Thursday, August 17, 2017

Black Cats Matter!

Black Cats Matter!

Today is Black Cat Appreciation Day. Usually celebrated in October in the UK, the American observance is held in August. Many shelters and cat rescue groups offer discounted adoption fees for black cats on this day.

Why a special day for black cats? Statistically, they get adopted less often than other cats in shelters. Folks who work in animal rescue decided to draw attention to these beautiful "house panthers" by dedicating a day to celebrating them.

It's a mystery to me why black cats should be less desirable to people as pets. They are sleek, gorgeous companions, with personalities just like any other cat.

Aside from looking like panthers, what's so great about black cats? My first cat was a black cat and several of my friends have lived with black cats, so I can speak to this.

Minuit was a very talky fellow who adored me and was never happier than when he was with me. He loved to walk on a leash and harness, which always drew stares and comments. People were always telling me that he looked like a miniature panther.

When I briefly lived in a friend's condo where she cared for a feral black cat and needed time to prepare a place for her before coming to get her, I got to know Roz and found her to also be quite talkative and confident.

Unwarranted Myths About Black Cats

The association between black cats and bad luck most likely originated in the Middle Ages. This happened because witches represented the old pagan religion to the Church in Europe. When people turned to a witch instead of a priest to solve their problems, it threatened the growing power of the Church. If our current political climate teaches us anything, it's that getting in the way of anyone's power creates enemies who will stop at nothing to hold onto that power!

An old Celtic belief said cats were actually humans who had done something bad and been forced to return to earth as a cat. The Greek Goddess Diana's cult was also associated with black cats. Church leaders thus began to link cats -- and especially black cats -- with witchcraft. Because cats were favorite pets of women, who were most often linked to witchcraft, this made them convenient scapegoats. Feline "familiars" were accused of carrying out the evil deeds assigned to them by their witch companions.

Many sources cite the official Papal bull Vox in Rama, issued in the early 1230s, as the first where the Church called black cats an actual incarnation of Satan. The bull included a detailed description of the rituals of a cult known as The Cathars, many of which involved a black cat and a half-man-half-cat being. This document was used as an excuse by many to eradicate as many black cats as possible.

Thousands of cats were tortured and killed in Europe and early America, along with their owners who were deemed witches. Ironically, those cats could have helped them avoid one of the largest pandemics their world had ever known -- the Black Death, bubonic plague, which was spread by rats...rats that could have been eliminated by the very cats that were being killed off.

This association with evil and death likely led to superstitions such as it being bad luck if a black cat crossed one's path, or the symbolic black cat that appears in many Halloween decorations. In Germany, the luck depends on the direction the cat walks across one's path: if left to right, you're in for some good luck, but right to left foretells something bad about to happen to you. In the UK, a black cat walking toward you is said to bring good luck, while one walking away from you takes the good luck with him.

In his short story The Black Cat, Edgar Allen Poe wrote of a murderous, abusive drunk who put out his cat's eye one night and then went on to murder the kitty named Pluto, and later his own wife. But the cat exacted his revenge by becoming the personification of the man's guilt, enticing him to lead police to his wife's body entombed in a wall of their house.

There's one type of bad luck associated with black cats that's more than a myth: they were adopted as a symbol of sabotage by workers' organizations in the early 1900s. The Industrial Workers of the World used a black cat as its symbol, taking its arched-back, bared-fangs pose from anarchists of the time.

Black Cats Adored

On the other end of the spectrum, the ancient Egyptians worshiped cats. Bast was their primary feline goddess, and she was mostly depicted as a black cat. Keeping a black cat in one's household in ancient Egypt was thought to gain favor with Bast.

Author Samuel Johnson had a favorite black cat named Hodge who dined on oysters. He wrote several poems and stories about Hodge, as did his friend Percival Stockdale. Johnson even bought the herb valerian to calm the cat in his final days. If you have ever smelled the old-socks aroma of valerian, you know this means he had to love him very much!

Sailors always like to have a ship's cat aboard, to control rats. But a black cat is especially thought to bring good luck to the crew. Some fishermen's wives like to keep a black cat at home to give their husbands luck while at sea. Pirates of the 1700s, however, thought a black cat only brought good luck if it was walking away from a person; if one approached, "Shiver me timbers!"

Australia has a celebrity black cat in its history. Trim was a companion of Matthew Flinders on the HMS Reliance, the HMS Investigator, and the HMS Porpoise. In his short life, he circumnavigated the Australian continent and was a favorite of Flinders' early-1800s crew.

If a black cat walked onto a ship and then off it, that ship was said to be destined to sink on its next voyage. There is even a rumor of a black cat doing this on the Titanic at Southampton.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura had a black cat named India (nicknamed "Willie") who lived with them for almost 20 years. She lived in both the Texas Governor's Mansion and the White House with them. As is typical, the media largely ignored her in favor of the Bushes' dogs.

A famous black cat in the U.K. is Oscar, also known as the Bionic Cat. Both his rear legs were severed between the ankle and foot by a combine harvester. Luckily, his vet knows Noel Fitzpatrick, star of the BBC show The Bionic Vet. Using pioneering surgery, Noel replaced Oscar's legs with prosthetics custom made for him.

In Scotland, if a black cat shows up at your house, prosperity is on the way. Black cats are actually considered to be good luck all over the United Kingdom. British King Charles I had a beloved black cat who he believed brought him luck. When the cat died, he was arrested the following day and charged with high treason. Coincidence?

In Russia, black cats are considered to be good luck. The Japanese also revere black cats as luck-bringers. This is especially true for single women...likely due to the next fact below.

And listen up, fellow old maid cat ladies: if you have a black cat, you're supposed to have many suitors! In the English Midlands, a black cat is considered to be a good luck gift for a bride.

Black Cat Facts

Myths and superstitions aside, there are many things that make black cats unique and special.

The solid black coat pattern originates from a recessive gene that suppresses the tabby pattern in a cat's coat. Some black cats will have pale remnants of tabby markings if you look closely at them. Black cats typically have black paw pads and a black nose, although some may have brown paw pads.

Having a black coat does not make a cat a specific breed. In fact, the Cat Fancier's Association recognizes solid black as a coat pattern acceptable in 22 different breeds of cats. The only breed that must be all black is the Bombay. They are intelligent cats who crave attention.

A solid black cat is slightly more likely to be male than female. The color of a cat's coat is directly linked to the X chromosome. Since female cats have two X chromosomes, they have a higher chance of displaying two coat colors. Males have only one, so if it's black, he will be solid black.

Panthers are not always solid black. Look closely at some, and you can still see the faint spotted coat of a leopard or jaguar. The spots are a dark brown color, however, due to the genetic combination described above.

Interestingly, the National Institutes of Health conducted a study indicating that black cats may have a stronger resistance to auto-immune diseases.

Most black cats have golden eyes. This is likely due to the higher content of melanin in their bodies. In some, they appear more green.

In my black cat, the skin underneath the black coat was solid white. This was especially obvious if he had been to the vet and gotten an IV, when they shaved the hair off one of his front paws. I also noticed it when he once licked all the hair off his stomach due to stress over a move. Not all cats have white skin, however; a tiger has stripes on his skin as well as in his coat, as do the skin patterns of most calico and tortoiseshell match their coat colors.

When they bask in the sun, some black cats' coats can take on a reddish-brown hue.

In honor of Black Cat Appreciation Day, we have made a few black cat calendars our first available for the 2018 year! You'll find them in Old Maid Cat Lady's Calendars section. Happy shopping!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Good News for Cats' Health

Good News for Cats' Health

It's unfortunate that funding for studies of cats' health lags far behind that for dogs'. Many diseases that are fatal or untreatable for cats would have been cured long ago if they afflicted canines.

Fortunately, there are organizations like The Winn Feline Foundation, which provides funding for research to improve cat health. Winn has funded almost $6 million in feline health research. Eleven studies are being funded this year. If successful, new treatments and procedures could soon be available for these feline health issues:

Feline Diabetes

A study at Louisiana State University will examine using stem cells to make pancreatic cells and produce insulin in cats. If this works, diabetes in cats could be cured!

