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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
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Essential Tips for Choosing the Right Pet for You and Your Family

Picking the right pet for your family is more important than you may think. It can be the difference between a seamless fit or a mismatch with your lifestyle and expectations. Unfortunately, shelters are full of pets that ended up in there because they were a poor fit for the family or the they underestimated the level of responsibility or financial impact of having a pet.  Dogs The decision to get a dog should not be taken lightly. Though dogs make wonderful companions, they are a significant investment of time, money and emotions. Before you decide to get a dog, you need to ask yourself these questions: Do you have time for a dog? Do you have enough space for a dog? Can you afford to properly care for them? Are you prepared to take on this responsibility for the life of the dog, which could be 10 to 14 years? Do you have someone to watch your pet when you work or travel? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you meet the bare minimum requirements to be a responsible dog parent, but you still have to decide which type of dog is best for you. To find the right dog for you, you need to consider how their size, coat, grooming needs, level of activity, ease of training, temperament, and breed-specific health issues match your lifestyles. For example, a high-energy Visla would get bored and destructive if they don’t get enough daily exercise, which is a recipe for disaster. However, the same high-energy Visla would be the perfect pet for an avid runner who wants a running buddy to join him on his daily runs. There is no perfect breed of dog or mixed-breed, but if you do your research, you can find the perfect dog for you and your lifestyle.  Cats While cats may be easier to care for than dogs, they still require a sizable commitment. Even though you don’t have to walk your cat, your cat needs a litter box which requires regular maintenance. Are you prepared to scoop poop every day? Another difference between cats and dogs is that cats can get onto just about anything. No counter is safe and they seem to have a knack for finding the most expensive things to knock over! Like dogs and humans, cats also need regular check-ups, immunizations and parasite control. While cats are generally clean and self-groom, long-haired cats, like Perisans and Ragdolls, require daily brushing to avoid mats. If you aren’t willing to brush your cat everyday, consider getting a short-haired cat. It’s not about a beauty preference, it’s about being realistic about the grooming demands of having a long-haired cat. Even short-haried cats have grooming needs. Short-haired cats shed more than you would expect and brushing them on a regular basis keeps the shedding at a manageable level. Since cats can live 20 years if you are lucky, picking the right cat is an important decision with lasting consequences.  Small Animal Pets Not ready to commit to a dog or cat? Guinea pigs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, rats and mice also make great pets. I know because I have had them all! As a veterinary student, I even had a hedgehog. Though small pets are less demanding for attention and require less maintenance than cats and dogs, they still need proper care. You need to clean their habitats, change their bedding, and give them fresh water and food daily. And though these pets have an independent streak, they still enjoy spending quality time with you. Just remember that their diminutive size makes them vulnerable to falls and injuries. Be extra careful if you have small kids as a fall can be fatal. To avoid falls, have your kids sit on the floor and have them hold their pet on their laps. And always remember to supervise your kids around small pets. If scared, small pets can bite over eager little fingers.    Choosing your next pet is an important decision with lasting implications. Although all pets require care and attention, some pets have greater needs. Ultimately the joy and love they give back makes it all worth it. To avoid disappointment, just remember to do your homework and pick the right pet to match your lifestyle and expectations.  
