Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Feline H1N1: No Need To Panic

I have been asked by a few people about the possibility of cats getting swine flu. Can they get it? Can they transmit it to me?

I imagine most of you saw this news item that was published a few days ago: The Oregon state public health veterinarian has reported that a pet cat has died from presumed 2009 H1N1 influenza virus infection. The cat was one of 4 cats in the household and became ill approximately one week after a child in the household had a flu-like illness. It developed labored breathing and was presented to a veterinarian on November 4. The cat was not coughing or sneezing but had pneumonia. The cat's condition deteriorated over the next 3 days, and it died on November 7. Samples were obtained and tested positive for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. Additional samples were sent to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) for confirmation and are still pending. At this time this is a presumed, not confirmed, case of 2009 H1N1 influenza infection.


The three other cats in the household also became ill with different degrees of sneezing and coughing, but recovered from their illnesses. Samples collected from these cats were negative for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus.


For more current information about H1N1 in cats, check out these resources:

2009 H1N1 Flu Virus Outbreak


Frequently Asked Questions by Veterinarians about 2009 H1N1 Flu Virus

The messages to cat owners remain the same. This is not cause for panic, but underscores the importance of taking pets to a veterinarian if they are showing signs of illness. This is especially important if someone in the household has recently been ill with flu-like symptoms.

To date, all of the sick pets became ill after a person in the household was ill with flu-like symptoms. There is no evidence to suggest that cats have or will spread the virus to humans or other animals. At the moment, it seems more likely that people can spread it to their cats, rather than the other way around. Proper hygiene and sanitation measures should be followed to limit the spread of the influenza virus.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Old is My Cat in Human Years?

Last week was a fun week, because I got to see a lot of old cats. Really old cats. You see, I really like the geriatrics. I feel that cats give us so much entertainment when they're young and crazy, and so much love and companionship during their bulk of their lives, while requiring relatively little maintenance. When they get old and more dependent on us, I feel it is time for us to give the love back. I guess my reputation as a geriatric-cat lover has gotten around, because people keep bringing me the oldies, and I love it! Today I saw Dino, aged 19 yrs, 3 months. He's got kidney disease (mild) and hyperthyroidism (controlled), and he looks absolutely great for his age. The real kicker was last Friday. I examined Carlota, aged 20 years, 4 months. She's got glaucoma in one eye, asthma, and chronic renal failure. She's tiny and frail, but totally adorable. The funny thing is, she wasn't the oldest cat in the hospital that day. While I was examining her, Jake was relaxing in our boarding ward downstairs. Jake is 21 years, 4 months, and has been a patient of mine for years. His owner travels a lot, so Jake boards with us a lot, and of course we've grown super-fond of him over the years. Every time he feels a little under the weather, we panic a little, but before we know it, he bounces right back. This cat is going to live forever. So... exactly how old is "old"?

I confess, one thing that drives me crazy is when people who own a 20 year old cat say, "That's like a person being 140." Um, no it's not. The notion that dogs (and cats) age seven years for every one year is a myth that’s managed to stick around for years. If you think about it, it is not uncommon for some cats to live to be 18 or 19 years old. If they aged seven years for every one year, then an 18-year-old cat would be equivalent to a 126-year-old person, which is clearly not very likely. In my own veterinary practice, there are at least 10 cats who are over 20 years old, but there are certainly no 140-year-old people. The “seven-to-one” rule is just not true. Cats age faster when they’re younger, but this slows down as they get older. At 6 months of age, a female cat already can reproduce. So, at what age can a person reproduce? Let's be conservative and say 15. At 1 year of age, cat bones fully stop growing. This occurs in people at approximately 24 years of age, give or take a few years. So, a 1-year-old cat is roughly equivalent to a 24-year-old person. From that point on, cats age approximately three to four years for every one year. Or so I thought.

