The Vet Corner
The Vet Corner
Filters & Contacts

The Most Common Ailments Affecting Senior Cats (Part 2)

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash  This is Part 2 of most common ailments affecting senior cats. Becoming familiar with the most common ailments affects senior cats will help you stay on top of your cat’s health. The five most common ailments affecting senior cats include: kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, cancer, and dental disease. Becoming familiar with the most common ailments affects senior cats will help you stay on top of your cat’s health. First let’s tackle kidney disease, what causes it, how it’s diagnosed and how it is treated.  READ PART 1 Kidney disease and diabetes are not the only diseases to affect older cats. Rounding out the most common aliments afflicting geriatric cats includes thyroid disease, cancer, and dental disease.  Thyroid Disease Hyperthyroid disease is one of the most common diseases found in older cats. The thyroid gland produces hormones that control metabolism. Hyperthyroid disease is caused by overproduction of thyroid hormone, usually from a benign tumor on the thyroid gland called adenomas.  Cause The cause of hyperthyroid disease in cats is unknown. However, the current theory is that the increased incidence of hyperthyroid disease after 1980 may be due to environmental factors such as BPA, phthalates, and fire retardants.  Signs and Symptoms Weight loss Increased appetite Hyperactivity/restlessness Increased heart rate  Diagnosis Blood tests Examination and evidence of prominent thyroid gland  Treatment Treatment options include surgical removal of the affected thyroid gland (thyroidectomy), radioactive iodine to destroy the gland, or medication to suppress the tumor’s secretions. Thyroidectomy is curative but the procedure is invasive, can have serious complications, and may not be suitable for cats with high general anesthesia risk, such as older cats, or cats with heart or advanced kidney disease. Treatment with radioactive iodine is also curative and is considered the gold standard because it is non-invasive. However, radioactive iodine is the most expensive, may not be available everywhere, and is not ideal for cats with concurrent kidney disease. Finally, medications are easily available, inexpensive, and effective, but are not curative and require lifelong administration. Unfortunately, hyperthyroidism is not preventable.    Cancer Cancer is another all-too-common ailment seen in older cats. What is cancer exactly? Cancer is a genetic change in a cell that causes it to divide and proliferate uncontrollably. There are two types of cancer: benign and malignant. Benign tumors grow but do not invade tissue and do not spread to distant locations. Malignant tumors grow invasively and can metastasize (spread throughout the body).  Most common cancers in cats Lymphoma Squamous cell Fibrosarcoma Mammary cancer  Signs and Symptoms Weight loss Decreased appetite Vomiting Diarrhea Lumps and Bumps  Diagnosis Physical examination Radiographs, ultrasound, endoscopy Biopsy or fine needle aspirate of any masses  Treatment The treatment depends on the type of cancer and location. As is the case with other diseases, typically the earlier cancer is detected the better the prognosis. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. In recent years, our ability to treat cancer has improved dramatically and pets are living longer. It is important for people to know that cancer treatment in pets is very different than in humans. Cats are not treated as aggressively as humans, they do not lose all their hair, should not be vomiting or become weak. The goal is to prolong cat's life while still maintaining quality of life. Treatments are at much lower levels and are better tolerated.  Prevention You may be surprised to learn that some cancers are preventable. So how can you prevent cancer in your cat? Keep your cat inside to prevent sun-induced squamous carcinoma. If your cat goes outside, vaccinate against FeLV to prevent leukemia and reduce the risk of lymphoma. Spay your cat before their first heat to decrease the risk of mammary carcinoma.     Dental Disease According to the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), 75% of pets over the age of four have dental disease. Dental disease doesn’t just lead to bad breath, it can lead to tooth loss, painful tooth root abscesses, difficulty eating, and other serious health problems.   Cause The combination of food, saliva, and bacteria leads to plaque formation. If not removed by brushing it mineralizes and becomes tartar. Tartar accumulation promotes bacterial infections below the gumline, which results in gum recession and destruction of the tooth’s support structures. Unless treated, pain and tooth loss can occur and bacteria can enter the blood stream and spread to organs, like the kidney, liver and heart.  Risk Factors Dental disease can occur at any age, but is more common in older cats and certain breeds, like Abyssinians and Siamese that appear to have a genetic predisposition for dental disease and often develop dental issues early.  Signs and Symptoms Bad breath Drooling Decreased appetite  DiagnosisExamination  Treatment If your cat already has dental disease a complete dental cleaning by your veterinarian is necessary. This involves an evaluation of the oral cavity and cleaning not only the surface of the teeth, but getting under the gumline where the majority of bacteria and tartar are found.  After the teeth are cleaned, they are polished to smooth the roughened surfaces that were created by the cleaning. Lastly the entire mouth is checked again and dental x-rays will likely be used to assess the extent of the dental disease and the need for any tooth extractions or additional work. The best way to prevent dental disease is to brush your cat’s teeth regularly with cat toothpaste. Non-anesthetic dentals but these are not recommended because they do not get to the root of the problem, they clean only the surface of the teeth (which is cosmetic) and are usually not able to do subgingival cleaning and definitely can’t take x-rays or evaluate each tooth.  Becoming familiar with the most common ailments affecting geriatric cats will help detect illness earlier and ensure your senior cat lives out its golden years in good health.      
