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ANIMAL COMPANIONS ON A BUDGET
Many first time pet owners struggle with the decision about what type of pet to get – especially if money is a concern. If you are somewhat flexible about what type of companion you’d like to bring into your home, consider a single, spayed female, indoor only adult cat. Generally speaking, in terms of food, housing, and yearly vet expenses – this is one of the cheapest pets you can own (excluding small pocket pets, fish, birds, etc.)
Why a single cat? Well, that’s pretty simple – one pet costs less than two or more. Also, having more than one cat may increase the stress in the home – which can lead to behavioral issues or general unthriftiness if your cat is feeling unsafe or uncomfortable about their feeding and elimination areas. Sometimes behavioral problems can end up being more costly to correct than physical health issues in terms of how long it can take to find a solution.
Why a spayed female? Having your pet spayed greatly reduces the risk for unexpected health issues & costs. Things like cancer, uterine infections, difficult labor associated with pregnancy & some of the less desirable behaviors associated with an in-tact female, are all much less of a concern when your cat is spayed before sexual maturity. Additionally, even neutered male cats always have a risk for a blocked urethra (a life threatening emergency, that unfortunately is never cheap to correct, even when caught early.) Male cats tend to create an excess of the mucus that lines the inside of the bladder – too much accumulation causes a plug that more often than not will get stuck in the curve of the urethra (female cats do not have this curve.) Also, some male cats continue to spray & mark areas in their home even after they have been neutered.
Indoors only? Keeping your cat inside is one of the easiest ways to prevent injury & diseases. Also, when you keep your cat inside – there are less vet costs to account for. Cats who live outdoors should always be tested for feline leukemia & FIV, if not vaccinated for the former. Kitties who go outside are also at greater risk for fleas, ticks & mites – prevention is always recommended for any cat (parasites can travel indoors on your clothes, shoes, or other belongings,) but many owners of indoor cats forgo the prevention & simply address these issues should they arrive. Intestinal parasites are also less likely to be picked up by a cat who never goes outdoors (again, parasite eggs can travel on your shoes or other belongings – everyone steps in feces occasionally!) However, a yearly dewormer for your cat is generally affordable & recommended even for cats (especially young cats) who live inside only. Also keep in mind that some parasites your cat can get can actually be transferred to humans (a big concern for pet owners with children who may not be consciously washing their hands every time they play with an animal.)
Why not a kitten? Kittens come with vet bills – every kitten needs a series of three to four upper respiratory vaccines, one rabies vaccine, a microchip, two doses of a dewormer, and a spay or neuter. These necessities alone can cost the owner of a new kitten anywhere from 300-400 dollars or more, depending on where your cat gets vetted, if any of the vaccine boosters were missed, or if their spay or neuter isn’t a simple, routine procedure. Other kittens require extra things – like having baby teeth that don’t fall out on their own extracted (these can cause a lot of issues for an adult cat if not addressed,) additional vaccines, tests or services like declawing if the owner chooses to have this done. There are also things to consider like litter box & scratching area training, as well as starting with one type of food, then changing your cats diet as they age.
Adopt, don’t shop! The majority of any shelter’s animals are adult animals – so why not rehome an adult cat & let him get the best out of whatever time he may have left? Always be conscious of any cat that was placed in a shelter because of specific problems – but also consider that some problems can be corrected with things as simple as more playtime, different litter types, or simply being the only cat when they were in a home with several animals before.
CAT SCRATCH FEVER?
We’re not talking about the Ted Nugent song. Cat scratch fever (also called cat scratch disease) is not something that clinically affects your cat, but rather you or other human members of your household. People get cat scratch fever from feral or domestic cats, particularly kittens.
Cat scratch disease is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae. Cats can sometimes harbor fleas that carry the Bartonella bacteria which can be transmitted to the cat, and later to humans via cat scratches or bites. (Infection is also possible if infected saliva gets into the eye or an open wound.) Cat scratch fever happens all around the world, wherever cats are present.
- How can you avoid cat scratch fever?
– Avoid rough play with cats, especially kittens and strays.
*Teach children to avoid stray and unfamiliar animals.
– Wash your hands well after handling any cat.
– Treat your cat topically for fleas – talk to your veterinarian about what options are available for your cat.
*If you have a mixed pet household, treat your other pets for fleas as well.
– Keep cats indoors if possible, and limit exposure to strays.
– Immunocompromised individuals should avoid owning kittens (cats under 1 year of age.)