Here's the ORIGINAL chart that I made. It was based on my personal opinion and experience:

(click image for full view)

I based the above chart on the fact that 20 year old cats used to be about as rare as 100 year old people. But, since I graduated vet school, advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in cats living longer than ever before. And as you can see from my story last week, I had three cats that were just around 20 years old. So, here's my REVISED chart. Again, it's not an exact science, but I think it's probably reasonably accurate:

(click image for full view)


Hopefully, cats will continue to live longer and longer lives. I would love nothing more than to revise this chart over and over again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A List of Cats with Diplomas

Cat Diploma Article Proves Wikipedia's Worth
Posted by: Mike Pomranz
on Comedy Central's Tosh.0 Blog

cat-reading-a-book
The online, user-generated encyclopedia known as Wikipedia seems to receive as much criticism as it does praise. People complain the site isn't properly vetted enough to be cited as a reputable source or it's littered with graffiti and biases or that half the information in there no one actually cares about…
Hogwash! All of it!!
Where else can you find information like this: An article entitled "List of cats with fraudulent diplomas"??
Just think, you're sitting around your living room thinking to yourself, "What was the name of that cat with a fraudulent diploma?"
Your damn Encyclopedia Britannica won't be able to tell you jack squat on that topic. Your only hope is to go to an encyclopedia with an almost excessive amount of room for articles that no one will ever check …and, thusly, Wikipedia is by far your best option.
Granted, the article may have been written by a cat, jealous of his feline contemporaries, who is attempting to discredit the valid collegiate credentials of one of his academic adversaries.
But that's just part of the risk you take using Wikipedia: That the article you are reading may have been authored by a vengeful cat.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pica - When Cats Eat Weird Things


by Dr. Arnold Plotnick MS, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP

“Tom”, an 8-month old male domestic shorthaired kitten, presented to my hospital with a complaint of lethargy and unusual ingestive behavior. According to his owners Pat Galloway and Peter Webb, the normally rambunctious kitten had become lethargic over the past two days, spending most of his time sleeping. The cat’s appetite had markedly decreased, although he was still gaining weight nicely and was a healthy 8 ½ lbs. They also reported that Tom had been seen eating his clay cat litter and licking the floor around his litter box.

Physical examination revealed pale gums, and a quick in-house test confirmed that Tom was severely anemic. Additional tests showed that Tom’s bone marrow was not properly compensating for the anemia by producing more red blood cells, suggesting a primary bone marrow disorder. Tom was given a life-saving blood transfusion, and a bone marrow evaluation was performed soon afterward. Tom was diagnosed with pure red cell aplasia (PRCA), a severe form of anemia that is believed to result from an immune system disorder. High doses of immunosuppressive drugs were prescribed, and Tom’s red blood cell count increased steadily over the course of a few weeks. Meanwhile, Pat and Peter had quickly switched from clay-based to wheat-based litter, in an attempt to discourage Tom from eating his litter, as clay litter contains bentonite which can form a hard clump in the intestines, leading to obstruction. The switch worked; Tom stopped nibbling on his litter. As the anemia came under control, an attempt was made to try to reduce Tom’s medication dose. Eventually, his condition was maintained on every other day therapy, and Tom appeared healthy.

Three months later, however, Tom presented to my hospital with a complaint of a gradual onset of lethargy and decreased appetite over the past week. Pat and Peter also reported an unusual new behavior: Tom had begun licking the silverware. Physical exam and blood tests revealed that Tom’s condition had relapsed. Fortunately, he responded well to another transfusion and to an increase in his medication, and Tom is now back to normal; no more anemia, and no more licking of the silverware.

Pica” (pronounced “PIE-kuh”) is the voluntary ingestion of non-edible materials. The term comes from the Latin word “magpie”, because magpies are said to eat almost anything. Pica accounts for approximately 2.5% of abnormal behaviors in the domestic cat. The etiology of true pica is not known, although mineral deficiencies or psychological disturbances are often blamed. Tom’s case is interesting in that his pica – eating litter and licking silverware – seemed to be clearly connected to a medical disorder (his anemia).

Wool-sucking is a commonly described abnormal ingestive behavior in cats. Wool-sucking, however, is a compulsive, misdirected form of nursing behavior and technically should be distinguished from true cases of pica.