If you've ever had to test a cat's blood sugar daily or give regular insulin injections, you're well aware of what this could mean for improving the lives of cats who are diabetic...and their caregivers! A cure for diabetes can also improve adoption rates for diabetic cats who find themselves in shelters and were previously deemed "unadoptable" because of their condition.

Feline Heart Disease

Researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, The Animal Health Trust, and Imperial College London will be growing feline heart muscle cells in a dish to test treatments for feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

HCM can be genetic in certain purebred cats, but can affect any cat in middle age. We took an in-depth look at HCM in this post on the OMCL blog.

Fatty Liver Disease in Cats

Utrecht University in The Netherlands will be studying new treatments for feline hepatic lipidosis using research from a previous study that developed functional liver cells that can be used in these types of tests without the need for testing on live animals.

A fatty liver can result from a cat who is malnourished or starving. This may be due to a lack of food or from feeding an improper diet, such as a vegetarian diet. Cats are obligate carnivores and must eat meat to remain healthy. Fatty liver disease causes a cat's liver to swell and turn yellow, and it is unable to process red blood cells as normal. If left untreated, the condition can be fatal.

Other than malnutrition, various illnesses, stress, diabetes, kidney disease, or cancer can result in fatty liver in cats. It's currently treatable if caught early enough, but can be very expensive to treat. Being able to test more easily without subjecting live animals to the condition will make this study more humane and also expands the capability to conduct more tests for treatments.

Feline Cancer

Researchers at the University of Sydney will be exploring a possible viral cause for feline lymphoma. This study will build on an earlier study that discovered a gammaherpes virus in cats and attempt to determine whether there is a link between this virus and lymphoma.

The most common type of malignant cancer diagnosed in cats, lymphoma is on the rise. With other studies linking infection to the cause of approximately 1/5 of human cancers, if a similar link can be found for this most common of feline cancers, a vaccination may possibly be developed to prevent them.

Feline Digestive Ailments

Researchers at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine will be studying the effectiveness of famotidine (Pepcid) in treating chronic stomach ailments in cats. Long-term use of this drug appears to diminish its effectiveness, so this study will examine varying dosage to improve the drug's success.

By reducing the amount of acid in the stomach, famotidine has been used in cats to treat stomach or esophogeal ulcers, esophogeal reflux, and gastritis. Some cats in kidney failure experience inflammation of the stomach, and famotidine can help with this. It has also been used to treat mast cell tumors.

A joint study between the University of Tennessee and North Carolina State University will examine whether or not probiotics are effective in treating a common cause of chronic diarrhea in cats. Tritrichomonas foetus is a protozoan that is quite difficult to treat, but the hypothesis is that probiotics may offer hope.

Cats who spend time in a shelter or cattery are more susceptible to infection from T. foetus, which gives them very smelly diarrhea. Just as in humans, probiotics help restore the natural balance in a cat's gastrointestinal tract. A natural remedy, they have less side effects than manmade drugs.

Untreatable Feline Diseases

The University of California, Davis will be studying why stem cells derived from fat can have anti-inflammatory effects, and how this can be put to use in treating feline diseases that have formerly been incurable.

In addition to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, inflammation has been linked to many other diseases and conditions in the body. These include feline infectious peritonitis (FIP, a fatal disease), feline interstitial cystitis (FIC, bladder problem that leads to lower urinary tract disesase), and cholangitis (bile ducts). Inflammation can affect a cat's nose, sinus cavities, pancreas, abdominal cavity, or brain.

Feline Blood Transfusions

Purdue University will be studying whether methods of extending the shelf life of human blood can also be applied to storage of feline blood for transfusions. This could improve the supply of feline blood available for transfusions in cases of severe injury, surgery, or treatment of certain diseases.

Blood transfusions provide immediate support to a critically ill or injured cat by supplying the body with red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body, plasma to regulate the body's fluids, clotting, and inflammation, and platelets that help control bleeding. This can make the difference between life and death.

Just as in humans, cats have different blood types of A, B, and AB. A cat must receive a transfusion from a compatible donor. But instead of an Rh factor as in humans (the + or - portion of a person's blood type), cats have an Mik factor that should also be compatible. Without a compatible live donor handy, a reliable blood supply from a feline blood bank is essential. Improving the availability of stored feline donor blood will save lives.

Cats as Therapy Animals

The University of Missouri will be studying the effects and benefits of shelter cats as therapy animals for children with autism. The study will also assess the stress level on the cats used in such therapy programs. Such information can play a big role in both helping autistic children and saving more feline lives.

While several other studies have proven the effectiveness of cats as therapy pets for autistic children, less of them have focused on the effect of such relationships on the cat's well-being. Are cats as willing as dogs to participate in such relationships? Is there symbiosis there? This study will examine those questions.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats

The University of California, Davis will be studying the effectiveness of food puzzles in stimulating indoor cats' natural hunting instinct, and the effect this has on the cats' behavior and health.

Cats are highly intelligent animals. They get bored when left indoors, especially if their owners are away at work and the cat has nothing to stimulate the intellect. To avoid destructive behavior that can sometimes result from such circumstances, the value of environmental enrichment has long been known. This study will deepen the depth of knowledge about specific tools for feline environmental enrichment.

Call for Additional Feline Research on FIP

Thanks to The Winn Feline Foundation's generosity, all of these studies will soon be underway! The foundation is currently seeking to fund additional studies in the following areas related to feline infectious peritonitis (FIP):
  • FIP genetics
  • FIP molecular biology
  • FIP prevention
  • Novel FIP diagnostics
  • Safe and effective FIP treatments
These studies are funded through the foundation's George Sydney and Phyllis Redman Miller Trust and the Bria Fund for FIP Research. Organizations seeking funding for such research have until August 7, 2017 to apply for grants up to $35,000 here.

Anyone can donate to the Winn Feline Foundation to support similar studies to further our knowledge about cat health. For details on how you can help, click here. The foundation will hold its 39th annual Symposium on Feline Health in Chicago on July 29. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Q&A for World Spay Day

Q&A for World Spay Day

February 28 is more than Mardi Gras this year, it's also World Spay Day! Aside from being fun and rhyme-y to say, World Spay Day draws attention to the need for de-sexing female pets. So let's look at some questions you may have about spaying cats:

What is spaying?

Most simply put in feline terms, spaying is the surgical removal of a female cat's reproductive organs, her ovaries, Fallopian tubes, and uterus. It's similar to a human hysterectomy. In fact, if you want to get all medical, the actual term for the surgery is ovariohysterectomy.

When male cats are de-sexed, we generally refer to that as neutering.

Why spay an indoor-only cat?

Just as teenagers go a little nuts when hormones start coursing through their bodies, so do cats. Your cat will hit puberty anywhere from 5-8 months of age. At that age, your cute little kitten is capable of getting pregnant and bearing a litter of kittens. Those ages in a kitten correspond to a human being about 8-15 years old.

It's bad enough when human children who are not yet mature enough to fully understand the responsibility of parenthood start having children. A very young cat is still growing physically, and her body may have more difficulty enduring pregnancy and queening (that's what bearing kittens is called).

A cat who bears a litter of kittens within her first year of life may stop growing and remain undersized. Her kittens, as well, will likely be underweight and may not survive. And her mothering instincts will be those of a teenager...that is to say, not very good. She may abandon the kittens altogether.

But the overwhelming people-centric reason to have your teen-aged cat spayed is what happens when she goes a little nuts while in heat. She may yowl to attract a mate, which is not a pleasant thing to have awakening you (and your neighbors) at night. The meowing will be constant and last for several days.

She'll also start spraying urine around your house when she goes into heat. This is her natural instinct, to draw a mate (or several). Every un-neutered tomcat within a mile of your house will pick up that scent, as though the walls of your house did not even exist.

And you know what those tomcats will do? They'll answer that call in the natural way male cats do: by spraying their own urine all around the outside of your house. Ever smelled the urine of an un-neutered male cat? Let's just say that it won't add the best ambiance to your backyard BBQ! So spaying makes good olfactory sense! (And you thought the yowling was bad.)

