Are Feline/Canine Worms Transmittable?

QUESTION:

I have heard that my dog and cat can give worms to my child.  Is this true?  If so, should I be worried and what can I do to avoid this?

ANSWER:

Although a human is not the normal host for a dog or cat intestinal worm, transmission can and does occur.  In fact, roughly 3-6 million people were infected with roundworms last year.  Exposure is greatest for those who come in contact with pets and their feces, as well as fecal contaminated soil.  The risk of severe disease is highest for children, elderly, and people with a weak, underdeveloped or compromised immune system.  When infected, the parasites move out of the intestinal tract and into surrounding tissues.  In some instances the larva migrate into important structures such as an eye, or the central nervous system (spinal cord or brain).

The easiest way to prevent transmission is to practice good hygiene and have your pet regularly dewormed and/or fecal tested.  Heartworm prevention medications that are administered monthly also serve to prevent your pet from acquiring intestinal worm infections.  Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that your pet is worm-free.  This is due to the fact that many parasites have cyst forms that are resistant to dewormers and are not detected in the stools.  These encysted parasites can become active later on, especially during pregnancy, and commonly pass the infection on to newborn puppies or kittens.  This is part of the reason so many puppies and kittens become infected with worms (especially roundworms).  Ultimately, it is best to assume that there is always a risk of infection and wash your hands and you child’s hands anytime a pet has been handled.  This is especially important during a mealtime, when hands are likely to come in contact with mouths.  Remember, kissing a pet is also not a good idea, especially on and around the pet’s face (you can only guess where your pet’s mouth has recently been).  Finally, keep the yard and/or litter box and other highly frequented pet areas regularly cleaned and sanitized because these are usually the areas that have fecal contamination and potentially parasite eggs.

For more information on transmissible parasites, please contact your local veterinarian and visit the Companion Animal Parasite Council @ www.capcvet.org, and the Center For Disease Control @ www.cdc.gov.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Are Human Foods Safe for Kittens?

QUESTION: 

I have 2 kittens, they are about 6 months old. My husband gives them human food (behind my back). Is it ok to do that? 

ANSWER:

There are several reasons why this is not ideal.  Of immediate concern- the food could cause digestive tract upset.  A change from the normal diet, no matter how insignificant it may seem, may cause vomiting or diarrhea in certain sensitive individuals.  This risk is greater with some human food items than it is with others.  In general, the safest table foods to give to your cat are plain chicken or turkey (skinless, boneless, and without gravy).  Remember, your cat is a carnivore (meat- eater), so it cannot properly digest fruits and vegetables.  In addition, many older cats are lactose intolerant, so dairy products are never a good idea.

Another reason to avoid giving table foods to your pet is that you may create behavioral problems.  By feeding table scraps, you are inadvertently training your pet to beg and possibly avoid eating its regular food.  This is especially true if table food is given in response to your pet not eating its regular diet.  It does not take long until your pet is running the show and forcing you to go to more and more trouble to find desirable foods.  The more you give in to its demands, the more vocal and pushy your cat will likely become.  If you must offer a table food do it when your cat is not begging and try not to create a regular pattern.  It is best to offer the food in your pet’s normal bowl.

From a nutritional standpoint, the commercially prepared foods tend to be superior to most homemade diets.  When too much of a diet designed for another species (human food, dog food, etc.) is used, it may lead to nutrient deficiencies.  Over time this can lead to dire health consequences.  One extreme example that I saw recently was a cat that had been preferentially eating a commercial dog food.  Eventually the owner gave up buying cat food altogether.  Years later, as a consequence of a vitamin deficiency, the cat became irreversibly blind.

A final reason not to deviate from a high quality commercial cat food is that it may lead to “finicky-ness”.  In fact, even when feeding commercial cat food, it is best to stick with one diet.  Unlike people, cats do not need diet variation to remain satisfied.  Frequent variation can even lead to food aversions.  For similar reasons, I suggest avoiding “gourmet” food options.  If you cat is always looking for a new food variety or gourmet option, you may have a problem on your hands should your cat ever need to be put on a prescription diet.  If finicky, it may prove difficult or even impossible to convert your cat to a prescription diet that could ultimately improve and extend its life.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Recent Increase in Thirst

QUESTION:

My cat is 17 years old.  Just recently she seems to be drinking a lot more water. She seems healthy otherwise with no other changes.  Should this be something to be concerned about?

