Senior Feline Concerns

Often, I hear owners of elderly cats express during an exam that their cat is doing great since it eats and drinks all the time. When I ask why they believe their cat is losing weight, they want to blame that on age, they do not like the new food, they vomit hair a lot, or are surprised that they lost weight at all. Once a cat reaches 8-10 years of age, we consider them to be seniors. Cats can live 15-20 years so some believe they are still young at 8. Yet we often discover early symptoms of health conditions at this time. Senior Wellness exams are extremely important to help address issues hoping to avoid life threatening symptoms later.

Three key questionsto ask yourself about your furry feline friend are:

  1. Does my cat drink an excessive amount of water?
  2. Does my cat have larger clumps of litter in the box?
  3. Does my cat have changes to its eating habits?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I would encourage you to speak to your veterinarian.

Cats that drink excessively usually will have a litter box that has larger clumps in it or the box is wetter than usual. The challenge is determining who is doing what when you have multiple cats in your household. Sometimes the issue is a cat not using the box and it is assumed a bladder infection when it could be a problem with needing the box cleaned more often because a cat is peeing more.

Changes in eating habits can come in many forms. Some cats will eat large amounts every day and continue to lose weight. Some cats will eat one day and then seem uninterested in food the next day, so people go out and buy a new food to try and low and behold the cat eats it, so they feel they got it figured out. Then a few days later the cat stops eating that food as well, so they do buy another diet and the cat eats again. We call this cyclic eating. It has nothing to do with you buying a new food and everything to do with the health issue lurking within the cat’s body. Some cats eat but seem to vomit often. This one causes most owners to clean up the vomit and relate the vomit to hairballs. Hairballs can be a cause of vomit in cats but in elderly cats you must also consider other health conditions. With all these scenarios, most of the cats will have gradual weight loss. Sometimes the weight will come off quickly in the case of an obese cat. Whenever a cat has weight loss and you are not actively trying to have your cat lose weight, this should be a red flag that something may be wrong.

The three most common age related conditions with these symptoms are:

  1. Diabetes
  2. Kidney Disease
  3. Hyperthyroidism

It is extremely difficult to diagnose any of these without doing blood work and checking a urinalysis. A cat can look completely fine on the outside but have one of these conditions if you are noting any of the above symptoms.  All 3 of these can be treated by diet and/or medications. The sooner we discover what is happening the better the outcome will be. Please schedule a Feline Senior Wellness Exam so we can monitor these different values as they age and make recommendations as needed for a long and healthy senior life.

Grain Free Diets and Heart Disease

Recently articles have surfaced indicating that dogs on grain free diets may have an increased risk of heart disease. The following article was written by a Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, PhD, DACVN who is a pet nutritionalist at Tufts University. She has dedicated her life to pet nutrition and has a Petfoodology blog. The article is extremely well written and shares the concerns we as veterinarians have had for a number of years when it comes to pet foods. The marketing companies for pet foods have caused people to make nutritional decisions based on fads not science. If you have been feeding a grain free diet or a “boutique diet” or a raw and/or home cooked diet, I would highly recommend you read this article. We as veterinarians want to see your pets live a long and healthy life and nutrition is the foundation.

A broken heart: Risk of heart disease in boutique or grain-free diets …vetnutrition.tufts.edu/…/a-broken-heart-risk-of-heart-disease-in-boutique-or-grain-fre…

I am not going to add anything to her amazing article. It is extremely well written and explains in detail the important facts verses fads that are ever present in our pet food industry. She talks about what you should do to make certain your pet is not going to be affected by these nutritional fads and marketing schemes. She even has a pet food quiz you can take to determine how knowledgeable you are about your pets nutrition. I got 10 of the 12 questions correct. Take the quiz and let me know your score! For the health of your furry friends please take this information seriously. Have a Happy Halloween and remember to keep your candy away from your pets. CHOCOLATE IS POISONOUS to pets.

Fall Concerns for our Friendly Canines

As the weather changes we start to think about football and tailgates, bonfires and s’mores, but we also need to remember with the changes in weather our dogs may need a little extra attention too.

During the fall many families like to spend extra time walking in the woods always excited that the flying insects are diminishing. Yet the creepy crawling ticks are still present and need to be planned for. The deer tick have an active cycle in the fall. As you are crunching through those piles of leaves be aware of what is “questing” for its host.  We have great flea and tick products for our dogs that should be used until we have snow on the ground. Scientists have shown that ticks will continue to “quest” for a host even at freezing temperatures. I have removed deer ticks on dogs close to Christmas since there was no snow on the ground. We have no protection against these ticks for ourselves so it is crucial that you keep them out of your environment and off your pets.

