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THE PERFECT CAT BOOK! More than 86 million pet cats today are kept in forty-five million U.S. households. Now, from one of the most trusted cat care authors of thelast twenty-five years comes the definitive reference for adopting, keeping, and maintaining a healthy, happy cat. Cat Facts: The Pet Parent's A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia is designed to answer all your questions. How do I choose the right cat? What holistic help and preventive care should I give? Why do cats act the way they do, and what cat behavior indicates illness? What constitutes an emergency, and how/when can I safely treat my cat with home care and first aid? Inside you'll find: An alphabetical A-to-Z listing, with more than 200 entries, covering everything from abscesses and hairballs to whiskers and zoonosis Charts that list symptoms for a particular condition, the corresponding home care or first aid, the comparative veterinarian and holistic treatments, and preventive advice A symptoms/conditions table that helps you identify what ailments might be bothering your cat Breed-At-A-Glance chart to compare personality, looks, care challenges and other issues when choosing your pedigreed cat A comprehensive, easy-to-use index that makes quick reference a snap Contact information for dozens of cat organizations and veterinary resources Accessible, yet comprehensive, CAT FACTS can be used with ease and trust. And doesn't your cat deserve the very best?
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For all the cats and dogs
Who have touched my soul—
And for one special
Who started it all.
Still missing you.
The author has taken great pains to compile the most up-to-date information currently available for cat lovers on the care of their cat; however, veterinary medicine is constantly improving. Please consult with your veterinarian on a regular basis to provide the best care for your cat.
SYMPTOMS: Painful skin swelling or draining sore usually on neck; lethargy; loss of appetite; fever
FIRST AID: Moist warm compresses applied to sore; cleaning sore with damp cloths, supportive nutrition
VET CARE: Surgical draining; antibiotics
PREVENTION: neuter/spay cats; keep indoors
An abscess is a pocket of infection. When an injury occurs, the body attempts to protect itself by sending specialized cells to attack invading substances, like bacteria. The body builds a wall to seal off and contain the invader, and in the process also traps dead cells and other liquid debris. Commonly called pus, this liquid material is the end product of the body's fight against infection. The battlefield is the abscess, a pocket of tissue that swells as it collects the pus.
Anything that breaks the integrity of the skin can cause an abscess. Foreign bodies like splinters, or even an insect bite could cause problems. Cats are quite prone to abscesses because feline skin repairs itself so quickly. When the cat's skin heals, it may actually seal in bacteria.
The vast majority of abscesses are caused by bite wounds. Cats' mouths contain a lot of bacteria that can infect the wound. Kitty teeth, though small, can cause serious puncture wounds that plant infectious organisms deep within the tissues. Scratches are also a problem, because cats may pick up bacteria on their feet from the litter box that grows very rapidly.
Abscesses are especially common in outdoor cats and intact felines because of their aggressive encounters with other cats. Elderly cats, very young cats, and cats whose immune systems are compromised tend to have more serious reactions. Although they can occur anywhere on the body, abscesses appear around the face area most frequently, or on the feet and legs. They almost always occur just beneath the skin.
Diagnosis is usually made from symptoms, which at first may be very subtle. A bite wound or claw injury is often hidden by fur, but can be painful even before it abscesses. The affected cat may flinch or even vocalize when the owner touches the painful area.
As the infection progresses and pus begins to collect, the area swells beneath the skin. Cats may act lethargic, and may not want to eat. Abscesses generally grow outward, and the surface skin stretches and becomes quite thin. Often, the abscess will rupture, and a blood-tinged white to yellow discharge will be seen. This looks nasty, but actually makes the cat feel much better because the infection has an outlet.
The infection typically results in a fever. A temperature over 103 degrees may indicate infection has spilled into the bloodstream and spread throughout the system. Only rarely will the abscess rupture toward the inside rather than outward. If this happens and infection spills into the abdomen or other internal structures, serious life-threatening problems can develop.
Abscesses left too long without treatment can severely damage or even kill surrounding tissue, which sloughs and falls away. The resulting large skin wounds heal very slowly, if at all.
Prompt treatment will prevent such complications. Once abscesses are so that you can feel them, most veterinarians recommend opening and draining them surgically.
First aid can help speed the healing, but not all cats will allow you to treat them at home because abscesses can be very tender. You can help draw out the infection when the abscess is soft and swollen but hasn’t yet begun to drain. Apply wet hot compresses (hot as you can stand), and apply to the area for two to five times daily for five minutes on and five minutes off until it cools. Once the sore opens and begins to drain, keep the area clean by rinsing with lukewarm water. You may need to soak the area first with a wet compress if the discharge has dried in the fur.
When taken to the vet for treatment, the cat is usually sedated so he cat will allow treatment. Once Kitty is comfortably sedated, the hair around the swelling is shaved and the skin is disinfected with a betadyne or novalsan solution. Then the abscess is lanced, usually with a sterile surgical blade or scalpel. The infectious material inside is flushed from the wound with a disinfectant solution.
When the wound is quite extensive, the veterinarian may stitch into place a drain tube that keeps the skin from healing too quickly, and allows the pus to continue to escape. Otherwise, the skin will simply close over the infection, and the abscess will return. Drains are left in place for two to four days, and then removed. It may be necessary for Kitty to wear an Elizabethan collar to prevent the cat undoing the veterinarian's work. The wound may be packed with disinfectant, and often an injectable antibiotic is given followed by oral antibiotics the owner gives the cat at home (see ELIZABETHAN COLLAR).
