Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tick Tick Boom

Spring is coming VERY slowly to Wisconsin this year. The unofficial word is that we have had only 2 sunny days in the month of April. And if the usual April showers weren't bad enough, it SNOWED last week! I have been able to send my boots back to the closet (see last months post), but with early AM temperatures in the 30's, I still wore a head band, gloves, and an extra layer under my polar fleece jacket when walking Gator this morning. At least I didn't have to wear rain gear like earlier this week. (update: back to rain gear for our evening walk).

In spite of the temperature, the grass is getting green, trees are starting to bud, and the creepy crawlies are creeping and crawling again. One day one of Gator's dog park buddies had a tick on her, then within days, I was hearing of other dogs having multiple ticks. I was told the same from friends who worked with wildlife. There are already ticks on cats coming into the clinic I used to work at.

Ok, so the ticks are out again, what's that got to do with the title?

Wisconsin winters are not condusive to outdoor bike riding. That means alot of time on the trainer indoors. Anyone who's spent hours on the trainer knows how tedious this is. Watching TV, even if it's saved DVR recordings of my favorite Tour de France climbing stages, didn't always get me motivated for hard work, that's where the iPod comes in handy. I have it loaded with enough "kick your butt" songs to last for even the longest training session. One of my favorite songs for training was the Hives' "Tick Tick Boom". No matter how unmotivated I was, that song never failed at getting me going. It's doing it now. The rainy, dreary days of April failed to motivate me to write another entry until now. Explosion of the tick population? Tick Tick Boom. Of course.

Other than being creepy to alot of people (I'm the opposite: for some reason, a spider will cause me to panic, but a tick crawling on me is no problem) ticks can pose a health risk to our pets as well as us.

Lyme disease is what we think about the most in Wisconsin, but there are other serious tick-borne diseases such as anaplasmosis, hemobartonellosis (now mycoplasmosis), babesiosis, and ehrlichiosis.

Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a type of bacteria which is transmitted by the bite of infected ticks. The most common type of tick associated with Lyme disease is what is commonly called the deer tick, however other tick species have been found to carry it also. The bacteria are transmitted by the tick as if feeds, so removing the tick before it attaches and feeds can prevent the disease. However, once in the blood stream, it is carried to many parts of the body.

Lyme disease produces symptoms characterized by arthritis, though it can sometimes involve heart, nervous system and the kidneys. The arthritic joints may become swollen and hot, and there may be a fever (102 to 105 degrees) and poor appetite. Pets may also become lame because of the disease. This painful lameness often appears suddenly and may shift from one leg to another. If untreated, it may eventually disappear, only to recur weeks or months later. Happily, in the years I practiced, I only saw 1 cat with Lyme disease.

Diagnosis of Lyme disease is based on risk of exposure, clinical symptoms and blood testing. Only a veterinarian can make the diagnosis.

Lyme Disease can be treated by antibiotics. With early detection, relief of symptoms can be seen within 24 hours of treatment. Chronic cases require longer periods of treatment.

The best way to prevent tick carried diseases is to prevent tick bites. There are many products available that reduce tick bites and kill ticks; consult your veterinarian about the best product for your pet. Check your pet for ticks after going outside, and remove the tick(s) as soon as possible.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What Not to Wear: Dog Park Edition

I've been a fan of TLC's What Not to Wear from the beginning, first as the British show, to the early days of the American version with Stacy and Wayne, then with Wayne's replacement, Clinton.

Week after week, I've watched as Stacy & Clinton work their magic on the style-challenged "victim" of the day. Overall, the clothing they select is beautiful to look at and quite wearable, but sometimes I see the outfits and think "sure, that's fine for New York City, but in <insert your favorite city name here>, really?? This was definitely the case as I watched the February 15, 2011 episode about Azi, the Social Psychology professor who continued to dress like a student.

Azi walked into the 360 degree mirror booth wearing a very long gypsy skirt and t-shirt showing a Bhudda. It read "For good luck, rub my tummy". She said she would wear it while walking the dog.

Not exactly fashion forward at all times myself (I'm wearing a too large plaid flannel shirt, with very oversized drawstring polar fleece scrub bottoms, striped fleece socks pooled at my ankles due to lack of elasticity, and hair pulled back 60's style as I type this), I snickered at her selected outfit without feeling the least bit hypocritical. After all, I don't go out like this....wait, that's what blogger Amanda said last week when TLC ambushed her! Besides, Stacy said Azi looked like a hula dancer, so I must be justified.