ANSWER: 

An increase in thirst (polydipsia), often accompanied by an increase in quantity of urination (polyuria) can be a sign of organic disease.  A normal cat typically does not drink more than 45 mls of water per kilogram of body weight per day.  This is about 200 mls or 6.8 ounces maximum per day for an average 10 pound cat.

The most common causes of organic disease (in order of frequency) for a senior cat are: kidney disease, thyroid disease, liver disease, and diabetes.  Uterine infection (intact female cats), kidney infection, behavioral causes, and even other hormone related diseases are also possible, although less likely.

I strongly recommend that you have your cat evaluated by a qualified veterinarian as well as obtain some base-line lab testing to help differentiate the underlying causes.  Each cause will lead to a specific set of treatment recommendations.  Most causes are manageable, while a few are even curable.  Many veterinarians advocate annual blood work, urinalysis, and blood pressure screening as part of a senior wellness program to screen for the common “old age” diseases, even if outward signs are not yet apparent.  In most cases, the sooner the condition is diagnosed and treatments are instituted, the better the long-term outcome.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Kitten Vaccinations Pros & Cons

QUESTION:

I have heard that vaccines can have serious side effects and I am not sure if I should have my kitten vaccinated?  What are the pros and the cons?

ANSWER:

Discontinuing “core” vaccines due to their potential side effects is a bad idea.  We would lose a large number of our cat and dog population without the “core” vaccines that are currently widely used.  Many fatal diseases, such as parvo, are no longer regularly seen thanks to the protection that vaccines offer.

In recent years, we have learned that certain vaccines do come with some possible long-term side effects that are more serious than the short term “vaccine reaction”.  Among these, vaccine injection site sarcomas (a type of cancer that occurs at a previous vaccine injection site) seem to be an area of concern for many cat owners.  Efforts have been made to determine exactly which vaccines cause these side effects in a very small percentage of cats (about 1-2 cases per 10,000 vaccinated cats) and why.  There are still many unanswered questions, but the most current thinking is that the risks of vaccine associated sarcomas can be reduced by implementing the following protocols:

  1. Avoid vaccines that have been shown to be minimally effective;
  2. Avoid vaccinating for diseases to which there is no exposure risk;
  3.  Adopt longer inter-vaccine intervals for low-risk animals;
  4.  Use newly developed, safer vaccines;
  5. Run antibody titers for certain diseases (to test if the animal is still protected from previous vaccination) and vaccinate only if a protective titer can’t be demonstrated; and
  6. Administer the vaccine injection away from the body trunk (allowing for a better surgical outcome in the event that a sarcoma should arise).

The bottom line is that certain vaccines are vital to protect both your pet as well as the pet community as a whole.  Without these “core” protective vaccines, your pet is at a much higher risk of deadly disease than the relatively low risk that a particular vaccine may cause.  You and your vet can further minimize the low risk of side effects by employing the practices listed above.  For more information on the pros and cons of individual vaccines as well as the UC Davis protocols, visit http://www.vmth.ucdavis.edu/vmth/clientinfo/info/genmed/vaccinproto.html.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Feline Constipation

QUESTION:

My cat keeps going back and forth to the litter box.  Is he constipated?  What should I do?

ANSWER:

Although constipation does occur in some cats, more often than not when your cat is squatting and straining frequently, it has a urinary problem.  Look carefully to see if anything is being produced in the box and check around the house for spots of urine in other places  Often, when the a cat has cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) it will have accidents in other places, among them the sink and bathtub seem to be common spots.  If urine accidents are seen, sometimes you can tell that the urine is abnormal (such as if it is pink tinged with blood or has a strong odor), other times you can’t.  The reason your cat is frequenting the litter box or having accidents is due to the pain and discomfort associated with the inflamed bladder, which makes your cat feel like it constantly needs to urinate.  Commonly there is little or no urine production.