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Easy Ways to Clean Up After Your Cats

Cats are cute but they can be messy. Whether it’s endless shedding, litter tracked everywhere, or stepping on a hairball, these elegant creatures are not always the tidiest roommates. Thankfully, having a cat doesn’t have to be a chore. Here are some ways to minimize the mess and keep your house neat and clean. Shedding With the exception of a few breeds, like the Sphynx and Devon Rex, all cats shed, some more so than others. One way to decrease shedding is to brush your cat regularly. Brushing your cat on a regular basis removes dead hair, prevents tangles, is enjoyable to your cat, and decreases shedding. Of course, even with brushing, fur may still end up everywhere. If you are tired of vacuuming hair every day, consider getting a robot vacuum. Robot vacuums, can make your life a lot easier. It can be programmed to run several times a day, offers multiple cleaning modes, and will automatically recharge when the battery is low. Robot vacuums do all the work for you so shedding is no longer a chore. Litter Litter can be messy and smelly, but it doesn’t have to be. Choose a high-quality litter, like ökocat, to absorb and neutralize smelly odors. ökocat is made from reclaimed wood and has superior odor control without added chemicals, dyes or fragrances. ökocat comes in different formulations to suit your cat’s tastes. To make kitty clean-up easier, ökocat makes their Less Mess Clumping Low-Tracking, Mini Pellets Wood Cat Litter. This litter is all-natural so it’s a cleaner, healthier litter for your cat and you! The low tracking formula helps keep litter in the box where it belongs. For added mess protection, use a litter mat to trap any loose litter pellets. Hairballs Every cat parent can relate to sleepily walking to the bathroom at night only to suddenly step on a warm, squishy hairball with their barefoot. Unless you have a hairless Sphynx cat, hairballs are the inevitable price we pay to have such clean pets. Cats naturally keep clean by licking and grooming themselves fastidiously. Unfortunately, hairballs result when cats ingest their fur and regurgitate it. You can reduce hairball production by brushing your cat regularly. You can also give them over-the-counter hairball medication which coats the ingested hair, making it easier to pass through their gastrointestinal tract. You can also consider switching your cat to a cat food formulated to help reduce hairballs. Accidents Anyone who has cats can attest that they can be messy roommates. Whether it’s litter box accidents, hairballs, or vomiting, it is inevitable that you will need to clean up after your cat. Besides cleaning up the accident, it is important to use the right product. Choose a cleaning product that is safe to use around your pet and that is formulated to neutralize pet odors. For example, urine smell can remain even if it seems completely cleaned-up. To prevent your cat from having another accident because they can still smell the urine, use a product that neutralizes rather than covers up the smell. House Cleaning Advice Just a word of caution regarding cleaning and pets, you need to be careful with cleaning products around your pets. Always keep them stored safely away from pets and children and remember if you clean the floor or counter, make sure it’s dry before you let your pets walk on it. Remember cats often lick their feet and can ingest any chemicals that get on their paws. Cats can be messy, but they give us so much love and joy…they are worth it. With the right products cleaning up after your cats doesn’t have to be hard.    
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How to Easily Reduce Your Pet's Carbon Pawprint

April 22nd is Earth Day, our yearly reminder to reflect upon how our actions impact the planet. However, as pet parents, we need to also think about how we can reduce our pet’s carbon pawprint. How can we ensure that our pet is eco-friendly?  Waste Management Anyone who has ever had a pet knows that pets make lots of waste. Whether you are picking it up, or scooping it, it is estimated that 10 million tons of waste from pets fill landfills every year. How can we make a difference? If you have a dog, use biodegradable poop bags instead of plastic bags to pick up your dog’s poop. Even better, use an in-ground waste disposal system. In-ground waste disposal systems are mini septic systems that allow you to dispose of your dog’s waste right in your back yard. There are several companies that sell kits you can buy to create your own environmentally-friendly dog waste disposal system. If you have a cat, switch from a clay-based litter to a biodegradable litter like ökocat to cut down on the estimated 2 million tons of clay litter that end up in landfills yearly. Learn how to compost ökocat litter here.   Don’t Pollute Always pick up after your pet. Besides being inconsiderate, leaving your pet’s waste behind can pollute water sources from runoff. Follow the backpacker’s motto and pack out what you pack in and leave only footprints (or pawprints) behind.   Buy Green Buying green can include purchasing products made from recycled or sustainable materials, or buying products that are chemical-free. Nowadays, you can buy beds made from reclaimed memory foam scraps and recycled plastic water bottles, or leashes and collars made from sustainably grown hemp. You can purchase ökocat litter that is made fragrance and chemical-free. Buying chemical-free products is not only good for the environment, but better for you and your pet.  Read more going green tips Buy in Bulk Buying pet food and pet supplies in bulk not only saves money, it also conserves fuel and lowers emissions by saving you extra trips to the store.   Pet Overpopulation Make sure your pet isn’t adding to the pet over-population problem by having your pets spayed or neutered.   Adopt a Shelter Pet Don’t forget about your local animal shelter if you are thinking about getting a pet. There are lots of “recycled pets” that need a good home. While adopting one of these deserving pets may not lower emissions or save fuel, it can save a life. By adopting these simple tips, you and your pet can live green and make the planet a better place.