The initial snicker was nothing compared to the laughing fit I had as Clinton directed Azi's attention to the mannequin dressed not only in a cute short dress with overlying jacket, but with patterned tights, cute shoes (boots to the side), necklace, bracelets and oversized purse. THIS they said with straight faces was an appropriately styled outfit to wear when walking the dog.

A dress? Jewelry? Oversize purse? Really? OK, maybe the oversized purse because that is probably where they'd put the dog when they "walked" it, but I doubt either one has walked a dog in their life. They definitely have not gone to dog park. With a "real" dog. In Wisconsin. In the spring.

Note: "real dog" = one that is not an accessory and who's feet actually touch the ground.

The Jefferson County Dog park is 109 acres of off-leash doggy paradise: tall grass, woods trail, mowed walking paths & play areas, agility courses....and of course, OTHER DOGS! Lots of them! Gator goes twice a day rain or shine; blistering heat of summer or frigid cold of winter; snowstorm, drought or the soggy muddy mess that is spring at dog park.

A cute little dress with jacket & tights? Only if you don't mind them getting muddy, sweaty, perhaps torn from dogs jumping up to say hello. Jewelry? Gator lost his dog tags in the tall grass last August. We never found them. That bracelet could share the same fate. Cute shoes or boots? Sure, see how long before you snap off a heel, turn an ankle, or lose them in the mud. They won't look so cute after you accidentally step in doggie doo. Of course, after that, maybe you would rather lose them in the mud. Purse? After a few of the 1+ mile laps, it will be ballast to be jettisoned so you can try to keep up with the dogs.

What to and not to wear to dog park?

Stacy & Clinton's idea of a dog walking outfit

Azi seems as skeptical as me about this one

My version of What Not to Wear: Spring at Dog Park is....

Spring footwear. Left to right:

Fleet Farm Barn boots: Brought out of 20 yrs retirement, I got them for vet school because I was required to have steel toed boots. Unfortunately, Fleet Farm did not stock women's size 7 barn boots, or ANY women's barn boots for that matter, so I got the smallest men's boot I could find. My toes did not reach to the steel toe protector and I swear, the cow's knew it too. They're my pick when it's still cold and the deep snow is melting fast and the park is a snowy muddy sloppy mess
Tractor Supply Waterproof boots: They aren't heavy or insulated so are best for rainy mucky wet days that aren't cold. Functional, yet oh so fashionable. I get teased alot for these,but I know it's really because everyone is jealous because they don't have pretty boots like me.
Winter boots: they kept my feet warm even in the cold and snowy weather that is common in early spring.
Land's End water proof rubber shoes: Best for wet and muddy days with no deep sloppy mud. These pre-date even my Vet School days, they're so durable I think they'll be around forever.
YakTracks: can slip on any of the above when the trails get icy.
Not shown: my super duper warm teal green Sorrell boots from ShoeBox in Black Earth (the bargain room in back...the best $5.00 I ever spent on boots). They kept my feet warm even at -
-14 degrees.

Back from 4 laps at dog park...the week before this was taken, there was 10 inches of new snow on top of the rest of the winters snow. After 3 days of 40-50 degree temps, the snow was gone, leaving grass, mud,a winter's worth of formerly snow covered dog poop and puddles the size of a car. If that wasn't enough to make a mess, add in dogs that think playing and wrestling at your feet is better than using the rest of that 109 acres of free space. Notice that the legs are not spared, cute little patterned tights aren't so cute covered in mud.

Hats, coats & mittens....well, anything warm, waterproof, etc is the rule. Packer gear is pretty popular, as is camouflage, but surprizingly, no blaze orange. See Stacy & Clinton? We know what not to wear.

Friday, February 4, 2011

February is National Pet Dental Health Month


According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, over 70% of cats develop gum disease by the age of 3 years.

Dental disease begins when plaque, a mixture of bacteria and food, builds up on tooth surfaces and works its way under the gum line. Toxins released by the bacteria cause an inflammatory reaction. With time, simple gum inflammation can become periodontal disease, and lead to destruction of the tissue and bone that anchor the teeth in place.

It is also possible for bacteria to enter the blood stream from the diseased gums and affect the heart, liver, and kidneys.

