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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No Bones About It

February is Dental Health Month for our fur babies. There are a great many things I could discuss in regards to this topic. For example, I could talk about all the reasons to brush your dog’s teeth. I could show you how bad your animal’s teeth can get when not cared for properly. Instead, I want to discuss the need for healthy items for our dogs to chew on.  

There are so many choices available for our dogs to chew on. I receive many questions from clients about what is safe. So many times, someone calls requesting information about whether their dog might have a bone lodged somewhere.

I first want to say that this is one opinion in a host of many. Obviously, you are free to feed your dog anything and everything you want. I just want to share what I see on my side that may make you think twice before offering that item for chewing.

“Dogs ate bone in the wild before we domesticated them.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that statement. That might be the case, but I question how long those critters lived and whether they truly ate the bones. Seems to me often the bones are the only remains left when a carcass is found.

Chewing is an important activity for dogs. You must offer appropriate items for them to chew. You must observe them with that item before assuming it will be okay to leave them unattended with it. For instance, a chew toy can be destroyed and pieces can be swallowed and get lodged within the stomach or intestines. I know many have seen crazy things pass through their pet’s digestive tract, but it only takes one time when it gets stuck and you will wish that you would have followed these suggestions.

This photo shows one complication of dogs eating bones. This dog was licking marrow out of the center and locked the bone over the lower jaw and canine teeth. The owner discovered the issue and brought him to the clinic. The dog was calm but frustrated since he could not close his mouth. Obviously, he was unwilling to let me remove the bone while awake. We gave him a heavy sedative and after a few minutes we were able to rotate the bone and remove it. It was a positive outcome, but a lesson learned about the dangers of bones.

Calls also come in from worried pet parents indicating their dog is vomiting. We discuss any changes to the animal’s diet or recent meals. Often, the client responds that they had offered the dog a soup bone, a chicken bone, or a steak bone. They have seen the dog straining and so are concerned that something is stuck. With the history given, we have to explore the possibility of an obstruction so radiographs are ordered and sometimes a contrast substance like barium is given to see if an obstruction is present. We do not always find an issue with the bones, but we have to explore it to rule it out as a cause of the clinical signs being observed. If bones had never been given, we would not have that initial expense and could have looked for other causes.

If a dog is coughing and gagging at home and the owner indicates they gave their pet bones to chew on. Again, we must rule out an obstruction prior to exploring other causes of gagging and coughing.

One scenario is this: A dog stops eating and seems hesitant to let the owners look into its mouth. The owner assumes the dog has a bad tooth since its breath is bad as well. The pain is so great that we are unable to open the mouth without sedation. The owners indicate they do give the dog table scraps on occassion. Bones had been offered earlier that week but the dog was fine until today. With sedation in place we are able to open the mouth and find teeth with a large amount of tarter but no indication of a bad tooth. Upon further inspection behind the lower arcade of teeth a sharp bone shard is removed from a red and swollen commissure of the mouth. This was the cause of the smell and the resistance to eating.  It had nothing to do with the teeth.

Another scenario is: A middle aged dog present for routine care and during the exam the teeth are inspected. One side appears to have healthy gums but the teeth are worn down.  The other side has a large amount of tarter accumulations on both the upper and lower arcade. The gums are red and swollen indicating gingivitis is present. Discussion takes place that for some reason their dog is chewing only on one side of the mouth. I ask about what they offer for chewing besides the dog food. They indicate bones from the locker are one of his favorite treats. I point out that the worn teeth on both sides is caused from chewing on bones. I suspect the dog will have a slab fracture on the side with all the tarter accumulation and gingivitis. Fractured teeth and flattened worn teeth can be caused by chewing bones as well.

The bones are harder than the enamel on dogs’ teeth. As dogs chew continuously on these hard surfaces their teeth wear down to a flat surface. This exposes the pulp cavity of the tooth and cause damage to the tooth itself. Not to mention the cracks, chips, and fractures that are caused by chewing on bones, antlers, hooves, and or rocks.

Years ago when our pets lived outside and we offered them all the leftovers from our table, we rarely thought about what complications might arise from some of those items. We saw those outdoor pets live a good life but not necessarily a long life. Today our goal is to help pets live a long and healthy life with as few issues as possible. My suggestion is to avoid bones and other hard surface items. There are numerous healthy items for dogs to chew that will not lead to other dental issues. Look for the seal of approval from the Veterinary Oral Health Council(VOHC) on toys and treats that have shown a reduction of tarter on your pet’s teeth. No bones about it, if you do not offer bones, antlers, or hooves, the concerns discussed above will not be an issue for your fur baby.

