Archive for May 2012

How Sweet Is Your Cat? Feline Diabetes

Almost everyone knows a friend or acquaintance who is diabetic.  What most people may not realize is that diabetes may be present in their own home, possibly in a feline friend.

Diabetes is a group of diseases that result from either inadequate insulin production or the inability of cells to respond to this hormone.  Insulin is necessary to help move glucose from the blood stream into tissue cells for use as energy.  The predominant characteristic of diabetes is the presence of high levels of glucose in the blood…this is known as hyperglycemia.

In humans, one type of this disease is known as Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes.  This illness results from the body’s immune system destroying the cells that make insulin.   This is the predominant form of diabetes in our canine companions and there is no known way to prevent it.

Type II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, accounts for 90-95% of diabetes in people and 85-90% of cases in cats.  In this instance, the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin either become exhausted or they fail to respond to signals to produce the hormone.  The important aspect of this to remember is that it is possible for treatment to lead to a remission of the disease.

While the number of cases of diabetes in dogs has remained static for many years, some veterinarians feel that they are seeing an increasing number of diabetic cats.  Although the true incidence of feline diabetes is not precisely known, estimates for North America show that about 1 in every 200-400 cats develop this disease.  What is important to remember is that as our cats have developed a tendency towards obesity, diabetes cases have risen rapidly.

Being obese or overweight is a risk factor for Type II diabetes because of the chronic inflammatory state obesity produces.  This leads to a reduction in insulin sensitivity.  In addition, fat cells in overweight animals stop producing a certain hormone essential for proper insulin receptor function.

Cats with diabetes often go extended periods of time with no real sign that anything is wrong.   When signs do appear, the first indications are a cat who needs to use the litter box more frequently and who is drinking greater amounts of water.  Unfortunately, cat owners are not always aware of these signs, especially if their kitty often goes outdoors.  This means that many cats aren’t diagnosed for months after the onset of diabetes.


Without diagnosis and treatment, diabetes will eventually cause a metabolic condition known as ketoacidosis. This leads to dangerous changes in the blood chemistry, dehydration and eventually, death.

When cats are seen by a veterinarian, this disease is often diagnosed with a simple blood test.  Hyperglycemia or any glucose in the urine (glucosuria) is often indicative of diabetes.  Veterinarians can also use a blood test known as serum fructosamine to determine the average blood glucose values over the course of the last three weeks.

In some cases, cats don’t get into the veterinarian until the disease has progressed even further.  In these cases, the presence of ketones (a by-product of using fatty acids for energy) in the urine is a definitive indicator of complicated diabetes.

Unlike diabetic dogs who will be on insulin replacement for the rest of their lives, it is possible to treat cats and allow for remission.  The goal of treatment in cats is to restore the functionality of the beta cells and their ability to produce insulin.   In fact, new evidence is now showing that high protein, low carbohydrate diets are instrumental in helping cats defeat diabetes.  In short, although your feline friend may need insulin initially, you might be able to reduce or even eliminate this medication as you help the cat lose weight.

Owners of diabetic cats can also learn to monitor blood glucose levels at home, sparing the cat from frequent visits to the veterinarian.

As with any medical condition, the very best source of information will be your veterinarian.  He or she can steer you through the diagnosis and treatment process and then help you with monitoring your pet’s progress and potential recovery.

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Rehab is FAB for Pets

Human athletes have long understood the benefits of physical therapy when trying to recuperate from an illness or surgery.  After all, their goal is to get back in the game as soon as possible.  Many pet owners want the same thing and have found that physical medicine and rehabilitation may provide the help they need.

Veterinarians can either offer physical medicine in their hospital, or can refer you to a facility that does, and the benefits are remarkable. Dr. Jacqueline Davidson, a veterinary surgeon at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says “Animals that have had orthopedic or neurologic surgery are often seen for rehabilitation.  But even pets who need to lose some weight, those who suffer from arthritis or who just need some conditioning can benefit from this sort of therapy.”

The goal of physical rehabilitation is not only to restore the natural function of the pet, but to attempt to bring the patient back to a pre-injury state.

Veterinarians and technicians who practice physical medicine use a wide variety of methods and technologies to help their patients.  In many surgical cases, the pet needs to rebuild strength in muscles that have weakened from Dog on red balancing balllack of use.  In a case like this, carefully controlled exercises under the guidance of a trained professional can help the animal make great strides.  Pets can learn to use a treadmill or even use balance balls and wobble boards to help strengthen those de-conditioned muscles.

By far one of the most popular therapies for pets is the underwater treadmill.  These devices are especially helpful for overweight or older animals.  The buoyancy of the water helps to lessen the weight bearing impact on the joints and make it easier for the pet to build up strength and endurance.  Hydrotherapy and swimming are other popular rehabilitation options.