Many of the signs of the disease are hard to miss. Bad breath, discolored teeth and swollen gums are signs of problems. Advanced periodontal disease can cause permanent damage, including loose teeth and tooth loss even though the tooth itself may look healthy. Other signs may not be as obvious and can include a sudden or gradually developing “finicky” appetite, decrease in eating dry food and starting to favor canned food, or nothing more than irritability or weight loss.
Also unique to cats is disease characterized by resorption of teeth by odontoclasts, bone cells that are responsible for breaking down and removing bone. It is known by many names: Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesion, neck lesion, cervical neck lesion, cervical line erosion. While the terms feline carie, or feline cavity are used, they are misleading because these lesions are due to tooth destruction and resorption not decay like human cavities/caries.

Preventing periodontal disease by keeping your cat's teeth and gums healthy depends on both you and your veterinarian. This means regular visits to your veterinarian for checkups, cleaning, and treatment. How often will depend on your cats dental health, its diet; as well as your ability and willingness to follow up with oral care such as tooth brushing and providing a dental diet at home.

Your cat can live a longer, healthier life when oral health care is managed and maintained throughout his or her life. Now’s the time to talk to your veterinarian about developing a dental care plan for your cat

Sunday, January 9, 2011

It truely IS a Happy New Year

A belated happy new year to everyone!

How does this happen every year? One minute it is December 1st and I'm busy getting the house decorated for Christmas and starting my Christmas cookie baking and the next minute I find myself 1 week into January.

I'm happy to report we've all survived both literally and figuratively.

I've managed to come through the holidays unaffected by the usual colds, bronchitis, and stomach flu that swept through many family members and friends. I'll knock wood and hope it continues. It must be all the fresh air and exercise I'm getting during my twice daily walks at the dog park with Gator, because is sure wasn't due to getting plenty of sleep and healthy eating during the holidays.

The other figurative "survival" is Gator. I'm so proud of him, he never showed any interest in bothering the Christmas decorations, tree, or presents. However, I can no longer say the same for food, having "survived" both his almond spritz "taste test" and Weight Watcher Lemon snack cake adventure. Both occurred when we were busy with Marta and he was home alone.

The first occurred when we made a sudden trip into an emergency veterinary clinic with Marta while 62 almond spritz cookies sat cooling on the counter. Up until this point Gator had not shown much interest in things left on the counter, so other than moving the cookies away from the edge, I didn't give it a thought. Arriving home a couple hours later, I found 2 cookies and a few crumbs on the floor, and a very happy dog. This marks the first and only time Gator has failed to eat everything offered. The positive here: it wasn't any of the several kinds of chocolate cookies I bake.

The second occurred 4 days later while at the Veterinary School. Returning home, we walked into a living room littered with pieces of cardboard from a Weight Watchers lemon snack cake box, a couple of plastic wrappers, and again, a very happy dog. Gator had eaten all 12 of the lemon snack cakes and a good many of the plastic wrappers. The positive here: everything "came out" OK.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I now know that Gator IS quite interested and willing to check out the counter for food. Fortunately, he showed no ill effects from his adventures, and unlike small children, he won't pull the kitchen chair up to the counter to get into the pantry cupboards where food is now kept.

The literal survival is Marta. In an earlier post I called her my Miracle Girl. She continues to live up to the name.

Shortly before Christmas, Marta had a sudden episode of coughing and was breathing in a way that made me concerned that there was a lower airway problem. Going back to my "Happy Birthday Marta" first thought of course was is this "it"? Is this the sign that her Feline Leukemia was active and her lungs were riddled with cancer or beginning to accumulate fluid? The products of the evening's baking (the almond spritz cookies) were still warm as I pulled Bill away from Monday Night football and bundled Marta into her carrier for the trip into Madison.

We returned home later that night, encouraged by the preliminary x-ray findings but still nervous about the results of additional work up that would be done overnight. We also returned home to our very happy Gator, with his stomach full of almond spritz cookies. I told him that if he had a stomach ache, he deserved it and I would NOT be making another trip to the emergency clinic that night! (I would have, of course, I just wasn't going to let him know)

With Marta improved on antibiotics and bronchodilators and no obvious cause pinpointed, we chalked it up to "one of the weird things cats do" and brought her home the next evening. Throughout the week she did well, and life continued as usual with all the holiday activity.

4 days later, I awoke at 4:00AM to the sounds of Marta having breathing problems. It continued to worsen and by 5:00AM I was calling the Veterinary School to tell them I was on the way in with an emergency. After a brief history she was whisked away to an oxygen cage until she was well enough for more tests. This time the x-rays revealed a mass in her trachea, at around the level of where the airway enters the chest. The red blood cell level was lower but in relation the the finding of the mass, it was not alarming.

