vital part of keeping him or her fit. Being overweight or obese is detrimental to the health of your cat. Neutering and keeping cats indoors has led to increased life span and better health. However, they have also led to decreased metabolism and activity levels. Add overfeeding of calories and carbohydrates, and we have a large percentage of overweight cats.

The best way to evaluate your cat's size is by a body condition score rather than actual weight. A body condition score is a scale from one to nine with five being the ideal condition. We check this score each time we see your cat, but here's a quick guide for doing this at home:

Healthy Cat
  • The ribs are easy to feel
  • There is a waist behind the ribs
  • There should be minimal fat hanging from the belly

Overweight Cat
  • The ribs are difficult to feel
  • There is a rounding of the abdomen
  • There is a growing abdominal fat pad

Just as with humans, obesity can be a definite health risk for your cat. Being overweight can put your cat at risk for many diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, etc.

Helping your cat get back to a healthy weight is not just a matter of cutting back food, although that may be part of what your veterinarian recommends. Because cats are at risk of liver disease and other complications if they stop eating, or aren't getting enough nutrition and calories, a diet is something that should be set in place and regularly monitored by your veterinarian. A few months ago, our Case of the Week profiled one of our patients - Nahmi - whose weight loss journey is still progressing well.

How we start a kitty's weight loss journey
  1. We conduct a complete physical exam and body score assessment to determine your cat's ideal weight
  2. We look for any medical problems that need to be addressed
  3. We calculate the daily calorie needs for your cat
  4. We may suggest a particular cat food or prescription diet
  5. We determine the exact amount of food that should be offered daily

To help your cat get off to a good start this year, Scottsdale Cat Clinic is holding a weight loss contest. We last held one in 2008 and the winner is still maintaining his slender form. For more information about weight loss for your cat, or our Weight Loss Contest, please contact Scottsdale Cat Clinic by phone at 480.970.1175 or by email at info@scottsdalecatclinic.com

If there is any way we can help get your cat off to a great start for 2011, please let us know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Case of the Week: Gambit

Today's Case of the Week is a simple story of how regular maintenance care and physical exams help to keep your cat healthy. Gambit is a 2 1/2 year old Egyptian Mau. He has been very healthy and his owner has brought him in regularly for his wellness exams and vaccines.

We first met him a year ago when he was due for his vaccination updates. He received his FVRCP and Rabies vaccines as usually recommended for indoor cats. These protect against Feline Panleukopenia (often referred to a distemper), the upper respiratory viruses Herpes and Calici, and Rabies. We also started him on Heargard to protect him against heartworm disease. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, cause severe lung damage, and can be difficult to diagnose. By giving your cat a monthly dose of Heartgard or Revolution, you prevent the spread of the heartworm larvae through your cat.

At his following six-month wellness exam, Gambit was doing well at home. On exam, I found that he had gained over half a pound. We calculated his daily caloric needs so that his owner would know how much he should be eating each day. I also found that he was starting to develop gingivitis, an inflammation of his gums, due to plaque accumulation on his teeth. Cats can start developing dental disease as early as one year of age and it can become severe with time. We started a new diet of Purina DH, a dental diet that helps to clean the teeth and break down plaque and bacteria as the cat chews.

Last month, we saw him again for a six-month wellness exam and to update his Rabies vaccine. I did a complete exam as usual and he looked very good. His teeth looked great, no tartar build-up and the gums appeared normal without any gingivitis. He also had lost a quarter of a pound. He is still a little heavy with a body score of 7/9 (5/9 is ideal) but at least he is going in the right direction. Many cats gradually increase their weight each year if their food intake is not controlled.
By bringing Gambit in regularly, we were able to find two medical problems that were just starting and work toward reversing them before more severe medical problems could develop. With good care by his owner, he is very likely to live a healthier, happier life.

Dr. Judy Karnia

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Diabetes in Cats: Diagnosis and Testing

In our last blog on diabetes, we defined the illness and mentioned several symptoms that could indicate your cat has, or is developing, diabetes. In this blog, we will discuss the tests used to diagnose the disease as well as the short-term and long-term treatment and management.

