Thursday, April 19, 2012

Case Study: Kristina

Many clients when facing a medical decision with their cat will ask me what I would do if it were my cat. Most of the time, that question is asked when an owner is facing difficult decisions. But you may want to know what I do for my cat to keep her from developing severe medical problems.

So this case study is about Kristina, the cat I adopted a little over a year ago. She was about five years old and in good health when I took her home from a local shelter. At that time she had some dental disease and we performed a dental cleaning and radiographs. We also extracted four lower teeth that had problems. She did well with her recovery and was right back to eating her dental dry food and ProPlan canned food.

Last summer, we discovered she has a food allergy. She had developed chin acne, which resolved only when we fed her a hypoallergenic food exclusively. Unfortunately, this meant she could not continue her regular dry food - a dental kibble. As you will see, this led to some other problems.

You might be surprised to know
that even though I see Kristina every day, I still schedule a semi-annual exam for her. She gets swept up and whisked into an exam room, where she gets the exact same exam your cat gets when it visits. I do this so I am sure to give her a thorough examination, running through the same checklist and comparing data from her last exam.

At her most recent
six-month wellness exam, I found she had mild tartar and her gingivitis had returned. Some of this is attributable to her switch from her dental diet to a different food. A few days later, I performed a dental cleaning to treat those issues. I did not find any lesions during the oral exam or on the radiographs, which meant she did not need any extractions. We gave her teeth a thorough cleaning, polishing and applied a sealant. I'll be watching her teeth closer now, knowing that she is susceptible to tartar buildup.

Her blood panel before the anesthesia did show a mild increase in one of her liver enzymes so I will recheck that in the next month. This progress check will let me know if that increase is worrisome or if it was a reaction to her gum disease. If the enzyme is still high, I will run more tests to look for a cause. Tests like these are crucial because there is no way to observe a liver enzyme increase by looking at a cat. The blood panel on Kristina may have caught an issue early. We hope not, but if there is an issue, catching it now is far, far better than later.

If you have met Kristina at our front desk, you will see that she has developed into a very affectionate and outgoing cat. Even though she lives here and is very comfortable with all of us, she still gets nervous when we need to trim her nails and give her vaccines or other care. We handle her gently and reassure her the way we do all our patients so that we can be sure she receives all the medical care she needs. She is up-to-date on her FVRCP and Rabies vaccines, stays indoors exclusively, receives Heartgard once a month, and has her semi-annual examinations.

My goal as a veterinarian is to focus on preventing problems so your cat lives a long and healthy life. Kristina is a healthy cat with a few minor health concerns. Yet because we provide her with regular care, check-ups and dental work, those problems stay minor. It is important to provide regular preventative care to keep our cats in good health as long as possible. Dental health especially can be difficult to notice easily in cats but it can impact their health greatly.

So if you've ever wondered what your veterinarian would do, here was a glimpse into how I take care of my cat.


Dr. Judy Karnia

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Case of the Week: Java

In today's case, we will see how therapy laser treatment can be very helpful with a frustrating chronic medical condition.

Java is a fourteen-year-old Burmese cat with a typical problem for many cats. He vomits once in a while. He first came into the clinic three years ago. At his previous veterinary clinic, he had some basic blood tests and radiographs done which showed nothing unusual. Since some cats with vomiting have food allergies causing the vomiting, I tried Java on a hypoallergenic diet. He would not eat it but continued to do okay, just vomiting periodically.

About eighteen months ago though, Java started to vomit more often, twice weekly. We evaluated his abdominal organs with an ultrasound, an again, nothing seemed unusual. I also sent blood to the laboratory for a pancreatic profile. This profile tests pancreatic enzyme levels and cobalamin and folate, two vitamin levels that help us evaluate how well the small intestine is functioning. While most of Java's panel results were normal, one of his enzyme levels - his Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity (PLI) level was three times normal. With this result, we knew that Java had chronic pancreatitis.

Chronic pancreatitis is common in cats, especially as they age. The pancreas is an organ that creates and excretes enzymes into the small intestine to help with the digestion of food. Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed or irritated. This causes pain and vomiting and can lead to poor digestion and weight loss. It is often associated with inflammation of the intestinal walls as well, called Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or IBD.

I prescribed an anti-oxidant and a probiotic for Java and also had his owner give him Pepcid AC, an antacid. Java did well on these and his vomiting decreased. A few months later, his owner brought him in for a progress exam and to recheck his blood work. His kidney and liver values and blood cell counts were normal but his PLI had increased from three times to fifteen times the normal level. The antacid and the probiotic were helping the symptoms, but Java's pancreatitis was getting worse. To find out exactly what was going on, we had to perform biopsies on his pancreas and intestines.

In early 2011, we did an exploratory surgery to obtain the biopsies. The pathology report on the biopsies showed that there was inflammatory bowel disease in his small intestine and pancreas. This ruled out cancer and infection so we could treat Java more specifically and aggressively. I could now add corticosteroids to his medications. These steroids are very effective at suppressing inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory pancreatitis, but can make other diseases worse.

After starting the oral steroids, Java did well. His vomiting continued a little but decreased greatly in frequency and he seemed to be feeling better. Yet despite these modest improvements, neither the owner nor I were satisfied with Java's condition. In consultation with his owner, we also decided to try a more experimental approach. Scottsdale Cat Clinic now has a therapy laser that uses photostimulation to decrease inflammation, decrease pain and promote healing. We've been using the laser for post-surgical treatment and arthritic patients. Although there have been no studies using the therapeutic laser for treating pancreatitis, I believed the same healing results we were seeing on wounds might also occur with Java's problem.

We started therapy on Java three times weekly for two weeks, then twice weekly for a week, then once the following week. After this intense initial treatment, we reduced it to once every three weeks. Java seemed to feel much better. He was more active and affectionate, and he was not vomiting. A month after he started the laser therapy, his PLI had decreased to five times normal. We therefore decreased his steroids from daily to every other day. He returned to vomiting a little and did not seem to feel as good so we increased the frequency of his laser therapy to every other week. His most recent PLI was decreased to just over two times normal. By continuing his laser therapy every two weeks, we are able to minimize his steroid dose and keep him feeling well.

Java is currently doing very well. He is not vomiting, is eating well, and is back to jumping up onto high furniture. His owner is very excited about his response to the treatment with the therapy laser. She says that he is back to his old self, bossing around the other cats, and being very active. In the previous couple of years, she was very concerned about his regular vomiting and slowing down in activity level and is very happy that we were able to diagnose and treat his condition.

Pancreatitis can be a difficult disease to diagnose and treat. It is probably fairly common in cats but usually goes undiagnosed and untreated, leaving the affected cats to deal with the discomfort for many years. Many owners believe vomiting in cats is normal but it can be a sign of a serious disease. Pancreatitis is unlikely to be completely cured, but treatment can help reduce the severity and help the cat to live much more comfortably.


Dr. Judy Karnia