Experts believe that cats and humans have interacted with each other for more than 10,000 years. From their humble beginnings chasing rodents away from our food, cats have vaulted into our homes and hearts as North America’s favorite pet. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, cats aren’t treated to the same veterinary care that we provide our canine friends.
There are more than 80 million cats in US households and, after reviewing veterinary medical records, experts have concluded that our felines are actually 30% less likely to visit a veterinarian than dogs. What could possibly cause this difference?
Many people believe that a cat’s independent nature and their self-sufficiency mean that they are pretty low maintenance. After all, owners don’t need to walk their cats in a heavy rain or freezing blizzard. So, if cats are so good at taking care of themselves, they must not need a doctor, right?
Additionally, more than 50% of cat owners report that they have a difficult time transporting their pets or that the last trip to the veterinarian was too stressful for the kitty. Still other owners express concerns about adverse vaccine reactions or costs of treatments and preventive care.
Not only that, but as small to medium sized predators, cats instinctually hide their illnesses to avoid become dinner for a bigger predator. Owners can often miss the subtle signs that their kitty isn’t feeling well.
The unfortunate result out of all of this is that when we do see cats, they are often faced with advanced problems that are more costly and difficult to treat. Extensive kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes and even widespread parasites top the list of feline issues. One study published showed that flea infestations in cats have increased by 12% in the last five years and ear infections are up more than 34%!
Thankfully, organizations like the CATalyst Council and the American Association of Feline Practitioners are stepping up to help educate owners about their feline friends’ medical needs. By stressing the importance and value of preventive medicine, these groups are working hard to insure that cats aren’t forgotten when it comes to veterinary care.
Our goal is to help owners understand that a visit to Deerfield is more than just a couple of vaccinations for their cats. A full physical examination done annually by our veterinarian is the first and probably most important thing a pet owner can do for their beloved feline. This exam can often spot early issues before they turn into big, expensive problems.
Additionally, cat owners are urged to have open communication with our veterinarians about which vaccines their pet actually needs and which ones can be avoided. We can review the cat’s risk factors and the overall prevalence of specific diseases in our area to make the best recommendation. Although adverse reactions are always a risk, this dialogue can help minimize any potential danger.
We have implemented recommendations from the CATalyst Council to make our practice more “feline-friendly”. Changes to scheduling, a separate entrance to the hospital, special waiting area and exam room for cats and their owners can help to encourage veterinary visits. After all, no cat wants to be seated next to a big, scary dog!!
Cats have been described as “aloof” or even “narcissistic”, but there really is a lot to admire about these wonderful animals. They are athletic, graceful and innately curious, qualities that we really seem to appreciate. The CATalyst Council is a great resource for finding out how you can insure your cat will live a long and healthy life. More
As part of your pet’s regular check up, we will spend time peering into the depths of the animal’s eyes. In the majority of cases, we see eyes that are bright, clear and free of any sort of abnormality.
Occasionally though, pets are presented with injuries, scratches or irritation to their eyes or eyelids. Some pets have inverted eyelids (entropion) or even extra eyelashes that grow on the inner surface of the eyelid (distichiasis). Short faced dogs and cats often find themselves with scratched corneas from normal play and roughhousing with other pets. Some pups will end up with a condition known as “cherry eye” where the gland of the third eyelid protrudes up and away from its normal position.
In many of these cases, we are able to flush the eyes, provide the right medications or possibly even perform minor surgery to protect the pet’s vision. But, if the issue is complex, not resolving or when serious eye problems, like glaucoma, cataracts or even retinal detachments occur, we may recommend a veterinary ophthalmologist for help.
These eye specialists undergo intensive training and testing in order to obtain certification from the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO). After completing veterinary school, candidates for certification often complete an internship before starting a rigorous residency. All of this extra education must be completed before the doctor attempts to pass the “board exam”. It is not unusual for a veterinarian to spend an additional 3-4 years in preparation for a testing process that spans four days and includes written, practical and surgical sections. All told, there are less than 375 veterinary eye specialists in the United States.