No matter what the cause of the straining, your cat should be seen by a veterinarian right away.  The most life threatening concern is that your cat could have a urinary tract blockage and be unable to pass urine at all.  This occurs when the urethra (the pipeline that leads from the bladder to outside the cat) becomes plugged with crystals, inflammatory cells and debris, or a stone.  It tends to happen more commonly in male cats than females since their urethra is longer and narrower.  Your vet will have to perform an emergency procedure to un-block your cat if this occurs and you can expect your cat to stay in the hospital for blood tests and supportive care for several days.  If caught early the treatments are usually life saving.

To sum it up, in most cases when a cat shows the symptoms of straining in the litter box, it has a urinary problem.  Most commonly the bladder is inflamed, but not blocked.  This is not an emergency situation, but only your veterinarian can tell the difference between this scenario and a blocked urinary tract – so don’t wait – call your vet for further instructions and recommendations right away.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

How to Get Rid of Fleas

QUESTION:

My cat has fleas and I have tried a bunch of products to try to get rid of the problem.  Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

First, let’s briefly discuss the flea life cycle.  A single female flea can lay 20-40 eggs per day, and up to 2000 over her lifetime.  So when you see adult fleas, this is just the tip of the iceberg — roughly 5% of the problem!  The rest are eggs, which hatch into larva and then become pupa and finally an adult flea emerges.  When a flea bites your ankle, it has not jumped off your pet to do so.  Generally, the fleas on the pet are going to stay right where they are – on the perfect host.  The bite on your ankles is from the newly hatched flea, looking for a new dog or cat to jump on.

The eggs, larva, and pupa are usually found in highest concentrations in the areas where your pet spends most of its time (sleeping).  They prefer temperature in the range of 65-80 F and humidity of 75-85%.  The developing fleas often live in the carpet fibers of your floor, upholstery, pet beds, and other cracks and crevices in areas where your pet frequents.

In addition to being annoying to you and your pet, fleas can carry tapeworms, which commonly cause infections when the animal ingests fleas during self-grooming.

To get rid of the problem, you must break the life cycle at two points.  Kill the adult fleas (insecticide) and kill the eggs or larva (insect growth regulator or insecticide).  Currently the best products on the market for this are Advantage® (kills the adult fleas and larva),  Frontline Plus® (kills adult fleas and prevents eggs from hatching), Program® (prevents eggs from hatching), Capstar® (kills adult fleas), and Revolution® (kills adult fleas).   The most user-friendly topical products (Frontline Plus®, Advantage®, and Revolution®) tend to work for only about 3 weeks, and therefore need to be re-applied consistently every 3-4 weeks.  You should consult with your vet first before using these products more than once a month (“extra-label” use).

Save your money when it comes to over-the-counter flea collars, dips, powders, most sprays, and pyrethrin based spot-on products.  They just don’t work.  Fleas are very resistant to these products today.  The only exceptions are the insect growth regulator sprays, which do stop the flea eggs from hatching when used according to the label directions.

Advantage®, Revolution®, and Frontline® are vet products and are only guaranteed when purchased from a veterinarian.  There have been reports of counterfeit products and product failures in some instances when purchased from non-vet suppliers.

When undertaking proper flea control, every pet in the vicinity must be treated consistently, even if you don’t see fleas on every pet.  Remember, don’t stop treating when you are no longer seeing adult fleas – we still need to get rid of the eggs, larva and pupa.  Most premise infestations take 5-6 months of consistent treatment to control, and may require life-long measures if your pet goes outside.  In this part of California, fleas are a year-round problem.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

What are Foxtails?

QUESTION:

I recently moved to the area and have a dog and a cat.  I have heard a lot of people talking about foxtails.  What are they, and do I need to be concerned?