From your cat's perspective, spaying makes her less susceptible to mammary cancer, the feline version of breast cancer. Spaying also protects your cat from ever getting pyometra as she ages. This serious infection of the uterus from e. coli bacteria may even be fatal if not caught early, and you know how well cats mask any signs of illness until it's well advanced.

If you're more of a globalist, the main reason to spay your indoor-only cat is that if she slips out the door and gets pregnant -- and cats in heat have very tricky ways of sneaking out that door! -- you'll be adding to the world's population of cats without homes. One female cat and her offspring can produce 60,000 kittens in their lifetimes. Yes, they're cute and you'd love to keep them all, but unless you want to become a serious cat hoarder, you'll need to find them homes. And if you place them with people who were going to get a cat anyway, you've just sentenced that many cats in a kill shelter to an untimely death.

What does spaying involve?

Because it's a surgical procedure, your cat will need to be placed under general anesthesia for the spay surgery. This means you'll need to withhold her food and water from about midnight the night before until you get her to the vet the next morning.

Many vets these days use a combination of several anesthesia drugs for optimal safety and pain control. This is better for a few reasons. First, they don't have to administer as much of any of the drugs that may risk overdose. Each cat's physiology is a little different, so they will respond better to different drugs. Plus, with the lower dosages of each, there's less risk of side effects.

Kitty will have also a breathing tube inserted down her throat during the surgery in your veterinarian's operating room. All vital signs are monitored during the procedure. Your vet will make a small incision, about 1-2 inches long, in your cat's tummy to remove the lady bits. The surgical procedure itself lasts only 10-15 minutes if there are no complications.

Most vets these days offer you the option of having this incision done with laser surgery, which leaves a much smaller scar and cauterizes the blood vessels so there's less bleeding during surgery. It also costs more, though, so be aware of this.

Two layers of stitches are done, one the absorbable type underneath the skin. The external wound may be closed with skin glue, stitches or staples.

Some vets now administer a shot to wake your cat after surgery, so kitty could be walking around as quickly as 20 minutes after having the spay surgery. Without the shot, it will take about an hour for kitty to recover from the anesthesia. They will administer pain medication to keep her comfortable, as your cat does feel some discomfort from the surgery. You'll usually drop her off in the morning and pick her up that evening, so they can observe her for any post-surgical complications. Some vets may keep her overnight to make sure there are no complications after surgery.

Most vets these days use skin glue or the type of stitches that dissolve themselves as the wound heals; if so you won't need to return to have the stitches removed. Mattie, pictured above, had the skin glue, and there was a very tiny scar. When I had my little Vixen spayed, it was before those things existed, but when I returned to the vet in a couple of weeks to have the stitches taken out, she'd already removed them all herself!

Heed your vet's advice on follow-up care after spay surgery. Usually, the cat shouldn't climb or play vigorously for a week, or until the wound is completely healed. Good luck with that if you have a playful kitten! You may need to keep her in a crate large enough for a litter box, bed, and food bowl; a larger crate usually works well for this, but most cat carriers are too small for her to live inside for a few days. If you can't keep your girl in a crate, at least keep her indoors, where it's cleaner for her incision site.

Prepare the crate before bringing your little girl kitten home from the surgery. She'll likely turn over a water bowl in the crate and make a mess everywhere, so give her all wet food and no water without supervision until she's safely out of the crate. If you have other cats in the house, you may want to keep the recovering kitten in a quiet room for a day or two...although my little Mattie is a climber. Trying to keep her in a crate actually encouraged her to climb, so I had to let her out so she could play with the boys. Use your own judgment, depending on your cat's personality.

Pick up your kitten and examine the incision site for a few days, just to make sure there aren't any signs of swelling or bleeding. If you see those, take her back to the vet, as something's torn loose and there may be infection. If she tends to lick the incision site, you may want to use a collar to prevent her from reaching it. If she won't eat, take her back to the vet, as well. Kittens eat all the time, and one who won't has something wrong.

At what age should my cat be spayed?

Cats can be spayed as young as eight weeks of age, provided that they're big enough. It's best to have kitty spayed before the first time she goes into heat; see the above description of how a cat in heat behaves if you wonder why.

Your own veterinarian may have their own guidelines on this, as well. Some will spay cats as young as 6 weeks. Many shelters use weight rather than age to determine the proper spaying time. Most want a kitten to weigh at least two pounds before undergoing spay surgery.

There's not really an upper age limit to when a cat may be too old to be spayed. A lot of breeders will spay their female show cats once they retire them from breeding. Geriatric cats do have greater risks when under anesthesia, but these days there are safer drugs that can be used for older cats.

If your cat is older than 5 years, your vet will likely run additional tests to assess liver, kidney, and possibly thyroid function so the correct precautions can be taken during spay surgery. Older cats are also more sensitive to post-surgical pain, so you will likely get some pain meds to administer at home over the following days.

If you adopt an older cat who shows up at your house and don't know if she's been spayed, your veterinarian can tell you. You'll be taking her in anyway for a health and microchip check, and the vet will examine her to determine her spay status at the same time. If she has a portion of one ear cropped off in a straight line, she's been ear-tipped, so has already been spayed as part of a trap-neuter-return program; lucky you! She's chosen you to be her family.

How much does spay surgery cost?

Most private-practice U.S. veterinarians charge a minimum of $200 for spay surgery. With additional options such as pre-surgery blood work, laser surgery or safer anesthesia, the cost can quickly escalate to well over $500 in larger cities. Even in smaller towns, expect to pay a veterinary hospital between $200-$300 for the procedure.

If you're adopting a cat from a shelter or rescue group, most include spay surgery as part of the adoption fee. They either have licensed vets on staff, or who volunteer their services for this.

Some pet insurance plans also cover spay/neuter surgery. The US Office of Consumer Affairs has a website ranking pet insurance plans, but read the services covered before you sign on with one to make sure they cover spay surgery if you plan to use this approach to pay for it.

If you can't afford spay surgery, there are low-cost spay/neuter resources in most communities. Some charge a sliding scale, depending on your household income. Typical fees there are around $50-$100. Some have a free option. The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both have databases you can search by Zip code to find a free or low-cost option near you.

Can my cat be spayed if she is already pregnant?

Yes. Depending on the stage of her pregnancy, some vets may not want to perform spay surgery if the kittens are nearing birth, for the same reasons that late-term human abortion is not humane. Spaying your pregnant cat will be aborting the litter of kittens. Most vets charge $50-$100 extra for this, as well.

A cat's gestation period is 64-67 days, a little over two months. Not all vets are comfortable with aborting kittens, either, which is why they charge extra for it; they're trying to deter people from doing it. They take an oath to "First, do no harm," and killing kittens is harming them. Think about how your vet feels when doing this type of thing.

I had my little Vixen spayed not knowing she was pregnant, then found out while picking her up that the four kittens she was carrying had been only about two weeks away from being born! She was a young feral when I decided to take her in, thin as a rake, so I truly had no idea. That vet probably thought I was a monster for killing her babies, and I've felt guilty about it ever since. I comfort myself by saying she was very young and so malnourished that they may not have survived anyway, but I still feel bad about it.

So think twice before choosing this option, and if you're not sure, have the vet check a stray you're having spayed before surgery.

How long does it take a cat to recover from spaying?

Your cat may still be a little woozy from the anesthesia on the ride home from the vet, but within 24 hours should be fully awake and back to normal....and possibly hungry. Some vets will give the cat a little food when they wake up, since they were fasting before surgery.

Within a few days, the only sign your cat's had anything at all done should be the spot where her hair is growing back on her tummy where they shaved her for the surgery. The hair should all grow back within about six weeks, and you won't see anything at all different about her physical appearance.

Will spaying make my cat fat and lazy?

No. Eating too much and not getting enough exercise through play will make your cat fat and lazy, just like with humans!

Some people think that spaying will change a cat's personality, but this is also a myth. Just as your own personality is still developing into adulthood, so is your cat's. And remember, you should have your kitten spayed at an age comparable to being a teenager. So kitty's personality may change after that time, but it's not because of the spay surgery.

Should I let my cat have a litter of kittens before spaying her?