These dedicated professionals often have the needed expertise and special equipment that your pet’s regular veterinarian does not have. Delicate surgical instruments and unique diagnostic tools are just a few of the devices available to veterinary ophthalmologists. Some of these eye doctors even have special mazes set up at their practice in order to more fully test your pet’s vision capabilities.
Beyond helping dogs and cats, it is not uncommon to see ophthalmologists working with horses, birds and even zoo animals, like sea lions or dolphins!
Each year, the ACVO and its members provide free eye examinations to the thousands of service animals helping disabled individuals around the country. Partnering with veterinary companies, the ACVO has helped screen more than 6,000 animals for eye problems and donated more than $250,000 in free services to treat issues they have found. Individuals with service animals are encouraged to visit www.acvoeyeexam.org to find locations and doctors for this annual event.
In addition to this great work, the ACVO has also established the Vision for Animals Foundation. This not-for-profit organization supports research into many of our pet’s eye disease. More than $150,000 has been granted to researchers who are focused on eliminating the most serious problems affecting the vision of our pets.
Pet owners can help us and the veterinary ophthalmologist by addressing any eye issue promptly. It’s important to have the eyes examined if there is any irritation or injury and to avoid using over the counter or previously prescribed medications. Some of these might contain steroids which will hinder the healing process. Signs that your pet is uncomfortable include continual squinting, pawing at the eyes or even severe redness. If you note any of these symptoms, or even your pet just doesn’t seem to see as well as he or she ages, a examination with your veterinarian is warranted.
We will work closely with the veterinary ophthalmologist in order to do what is best for your pet and to protect his or her vision. More
Seeing a beloved pet scratch often leads many owners think their pets have fleas. When trips to the veterinarian and doses of flea products fail to resolve the itchiness, it is time to think about environmental allergies, or ATOPY.
Just like people, our pets can suffer from allergies and sensitivities to particles in the air. Many times, pollen, certain grasses and trees or even dust mites can trigger this reaction in pets.
Unlike people though, our pets rarely sneeze and show signs similar to “hay fever”. Instead, our pets are itchy and they will do anything to relieve that sensation. Some pets scratch constantly, others lick and chew at certain spots, like their feet and still others might rub against carpets and furniture. This behavior, and the consistent noises and thumps produced, is often too much for many pet owners. Sadly, some pets are relinquished to shelters or rescues due to a condition that is actually manageable.
Whenever your pet is itchy, it is important to remember that external parasites or even food allergies can cause very similar symptoms. Your veterinarian must help you distinguish between flea bite allergies, food allergies or atopy.
According to Dr. Kimberly Coyner, a board certified veterinary dermatologist with the Dermatology Clinic for Animals in Las Vegas, about 10% of dogs suffer from atopy and some cats can develop this condition as well. Many pets will start showing signs as early as six months of age and most will occur before the animal is five years old.
Beyond the itchiness (known medically as pruritus), pets might also show recurrent skin and ear infections or seem to be obsessed with licking their paws. These symptoms most commonly occur in warm weather for pets with pollen or dust allergies, but can also occur year round in some cases.
Diagnostic tests for atopy try to determine what allergens are causing your pet’s problems. Blood tests are often convenient since they can be done by most veterinarians, but Dr. Coyner cautions that this method has drawbacks. Skin testing (similar to scratch testing in people) is the gold standard for determining what is causing your pets allergies and is more accurate than blood tests.
While not simple, atopy can be managed with baths, medications, managing the environment and sometimes with immunotherapy. You’ll need good communication with your veterinarian and maybe a veterinary dermatologist!
First, for pets that suffer seasonal allergies, being prepared ahead of time is key. Some mildly suffering pets can benefit from daily cool water rinses and a fragrance free shampoo one to two times weekly. Clipping longhaired pets decreases the allergen load and makes bathing easier.