Read More

The Most Common Ailments Affecting Senior Cats (Part 1)

If you take your cat to the veterinarian routinely, why do you need to know about the most common health problems affecting cats? Wouldn’t your veterinarian be able to detect these diseases during their visit? The answer is yes, routine veterinary visits are important to screen for illness. However, even if you take your cat to the veterinarian every 6 to 12 months, a disease can progress to a more advanced stage between visits. As your cat’s pet parent, you see your cat every day and know your cat better than anyone else. Keeping your cat healthy is a team effort. Your veterinarian, and cat, depend on you to be the first line defense against illness.   First, what is a senior cat? Hold old is old? While there is some disagreement regarding the exact age when cats become senior citizens, most veterinarians define geriatric cats as cats over 7 years of age. With advances in medicine, nutrition, and homecare, pets are living longer as supported by the AVMA pet owners survey that found that the number of geriatric animals in the US has been increasing in the last several years. Getting older doesn’t just mean getting gray and slowing down. Senior cats have different metabolic requirements, and the prevalence of certain health issues increases with age. Becoming familiar with the most common ailments affects senior cats will help you stay on top of your cat’s health. The five most common ailments affecting senior cats include: kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, cancer, and dental disease. Becoming familiar with the most common ailments affects senior cats will help you stay on top of your cat’s health. First let’s tackle kidney disease, what causes it, how it’s diagnosed and how it is treated.    Kidney Disease Kidney disease (technically known as renal disease) is one of the most common diseases affecting 1 in 3 older cats. Kidneys are important for balancing water and electrolytes in your blood and filtering out metabolic by-products and toxins to make urine. Kidneys also produce a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. When kidney function gets impaired, waste products start to build-up and the electrolytes become imbalanced, making the animal feel ill and drinking more water to compensate.  Causes There are two kinds of kidney disease- acute, meaning sudden, and chronic, meaning long lasting, kidney disease. Acute kidney disease is more common in younger cats and is typically caused by injury or toxicity, with lilies, acetaminophen and NSAIDS, like ibuprofen, being the most common culprits. Always be careful with plants or flowers in your house. I have had several clients bring a bouquet home and not realize that the lilies in the arrangement were highly toxic to cats. Likewise, never give your cat NSAIDS, like ibuprofen, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). I have had several patients develop kidney disease and almost die after they were given just one Tylenol! Lastly, unlike acute kidney disease, chronic kidney disease develops slowly and can be caused by diabetes or hypertension.  Risk Factors Age Other medical diseases Breed: Abyssinians, Siamese, Oriental breeds, and Persian cats are at an increased risk for developing kidney disease  Signs and Symptoms Excessive thirst Increased urination Dehydration Weight loss Vomiting Lethargy Abnormal smelling breath Unkept coat, failure to groom themselves  Diagnosis If you see any of these symptoms, bring your cat to your veterinarian. As with most medical conditions, the earlier kidney disease is detected the better the prognosis, so don’t delay seeing your vet. After an examination, your vet will likely suggest doing blood and urine tests. Depending on those results, imaging to look for bladder or kidney stones, or cancer may be suggested.  Treatment Unfortunately, there is no cure for chronic renal failure in cats. The treatment involves hydration and controlling the associated symptoms. Treatment may include the use of fluids to improve hydration, and/or medications that increase blood flow to the kidneys, lower high blood pressure, or correct electrolyte imbalances. Medications used to help stimulate a cat’s appetite and control gastrointestinal upset may also be used if needed. Lastly your veterinarian may recommend switching your cat to a special diet designed to slow the progression of renal disease. However, as all cat owners know, cats can be picky, so the most important thing is to keep your cat eating.  Prevention Sadly, there is not much you can do to prevent your older cat from developing chronic kidney disease. However, you do want to catch the disease early so you can so you can start treatments aimed at slowing the progression of kidney failure. In the case of acute renal disease, you can take steps to prevent it by keeping poisons and toxic plants (like lilies) away from your cats and never give them any medication without first checking with their veterinarian.     Diabetes Diabetes is not just a human disease; cats can also suffer from diabetes. Estimates report that diabetes affects 1:200 cats nationwide and is increasing at an alarming rate. Diabetes mellitus occurs when the body is unable to regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. The hormone insulin is responsible for moving sugar from the bloodstream into cells to be stored or used for energy. Type-1 diabetes occurs when the body fails to produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes, also known as insulin-resistant diabetes, develops when the body becomes less responsive to the effects of insulin. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes result in chronically elevated levels of sugar in the blood that damage capillaries and eventually lead to nerve damage, kidney failure and even death. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes seen in cats.  Causes As in people, diabetes is a multi-factorial disease caused by different risk factors including age, genetic predispositions, diet, and obesity. Unfortunately, obesity in pets, just like people, is increasing. It is estimated that 58% of cats in the US are overweight. That means more than half of the cats in the United States are at risk for developing diabetes.   Signs and Symptoms Increased thirst Sudden increase in appetite Sudden weight loss (despite an increase appetite) Increased urination Increased lethargy  Diagnosis If your veterinarian suspects your cat has diabetes, they will need to do bloodwork to look at blood sugar levels and a urinalysis to look for glucose in your cat’s urine. The urinalysis will also detect bladder infections which are more common in diabetic cats.  Treatment The good news is that diabetes is a manageable condition. The goal of treatment is to provide stable blood sugar levels. With treatment, diet changes and at home monitoring you and your veterinarian can manage your cat’s diabetes. Your veterinarian will work with you to put your cat on a diet (usually high protein, low carb canned food), and will instruct you on giving insulin and then have you do at home monitoring. The good news is that if treatment, weight loss and diet changes are started early, some diabetic cats be controlled without insulin.  Prevention Since obesity is a risk factor for diabetes in cats the best thing you can do is keep your cats trim. If you have a chubby kitty now is the time to get them in shape. Cut back on calories by decreasing quantity or switching foods, and increase exercise. How many of you know how to exercise your cat? Here are some ideas I give my clients. Walks, playtime, put food up so cats have to jump, move around to get it, etc.  Kidney disease and diabetes are not the only diseases to afflict older cats. Part 2 will discuss other common geriatric ailments, like thyroid disease, cancer, and dental disease. READ PART 2
Read More

5 Common Medical Conditions Affecting Guinea Pigs and How to Treat Them

Guinea pigs make great pets, but like any pet, they have unique health needs and medical issues. These are some of the most common medical problems afflicting guinea pigs. Knowing the signs and symptoms of disease can help you keep your guinea pig healthy.   1. Malocclusion Guinea pigs have open rooted teeth that grow continuously. Unfortunately, this makes them prone to overgrown teeth and malocclusions. While genetics, infection and trauma can make malocclusions more likely, diet is a major reason why guinea pigs often develop malocclusions.   Signs of Malocclusions How do know your guinea pig has overgrown teeth or a malocclusion? The first sign you will see is your guinea pig having trouble eating. You may also notice excess drooling or their chin or forepaws may be wet from wiping their mouth and chin. Since they have difficulty chewing, this results in inappetence, the medical term for lack of appetite. Eventually, your guinea pig will lose weight from not eating.  Diagnosis Malocclusion is diagnosed by your veterinarian after a careful examination of your guinea pig’s mouth and teeth. Since guinea pigs have very narrow oral cavities, examination of their back teeth often requires sedation.  Treatment Overgrown teeth require trimming. This is typically done under anesthesia and will likely need to be done every 4-16 weeks as the teeth grow. Malocclusions can occur due to vitamin C deficiency, as the decrease in collagen formation leads to tooth movement and loose teeth. Malocclusions due to vitamin C deficiency are treated by supplementing with vitamin C.     2. Scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) Guinea pigs are susceptible to vitamin C deficiency because they lack an enzyme that is involved in the synthesis of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from glucose. Without this enzyme, they are dependent on getting all of their vitamin C requirements from their diet. In order to get enough vitamin C, guinea pigs require a daily dietary source of vitamin C. Lack of vitamin C results in a disease called scurvy. Vitamin C is essential for proper bone and collagen formation, blood clotting, and cell function.  Signs of Scurvy Since vitamin C plays an important role with various functions, the signs of vitamin C deficiency, or scurvy, in guinea pigs are varied. They may include weakness, rough hair coat, inappetence, diarrhea, loose teeth, grinding teeth, delayed wound healing, lameness and increased susceptibility to infections. Symptoms of vitamin C deficiency can appear as early as 2 weeks. Young growing animals require more daily vitamin C and thus are more susceptible to developing scurvy.  