– Consider regular nail trims or products like Soft Paws (a soft rubber cap that goes over your cat’s nails) as alternatives to declawing your cat if possible.
– There is no vaccine available for the prevention of Bartonella.
– Cat scratch disease is not contagious from person to person.
- What if I get scratched?
Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
- How will I know if I have cat scratch fever?
Symptoms of cat scratch disease include:
– A papule or pustule at the site of injury (these usually appear 3-10 days later.)
-Tender, swollen lymph nodes (usually manifests 1-4 weeks later.)
If you suspect you have cat scratch fever, consult with your physician, especially if:
– The wound is not healing.
– An area of redness around the wound continues to expand for several days.
– Fever that develops & lasts a few days after the initial injury.
IS A CAT BITE REALLY THAT SERIOUS?
In short, yes!!!! Cat bites can come with all sorts of problems, depending on the location and depth of the bite, how soon you seek medical attention, as well as different predisposing factors (young, elderly, ill or immunocompromised individuals are at greater risk for developing infections.)
When a cat bites, it uses it’s sharp canine teeth to make small, but very deep punctures. Because the diameter of these wounds is so small, they quickly “seal up” trapping bacteria inside the wound, providing the perfect environment for it to multiply (and fast.)
Cats carry lots of different bacteria in their mouth, most commonly Pasteurella multocida. Bites infected with pasteurella quickly become red, swollen, and painful. This infection quickly spreads to surrounding tissues. A serious infection left untreated can even travel into the bloodstream and cause a serious illness called septicemia (“blood poisoning.”)
What should I do if my cat bites me?
Immediately clean out the wound under running water. Avoid chemicals and strong disinfectants; these can delay the healing process and may even cause further damage to the exposed tissues. Apply direct pressure to any bleeding wounds using a clean, absorbent bandage (like gauze.)
See a physician as soon as possible. If left untreated, cat bite wounds can become severely infected within 48 hours.
Do I really have to go see a doctor?
YES!!!! Depending on the severity of your wounds, you may require sutures, antibiotics, a tetanus booster, and in serious cases, even rabies prophylaxis.
Bites to the hand can be especially concerning and have the potential to inflict serious permanent damage. Hands have many joints, and our bodies can’t “flush them out” very well if they do become infected – in fact they somewhat fester beneath the surface of your skin! Infections of the joints that are not properly treated can lead to expensive surgeries and permanent damage.
Furthermore, cats can potentially carry all sorts of nasty infectious diseases like rabies & the plague (yes, that plague.)
Basically, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to a cat bite; get seen by a physician sooner rather than later and avoid the hassle of an infected wound gone wrong.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) Toxicity:
Most pet owners are aware that no human medication should be given to their pet without direction by their Veterinarian, but some people are simply unaware. Unfortunately, if you don’t know that Tylenol (acetaminophen) is toxic for your cat, you may leave a dropped capsule unattended, or intentionally medicate your arthritic cat with a tablet. Tylenol is also toxic to dogs, and while it is more likely for a dog owner to give his pet acetaminophen or for a dog to simply “get into” some human medication, cats are more susceptible to acetaminophen toxicity. Because of a difference in the way their liver functions, even a small dose (just one regular strength tablet) of Tylenol can cause life threatening problems for your cat.
When Tylenol is ingested, it is metabolized in the liver and later excreted by the kidneys. During the metabolization process, an enzyme converts acetaminophen to glucuronide (this is what normally gets excreted in the urine.) However, since cats naturally have less of the enzyme required to make this change, their liver soon loses the ability to convert the Tylenol into waste. Once the body can no longer keep up with the amount of acetaminophen present, reactive metabolites form. Reactive metabolites cause serious oxidative damage to both liver cells and red blood cells. When the red blood cells become damaged, the iron in hemoglobin (the portion of the red blood cell that transports oxygen throughout the body) gets altered into something called methemoglobin. Methemoglobin is bad because it holds on to the oxygen molecules, but later prevents their release into healthy tissues. This results in a dangerous lack of oxygen being supplied to your pet’s tissues (also called hypoxia.) The presence of methemoglobin also causes your pet’s mucous membranes to turn a muddy, chocolate brown color (this is a telltale sign of Tylenol toxicity.) This oxidative stress on the red blood cells causes the now denatured hemoglobin to create inclusions on the red blood cells referred to as heinz bodies. (Your cat’s doctor can actually see these heinz bodies under the microscope using a small blood sample.) Enough heinz bodies can lead to hemolytic anemia because they cause not only premature cell destruction, but also mark cells for destruction of the spleen (a vital organ for filtration of your animal’s blood.)