Depending on the extent of the wound and its location, the veterinarian may completely or only partially close the opening with stitches. Sometimes it's left open and kept clean while allowing the body to heal and close the wound by itself.
Luckily, cats tend to have quite a bit of "extra" skin they can move around in. Even when cats have lost large amounts of tissue, surrounding skin may stretch enough to cover the area. But Kitty's face, lower legs and feet have little surplus skin able to slide over for cosmetic repairs. Abscesses and tissue loss in these areas can cause scarring and disfigurement.
As with most medical problems, prevention is much better than allowing the condition to develop, and having to treat it. One of the best ways to prevent abscesses is to make sure the cat's skin remains healthy (see GROOMING and ALLERGIES/FLEA ALLERGY).
Preventing the bite is even better. Keep Kitty inside to stop roaming and contact with strange cats. Sterilize your cat to reduce territorial aggressiveness (see NEUTER and SPAY).
SYMPTOMS: Blackheads and pimples on chin; red or swollen skin; itchiness or pain
HOME CARE: Apply damp heat to chin daily; cleanse twice daily with plain water or cleansers like benzoyl peroxide type solutions
HOLISTIC HELP: Crab Apple flower essence; calendula tincture or tea
VET CARE: When infected; clipping fur and cleansing; antibiotics
PREVENTION: Feed cat from non-plastic food bowls
Feline acne is not the same condition that affects people. This relatively common skin disease of the chin and lower lip is seen in cats of all ages. Acne occurs when the hair follicles become plugged.
Sebaceous glands in the skin secrete a thick, semi-liquid fatty material called sebum that coats and protects the fur, and gives Kitty's coat a healthy sheen. When hair follicles become plugged, sebum is unable to escape, creating clogged pores that are a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.
The exact cause of feline acne remains unclear, but the most common theory is a lack of cleanliness. Most cats are particular about grooming themselves, but the chin is difficult to reach. A dampened front paw may not be sufficient to clean the dirt and accumulated oils from the skin. Cats with oily skin are more prone to acne, as are cats fed wet food which may stick to the chin. Cats that sleep with their chins resting on hard surfaces or on dirt may develop acne.
The first signs are blackheads and pimples that erupt on the chin and lower lip. They may not bother the cat at all, and are often overlooked by owners because they're hidden by the fur. But secondary bacterial infections may develop. The area can become reddened, swollen, and either itchy or painful. Severe cases of feline acne result in the chin swelling and the lip thickening. Often referred to as "fat chin," the affected cat may look like he's pouting. Never try to "squeeze out" blackheads or pustules; that can be painful for the cat, and may spread infection beneath the skin and cause deeper infections.
In many instances where the cat is not bothered by the condition, the blackheads do not require treatment. But if the area becomes infected, the recommended veterinary treatment includes gently clipping away the fur and cleansing the area with medicated preparations. With stubborn deep infections, oral and topical antibiotics may be required, or even treatment with certain human preparations like Retin-A that help normalize the skin.
Infection generally responds to twice daily cleansing with a 2.5 to five percent preparation of benzoyl peroxide, povidone-iodine (Betadyne), or chlorhexidine (Nolvasan). Oily- skinned cats may benefit from a tar and sulfa shampoo made for cats. However, scrubbing too vigorously, or using medication that is too strong can make the condition worse. Often, the acne will return once treatment is stopped.
Changing bowls to shallower dishes may help keep Kitty's chin cleaner and less prone to problems. Metal, ceramic or glass containers are more easily cleaned than plastic dishes, which seem to cause reactions in some cats. Changing the cat's bed to softer material like a blanket that's regularly washed may also help with cats that habitually prop their chins on hard surfaces. And regularly cleaning the cat's chin will help prevent recurrences of acne.
Damp heat helps open clogged pores; once a day, dip a cloth in warm water, ring it out, and place against the cat's chin until the cloth cools. Holistic veterinarians recommend applying a tincture (or tea) of the herb calendula on a cotton ball, used as a compress for five minutes each day to help speed healing. Crab apple flower essence often is recommended to stop infection when given in a dose of four drops, about four times a day (see FLOWER ESSENCE).
Some cats will require maintenance therapy of a topical medication every two to seven days for the rest of their life.
Life energy, or Qi, is said to flow along invisible pathways that communicate with specific organs or tissues throughout the body. TCM views all illness as an imbalance of the flow of Qi. Acupuncture seeks to cure disease by correcting the imbalance of Qi by pressure-stimulation of acupoints that fall along the pathways, or meridians, using needles.
To many people, talk of meridians sounds like magic, and science is still trying to explain how the acupoints and meridians really work. A Spanish study in humans that injected radioactive tracers at acupoints found that they traveled along similar pathways to the traditional meridians–the paths may be invisible, but they are there. Acupoints also appear to have lower electrical resistance than other areas of the body. Some studies indicate the meridians’ energy flow may be a system of information transmission through neurochemicals. That’s similar to the mechanism that carries thought processes from the brain throughout the body. Other theories propose a bioelectrical system independent of the nerves, which may be similar in concept to a computer software program that provides an internal operating system that’s never seen.
Although the mechanism remains a mystery, even conventional medicine recognizes that stimulation of acupoints works. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has funded many studies in humans that point to relief of pain, nausea, addiction, and asthma, and the World Health Organization lists a variety of human health conditions that may benefit from these therapies. And in 1996, the American Veterinary Medical Association endorsed acupuncture, calling it an “integral part of veterinary medicine.”