Diagnosis Veterinarians typically diagnose vitamin C deficiency (scurvy) in guinea pigs based on their history, clinical signs and physical examination findings but occasionally may need x-rays or ascorbic acid blood levels to confirm the diagnosis.  Treatment Your veterinarian will likely recommend starting treatment with vitamin C injections initially, followed by oral vitamin C supplementation. After vitamin C levels are replenished, it is important to ensure that your guinea pig is getting enough vitamin C from the foods they eat. Foods that contain high levels of ascorbic acid include: spinach, kale, parsley, beet greens, chicory, red and green peppers, broccoli, tomatoes, oranges, and kiwi fruit. Remember guinea pigs should eat a diet that consists of guinea pig pellets, alfalfa and grass hay, and fresh vegetables containing vitamin C every day. 3. Respiratory Disease Many people do not realize that guinea pigs are susceptible to respiratory diseases. Stress alone or being housed in a cold drafty room can increase their susceptibility of developing a respiratory infection.  Signs of Respiratory Illness If your guinea pig has a respiratory infection, you may notice discharge from their nose and eyes and hear them sneeze or cough. Affected animals may sound congested and may have a decreased appetite or stop eating all together. Severe respiratory infections can lead to pneumonia and cause trouble breathing.   Diagnosis Diagnosis of a respiratory infection is typically based on examination findings alone. While there are blood tests available to diagnose bacterial pneumonia, the stress of obtaining samples in a sick guinea pig limit their use. Likewise, x-rays are not routinely performed, as they can also cause be very stressful for a sick guinea pig.  Treatment Treatment is often started based on clinical signs alone and usually involves a course of antibiotics, fluids. Vitamin C supplementation, force-feeding and sometimes supplemental oxygen are needed in severe cases.   4. Pododermatitis Pododermatitis, also called “bubblefoot,” is an inflammation of the feet and is commonly seen in guinea pigs. Overweight guinea pigs and guinea pigs housed in wire cage or cages with abrasive bedding are more likely to develop this medical condition. Initially the bottoms of their feet get thickened and then develop ulcerations which can get infected easily. Infections often spread from the skin to the tendons and even underlying bones leading to painful osteomyelitis (bone infection).  Signs of Pododermatitis You can tell your guinea pig has pododermatitis by seeing sores on their feet. As these sores get inflamed, they become swollen and red. These sores are painful and your guinea pig may be reluctant to move. Another sign you may observe is vocalization when moving due to pain. If these sores get infected, they become so painful that your guinea pig may stop eating or drinking. You may also notice a foul discharge or bleeding from their feet.  Diagnosis The diagnosis of pododermatis can be made by a veterinarian based on examination findings alone. However, x-rays are often taken to look for underlying bone infection (osteomyelitis).  Treatment The treatment of pododermatis involves cleaning and debriding the wounds, foot soaks, antibiotics and bandaging the affected feet. It is important to note that pododermatitis can be prevented by taking certain precautions with their housing. Avoid keeping your guinea pig in a wire cage which can cause small cuts and abrasions that can lead to pododermatitis. Always keep their cage clean and dry. Use a soft, nonabrasive bedding like carefresh and remember to change it frequently. Obesity is another risk factor because extra weight puts excess pressure on their feet. Monitor your guinea pig’s diet so they do not become overweight and susceptible to pododermatitis due to extra weight on their feet. 5. Diarrhea Just like other animals, guinea pigs can develop diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by bacterial, viral and parasitic infections, antibiotics and also diet. Antibiotic-associated diarrhea is one of the most common causes seen in guinea pigs. Guinea pigs have delicate gastrointestinal flora that can easily be disrupted when certain antibiotics are used.  Signs of Diarrhea The signs of diarrhea in a guinea pig will likely be obvious. Instead of finding normal hard fecal pellets you will notice loose watery stools. Guinea pigs with diarrhea may also have dried stool in the hair around their bottoms or you may notice stool-stained hair in that area.  Treatment The treatment for diarrhea in guinea pigs depends on the cause. Sometimes a diet change and probiotics are all that is needed, while other times medications will be necessary. It is important to note that excessive diarrhea can lead to fluid loss and ultimately dehydration. If your pet has loose stool be sure to contact your veterinarian right away to find out what you should do.   Contact your Vet for early diagnosis While guinea pigs are relatively hardy and easy to care for, like other pets, they are prone to certain health issues and can get sick. Becoming familiar with some of the common health problems facing guinea pigs can help you detect a medical problem early. Remember, most diseases are easier, and less costly, to treat when diagnosed earlier rather than later. Be sure to contact your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your guinea pig or their behavior.    
Read More