Hunting dogs and dogs that get the opportunity to run through the tall grasses do have to be concerned about ticks but also about eye foreign bodies. Dogs and cats both have a 3rd eyelid that helps protect the eye. This elevated eyelid can easily get grass seeds or stickers underneath it. This can cause severe squinting, drainage, redness, and if left unattended corneal ulcers. These photos show the foxtail seed under the 3rd eyelid prior to removal with the corneal ulcer it created. The green stain indicates how much damage has been done to the cornea. Once removed, the ulcer can heal but it is important to have the eye checked quickly to reduce scarring.

As we start to pack away all the boats and campers for storage over the winter, never forget how dangerous our rat poisons are for our dogs. Since they are a grain base the dogs find them extremely palatable. All baits are harmful so do not be fooled by the labels. The new products are actually more deadly than D-con. With D-con at least we could do a lab test and quickly discover the dogs needed Vitamin K to help the clotting factors. The newest poisons cause edema (fluid leaking) within the spaces of the brain and severe seizures are seen. We have very little ability to control the symptoms and therefore many pets have died. Please make these baits unaccessible to animals.  Please seek immediate help if you have an animal that has consumed these baits. The symptoms do not occur immediately. The poisons have a delayed response but the response is dangerous and deadly so get help quickly.

Antifreeze seems to be another source of poison during the fall that can harm pets. Companies are starting to use the less desirable products that are not sweet and tasteful to the pets. This has reduced our poisoning cases caused by antifreeze. It is important to get help quickly with this exposure since once in the pets body we can see damage to the kidneys within 4 hours.

When purchasing ice melt look for the products that are not harmful to the pets feet. When pets are outside, these ice melt products stick to their paws and fur. We need to make certain the ice melt will not hurt their pads or their mouth or gut if they lick their pads.

Remember the cooler temperatures and shorter days make exercise more challenging so you must consider dietary adjustments to prevent weight gain during the fall and winter. Many pets gain weight during these cooler shorter days and they never seem to get back to their optimum weight. I am excited to report the poles for the Winterset Dog Park fence went up this week. This will be a great addition to our community when completed. Having a facility where your dog can be set free to explore and play will greatly help our pets maintain an active and healthy lifestyle. Happy Fall!

10th Anniversary of Hemmingway Joining WVC Staff!

Hard to believe that it has been 10 years since I showed up at Winterset Veterinary Center’s (WVC)  doorstep with my siblings. We had been born under a porch and discovered as we started exploring our surroundings more. We were captured and placed into a tub and left on the doorstep on an August morning with a note. Obviously, we were making all sorts of noise being all cooped up in that tub.  We heard voices and suddenly we had to blink and squint since it got very bright.  We started being lifted from the tub by some amazing people. Come to find out those are the same people that work at WVC and care for all sorts of critters. It was decided that we should all get fixed which was not something I was even concerned about since I loved all the special attention and great meals we were receiving.  At that time, it was discovered that I had a deformed sternum. This gave the staff a concern for adopting me out with my siblings since this could have other complications in the future.  They then decided to keep me as a clinic cat and named me Hemmingway. I recently discovered I got my name because of my extra toes on all 4 feet.  Ernest Hemingway was the first person to discover cats with extra toes and they call this congenital condition a polydactyl. If one parent has extra toes then 40-50% of the kittens will have extra toes if mated with a cat that has a normal number of toes. This condition is usually harmless. I do not believe that any of my siblings had extra toes. I was the special one and still am today.

Hello, I’m Hemmingway!

In those 10 years I have gotten to meet lots of people. I have been in the Bridge Festival Parade wearing my “Come with me Kitty” harness and leash.  I loved being out and exploring but the parade moved way too fast for me to keep up, so I was carried or rode the trailer a lot of the time. I did not enjoy the cannons or guns that were being shot off during the parade.

I also have visited the Winterset Middle School a few times as a way to promote Pet Health Week. Dr. Lonna would visit with the kids about the care of pets and importance of pet selection prior to bringing home just any pet that looks adorable. We all look adorable when we are little. The problem seems to come up when life events occur and people have not thought through the length of time that we will be needing a home.  We seem to live longer these years because of the preventative care and improved nutrition available.

I spend most of my days wandering around the clinic greeting customers and their furry friends as I desire. I do ask to go outside if the weather is perfect and you may see me at the door or in the bushes as you approach the building. I have learned to be cautious before showing myself to some of the pets that visit WVC since some are not crazy about me. Cannot understand why since I love everyone.

I would say that the best part of my day comes when the sun shines through the window and I can lounge around letting it warm me on those cool winter days.  As you can see from the photos that I do get a heavy mane and coat in the winter months. Of course as summer rolls in all that hair has to be brushed and combed out which seems to be another reason that people decide they can no longer keep a pet because of the hair and matts that develop.  It is so important that pet owners really research the daily care required for their furry friends so that they are prepared for all the grooming needs and/or shedding issues that may present themselves over the 15-20 years of our lives.

I have been extremely lucky to live here at WVC. My life started under a porch with little shelter from the storms and scarce food sources. I now have my own food bowl and litter box.  Constant protection from the elements and my only job is to allow the staff to demonstrate how to care for my coat and/or how to administer a pill. I hate that last demonstration the most.  I usually get a treat after so I have learned to be tolerant.