No. Cats don't care about having the mothering experience, and if you've read the answers to the above questions, you'll know that your cat is far better off if she doesn't bear kittens.

For those who want their children to experience the miracle of birth, show them a video on YouTube. A better lesson to teach your children is the responsibility that comes along with making a cat a part of your family by providing her with proper veterinary care.

What if I want to breed my cat later on?

We're assuming that the person asking this has a purebred cat, as there are always plenty of mixed-breed cats around; we're in no danger of running out of cats.

Most reputable breeders are careful about the cats selected for breeding. Some cats may have a genetic makeup that makes them unsuitable for breeding, to prevent passing on a genetic defect that makes them more prone to something like heart disease. Breeders will either spay these cats before selling them, or include a condition of sale that the cat must be spayed within a certain amount of time, with proof of spaying provided to them.

Other cats may not be the best specimens of their breed; each breed has standards established by the cat judging agencies, of which there are a few. Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) are the two largest. Some cats may be unsuitable for showing in competition, but they make fine house pets for someone who likes the look or personality of that breed. To keep the breed of a higher quality and preserve their own cattery's reputation, many reputable breeders will insist that these cats be de-sexed.

If your cat's just really pretty and you think you'd like to have another one just like her, breeding her will not guarantee that. Remember, the kittens will have traits from both parents. They may not look anything like their mama. In fact, you can usually look at the kittens in a litter and tell immediately if they had different fathers (yes, this is possible with cats) from their coat patterns. So your beautiful female cat may not even have any lookalikes in her litter.

How soon after having a litter of kittens can my cat be spayed?

A mother cat will nurse her kittens for the first few months of their life. This mother's milk is important for their health, as the colostrum in it helps immunize them and gives them the nutrition they need as growing kittens. After 8-10 weeks, they should be weaned. At that point, you can have mama kitty spayed. Doing so sooner would stop her milk production and the kittens would not receive the benefits that come with mother's milk.

If you've found a mother cat with kittens and decided to take them in, your veterinarian can tell you how old the kittens are and give you guidance on when the best time is to spay both them and their mama.

So there you have it! Now, if you have an unspayed female cat, make that vet appointment right away, before heading out to catch some Mardi Gras beads! Laissez les bon temps rouller!

Sources: "Spaying Your Cat or Dog", UC-Davis; "Ask a Vet: All You Need to Know About Spay/Neuter Surgery", MSPCA;  "Dangerous to have kittens at six months?" Unitedcat forum; "What Does Spaying a Cat Involve?" Jane Williams, The Nest; "All About Spaying or Neutering an Adult Cat", Dr. Sandra Mitchell, Petcha; "Is it unsafe to spay an older cat?" thread on The Cat Site; "Cat Spay or Neuter Cost", CostHelper Pets & Pet Care; "How Much Does it Cost to Spay a Cat?" Pet MD; 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Latest News on Feline Cardiac Health

The Latest News on Feline Cardiac Health

It's widely known that spending on research for feline health issues lags far behind that spent on canine health. But there are new discoveries being made in feline heart health that could make a difference for your cat. The latest involves a new treatment for kitty heart disease, the most common form of which medical professionals call hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM. One in every seven cats is affected by HCM, so this is an important development.

A New Drug For Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

The December issue of PLOS ONE included a paper detailing a study of a new drug called MYK-461 that was effective in treating HCM in five cats. The drug may even help humans suffering from HCM. It works by stopping the thickening of the heart's ventricle walls.

The study included five cats who had inherited heart disease. MYK-461 had already been tested on mice and proven effective there.

Clinical trials of the drug are hoped to begin soon at the University of California-Davis.

Sources: "New drug for heart disease shows promise for cats and humans", Medical xpress; "New Drug for Heart Disease Shows Promise for Cats and Humans", Rob Warren, UC Davis;

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Protecting Your Cat From Attacks

This is the least upsetting of the photos of Rogue.

Protecting Your Cat From Attacks

I don't often share photos of injured cats on this blog, but this cat's situation makes an excellent point. It only takes a moment for a loose dog to injure your cat, possibly fatally. Little Rogue, shown above, was attacked by a dog in her building. Her family brought her to a local rescue group because they didn't have a regular veterinarian.

Rogue's owners didn't even seek medical treatment for her until a few days after she was attacked, likely due to cost. There is now a fundraiser to cover Rogue's medical bills going on through the rescue group that is trying to save her. (Follow the link if you'd like to help.) I'll warn you ahead of time: some of the photos of her injuries there are quite upsetting to see. The details of her condition are no less upsetting. Having loved a tortie for many years myself, it's especially distressing to see one in such condition.

Lessons From Rogue's Attack

What are the takeaways from little Rogue's case? How can you prevent the same thing from happening to your cat? Here are several that spring to mind:

  • Take your cat(s) to a veterinarian every so often and build a relationship there. Yes, it costs a little money. But in the event of injury or serious illness, that vet will already have your cat's medical history on file. And the staff there will be familiar with your cat, so the cat will be a little less stressed than he would be around complete strangers.
  • Have your cat microchipped. And keep your phone number and address updated with the microchip company.
  • Keep your cat(s) indoors most of the time. If you let your cat out, make sure it's either on a leash/harness, in an enclosed stroller, or supervised in a screened area or outdoor enclosure. No, scooping a litter box is not the most pleasant of tasks, but it beats all hell out of scooping up your cat's lifeless body after it's been killed...or helplessly watching your kitty get carried off by a hungry coyote.
  • If your cat escapes from the house and becomes lost, set kitty's litterbox outside the house, and keep a close eye on it. Your cat can smell it and will find his way home...where you can sweep him up into your loving arms and vow to keep him out of harm's way in the future! Most cats who get outside are hiding nearby. Check all the neighbors' sheds and garages to make sure your cat hasn't slipped into one and gotten locked in...especially if the weather is extremely hot or cold. Make sure the neighbors, as well as your local shelters and rescues, know you're looking for your cat, and check with them daily to see if anyone's brought him in.
  • If  the worst happens and your cat does get attacked, first concentrate on stopping the attack by any safe means necessary. Once your cat is out of immediate danger, stop any severe bleeding, swaddle him in a towel and get him to a veterinarian. If you can't afford the costs, there are Care Credit accounts, and if you don't qualify for one of those, there's always online fundraising. The main point is not to delay getting treatment for your injured cat. Poor Rogue has much worse injuries after a few days' infection than she would if her owners had sought veterinary care immediately after her attack.
I once knew a girl whose cat was pulled from her arms and killed right in front of her by a loose dog in her neighborhood. It's difficult to imagine, and impossible to overstate the dangers present for cats outdoors. There's a tale of someone's Savannah cat who got out and was roaming the neighborhood. While they were still looking for it, someone shot their cat dead, thinking it was an escaped wild cat from the zoo who was "stalking" the neighborhood children.

Again, my apologies for sharing such awful stories with you. But the fate that befell little Rogue does not have to happen to any other cat. Our cats depend on us for protection and safekeeping. Let them enjoy being cats, but remember to be vigilant! The world is a dangerous place for a kitty.

Monday, February 20, 2017

February 20 is National Love Your Pet Day!

February 20 is National Love Your Pet Day!

It's hard to believe that The Golden Boys were once as tiny as they were in the photo above! Gilligan was watching as Captain Roughy climbed "blue jean mountain" back when I was first fostering them. They were under 2 pounds apiece! This is how they look now, fully grown and going on 5 years old:

Notice that the Captain is still up front, while the Gilly-Gilly remains in the background. They've also acquired a little "sis-fur" who we rescued during the hurricane last fall. Matilda "Mattie" Stormkitty wasn't much bigger than they were when they came to me, and now she seems almost as large as the boys are. She has become our Purr Mistress here in the Old Maid Cat Lady household. Here are the three of them enjoying dinner together on a recent evening:

Feeding your kitties high-quality food is one way to show them love on National Love Your Pet Day. Raw is best, if you're up to it, but grain-free canned food is second best. Try to avoid the crunchies altogether, although most of us do feed those for convenience. If you do, look for a grain-free brand. It's not cheap to feed your cats properly, but you'll save money on vet bills in the long run.