I've practiced long enough to know that with Marta's history of Feline Leukemia, a mass is considered Lymphoma cancer until proven otherwise. It was likely that the thing I had been dreading for 7 1/2 years was occurring, this was probably "it". We went over other possibilities...a foreign object, other types of growths, but they were long shots.

Having decided against options like surgery or MRI, I was given an estimate for continued evaluation...$3,000-$5,000 for more time in the ICU on oxygen, scoping her trachea to remove a foreign object or to collect a biopsy sample if a mass was confirmed, more x-rays, more blood tests. The scoping itself was a risk...she may not get enough oxygen, the mass may swell and further block the airway, she may have uncontrolled bleeding...she may not survive these complications. We hadn't even begun to discuss possible treatment options.

In addition, she was not responding to the oxygen or the steroids that had been given after the preliminary tests. Mid-morning, I called Bill with an update and to talk about our options. Tearfully, I filled out the paperwork for euthanasia and autopsy, and waited for Bill to come.

Bill arrived close to lunchtime, with Marta's favorite purple fluffy in hand, a familiar object that she could snuggle in as we euthanized her. Call it a Christmas miracle, call it using up one more of her cats' nine lives, call it what you will, as we were led down the hallway to ICU , Marta had started to breathe better and was comfortable enough to start grooming and asking for attention! How could we euthanize her now? We couldn't.

Change of plans. More time in ICU, more time to stabilize her, move the procedure to Monday and hope for the best. We left the Vet School on Saturday, encouraged by our miracle girl. Gator must have telepathically received the good news, and with all cookies out of reach, "celebrated" by eating the dozen snack cakes.

The procedure went well and we were able to bring Marta home Monday night. Lymphoma was suspected but biopsy results would take several days. We decided that we would not do a full course of chemotherapy, as we'd likely have done it for our sake, not hers (she wouldn't understand or like the weekly car rides, vet visits or chemotherapy treatments). We opted for a single chemo injection while she was there and steroids at home, an option that would be less stressful for her.

In bringing Marta home, I got my best gift this year...another Christmas with my miracle girl. As she lays on my pillow (and head) every night I can hear her breathing comfortably. I don't know how much time she has, but for now she's following her usual routine, she's gained weight, she's happy. And so am I.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Gator

Today winds up a weekend of celebrating Gator's first birthday.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine ever having a dog, yet our household is now home to one. It's not that I don't like dogs, I love all of our friends' dogs, and never deny petting and belly scratches to any dog wanting them; but dogs are so very very different from cats. Compared to cats, they're big and clumsy, a bark doesn't sound as nice as a meow, they don't purr, they are so very dependent, they have to be walked and have to be picked up after, and they smell like, well..... dogs.

I had just pulled into the parking lot at my Mom's nursing home last January when my cell phone rang. It was Bill with a question I wasn't expecting...."Can I have a dog?" Over the years, he had talked about getting a dog, maybe a rescue greyhound, maybe a chihuahua he'd call El Diablo. The conversation was always the same. If we get a dog, he would have to be the one to take it outside during the night when it was a puppy, take it for walks, and scoop up after it. The conversation would always end there. As someone who had a hard time scooping out the cats' litter boxes, the idea of following behind a dog, ever ready with the plastic bag was a deal-killer.

A former work acquaintance, now working for the Humane Society of Wisconsin in Milwaukee also remembered Bill's conversations about adopting a rescue greyhound and had given him a call. He repeated the conversation to me....litter of puppies that needed homes, driven up from Louisiana in a truck, he'd need to come and look at it...and he'd need to do it that day.

Can he have a dog? My answer was the same as always, I wasn't going to say he couldn't have a dog. Once again we went through the conversation of the past.....nighttime trips outside, daily walks, scooping poop. Was he ready for the responsibility of owning a dog?

At that point, he wasn't sure, and still had many unanswered questions. He'd just go and look. With those words, I flashed back to the day I stood in front of a cage at a cat show. In the cage was a breeding quality bluepoint Himalayan female kitten. "But I don't want a breeding quality cat, I just want a pet" I said to the breeders. "Just pick her up and hold her" was their reply. As if she was trained to do so, she rubbed one side of my face then the other, she made "kitty biscuits" with kneeding paws, and she purred. I went home with a breeding quality Himalyan kitten.