Other popular modalities use heat and cold carefully delivered to the tissues.  Something as simple as heat packs can increase blood flow  and help the joint’s range of motion in that area. After a therapy session cold packs, can be used to minimize inflammation.

Dog going over hurdlesCommon therapies include coordination exercises, such as weaving through cones or walking over hurdles, strength building routines, like uphill or downhill walking (often on a treadmill) and even medical massage, trigger point release and passive range of motion exercises.  A real benefit here is that many of these therapies can be learned by the pet’s owner and applied regularly at home.

There are also many high tech modalities that veterinarians are now trying in a variety of cases.  Therapeutic ultrasound and low-level lasers both deliver heat deep in the tissues.  Along with medications, electrical nerve stimulation can be used to block or ease pain.

Rehabilitation in animals is very specialized.  There are certifications for dogs, cats and horses.  An important thing to remember when searching for a rehabilitator is that any therapies applied should be performed or overseen by a licensed veterinarian. Physical rehabilitation done by someone who does not understand the subtle signs of animal pain or have a global view of veterinary medicine can actually do much more harm than good.

Many veterinary rehabilitators have undergone outstanding additional education and can become certified in the use of these treatments.  Look for Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioners (CCRP), Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapists (CCRT) or Certified Canine Rehabilitation Assistants (CCRA).  For horses look for the Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CERP). Ask your veterinarian for help finding a certified practitioner in your area.

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DNA Tests for Pets Help Us Understand Genetic Disease

For thousands of years, humans have selectively bred a variety of domesticated animals, creating many different breeds and unique types.  While these historic farmers and breeders were focused on producing the highest quality of wool from sheep or the muscular build of a Rottweiler, they were unaware of other, more destructive traits that were passed on as well.

Genetics is the science of heredity and how specific physical traits are passed from generation to generation in any organism.  Most everyone can relate to genetics from high school science courses showing color blindness in human males or if you have the ability to roll your tongue.   But, serious, life threatening diseases are also often governed by our genes and this holds true for pets and other animals as well.

Take Penny, for instance.   She was a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, a breed of dog known for excellent cattle herding skills and a love of family.   Sadly, these Corgis are also known for a genetic condition known as Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM.  This disease essentially causes damage along the spinal cord, leading to progressively worsening weakness in the rear legs.  Eventually, Penny was unable to move her rear legs due to paralysis.  She was humanely euthanized after a long life with a family she adored.

DM is not a treatable disease, but scientists have now pinpointed the mutation responsible for this illness.  Almost four dozen different dog breeds have this altered gene present.  Recent research has shown that only dogs who receive a copy of the mutated gene from both parents will develop the condition.  This is known as a “recessive trait”.  Other recessive conditions in animals include certain enzyme deficiencies in cats or some skin issues in horses.

Not all genetic diseases are this simple.  Some are passed as dominant traits, some are linked to specific physical attributes and still others have multiple genes affecting the eventual outcome.  Even the environment can influence the process of the disease or condition.  Hip dysplasia in dogs is an example of a multi-gene and environmentally impacted problem.

The entire sequence of the canine genome was published in 2005.  The genome of our feline friends was published around 2007 and just recently, the entire gene sequences of a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred have also been discovered.  The good news in all of this is that as scientists and veterinarians better understand the root causes of hereditary issues, tests to find the disease and even possible treatment options become available.

Dr. Gus Cothran, professor at Texas A & M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine says that genetic testing will continue to prove to be of great value to veterinarians and even pet owners.  “Imagine doing blood tests to find animals that are carrying certain mutations that might lead to deleterious conditions or diseases.  Now, we can remove these animals from breeding programs before they are bred and help reduce the incidence of some very serious problems in our domesticated animals.”

Tests for degenerative myelopathy in dogs and polycystic kidney disease in cats are just two of the dozens of genetic screenings that are now available.  Facilities like Texas A&M’s Animal Genetics Lab and the University of California at Davis’ Veterinary Genetics Lab provide testing for animals ranging from our dogs and cats all the way up to horses, llamas, pigs and cattle.  Other private companies, for example, VetGen or DNA Diagnostics Center, have also started reaching out to veterinarians and pet owners interested in this sort of testing.

While these tests may not remove the possibility of genetic disease, they still can be very valuable.  Knowing the chance for disease exists can prompt pet owners and veterinarians to start intervention programs, such as swimming or increased exercise in the case of Corgis, which might delay the onset or progression of the condition.

Anyone interested in breeding domestic animals should familiarize themselves with the potential for genetic diseases.  Your veterinarian can be very helpful in determining what kind of conditions are considered hereditary and even help you find the resources to test the animals you want to breed.

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