“Kittens nurse fairly actively for the first seven weeks of their lives, with mom rebuffing them at the latter end of the period in order to ‘teach’ them to fend for themselves”, explains Dr. Nick Dodman, Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and author of book The Cat Who Cried for Help. “’Comfort nursing’ (running to mom for a couple of quick sucks even when the milk bar is dry) is normal kitten behavior, even up to 6 months of age. As the kitten grows older and shifts its preference to solid food, the drive to nurse fades.” If, however, this natural progression is disrupted by abrupt early weaning while the kitten’s nursing drive is still very powerful, the kitten may displaces its nursing onto substrates that look or feel like mom. “They may begin sucking on themselves, their littermates, or certain wooly materials, especially wool itself”, says Dr. Dodman. Human infants show similar behavior when they suck their thumbs or a pacifier. In general, the younger a kitten is when it is weaned, the stronger the nursing drive, and the more persistent this non-nutritional sucking may become.

Wool sucking usually fades over time as the kitten develops other interests. For those kittens whose wool sucking has apparently faded into oblivion, however, vague memories of this behavior may persist throughout life, and in moments of stress or conflict, it may resurface as a comfort behavior. In some cases, it may assume compulsive proportions. In other cats, wool sucking doesn't resurface, possibly because serious conflict does not arise.

Wool sucking is usually not a problem, “especially if the behavior remains at the ‘wool sucking only’ stage”, says Dr. Dodman. Some cats, however, progress to actually eating the non-nutritional materials, predisposing the cat to potentially serious problems such as gastrointestinal obstructions.

Such was the case with Pumpkin. Many years ago, while working for a feline-exclusive veterinary practice in Baltimore, I was presented with a big 4 year-old orange male tabby. The complaint was poor appetite and vomiting of three days duration, and before I could even start my exam, Pumpkin’s owner warned me that Pumpkin had always had a penchant for plastic bags. Three years prior, Pumpkin had a plastic bag surgically removed from his stomach, and his owner was having that unmistakable feeling of déjà vu. Sure enough, x-rays revealed the presence of something odd in Pumpkin’s gastrointestinal tract, and during exploratory surgery, a sizeable chunk of a plastic grocery bag was extracted from Pumpkin’s intestine. Fortunately, Pumpkin recovered uneventfully.

An attraction to plastic is a common scenario encountered by feline practitioners. Exactly why cats like plastic remains unknown, although several theories abound. Some people have speculated that cats like the coolness of the plastic, or the texture on their tongue, or perhaps the sound it makes when they lick. The most logical reason I’ve heard, however, is that cats like licking or eating plastic bags because rendered animal fat (also called “tallow”) is utilized during the manufacture of some plastic bags, and that some cats can detect the smell and enjoy the taste. Other versions of this explanation have implicated petroleum products and gelatin as the enticing ingredients. Gelatin, in fact, is used in the manufacture of many items including the emulsion used in photographs, which may explain why my own carnivorous cat, Emma, enthusiastically licked clean all of my unattended family photos one afternoon. I’ve never been able to confirm the tallow-petroleum-gelatin theory, so CatFancy readers should not take this as the gospel truth. But it sure makes sense to me.

Because pica can be a sign of an underlying medical problem, like Tom’s anemia, cats displaying unusual ingestive behavior should be examined by a veterinarian. Certainly, cats with unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms and a history of eating unusual objects should be examined right away, and clients should inform the veterinarian if the cat has a known tendency toward dietary indiscretion, since GI obstructions may be life-threatening. Pica might seem like charming, quirky behavior, however, because of the potential harm from eating non-nutritional material, cat owners should discourage this behavior.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I Sorta Understand Cats, but I'll Never Understand People

Try as I might, I'll never understand some people.

About two months ago, I examined a sweet 8 year-old female mackerel tabby with a tumor on her back. On physical exam, everything was fine except for the tumor. I could tell that this was a terrible tumor - large, firm, ulcerated, infiltrative. A disaster. The clients, who I guessed to be in their late fifties or early sixties, had taken their cat to the Animal Medical Center and were told that this was likely a vaccine-induced sarcoma; the only chance they had to cure this cat was to remove the tumor completely, and that this would involve the removal of the right hind limb. Even then, there was no guarantee that it wouldn't recur. They decided not to amputate. A reasonable decision.

