Saturday, April 30, 2011

Danger Lurking in My Litterbox?

The Spectre of Toxoplasmosis

Yes, there can be! But not for your cats, as much as for you. You may have heard of toxoplasmosis. But do you know what it is, or how to keep from catching it? Here's the lowdown.

What Is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by a parasite. Known as Toxoplasma gondii, it mostly infects animals, but can be transmitted to humans. A few days after infection, a person may experience flu-like symptoms that include fever or muscle aches. Your lymph glands may swell as your immune system fights off the infection. These symptoms may last for a month or longer.

In more acute cases, toxoplasmosis can cause swelling of the brain (encephalitis). It can also harm your brain, heart, liver, inner ears, or eyes. If it affects the eyes, you would likely have some sort of lesion on your eye. You may experience blurred or weakened vision, eye pain, sensitivity to bright light, eye redness and tears.

Once having had an acute infection of toxoplasmosis, it may become reactivated later in life. In the worst cases, toxoplasmosis has even caused death. If you're pregnant, it could be transmitted to your unborn baby and cause birth defects of the eyes or brain. Other infants may show no symptoms, but develop them later in life. Obviously, this is no danger to be taken lightly!

But, oddly enough, cats who have been infected with toxoplasmosis usually do not exhibit any symptoms and will only be able to spread it to people for a few weeks after being infected.

Who Is At Risk From Toxoplasmosis

The people most at risk for the more severe symptoms include pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system. That includes those with HIV or AIDS, but a host of people with other conditions such as undergoing dialysis, chemotherapy, or an organ transplant. Those folks get a pass on scooping out the litter box! But if you're in good health and have a strong immune system, you shouldn't have anything to worry about...except that you'll be the one in charge of scooping the litter box for a while.

How Toxoplasmosis Can Infect You

Eating undercooked meat, especially pork, lamb, or venison that has been infected with the parasite, can expose you to toxoplasmosis. So can drinking water contaminated with it. Rarely, transplant recipients may even contract the parasite from the transplanted organ.

Cat owners can also come into contact with Toxoplasma gondii. The parasite is usually contracted by cats who consume an infected rat. For several weeks afterward, they'll be excreting it in their feces. Within 1-5 days after being excreted, the parasite will become infectious. So anywhere you may come into contact with days-old cat poop -- in the litter box, the garden, or even a children's sandbox -- is someplace where you could pick up the parasite. It may even be present on the cat's fur near the anus, in case he doesn't clean himself well and any feces may be left there for several days. Or even in between the pads, if the cat has stepped in older feces. (Ew!) So holding your mouser or grooming her, especially if it's an older cat who doesn't groom as thoroughly, could put you in contact with the parasite, as well. Warm weather has us all outdoors more, so your risk of exposure can increase whether or not you have a cat, due to free-roaming cats, ferals and strays.

Preventing Toxoplasmosis

First, keep your cat from catching rats. Some were never taught to do so by their mothers, and these cats never develop the hunting desire. But if your cat is a ratter, there may be nothing you can do about it. Keeping him indoors may help, but not always. Some may even own a cat specifically for that purpose, so prevention of ratting is not always an option.
If you're in a high-risk group, avoid adopting any new cats or handling stray cats or kittens. You don't know where those cats have been, or how clean their environment may have been. Some even choose to have a friend or family member keep their cat for a little while until their impaired time is past.
A very simple safety step is to wear gloves when scooping the litter box. Or, better yet, have someone else do it! The same goes for gardening or cleaning the kids' sandbox. Be careful not to touch your mouth area when you're working in any of these areas. When you're done, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Also wash after grooming, holding or playing with your cat. And wash any cat toys or grooming tools thoroughly.
The litter box should be scooped daily. It takes between 1 and 5 days after an infected cat poops for any parasites present in the feces to become infectious, so frequent scooping will keep the infected feces out of the house. Keep children's sandboxes covered when they're not playing in them. This will keep neighborhood cats from thinking that's a big toilet you've set out especially for them.
If you're eating vegetables grown in your garden, or even bought at the store, make sure you wash them thoroughly. You never know whether or not they've come into contact with any water carrying the parasite. And make sure to cook all meat thoroughly to kill any parasites that may have infected it. Freezing it to below zero degrees for several days beforehand also kills the parasite. Use typical sanitary procedures in the kitchen, like thoroughly washing dishes, cutting boards, counter tops and utensils after they have touched raw meat. This includes raw food you may feed your cat. In fact, if you feed your cat a raw diet, have another family member feed him during your time of impairment.

If You Get Toxoplasmosis

Unless you're in one of those at-risk groups, you shouldn't need any treatment. Surprisingly, over 60 million people in the U.S. carry the parasite without any symptoms at all. Your immune system keeps it at bay.