Your pet may also have a rapid heart rate, rapid breathing rate, or exhibit serious difficulty taking breaths. If enough liver damage has occurred, your cat might be vomiting or have a yellow tinge to her skin and eyeballs. Some cats who have ingested Tylenol will have significant swelling in their face, and severe enough toxicities will cause weakness or even collapse.
If your cat has the misfortune of ingesting acetaminophen, there are steps to take to prevent as much damage as possible. If you witnessed your pet accidentally ingest Tylenol, get her to a veterinarian to try and induce vomiting (something that doesn’t always work in cats.) With recent ingestion, your cat will likely receive a pharmaceutical decontaminant (such as activated charcoal) either orally or rectally. Warm water enemas, or lavage (washing) of the stomach and esophagus under general anesthesia are sometimes implemented as well. Luckily, there is an antidote for acetaminophen toxicity called N-Acetylcysteine (it works by converting methemoglobin back to normal, healthy hemoglobin.) This drug can be administered by your veterinarian either orally or with an injection, and this treatment may need to be repeated every few hours several times over. Your cat will need IV fluids for both supportive care and diuresis of her organ systems. Your pet will also require constant monitoring until she stabilizes and her gums return to a healthy pink color.
Getting your cat treatment for Tylenol ingestion as quickly as possible is imperative. With prompt antidote administration & decontamination of the GI tract, recovery is possible. Routine check ups and monitoring of blood work is important following Tylenol toxicity. Depending on the amount your cat ate and how quickly treatment was sought, permanent organ damage may occur and can cause life-long problems for your cat.
Also remember that acetaminophen is not found only in Tylenol; it is a common ingredient in many over the counter non-aspirin pain relievers.
Cat have Drinking Problems?
Does your cat sit at the edge of the sink or bathtub waiting for you to turn the faucet on? Does your cat help herself to your glass of water? Would your cat prefer to slap the water around a bit before having a taste? Maybe she would rather dump the water on the floor and lap it up from there. What can you do if your cat is refusing her water dish?
First, keep up a cleaning routine – provide a full water exchange at least twice a day. Wash the water dish with soap at least once a day. (Something many cat owners do is alternate between two or more bowls so one is always clean and ready to use.) Have you ever felt the inside of the bowl after you simply dump the water? That slimy film is an accumulation of saliva, food bits, and all sorts of bacteria and fungus. When the water receptacle is unclean, your cat perceives the whole water source to be unclean (as she should!) and this can be one reason your cat is refusing her bowl.
Next, try switching it up – experiment with bowl sizes and types of bowls (plastic, ceramic, etc.) Change the location of the water bowl (some cats don’t like their water next to their food,) and try adding more bowls throughout the house. Try raising the height of the bowl, or moving it directly to the floor. Fiddle with the temperature by adding ice cubes or filling the bowl with lukewarm water.
When all else fails, try a fountain. Unfortunately, it is not reasonable to leave a faucet running all day for your cat. Luckily there are several types of automatic water fountains designed for cats who prefer running water. It is unclear why some cats do prefer moving water for drinking, but a popular theory is that cats have learned that running water is simply cleaner and safer to ingest than stagnant water. Some people think cats prefer the cooler water that comes from a running tap or that you serve up for yourself in a drinking glass. Others think cats are just plain stubborn. Whatever the reason, it’s good to know there is an option for your pet to keep her adequately hydrated.
*Note – always discard drinking water intended for human consumption (i.e.: a cup or glass) that a cat has dipped its face or paw into.
If your cat is dumping the water onto the floor, try getting a stand for the bowls (one with a round opening you lower the bowl into) so they can’t be turned over. Or you can try a bowl with rubber on the bottom or one made of a heavy material that she can’t get off the ground.
For cats who splash around in the water dish before having a taste, there are a couple ways to prevent messes (and sometime eliminate the behavior altogether.) There are a couple reasons why cats do this; first of all water is interesting. It’s clear, it’s wet, and it refracts light when you play with it. Secondly, cats don’t see very well up close and this does not exclude the water bowl. Some cats will slowly lower their head in the bowl and use their whiskers to gauge the depth of the liquid, but most cats do this simply by sticking their paw into the dish. Cats do this to avoid sticking their whole face (and nose) into a pool of water. One option is to fill the bowl a minimal amount to avoid too much splashing onto the floor. Another option some cat owners do is placing a floating object in the bowl to help your cat discern where the water starts. However, many cats prefer to play with the toy and will remove it from the bowl.