ANSWER:

Foxtails are the flower or head of a certain type of grass weed.  They primarily exist in western states, especially California, so if you moved from outside the state you probably have never come in contact with them.  Here they are widespread.  Once the weed matures and dries up, the tip which contains the seeds, breaks off and sticks like velcro to just about anything.  This is how the weed spreads.  The danger is that the foxtail has a sharp tip and tends to work its way into things in a one-way direction.   Due to this design it does not readily back up.  Think of it like a fish hook, with one way barbs, that allow it only to travel forwards.  This is bad news if it somehow gets stuck on your pet and works its way into an ear, eye, nasal opening (nare), or pretty much any other body opening.  In some cases they even work through the skin where their was no previous opening, especially between toes.  Probably the most dangerous scenario is when one is swallowed or inhaled and migrates into the chest or abdomen, bringing infection with it.

Prevention requires good weed control, keeping tall grass, weeds and brush cut down regularly and avoiding areas that are known to be populated with foxtails.  Do a good check over on your pet at least once a day and pull out any burs or foxtails that may be stuck in the fur.  Additionally, you can decrease the risk to your long furred pets by grooming them  in the summer.

Needless to say, if your pet is indoors only, it is not at risk.  Cats tend to get foxtails less often than dogs, and dogs that roam freely on property and rummage through tall grass and brush are most at risk.  Additionally, dogs that do a lot of sniffing of weeds and plants are at a higher risk of inhaling a foxtail.  Anytime your pet suffers from  skin swelling, constant sneezing, head shaking, or a swollen eye, you should have the problem checked out as soon as possible by your local veterinarian.  If a foxtail is present, the sooner it is removed the better the chances of an uncomplicated recovery.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Feline Shedding/Fur Balls

QUESTION:

My cat is shedding like crazy and I have been seeing a lot more fur-balls.  Is there anything I can do to help my cat?

ANSWER:

I wish I had a perfect solution to these related problems.

The short answer to the shedding problem is: brush more, bathe more and use a high quality diet that has balanced omega three and six fatty acids for healthy skin (you will find this in such brands as Purina ProPlan, Iams, and Science Diet).  For long-furred cats, I recommend grooming (Lion Clip) during warm weather to cut down on extra fur waste.

There are several commercial nutritional supplement “secret formula” products that claim to help cut down on shedding.   One such product is Shed Stop.  Although there is no scientific evidence to support the manufacturers’ claims that the products actually decrease shedding, the use of these products is probably safe, as the primary ingredients are fatty acids (mostly omega 3 and 6).

The measures that you take to decrease shedding will also help with the fur-ball problem. Additionally, a good maintenance regimen should include the use of a fur-ball remedy once to twice a week to prevent fur accumulation in the stomach and esophagus and subsequent irritation leading to regurgitation and vomiting.  Fur-ball remedies such as Laxatone and Catlax act as lubricants to help the wad of fur pass through the digestive system.  Many of the high quality foods on the market today have similar products built-in for your convenience.  If you are giving your cat one of these types of food as its sole diet, you would not likely need to use a fur-ball remedy as well.  Some treats are even marketed as anti-fur-ball; however, I do not believe there is sufficient active ingredients consumed in the average treat to be adequate to get the job done without additional supplementation.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Feline Urination Problems

QUESTION:

My cat is urinating all over the house.  What should I do?

ANSWER:

Far too often cats are abandoned or given up to local humane organizations or adopted from family to family for problems such as this.  You are not alone!  Unfortunately there is not only one cause for this symptom.  To have the best chance at curing or managing this frustrating condition we first have to determine if there is a medical underlying cause or if it is strictly a behavioral problem.  The starting point should be a visit with your vet for a thorough history, physical exam, and urine test.  With this information, your vet can help you decide if the problem is caused by illness or just inappropriate elimination.  Medical causes are numerous (bacterial infection, inflammatory condition, bladder stones, crystals, etc) and each cause is treated differently.

If the problem is behavioral, determining the most likely cause for the behavior is necessary to set up a treatment plan.  These causes include location preferences or avoidance (such as having to cross the path of another household cat or pet, or having to go up stairs for an older cat with arthritis, etc.), a litter box substrate preference (prefers litter deeper/shallower, different litter type, not cleaned thoroughly or often enough, covered/uncovered, etc), or in the case of an un-spayed pet, hormonal stimulation.  If your pet is un-spayed, correct this immediately with surgery.