If you are in one of the higher-risk groups, your doctor can perform a blood test for Toxoplasma gondii. If it comes back positive as a recent infection, you can be treated with antibiotics.

With the proper precautions, toxoplasmosis is nothing to fear. But knowledge and good sanitary habits are the best prevention.


Friday, April 29, 2011

It's National Hairball Awareness Day!

Here it is upon us again, and I haven't gotten the first card sent! What? You don't have a celebration planned? I'm shocked! But I suppose it's understandable; between the royal wedding and the NFL draft, perhaps this momentous occasion had slipped your mind.

Every cat owner has had to clean up hairballs when kitty has thrown them up on the carpet. When I got my first cat, I'd never seen one hack up a hairball before, and the first time he did it, I thought he was having some kind of seizure! He was incredibly prone to them. Even regular grooming didn't help much.

But daily grooming does help most cats. The photo here is of one day's grooming on little Vixen. Can you imagine if she'd tried to swallow all that hair? (Or if the only way you had to comb your hair was to lick it with your tongue?) Yikes! Although she still washes her face after eating, Vixen doesn't groom the rest of her coat at age 23. I suppose it's too painful for her to try and reach all those spots she used to keep so neat when she was younger. So it's up to me to groom her. I use a variety of grooming tools to keep her hair combed and free of mats. A few we carry that I'd recommend for grooming a cat prone to hairballs are the famous Furminator (and yes, this is the authentic one, not an imitation), the comfy rubber cat-shaped Zoom Groom, a wood-handled shedding comb, a grooming blade, or perhaps a versatile 4-way grooming tool that contains a slicker, bristle brush, flea and fine combs in one. You'll find all these and many more in our Grooming Time section.

If grooming alone doesn't keep your kitty free of hairballs, there are all sorts of remedies to help. The original pastes and gels, most based on petroleum jelly, work for some. Kittymalt, Laxatone (regular or catnip flavored), Excel sugar free (great for diabetic cats), Defurr-UM, and Miracle Malt are the ones we carry here at Old Maid Cat Lady. If you don't like the idea of feeding your cat petrolatum, Laxatone also makes a natural formula with chamomile that doesn't contain it.

Kitty doesn't like gels? Not to worry! Anti-hairball treats are available from Petromalt, Defurr-UM, and Pet Greens (in 3 flavors!).

Perhaps your cat prefers to just eat the natural grass instead of having it in a treat. Several companies make cat grass you can grow indoors instead of letting kitty outside to eat the pesticide-and-chemical-laden lawn grass. Or if you don't have a lawn! We carry them from Cat Grass Plus, Vita-Greens, Cosmic Kitty, and Pet Greens.

So, you have a very difficult cat who won't cotton to any of these? Help is still available! Try the tablet supplements from Vet's Best, or the Furball Dr. capsules from PetAlive.

If nothing works and your little fur baby regularly hocks up nasty hairballs on your carpet, Nature's Miracle has just the thing to take out the stains. It's specially formulated to break down the proteins in cat vomit, hair and food that stain your carpet whenever kitty makes a little "present" for you.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and celebrate!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Should Imitation Be Welcomed?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But even if that's true, in business it tends to be looked upon with hisses instead of purrs.

When checking my recent Google Alerts this morning, I noticed a press release about a new retail site selling cat supplies. A visit to the site showed that it's not only hosted by the same company that hosts mine, but uses the same basic layout and colors as my own site -- they even have some of the same featured products on their home page! Granted, they don't have my fabulous branding, nor do they appear to offer the "people-products" for cat lovers that I have. But it's hard to feel flattered when someone essentially copies your storefront, element-for-element, to compete with you.

On the other hand, it means that the pet supply industry is doing well enough for more people to be entering it. I can attest to that after attending last month's Global Pet Expo. It was the largest ever. Many of the products I saw there will be showing up on over the next several months. Right now, I just updated several new sale prices on Pet Gear's products for traveling with your cat. Their line includes everything from an enclosed basket for your bicycle to airline-approved rolling carriers. If you're traveling with your cat this spring or summer, they're essentials!

So, welcome to the industry, new competitor. Just as others must have viewed me when I entered it last year, we'll see how you do over time.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spotlight: Feline Leukemia

Spotlight: Feline Leukemia

Among the recommended vaccines your cat should have is that for FeLV, the feline leukemia virus. Why is this inoculation important for your cat's health? Because FeLV is the cause of a preventable cancer, and yet the most common cancer in cats. While its victims are found worldwide, it infects 2% to 3% of cats in the U.S. This low percentage is likely due to good veterinary care that includes administering the vaccine.