Fewer studies have been performed in animals, but the benefits appear to be similar. The stimulation of these points will actually release neurochemicals or endorphins in the brain that cause pain relief. Conditions in pets such as arthritis, reproductive disorders, back and musculoskeletal problems, skin conditions like allergies, pain relief, and neurological disorders such as epilepsy have been shown to benefit from this therapy.
Veterinarians follow a kind of body map developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago that locates the meridians and the point positions. Acupuncture points in the horse date back to around the same time as those for people because the horse was considered valuable property, and was so important to keep healthy. Many of the points in humans or horses also work in other animals, though, and over the years veterinarians have mapped dog and cat acupoints by transposing human and horse points to the dog and cat.
There are 14 meridians and 361 traditional acupoints; many of the points are duplicated in mirror images on either side of the body. Additional points may not be located directly on a meridian. The meridians and points have traditional Chinese names, but in the United States and Europe most commonly are designated by letters that correspond to the meridian’s ruling organ (i.e., L=lung meridian, LI=large intestine meridian, ST=stomach meridian) along with a location number of the individual point. Therefore, ST25 refers to the 25th point on the stomach meridian.
Acupressure points are found in depressions between the muscles and the bones, and will feel like a slight dip in the tissue. They are almost never on a bone like the elbow, but will be immediately next to it. Some specialists say they can feel temperature changes at the acupoints which alert them to problems. A warm point indicates an area of an acute blockage, as compared to a cold point where it's more of a chronic state, and the energy has been depleted from that area. The acupoint is stimulated with the needle or sometimes gold balls inserted to either release an excess of energy, or to return energy to the point.
Pet owners of course cannot “needle” their own pets. But acupressure (pressing firmly in recommended body positions) may also offer therapeutic benefits.
Veterinarians study acupuncture and are certified to practice by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. Some also travel to China for specialized training. If your veterinarian is not able to provide acupuncture, he or she should be able to refer you to an experienced practitioner.
Yet topical treatments like lotions and creams, oral preparations such as pills or liquids, and even injectable medication can all be given at home, if the owner knows how. Handled correctly, medicating at home can be far less stressful to the cat than trips to the veterinarian's office.
It's helpful to have two people for any procedure, one to restrain the cat, and the other to apply the medicine. Using a cat sack or wrapping Kitty in a towel or blanket first may also be helpful. For some confident owners who have established a trusting relationship with their cats, restraints may not be necessary.
Topical Treatments: Cats generally tolerate skin medications well without restraints, unless the area is quite tender to the touch. But because cats are such unremitting self-groomers, care must be taken that the medication is not licked off. Follow your veterinarian's instructions regarding application. Some medication may be noxious enough to prevent Kitty from licking, but don't depend on that. Distract the cat by playing with him, or hold the cat for 15 minutes or so until the medication is dry or absorbed.
Medicating ears can usually be done with minimal restraint, unless the ears are extremely sore. Tip the cat's head so that the affected ear opening is directed at the ceiling, and simply drip in the medication. Let gravity move the treatment inside the ear, don't stick anything inside. Typically, liquids or ointments are applied, then the outside base of the ear is gently massaged to spread the medicine (see EAR MITES).
Eye medication should be administered without actually touching the cat's eye. For liquids, tip Kitty's head toward the ceiling and drip the prescribed number of drops into the affected eye. For ointments, gently pull down the lower eyelid, and squeeze the medication in the cupped tissue or simply apply the ointment into the corner of the eye. Then gently close the cat's eyelid to spread the medicine over its surface.
Oral Treatments: Oral medications come as liquids, pastes, or pills. Liquids and pastes are the easiest to use, and often employ squeeze bottles, eye droppers, or syringe applicators to squirt the medication into the cat's mouth. Insert the tip of the applicator between the cat's lips in the corner of his mouth, tip back his head and deposit the medicine into his cheek. Watch to make sure he swallows, and doesn't spit it out.
You may need to gently hold Kitty's mouth closed with one hand, and watch his throat until you see him swallow. When Kitty licks his nose, it's often a signal that he's swallowed. Most oral preparations are flavored to appeal to the cat, and are readily taken. Some paste medications, particularly those that are specifically for hairballs, can simply be spread on the cat's paw for him to lick off and swallow through grooming.
Pilling a cat involves opening the cat's mouth, placing the capsule or tablet on the back of Kitty's tongue, closing his mouth and inducing him to swallow. You may want to use the cat bag or other restraint for this maneuver, although sometimes it's easier without. Try kneeling on the floor with Kitty between your legs facing out, so he can't squirm away.
Place the palm of your left hand over the cat's head so that the thumb on one side and middle finger on the other fit behind the upper canine (long) tooth on each side. Tilt Kitty's head back so he's looking at the ceiling. Gently press the cat's lips against his teeth to encourage him to open his mouth.
Pressing one finger against the roof of your cat's mouth will also induce him to open wide, or use a finger of the other hand to gently press down on his lower teeth and prop the mouth open. Then quickly drop the pill as far back on his tongue as possible. Hold his mouth closed and stroke his throat until you see him swallow.
You may want to use a pill syringe available at most pet supply stores rather than risk your fingers when pilling your cat. Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate its use, though, so that you don't risk damaging the back of your cat's throat.
If pills are problematic, you may succeed by hiding the medication in a veterinarian-approved treat. Mixing medicine with food in the bowl isn't a good idea, because the cat won't get the full effect unless every bite is eaten. Hiding a pill in a hunk of cheese doesn't work well, either, since most cats eat the cheese away and leave the pill.
Unless the medication is a time-release treatment that's supposed to dissolve slowly, the pill can be crushed and mixed into a strong-tasting treat. Powder the pill with the bowl of a spoon, mix into one or two bites of a strong-smelling canned food, and feed to the cat. Offer it before meals to make sure every bit is eaten.