As expected, the tumor grew, and they came to my office to see if I could offer some palliative treatment. Removal of the tumor was impossible, but I could see that there were some areas of the tumor that had become cystic and were leaking fluid. I offered the option of draining some of this fluid from the tumor, and cleaning it with an antiseptic as best I could. I told them that the cyst fluid would recur, but that removing it might provide some improvement. They were fine with this.

During the course of the appointment, while I was draining the cyst, I was making small talk with the husband. He had used some medical terms to describe the appearance of the tumor. I guess I looked a little surprised at his use of medical jargon, until he told me that he was a human radiologist. We chatted some more. I mentioned something about the size of the tumor, and he said, "yeah, and to think, it was so small when we first discovered it". I was kinda shocked. I just assumed that when he first felt it, it was already fairly infiltrated into the underlying tissue, like many of them usually are when they are first detected by the owner. I asked him about this. "Yeah," he said, "it was about the size of a pea." Before I could say anything further, his wife said, in a very matter-of-fact manner, "we made the decision not to pursue any treatment".

So here I have, in my exam room, a man and a woman who were fortunate to discover a pea-sized growth on their cat. Not just any man, either. A human radiologist! I mean, who would know better than a radiologist that early detection is the key to successful treatment of cancer?! They discover a small growth on their cat, and they put their heads together and decide that they're going to let this thing grow! And that's exactly what they did. They let this thing grow until it consumed and destroyed their cat. It's not like these people are ignorant! He's a radiologist, for heaven's sake!

I got very worked up about this with my staff, after the appointment, fuming and raging about this. I was also angry at myself for never asking them the simple question: why? I guess I was too flabbergasted to even ask.

Today, the husband brought the cat in for euthanasia. The tumor was now a huge, oozing, foul-smelling, infected monstrosity. Clearly, the cat needed to be euthanized, and as my staff and I prepared for this, I mentioned to the owner, as kindly as possible, that I recall him saying that they discovered the mass when it was small, and that they decided not to pursue it. "Why, if you don't mind me asking, did you not pursue it when it was small?", I asked, quietly. I needed to know. He replied, "I guess we just felt that we should just let the disease run its course." He added, sheepishly, "Maybe that was a mistake."

Maybe? Maybe?? I wonder, as a radiologist, had he ever detected a mass in a person's lung and said to that person's son, or wife, or mother, "We found a small mass. I think it would be best to just let it run its course." I think not.

I will say, though, that despite what I considered to be some truly stunning callousness, the man did appear to be grieving for his cat. I had my answer, and of course I now let the matter drop. We humanely euthanized the cat. After 21 years of treating cats, I like to think that I get closer and closer to understanding what they're truly about. I could live to be 150, though, and I know that I'll never come close to understanding people.

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Related: http://manhattancats.com/Articles/Feline_Cancer.html


Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Cat Piano (An Animated Short Film)



A city of singing cats is preyed upon by a shadowy figure intent on performing a twisted feline symphony.

The Cat Piano is an 8-minute short film directed by Eddie White and Ari Gibson.

The Cat Piano features the voice of iconic Australian artist Nick Cave narrating a poem written by Eddie White. Nick Cave recorded the narration whilst in Melbourne in 2007 while on tour with his band, The Grinderman.

Reader Question: My Siamese Cat Is Constantly Itching


Cat Channel
My Siamese Cat Is Constantly Itching
CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses flea allergy, food allergy and atopy.

Dr. Arnold Plotnick is one of CatChannel's feline health experts.

Q: I have a male Siamese cat who is about 10 years old. He does not have fleas, as my female would probably have them, too. He scratches, and has small scabs and scratches his hair right out. His vet gave him a shot that stopped him for a few weeks, but now it seems to be worse than ever. What could be causing it?

A: I suspect your cat has allergies. The most common types of allergies in cats are flea allergy, food allergy and atopy (allergic inhalant dermatitis).  Most cats with flea allergy have visible fleas, but not always. Cats with flea allergic dermatitis can show intense itching from only one or two flea bites. Food allergy is another common cause of itching in cats, especially if the itching is around the head and face. A diagnosis of food allergy can be achieved by feeding your cat a hypoallergenic diet. This is a diet that contains a protein source that your cat has not been exposed to.  A few companies manufacture diets for this purpose. Hill’s, for example, has diets in which the primary protein source is venison or duck. Be aware that it can take up to 12 weeks to see a response.