Pollen counts in the home can be reduced by asking family and visitors to remove their shoes at the door. Routine vacuuming of areas that the pets frequent and washing of pet bedding in mild, fragrance free detergents can also limit the allergen exposure inside.
Some pet owners opt for antihistamines to help provide relief, but experts caution that they are only effective in 30-40% of dogs. Other owners insist that “steroid shots” or pills are the answer. However steroids simply decrease the symptoms and do not solve the problem – and they are not without secondary side effects.
Ideally, all pets with atopy would undergo skin testing and then start an allergen specific immunotherapy, guided by a veterinary dermatologist. By slowly exposing the pet to increasing quantities of the allergen, this immunotherapy can actually “desensitize” the pet and, over time, help reduce the severity of the symptoms. Dr. Coyner says that 70-75% of allergic pets respond to this treatment and it takes several months to become effective, so it is not a certain cure or a “quick-fix”. More
Dental care in pets is necessary to provide optimal health and quality of life. Poor dental hygiene leads to diseases of the oral cavity, and if left untreated, are often painful and can contribute to other local or systemic diseases.
Dental care of dogs and cats is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of pet health care. Approximately 80% of all dogs and cats have periodontal disease by the time they are only two years old. Dental disease affects much more than fresh breath. It frequently leads to more serious health problems such as liver, kidney and heart disease. That’s why we’re not just treating dental disease, but taking new steps to prevent it. A major step in this process is encouraging our owners to participate in their pet’s oral health at home.
Periodontal disease in pets is the same as it is in people. It’s a sneaky and insidious process that begins when bacteria in the mouth attach to the teeth and produce a film called “plaque”. When the bacteria die, they are calcified into “calculus” commonly known as tartar which makes a rough surface for even more bacteria to stick to. In the beginning, plaque is soft and can easily be removed by brushing or chewing on appropriate toys or treats. But if left to spread, plaque leads to gum inflammation (called “gingivitis”) and infection. Eventually, the infection spreads to the tooth root and even the jaw bone itself – causing pain and tooth loss.
Examining a dog or cat’s mouth can be compared to opening a Christmas present. Inspecting the outside of the box may give you a hunch about the contents, but until you completely unwrap it, you’ll never really know what’s inside. In the same way peeling away the wrapping paper and packing material brings a present into the light of day, our new dental radiology equipment allows us the opportunity to look beyond the obvious and better examine teeth and their supporting structures below the gum line – exposing hidden, and often undiagnosed, problems.
The American Animal Hospital Association has devised guidelines for veterinarians in order to highlight the need for more professional oral hygiene care for pets. The organization stressed the necessity of going beyond the traditional “scraping the surface” of routine dental cleanings, known as “prophies”. We are encouraged to teach owners the importance of good oral hygiene when puppies and kittens are only a few months old in order to begin a lifetime of healthy benefits.
Research proves that unchecked dental disease can be the root of other problems. In a 2009 study at Purdue’s School of Veterinary Medicine, researchers have discovered significant associations between the severity of periodontal disease and the risk of cardiovascular-related conditions, such as endocarditis and cardiomyopathy.
A recent roundtable discussion between veterinary dental experts shed even more light on the impact that good preventative dentistry plays in a pet’s life. They strongly recommend daily dental care for pets and twice yearly mouth exams beginning when puppies and kittens are two months old. And while that schedule may seem too complicated for some pet owners, dental specialists, veterinary supply companies have developed products that will help pet busy owners put some bite into home dental care for their pets.