They point me out when discussing weight concerns of our feline friends since they are always let people know they should not let their cat get to be as “FLUFFY” as me. Obviously that is a nice way of saying, “ I am fat.” I like to always have food in my bowl and even if they offer the lower calorie stuff, I stay fluffy. They have tried to restrict my food but my response to having an empty bowl is to turn my attention to the smorgasbord of bags that are always available on the shelves within the clinic. Never a shortage of food in this building. I am a lucky boy to have all of these servants watching over me daily and making certain that I get all the TLC that I need to be an exceptional clinic cat. Make sure you become my Facebook Friend at Hemmingway Winterset. I love making friends.

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Cats and County Fairs

This month I had the opportunity to judge the cat show at 2 county fairs. I have done this previously and always felt that cats are a difficult animal to show. They are not leash trained so it can be a challenge to keep them from running away. It is also a challenge for a judge to get an accurate idea of their body conformation and movement. Most cats are extremely timid when removed from their natural environment so we do not get to see the true personality of the cats. Many cats are much heavier than what we would consider to be ideal since they get little exercise on any given day.  With all this information, I set out to answer the question:

Is there a way to improve a cats personality and behaviors that would make cat shows more enjoyable not only for the person showing their cat but also the judge and the spectators?

Yes! EARLY INTERVENTION IS KEY! This relates to handling and exposing that kitten at a pre-weaning stage of its life to all the things that a judge would want you to do with your cat at the show and to prepare it for the show.  Studies have shown that cats need a lot of handling before 9 weeks of age. Dogs have an open window for social skills until 16 weeks of age. Many families do not even get the kitten until after 8 weeks of age. This can make attachment to the new family a challenge in some cases if the home they came from did not spend time exposing them to new people and situations. As a kid I remember being told not to even touch the kittens and puppies before their eyes were open. We do not recommend that any more since we realize that the more handling they receive the better their social skills are. If you have a litter of kittens in your home spend time picking them up and turning them upside down, touching their feet, opening their mouths, combing their hair, and exposing them to as many people as you can in those early months. Introduce them to dogs, car rides, carriers, bathing, and other environments if possible. Early social experiences can enhance their acceptance of change as they age.

As I have practiced over the years and seen kittens grow into adult cats, it has become apparent that kittens growing up with preschool kids and toddlers are the best cats in my exam room. Now this may surprise you. What I suspect is that kittens handled by this young age group learn to accept that in life uncomfortable things happen and I never get my way. Think about it.  A young child catches that kitten and just holds on because if it gets away, they know they will not be able to catch it again.  So the kitten eventually realizes it does no good to struggle and just gives up. Also these kittens are put into backpacks, doll strollers, wrapped in blankets, and dressed up in doll clothes all while having to endure some less than comfortable positions while being held. They may be dropped, stepped on, or have hair pulled as the child learns the proper way to handle them. Together these things make the cat extremely relaxed with various interactions with people. Remember that this would apply to kittens that are having this interaction before 9 weeks of age.

Come With Me Kitty Harness & Bungee Leash

I am not advocating that every kitten has to grow up with a preschool child. What I would point out is if a kitten is struggling to get out of your arms, wait to set it down until after it has relaxed. Do not let it down in the struggle. Take the kitten to meet people wherever and whenever you can. Travel with the kitten to places other than the veterinarian’s office in its carrier. If the only time I got into my car was to go to the doctor’s office, I would most likely hate my car. Teach the kitten to accept a harness and a leash if you plan to show the cat or expose it to the outdoors. This is even helpful when traveling to the veterinarians office. A company called PetSafe has a “Come with Me Kitty” harness and bungee leash.  This link will take you to their website to learn more about the harness. Come With Me Kitty Harness and Bungee Leash by PetSafe – GRP …There are techniques out there to train a cat to walk on a leash.  It can be done. Cats are trainable but you have to find the reward that makes them want to do what you ask of them. Some cats are food motivated but others may have more desire to play with a toy or get some personal attention. There are links on the web that help people teach their cats how to walk on a leash or even do tricks. The earlier you begin these techniques the better success you will have.  Also teaching a cat to let you trim its nails, open its mouth, roll it over to groom the belly, lift the tail just to look, etc. can go a long way to make this cat more relaxed in a cat show and in your home.

I know many people that say cats and dogs do not like each other. Watching kittens grow up with dogs you see that they love to spend time with them if introduced at an early age. The same philosophy should be used when trying to make cats more relaxed outside of your home. Start by taking them places to meet as many new people as you can and go to as many locations as you can. The more they get exposed to new situations the better they will be when taken to a cat show or even the veterinary office.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see our cats walking on a leash in a circle while being judged on their body conformation and gaits? Wouldn’t it be great to let the judge see their true character during the judging process? Far to long we have allowed our cats to rule our homes and just accepted their independence. I want to encourage families who get young kittens to work with them immediately upon coming into your home to learn healthy social skills.  Attempting to change their behaviors later on in life is extremely difficult and next to impossible. The key is early intervention and socialization if we want to make our cat shows and our house cats more personable!