Always give your cat much positive attention following successful medication. Praise him, play with him, and if approved by your veterinarian, offer a tasty food reward so the next time will go even smoother.
Finding a cat to adopt is easy. “Free” animals are available through animal welfare organizations, friends, and newspaper advertisements. Often, a cat simply shows up on the back porch. For those seeking a particular feline look and personality, more than forty distinct cat breeds are available. Catteries breed cats to standards defined by various cat associations (see Appendix A, “Cat Associations and Cat Breeds”). These pedigreed and registered animals are more costly because of the expense involved in producing healthy animals of a particular type.
All cats require routine health care, nutritious food, and the basic comforts of litter box and scratching post. Successful adoptions match a cat that has the look, care demands, and personality to fulfill an owner’s expectations. For instance, longhaired cats demand more grooming than shorthaired varieties; high-energy cats and kittens may require greater supervision; adult cats can have bad habits that make them hard to live with; unaltered male or female cats can display obnoxious behaviors (see NEUTERING and SPAYING); and the pets you already have need consideration (see INTRODUCTION).
A number of difficulties can be avoided by adopting a healthy cat. The sickly stray who appears on your doorstep may steal your heart, but it can also run up veterinary bills. It can also expose your other pets to illness (see QUARANTINE).
A healthy cat’s coat is clean and shiny. Eyes, nose, and ears are free of discharge, and the cat’s bottom is clean without any sign of diarrhea. A veterinary exam is always advisable to rule out hidden problems. Reputable shelters or catteries may provide preliminary health care prior to adoption, such h as basic first vaccinations or discount spaying or neutering. Some offer limited guarantees on the health of the animal. However, regardless of such guarantees, your cat should be taken to your veterinarian for a physical and checkup.
Adoption of a cat—or any pet—is for the life of the animal. We do not give back the human children we adopted when circumstances become difficult; neither should an adopted pet be forsaken when he becomes an inconven8ience, at its best, adoption is a joyful yet serious act, undertaken only after careful consideration.
Cats have the capacity to show strong nurturing behavior towards others, in addition to their own kittens. Such cats appear to develop relationships and "adopt" other animals. This behavior has often been documented in female cats who are nursing. Such cats are hormonally ready to adopt, nurse, and care for another cat's young. This urge to mother may be so strong that predatory behavior is suppressed. Cats have been known to nurse and raise baby bunnies, puppies, and even rats.
Cats that have experienced motherhood may continue to exhibit such nurturing behavior, even after being spayed. These "aunties" cuddle, wash, and ride herd on their adopted charges, and take baby-sitting duties very seriously. Sometimes even male cats show strong protective behavior and seem to enjoy fostering kittens.
In most instances, cats that adopt other kittens or animals have enjoyed positive interspecies experiences during their impressionable weeks of life (see KITTEN SOCIALIZATION).
Cats show affection to other cats—and even dogs or other pets—by sleeping together and grooming each other. They indulge in subtle body contact, like bumping hips as they pass in the room. Affectionate cats share food, and enjoy playing together.
Cats show affection to humans in many of the same ways. They want to sleep on the pillow next to your face, they groom your hair. Often, cats will solicit owners to play. Affectionate cats twine around ankles, offer head bumps, purrs and trills, and knead with their paws to express contentment.
Some researchers are reluctant to say any animal experiences the same emotions as people. In fact, there is no way to know exactly what our cats are feeling. But from every indication, cats can and do become every bit as fond of us as we are of them.
Whether a shrinking violet shy cat, or boisterous in-your-face confident cat, any feline may become aggressive given the right circumstances. Growls, hisses, scratches, even bites are Kitty's way to take control of a situation.
Be aware that once aggression escalates, Kitty will remain upset for some time. Cats need to be left alone for up to two hours before they're ready to calm down.
There are several forms of feline aggression that experts categorize by the cause, or trigger, that instigates the behavior. Hostility can result from fear or anxiety, overly-enthusiastic play, predatory behavior, displaced aggression, or a combination of these or others. Physical punishment won't work, and will likely make the aggressive behavior even worse. Once aggression is a problem, the trigger must be identified and if possible prevented from recurring. An aggressive cat may pose a physical danger to the owner, so diagnosis and treatment of severe aggression in cats is best left to a professional animal behaviorist or therapist.
To reduce the probability of aggression in your cat, be aware of situations likely to provoke Kitty to unbecoming behavior. Some cats will tolerate only limited petting, then suddenly reach their threshold and become aggressive if you continue. Know your cat's limits, and respect them.
Cats are creatures of habit that thrive on routine, which means any change at all could trigger fear or anxiety which can escalate into aggression in certain cats. A new baby in the house, change in work schedule, or even new drapes are potential problems. And new pets may prompt aggressive behavior in the cat who wants to assert his authority. Always ease Kitty into change slowly, and avoid surprises (see INTRODUCTIONS). Some pheromone products mimic the “friend” identification between cats and can help both with introductions and calming aggression between cats. Flower essences such as Bach Rescue Remedy can be very helpful as well.
Kitty may stalk and pounce upon moving feet, just as she'd attack a mouse. Rough handling of kittens encourages them to play rough, bite and wrestle human hands and feet. What's cute in a tiny kitten becomes painful or even dangerous in an adult cat. Hands and feet should never be available as cat toys; use a play mouse or fishing toy to satisfy the stalk-and-pounce urge.
