Friday, November 11, 2011

Feline Digestive Health News

"...and they're ALL empty!"

Cat Vomiting

Cats vomit. Frequently. It's a fact of living with kitties, right?

Not so fast. Cade Wilson, DVM, was quoted in a recent Veterinary Practice News article as saying, "Parasites, digestive disturbances and food allergies are the most commonly seen GI issues. But giardia and GI cancer are other conditions that require more work to treat." Dr. Wilson treats both dogs and cats at Carter County Animal Hospital in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Gastrointestinal cases can represent up to a fourth of all the patient care provided by primary care vets and those who specialize in internal medicine.

"The GI tract serves to protect the body by digesting and absorbing essential nutrients critical for health and by providing non-immunological barriers and immunological defenses against bacteria and toxins attempting to enter the body from the outside world," said Dorothy Laflamme, DVM, in the same article. Laflamme is a veterinary nutrition communication specialist at Nestlé Purina PetCare Research. Okay, so digestive upsets aren't just an annoying occurrence that make a mess you have to clean up off the floor; your cat's digestive system is critical to his overall health.

But how do you know when kitty's just hacking up a hairball, and when it could be a symptom of something more serious? According to Laflamme, the following symptoms in a cat might seem normal, but could indicate serious health problems:

  • weight loss
  • constipation
  • rumbling stomach
  • flatulence
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • abdominal pain
  • loss of appetite
  • frequent vomiting
This is especially true in cats, who mask their symptoms of weakness or disease as a natural survival instinct. And people who tend to keep cats because they're "low maintenance" may not interact closely enough with them to recognize symptoms that mean trouble.

Dr. Christopher G. Byers is an internist at MidWest Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. He feels that vets don't sufficiently educate pet parents about gastrointestinal health because they simply don't have the time. Even by devoting an hour to new patient consultations, Byers finds it hard to educate people as much as he'd like. So it falls to the responsible cat parent to read up and be aware of what impacts their kitty's GI tract.

A cat who vomits up his food after eating may have the problem solved by simply raising the feeding dish. If your cat suffers from megaesophagus, a condition in which the esophagus becomes enlarged and "floppy", bending down to eat can cause food to back up in his esophagus instead of passing through it to the stomach. Simply raising the dish so your cat doesn't have to bend down to reach it allows gravity to pull the food on through and can alleviate the vomiting.

Probably the most common reason cats have chronic vomiting and diarrhea is inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD. This is not really one disease, but a group of them that cause the cells of a cat's intestinal wall to become inflamed. The most common form of IBD is often brought on by injury or an infection, but can also be caused by factors like parasites, food intolerance, a fungus, or cancer that stimulate the body's immune system, irritating and weakening the intestinal lining. This causes a condition known as lymphocytic-plasmacytic enteritis, or LPE. It most often affects older cats, and can range from mild to severe intensity. But its symptoms can be mimicked by many other GI disorders.

The Basics: Proper Cat Food = Better Digestive Health

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that they must consume meat or fish to be healthy. They need more protein than do dogs. While some cat parents try to impose vegan diets on them, these are not in a cat's best interest. If a cat does not get sufficient protein in his diet, his body will begin breaking down its own muscles to get it. A proper feline diet needs to include six essential classes of nutrients:

  1. Water, generally 2.5 times the amount of water as food
  2. Proteins, including 11 essential amino acids
  3. Fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
  4. Carbohydrates (this includes fiber)
  5. Vitamins
  6. Minerals, 12 of which are essential for cats.

The cat's stage of life must also be considered. Kittens need more calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals than do adult cats. And senior cats need less calories, more easily digested food with high-grade proteins, and maybe a supplement that includes essential fatty acids.

Dietary therapy is used to address a number of GI conditions. IBD can be caused by certain ingredients in the cat's food, and trying different diets is a way to pinpoint those ingredients so they can be avoided. A more easily digestible food can give the intestinal tract a chance to recover from infection or flare-ups of chronic conditions.