A recent development that goes beyond good veterinary and at-home care, is the actual prevention of plaque using a barrier sealant gel. This is applied by the veterinarian and continued at home by the pet owner. Called OraVet®, this system is the first method used by veterinarians to create a physical barrier that reduces bacterial plaque adhesion above and under the gum lines. It is applied at home only once a week after the initial hospital application. More
Recently, a client asked that I participate in a local disaster preparedness expo. He explained that there was a tremendous amount of information regarding human survival and little if any information for the survival and well being of his beloved family pets. After the tragedy and adversity that our neighbors in Joplin have recently endured, I agreed to participate. I have relied upon personal experience and summarized some notable information from both the ASPCA and FEMA.
Effectively preparing for a disaster requires anticipation and real attention to detail. If there was one goal that I could accomplish, I would like you to start anticipating what you’re next disaster will be like for you, your family and your pets. The more detailed your plan, the better prepared and the greater likelihood you will survive the challenge.
I am not a Disaster Preparedness Expert, just a veterinarian. The closest thing to a natural disaster for my family was the ice storm in the winter of 2007. Like most who live in Southwest Missouri, our family was without electricity for 6 days. Many families endured weeks before power could be restored. The real challenge of this disaster was just keeping warm, because everyone endured single digit temperatures in the days immediately following the storm. Because our home depends upon a well for a source of water, no electricity means no water. Fortunately our business never lost electricity, so we had another location with a supply of the essentials to keep us going. Since then, I have always thought of “Filling the Bath Tub with Water” as an acronym for disaster preparedness because had I filled our bathtubs with water before we lost electricity, I would have spent more time on keeping my home warm, rather than hauling water from our veterinary hospital. The key to preparing for life’s next “ice storms” means anticipating our needs and organizing our supplies and equipment – working out the details – before the disaster occurs.
Borrowing trouble comes more natural to some folks than others, so if you’re not good at that, I want you to start by thinking outside the box, because each type of disaster requires different measures to keep you and your family, and pet’s safe. Will you be able to stay in your home or will you have to evacuate? If you can stay, will you have electricity, running water or food? What will the weather be like? Hot, or cold. Will the roads be safe for travel? Flooded or ice covered.
Because everyone in my extended family lost power and heat, and my house had the only functional wood burning stove, everyone stayed at our house. This included all the beloved pets from a family that inspired me to become a veterinarian. After several days of close living quarters, stoking the fire, and hauling water to flush 4 toilets, my best recollection was my nerves were worn pretty thin – like my father-in-law like to say, “company and fish start to stink after 3 days”. That was the same day the wood stoves door was left open and the flu was still closed filling our house to the rafters with smoke.
Looking back, this was only a minor “hic-up” in a week of Man vs. Wild – Arctic Survival 101, but at the time it was pretty darn aggravating. So what did I learn? Things are going to happen in your survival situation that you just can’t plan for. Plan to adapt. You can’t change the tide, so be ready to “suck it up” and roll with it. Sometimes no amount of preparation will get you completely through the storm. Plato said it best in 400 BC “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.”
Now for the details that could keep your pets out of hot water. I believe this step can be applied to almost any situation. Start your planning with some research, phone calls and record keeping. Keep your research stored in a safe place and keep copies in an evacuation bag with your pet’s essential supplies. For most of us, keeping an accurate record of our house pets is no challenge, but if you have a farm, having an accurate record of your livestock inventory will help you your neighbors track them in a disaster. Record a list of ailments or medical conditions, medications and special foods will help you maintain the health of your animals. Simply contact your veterinarian for a copy of your pet’s medical records. Also collect Names, locations and phone numbers of your veterinarian, kennel and any other caregivers should be at your fingertips. Your veterinarian can help you with a list of preferred boarding kennels and facilities. Ask your local animal shelter if they provide emergency shelter or foster homes for pets and identify hotels or motels inside and outside your immediate area that accept pets. Ask friends and relatives in and outside your area if they would be willing to take in your pet. Make sure all pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification. Your pet’s ID tag should contain his name, telephone number, and any urgent medical needs. Be sure to write your pet’s name, your name and contact information on your pet’s carrier. We recommend micro-chipping your pet as a more permanent form of identification. A microchip is implanted in the animal’s shoulder area, and can be read by scanner at most animal shelters. My last homework assignment is for you to prepare a rescue sticker or sign that can be posted in windows in case you have to evacuate without your pets. These help rescuers workers identify and locate all your pets after the disaster has occurred. If everyone evacuates, write “EVACUATED” across the posted sign, if time allows.