For the record, "just go and look" is also how we bought our first car, a sailboat and our first house. I know what happens when you "just go and look."

I arrived home about 10pm that night, tired after after spending a total of 4 hrs driving and a full day with parents. As I walked to the front door I could see a large box through the said Lifestage crates. I thought it, but yet didn't really believe it: We're getting a dog.

I walked into the kitchen. There was a bag of puppy food on the counter. Again, in disbelief I thought, "we're getting a dog".

I looked down, and there on the floor was a food dish, with food in it. Oh my God, we HAVE a dog. It still didn't seem real. I turned around to see Bill standing there holding an 8 lb silvery grey and black ball of fluff. It was real, this was our *gulp* dog.

His name was Charles. He was born on November 13, significant because that is also Bill's birthday (can you say kismet??). He was a Catahoula/Lab mix. A what?? Time to go online. Catahoula. Catahoula Leopard Dog. Catahoula Cur. Catahoula hog dog. Indigenous to North America. Named for Catahoula Parish. Also introduced into the breed were Irish Wolfhounds and Bull Mastiffs. Boar Hunters. Raccoon hunters. Cattle herders. Active would be good if they could herd cattle for an hour a day (Marta the cat would NOT enjoy being a cattle herd substitute). Males would often reach 90 lb. (Humane Society estimated 40-50lb). My god, what have we gotten ourselves into?

He'd need a new name. He was from Louisiana...Cajun, swamps, bayou, VooDoo, New Orleans. Back to the Internet to Google "Cajun dog names" and the list was quickly narrowed: Andouille, Gris Gris, Ju Ju, Gumbo & the eventual winner: Gator.

The early days were spent turning the living room into a large puppy pen with all furniture pushed to the wall and whatever table we could tip on it's side become the doggie barricade. Bill made many a night time trip out into the cold, and we learned that during the evening, even taking a puppy out once an hour was not often enough.

That first week we spent an evening with a trainer learning the basics, and made 2 hr visits to Pet Smart to buy toys and to let him meet other dogs. When he was old enough, we started Puppy classes at the Humane Society. After driving by it for years, we made our first trip to the Dog Park 1.5 miles down the road.

We settled into life with a dog. We learned to read his cues....when he was hungry, when he needed to go out, when he was overtired and it was time for the crate. And he settled into ours. Day times at the office with Bill; evenings at the dog park then snoozing at our feet after supper.

We watched him grow too. Only 1 week after getting Gator, we had to go out of town (planned prior to getting Gator). We were amazed to see that after only 2 days away, the round little fluff ball had sprouted legs! Then the body followed. This pattern continued. The 40-50lb estimate was reached and passed.

Gator's territory expanded from the living room to the whole house, much to Marta's chagrin. And when he was no longer allowed to go to work with Bill, and we were able to trust him home uncrated, his world expanded by way of a doggie door that would open when his collar transmitter was close enough. Once outside, he had 2 1/2 acres of lawn and prairie to roam in.

As he got bigger and the weather got better, after work trips to dog park became a daily activity. Although Gator has his favorites and what amounts to the dog version of a play group, he likes all dogs. He's the dog equivalent of Walmart's greeter, leaving his friends to run out to meet the new dogs coming in. "I'm Gator, welcome to my Dog Park".

As the summer grew hotter and drier, kiddie wading pools (yes, he has 2 of them) were bought, and we got a State park sticker so he could go to the dog beaches at 2 of the area state parks.

I've watched Gator grow from a little bundle of fluff, into a gangly puppy, and now to a handsome 70 lb dog. I've seen him change from excitable puppy, to the "teenager" testing the limits of obedience, to the sweet and gentle dog he is today.

Life is good for Gator and Gator is good for us. He'll never be as streamlined and elegant as the cats, I'd still rather hear a 5am purr than a 5am bark, toys need to be picked up in the house AND yard, and yes, he smells like a dog. Time away from home means making arrangements for care, but we can't help but smile when we see his doggy grin and excited dance when he sees us come for him. And now with no job to go to in the morning, he's the reason I'm still up early in the morning... a morning trip to dog park is now a "must", once a day just won't do any more. I never imagined I would ever have or even want a dog, yet now I can't imagine not having him.

All the pictures have been taken, the cards and presents have been opened, treats for people & dogs at dog park have been passed out, and the cake from the dog bakery has been eaten. And as Gator turns 1 year I'm looking forward to our first full winter with him, and all the adventures yet to come.