New foods are now on the market to promote gastrointestinal health. Some contain probiotics. Changing a cat's diet will affect the number and type of friendly bacteria that live in the intestines to help the cat digest his food and contribute to proper immune system functioning. Probiotics replace these. Research has indicated that probiotics can help combat both stress and dietary changes in pets. Dr. Steffen Sum of the University of Georgia's veterinary medicine college says they use them regularly after antibiotics have been given, or if an animal has eaten something that causes GI upset.

In pets afflicted with diarrhea, there are many ingredients that can help. These include zeolite, a porous mineral used to combat watery stools. The substance absorbs 50% of its volume in water. "IBD often has a frustrating and prolonged regulating period balancing diet and medication," said Dr. Richard Goldstein of Cornell University in the Veterinary Practice News article. "This comes after a sometimes difficult-to-determine diagnosis."

Breed-Specific Worries

Some purebred cats are predisposed to certain types of GI problems. For example, Manx cats tend toward chronic constipation, which can lead to an extreme enlargement of the lower intestine known as megacolon. Several breeds are more likely to get chronic stomatitis, a painful inflammation of the mouth and gums that can cause them to eat insufficient amounts to stay healthy. These include the Abyssinian, Burmese, Himalayan, Siamese, and Persian breeds.

Proper nutrition can help stabilize some genetic diseases in purebred cats. Abyssinian and Somali cats, for example, tend to get a disease known as pyruvate kinase deficiency. This weakens their red blood cells, making afflicted cats anemic and sickly. A diet that includes more liver should help by providing additional iron in the diet.

Learning all you can about your purebred cat will help you address his special needs with the proper diet. While you may be tempted to jump in and buy an unusual-looking cat after seeing it at a cat show, do some research first to make sure that breed's personality fits your lifestyle and you can handle the expense and emotional toll of caring for any health problems the cat may likely experience it his lifetime. And if you've made such an investment to acquire a pedigreed cat, you certainly don't want to scrimp on his food!

Better Diagnosis of Feline GI Problems

Some new testing and diagnostic tools are becoming available that your vet can use in-house to more easily identify what's causing kitty's upset tummy. This avoids the delay (and expense) of sending tests off to a lab and waiting anxiously for the results to come back.

Endoscopy cannot reach all areas of the intestinal tract, so if your cat has a blockage beyond its reach, surgery may be necessary to determine what's causing the problem. Capsule endoscopy is currently used only by human doctors, as its newness makes it too cost-prohibitive for veterinary use. In this technique, the patient swallows a tiny wireless camera that transmits photos of its journey through the digestive system, enabling doctors to actually see inside the patient's GI tract. In time, costs for the technology will drop to a level that make it a viable diagnostic method for vets.

Ultrasound can also help vets see inside your cat's tummy. It is often used prior to surgery to pinpoint the problem area and get a better idea what the vet will be facing once inside the cat's abdomen. Many new medical tools originally designed for humans are making their way into the veterinary arena.

Digestive issues in your cat can be tricky to diagnose, but could become much more serious if not addressed early. While this post is not an exhaustive list of all the issues that can affect the feline GI system, hopefully it has made you more aware of potential issues to watch for, and the role of proper nutrition in keeping your cat healthy.

Help for Kitty's Tummy has several probiotic products to help keep your kitty's digestive tract in optimal health. These include Felinedophilus paste and Gastro Vegi-dophilus food additive. Cats short on digestive enzymes may benefit from Pancreas Booster.

We also have raised dishes, from solid-color designs to fancy Polish pottery. These work by mechanically keeping your cat's mouth higher than the stomach, so gravity won't pull food back up.

For cats recovering from a GI problem, Digestive Support helps soothe tissues and improves the absorption of nutrients. Intestinal parasites can be purged from your cat's system by WRM Clear Feline, Paraclenz, or Parasite Dr. If your cat is constipated, Natural Moves may help him return to the litter box. At the other end of the spectrum, RuniPoo can help control chronic diarrhea. Flatulence Preventer can relieve chronically gassy kitties. Several digestive issues are addressed by HomeoPet's Digestive Upsets.

Several hairball remedies and cat grass kits are also available in our full Health Time section. But in all instances of gastric upset, make a visit to your vet to be sure the symptom isn't being caused by a more serious problem first.

Click here to read the full Veterinary Practice News article quoted in this post

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