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2 Years of Blogging

June 24, 2016…..the day I posted my first blog. Two years and many topics later, I am still finding information to share about pets, practice, and life. I probably need to figure out what my audience looks like? The demographics of who reads my blogs? What topics get the most likes or views? In this day in age, everything is analyzed for gaining the edge on your competition. Isn’t that why we invest time and energy into social media? I have attended multiple continuing education sessions on the importance and benefit of social media. Writing a blog gives you additional merit and leverage with Google to help keep your position when people are searching for veterinarians in Winterset or Central Iowa. It is amazing to me how many people are finding us from our website. Gone are the yellow pages and local phone books. Now one just asks Siri or Alexa for veterinarians in the Winterset area and she gives Winterset Veterinary Center as her first option and indicates they have a 5 star rating if you ask her what is good about them.   We have had some great reviews since starting our website in 2009. We went through an update a little over 2 years ago and I suppose it is time to review the information and see if we need to make any changes. We need to make certain the information is accurate and easy to understand for any potential client that may be searching the web for veterinarians.

Google Analytics is a program that all websites within google can access to evaluate your usage. The data is extremely interesting and helpful to see what areas are of most interest to those that visit wintersetvet.com. 

In the last 2 years since we updated our website:

  • 88% are new visitors and 12% are return visitors
  • 2,235 users viewed 1.6 pages/session and averaged 1 minute and 12 seconds/session
  • 33.5% are age 25-34 and 27.5% are between 18-24
  • 45.85% are female and 54.15% are male
  • 52% use desktops, 43% mobile, and 5% tablets
  • 69% either use chrome or safari for their browser
  • 51% organically search verses 34% typing in wintersetvet.com and 8% and 7% respectively come from social media (Facebook) or referral from other sites(Winterset Chamber).

The most interesting data piece to me is a map of where our users live. It shows that 89% are US users but that other 11% varies across the world. The following map shows the locations around the world that have either accidentally or intentionally been directed to our website. France has had some repeat visits so we are wondering who may be following our updates or blogs there.

A funny story that occurred a few months back while I was on call one Friday evening. A man informed me he would be bringing his dog in on Saturday morning to have me remove porcupine quills from his dogs face. I requested we do the removal that night since Saturday’s schedule was already booked and sedation would be required. He insisted that we do it on Saturday morning. I politely told him that I was sorry but he would need to go to the 24/7 emergency facility on Saturday.  He said some rather unkind words and hung up the phone. The next morning he never called and I got to thinking how we do not have porcupines in Iowa. I had removed quills from dogs in Minnesota numerous times when I practiced up in St. Cloud. I googled Winterset Veterinary and up popped a practice in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. Now they probably have porcupines. I decided to call the number back on my phone from the night before and share with him the ironic confusion that occurred. He did not answer so I left him a nice sweet message informing him of the organic search mistake that had occurred when he googled Winterset Vet. About 30 minutes later he called me back and we laughed as he told me I was the only Veterinarian that answered my phone the night before and returned a call to him. Since he was a truck driver he mentioned he may stop by someday while traveling across the country. Those types of mistakes would never have occurred when using telephone books. With our current google ranking, even in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania we are the first veterinarian that pops up when typing in Winterset Vet.

So whether you are local or around the world following our updates we thank you for stopping by. We will continue to strive to find ways to educate or entertain you with information pertinent to your pets and their health. We hope that you will consider subscribing to our blog by following this link:

Subscribe to our email list for news and info!

The blog will then be sent to your email each time it is posted. We never want you to miss a blog just in case the information is exactly what you needed to hear. Have a wonderful July 4th and enjoy the long summer days.

New Beginnings

We are empty nesters after 26 years. Time has finally moved Dan and I into a new role in our lives. We enjoyed the weekend celebrations of JoAnn’s graduation party and ceremony.  We celebrated having all the kids home since this becomes more rare with each passing year. We enjoyed having family and friends come to congratulate JoAnn and offer advice on how to adjust to an empty nest. We set off fireworks in celebration of JoAnn and all her accomplishments and to bring in our new empty nest status with a bang!