Happy Birthday Pup Pup. I love you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

9 Lives and a 6th Sense

We're all familiar with the saying "cats have 9 lives". Where did it come from and do cats really have 9 lives?

Where did it come from? Nine, a trinity of trinities, a lucky and mystical number is often used religion and folklore. The cat was once revered in Egypt, and it was probably here that the belief originated.

Remnants of an ancient, cat-worshipping religion lingered in Europe until at least the middle ages. While no longer divine, the cat was still considered magical and otherworldly.

It's during the Middle Ages that the attitude towards cats changed dramatically, and for unknown reasons, cats were sometimes thrown from high towers during rituals. The cats often survived and amazingly seemed to walk away unscathed, when humans and other animals would surely have died. The myth here is attributed to the natural suppleness and swiftness cats to escape life-threatening situations.

The cat's resilience still inspires fascination, which is why the myth of the cat's 9 lives continues to this day.

Do cats really have 9 lives? In the most literal sense, we all know that they don't. They have one life just like all of us. But loosely interpreted? I believe. Absolutely.

Over the years, I've seen cats miraculously recover from near death illness. Likewise, there are cats like "Pretty 2" that keep adding diseases to their medical problem list like they were collecting Girl Scout badges. First, Pretty 2 developed chronic kidney disease, then diabetes (and survived a low blood sugar crisis), then was diagnosed with and cured of a systemic fungal infection; and had two types of cancer and still she survived. For those of you baby boomers like me, do you remember the old Timex watch slogan "it takes a licking and keeps on ticking"? For those of you born more recently, think of the Energizer bunny...he keeps going and going. Yes, cats have 9 lives.

Time magazine's August 16th cover story "What Animals Think" gave credence to what I've always believed....that animals do think and feel. I believe they think, feel and know alot more than we've given them credit for.

The "know" here though is what they have learned.

A client once told me that his cat knew when she was coming to the vet by the particular set of left and right turns the car made, and would only start getting nervous in her carrier at the last turn that meant Veterinary Clinic, not some other trip.

At my house, the cats in the cattery know when they are going to get fed. They've learned that when I come out in the moning and evening I will be putting ouf fresh food for them. Marta knows that when I reach into the cupboard above the refrigerator that she will be getting treats because she's learned by repetition.

They even know when I will be taking one of them to the clinic with me because as soon as I enter the cattery, they all run for the highest perch in the room. It's not a common ocurrance, so not something they "know" from repetition. So, how do they know?? Even here, it's nothing magical. My belief is that I have a "tell". The term is often associatied with Poker, it is the subtle but detectable change in body language, behavior or demeanor that gives clues to a player's assessment of his hand. The player who can read another player's "tell" gains an advantage by observing and understanding it's meaning, especially if it is unconscious and reliable. In other words, my cats can read me like an open book. They've know because they've leared to read my tell.

So far, nothing magical, but do they have a sixth sense? I believe. Absolutely.

Sixth sense, is another term for extrasensory perception(ESP), the reception of information not gained through the recognized senses and not internally originated. It is not learned.

In an earlier post, I listed some of the Feline Leukemia positive cats I had before Marta. One of them was Butters, a handsome black short haired cat adopted from clients who already had a cat at home. Butters is the reason I adpoted Marta. He was so outgoing and so in need of a feline companion, I owed it to him to get a companion cat.

Around a year after adopting Marta, Butters became ill. I ran every test I could but found no specific answers and had to conclude that it was due to his Feline Leukemia virus. This meant my time with him was coming to an end.

During the time I had Butters, the cats I now have living in my cattery were still free roaming and feral. To varying degrees, they were all quite fearful of human contact. The most feral of all was Mini-Butters, so named because he looked so much like Butters that the first time I saw him outside sunning himself near our house, I panicked thinking my Butters had escaped outside. When I called out to him he disappeared into the woods. Rushing into the house to change out of my work clothes so I could go out to the woods to look for him, I was suprized and so very happy to see my Butters curled up on the bed sleeping.

Mini-Butters sightings became quite common and always followed the same pattern. I would see him outside in the prairie or at the edges of the yard. As soon as he saw me, he was gone.....until "that" day. The day I euthanized Butters.