Cats with atopy are allergic to something they inhale in their environment.  In some cases, it is seasonal, such as a plant pollen that appears at certain times of the year. In other cases, it can be year round, for example, in cats that are allergic to house dust mites.

I suspect your cat has atopy, because he responded to an injection given by your vet and it sounds like you've ruled out fleas. The injection was probably an anti-inflammatory drug (a corticosteroid). Food allergy often responds poorly to corticosteroids, but atopy and flea-allergy respond dramatically.

To be thorough, I’d treat your cats with a dose of one of the common monthly topical flea control products, to rule out flea allergy. Your cat may ultimately need to be treated again with anti-inflammatory medication. However, rather than give an injection, you vet should prescribe this medication in pill form, so that you can gradually taper to the lowest dose that controls the itching. Ideally, this would be administered every other day. You should also consider giving a supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as they are also have anti-inflammatory effects in the skin.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Aging Cats Nutrition Needs Change


Aging Cats Nutrition Needs Change

Americas most popular pet, cat, lives more than half his life in the senior years. Although advances in health care, better nutrition and better educated owners helped to increase the quantity and quality of those years, studies show that older cats continue to struggle with weight as a result of reduced activity levels and a steady decline in senses, nutrient absorption and digestion of fats.

"One of the most important objectives when feeding older cats maintain ideal weight and maintaining that weight stable," said Dr. Arnold Plotnick, who developed a senior wellness program to meet the specific needs of aging cats on his veterinary clinic, Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York.

Owners of older cats may help their aging felines maintain ideal body weight throughout the senior lifestage feeding diet, which addresses the unique nutritional needs. Purina Pro Plan, for example, is to redesign a number of senior cat foods to address the changing nutritional needs of aging cats in two different stages leading lifestage: 7 to 11 (mature) and 11 and up (senior).

As cats age, there is a gradual decline in the body's ability to repair itself, maintain a normal body functions and adapt to stresses in the environment. Disease and weight changes are common throughout the senior lifestage.

Cats are more likely to face an increase in body weight over the years, the advanced level of activity decreases and metabolism slows. But around 11 years, weight loss is becoming an increasing problem.

11-plus years is particularly problematic in cats because of their sense of smell and taste are often reduced at this time, which affects their interest in food. The ability to absorb key nutrients and digestion of fats decreases, which in itself eat less effective.

Undesirable consequence is that more food passes through as waste and less energy is used, which causes a decrease of muscle mass and body fat, leading to potentially harmful weight loss.

In addition to providing the proper diet, owners of older cats pay close attention to the activities of its cat 'levels, weight and eating, grooming and elimination habits, and report anything new or different from their vet.

Although many of these changes are a normal part of aging, others may signal a more serious problem. Planning veterinary visits at least twice a year, it is good practice in higher years, many potentially serious diseases are treatable if caught early.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do Cats Grieve for Other Cats?

It happened 26 years ago, but my memory of the incident remains vivid.

With my sights set on becoming a veterinarian, I was working as a volunteer at a local veterinarian’s office in Gainesville, Florida, to obtain that all-important “real life” experience. It was a weekday, and the first appointment of the afternoon was a woman who was bringing in her cat, Sarah, for a physical examination. “She has no interest in food, no interest in people; she just sits next to the couch and doesn’t move”, said the owner, a woman in her 50s. This subdued behavior had been going on for four days. The doctor asked the woman about the days preceding Sarah’s lethargy and loss of appetite, and whether anything in the cat’s environment had changed. In a soft, forlorn voice, the woman proceeded to tell the veterinarian that Sarah had a littermate – a sister – and that they were inseparable. Both cats had access to a small backyard through a kitty door, and would often hang out in the yard together. Four days prior, the sister was in the yard by herself when a neighborhood dog managed to get into the yard, chase down the sister, and attack and kill her. Sarah was inside the house at the time, looking into the yard from the window. She witnessed the entire incident. “From that point on”, said the woman, “she’s been like this”, pointing to Sarah. I looked over at the cat, huddled on the exam table, disinterested in her surroundings, inconsolable.
The veterinarian examined her from head to tail. A “use caution” sticker on Sarah’s record indicated that she was known to be feisty during veterinary exams. But not that day. She put up no fuss as the doctor poked and prodded. The doctor pronounced the cat healthy, and told the client that in his professional opinion, Sarah was clearly grieving for her sister. “I wouldn’t have thought cats were capable of mourning”, said her owner, “but I see it now with my own eyes. I’ve never seen anything so sad in my life.”