Here are some other suggestions:
  • Spend some time playing with your cat(s). They enjoy interacting with their human companions and need to work out their energy through play. It's an essential part of the human-animal bond for cats! Always use a toy to dangle for them, however, not your hands - you don't want to train them to attack hands! If you need a new one, we have a nice selection of dangling cat toys.
  • We recently experienced a flea infestation, I think from a neighborhood cat who likes to hang around and taunt my cats through the pool screen. One of the ways I showed my cats love was to get them some fresh flea treatment and a new can of spray to flea-proof the house.
  • Some cats like to get up high off the floor. This is especially important if you have dogs or small children in the household; sometimes kitties just need a break from all the hubbub below. If you have a cat like this, a new cat tree or a cat shelf or perch may be just the way to show kitty your love!
  • Another basic need cats have is to scratch. Scratching exercises their front legs, from the resistance of the scratching surface pulling against the claws. It's also a way that cats mark their territory in the wild, as they have scent glands in the paws that leave behind their tell-tale aroma for any other cats who may pass by. While it's something that most humans can't detect, the feline nose knows! If your scratchers have seen better days, maybe it's time to show kitty your love by buying a new scratcher.
  • Cats also have a need to hunt. Prey toys give them that thrill without harming any wildlife, and they enjoy catching their prey, carrying it around, and batting it so they can catch it again. Laser pointers can be frustrating to cats because they never get that satisfaction of actually catching what they're chasing. And it seems like they're always losing their mousies, or tearing them up. So maybe your kitty needs some new cat toys to hunt
  • Some cats like to go outdoors. But it can be dangerous there for an untended kitty! If your cat will walk on a harness and leash, take him out for a nice walk. If not, perhaps a stroller is a way to get your cat out in the nice early spring weather (at least it's been nice here in north Florida).
  • We tend not to take our cats to the veterinarian as often as we do their canine cousins, so check the last time your cat had a wellness check. If it's been more than a year, schedule an appointment for one. Your vet will update any outdated vaccinations (or do a titre test to see which need updating), plus do a thorough examination to check kitty's eyes, ears, coat, & teeth, and make sure there aren't any unnoticed growths, tumors, or other nastiness that needs to be handled. What better way to show love for your kitty?
Bottom line: your cats long to interact with you. Even cats who don't enjoy a lot of touching like it when we talk to them. Spend a little time with your cat(s) today to show your love!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Breed-Specific Heart Issues in Cats

Breed-Specific Heart Issues in Cats

Our previous post on HCM mentioned several breeds of cats that are more susceptible to it. While any cat may develop heart disease with a poor diet or living conditions, certain breeds of cats seem to have a higher incidence of heart disease than cats in general. This post takes a closer look at these breeds and what types of heart problems they tend to develop.

Not all cats in any breed will develop heart disease, but in forms of heart disease with a genetic link, testing cats who will be bred is prudent. Reputable breeders will not breed a cat carrying a genetic marker for heart disease. As more testing reveals additional factors, it will be easier to determine which cats may pass along the genetic defect making their offspring more likely to have heart problems.

Heart Disease in Abyssinian Cats

Abys can inherit a condition that causes them to have insufficient levels of an enzyme that allows their red blood cells to metabolize sugar. This can cause them to be anemic. Symptoms of this include jaundice, low energy, pale gums, and a bit of a tubby tummy. Some Abys show no symptoms at all of it, however. There is a DNA test for the recessive gene that causes this condition.

While not a heart disease, per se, this condition does affect the circulatory system.

Heart Disease in American Shorthair Cats

Some studies have discovered genetic markers in American Shorthairs that can make certain cats more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Some American Shorthair cats can also suffer from hip dysplasia. If your cat has HCM as well, you will want to keep a close eye on it. One of the complications of HCM involves paralysis of the rear limbs from a clot blocking blood flow to that area. If your cat shows lameness and the rear limbs are cold to the touch, it may not be from the hip dysplasia.

Sometimes American Shorthairs are cross-bred with American Wirehair cats, which can transfer this HCM genetic defect to their offspring. If you have an American Wirehair and plan to breed the cat, it's a good idea to have the screening test for this genetic marker done prior to breeding.

Heart Disease in Bengal Cats

The most common health issues affecting Bengals are polycystic kidney disease and conditions such as FIP and trichimonas foetus infections. While none of these are heart diseases, cats with FIP can be more susceptible to heart disease.

Heart Disease in Bombay Cats

Bombays are another breed that can carry the genetic marker for increased risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Their short muzzles may give them breathing problems, which will be exacerbated if they also develop HCM.

Heart Disease in British Shorthair Cats

British Shorthairs can be prone to hemophilia, in which their blood does not clot well. There is a DNA test for this hemophilia B gene, so breeders should provide documentation of a clean bill of health for kittens from their cattery.

Unfortunately, British Shorthairs are another breed that can carry the genetic predisposition toward hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). There is also a test for this genetic marker, but it is less reliable than the one for hemophilia.

Heart Disease in Burmese Cats

The hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) genetic marker can be found in some Burmese cats. More common health issues with them are deformities of the cranium, glaucoma, or an increased sensitivity to touch or pain. They also tend to get urinary tract stones.

Heart Disease in Colorpoint Shorthair Cats

These lithe and beautiful cats can carry the genetic defect that makes them more prone to dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). In this rare heart condition, the walls of the left ventricle in the heart become thin and weak. It used to be more common in cats before the amino acid taurine was added to most commercial cat foods.

Heart Disease in Cornish Rex Cats

Cornish Rexes can carry the gene that makes them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Another condition they can get causes their kneecaps to slip out of place. If your Cornish Rex is walking poorly, it may be from this, or it could be a serious complication from HCM that causes lameness in the rear legs. If the latter is the case, your cat will likely be in great pain and will be completely unable to move the hind legs. This is a veterinary emergency, unlike the knee cap problem.

Heart Disease in Devon Rex Cats

Some Devon Rexes carry the genetic marker making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Just as with their Cornish Rex cousins, they are also prone to a condition in which their kneecaps slip out of place and make it difficult to walk. Be alert to this so that you don't mistake a serious complication of HCM for the less-serious knee-cap issue.

Devon Rexes can also have a hereditary myopathy that causes their muscles to be weak, especially in the head and neck. This can affect their gait in the front limbs, but not so much the rear. If your Devon Rex shows sudden lameness in the rear legs, that can be a serious complication of HCM.

Heart Disease in Himalayan Cats

Himalayans are another breed that can show genetic markers making some cats more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), depending on their lineage. Breathing problems from their flatter faces can be worse if they develop HCM. This breed is also heat-sensitive, and needs to live in a cool climate or an air-conditioned house in summer.

Heart Disease in Maine Coon Cats

The Winn Feline Foundation funded a study that discovered a gene defect in Maine Coons that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). A cheek swab can detect whether your cat has the defect. Cats who have it should not be bred, to avoid passing along the defective gene to the next generation.

Maine Coons can also be prone to hip dysplasia and spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). If yours has either of these conditions, be aware of the differences between how they affect their gait and how a blood clot resulting from HCM can paralyze a cat's hindquarters. The latter is a life-threatening condition that requires an emergency vet visit. There is now also a DNA test to check for SMA.

Heart Disease in Norwegian Forest Cats

"Weegies," as they're often called, are another of the breeds that can carry the genetic disposition to increased risk of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). They are also prone to hip dysplasia. Be alert to any acute lameness in your weegie's hindquarters, as it could be a serious and life-threatening complication of HCM rather than of the hip dysplasia.

Heart Disease in Ocicats

These beautifully spotted cats can also carry the gene making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). They can also become anemic due to another genetic issue that causes their red blood cells to become unable to metabolize sugar due to an enzyme deficiency. Vetstreet recommends that you have your Ocicat checked each year for heart murmurs.

Heart Disease in Oriental Cats

Both Oriental Shorthairs and Longhairs may suffer from dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), a rare condition in which the heart's left ventricle cannot contract properly. Rather than the thickened chamber walls characteristic of HCM, in cats suffering from DCM the walls of the left ventricle become thin and flaccid. Many cats used to get this condition before the amino acid taurine was added to commercial cat foods.

