Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why Should I Keep My Cat Indoor Only?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ

There are many dangers to cats who spend time outdoors on adventures.  Cats encountered outside may instigate fights and spread fatal viral diseases such as Feline Leukemia and FIV, as well as cause abscesses and bite wound infections.  Outdoor cats can also spread ringworm and upper respiratory diseases.  Depending on where you live, predators can include wild animals or even a neighborhood dog who attacks cats.  Cats may lick or eat toxins like antifreeze or rodent poison that can cause a painful death.  Accidents can involve your cat falling from too high a height or getting hit by a car.  Exposure to extreme heat or cold weather can be detrimental.  Cats can get frostbite on their ears, feet, and tail from freezing temperatures and severe burns on their paw pads from hot surfaces.  Fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and ear mites in addition to making your cat itchy can cause disease, too.  If your cat eats certain prey or licks contaminated areas, they can become infected with intestinal parasites.  These parasites can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss in your cat and some parasites can be transmitted to you! 

Cats are curious creatures that need mental stimulation to "stay out of trouble".  This can be addressed with indoor environmental enrichment such as access to windows with a view, interactive toys, and daily play time with their owners.  A fairly safe way for cats to have access to the outside world is on supervised walks on a harness. 


For cats who really insist on being allowed outdoors alone or with owners who cannot keep their cats inside all of the time, here are some safety tips.  Make sure your cat is microchipped and registered so that if they get lost or picked up by animal control, they can be scanned and you can be notified.  Have your cat wear a safety collar that has an identification tag.  A safety collar features a quick release latch in case the cat gets the collar caught so they do not hurt themselves. Use monthly parasite protection for fleas, ticks,  heartworm, and intestinal parasites.  Limit your cats outside exposure after sundown since there is a higher risk of danger at night.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Feline Dental Care Part 2: Signs of Disease and Professional Dental Care

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ

What are the signs of dental disease in cats?
  • Red gums and discolored teeth
  • Bad mouth odor
  • Drooling
  • Swelling of the area under an eye
  • Running from food bowl after taking a bite
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Decreased appetite and/or weight loss
  • Hiding and/or lethargy

Dental disease can vary from mild tartar and gingivitis that can be remedied with a thorough dental cleaning and polishing under anesthesia, to severe disease that may require tooth extractions and medications.  Sometimes the above symptoms can be caused by certain types of mouth cancer.

Why does my cat need anesthesia to have his or her teeth examined, cleaned, and treated?
As humans, we understand and comply with the requests of a dentist or hygienist for the open mouth positioning needed for dental x-rays, visual teeth inspections, probing, scaling, and polishing.  These tasks are not possible to perform in an awake animal.  Any movement of a pet while metal instruments are in the mouth could result in severe damage and pain to the patient.  Superficial cleaning of only the surface of the tooth is just part of the regimen.  Deep cleaning below the gumline to remove plaque and tartar is necessary but can cause temporary discomfort that is best accomplished under anesthesia. 

Some procedures, such as complicated extractions and root canals are best performed by board certified veterinary dentists. 

Dental disease is one of the common medical problems faced in a shelter environment, as is the case with PAWSitively CATS.  The majority of the donations for veterinary care goes toward paying for professional cleanings and extractions to help improve the quality of life for the cats. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Feline Dental Care Part I: Prevention of disease

by Amanda L Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ

Cats need dental care just like us! Feeding dry food alone does not adequately clean our cat's teeth.  There are several ways we can help keep our cat's mouth free of tartar.

Brushing your cat's teeth is still considered the best way to help prevent dental disease, specifically the build up of plaque and tartar.  The mechanical action of brushing, that is the mild abrasion or friction of a toothbrushing apparatus against the teeth, is the most important part, not the toothpaste.  The "brushing" can be performed with soft gauze wrapped around your finger, finger toothbrushes, or small toothbrushes.  Toothpastes containing enzymes and antibacterial properties also help. Some cats enjoy chewing on the brush if poultry or fish flavored toothpaste is used.  Do not use human toothpastes as they will harm your pet.

Most cats will tolerate some level of toothbrushing if you follow a few tips:
  1. Only attempt toothbrushing if your cat is in a pleasant mood. 
  2. Be firm but gentle when handling your cat's mouth.
  3. Lift the lips up and back to expose the teeth, rather than try to open your cat's mouth. 
  4. Spend no more than a few minutes per attempt.
  5. Consider using your cat's favorite treat reward at 15 to 30 second intervals.
Your goal is to acclimate your cat to having its teeth brushed a minimum of a few minutes, every other day. 

Here is a:
Printable Handout on Brushing Your Pet's Teeth.

In addition to toothbrushing, consider treats, foods, and toys designed to help prevent dental disease.  Look for products that have the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal on the bag to ensure that you are purchasing a high quality dental aid that has been scientifically proven to reduce plaque and tartar.

Next week we will explore what to do if your cat already has signs of dental disease.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What is Valley Fever?

by Amanda L Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ
Valley Fever is the common name for the fungal disease coccidiodomycosis.  The fungus lives in the soil of the Sonoran Desert.  The disease occurs when the fungal spores are inhaled or the spores directly enter a wound. Although more common in pets who spend time outdoors, indoor only cats can also acquire Valley Fever.  The disease is not directly transmitted by a sick animal to another animal or person.  This infection has been found in humans, pets, and wildlife.  Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Valley Fever.

If the fungus is inhaled, it causes a lung infection.  At this point, some pets are able to fight off the infection with no outside intervention.  Other pets become symptomatic.  The early signs of a lung infection may include one or all of the following: lethargy/fever, decreased appetite, and coughing/wheezing.  In cats, the disease may be mistaken for asthma or other diseases.  The signs of a skin infection are an oozing wound or abscess that do not heal or do not respond to antibiotics.  If Valley Fever is not recognized or treated, the disease spreads (disseminates) to other parts of the body such as the brain, bones, and organs.  At that stage, the pet may have seizures, limping, etc. 

X-ray of a cat pelvis with Valley Fever

Valley Fever lung infections can be diagnosed with a combination of chest x-rays and blood tests for antibody levels.  Skin infections can be diagnosed with cytology or culture.  Bone infections can be diagnosed with a combination of x-rays and blood tests for antibody levels.  Other disseminated infections may need referral to a specialist for a CT, MRI, etc.

Valley Fever can be treated with a prescription for an inexpensive human medication called Fluconazole.  This medication may be given for months or years depending on the severity of the infection.  Fungal disease is much more difficult to treat than a bacterial infection.  Repeating the antibody blood tests several times per year helps your veterinarian monitor response to treatment.  Stopping the medication too early can cause the symptoms to come back.  After the antibody levels become very low or negative, pets can be tried off of the medication. However, some pets relapse when they stop the medications and other pets may become infected again.