Feline

Obesity & Our Pets

Obesity is the No. 1 disease of cats and dogs in the U.S. According to the 2014 National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey, nearly 53 percent of American dogs and 58 percent of U.S. cats are overweight or obese.

Overweight is defined as 15 percent above ideal body weight, while obesity is defined as 30 percent above ideal body weight. Obesity predisposes animals to numerous diseases, including osteoarthritis, diabetes, hypertension, cranial cruciate ligament (“ACL”) injury, and respiratory difficulties. Additionally, there is increasing evidence that it can also predispose to certain types of cancer.

And, if we needed further reason to keep our pets at a healthy weight, the Purina’s Landmark Life Span study found that dogs maintained at a lean body weight outlived their counterparts by 15 percent, or two years, for the Labrador retrievers used in the study.

So, with all of these reasons to keep our pets at the ideal weight, why are so many pets still overweight?

The simple answer is that calories in are greater than calories out — they are just eating too much. Most of us enjoy giving our pets that little extra snack or even treat from the table. It’s rewarding to see their excitement, so we tend to over-treat and “supplement” their diets.

With regards to cats, many cats aren’t huge treat-takers, so limiting treats may not have as big of a factor on their overall calories; however, cats are most at risk for being overfed, since we tend to just leave food out for them, without measuring it out. Additionally, many indoor cats lead fairly sedentary lifestyles, so they just aren’t burning many calories on a daily basis.

How do I know if my pet is overweight?

Most veterinarians use either a 5-point or 9-point body condition score, with a score of one being emaciated, and 5/5 or 9/9 being morbidly obese.

Sometimes it can be difficult to accurately assess our own pets, since we see them on a daily basis. Asking your veterinarian for an objective score, or even a friend or family member, can be very useful.

How much should I be feeding my pet?

Because there is such variation in the number of calories per cup in pet foods, it’s impossible to say “this dog should eat X number of cups per day.”  And, to make matters worse, most pet food companies do not clearly display the number of calories per cup on the bag — this information can usually be obtained via the website, but they certainly don’t make it easy to find.

In general, though, the chart on the back of the bag can be used as guide for feeding volumes. However, because these charts tend to be very generous (the pet food companies are in the business of selling food, afterall), we typically recommend decreasing the “recommended” volume by 20-25 percent for most adult pets, dog or cat.

How do I start a weight-loss program for my pet?

If you are ready to take on a concerted weight-loss program, it’s best to meet with your veterinarian ahead of time to get a baseline weight, determine the ideal number of daily calories, a healthy rate for weight loss, and a detailed plan of action. Your veterinarian will most likely recommend a percentage decrease in the volume fed, or a specific target number of calories per day, as well as follow-up with frequent “weigh-ins.”  Sometimes changing the diet itself, not just the volume, can be helpful to promote weight loss.

With a bit of effort your pet can soon be on the path to a healthy waistline, and improved overall health to boot!

Caring for the Geriatric Pet

Geriatric is relative to the pet

It’s a common misconception that one “human” year is equivalent to seven “pet” years. In reality, bigger dogs age much faster than cats and smaller dogs, and the ratio is actually higher in the younger years, and decreases as the pet ages (for example: cats “grow up” faster than dogs in the first 1-2 years, but then age more slowly).

Age is not a disease (however, many diseases happen more commonly in older pets)

A thorough history and physical exam every six months is recommended after 6-9 years of age, depending on the species, age, and breed. Preventive care is important for the early detection of problems and often leads to earlier intervention and improved quality and quantity of life. Physical exams and geriatric blood work can aide in the screening of most of the more common age-related diseases such as heart, liver, thyroid and kidney disease. Cancer also develops more commonly in older pets, but not all cancers are created equal. Early detection can sometimes give a better prognosis depending on the type, location and nature of the cancer.

One of the most common age-related diseases, arthritis, can develop secondary to previous disease or from general wear and tear on the joints. The symptoms of arthritis can vary from a bit of slowness/stiffness upon rising, all the way to being unable to walk without assistance. In cats, it can manifest with urinary accidents, decreased grooming and reduced social interaction. Interventions include: physical therapy, acupuncture, glucosamine, fish oils and other supplements, as well as anti-inflammatory and pain modulating medications.

Making some easy environmental modifications can go a long way in easing your pet’s ability to get around comfortably (i.e. adding area rugs on slippery floors, or a ramp to the bed); and maintaining a healthy weight and routine exercise are some of the most important, not to mention cost-effective, options to address your old friend’s quality of life.

Cognitive problems are also more frequent in aging animals: nighttime waking, restlessness/inability to get settled down, increased vocalization, increased daytime sleeping, and elimination accidents are all frequently seen. These can be quite distressing as they can affect the quality of life of both the pet and owner. It is important to identify and address any underlying disease that may mimic cognitive problems such as liver, kidney or metabolic disease, pain/arthritis, and cancer. If indicated there are several medications and supplements that may be helpful with these behaviors, including: SAMe, casein, and melatonin.

Check out these senior pet checklists to see if your pet may be exhibiting some of the common aging-related ailments. You can then use these as guidelines to discuss any possible concerns with your veterinarian and together work to keep your pet healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Sometimes, we need to let go

Quality of life is of utmost concern in our aging pets and must be considered when making treatment decisions. As much as we would like our pets to live forever… they don’t. Hospice care and humane euthanasia are options owners have in the face of their pet’s declining health. There comes a time in most of our pets lives when pursuing treatment is not the right decision (for your pet, you/your family, or the disease) and difficult end of life decisions must be made.