Grief occurs as a result of the abrupt or unexpected severing of attachment. Although cats are thought of as being aloof and solitary, they are, in fact, social animals, and are as capable as dogs of forming deep attachments to people and other animals. It stands to reason that a severing of that attachment would lead to grieving. As a veterinarian and advice columnist, I am often asked whether I think cats grieve or mourn the loss of a feline companion. I certainly feel that they do, but cats cannot speak, and we can only guess at what their true emotions might be at any given time.

“Culturally, we try to deny human-like behaviors in animals,” says Alan Beck, Professor and Director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “People used to believe that animals didn’t feel pain”, says Beck. “We know, of course, that this isn’t true. Then, they used to question whether animals could think. Clearly, they can.” Beck adds, “I suppose that denying animal’s human-like behaviors allows us to be more comfortable eating them and using them.” But attitudes toward animals have changed over the years. While he believes that cats probably don’t perceive death the same way as people do, for pet cats experiencing a drastic change in their environment, it seems reasonable to think that they do grieve. “We can’t be certain if they mourn in the human sense of the word, but we should give them the benefit of the doubt”, says Beck. “If something would cause stress in a human, we should assume it would cause stress in animals.”

There are clear differences between human and feline grieving. Humans can show grief for distant relatives or for public figures. Cats lack the abstraction that allows people to grieve for those they’ve never met; cats only grieve for familiar and close companions. Cats do not demonstrate the same ritualized ways of dealing with their grief as humans do, but they do exhibit their own signs of mourning. In 1996, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted the Companion Animal Mourning Project. The study found that 46% of cats ate less than usual after the death of a companion cat. Around 70% showed a change in vocalization pattern (they meowed significantly more often, or significantly less, than normal). More than half of the cats became more affectionate and “clingy” with their owners, and many of the cats slept more, and changed the location of where they usually slept. Overall, 65% of cats exhibited four or more behavior changes after losing a pet companion.

Alison Fraser needs no convincing. When not singing or dancing on Broadway, the Tony-nominated performer could usually be found doting on her cats, Iggy and Pete. This past August, however, tragedy struck when Iggy, who had been coping well with his heart disease (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), suffered an embolus and became acutely paralyzed in his rear legs. He died soon afterward. “Pete mourned for days”, says Alison. This wasn’t the first time Pete had shown mourning behavior. When Alison’s husband Rusty became ill, Pete got very stressed and began to overgroom, barbering his tail nearly to the point of baldness. When Rusty passed away, Pete mourned for weeks. Not long afterward, Pete’s other feline companion, Valentine, died of chronic renal failure, and once again, Pete grieved for weeks, moping, hiding, and overgrooming. Alison adopted Iggy as a companion for the sullen Pete. Fortunately, Iggy and Pete clicked right away, with Pete acting as Iggy’s protector. “Iggy died so suddenly”, says Alison, “that Pete never got to say a proper goodbye.” Until Alison came home with Iggy’s ashes. “When I brought the ashes home, I placed the urn in the middle of the living room floor. Pete went over to the urn, laid his chin on it, and kept it there for an hour. I believe this was Pete’s way of saying his final goodbye.”
(See poignant photo)