Remember, leaving your pets behind is absolutely the last option. If it’s not safe for you it’s probably not safe for your pets. They may become trapped or escape to life-threatening hazards. Not all Red Cross disaster shelters accept pets, so it’s important to have a predetermined shelter for your pets BEFORE the disaster strikes. Our empty veterinary hospital’s kennel filled beyond its brim in the time span of 4 hours on Saturday morning while ice accumulated on trees and power lines. Many of our clients who had not even lost power, were booking hotel rooms in Branson and further south in Arkansas to wait out the worsening weather condition.
The next step is to start carefully considering a designated care-giver before the disaster strikes. Your choice could change depending on your circumstance, so consider and speak with several. Look for someone who is home, when you’re at work so they can watch your pet and even offer swapping shifts watching their pets. Look for someone who lives close to you, a neighbor or family member. Sometimes a long drive in bad weather is not practical. Especially with a pet who doesn’t like to travel in the car. It might be someone you could trust with the keys your home, or someone who is willing to bring your pet into their home. If you don’t ask, you won’t know and don’t just assume like most pet owners that, “everyone just loves my pet, after all, how couldn’t they?” Some people have allergies to pets, and more will be less willing to take on a pet during a stressful situation. Perhaps finding a neighbor or family members who already have pets is your best solution. Last but not least, consider someone as a permanent caregiver in the event something should happen to you.
Now it’s time to gather your emergency supply inventory. Let’s start with the essentials, food and water. Plan for a minimum 7 day supply of both food and water. The food should be rotated in accord with the manufacture expiration dates, but in general, don’t keep dry kibble longer that 2 months. Plan on your pet eating 1 cup or can of food for every 20 lbs of ideal body weight. A 60 pound dog will need 3 cups of dry kibble or 3 cans of dog food every 24 hours. You average size cat will require ½ cup of dry kibble in a day. Store 1 oz of water, for every pound of body weight, every 24 hours. That same 60lb dog will require a half gallon of water in 1 day. Another important item for you list is a pet first aid kit. The ASPCA offers a complete kit $50, and offers a complete list of items at aspca.org. You may want to review the list and add items as needed to your own first aid kit. Depending on your pets pre-existing medical conditions, owner should have a 2 week supply of prescription medication like insulin, anticonvulsants and arthritic pain relievers. These medications should be rotated like food to ensure their effectiveness. Other emergency items should include;
- Disposable litter trays (aluminum roasting pans) for cats.
- Supply of litter or paper towels for cats and pocket pets.
- Liquid dish soap and disinfectant.
- Disposable garbage bags for clean-up.
- Pet feeding dishes.
- Extra collar, harness and leashes.
- Photocopies of medical records
- Recent photos of your pets for identification or lost pet posters.
- Travel bag or pet flight kennel ideally for each pet.
- Head mounted flashlight
- Blankets (pillow cases for cats or pocket pets)
- Chew toys or rawhides
- Evacuation pack for supplies
Some final considerations in the midst of the calamity that I should mention are that animals have instincts about severe weather changes and will often isolate themselves if they are afraid. Pets can become disoriented and wander away from home during a crisis. Always bring pets indoors immediately at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster. In addition, separate dogs and cats. Even if you dogs and cats normally get along, the anxiety of an emergency situation can cause pets to act irrationally. In the event you take your pets with you, have a plan to pack your vehicle with family members, pet crates and supplies. And remember, if you think you may be gone for only a day; assume that you may not be allowed to return for several weeks. More