Heart Disease in Persian Cats

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) can also affect this breed. A genetic link is suspected, hence its tendency to strike cats within the same breed. Their flat faces can cause additional breathing problems if they do develop heart disease. They are also heat-sensitive and need to live in a cool climate or be kept in an air conditioned house in summer.

Heart Disease in Ragamuffin Cats

Ragamuffins are yet another breed that can carry the genetic defect making them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Ragdoll Cats

Almost a third of Ragdoll cats have a genetic mutation that makes them more susceptible to developing hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). With proper veterinary care, cats who have this mutation can be identified prior to breeding so that they do not pass along the gene to the next generation. The mutation in this breed was discovered in a study funded by The Winn Feline Foundation.

Cats with this condition are also more prone to developing blood clots (thromboembolic disease) that can be quite painful and life-threatening when they block the cat's blood vessels and cause lameness in the rear legs. This is a complication of HCM. If your Ragdoll has this mutation, he will most likely develop it before reaching age 2. There is no cure for this condition, and most cats who develop it are euthanized.

Some Ragdolls show no symptoms of heart disease at all until they suffer sudden death from it.

Heart Disease in Scottish Fold Cats

Also known as a Highland Fold, this breed does not have a propensity toward heart disease, but when two cats with folded ears are bred together, the kittens can develop an abnormality in their skeletons that cause their legs to be stiff or crippled. Since no breed is completely immune from developing heart disease, be alert to any sudden rear-leg lameness in your cat, as this is a serious complication of HCM, and may not be to the cat's skeletal deformity.

Heart Disease in Selkirk Rex Cats

Because cats in this breed are sometimes crossed with Persians, Exotic Shorthairs or British Shorthairs, they can pick up those breeds' genetic disposition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Since the breed is also prone to hip dysplasia, be alert to any sudden lameness in your cat's rear legs, as this may be a serious complication from HCM instead of related to the hip dysplasia.

Heart Disease in Siamese Cats

Heart disease is but one of many health issues to which Siamese cats are prone. The "classic" Siamese cat had a more apple-shaped head. But the trend in recent years has been to breed them to develop a more triangular, wedge-shaped head. This can cause the cats to have respiratory issues that will be worsened if the cat develops heart disease.

Heart Disease in Siberian Cats

Yet another breed that can carry the genetic predisposition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the Siberian. This appears to be their only potential hereditary health issue. Since there is a test for it, you should purchase yours from a breeder who certifies that both parents have been tested and found to be free of the genetic marker for it.

Heart Disease in Sphynx Cats

Mitral valve dysplasia affects the valve in between the left atrium and left ventricle of the heart. This type of heart disease is incurable.

Some Sphynx cats also carry the genetic marker making them more susceptible to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Toyger Cats

People go nuts over this breed with a striped coat that looks like a mini-tiger! But be aware that they can be prone to heart murmurs. This could be related to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).

Heart Disease in Turkish Angora Cats

Yet another breed that can carry the genetic defect making them more prone to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the Turkish Angora.

Heart Disease in Mixed Breed Cats

Yes, even your "mutt" of a mixed-breed cat may be prone to heart disease! Any cat with an orange (red) coat tends to have a higher than average propensity to develop it.

Other Risk Factors for Feline Heart Disease

Heart disease seems to strike male cats more so than females. Cats will usually show symptoms once they are over 6 years old, but may show them earlier. Kitties suffering from hyperthyroidism may be more prone to heart disease. 

If you feed your cat a diet without enough taurine, it can lead to heart disease. Taurine is added to most commercial cat foods.

Avoiding Heart Disease in Cats

Since research continues into the causes and possible treatments for feline heart disease, there isn't really any way to completely avoid it. But if you are determined to buy a purebred cat, you can minimize your chances for getting a cat more likely to develop heart disease by dealing with a reputable breeder.

Some breeders will claim that they have an "HCM-free" cattery. This is not a sign of a reputable breeder, since it is impossible to guarantee such a thing. If you are concerned about the possibility of heart disease in one of the above breeds, ask your breeder if both of your potential kitten's parents have been tested for it.

The following breeds are generally free of the genetic disposition toward heart disease...but be aware that any breed can have other health issues. If you are buying a purebred cat, do your research ahead of time, both on the breed itself and on the breeder from whom you're buying. Make sure you understand all the temperament, personality, and health issues that can affect your new kitten. These are the breeds less disposed to developing heart disease:

  • Aegean
  • American Bobtail
  • American Curl
  • Australian Mist
  • Balinese
  • Birman
  • Burmilla
  • Chantilly (Tiffany)
  • Chartreux
  • Cymric
  • Egyptian Mau
  • European Burmese
  • Exotic
  • Exotic Shorthair
  • Havana Brown
  • Japanese Bobtail
  • Javanese
  • Korat
  • LaPerm
  • Li Hua
  • Manx
  • Munchkin
  • Nebelung
  • Peterbald
  • Pixiebob
  • Russian Blue
  • Savannah
  • Scottish (Highland) Fold
  • Singapura
  • Somali
  • Tonkinese
  • Turkish Van

The bottom line: any cat can develop heart disease. Control the risk factors for it by preventing obesity in your cat, and protecting kitty from mosquito bites that can cause heartworms. We have a few products that can help support your kitty's cardiovascular system in our Cat Heart Health section.

Sources: "Feline Heart Disease", Pet Health Network; "Heart Disease in Cats", The Cat Practice; "7 Cat Breeds That Visit the Vet More Frequently", I Heart Cats; "Diagnosis: Heart Disease", Cornell Feline Health Center; "Genetic Welfare Problems of Companion Animals: Ragdoll", Universities Federation for Animal Welfare; "Heart disease a bigger issue for cats than previously thought", Steve Dale, My Pet World, Chicago Tribune; "Cat Breeds", Vetstreet; "Cardiomyopathy", Cornell University College of Medicine; "Cat Breed Guide", Trupanion

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Broken Heart: Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

A Broken Heart: Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)

The title of this post has a dual meaning: first, a cat who has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (often referred to merely as heart disease) has a defect in the heart; it can be thought of as being broken. And secondly, if you receive this diagnosis for your cat, your own heart may break from the dire prognosis of an uncurable condition that will most often progressively worsen.

But it's also the most common heart condition that veterinarians diagnose in cats. So let's take a closer look at HCM.

What is Feline HCM?

In a healthy cat's heart, the left ventricle receives newly oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it through the aorta to the various parts of the cat's body. The left ventricle is where the heart's mitral valve is located.

In a cat with HCM, the muscles and walls of the left ventricle become abnormally thickened. Most simply expressed, this puts additional stress on the heart that can have a variety of effects.

When the hear muscle thickens, it can scar, grow stiff, or weaken. The left ventricle fills with blood as usual, but the muscle cannot relax properly. This may result in either the accumulation of fluid around the heart or a heart murmur.

HCM can affect other areas of the heart, but the most common is the left ventricle.

What Causes HCM in Cats?

That's a good question. If cat health studies received the same amount of funding as dog health studies, we'd probably know for sure. As it is, here's what we've discovered so far.

Most veterinarians agree that there is a genetic component in HCM. Among purebreds, Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats have a higher incidence of it. Approximately a third of all Maine Coons test positive for the genetic mutation that makes them more likely to develop HCM. And more recent studies have identified mutations of a specific protein in the hearts of certain Maine Coons and Ragdolls that supports this genetic theory. There has also been a link discovered in American Shorthair, Persian, Himalayan, Burmese, Sphynx, and Devon Rex cats.

HCM seems to strike cats mainly between ages 5 and 7 years, but cases in cats as young as three months and as old as 17 years have also been reported. The juvenile form seems to especially affect Ragdolls. Male cats are also more prone to it.

But don't think that your cat is immune because you have a regular domestic shorthair instead of a purebred cat; plenty of DSH cats can also develop it.

The Winn Feline Foundation has funded several studies on HCM. Thanks to them, we know much more about it than we used to.

What Are the Symptoms of HCM in Cats?