Generally, the following screening tests are recommended when diabetes mellitus is suspected: a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemistry profile, and a urinalysis. While it would seem that simply checking for an elevated blood sugar would be enough, a thorough set of screening tests gives us much more information that will help to treat the disease. Cats present a unique challenge in diagnosing diabetes because their blood glucose levels can become elevated simply from stress. Additionally, because diabetes is often found in senior to geriatric cats, there may be unrelated conditions that may affect how your cat's diabetes is treated and may also need to be managed for your cat's optimal health and well-being.

The complete blood count (CBC) evaluates the red blood cells, the white blood cells, and the platelet components of a blood sample. With uncomplicated diabetes mellitus, these results are often within the normal range. Some problems we can see is an elevated white blood cell count if there is an infection, to which diabetic cats are more susceptible. Also the red blood cell count may be elevated if there is dehydration or decreased with anemia, which are common with severe diabetic states and other concurrent medical conditions.

The serum biochemistry profile evaluates substances in the serum component of the blood including glucose, enzymes, lipids (fats), proteins and metabolic waste products. The serum glucose level is usually very elevated in diabetic cats. We can also find changes in the electrolytes (potassium, sodium, etc.) and liver enzymes secondary to the diabetes. Chronic kidney disease is very common in older cats and often seen in diabetic cats.

Another blood test that is very valuable in a diabetic cat is a Serum Fructosamine. This test looks at how sugar levels have been over the previous week and not just at the moment of the blood draw. Therefore, it is not affected by the level of stress the cat experiences at the clinic. This test confirms the diagnosis of diabetes and aids in evaluating how well the diabetes is being managed with treatment.

Finally, a urinalysis is needed. Urine from healthy cats typically does not contain any glucose (sugar). A diabetic cat will have a large amount of glucose in the urine, which aids in the diagnosis. Urinary tract infections are also more common in diabetic cats as the presence of glucose in the urine makes conditions ideal for bacterial growth. By detecting white blood cells in the urinalysis, the infection can be detected and treated.

The presence or absence of ketones in the urine are also evaluated. Ketones are by-products of fat metabolism. Increased utilization of fat occurs in diabetic animals because their insulin deficiency results in poor utilization of carbohydrates as an energy source. The presence of ketones in the urine indicates a more severe or long-standing case of diabetes, which will require more intense treatment.

Once your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, it's likely that your cat will be started on insulin treatment. Insulin is a very effective treatment for the regulation and management of diabetes. Fortunately, insulin from one mammal is biologically active in another, which means your cat's system will respond to the injected insulin as if it were its own insulin.

Here at Scottsdale Cat Clinic, we generally prescribe Glargine, frequently known by the brand name of Lantus, which can be purchased through a human pharmacy. This is a long-acting human recombinant insulin analog that forms microprecipitates at the site of injection from which insulin is slowly released. It generally starts to work within 2-4 hours, continues working for 24 hours, and does not have a peak effect. There are other insulin formulas available as well.

In addition to starting insulin, we also strongly recommend changing your cat's diet to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate formula, ideally in a canned formula. We do have several diabetic prescription diets available, and there are wonderful resources for finding other high-protein foods on our website.

At Scottsdale Cat Clinic, once a patient is diagnosed with diabetes and prescribed insulin, we follow up with daily phone calls to the owner for the first three or four days to monitor any changes in symptoms and to make sure the insulin administration is going well and without difficulties. Because it can take time to establish the correct insulin dosage for your cat, we recommend having a glucose curve every two weeks until the correct dosage is established. A glucose curve is a test that takes a glucose reading every two hours for 12 hours. Once the correct dosage is established, the glucose curve should be repeated one month later. If everything is still good, then the test can be repeated every 4-6 months.

The long-term goals of treatment are to remove all the symptoms of diabetes, maintain a healthy and appropriate weight and to regulate the cat's glucose levels. If insulin and a high-protein diet are begun fairly early in the course of the disease, many cases of diabetes can even resolve and go into remission. These cats still need a high-protein canned diet, but no longer require insulin injections.

It is very important to follow through on all treatments and diet changes recommended by your veterinarian to have the best outcome for your cat.