The question often arises as to whether it is a good idea to allow surviving cats to see the body of the deceased cat. “Whether this is helpful or not is the subject of debate”, says Dr. Nicholas Dodman, board certified veterinary behaviorist at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, and author of The Cat Who Cried for Help, “and there is little evidence to support either view.” Some researchers believe that a cat perceives death the way a young child might perceive it, i.e. they lack the concept of death being a permanent state. If that’s true, then showing them the body “would be like letting a 2 year-old see a deceased family member at a funeral. The consequences just don’t register”, says Dr. Dodman. On the other hand, if dogs and cats do comprehend death more than we give them credit for, viewing a deceased companion may help to explain why that companion cat won’t be around in the future. Anecdotally, people have reported that some cats stop searching for an absent companion after being shown the body of a deceased companion. This may indicate that cats have at least some comprehension that something dead cannot come alive again. This may be linked to the fact that they are predators. “The weight of opinion today is that a ‘viewing’ is not likely to help a pet understand the death of a companion”, says Dodman. “But”, he adds, “I think we should give our pets the benefit of the doubt and allow them to, if we feel it might help. After all, if the human experience is anything to go by, it may help some come to terms with what has transpired.”

Life abruptly becomes very different for the surviving cat, and it will require extra attention, compassion, and reassurance during this period. If the surviving cat had access to the outdoors, this should be restricted, as the cat may stray off into unfamiliar territory and get into dangerous situations as it searches for the lost companion. Time heals all wounds, and if the cat is showing other signs of depression (poor appetite, change in sleeping pattern, excessive vocalization, overgrooming, pacing, searching), these often dissipate after a few weeks, although it can take as long as six months. “Enriching the environment, by offering new toys, treats, etc. is helpful and recommended”, says Dr. Dodman, as this may help reduce a clingy cat’s sudden over-attachment, and may draw the cat out of its shell. In a multi-cat household, the surviving cats will eventually work out the new social order. Whether getting a replacement cat right away is a good idea is debatable. Pete found Iggy to be a welcome distraction, but this is usually the exception rather than the rule. A cat in the throes of grief may not be able to handle the additional stress of a new feline intruder. “In some instances, severely affected cats may require anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication”, warns Dodman. As with humans, cats need time to process the loss.

Cats are resilient animals. If given time to grieve, they will return to some of their old rituals, develop new rituals, and once again regain the contentment that they previously enjoyed.

( see also: Do Animals Mourn posted in the The Sun UK )


Monday, November 2, 2009

Examining Cats: Sticking to the Routine


Interesting case the other day. A client came in with her 11 year-old cat. I was the third or fourth vet that she was consulting. Her cat Bobby had been losing some weight and had developed a weird cough that occurred when he tried to purr. Other vets had taken x-rays and tried antibiotics, but the cat never really responded. Now the cough was getting worse, and the cat was becoming more lethargic, less interested in food, less interested in life. I looked at the x-rays that she had brought from the other hospital, and it looked like a classic asthmatic pattern. I figured the cat had asthma and would probably benefit from a tapering course of steroids. After chatting with the client some more, we took the cat out of the carrier and I started my physical examination.

I've performed physical examinations on cats thousands of times. I do them the same way, over and over again, like a robot. I check the eyes. I check the ears. I check the teeth. I open the mouth. I check the lymph nodes under the jaw (the submandibular nodes). I check the lymph nodes deep in the neck (the prescapular nodes). I listen to the heart and lungs. I palpate the abdomen. I feel the femoral pulses. I check the lymph nodes in the back of the legs. I feel for lumps and bumps on the skin. Same way every time.

Of the thousands of times I've felt the pre-scapular lymph nodes, maybe once out of every 10,000 times, I'll discover something abnormal. It's not a high-yield procedure. You try to feel the nodes. You can't find them because they're too small to feel. This means they're normal. This is what happens, over and over again. So, why bother feeling for them, if the odds of feeling anything is so small? You do it because of that one time when you do feel something abnormal. Like I did with Bobby.

I got to the pre-scapular lymph node part of the exam on Bobby, and I was stunned to discover that the left lymph node was the size of a cherry tomato. A very firm cherry tomato. I pointed it out to the client. She was shocked. Shocked that she never felt this, given the fact that she's always patting and feeling her cat. And shocked that the three or four previous vets never detected it. I recommended a biopsy and she readily agreed. The result: high grade lymphosarcoma, a type of cancer. Today we began his chemotherapy. Let's see how well he does.

I guess the point I'm making here is this: you can have all of the fancy machines that money can buy, all of the high-tech toys, all of the fancy laboratory tests at your disposal. But nothing beats a good physical exam.
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