Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Vaccines Should My Cat Have?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
Tucson, AZ

Most veterinarians use the guidelines developed by the American Association of Feline Practitioners to help determine which vaccines are needed on an individual basis for each feline patient.  Core vaccines should be given to all cats during their lifetime since they are the most important to guard against.  These core vaccines include:

Feline Rhinotracheitis aka Herpes virus
-   Symptoms: Upper respiratory infection: fever, sneezing, nasal discharge, runny eyes, eye ulcers

-   Transmission: Direct contact, 2 - 6 day virus incubation

-   Vaccination lessens symptoms, does not prevent disease

Feline Calicivirus
-   Symptoms: Upper respiratory infection: sneezing, fever, nasal discharge, mouth ulcers

-   Transmission: Direct or indirect contact, 3-4 day virus incubation

-   Survives 1 month in environment

-   Vaccination lessens symptoms, does not prevent disease

Feline Panleukopenia aka Parvo/Distemper
-   Symptoms: fever, vomiting, lethargy, severe dehydration, sometimes diarrhea

-   Transmission: Direct contact – fecal oral or from queen, 2 – 9 day virus incubation

-   50 – 90% mortality rate!

-   Vaccination gives complete protection in most cats


Until recently, Rabies was also considered a core vaccine.  Since Rabies can spread to people, most states and counties require cats receive Rabies vaccinations so in that way it is still a core vaccine.

-   Symptoms: behavior change, drooling, can’t swallow, paralysis


-   Transmission: bite wound, saliva into skin wound, placental

o   3 week to 6 month virus incubation period

Other available vaccines include: Feline Leukemia virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Chlamydophila, Bordetella, and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP).  These vaccines can be considered in outdoor cats and cat colonies and shelters.

Indoor only cats should continue to be vaccinated on a schedule determined in a conversation with your veterinarian at your cat’s annual exam visit.  Vaccination is determined by your cat’s age, lifestyle risks, and the health status of your cat.  At our hospital, we have had clients with indoor only cats exposed to rabid bats who somehow made it into the house.  Cats exposed to rabid animals or cats who bite a person who seeks medical care,  are required to have a 6 month quarantine if they are not up to date on their Rabies vaccine. 

Also, most cat owners get another cat later down the road.  These cats are usually strays or rescues with unknown vaccination and health status, so isn’t it better to keep your cat current on immunizations in case you rescue a new cat in the future?  Also, that way if you ever need to board your cat at a kennel, you don’t have to stress with making a last minute appointment at your veterinarian’s office to get updated on vaccines.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What do I do if my cat has fleas?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
Tucson, AZ

What are fleas? 
Fleas are the most common type of external parasite found on cats and dogs. Most often, infected pets are affected by cat fleas, and rarely are infested with dog fleas or human fleas.  Bird fleas can also infect cats and dogs.  All fleas are tiny, jumping insects that are visible to the naked eye.  Some pets are allergic to the flea saliva and are very itchy, while other pets may show no symptoms.  Fleas prefer warm and moist environments, which is why there are not many flea issues in Tucson.  

What problems do fleas cause?
Pets who are allergic to fleas can self-inflict significant skin damage which leads to infection from scratching and chewing at their own skin.
If your pet eats the fleas as they chew on their itchy skin, they can become infected with tapeworms.  They can also become infected with certain different types of bacteria which can cause Feline Infectious Anemia in cats or can cause Cat Scratch Fever in humans. 
Small or young pets can become anemic which can cause weakness or even death in severe cases.

How do I get rid of the fleas?
Treatment is aimed at killing adult fleas and preventing eggs from hatching.  There are many safe, effective treatments now available.  You can read more about options here that can be used directly on your pet.  To help prevent eggs from hatching, you should treat the environment with an insect growth regulator product. Your veterinarian can answer your questions about the different types of treatment.

How long do I need to treat my pets?
First, you need to determine how your cat obtained the fleas so you can decide on the length of treatment required.  If your cat goes outside on a regular basis, your cat probably became infested from where they roam outside.  If your cat does not go outside but your dog does, your cat may have caught them from the dog bringing them into the house.  If you recently brought home a new cat, they may have come with fleas already.  If your cat or other pet is going to continue to potentially bring fleas inside your house, you need to use frequent, continuous flea medication on your pets.  If your cat and other pets will remain inside in the future, you can treat your pet and house for a couple months and eliminate the fleas.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Should I declaw my cat?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Catalina Pet Hospital
Tucson, AZ
First, let's explore what declawing entails.  Declawing is a surgery in which a partial toe amputation of each toe on both front feet is performed by a veterinarian.  Based on that description, most pet owners know there is some pain involved, but may not realize that their cat could experience moderate to severe pain.  For this reason, all of the alternatives to this surgery should be explored before considering having this surgery performed on your cat.

Cats love to and feel a drive to claw objects, such as furniture.  Most cats will accept more appropriate scratchers if they are introduced properly and convenient for the cat to use.  I recommend cat owners have individual scratchers made of cardboard, carpet, and wound rope.  Some scratchers should be horizontal on the ground and others should be vertical surfaces.  Scratchers should be stable and secure so that the cat can feel comfortable using the scratchers and can use them effectively.  The scratchers should be located in places where cats spend most of their time, not hidden away.  Cats can be lured over to scratchers with favorite treats, catnip, cat toys, and laser pointers.  When using laser pointers, be sure to not directly point the light into your cat's eyes.

