All Posts tagged Springfield Missouri Veterinarian

Are Our Cats Plotting Against Us?

Some people and societies throughout history have simply not appreciated cats.  Black cats are considered unlucky or linked to evil witches.  Other people look at cats as sneaky or as serial killers of defenseless wildlife.  But, if you read some current headlines, you might think that our feline friends are a real serious threat!

The main threat in these news articles is not our cats, but rather, an extremely small protozoan parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.  The threat occurs because this particular intestinal bug only reproduces in domestic and wild cats.  So, when the sensational headline reads “Study Links Cat Litter Box to Increased Suicide Risk”, many readers frankly scared and soon began to worry about the risks of owning a cat.

So here are the real facts you can count on.  The uproar can be traced back to a pair of scientific articles.  As far back as 2000, scientists have understood that this particular parasite has a peculiar effect on some rodents, actually making rats less fearful of their natural predators, the cats.  More recently, a study of 45,000 women in Denmark concluded that infection with Toxoplasma gondii (Toxo, for short) increased the risk of suicide attempts.  So, it appears that this parasite may alter something in brain chemistries or behavior. But, does that mean our cats are to blame?

The emphatic answer: absolutely not. The key here lies in understanding the life cycle of the parasite, the cat’s role in that life cycle and the simple, easy steps to minimize your potential risk.  All cats, domestic and wild, are a natural host for Toxo.  Our feline friends pick up the parasite from hunting rodents and birds or eating raw meat.  Once in the cat’s intestine, the organism starts reproducing, creating millions of oocytes (essentially eggs) that will pass o into the environment.  Interestingly, cats will shed the parasite for about two or three weeks and then rarely ever pass any more after that.

Once outside, these eggs will mature over one to five days and become infective parasites.  It is at this time that any warm blooded animal can become infected by ingesting contaminated soil, water or plant material.  Since most animals aren’t the natural host for Toxo, the parasite localizes in various muscle or nervous tissue and becomes a cyst.  The cycle completes (as most parasite life cycles do) allowing the parasite to once again start to multiply and spread.

For most animals, and people, the parasite is not a problem – remember that.  Some people will experience flu like symptoms but then recover without a problem.  However, immunosuppressed individuals can experience much more severe symptoms, including fevers, confusion, headaches, seizures and poor coordination.  Pregnant woman who have no immunity to Toxo can actually pass the infection to the unborn child causing a miscarriage, stillbirth or serious mental disabilities in the newborn.  So it is true, this parasite is not without it dangers.

The CDC estimates show that about 20% of the US population has antibodies to this parasite.  In addition, the CDC’s website shows that Toxoplasma infections occur by eating undercooked, contaminated meats (especially pork and lamb), accidental ingestion of contaminated meats after handling and failure to wash hands, contamination of foods from utensils used to work with other contaminated foods, drinking water tainted with the parasite and, as mentioned above, accidental ingestion of the parasite through contact with cat feces.

Keeping yourself safe from Toxo is actually pretty easy.  Fully cook all meats, wash your hands and cooking utensils after contact with raw meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables and wear gloves while gardening.   Cat litter boxes should be scooped daily as the parasite does not become infectious for at least 24 hours.  Pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals should completely avoid changing the litter.

Ask your veterinarian about specific recommendations for lowering your risk for toxoplasmosis.  He or she is well schooled in understanding this parasite.

More

Holiday Safety Tips for Pet Owners

snow-globe-663034-m

Every holiday season, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center fields calls dealing with several common holiday situations that put pets at risk.

Wrapped Presents
Gifts are a surprising source of toxicities during the holidays. If you are going to wrap any food (especially chocolate), dog treats, or dog toys, keep the items in a safe place and well out of your pet’s reach until they are ready to be opened. Pets have a keen sense of smell and will often unwrap presents early and eat all of the contents.

Snow Globes
Some snow globes contain ethylene glycol, a highly toxic substance to all pets. If a snow globe is broken, either by a person or a pet, the sweet smell can attract a pet to lick it up, leading to a potentially fatal intoxication. Snow globes should be kept out of reach of pets.

Holiday Food
Pets are often not shy about taking food that is left sitting out on counters or tables. Pets should be kept away from food preparation areas or places where food will be left out. A few of the more concerning common food exposures during the holidays are chocolate, bread dough, fruitcake and alcohol.

Medication
There are often a large number of visitors during the holiday season, and pets often get into medications that friends or family have brought with them. These exposures can be prevented with a little advance planning. People who are not used to having pets in the house can often be unaware of how curious they can be. Pets will often investigate suitcases and can get into pill vials or weekly pill minders. It is safer to have the visitors put their medication in a closed cabinet that is not accessible to pets. Be sure that when they take their medications that they do so behind a closed door, such as the bathroom, so that a dropped pill can be found before the pet has a chance to eat it. A prewritten list of the names, milligram strength, and number of pills that visitors have brought is very useful in an emergency situation as well.

Salt
Ice melt, homemade play dough, and salt-dough ornaments (even when dry) can all be a tempting salty treat for pets, but can cause life-threatening imbalances in the electrolytes.