New beginnings can be scary but yet they can hold so much excitement and anticipation about what the next journey will be. JoAnn asked people to highlight a favorite verse in the bible that had significant meaning to them. The variety of verses that were highlighted just shows that everyone’s path is different and unique. With each new adventure you discover more about yourself and the world around you. I was thinking about the three graduations in my own personal life and how they were the same or different. The common thread in all of them was the new beginnings that followed. Three separate times in my life where I could consider myself having a fresh start. A whole new direction that would propel me towards the future that God had planned for my life. This month is 30 years since I graduated from ISU College of Veterinary Medicine. In those 30 years, I have been married to the same wonderful man. I gave birth to 4 amazing children that have grown into even more amazing adults. I have lived in 2 states, 6 different houses, and in 4 different school districts.  I have owned more vehicles than I care to remember. I was a business owner of my own practice, worked for a corporate practice, and have practiced as an associate in multiple practices. I have been a stay at home mom, a weekly volunteer at elementary schools, a youth leader along with Sunday School teacher at church, and a mom volunteer at fundraisers for the numerous organizations that our 4 kids became involved in. With each of these events and activities, I discovered more about myself and what is important in my life.

New beginnings have been common in these past 30 years. I sometimes felt guilty that our children did not get to live in the same home and school district their entire lives like my husband and I did. Yet, then I think about how often we must accept change and new beginnings in our lives. I recognize how experiencing those things early in their lives has helped shape them into the confident adults that they are. They have had to adapt to change along-side Dan and myself. With those new beginnings, we have seen them stumble, but also quickly pick themselves back up, brush off the fears and frustrations, and push forward with more confidence and determination than ever. They have come to discover that new beginnings are something to embrace and conquer. Knowing that the future holds more adventures that will help propel them into this game of life. We can try to plan every step, but if you forget to side step along the way, you will miss opportunities.

If you are facing new beginnings in your life at this time, try to find the positive in every moment as you move forward. In the Lion King movie, Simba and Rafiki talk about how the winds are changing and how change is good but not easy. I am ready to embrace the winds of change and open my life to any and all opportunities and new beginnings.

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Spring Has Arrived – Let the Itch Begin!

The arrival of springtime was extended this year. We are finally seeing Mother Earth turn the corner.  It is such a transformation from day to day as the dead becomes alive again. Along with this amazing time of year we also see pets start to itch. Allergies to the pollinating trees and flowers does not only affect people but our pets as well. During your pets lifetime, if you do not have to deal with allergies, you should count yourself blessed. They can be a source of constant frustration for the pet and the entire family.

It is crucial that if you suspect allergies in your pet that you seek veterinary care.  We do need to make certain that your pet is reacting to environmental allergens verses external parasites (fleas, lice, mites) or food sensitivities. One flea will bite 50-70 times a day. That can be extremely irritating. Pets can develop Flea Bite Dermatitis where each bite causes an allergic reaction from the flea saliva making that pet miserable. This causes a number of pets that have just a few fleas to show a more intense reaction than other pets in the home. Both dogs and cats can be affected by this condition.

Bravecto, a 3 month flea and tick prevention, has been extremely effective in breaking this cycle. Any flea that feeds dies immediately and this decreases the allergic reaction. In the past many of our topical products had difficulty spreading over the skin of these allergic pets since their skin was damaged from their constant chewing and scratching.  Therefore we had some pets who never seemed to get relief without the use of corticosteroids to reduce the itch. Corticosteroids caused all sorts of undesirable side effects like increased thirst and urination along with weight gain. We also had concerns about long term usage leading to a disease called Cushings Disease.

For the last 3 years we have been selling Bravecto. It has been interesting to see dogs that never had hair during the summer months now have a full coat because we have knocked the fleas dead with every bite the first time. The 3 month dosage removes the infestation from most homes and continual usage keeps it from returning. We have also seen a decline in fall allergy cases. Please, if you have a pet that seems to have “seasonal allergies” consider the use of a product like Bravecto to see if it can benefit your pet.  We may be underestimating the number of flea bite dermatitis cases in our pets since fleas are hard to find.

Other external parasites like lice and mites can cause dogs to itch constantly. This past week I had a dog from California that was itching all over. They did not use flea and tick products since they lived in the desert. They did allow their dogs to run free when hiking or exploring new areas. Her pampered and protected fur babies had lice. She was shocked. We started prevention for external parasites and she took home shampoo to start bathing her dogs since they sleep with her. I informed her that dog lice do not like to live on people but she was taking no chances. Every pet, no matter how sheltered, should be on prevention for external parasites. This includes indoor only cats, especially if you have a dog that goes in and out.

Food allergies are a year round cause of skin issues in dogs and cats. I realize this does not seem logical. Why would a pet’s diet cause them to itch? It is related to the immune systems response to the ingredients in the pets food. Often times the itching will involve the face, ears, and neck. Dogs with ear issues only have responded to dietary changes. It is important that you visit with your veterinarian about your pets itching so you can have the best possible outcome.

If your dog does have seasonal or year round allergies not related to external parasites or diet, we have some new products that are revolutionizing these pets lives and their families. These two products can remove the itch without the side effects of products available in the past. The cost is based on the size of the dog but has successfully stopped the itch. Pet parents are sleeping better because their dogs are not scratching all night. The dogs no longer have hair loss or skin infection associated with the constant scratching and chewing. Many dog owners report that their pets appear happier overall because they no longer spend their days itching.