Cats not properly socialized may strike out at strange people or animals. Kittens raised without human contact before age 12 weeks don’t know how to react to people. If deprived of contact with other cats during this sensitive period, they never learn how to act toward other cats. Once they grow up, any forced contact with strange cats or with people may trigger extreme aggression. Each cat has her own "comfort zone," which is the distance strangers can approach without the cat feeling threatened. Invade the cat's space and, if there's not a way to escape, the cat may become aggressive.
However, behaviorists also recognize that a significant number of aggression cases stem from abnormal brain function. Those pets need extra help in the form of drug therapy.
Be aware of the signs of aggression (see COMMUNICATION) so that you can avoid escalating a borderline miffed cat into an attack animal. Give the cat some space and time to cool down, and if you're able to identify the triggers, avoid them when possible. Above all, do not hesitate to seek professional help (see HUMAN-ANIMAL BOND).
SYMPTOMS: Seasonal itchiness; hair loss; scabby skin particularly along back and above tail
HOME CARE: Flea treatment
VET CARE: Steroids to reduce inflammation and itchiness
PREVENTION: Flea prevention
Like their human companions, cats can be allergic to virtually anything. But while allergic owners often suffer watery eyes, itchy noses, and explosive sneeze attacks, allergic cats most commonly itch and develop skin disorders.
Flea bite hypersensitivity is the most common allergy affecting cats. Sensitive cats react to a protein in flea saliva, and as a result develop skin disease. Just one bite can make the cat itch all over. Signs are usually seasonal, during flea season. A common sign are many tiny red bumps usually along the back and around the head and neck that become encrusted (see MILIARY DERMATITIS). Scabs may be hidden by the fur, but can be felt when you stroke the cat. Other insects like lice, ear mites, and mange may cause similar symptoms.
Effective treatment depends on eliminating the allergen. Flea control is essential for cats suffering from flea allergic dermatitis, and countless products are available to safely rid the cat and his environment of buggy intruders.
SYMPTOMS: Itchiness all over
HOME CARE: Keeping cat's coat and environment clean
HOLISTIC HELP: Calendula ointment; Echinacea; vitamin C and E supplements; EFA supplements; flower essence remedies
VET CARE: Skin testing; allergy shots
PREVENTION: Avoiding dust, pollens, or whatever causes the problem
Atopy, or inhalant/environmental allergy is the second most common allergy in cats. Also called atopy, the condition in people is often termed hay fever. Cats react to the same things people do. Pollen, mold, fungi and even the house dust mite make people cough, wheeze and have difficulty breathing, but atopic cats more typically break out in miliary dermatitis.
Eliminating the allergen means you must first identify it, which can be difficult. Blood tests are available but may not be reliable, but intradermal skin testing can help determine what causes the cat's reaction. Suspect allergens are injected into the shaved skin of the sedated cat. Positive reactions become swollen, red and elevated, while negative reactions fade away.
But even when the owner knows Kitty is allergic to grass pollen, it's difficult to eliminate exposure. A cat is a furry dust mop that collects and holds environmental allergens. Washing off dust, pollen and other debris is a good way to deal with feline atopy.
Controlling environmental allergens is critical for the atopic cat, and cleanliness is key. Rough surfaces like carpeting and upholstery act as reservoirs that collect and hold the particles. Smooth surfaces like linoleum and hard wood floors are easier to clean. Vacuums with water filters are more effective than sweeping, which tends to loft particles into the air. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter systems can be helpful, too.
Eliminating all environmental allergens may be impossible, but other treatments can ease symptoms. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) may be helpful because they promote healthy skin and fur. In the proper balance, Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids reduce the inflammatory response of the skin that results from some allergies. Your veterinarian can recommend appropriate products.
Holistic veterinarians recommend using calendula ointment two or three times a day to sooth the itchy areas. The herb Echinacea can help the immune system work more efficiently, particularly when given before allergies start in early spring. Vitamins C and E have both been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Holistic vets suggest cats under 15 pounds can take 250 milligrams of vitamin C daily during allergy season. Giving too much will cause diarrhea, so err on the side of caution. For vitamin E, you can give 50 international units (IU) once daily during allergy season to pets under 10 pounds, and no more than 200 IU daily for cats over 10 pounds.
Another option is immunotherapy, which consists of gradually increasing injections of the allergens to which the cat is sensitive. It's hoped these allergy shots will build up Kitty's resistance to the allergen and reduce sensitivity. Because improvement from immunotherapy is slow, injections are usually continued for at least a year. Maintenance injections may be continued for life.
SYMPTOMS: Itchy face and/or vomiting and diarrhea
HOME CARE: Feed appropriate diet
VET CARE: Elimination diet to diagnose
PREVENTION: Avoid problem foods
Cats sometimes develop allergies to food ingredients. The incidence of food allergies in cats is suspected to be somewhere between five to 15 percent, but often is blamed when it's not really the culprit. A change in diet that coincides with the cat's symptom relief may be attributed to the food, when it's actually due to hay fever or flea season ending.
Signs of feline food allergies can be vomiting and diarrhea, and/or they may itch and scratch their face and ears. Like all allergies, food sensitivities develop from exposure. Animals typically become allergic to proteins like beef, milk, corn, wheat, and eggs which are the most common protein ingredients in commercial cat foods.
If the offending ingredients can be avoided, symptoms will disappear. But identifying the culprit is complicated because diagnosing food allergy can only be done by a weeks-long veterinarian supervised elimination diet.