Some cats have no symptoms at all, until they suddenly die of a heart attack. Or your veterinarian may discover abnormalities in the cat's heartbeat during an exam that warrant further exploration.

Other cats may show symptoms of heart failure. These include difficulty breathing or breathing with the mouth open, and becoming more lethargic than normal. Your cat may seek additional warmth, as the body temperature will drop a bit from a cat's normal 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Farenheit. Not feeling well may affect kitty's appetite or cause vomiting. The paw pads or claw beds may turn a bluish color from lack of blood circulation.

In the most severe cases, cats will develop a sudden lameness and severe pain in the rear legs. The rear legs may feel cold to the touch, as they are not receiving blood flow. The rear paws may be turned under (knuckling). This is due to a blood clot being thrown by the heart into the iliac artery or terminal (distal) aorta. This condition is also known as a saddle thrombus or a Feline Arterial ThromboEmbolism (FATE). It is a veterinary emergency.

If you notice any of these things, make notes on your cat's symptoms and take them to your veterinarian when you take the cat in for examination. Testing to determine whether the symptoms indicate HCM include an electrocardiogram, ultrasound imaging, chest X-rays, and other tests to rule out high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid. If you have access to one, it is best to have these tests performed by a veterinarian board-certified in cardiology, radiology, or internal medicine.

Can Feline HCM be Treated?

There is no cure at present for HCM in cats. But the condition can be managed if caught early. In some cats, it stabilizes and they are able to live a normal life with it.

Just as with human cardiac patients, a variety of drugs are available to control your cat's heart rate, fight congestion in the lungs, remove excess fluid in the body, and thin the blood to prevent clots. Some may be given at the vet's office by injection, while others can be given orally at home. In certain cases, your cat may even get nitroglycerine by applying it to the skin. You'd be amazed how similar the regimen is to that of a human patient with heart disease!

You'll want to restrict sodium in your cat's diet to keep blood pressure under control. Minimizing stress for your cat is also important. Kitty will need to refrain from strenuous exercise.

Keep an eye on your cat to see if the symptoms continue, improve, or get worse. Especially note breathing rate (breaths per minute) and write down these numbers in a log with dates and times of each count. If you notice the number rising above 40 breaths per minute, it's time to visit the vet again. Watch for lameness in the rear legs, as well. If you see that, your visit will be an emergency one.

Depending on the severity of the disease, a cat diagnosed with HCM may live for years. However, the quality of life will likely decline over those years. It is most often a progressive condition, and the drugs will not halt this progression. In cases with a saddle thrombus, the prognosis is not so good.

Older cats suffering from high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid gland can show symptoms of HCM without having it. But if they do get an HCM diagnosis, the other two conditions further complicate their treatment regimen.

Most cats with HCM eventually develop congestive heart failure (CHF). Fluid builds up in or around the lungs, making breathing difficult. This condition also warrants a trip to the veterinary emergency room.

When HCM affects a younger cat, the disease usually progresses quickly. Just as with human heart patients, there's no way to put a number on how long your cat may have to live with this condition.

Can Feline HCM be Prevented?

Not at this time. There is a blood test that can be conducted on Maine Coons and Ragdolls to look for the genetic markers that indicate the probability of developing HCM as low, moderate, or high. Breeders are advised to have an annual echocardiogram performed on cats in their breeding years. The Winn Feline Foundation also advises them not to breed cats at all who test positive for the cMyBP-C gene mutation.

Sphynx and Devon Rex cats can receive echocardiographs periodically as screening. And a normal result on a blood test called NT-proBNP can rule out HCM in cats exhibiting some of its symptoms, but can also show false positives in cats without symptoms.

The Winn Feline Foundation also recommends that the body of any cat who dies suddenly or dies from HCM undergo an autopsy to verify the disease and document its effects.

To support further research on HCM, you can make a donation to the Winn Feline Foundation's Ricky Fund, begun by animal expert Steve Dale in memory of his cat. As February is American Heart Month, it's the purr-fect time to do so!

Sources: "Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM)", Cornell University Hospital for Animals; "Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy", Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine; "Heart Disease (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy) in Cats", Pet MD; "Understanding Feline Cardiomyopathy", PennVet Ryan Hospital; "ACVIM Fact Sheet: Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Cats", American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine; "Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: Advice for Breeders", Winn Feline Foundation

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

About Your Cat's Teeth

About Your Cat's Teeth

From the instruments of gentle "love nibbles" to weapons used to inflict nasty wounds in cat fights, we're all aware that our cats have teeth, and that those teeth are used for many things. But how much do we really know about those feline choppers? Are we doing all we can to keep our cats' teeth and gums healthy? Let's see!

A Kitten's First Teeth

Kittens are born without teeth, and get their first set within 2-4 weeks after birth. The incisors (across the front) come in at about 2 weeks of age. Next are the canines (the long teeth, or "fangs") between 3-4 weeks old, followed by the premolars (just behind the canines, also called "bicuspids") at around 4-6 weeks. Kittens never develop molars as part of their baby teeth.

By 8 weeks (2 months) of age, the baby teeth are all grown in. In total, there are 26 of these kitten teeth, and as we all know, they are sharp as needles! Fortunately, they're not around for long.

Permanent Feline Teeth

At 3-4 months of age, kittens start losing their baby teeth and begin sprouting their adult set. First come the incisors up front (6 upper, 6 lower) from about 3.5 to 5.5 months. Before they're all in, the premolars (6 upper, 4 lower) will start growing in along the sides from 4-6 months of age. Next come the big canines (2 upper, 2 lower) at 5.5-6.5 months. While those are still developing fully, the permanent molars (farthest back on the jaw, 2 upper, 2 lower) will grow in starting around 5-6 months old. This is how your vet can tell your kitten's approximate age by looking at the teeth!

A total of 30 permanent teeth will come in, 16 in the upper jaw and 14 in the lower. Cats who are teething like to chew on things, probably for the same reason as human babies: it feels good to them and helps their teeth cut through the gums. Mine have been partial to paper: fast-food napkins, newspaper inserts, junk mail, toilet paper, bills...whatever's handy! They'll even pull tissues out of the box and shred them around the room. Thankfully, this is only a temporary stage. By the time your kitten is 7 months old, all the permanent teeth should have grown in.

Some cats will not lose all their baby teeth when the permanent teeth grow in. If this happens to yours and it's presenting a problem for your kitten, you can take him to the veterinarian to see if the baby tooth should be removed.

I've also experimented with using pacifers for human babies to give my teething cats something to satisfy that chewing urge. The only issue here is finding pacifers small enough for kittens; they do exist. They're not used by cats exactly like they're used by humans because the nipple portion of them is much larger than a cat's nipple. But The Golden Boys enjoyed carrying them around when they were teething and would chew on them a little. I like to think that they helped.

Because cats are obligate carnivores, their teeth are ideally constructed for tearing meat from the carcasses of prey animals. This means they're all sharp. Cats do not chew their food, they use their teeth to tear it, swallowing bigger chunks. The teeth are used like knives to "cut up" the meat so they can swallow it.

But as we've discussed above, cats use their teeth for far more than eating.

Feline teeth are used to catch and kill their prey. The incisors are ideally suited for grabbing a rat or other prey animal on the run and carrying it to where the cat will eat it. They grip and kill it with their canines. There's a small depression on the back of the neck that the cat can feel through its canine teeth, so they can tell where to bite to kill their prey quickly.

At the other end of the spectrum, a mother cat will gently carry her babies by the scruff of their necks with her teeth. This is why you can "scruff" a cat who is anxious to calm him; it's a comfortable feeling similar to being hugged by one's mother.

Cats also use their teeth to give gentle "love bites" when stimulated by a long petting session with their human. When they're young, make sure you train them to do this gently. I've accomplished this by overreacting when one of them would bite me a little too hard. They don't want to hurt you in these loving sessions, so will learn that you find that unpleasant and back off.

But if you're playing rough with your cat and overstimulate kitty, you'll get more than a gentle bite. Learn the warning signs of dilated eyes, swishing tail and a defensive posture, or you'll be enduring both teeth and claws! Cats most definitely use their teeth for defense and when fighting with other cats.