If your cat still prefers to scratch inappropriate objects, you can work on making those objects less appealing to your cat.  Couch or seat covers may help.  Placing sticky tape, sticky side out or double sided tape onto areas the cat has been scratching can help.  Plastic wrap or foil can be wrapped over preferred scratching areas.  Certain sprays are available at the pet store to keep cats away.  While using these methods, it is important to continue to redirect the cat to the appropriate scratchers.  We want to replace the bad behavior with good behavior. 

While transitioning your cat from scratching undesired surfaces to preferred scratchers, nail trims can be very helpful to limit destruction.  Soft paws are a type of soft nail cap that is glued onto a freshly trimmed nail. 

Kittens and some adult cats use their nails on their owners when they are playing.  Typically this is because the kitten or cat has been allowed to play with the owner's hands or with a small toy in the owner's hand.  Instead, consider using wands toys where there is several feet between your hand and the end of the toy in contact with the cat's claws and teeth.  This helps eliminate scratches on humans during playtime.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

What is FIV?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), also called Feline AIDS, is a virus that is very similar to the HIV that causes human AIDS.  FIV is an uncommon disease that is most likely to be transmitted through bite wounds from fighting.  Outdoor, unneutered male cats are at the highest risk.  FIV can also be transmitted through sexual activity.  FIV can be passed from a queen (momma cat) to her kittens during pregnancy and through nursing.  FIV is not as contagious as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and is not as aggressive as FeLV.  


FIV affects the immune system, specifically causing a decrease in a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte.  For days or a few weeks after infection, the cat may show signs of lethargy, decreased appetite, mouth infection, eye infection, respiratory infection, diarrhea, or no symptoms at all. Some cats have FIV for years or an entire lifetime without developing any of the above symptoms or just mild symptoms.  Similar to FeLV, FIV cats are prone to developing a type of cancer called lymphoma.  FIV can also affect the brain, causing changes in behavior, seizures, and abnormal walking or weakness.  Cats with FIV are prone to other infections since their immune system cannot effectively fight infections. 


A very sensitive screening test for FIV can be performed in your veterinarian's office.  Most cats are positive for antibodies on the test within 2 months of exposure.  If your cat is positive, your veterinarian may recommend a confirmation test that needs sent to laboratory.  Positive kittens should be retested at 6 months of age since the antibodies detected on the positive test may be from the queen.  All newly adopted cats should be tested to determine their FIV status.  Cats who spend time outdoors around other cats should be retested yearly.


Cats with FIV need to be closely monitored for signs of illness and infection.  Infections need treated promptly before they become serious.  Keeping a FIV positive cat indoors helps prevent the spread of the FIV infection to other cats and helps decrease the exposure of the FIV positive cat to other infections.  There is a low risk of FIV spreading between cats in the same household unless there is fighting.


Prevention of this disease is easily accomplished by keeping your cat indoors only.  A FIV vaccine is available but has several drawbacks. First, the antibodies produced by the vaccine cannot be distinguished from the antibodies produced by infected cats on the blood test for FIV.  Second, the vaccine does not protect against all of the strains of FIV.

FIV is used as a model for understanding HIV in humans.  Research is being done at institutions such as the veterinary college at North Carolina State University to help figure out how FIV is able to affect the immune system and to develop new vaccines. 

On the PAWSitively CATS website, you can become a sponsor of a cat with FIV or consider adoption of a cat with FIV. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Can my cat get bed bugs?

by Amanda L. Maus DVM
Tucson, AZ

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are a type of small insect that can live in bedding and in the nooks and crannies of furniture and flooring.  Although they can be seen with the naked eye, the adult bugs are less than a 1/4" in length, with the immature bugs appearing even smaller.  People encounter bed bugs in taxi cabs, hotel rooms, movie theaters, clothing stores, restaurants, hospitals, cruise ships, etc and can bring them home on their clothing and accessories. 

Bed bugs, unlike fleas and ticks, do not live on their hosts.  Bed bugs prefer to feed on humans but may feed on household pets as well.  Bed bugs feed for 10 minutes at a time and then go back into hiding for about 5 days.  You can view pictures of bed bug bites here.  The adult bed bug can survive without feeding for over a year by becoming dormant. 

Although bed bugs can carry disease, they do not seem capable of transmitting that disease between hosts.  Some pets may be sensitive to the bites and become very itchy.  If your pet is scratching their skin and causing wounds or hair loss, please contact your veterinarian regarding treatment options for the allergic reaction. 

Treatment of pet with topical monthly flea medications are not always effective.  Bathing with insecticidal shampoos may be more effective. 

Clothing and bedding can be washed on hot and put through a dryer cycle to kill the bugs and eggs.  Your house should be treated by a professional exterminator every 2 weeks until the bed bugs are eradicated.   Bed bugs are very difficult to eliminate, especially in cases of large infestations.