What FeLV Does

Much like HIV, the AIDS-causing virus in humans, FeLV produces an enzyme that causes the virus to copy its genetic material over into other cells when it infects them. That means it attacks the immune system and starts turning your cat's own defense cells against themselves. This has earned it and others like it classification as a "retrovirus".

FeLV infection occurs in two stages. In the early stage, some cats are able to mount an effective immune response to it. In these lucky cats, it may never progress beyond the initial stage. But if it progresses into stage two, persistent infections of your cat's bone marrow will bring on all the symptoms, and will always prove fatal. If an initial "ELISA" FeLV test in your veterinarian's office comes back as positive, you should request a second "IFA" test, which will be sent to a lab to determine whether the disease has progressed into stage two. Repeated testing may be necessary.

When the disease begins, your cat will lose his appetite and his coat will look unhealthy. You may feel swelling in the throat that indicates enlarged lymph nodes. There may be a persistent fever. His mouth and gums will become inflamed, yet appear pale in color.

As FeLV progresses, your cat will lose weight as infections in his skin, bladder, and upper respiratory tract take hold. His weakened immune system will be unable to fend off any bacteria, viruses or fungi in his environment. He may suffer from persistent diarrhea and various eye conditions. Pregnant females may spontaneously abort their kittens.

Soon, you may see your cat experience seizures and other neurological disorders that can cause changes in behavior. Toward the end, severe wasting will cause even more rapid weight loss until poor kitty succumbs to the disease.

How long this will take is difficult to determine. A lot will depend on the care and diet of the infected cat, as well as how far along the disease had progressed when discovered. Some cats may live only months, while others may survive for a few years.

How FeLV is Spread

Again, just as with HIV, FeLV is spread through bodily fluids. These include saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, and mother's milk. Natural feline behaviors such as fighting and grooming each other facilitate spreading of the disease. More rare is spreading through human-imposed situations such as sharing litter boxes, toys, beds, or food bowls. Once outside the cat's body, the virus can survive for a few hours at most.

If you have an FeLV-infected cat, your other cats are at risk of catching the disease. So are cats who go outdoors without supervision and any kittens who have nursed from an infected mother cat. All should be tested and vaccinated as soon as possible.

There is no indication that FeLV can be spread to humans. However, some of the other diseases that may have infected a cat whose immune system was suppressed may be. Elderly or immunosupressed people, infants and pregnant women should avoid contact with FeLV-infected cats. If you are unable to keep your cat once he has contracted FeLV and cannot find him a cat-free home or a shelter specifically for FeLV+ cats, the humane thing to do would be to have your veterinarian euthanize him. Never try to surrender him to a regular animal shelter or sanctuary, as he would be immediately euthanized as soon as he was tested and found to be infected with FeLV.

Treating FeLV+ Cats

While FeLV will ultimately claim your cat's life, there are ways to give him a good quality of life and delay the more severe effects of the disease. Feeding him a balanced diet with complete nutritional needs is first and foremost. Never feed him raw or unpasteurized foods. Get him checked by your vet at least twice a year to monitor progress of the disease, including blood and urine analyses and weight monitoring. If you notice any behavioral changes, alert your vet at once.

There is a new USDA-approved drug that's now being used effectively to treat both FeLV and FIV. It is only available through veterinarians. The long name of it is Lymphocyte T-Cell Immunomodulator, and it's made by T-Cyte Therapeutics. The drug works by restoring the cat's normal immune system. Shots are given weekly for a month, then monthly thereafter, depending on the cat's response and the veterinarian's opinion. Some cats have responded within the first few weeks of treatment. If your veterinarian has not heard of this drug, the company's website is Several companies sell homeopathic or natural supplements that may also help normalize the cat's immune system, or treat some of the infections that accompany FeLV. You'll find many of them in our "Health Time" section on

Preventing FeLV

While the symptoms of FeLV sound bleak, it is preventable! Vaccination will keep most cats safe from it, but test any new household additions before vaccinating them; if they already have the disease, the vaccine will not help them. And not all cats are protected by the vaccine, so preventing exposure is of great importance. Be careful of adding any untested stray cats to your home, as strays are at higher risk for FeLV.

If, for some reason, you weren't able to get one of your cats vaccinated before he contracted FeLV, you should take steps to protect your other cats and any others that will be introduced into your home. Keep any unvaccinated cats isolated from the infected one. Once the infected cat is gone, throw away all his bedding, cat toys, litter boxes, and dishes.