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Chiropractic for Animals

Since graduating from Veterinary School almost 30 years ago, I have sought routine chiropractic care for many different aliments for myself. The very first opportunity was when I was plagued with headaches often and in need of medication to be able to function. It was discovered that with all the years of book studies I had lost the curvature of my cervical neck vertebrae. This presented issues for myself and with routine care over the years I have been able to remain medication free for neck and back pain. In those early years in Minnesota, my good friend and chiropracter occasionally would treat an animal and tell me of the success he was having with his routine adjustments. These pets were of course his own since legally he was licensed to only treat 2 legged species. Over the years I started to recognize the need for routine chiropractic care in the 4 legged species and how much they could benefit from adjustments. My only treatment option when chiropractic was not available was offering pain medications that would not correct anything. The medications would reduce the symptoms noted by the client but once off the drugs the symptoms returned.

About 7 years ago, when my daughter was showing in the POA circuit, we requested the help of a Chiropracter to adjust her pony. I remember thinking how interesting it was to watch the process and see the pony respond to the different manipulations. The POA’s gait definitely improved after the adjustment. It was amazing to see the change so soon after the first treatment.

Then about 5 years ago, I discovered Dr. Lisa King. I cannot tell you how many clients I have referred to her as she travels around Central Iowa to many different locations to make adjustments and do acupuncture as needed to improve the lives of her patients. What I can report is all the positive feed back that I get once a client has taken their pet to see her. Their pets are jumping, running, barking, tail wagging, etc., after just a few treatments. Many have been able to come off their medications and have normal daily activity with no reoccurrence. I have had some unbelievers become believers. I have clients that schedule routine maintenance adjustments just because they have seen the importance of preventive maintenance in their pets.

Mobility is such an important part of our lives and that of our pets, so please enjoy the photos that were captured recently when Dr. Lisa King visited a barn in Madison County.

Max is a 6 month old Labrador Retriever that was surrendered to me in October for aggressive unpredictable behavior with its owners. They had been taking him to puppy classes and had enlisted the help of a pet behavioralist to determine the cause of his aggression. After countless hours of working with Max and the family of 4, to see if these issues could be resolved, it was determined removing him from the home was the safest solution for everyone involved. I was contacted and offered to take him in and work with him and determine if something could be done. He had 4 puppy sessions left and I used the Gentle Leader in class and when out for walks with him to make certain he had no opportunity to react aggressively without having a way to control him. On the first evening of class I was working with him on heeling and as I stopped I wanted him to sit. He did not, so I elevated his nose with the Gentle Leader and with my left hand put pressure on his hips to encourage him to sit. In that short moment he broke into a screech and I immediately tightened the Gentle Leader around his muzzle and told him no as I knelt down beside him. Within seconds he quieted and nuzzled up against me in the most submissive and remorseful way. My immediate reaction, “He is in pain.” He needs to see Dr. Lisa King.

Below is his first report showing the areas that were adjusted. Interesting side note, after I returned to puppy class with him 3 days later, 3 different people came up to me and said he looks and acts like a totally different puppy tonight. I had not even told them that he had seen a chiropracter. Dr. King’s comment after completing his treatments was, “He must have had one massive headache.”  I did contact the previous owners to inform them of our discovery and as we discussed the situation, I was reminded that he had fallen down some stairs around 8 weeks of age. Possibly some or all of his issues may have been related to that one incident.

This is only one story that I have written about today, but want you to know that this is just one of many.  Dr. Lisa King sees many horses in her daily life and has had just as many success stories with them as well.  Many feel there is no way a person could adjust a 1000# animal and make a difference. Yet when watching her treat the horses it is not about brute strength but rather the different angles and positions she uses to move the joints back into their proper location. It is about watching the horse become more alert and responsive after she has finished her work. The whole body shake that they do to thank her for her kindness. The owners returning at a later date for yet another treatment since they see remarkable improvements with just one treatment and hope for even more success if they see Dr. King again.

Our animals are not able to tell us when they hurt or why or where. If your 4 legged critter starts or stops doing a behavior, don’t assume that they are being “bad.” It could easily be pain or some other illness. We need to watch for the subtle signs like not jumping up and down anymore, not doing stairs or hesitating before going up or down, lying around and not playing with their humans or the other housemates, aggression that has suddenly appeared, hiding or laying away from everyone as signs that they are not feeling well or in need of some chiropractic care.   If you just observe your pet’s daily activities, you will be surprised how many times they run into objects or other pets, how many times they slip or fall when attempting to chase something, drop to the floor with little grace in a big thud, get pulled on their leash or collar while being contained, etc. All of these activities cause wear and tear on their bodies and in the end can lead to pain responses that vary from shaking, to crying, to not eating, limping, panting, acting out with strange behaviors, etc. These symptoms can mimic many other health conditions so it is not wise to assume all panting dogs need to see a chiropracter. Yet it is important to be aware of what a chiropractic treatment can do for your pet. Ask your veterinarian if they feel chiropractic might help your pet and then ask around who in your area may be available to help.

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