The first product that came available was Apoquel. This oral medication is given twice per day for the first 2 weeks, then goes to a once daily dosage for maintenance. We have some dogs that are on this year round and others that only need it for a season, like fall. As long as they get their medication the dogs are comfortable and not itching. Everyone is happy.

Last year a product called Cytopoint became available as an injectable product to help itching dogs. Initially they felt it would need to be given monthly to control the itch. As the product became more widely used, it was determined there was a longer duration of efficacy than originally thought. Many dogs were getting 8 weeks or more before the itching returned. We use the product and encourage the owner to help us determine how often the injection should be given based on the dogs symptoms.

These two products have truly changed the lives of allergic dogs and their owners. We, as veterinarians, are grateful to have products that we can use that are effective and do not have undesirable side effects. Make certain that you speak with your veterinarian about whether either of these products would be right for your dog. Since springtime has arrived officially, start your flea and tick medications today. We know those undesirable external parasites are waiting for your fur babies. Don’t let them have a chance at survival on your pet or in your home.

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My pet just peed on my carpet!

After vomiting, urination issues with pets is one of the most common calls veterinarians receive. The conversations always allude to the frustration by the owner for this terrible, but natural, deed. This is one of the largest reasons for animals surrendered to shelters or kicked out of the home left to wander the streets. This is a complex issue and so since it is spring, I will begin with puppy and kitten urination issues and clarify some do’s and don’t’s when it comes to urination habits. Again this would be my personal opinion and someone else may not agree with my comments, but at least you have options when you consider others viewpoints.

Kittens instinctively want to pee in and dig into something to urinate. They learn about covering their excrement from their mother. If you have an orphaned kitten they may never learn to cover their urine or stool. They can learn to use the box but may not be tidy about it. As a kitten, they have very tiny stool and urine and the box is huge so one can get by with scooping the box weekly. Please do not do that. As the kitten grows it becomes necessary to make that box pristine to encourage them to want to use the box instead of the carpet or flower pot. I use the scenario that when I go to a public restroom and see a toilet that has not been flushed, I move on to the next stall in hopes that one is more appealing. Cats do not want to step into the box and smell another cats urine or stool. They do not want to dig where they have already peed or pooped. They do not want to dive head first into a tub that smells or has clumps in it. If they bump their head on the hood/cover every time they attempt to pee or poop they may go elsewhere. A good rule of thumb is 1 litter box per cat in the house with daily scooping required of all boxes. Daily also add some fresh litter over the top. At least monthly you should dump the entire box if using clumping litter and weekly if using clay litter. It is important to not switch litter types abruptly. Cats are not fans of change.   One way a cat may stop using a box is to suddenly changing the type of litter without a gradual mixing over time of the two types of litter. Be aware of the type of stool and size of clumps when cleaning the box.   Any changes can be a clue to other health issues that could be life threatening if not addressed. Now having said this, I know some people have cats that do not seem to mind a dirty box. Feel blessed or be aware that things can change in a heartbeat and you may need to practice new litter box hygiene.

House breaking is the first hurdle that needs to be conquered when you bring home that cute adorable puppy. Most people get the puppies around 8 weeks of age. A puppy gets good bladder control at about 16 weeks of age. What that means is they can learn to go outside, but there is no waiting allowed before 4 months of age. If they need to go, they need to go now. Using a crate or kennel can encourage them to hold their urine. When you get home, and are attempting to get them out quickly enough to relieve themselves, you may have some oops moments. A puppy under 16 weeks should be let out every 4-6 hours during the day and every 6-8 hours at night. Do not feed or leave water in the indoor kennel since that may make it necessary for them to relieve themselves in the crate. Any puppy that eats and drinks will most likely need to go outside within 30-45 minutes. Plan to get up earlier each day so you can make certain they have had ample opportunity to relieve themselves before you leave. If you have to be gone longer than 6 hours, find a friend, neighbor, family member that can come in and let your puppy out. Avoiding accidents is the best way to be successful with house breaking.

NEVER, NEVER punish the puppy if they have an accident in the house. You can startle them if you catch them in the act by clapping your hands and scoop them up and see if they will finish outside. If you find the pee or poop in the house, rubbing their nose in it or scolding them while pointing or showing them the waste will make them realize you do not like pee or poop so they will avoid doing it in front of you. They do not connect that you are scolding them because they did it in the house. That is often why they sneak away and avoid being seen while in the house relieving themselves. It is also why some puppies will never go potty when you are outside with them watching. They know you do not like poop or pee because it makes you all growly and mad. Puppies get distracted often when outside and do not completely finish their business. It is wise to take them out on a leash and use a command, “Go Potty”, and not allow any playtime until they have taken care of business. Do offer a treat right outside when they pee or poop. Do not wait until you come indoors since that only rewards them for coming in the house. They forgot long ago that they peed while outside.