Pet owners should, of course, contact their local veterinary professional or the Animal Poison Control Center if their pets get into any of these substances.

Blog post, picture and safety tips provided by the ASPCA.

Also check out our other blog article on how to protect your pets from holiday hazards.

More

Bordetella…The Misunderstood Vaccine

intranasal

It’s a common comment heard in many veterinary hospitals…”we don’t need the kennel cough vaccination…we never board or kennel our dog”.  Despite the owner’s insistence that their pet isn’t at risk, most people would be surprised to find out that this disease can be found in a wide variety of places.

Infectious tracheobronchitis, more commonly known as “kennel cough”, is a communicable bronchitis in dogs that is often found anywhere dogs congregate.  Naturally, boarding kennels come to mind, but quite often, people will forget that grooming salons, dog parks, pet superstores or even their favorite veterinary hospital can also be potential sources of infection.

Dogs who contract tracheobronchitis will produce a rough, hacking cough that many owners will describe as the pet trying to cough something up or even retch.  Spasms, or coughing fits, are not uncommon and some people relate that their pets seem worse at night.

Kennel cough can be caused by a wide variety of organisms, including canine adenoviruses, canine distemper virus and a bacterial species that goes by the name of Bordetella bronchiseptica.  Other viruses, such as canine herpesviruses or reoviruses are also thought to contribute to the disease and it is not uncommon to see more than one pathogen involved.

Infected dogs will spread viruses or bacteria through airborne particles where healthy dogs can inhale them.  In some cases, the germs can also spread via toys or food dishes.  Dogs that are exposed will generally show signs of illness within two to fourteen days and may act sick for an additional two weeks.  In many cases, the disease is very mild and your pup may never run a fever or act as if anything is wrong.  However, this is a disease that can progress to pneumonia and be life-threatening.

What’s even worse is that a pet who has recovered from this illness could potentially infect other dogs for up to two or three months!  So, that normal looking dog at the busy city dog park could, in fact, be sharing some nasty germs as he plays with his doggie pals!

Like many diseases we see in pets, proactive prevention is the key to stopping kennel cough.  Most dogs will receive vaccinations against canine adenoviruses and parainfluenza when they receive their canine distemper and canine parvovirus vaccines.  In addition, Bordetella vaccination is available and can help limit the severity of the illness if your pet is ever exposed to this bacterium.

The Bordetella vaccine is considered to be a “non-core” vaccine by the American Animal Hospital Association.  This means that not all pets need this vaccination, but the choice to vaccinate should be based on the pet’s risk factors.  As mentioned above, if your pet is routinely groomed, enjoys trips to the local dog park or even gets to go shopping with you at the big box pet food store, he is likely being exposed to the agents that cause kennel cough.

Vaccination against the Bordetella bacterium will generally provide immunity for about one year.  So, pets at risk will need annual boosters and some pets who board frequently or visit grooming salons regularly may actually benefit from re-vaccination every 6 months.  Experts also recommend getting your pet a booster vaccination five days or more prior to possible exposure, if more than six months have passed since the last vaccination.

If your pet is dealing with any sort of cough, the best advice on treatment will come from your veterinarian.  Although antibiotics may or may not be prescribed, your pet could receive a cough suppressant or even a recommendation to let the dog stand in the bathroom while you shower!  Just like with kids, the warm, humid air in the bathroom can loosen congestion and help your pet to breath more easily.

More

What’s Wrong With My Cat’s Mouth?

101 201 missing

Ask any cat owner about how they care for their feline’s teeth and most will reply that “he eats dry food” or, more commonly “I really don’t clean her teeth”.  While most veterinarians will acknowledge that brushing a cat’s teeth is a challenge for many owners, they will stress the importance of routine oral assessment of your cat’s mouth.  These exams help find preventable problems and even some very concerning issues.  One of those concerns we are seeing more frequently is called Feline Tooth Resorption.

Tooth Resorption, or “TR” as it is commonly called, is a condition seen in a growing percentage of cats over the age of six years. The same strange condition is also seen in dogs and in people, but it is not nearly as common.

In the past, this disease has been called “neck lesions”, “cervical line lesions” and even the cumbersome “Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORLs)”.  Whatever the name, we know that this condition is seen in cats who often appear normal.  The process will continue to develop, causing extreme pain because of the exposure of the root canal.  This can even lead to behavior changes and lack of normal appetite.

Feline premolars 2 resorbtion 352 264

Dr. Brett Beckman, a noted board-certified veterinary dentist, says that an exact cause for TR has not been determined yet.  Theories about exposure to certain viruses, breed prevalence and chronic inflammation of the mouth and gums have all been proposed as root causes.  According to Beckman, a single study suggests that high levels of Vitamin D in cat foods could be linked to resorptive disease, but that research is still ongoing.  Interestingly, there has even been evidence of TR in cat skeletons that are 800 years old!

Clinically, most cats will appear normal, but observant owners may note that their cat prefers to chew food on just one side or that the cat stops grooming.  They may “toss” dry food into the back of their mouth.   As TR progresses, some pets will even develop sullen or aggressive attitudes, as if they are mad at the world!