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Learn All About Feline Diabetes: Prevention, Symptoms, Treatment and Diet

November is American Diabetes Month®, and humans aren’t the only ones at risk of developing diabetes. Approximately 1 in 200 cats in the United States suffer from diabetes.  What is diabetes? Diabetes mellitus, commonly called just diabetes, is a disorder that occurs when the body is unable to regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream. There are two types of diabetes, type-1 and type-2. Type-1 diabetes, also known as insulin dependent diabetes, occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone released when blood sugar levels are high, called hyperglycemia, such as after meals. Insulin directs cells in the body to move sugar out of the blood stream and into cells for storage or energy. Type-2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes or insulin resistance, occurs when the body becomes less responsive to the effects of insulin. Even though insulin is still being produced, blood sugars levels become elevated. Regardless of the cause, both forms of diabetes result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels that damage capillaries, the smallest blood vessels in the body. The damage to capillaries may lead to different complications. What causes diabetes in pets?  Diabetes is influenced by both inherited and environmental factors. Genetics seem to be an important risk factor in dogs, and certain breeds, like Keeshonds and Samoyeds, are more likely to develop diabetes. Age is another important risk factor. Though it can affect animals of any age, it is more common in middle-aged and older animals.  Obesity is a major risk factor for type-2 diabetes, which is more common in cats. Fat tissue impairs the effects of insulin and leads to insulin resistance. Unfortunately, obesity in pets is becoming more prevalent. It is estimated that more than half of all cats in the United States are overweight and at risk of developing diabetes. Fortunately, diet and weight loss play an important role in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.       How is diabetes treated or managed? While there is no cure for diabetes, it is a manageable condition. Just like diabetes in people, diabetes in pets can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes. The goal of treatment is to stabilize blood sugar levels by preventing them from getting too high or too low. This can be achieved with some combination of diet, insulin and at-home monitoring. There are several different types of insulin available with different durations of action, your veterinarian will assess your pet to determine which type of insulin will be best for your particular pet. In addition to insulin, diet and weight loss are just as important when it comes to treating diabetes in pets. Recent nutritional studies show that switching to a low-carbohydrate and high-protein canned food diet is the most effective dietary routine for most diabetic cats. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine what if any nutritional changes are necessary for your cat. Weight loss is also important because obesity is a common cause of insulin resistance. Fatty tissue releases factors that impair the effects of insulin. To promote weight loss, you should increase your cat’s daily exercise (yes you can get your cat to exercise), in addition to following your veterinarian’s dietary suggestions.   Photo by Piotr Musioł on Unsplash What are the common signs and symptoms of diabetes in cats?  The classic symptoms of diabetes are: Increased thirst Increased appetite Increased urination Lethargic Weight loss Dull coat It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes so that you can promptly seek veterinary care if you notice any of these in your pets. Of course, it’s important to mention that cats are very adept at hiding illness so these symptoms may be difficult to recognize initially. That’s why regular veterinary check-ups are so important. Annual examinations and diagnostic tests help to uncover diseases, like diabetes, early when they are typically easier to treat or manage.   How do you know if your cat has diabetes?  Diabetes can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian. If you think your cat may have diabetes, see your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can diagnose diabetes with simple blood and urine tests. These fast and easy diagnostic tests allow your veterinarian to detect abnormally high levels of sugar in your pet’s bloodstream and also look for the presence of sugar or sugar breakdown products in their urine.   What’s the treatment?  Fortunately, diabetes is a treatable disease. The goal of treatment is to avoid the complications of diabetes by providing stable blood sugar levels. This can be achieved with some combination of diet, weight loss and insulin. There are several different types of insulin available with different durations of action. Your veterinarian will determine which type of insulin will be best for your particular pet. If your cat is overweight, your veterinarian will likely change their diet. Recent nutritional studies have found that switching to a low-carbohydrate and high-protein canned food diet is the most effective dietary intervention for diabetic cats. To promote weight loss, follow your veterinarian’s feeding recommendations and encourage active play.  With the right medications, diet and weight loss, diabetes can be controlled.  It is important to realize that if caught early and treated with insulin and diet, diabetic cats can go into remission, which means their blood sugar levels, also known as blood glucose levels, remain stable for more than a month without insulin injections or oral medications. Studies have shown that diabetic cats have remission rates that have been reported to range from 15%–100%. Predictors of diabetic remission in cats include achieving excellent blood sugar control within 6 months of diagnosis and regular home monitoring. Even if your cat does not go into remission, the goal of diabetes treatment is to reduce symptoms and avoid complications of uncontrolled diabetes.     Take home message Diabetes is an increasingly common problem in older cats. Become familiar with the signs and symptoms of diabetes and watch for their development in your pet. Take your cat to your veterinarian for regular examinations and screening tests. Remember it is always best to catch diseases early before they become advanced and lead to complications. If your cat has diabetes, remember that diabetes is a manageable disease and with treatment cats with diabetes can live long healthy lives.  FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT DIABETES SPEAK WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN.  The makers of okocat® natural litter are not only dedicated to making the best cat litter, they are also committed to helping cats live longer, healthier lives. By providing educational articles like this one, they hope to educate pet parents about important cat health topics.    
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