Be sure to have an open dialogue with your veterinarian about your aging pet’s quality of life and make sure you’re all on the same page with the management, treatment goals and quality of life of your elderly companion.

Feline Vaccinations Explained

In our last column we discussed canine vaccines & lifestyles.  This week we’ll give the cats their turn and with a brief run-down of feline vaccines and lifestyles:

Rabies - an incurable and nearly always fatal viral disease of mammals, Rabies is transmitted through saliva and targets the central nervous system.  Because it is spread from animals to people, the public health implications have led to a legal requirement for vaccination of all cats and dogs in nearly every state.

FVRCP - Feline herpes/calicivirus/panleukopenia - This combination vaccine is considered “core” by the American Animal Hospital Association and is highly recommend for all cats:

  • FVR - Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis: an upper respiratory disease caused by feline herpesvirus type 1. This, very common cause of respiratory disease in kittens and young cats, can result in chronic, even life-long, infections that may intermittently recur.  It can also cause painful corneal (eye) erosions.  It easily spreads by respiratory droplets.
  • C - Calicivirus: another highly contagious viral infection that can cause ulcers on the eyes and in the mouth, upper respiratory symptoms, and even occasionally severe joint pain.  This virus is particularly resistant to disinfectants so can be persistent in the environment.
  • P - Panleukopenia is a highly contagious and severe infection of the gastrointestinal tract.  Similar to the parvovirus in dogs it is easily transmitted through feces and contact with infected animals or contaminated items.  If a cat is infected while pregnant it can cause neurologic abnormalities in her kittens.

Feline Chlamydiosis: this bacterial disease causes conjunctivitis and upper respiratory symptoms.  It is very contagious in young kittens, especially those in multi-cat environments (shelters, catteries, etc…) and can rarely be transmitted to humans by direct contact.

Feline Leukemia Virus: (FeLV) is a highly contagious virus transmitted via bodily fluids, and can cause wasting syndromes and cancer which ultimately lead to death.  Cats that spend times outdoors are at highest risk because of the potential for contact with infected cats.  Kittens are most susceptible.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus: (FIV) is similar to HIV in humans, this virus leads to a deficient immune system and predisposes to secondary infections.  It is spread most commonly through bite wounds, so cats that spend time outdoors are at highest risk.  Healthy  cats living with an FIV-infected cat are at little risk so long as there is not inter-cat aggression/fighting.  There is a vaccine against FIV, but concerns with its efficacy and ability to cause false positive test results, it is very infrequently recommended.

Most veterinarians aim to customize vaccine protocols based on each cat’s geographical location, age and sex, and individual lifestyle.  Which class does your kitty fall into?

  • “outdoor enthusiast” - spends a lot of time outdoors where he/she has frequent contact with other cats; lives in a multiple-cat household with frequent new additions/fosters; or contact with feral cat community
  • “outdoor socialite” - spends some time outdoors; three or less cats in the house; occasional contact with unknown cats
  • “indoor socialite” - multi-cat household; mostly indoors/confined outdoors, but has frequent contact with other cats (i.e. boarding/showing/mealtimes/litter boxes)
  • “indoor elitist” - 1-2 cat household; occasionally escapes outdoors and may have contact with unknown cats
  • “indoor window watcher” - strictly indoor; no contact with other cats (or only one other cat); no desire to escape outdoors

By taking all these factors into consideration, your veterinarian can work with you to develop the best individualized vaccine protocol for your cat.

February is Pet Dental Health Month!

Now, we realize this may sound like just a clever marketing ploy to get your pet into his or her veterinarian, but there actually is quite a bit to be gained by instituting regular dental home care for your pets, such as improved systemic health, decrease bone loss which can lead to loss of teeth, and even improved breath (important for when you get a big slobbery kiss from your pooch!).

How often do I need to brush my pet’s teeth to make a difference?
In the majority of cases, dental disease is a condition where “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -- small preventative measures such as regular brushing can significantly slow the progression of tartar accumulation and subsequent periodontal disease. While daily brushing is by far the idea, even brushing every 72 hours will make a significant difference in the amount of tartar accumulation on your pet’s teeth. Every three days is the minimum frequency that will make a significant difference.

More importantly, HOW do I brush my pet’s teeth without losing a hand?
Obviously, your safety is first and foremost in all circumstances, but for most dogs, and even cats, teeth brushing can be a pleasant, non-stressful experience. Check out the video below for instructions on how to brush your pet’s teeth.

Can’t the groomer brush his teeth for me?
Groomers are certainly very capable of brushing your pet’s teeth, but as mentioned above, brushing needs to occur on a very regular basis to make a significant difference.

What is brushing is just not feasible?
If brushing is absolutely out of the question, there are other options to help decrease the plaque and subsequent tartar buildup in your pet’s mouth. Look for products that carry the VOHC - Veterinary Oral Health Council - seal of approval, such as CET products, Greenies, or antiplaque water additives. Most of these products need to be used on a daily basis to make an appreciable difference.

What are the consequences if I don’t brush?
Well, like people, every pet’s mouth is different. Some animals and breeds are more susceptible for dental disease than others. In some animals a neglected mouth will result with some degree of plaque build up over time, and gingivitis (or inflammation and infection of the gums). But in some animals that neglected mouth will lead to severe infectious of the mouth, abscesses, pain, bad breath, and can make it more difficult to regulate other disease processes (such as diabetes). In the more severe cases, treatment involves tooth extractions or complicated dental procedures.

Regular at-home dental care, routine complete oral health evaluations, and professional dental cleanings, when needed, are the best way to maintain your pets dental health. In the long run that routine care will reduce the need for costly procedures, reduce the risk of infections and help maintain good overall health.