Eventually, your veterinarian may point out how some of your cat’s cheek teeth are showing lines of inflamed, fleshy material right near the base of the tooth.  At this point, the erosion has exposed the tooth to the bacteria of the mouth and this is when affected cats become extremely painful.  Even under a general anesthetic, a slight touch of these teeth will cause a cat to “chatter” their jaw, indicating very serious pain!

Dental x-rays are the only way to diagnose TR.  When the radiographs are taken, if TR is present, your veterinarian can see changes in the density of the roots and crowns of the teeth.  All teeth can be affected, but the major “signal” tooth is the first one in the lower jaw.  Some teeth can be partially affected, while others may have completely dissolved away leaving a “ghost image”.

Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment that can save the pet’s teeth.  A normal cleaning and polishing will not work!  Veterinary dentists have even tried root canal therapies (endodonics), but they fail, as this resorption occurs on a microsopic basis.  A tooth that is showing any signs of resorption needs to be extracted.  Some cats will need full mouth extractions.  All cats with a known history of TR should be x-rayed every six months to a year. It is likely other teeth are affected and they must be monitored.

The good news in all of this is that once your veterinarian knows about the disease, several things can be done to keep your cat comfortable.  Experience has shown that cats who were once not eating well or even aggressive will often have a positive behavior change in just a matter of weeks.  It is surprising how the removal of these painful teeth can often bring back your affectionate feline friend.

resorptive disease 343 211

Owners are often unaware that their pets are experiencing such discomfort.  But, regular visits to your veterinarian can help identify the issue and start work that will make your cat feel better.  Contact your veterinarian to have a comprehensive oral examination for your pet, including dental x-rays and regular dental cleanings.

More

Is a Grain Free Food Right for Your Pet?

As a society, we have become very concerned about our diet and a number of health issues related to our consumption of various foods.  Gluten sensitivity in people is just one example and it has lead to many looking at “whole food” diets or even eating only foods that our Paleolithic ancestors consumed.  Naturally, pet owners will translate these concerns to their cats and dogs and look for more natural diets for their four legged friends.

Pet food marketers have been quick to respond to the public’s desire for grain free options in their lines of food.  Catchy brand names like “Taste of the Wild”, “Natural Balance” or “Earthborn” tempt the human shoppers.  But, are these pet owners choosing a diet simply based on marketing hype and the sales pitch in the store?

Many believe that the gluten sensitivities common in people are also a widespread problem in pets and chose a diet based on a lack of specific ingredients, such as wheat.  Unfortunately, there is no evidence that these particular problems occur regularly in dogs or cats.  Gluten-sensitive intolerances are documented in Irish Setters, but, to date, we simply don’t know if other breeds are affected and the problem has not proven to be widespread.

Jack Russel pups eating from bowl - Veterinary News NetworkAnother frequent reason for choosing a grain free pet food is that the owner believes that wheat, corn or some other grain is highly allergenic and causes food allergies for their pets.  The fallacy here is that many dogs are actually allergic to the proteins in the food.  In a review of 267 cases, wheat actually was responsible for fewer canine allergy cases than beef and dairy and corn comes in at a distant 8th, behind chicken, egg and lamb.

Some owners mistakenly believe that “grain-free” equates to low, or even no, carbohydrates.  Dr. Susan Wynn, a well-known speaker on clinical nutrition and integrative medicine, remarks that “if the pet food is a dry kibble, it contains carbohydrates.”  The manufacturing process to produce the dry diets (known as extrusion) won’t work unless a minimal level of starch is present.

Dr. Lori Huston, a Certified Veterinary Journalist and author of the Pet Health Care Gazette blog concurs.   She even mentions that many of the popular replacements for grains, like potatoes, can actually increase the carbohydrate content of the food.

Finally, a common myth is that our pets are unable to effectively digest the grains present in commercial diets.  The reality is that dogs do quite well digesting grains and starches.  Not only has decades of research proven this, but new genetic information shows our domesticated canine friends have many more copies of a gene for amylase than their wolf cousins.  This important enzyme helps cut starch molecules and enables dogs to effectively use grains as an energy source.

All of the above reasons aside, is there a downside to feeding grain free foods?  Overall, the consensus from veterinary experts is that these foods are generally safe and will also provide a complete and balanced diet for your pet.  In some cases, the levels of fat or protein may be higher than necessary for some pets and that could cause health issues.  To quote Dr. Wynn, since “excess protein is not stored by the body, high protein diets are often simply good for producing expensive urine.”

If grain free is an option that interests you for your pet’s diet, talk with your veterinarian.  We can help you sort through the myths and misconceptions that so often abound when it comes to pet foods.  This is especially important when it comes to food allergies.  Over the counter (OTC) “hypoallergenic” foods can often confound a food allergy diagnosis.  Studies have shown that these OTC foods may often contain the very allergens the owner is trying to avoid and cross contamination in the manufacturing process is a common occurrence.  In addition, one well known OTC pet food manufacturer was reprimanded by the FDA after lab analysis showed their lamb diet contained no lamb, but beef instead!

More