Disinfect any surfaces with which your cats come into contact. And keep in mind that these won't all be horizontal, as cats tend to rub their faces on vertical surfaces to "scent mark" furniture, walls, appliances, and anything else they pass. If you can mop and wipe these surfaces with a solution of bleach water (4 oz. of bleach per gallon of water), you should. Carpets are more difficult and may require the help of a professional carpet cleaner. Make sure you tell them that your carpets need disinfection.

While FeLV is a horrible disease that claims cats' lives, it can be diagnosed, averted, and treated. Education is the first step, and by reading this article, you've just taken it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Do You Know How to Give Your Cat CPR?

April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month! Are you prepared in case your cat gets injured?

This goes far beyond having the right first aid items on hand, although that's an important first step. But it also means knowing what to do and, sometimes, what not to do when something traumatic happens to your little furry baby.

As with most things, preparedness is key. Keep a first aid kit on hand. In the event of a disaster that would require evacuation, make sure you also have an evacuation kit prepared so you can grab it and go quickly. This is something most Floridians think about during hurricane season, but just ask people in Japan how important it is to be prepared for an emergency evacuation at any time of the year.

Knowing what to do is also important. Do you know how to perform CPR on a cat? In the event that your cat has nearly drowned, been electrocuted, gotten hit by a car, or suffered a heart attack, the cat's breathing and heartbeat may have stopped. It's important to keep blood flowing to your cat's brain, as brain tissue starts dying when it's deprived of oxygen for 4 to 5 minutes. Since it would likely take you much longer than this to drive to the nearest vet, knowing how to perform kitty CPR could save your cat's life. So here's how you do it:
  1. If there is profuse bleeding, especially if bright red blood is spurting from an artery, make sure to stop this first by pressing on the area (preferably with a soft cloth or paper towel you can hold there) or applying a tourniquet. If you don't stop the bleeding, the cat will be losing more blood with every chest compression. Extreme blood loss could lead to shock or even be fatal. Keep pressure on the area as long as the bleeding continues. This may require someone to help you.
  2. Make sure that the cat is not breathing. Do not perform CPR on a cat that is breathing. If someone else is around, have them phone the vet while you're performing CPR.
  3. Check the cat's airway to make sure nothing is blocking it:
    Remove any type of neckwear the cat is wearing.
    Open its mouth and pull the tongue forward.
    If there is anything in the mouth or airway, try to remove it with your fingers.
  4. If your cat has fallen into a pool or pond and drowned, pick him up by the back legs and gently swing him back and forth a few times to allow any water to drain out of the airway.
  5. Lie the cat on its right side, being careful to keep its neck and head straight to maintain an open airway. Its left side should be up, so the heart is not stressed by the cat's body weight lying on it and so that you have better access to it if you need to do chest compressions.
  6. Place your mouth over the cat's nose and gently blow into it for about 3 seconds. Make sure you're not also covering the cat's mouth. You'll be able to feel any excess air coming out of the mouth and see the chest expanding. If you can't see the chest expanding, lightly cover the cat's mouth and blow a little more strongly.
  7. Allow the chest to naturally expel the air you have just blown into it; you'll see it going back down from where it had just expanded with your breath.
  8. Check to see if the cat's heart is beating. You should be able to find a pulse right next to the dew claw pad (sort of like the "thumb" on the cat's paw), in a spot that would correspond to a person's wrist. Feel with your fingers, not your thumb. If you can't find a pulse there, feel inside the rear leg, in the femoral artery area. If there's no pulse there, it's a good bet that the cat's heart has stopped beating.
  9. If the heart is beating, just repeat the breaths about every 3 to 5 seconds until the cat begins naturally breathing again.
    If the heart is not beating, place your thumb on the cat's ribcage, just behind its elbow, with the palm of your hand cupping the chest from underneath the cat. Gently, but firmly, squeeze for about 1/2 second. Repeat this for about 10 compressions, averaging one compression per second.
  10. If the cat is still not breathing, repeat the breath into the nose, alternating with the chest compressions, checking after each to see if the vital signs have returned naturally. Sometimes the heartbeat can return before the breathing, so discontinue the compressions if this happens, but keep up the breathing until the cat begins breathing naturally.
  11. As soon as your cat is stable, immediately transport it to the vet. Be aware that your cat may be very disoriented once he regains his senses and more prone to scratching or biting as he will be frightened and not understand that you're trying to help him.
You'll also likely feel panicked in this situation, and your cat will pick up on your emotions, adding to his own distress. So try to remain as calm as you can and mentally reassure your cat that he's going to be okay, even if you're not sure of that yourself. Knowing what to do will help you maintain your composure. If you need to, print this list and post it where you can find it easily. Hopefully, you'll never need this information. But if you do, now you have it.


Want more information? This book has extensive sections on first aid, home nursing, and homeopathic remedies for your cat.