Cats are fed a limited antigen diet containing only one unique meat source and one unique carbohydrate source Kitty has never before eaten, like rabbit and potato, or venison and rice. After symptoms disappear, ingredients from the cat's original diet are reintroduced one by one to see which provoke a reaction. Once identified, the owner feeds a food without the offending ingredient. There is no such thing as a hypoallergenic diet. What's hypoallergenic to your cat may be highly allergenic to another. The FDA says diets labeled to control allergies can only be prescribed and distributed by veterinarians, and there are several on the market.
But owners are often reluctant to go through tedious diagnosis which still may not pinpoint the problem, and may balk at feeding higher cost therapeutic diets. Some food allergic cats respond well to lamb and rice based commercial diets if the cat has never been exposed to these ingredients. But be aware that lamb and rice based diets may contain other ingredients to make them complete and balanced. And cats can develop allergic reactions to unique ingredients, too.
Diets using hydrolyzed proteins may offer help for some cats. Basically, the proteins are split into tiny pieces and concentrated. The immune system reacts to complete or large pieces of proteins. It doesn’t recognize the protein fractions and so has no allergic response. There are several hydrolyzed protein diets for pets now available.
Like people, cats may be sensitive to more than one allergen. Allergies are cumulative. Whether or not a cat develops symptoms depends on each individual cat's allergy threshold, which is the amount of allergen necessary to produce a reaction.
Picture a measuring cup being filled with allergens. For some cats, the threshold is reached and they itch when the cup is one quarter full; others may not itch until the level reaches the halfway point. If the cat has a low allergy threshold, a single allergen—say a flea bite—may be enough to fill the cup beyond the line and cause itching. Other cats may start itching only if multiple allergens (i.e., both flea bites and grass pollen) fill the cup beyond Kitty's level of tolerance. When enough allergens fill the cup beyond an individual cat's itch threshold, the cat will shows signs.
Conversely, a cat may stop itching once dropped below the itch threshold. Eliminate enough allergens—take fleas or a food ingredient out of the equation—and the cup level may drop to the point Kitty can handle exposure to other allergens without showing signs.
Allergies cannot be cured. Avoiding or eliminating the allergy source is the only way to control symptoms. That's not easy because multiple allergies make identification of the culprit(s) very difficult.
Only a veterinarian can diagnose allergy. Once the offending allergen has been identified, then you can try to eliminate or reduce exposure. Ultimately, identifying and dealing with feline allergies depends on an owner's dedication coupled with a veterinarian's expertise (see EOSINOPHILIC GRANULOMA COMPLEX).
Some cats produce more of this substance than others. The Siberian Cat breed produces far less than other cats and allergic people often can tolerate these kitties. Some commercial companies have sought to create “hypoallergenic” cats by selectively breeding, and then charging a high price for these cats. There are individual cats that also may be less allergenic, but there's no way to predict which cat is the least allergenic.
Microscopic particles of Fel d1, often referred to as dander, are so light they remain airborne, stick to rough surfaces and are hard to remove from the environment. Even after the cat has been removed from the home, the substance remaining in the environment can produce symptoms for up to six months.
Symptoms of cat allergy can be as simple as a stuffy nose and sneezing, or as complicated as a potentially fatal asthma attack. Itchy eyes, skin rash or hives, runny nose, or even tightness in the chest may develop. A specialist diagnoses the allergy, and may prescribe antihistamines, decongestants, or a class of drug called an allergy blocker to manage symptoms.
Immunotherapy (see ALLERGY, of cats) is another option. A new vaccine in development, called CAT-SPIRE that uses only a part of the Fel d1 protein, promising to reduce the desensitization process to only four injections with a two-year benefit. Phase 3 clinical trials are underway, spearheaded by Circassia Ltd., a British biotech firm along with the Canadian company Adiga Life Sciences.
Treating the cat is another option. Some experts advocate washing the cat weekly in plain water to dramatically reduce allergic reactions, and several products have been formulated to reduce or neutralize cat antigen. Researchers disagree on how effective these efforts may be, but if they work for you, use them.
Just as allergic cats have an itch threshold, allergic humans have a sneeze threshold. And, if a person is allergic to the cat, chances are they're allergic to other allergens as well. Therefore, cat allergy symptoms may be reduced by avoiding exposure to other allergens.
Avoid heavy odors like perfumes, cigarette smoke, insecticides or cleaning fluids that can trigger a reaction. Choose cat litter carefully; the dust or deodorant in litter may cause more reactions than the cat. Good ventilation helps lower the concentration of airborne particles, and opening the window a few minutes each day to circulate the air will help. Reduce dander reservoirs; carpet accumulates cat allergen at approximately 100 times the level of a polished floor. Vacuum daily with water filter machines that trap tiny particles, or use HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters or air purifiers.
Cat allergic owners also benefit from a "cat free zone." designate an area in your house, like the bedroom, and keep it off limits to the cat. That provides you with at least eight hours of reduced exposure. Wash your hands after handling the cat, and especially avoid touching your face and eyes until after you've washed. Another family member should provide regular grooming of the cat to remove excess dander and hair. A quality diet lessens shedding and promotes healthy skin.
Remember that every cat is an individual. While some outgoing "people cats" thrive on attention and closeness, others want only limited cuddling or hands-on contact. Simply sharing a room with a human companion may be an intimate encounter for these cats.
To strangers, otherwise affectionate cats may appear aloof and distant. Many cats require time to develop trust before establishing close relationships.
Owners tend to notice the loss of the tail or leg more than the cat. Tailless cats rarely slow down at all. Most cats adjust quickly and do well on three legs, even flourish when longstanding pain has been removed. Cats with three legs navigate indoors nearly as well, and may even remain able to jump and climb.