If you pet has a location preference, put a litter box in the area that it is soiling. (Even if it is on your guest bedroom’s bed!)  Once the box is being used you can inch it back to a desirable location at a rate of 1-2 inches per day.  It is important with any behavioral disorder to use a high quality effective odor eliminator and thoroughly remove the urine scent from the soiled area(s).  If the area is repeatedly marked, consider covering the site with plastic or placing a litter box or, alternatively, the food bowls in that area.

Because cats are not “pack” animals, some stress whether outwardly apparent or not is typically present in most multiple cat households.  Providing plenty of litter box opportunities will help decrease the odds that one of your cats will decide to eliminate inappropriately.  In other words, a good rule of thumb is to provide one more litter box per cat.

There are many other tools to help entice a pet to use the litter box (special cat attracting litters, pheromone sprays to decrease inter-cat anxiety, automatic self-scooping litter boxes).  Sadly, inappropriate elimination is one of the leading causes for healthy cat euthanasia in the U.S.  Cats that are shuffled from one owner to another are likely to have more anxiety and the problem usually gets.  The best solution is to try the above approaches, work closely with your veterinarian, be willing to modify or tailor your plan, and be patient.  Your little friend is not urinating out of the box to make you angry, but being angry at him/her is more likely to add to the anxiety and cause repeated offenses.

 

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the CentralCoast, a full service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in PismoCoastPlaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 805-773-0228.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

4th of July Fireworks

With the Fourth of July upon us, what is your recommendation for managing my anxious dog while the fireworks are going off?

The noise pollution that accompanies this holiday can be tough on several species of pets, especially some dogs.  You may have witnessed the following behaviors from your pet during fireworks: trembling, shaking, bulging eyes, pacing, etc.  It is a very sad sight, and often the poor pooch is inconsolable.

 

Here are some suggestions for making any anticipated noisy event more tolerable for your pet:

  1. Make sure you are acting calm yourself.  Dogs will often feed off of your emotional state.  If you act calm and talk calmly to your dog you will reinforce the fact that the situation does not call for alarm.
  2. Make negative experiences (fireworks, thunderstorms, etc) a positive experience by reinforcing with tasty treats and lots of praise and reassurance.  This works best when started as a puppy, but can sometimes work even if your dog is already an adult.
  3. Progressive desensitization.  Expose your pet to recordings of thunder or fireworks (or any other noise that triggers a stress response) and start at a volume that is below your dog’s fear threshold.  Over the following day to weeks, slowly increase the volume.  Use the first two tips listed above for positive reinforcement.  This is a lengthy process and needs to be done well in advance of the stressful situation.  It takes careful planning and monitoring in order to work properly.  A veterinary behaviorist can work with you to come up with a plan that is tailored to your pet.
  4. Applying pressure on the bridge of a dog’s nose and/or behind their ears can simulate what a female dog does to her puppies to calm them down.  This can be most easily mimicked using a head collar called the “Gentle Leader.”  It fits around the nose and behind the ears.  This collar was designed to be used as a training collar, but it can be of benefit as a comforting device for some dogs during storms or fireworks.
  5. Provide a hiding area near your pet’s favorite sleeping area.  An unzipped sleeping bag works well by providing a place to burrow and hide.  If the sleeping bag has your scent, it will likely provide even more comfort.
  6. Keep your pet indoors in the quietest, most sound-proof area of the house.  Ensure that the room is injury-proofed and chew-proofed.  Close the curtains and windows to muffle the sounds.  Turning on a TV or radio may also help to cover fear-inducing noises.  Alternatively, consider boarding your pet at a kennel, away from the main commotion.
  7. Finally, consult with a veterinarian about potential medical options to calm your pet.

All of these tips need to planned and employed before the stressful event occurs.  It is much easier to prevent stress than to resolve it once your pet is already wound up.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.