A cat's teeth are essential in combination with its sandpaper-like tongue to comb their fur, grab fleas in it, remove mats, and purge the coat of any other dirt or debris that has become entangled in it. Cats groom like this several times a day, which is why they seldom need for us to bathe them.

Aren't your cat's teeth wonderful?

The Role of Diet in Feline Dental Health

A obligate carnivores, cats in the wild are typically removing meat from the whole carcasses of prey animals. This naturally cleans their teeth, from tearing the tough muscles, joints, and ligaments to scraping every last bit off the larger bones while crunching up and eating the smaller ones.

Those who feed their cats a whole-prey raw diet report that their teeth remain sparkling clean, prompting the cats' veterinarians to inquire as to what type of oral hygiene program they're using. Feeding your cats this way does take some adjustment, however, and not everybody is up to it.

Next step down from that is a raw diet consisting of meat ground specifically for feeding to pets or a prepared raw diet. We'll be discussing these in more detail next month in a post on Feeding Your Cat for Optimal Health; watch for it.

If feeding your cats a whole-prey or raw diet is not something you can stomach, you can clean kitty's teeth by occasionally feeding a raw chicken neck or wings. Make sure it's raw, as cooked bones can cause your cat harm. Try to find canned foods that have whole pieces of meat in them, not the ground-up paté style. Breaking up those into bite-sized pieces with their teeth helps to clean them.

Even some veterinarians (who should know better) will tell you that your cat needs to eat some dry food to "clean the teeth." Don't believe it! Dry food is the worst kind of food you can feed your cat, regardless of the brand, the "grain free" designation, or the price tag. It won't clean your cat's teeth any better than a chunky form of canned food. And if you're feeding whole-prey raw or mixing in those chicken necks, you definitely don't need it.

Common Feline Dental Problems

Just as in humans, cats are subject to developing gingivitis, or gum disease, if their teeth are not kept clean. Ever smell that "fishy breath" that cats can get? It's a symptom of gum disease. Get your cat to the vet for a dental cleaning, which requires anesthesia, and to make sure it's not something worse...and there are several worse things it could be.

As plaque builds up on your cat's teeth without proper cleaning, your kitty can develop periodontal disease, where pockets form between the teeth and gums. Food then gets into these pockets and causes decay that, over time, leads to bone loss.

Some cats even need braces! They're not so much for looks as they are to correct severe deformities of the cat's mouth area. Some Persian cats have severely protruding upper fangs that need correction. Other cats may have theirs sticking out at odd angles, giving them an uneven bite that makes it hard for them to eat. Even drinking water is difficult for cats with these problems. So feline orthodontia is more medically necessary than in humans.

Did you know that cats can get cavities? It's true! They're different from ours, however, in that they tend to start at the gumline and usually result in loss of the tooth. Veterinarians call these ondoclastic resorptive lesions or "FORLs" and they're quite painful for the cat. They most often strike the premolars (bicuspids) on the lower jaw. Cats who have this may salivate more, show bleeding in the gums, or even have difficulty eating. Your vet can tell if your cat has a FORL because the cat will react severely to a dental probe in that area. The tooth will need to be removed, along with any adjacent tissue that has been affected.

Cats can also get endodontic disease. When the root canal of a cat's tooth is exposed to bacteria, often due to a broken tooth, it typically results in a tooth root abscess. The infection can spread to tissues around the tooth, as well. It most often happens to the canine teeth and the fourth upper premolar. The tooth may be broken due to an accident, a fight, or biting down hard on something harder than the cat's teeth. A cat may avoid that side of the mouth when chewing, drop food chewed on that side, or paw at the area. There may be swelling in the cheek just under the eye. Get your kitty to the vet before this abscess bursts and spreads infection everywhere!

A similar condition that affects the cat's entire mouth is stomatitis. This is possibly caused by an autoimmune problem. Dental plaque triggers an overreaction by the cat's immune system, causing kitty's mouth tissues to become inflamed. Cats who get this usually salivate a lot and lose weight due to an inability to eat. The condition can extend all the way into the cat's throat area. Kitty's gumline will be red and swollen, even if you can't see any plaque on his teeth. Again, this is a condition that mainly affects the molars and premolars. The treatment for it involves removing all of the cat's teeth.

When left untreated, feline oral disease will harbor infection that can be spread through the cat's bloodstream to the major organs: heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs. Serious health issues can develop and cost you thousands of dollars in care...or even cost your cat its life! Isn't it worth investing a little time and money in properly caring for your cat's teeth instead?

Additional Risk Factors for Feline Oral Disease

Certain breeds of cats have a higher incidence of feline periodontal disease. These include Siamese and Oriental Shorthair cats.

Older cats are also more susceptible to dental problems. If a proper oral health program is not in place, cats as young as 3 years can start to show signs of tooth and gum disease - that's the equivalent to a human of 28-32 years old! But imagine the condition of your teeth if you never brushed them for that long.

If your cat has the FIV, FeLV (feline leukemia), or FIP, he will be more disposed to developing dental disease. This makes sense, as the cat's immune system is already compromised.

If your cats fall into any of these groups, keep a close eye on their teeth and get them checked regularly by your veterinarian.

Watch Out for Cat Bites!

We all get bitten by our cats from time to time; whether it's during a bath, trying to give a pill, or if one of them gets a fright and freaks out. Claw damage is bad enough, but if your cat bites you, don't take it lightly.

Your cat's teeth have a lot of bacteria on them. And those canines are long and sharp, so they'll carry that bacteria deep under your skin. They're made for piercing flesh and killing prey, remember? If they can cut through a rat's vertebrae and spinal cord, they can do some serious damage to you, as well.

If the wound appears to be healing, it could still be harboring these germs underneath the skin, where they'll be carried throughout your body in your bloodstream. Soon you could develop an abscess that could burst and cause all kinds of problems. People have ended up in the hospital over a "minor" cat bite because they didn't treat it properly.

If you get bitten by your cat, or by all means if a stray bites you, immediately flush the wound with saline solution or hydrogen peroxide. Bandage it to stem the worst of the bleeding (a little is actually a good thing) and go to the doctor to get an antibiotic. It's not something to dismiss as minor.

Proper Feline Oral Care

A proper diet and regular dental care may prevent your cat from having to endure the problems listed above. Feeding the proper diet, as described above, will help.

If your cat will tolerate it, you can brush his teeth. There are special cat toothbrushes made just for this; a human one is too large. And never use human toothpaste for a cat (even the natural brands); you'll need to get some of the special toothpaste made just for cats. Start brushing kitty's teeth at a young age, make it a pleasant experience, and the cat may actually enjoy it. I know an animal communicator whose cat told her she liked having her teeth brushed because it made her feel like a little person!

Not all cats will tolerate tooth brushing, however. There are several alternatives, from water additives and sprays to treats, that work to varying degrees. Every cat is different. Visit Old Maid Cat Lady's Feline Oral Care section to see what may work for your own cat.

Even without teeth, cats can usually eat most canned foods without hesitation, and can even crunch up some dry foods with just their jawbones. (But remember the caveat above about the unhealthy nature of dry food for cats.) You can pay more for better food and proper dental care now, or pay more in the long run, while your cat suffers from mouth pain and possible serious disease from untreated dental problems.

February is Pet Dental Health Month, so it's a great time to call your vet and make an appointment for a feline dental check. Do it today!

Sources: "Dental Anatomy of Cats", Vivo, Colorado State University; "When Kitty Needs a Dentist", Cornell Feline Health Center; "5 Things About Your Cat's Teeth", JaneA Kelley, Catster; "Cats: Teeth", Kidzone; "Feline Dental Health Concerns: Resorption Lesions and Stomatitis", Town Centre Veterinary Hospital; "Tooth Root Abscess in Cats", Dr. Jan Bellows, VCA Hospitals; "Endodontic Disease and Root Canal Treatment", American Veterinary Dental College; "8 FAQs about Dental Disease in Cats (Feline Periodontal Disease)", MedicAnimal; "Cat Teeth", Cat World Australia; "Twelve Facts About Your Cat's Teeth", Show Cats Online.