SYMPTOMS: Excessive licking; scooting; strong odor
HOME CARE: Wet warm cloths applied for 15 minutes several times daily
HOLISTIC HELP: Add fiber to diet; treat with homeopathic Silica
VET CARE: Express contents of glands; apply antibiotic; sometimes surgical removal
PREVENTION: None; if this is a chronic problem, routine emptying of the glands by owner or groomer
Two pea-size anal glands (also called anal sacs, or scent glands) are located beneath the skin on each side of the cat's rectum. They secret a liquid or sometimes creamy light gray to brown substance that scents the cat's stool. This signature odor identifies the cat as an individual, and is used in marking territory.
The glands are normally emptied by the pressure of defecation. Cats have few anal gland problems, but if odor is a problem due to overactive glands, they can be expressed manually. Impaction is uncommon in cats, but may occur if the sacs become plugged and can't empty normally. Manual emptying of the glands is the treatment.
Raise the cat's tail, and locate the openings at four o'clock and eight o'clock on each side of the anus. Place your thumb and forefinger on the skin at each side of the gland, and gently squeeze as you would to express a pimple. Use a damp cloth to wipe away the strong smelling material that appears as the sac empties. Wearing rubber gloves is recommended.
If the discharge contains blood or pus, if there is swelling on either or both sides of the anus, or if the cat shows pain or "scoots" on his bottom, Kitty may be suffering from an infection. Treatment requires weekly expression of the glands and application of an antibiotic directly into the sac itself; this should be done only by an experienced veterinarian. You can help the infection resolve by applying warm wet packs to the area in 15 minute periods several times a day.
Holistic vets recommend adding fiber to the diet, which absorbs larger amount of water and causes stools to get larger. The larger stools put more pressure on anal sacs during elimination, so they empty normally. Try offering your cat about one-eighth cup of minced veggies each day, mixed into the regular food. Run broccoli and carrots through the blender with no-salt chicken broth to make it more palatable for your cat.
The homeopathic remedy Silica is said to help anal sacs empty normally. You can give two or three drops, or three to five pellets of Silica 6C twice a day for three days to see if it helps.
Left untreated, anal gland infections can lead to abscesses. If infections continue to recur, surgical removal of the glands may be recommended.
SYMPTOMS: Salivation; drooling; difficulty breathing; uncontrolled urination; incoordination; vomiting; collapse
HOME CARE: EMERGENCY, SEE VET IMMEDIATELY!
VET CARE: Intravenous administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and oxygen therapy
PREVENTION: Avoid medicating cat without vet advice; prevent insect bites or stings
An anaphylactic response refers to an extremely rare but potentially lethal allergic reaction. It can result from any substance, but most commonly is associated with reactions to medicine such as penicillin or a vaccination, or to insect bites and stings.
The immune system over-reacts to the offending substances and responds by flooding the body with immune components like histamine that are supposed to neutralize the offender. Instead, the histamine causes intense inflammation both locally and throughout the body, with itchiness appearing on the head and face (sometimes in hives), and constriction of the respiratory system. Quite simply, the affected cat can't breathe. Severe anaphylactic reactions can kill a pet within minutes.
Signs of reaction include excessive salivation and drooling, difficulty-ty breathing, uncontrollable urination, incoordination, vomiting, and col-lapse. This is an emergency situation that needs immediate veterinary attention. The treatment of choice is administration of intravenous epinephrine (adrenaline), glucocorticoids, and fluid therapy along with oxygen therapy (see INSECT BITES/STINGS).
SYMPTOMS: Depression; increased sleep; weakness; weight loss; rapid pulse or breathing; and pale gums or tongue.
HOME CARE: Nutritional support
VET CARE: Blood transfusion; treatment for underlying disease
PREVENTION: Flea treatment
Anemia means a lower than normal volume of red blood cells. These cells are one of the major components of circulating blood, and they carry oxygen throughout the body. Anemia can affect any cat of any age or breed. Anemia can occur if not enough red cells are manufactured by the bone marrow, or if too many are lost out of the body (i.e., from bleeding). Signs include depression, increased sleep, weakness, weight loss, rapid pulse or breathing, and pale mucus membranes. Kittens have a lower blood volume to begin and are more seriously affected by anemia than adult animals.
The number of red cells is relatively fixed but cells of the body do not live forever. As they wear out, they are immediately replaced with new ones. In a cat, red cells live only about two and a half months. The constant turnover of red cells is like water flowing into a bucket from the top, while flowing out of a hole at the bottom. Anemia occurs when the incoming flow is shut off, or if too much flows out the bottom. If cells aren’t replaced as quickly as they are lost, anemia results.
Anemia in pets has a variety of causes. The most typical causes are blood loss from traumatic injury; blood-sucking parasites like fleas; or a bone marrow disorder, often caused by chronic kidney disease that interferes with making new red blood cells.
A less common type, hemolytic anemia, develops from an abnormal immune system that mistakenly identifies the red blood cells as foreign and destroys them. In cats, kittens may be born in certain instances with a different blood type than the mother cat. When that happens, kittens develop neonatal isoerythrolysis, a kind of blood incompatibility reaction caused by the immune agents passed to them through the mother cat’s milk, which attack the infants' red cells.
Regenerative anemia occurs when bone marrow still functions and generates new red cells, but can't keep up with red cells being lost. There's too big a hole in the bucket. Blood losses due to trauma or from parasites like flea or hemotrophic mycoplasmas are the most common examples of regenerative anemia. Some breeds like Abyssinians and Somalis may inherit red cell defects that result in regenerative anemia.