What about potty pads? I am not a fan. When you allow a puppy to pee on a potty pad in the house, you are telling that puppy it is okay to go in the house. Puppies have a preference for peeing on surfaces that they first pee on. A puppy born outside in the barn and has grass to pee on will be much easier to housebreak than a puppy that was raised on tile floors. During the winter when you put down a potty pad because it is cold outside, and then take them outside when the weather improves to pee, they are not even thinking about eliminating outside. I have suggested to some people to work past this issue to nail down a potty pad outside in the grass and slowly start cutting it smaller so eventually they are peeing in the grass. I can assure you though that they may still find it convenient to pee on the newspaper or magazine left on the floor.

If you are having housebreaking issues with your puppy after 4 months of age, do not ignore this. By doing so you may never have a dog that you can trust in your home. There are some medical causes for poorly house trained puppies. Speak with your veterinarian if you are concerned. The longer the puppy eliminates in the home the more challenging it gets.

Male intact pets during the mating season can start marking in the home. Some females during their heat cycle will urinate to alert the males that they are soon ready. These are instincts that are normal behaviors and can be difficult to rectify when the hormones are raging. Obviously by neutering and spaying your pets this can be controlled and avoided. Keep in mind that the longer the pet has been marking the more difficult it can be to reverse the behavior.

Diets can have an impact on urination habits. FUS stands for Feline Urological Syndrome and years ago we would see multiple cats a week with urinary issues. The males cannot urinate and the females are peeing outside of the box in small quantities and more frequent times. Over the years a number of cat food companies recognized that diets can prevent the cause of this medical condition and so they have adjusted the formulas. We do not know why some cats are affected by this and another in the same household is not. We still see a few cats each year with these issues but are happy when we can prescribe a diet that will prevent crystallization(sand like) in the urine.

This 18 lb. female terrier mix had a radiograph taken and the urinary stones are circled in red.

Dogs can have cases of crystallization of the urine but they are more often diagnosed with bladder stones. These are not stones in the kidneys or coming from the kidneys. These stones develop only within the bladder and cause urination issues over time. Some dogs try to pass the stones and cause blockages and cannot urinate and others will have accidents in the house with or without visible blood in the urine. A radiograph is often the best way to diagnose this condition. These stones are mineralized so they are very obvious in the bladder with a radiograph. Some stones can be dissolved with special prescription diets but others will require surgical removal. To avoid reoccurrence a preventive diet is prescribed for the rest of the pets life. Cats can also get bladder stones but it is less common.

This is the stones (seen in the radiograph above) after they were removed.

Urinary tract infections are seen in pets as well. Often times the pet is drinking more water. Asking to go outside more often. Peeing smaller quantities more frequent times. Cannot hold their urine through the night or day while you are at work. These are treated with antibiotics and often recovery is reached in 7-10 days.

Urinary incontinence is common in aging female spayed dogs. The important thing to consider here is if you note that there is a wet spot where your pet laid while sleeping.   In these situations, they are not actively squatting and peeing but instead the urine is seeping out when they are relaxed and are not even aware that it has occurred. We have wonderful medications to help prevent this issue for your pets. It does not have to happen every time they sleep so make certain you are seeing this often enough to justify the daily medication for life.

Numerous health conditions affect the thirst and urination habits of pets. These conditions are more likely noted in aging pets. Many times when I ask clients about a pets water consumption the response I get is, “They drink plenty of water.”   Is this amount normal or excessive? Clients bring the pet in because they are peeing in the house. What I am trying to determine is whether this pet has one of the above concerns or a major health issue associated with the thyroid, pancreas, liver, kidney, uterus, etc. These health issues require additional diagnostics to find the cause and extent of the disease. A healthy pet should drink at least 1-2 times the amount of dry food they eat in a day. If they are eating canned food they will drink much less. If your pet is drinking more than that or you are filling the water bowl up more than you used to or your pet is now drinking from the faucet or toilet bowl you may have a pet with a health concern. If the litter box has much larger clumps of urine than before or you need to change it more frequently, your cat may have a health concern. Many of these conditions can be treated with medications and/or special diets. The sooner they are diagnosed the better chance we have of controlling the symptoms of increase thirst and urination.

Behavioral issues are often blamed for a pet urinating in the house. I am not saying that this does not occur but I feel it is necessary to rule out the above concerns before classifying your pet as having a behavioral problem. Perceived behavioral issues relating to inappropriate urination are most often discovered to have a medical basis.

As you can see there are multiple reasons for pets urinating in the house. I am sure I have missed other causes but wanted you to be aware of things that matter when trying to determine the reason for your pet peeing on your carpet.   If this article has triggered any concerns with your pet, be certain to contact your veterinarian. Early intervention in each of these situations can improve the life of your pet and hopefully prevent you from having to replace your carpet!

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FELV AND/OR FIV…. what do these abbreviations mean for our cats?