I brought Butters home from the clinic, one last trip to confirm that nothing more could be done to help him. He lay quietly in Bill's arms, and with tears in my eyes I injected the euthanasia solution. He passed from this life as we petted him and told him how much we loved him. We told him to look for Beeper, Scully and Annie that had gone before him. They would be waiting for him on the other side. When he was gone, Bill and I cried, and hugged him and cried some more.

It was getting late and I knew I had to get the day's training exercises done. We were preparing for a cycling trip in the French Pyranees and training had become part of our daily lives. On days like that day, when sunset would come before we could finish, we used bikes that had been set up in the basement. It was a walk-out basement with 2 large sliding glass doors so that even when we couldn't be outside, we could look outside.

Sadly, I left Butters, put on my cycling clothes and shoes, grabbed a bottle of water and headed downstairs for a training session I didn't have the heart to do. As I turned the corner and both sliding glass doors came into view, I saw something black at the farthest door. I stopped in my tracks and stared in disbelief. It was Mini-Butters. The cat so fearful of humans that he would run as soon as he saw one, was sitting at the door looking into my eyes!

Still in disbelief, I approached the window and sat down. Mini-Butters didn't run, he didn't even flinch. We sat there staring at each other, me still crying and him not blinking. After several minutes, I put my hand up to the window thinking for sure he would run now. He didn't run. To my amazement, he got up and walked back and forth, rubbing against the screen where my hand was, then again sat down and stared at me. I cried all the harder. He kept his post until I finished crying and then turned and disappeared into the prairie.

There was no training session on the bike that night. All I could do was think of Mini-Butters. How did he know that I was coming downstairs? How did he know that this was the day I was so sad and needed to be told everything was going to be ok? He knew. And he didn't know by learning.

Do cats have a sixth sense? I believe. Absolutely.

After our amazing encounter that day, Mini-Butters once again became the human fearful cat. Even when, not long after that, that I was able to coax Momma Cat and the others into the cattery; I had to live-trap Mini Butters. It was weeks before he would come down from the highest perch in the cattery but when he did, it was if he had come down as Butters. No longer the fearful cat that would run when he saw people. He was now just the opposite, always following me around, jumping into my arms at every opportunity.

Can cats spirits come back to us when we need them? That's another cat, and another story.


Note: Mini-Butters' one and only picture as a feral cat is as elusive as he was, I will keep looking for it and post it soon.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Constipation: When the "going" gets tough

One of the more common “sick cat” calls we receive at the clinic is about straining in the litter box. Knock wood here, this is not a problem I’ve had with my own cats. (Note to Marta, Momma Cat, Butters, and the rest of you in the cattery....let’s keep it that way too!)

Constipation is the general term for the condition where your cat is unable to pass a complete bowel movement or does this with great difficulty.

Most cats have one to two bowel movements every day. Some cats go more or less than this. However, if your cat has not had a bowel movement in three or more days it can indicate a problem. While constipation is more common in cats 8 years old and older, it can occur at any age.

Not only is constipation uncomfortable, if it is left untreated, with time it can progress into more serious conditions such as obstipation and megacolon.

In the case of obstipation, your cat's colon is blocked and it is unable to have a bowel movement.

Megacolon, the most extreme of the 3, is a term used to describe a very dilated, flabby, colon that is not able to contract. This usually occurs secondary to chronic constipation and retention of stool, but may also occur due to a congenital problem. Eventually, with the colon unable to contract, so much stool is accumulates in the colon, it reaches a size that cannot pass through the pelvis.

In my earlier blog entry “These stones aren’t rolling” I mentioned that it is sometimes difficult to know why your cat is straining in the litter box because urinary inflammation, urinary blockage, constipation, colon inflammation can all result in this symptom.

Another symptom that may fool you as to what is going on is to see diarrhea associated with straining in the litter box. How can a cat be constipated if it has diarrhea? The hard, dry stool sits in the colon and causes irritation resulting in fluid being produced. This fluid mixes with the surface of the stool, softening it and allowing it to pass past the constipation.

So you can see, it’s extremely important for you to have your cat examined so we can determine what the problem is and how to treat it.

In many cases, the veterinarian can feel if constipation is present by the size of the colon and the way the stool feels when palpating here. Sometimes an accurate evaluation is difficult because your cat may be too tense or too overweight for the colon to be felt. In these cases, x-rays are very helpful in diagnosing constipation.

There are many causes for constipation in cats.