Nonregenerative anemia occurs when the bone marrow stops making enough blood cells—the water is shut off from the top. These anemias are usually associated with diseases that affect the bone marrow (see FELINE LEUKEMIA VIRUS, FELINE IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS, and FELINE INFECTIOUS PERITONITIS).
Chronic illness of any kind may affect the bone marrow's ability to make new red cells, resulting in anemia of chronic disease. Kidney disease can also cause anemia. That's because erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red cells to be produced, is made in the kidney. Cats can also have bleeding disorders that cause anemia when viral infections, cancers or other problems compromise the blood's clotting ability (see BLOOD).
Anesthetic drug doses are determined by the weight of the cat. Because of Kitty's small size and sensitivity to such medications, often the drugs will be administered in repeated small doses until the desired effect is reached.
Local anesthetics like xylocaine are used to block sensation on the skin surface. They may be injected into the surrounding tissue, or applied topically as an ointment, spray or cream. A tranquilizer or sedative may also be given with a local to help make Kitty easier to handle. Local anesthetics may be used to treat problems like an abscess, but are not appropriate for major procedures like spay surgeries.
A general anesthetic leaves the cat unconscious, blocks the pain, and may have amnesiac properties so that Kitty does not remember anything traumatic. A variety of both injectable drugs like Telazol and inhalant anesthetics like halothane and isoflurane are available. Inhalant anesthetic is administered either by a tube that carries the gas into the cat's lungs, or by a mask that fits over Kitty's face. A veterinarian may use general anesthetic alone or in combination with other drugs depending on the health status of the cat, and on the procedure to be done.
The drugs are removed from the body by the lungs, kidneys and liver, and anesthetics also affect the way the heart works. Although care is taken with the administration of any anesthetic, complications can occur. Cats suffering from impaired kidneys, liver or heart function are at higher anesthetic risk. Screening tests prior to anesthesia may be recommended when the cat is very young, old, or ill to evaluate and reduce possible risks.
Some cats develop strong food preferences. These finicky felines may starve themselves rather than eat anything but their favorite meal (see FOOD). But most often, cats stop eating because they feel bad either physically or emotionally. The stress of any change in routine such as moving to a new home, an absent owner, or a new pet may prompt an aversion to food.
Pain, fever, and metabolic disorders also can cause a loss of appetite. To cats, the smell of food is more important than taste, and nothing spoils Kitty's dinner faster than a stopped up nose. Virus and bacterial infections are common disorders that result in stuffy nasal passages (see UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTION).
A refusal to eat can make well cats sick, and sick cats even sicker. There are few if any conditions when withholding food is necessary; chronic diarrhea or vomiting may be examples. But in most instances, appropriate nutrition is important to keep the cat from using his own body tissue for energy.
Kittens should go no more than 18 to 24 hours without eating, and adult cats probably shouldn't exceed 48 hours without a meal. Cats that stop eating for several days, especially overweight cats, are at high risk for developing a life-threatening condition commonly called Fatty Liver Disease (see FELINE HEPATIC LIPIDOSIS). See your veterinarian immediately.
Usually, the physical or psychological condition causing the anorexia must be addressed to solve the problem. Treatment is aimed at stimulating Kitty's appetite, and getting the cat to eat.
At home, an owner may prompt the cat to eat by moistening dry food with warm water, or warming canned food. Offering a bit of food to the cat with your fingers, then stroking his head and neck seems to stimulate some cats to eat. Placing the first bite in his mouth may be all that's needed to get Kitty to continue feeding on his own. Try smearing a bit on his nose or paw to induce him to lick it off.
Although adding treats to a balanced diet should never be done on a regular basis, all's fair when tempting a sick cat to eat. A drizzle of warm chicken broth, meat baby food or cottage cheese over the regular diet may do the trick.
Holistic vets suggest using aromatherapy to help jump-start the flagging appetite. Put one or two drops of the essential oils rose, or vetiver, on the cat’s bedding. The homeopathic remedy Nux vomica as well as Lycopodium, also are helpful. Cats can take two pellets of either remedy (potency of 6C or 12x) twice a day for no more than 24 hours.
Your veterinarian may prescribe drugs to stimulate the cat's appetite. If Kitty still won't eat, force feeding may be necessary (see ADMINISTER MEDICATION). In these instances, a puree of the cat's normal diet and/or a high calorie special diet prescribed by the veterinarian, is fed to the cat. In severe cases, the veterinarian may resort to placing a feeding tube directly into the stomach to force feed the cat.
SYMPTOMS: Drunken behavior; thirst; diarrhea; vomiting; convulsions; loss of appetite; panting
FIRST AID: SEE VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY; if not available, induce vomiting, administer activated charcoal
VET CARE: Induce vomiting; pump stomach; treat with intravenous alcohol or antidote
PREVENTION: Use pet safe products; store out of cat's reach
Antifreeze is used in cars to protect them from freezing temperatures. Antifreeze is composed of ethylene glycol, an industrial solvent also used in the removal of rust. It is an odorless, colorless fluid with a sweet taste that appeals to many pets.
Drinking antifreeze is deadly. Less than one teaspoon can kill an average size cat, and there is an 88 percent mortality rate for antifreeze poisoning in pets.
All cats are at risk, but male cats younger than three years seem to be poisoned most often. Accidents occur in the fall, winter, and early spring during peak usage of antifreeze solutions.
Survival of the poisoned cat depends on prompt treatment, because antifreeze is rapidly absorbed into the body. The cat's system actually works against itself and turns the relatively harmless ethylene glycol into a more toxic form that poisons the cat.
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