FELV is an abbreviation for Feline Leukemia Virus. This is a retrovirus that infects cats only. No dogs or humans have shown infection with this virus. FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus which is a lentivirus that infects cats as well. Both viruses are transmitted through saliva and biting seems to have the highest rate of potential infection to other cats. If cats are outdoors or indoor-outdoor there is a higher risk of exposure related to the fighting amongst cats for territory and during the mating season. We have concern that even when in close association with a positive FELV cat there could be exposure through saliva when grooming each other and even nasal excretions with sneezing. Caution should be exercised with food dishes and litter boxes.

It is always recommended that a cat and or kitten be tested for both of these viruses prior to introduction to any other cats in your home. It Is important to protect all cats that are in your home when considering an addition to your household. The tricky part is that most research indicates a new cat should be tested 30 days after its last exposure to other cats to make certain that the virus is not incubating within your new cat. Most shelters check for FELV and some for FIV. It is important to ask questions at the time of adoption so you know what has already been done. Ask about the quarantine and if the test was done 30 days after it’s last exposure to other cats with unknown histories.

FIV has been labeled the Feline AIDS like infection for cats. It is not contagious to humans. Cats can live perfectly normal lives with the FIV virus and infect other cats in the area over the years. Worldwide about 2.5-4.4% of cats are infected with FIV. This virus is spread through bite wounds so living casually amongst other cats that do not fight can prevent the spread of the virus. It has been shown that some cats immune system will challenge the virus and the cat will get lifetime immunity. Other cats may always be a carrier affecting other cats around them when fighting or breeding, and then sadly enough some cats end up with a compromised immune system and become extremely ill and can die from the virus. Since the immune system is affected the clinical signs can be varied so blood tests are the only way to diagnose this infection.

FELV is species specific for cats but evidence points to potential infections within the larger wild cat populations, such as lions. Nationwide, we see an infection rate of 2-3%. A newborn kitten can be born with the infection if the female is positive. Some cats can fight off the infection and will show antibodies against it indicating prior exposure.   Positive cats be carriers for their lifetime and die of natural causes or they can become extremely ill and eventually die from this infection. This virus affects the immune system as well and so the clinical signs can be numerous. A blood test is the only way to know if your cat has FELV.

Testing for both FIV and FELV can be done within most veterinary facilities. There are also different tests that can be done at professional laboratories if there are any concerns or questions about the accuracy of the first test. Any cat that is going to be introduced to your current cat population should be tested prior to allowing the cats to spend time getting to know one other. If you cannot wait the 30 day period before introduction, then have the cat tested on day 1 and then retest them 60 days later to make certain they are not carriers of the viruses. A positive test does not mean your cat is dying. It indicates your cat has been exposed. It says your cat can be a potential carrier for the virus. It means you need to offer the best preventive care to reduce stress for this cat. It is important to seek veterinary care if your cat becomes ill. It is necessary to know the risks to other cats in your household or outside.

Vaccinations are available to protect cats against FELV and FIV but neither are 100% effective. The FELV vaccine has reduced the percentage of positive cases since it was introduced over 30 years ago and will not cause a false positive on the blood tests. The FIV vaccine can generate antibodies after vaccination which then make it difficult to determine which cats are positive for the virus and which cats have been vaccinated. If you vaccinate your cat against FIV make certain to tell your veterinarian. These vaccines are of little use if your cat never goes outside or is never exposed to other cats that have these viruses.   These vaccines are administered when the risk is present for potential exposure to other cats that carry the viruses. THE BEST WAY TO PREVENT INFECTION IS TO AVOID EXPOSURE TO CATS AND KITTENS OF UNKNOWN STATUS OF FELV OR FIV.  

Treatment of cats diagnosed with either of these viruses is symptomatic. There are no proven formulas to remove this infection so if the cat is not eating you must find ways to feed it. If the cat has seizures you must seek medications to stop the seizures. If the cat has cancer you must seek the advice of an oncologist. If the cat has reoccurring upper respiratory infections antibiotics may always be needed. Keeping your positive cat healthy and happy with minimal stress may allow them to live a long life free of clinical disease. Yet, as with all viruses that affect the immune system, in spite of all of your efforts your cat can become clinically ill at any time. Many people request vaccinations for their indoor-outdoor cat(s) against FELV and do not do the test. I let them know that is their choice, but to always remember if their cat gets sick and conservative treatments are not turning the illness around, you must let your veterinarian run the diagnostic tests for FELV and FIV. These infections are more common than we would like to believe and without doing the tests you may never know the status of your cat.

In closing I want to thank all those people with big hearts that take in stray cats and kittens. Most cats seem to find their owners more than the owners find them. I applaud those efforts but also want to make certain you are aware of the risks to your current household population and please quarantine these strays until they can be seen by your veterinarian to avoid risks not only for FELV and FIV but so many other contagious conditions such as internal and external parasites, fungal infections, upper respiratory infections, etc. A new cat or kitten can be the demise of a current cat if you are not cautious.

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