Dehydration is one of the most common causes. Today’s cats evolved from desert-living ancestors so they are very good at reclaiming fluid back into their system after it is processed by the kidneys. Thus, they do not need to drink as much water as you and I, or our other pets do. However, water is still an essential part of your cats’ diet. Potential causes for dehydration may be due to your cat not liking the taste of the water; water that is not fresh, unclean or too small or deep water dishes, or water in locations the cat does not like to be in (busy or noisy areas, areas where it can be disturbed by other pets). In addition, the presence of “water-wasting” conditions such as diabetes or chronic kidney disease can cause your cat to urinate out more fluid than it is it taking in, eventually leading to dehydration.
Litter box conditions can be a factor in constipation.

Many cats, including yours, are creatures of habit and will not defecate when in unfamiliar surroundings, such as during a move to a new home, or even if you’ve simply moved the litter box to a new location. Be careful when you change brands of cat litter. Some finicky cats will refuse to use the box if they don't like the type of litter. In addition, cats are very clean creatures and if presented with a full (“dirty”) litter box, they may try to hold a bowel movement and move on to a different location (think of what you do in a public restroom when you find the stall particularly unclean). The urge to defecate can be overridden voluntarily, so your cat may try to hold a bowel movement rather than use a box they are unhappy with. This can lead to a buildup of fecal matter in the colon, which will harden and cause constipation.

In addition to being at risk from dehydration due to “water-wasting” diseases; older, less active cats experience reduced bowel activity and the muscles of the abdominal wall may weaken.

Obese cats, and cats that do not exercise are also more likely to suffer from constipation

There are many other Factors such as painful defecation due to anal sac problems; tumors that can cause strictures (narrowing) of the colon; pelvic fractures that heal in an abnormal way and reduce the width of the pelvis, cats that don’t eat well can be constipated because with less food going in, there is less stool build up to naturally stimulate defecation and the stool remains in the colon longer and becomes drier and harder to pass, while foreign objects can cause constipation, they will usually make your cat ill long before constipation might occur.

Before your cat can be treated, we must confirm that constipation is the cause of your cats straining in the litter box, then determine the severity of the condition, whether or not damage to the colon has occurred, and if/how disease or environmental conditions that are contributing to your cats constipation.

While every cat does not need every test, it becomes very important to look for an underlying cause rather than simply treat symptoms if constipation is a recurring problem, or if we see the more serious obstipation or megacolon. In these cases it is very important to do blood and urine tests as well as x-ray.

Treatment of your cats constipation depends on the severity of the condition. Often, the starting point is to rehydrate your cat. Intravenous hydration may be required in severe cases. An enema may be needed for milder cases of constipation. In some cases, such as obstipation or megacolon, where there is a tremendous amount of hard, dry stool your cat will have to be anesthetized, not only to remove the stool but for its comfort..stool removal in a very obstipated cat can take time and be painful. In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove part of the colon.

Once your cat has been treated and is back home, make sure that it has plenty of fresh water. Feeding the right food is important, and will vary depending on the case. In general, canned food with its increased moisture content will be the starting point, and the type from there will be determined on other health factors. While fiber is helpful for some cases of constipation, the added bulk may cause more problems with difficult stool passage than it has benefits, we will be able to determine what is better for your cat. There are other ways to soften stool without bulking it, this can include Lactulose and Miralax, again they should not be used unless recommended based on your cats circumstances. Lastly, a motility drug such as cisapride can help intestinal motility so that once the stool is softened, it can be passed.

In the 20 years I’ve practiced, we now have a better understanding of constipation, how underlying diseases and environmental conditions contribute, and better diets and treatment options, and earlier intervention, even the most severe cases of constipation, obstipation and even megacolon have become more readily managed medically rather than surgically.

For the rare case that cannot be controlled medically, there is a surgical option called subtotal colectomy where the colon is removed. Cats are amazing creatures and typically have responded well, many times with normal stools and defecation.

In this case, there is stool in the colon but overall, it is not an excessive amount. The problem here is that the first 4 pieces of stool have lined up side-by side instead of single file. The bony pelvis cannot expand so the stool cannot enter the pelvic canal. This cat needed stool softener and stool removal.

Obstipation. Notice the larger amount of stool and the larger sized pieces of stool compared to the x-ray above.

Obstipation. This cat is likely to develop megacolon if there are repeatable episodes. Notice how the stool has compacted into a few very large sections that are too large to pass even with the help of an enema.

This cat needed rehydration, a stool softener, and anesthesia for the stool removal procedure.