*Note – if you opt to place a small toy in the water dish, make sure it is not small enough for your cat to ingest!
Drinking habits can be an indicator of health problems – drinking too much or too little should always be addressed by a veterinarian. If your cat is still not drinking very well after experimenting with different bowls, locations, etc. then let your veterinarian know so you can work together on a way to correct the behavior if there isn’t an underlying health condition to blame.
What’s that you said, Doc?
Understanding your veterinarian’s lingo can be challenging at times. It’s always best to ask for clarification when you don’t understand – but sometimes it can be difficult to keep track of all the big words being thrown at you.
**This is in no way a fully comprehensive list of all the medical terms your vet knows and uses on a daily basis – but these may be some terms you have heard during your pet’s physical exam.
Palpation – this is when the doctor uses their hands to feel the size, location and/or consistency of an organ under the skin such as the kidneys or intestines.
Signalment – this is a quick way for your doctor to get to know your pet before they even step into the exam room – her age, breed, sex & reproductive status are all part of your cat’s signalment.
CRT (capillary refill time) or perfusion – this is a crude indication of how much blood is actually being supplied to your pet’s tissues.
Luxation – this is the displacement or misalignment of a bone (hips, shoulders, knees, etc.) or organ (such as the lens from the cornea.)
Attrition – this is rapid or excessive wear of the teeth (usually more common in dogs because of their propensity to chew on anything from rocks to each other.) Enough attrition of a tooth can expose the sensitive pulp inside, a welcome invitation for pain and infection.
Ovariohysterectomy or OHE – this is a spay (refers to females.)
Orchiectomy or ORCH – this is a neuter (refers to males.)
Carnassial tooth – this is the last upper premolar tooth on both sides of your cat’s mouth. This tooth is of extreme significance to your pet’s doctor because it sits right next to a salivary gland. This tooth is most commonly covered with the most plaque and tartar out of all the teeth.
Iris atrophy – this refers to degeneration of the colored part of your pet’s eye. This is usually found as a normal age-related change in older pets, but there are certain situations where it is directly related to a problem with the eye.
Edema – this is swelling caused by fluid trapped in the body tissues.
Ascites – ascites is an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Idiopathic – this is how doctors describe an illness or medical condition that occurs either spontaneously or for an unknown reason.
Atopy or atopic dermatitis – this is a chronic inflammatory skin condition associated with allergies.
Parturition – this is the act of giving birth.
Dystocia – this is when an animal is having difficulties giving birth.
Febrile – this is the doctor’s way to say your pet has a fever.
Zoonotic – zoonotic or zoonosis refers to an infectious disease that can be passed from your pet to you, or vice versa.
Hopefully this has clarified a question you’ve had in the past, or can be helpful for the next time you’ve got your cat at the Vet’s office. Of course, if you are ever unclear about something your doctor is telling you – it’s best to ask right away!
Toss the Tinsel in the Trash
The holidays are a great opportunity to dress up your house to the nines. All those cute decorations really get you in the spirit!! However, there are some decorations that pet owners should avoid. Tinsel & ribbons can be particularly dangerous for a home with cats. Tinsel in particular is very shiny & intriguing to your cat. If your cat decides to chew on something like ribbon or tinsel & ingests any amount of it, it can quickly become a serious problem.
Objects like tinsel cause something called a linear foreign body when your cat eats it. Long, thin and narrow material often gets anchored at one place while the rest of it continues trying to move through the GI tract. The string is most frequently found looped around a tooth or the tongue itself, but sometimes it can get caught at a structure called the pylorus – the passage from the stomach to the intestinal tract. When a linear object is stuck at one point in the GI tract, it can get bunched up like an accordion as the intestines contract and move – eventually the object will cut through the tissue. Simply the presence of a foreign body causes severe irritation to the GI tract, and if the intestines become punctured or torn, serious infection or death can follow.
So what do you do if your cat has swallowed a linear object? The two most important things you can do are to first leave the object alone and second seek Veterinary help immediately. If you see a string at either end of your cat (in the mouth or hanging out her rear) it is imperative not to pull on it. Do not ever attempt to remove a string from your cat on your own. Pulling the string will most likely severely damage your cat’s intestinal tract (enough tension on the object can cause it to tear through surrounding tissues.) Never put off getting your cat to the Vet if you suspect a foreign body of any nature.
Even if you don’t see the string that may be stuck in your cat – if you suspect she may have ingested a foreign body you should observe her for extreme weakness or lethargy, vomiting (especially after a meal or drinking,) diarrhea or signs of abdominal pain (panting, fever, crying if you touch her, not letting you touch her, or positioning herself so she isn’t on her belly.)
Here are some more Holiday hazards to be aware of & place in your home with caution:
- Candles – open flames are extremely dangerous!
- Trees – ingestion is one worry with real trees, but having your cat topple it over can happen to any type of tree! Also make sure you cover the water dish at the bottom if you do have a real tree in your home.
- Poinsettias, Lilies, Holly & Mistletoe are all toxic to cats if ingested.
- Candies, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, onions & small poultry bones are some hazardous food items that may be lurking around the kitchen this time of year. Make sure to keep them well out of your cat’s reach!
- House guests & visitors can cause a great deal of stress for your cat – stress alone can cause your cat to hide, stop eating, or GI upset. Cats can also slip outdoors when they aren’t meant to be let outside when visitors don’t know the house rules. Make sure your cat has a collar with a rabies tag & your contact information in case he does manage to get out!
Pancreatis In Cats
What is the pancreas? The pancreas is a small pink organ behind the stomach that produces digestive enzymes & secretes hormones called insulin and glucagon that aid in regulating sugar levels in the blood.
What is pancreatitis? Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas. When it becomes inflamed, it starts leaking digestive enzymes causing damage to the pancreas & nearby liver. Pancreatitis can be sudden and occur once (acute) or it can occur again and again (chronic.) Because the enzymes leaked by the pancreas are intended to aid in digestion; they digest your pet’s own tissues which results in severe inflammation and abdominal pain – severe enough leakage can cause toxic remnants of the destroyed tissues to enter the pet’s bloodstream & wreak body-wide havoc. Chronic pancreatitis flare ups can scar your cat’s pancreas so badly that it may no longer be able to perform its duties. When the pancreas stops working properly, your pet stops being able to digest and absorb enough nutrients from the food she is eating. Unfortunately, it’s not until this point that many pet owners start to notice something is really wrong.
What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatitis? Lethargy, loss of appetite/drinking less, vomiting, diarrhea or change in stools (color and consistency,) fever, panting or mouth breathing, and signs of abdominal discomfort (repositioning herself often, sitting erect with feet tucked under herself, crying when you touch her belly, or not letting you touch her belly at all can be signs that her abdomen hurts.)
Over a period of time, your cat may get her appetite back (often more ravenous than ever.) However, without the digestive enzymes needed to absorb nutrients working properly she is unlikely to gain weight & in fact may continue to lose weight despite her hunger.
How does my veterinarian know it’s pancreatitis? Seldom can a veterinarian pinpoint why your cat develops pancreatitis, but they do know that it is usually a multi-organ, chronic inflammatory process. A physical examination is always the first step when you suspect your cat isn’t feeling well. Since symptoms of pancreatitis are nonspecific, dehydration, abdominal discomfort and jaundice or yellowing may be some things your vet looks for. After the exam, lab work is typically run to look for changes that would indicate inflammation and dehydration. An x-ray or ultrasound may also be performed in order to obtain a view of the pancreas itself.
How can we treat my cat’s pancreatitis? IV fluid therapy is important for correcting dehydration and also to help flush any toxins from your pet’s bloodstream. Medication will also be administered through the IV if it cannot be injected under the skin or into a muscle (if your pet is vomiting, oral medications won’t get the job done.) Antacids, antibiotics, and vitamin B-12 are sometimes used to treat cats with pancreatitis. Pain control is crucial for the recovery process; an oral narcotic that is absorbed through your cat’s gums is most commonly sent home with your cat. Intravenous narcotics or even transdermal patches may be used if your cat is hospitalized. Nutritional support is also important for a cat with a sick pancreas; replacing nutrients through force feeding, or sometimes even a feeding tube is necessary to prevent further damage to your cat’s liver if she has not been eating for several days.
What is the prognosis if my cat gets pancreatitis? Prognosis for your cat will always depend on the severity of the attack when it is diagnosed. Most mild forms of pancreatitis have good prognosis with treatment. Many cats who suffer from acute pancreatitis never have any long-term effects. Cats with severe or recurrent pancreatitis may have problems with digestion and absorption, or may develop diabetes. Both of these problems can be treated with daily medications.