Cats, just like people, have off-days. Most of the time, it's nothing to worry about. Since cats don't malinger, however, it is sometimes difficult to know when they are really ill and in need of medical attention. Here are some common symptoms you may notice from time to time and ways to differentiate between "quiet" days and true illness.
Lack of Appetite: If your cat usually consumes his food with gusto, you will surely notice when he picks at it with little interest or refuses food entirely. Some cats, particularly when they are younger (I've noticed that this tendency seems to wane as they get older) will fast for a day or so. This is not a sign of illness as long as it doesn't last more than a couple of days and the cat seems fine otherwise. Usually they will make up for lost time when they go back on feed.
Vomiting and/or Diarrhea: For the short-term, give the gut a break by feeding meat baby food with a little chicken broth. Adding a little slippery elm bark tea will soothe an inflamed gastrointestinal tract, putting kitty back on the road to good health in short order. You don't want him to become dehydrated, though, so if this doesn't work pretty quickly, call your veterinarian. If you see blood, call the vet right away.
Lethargy: Also part of "quiet" days, not a concern as long as it doesn't last more than a day or two.
Hiding: Usually always a sign of trouble. If she is also not cleaning herself and starting to look unthrifty, you should probably take a trip to the vet.
Non-Receding Third Eyelid: An apparent nictitating membrane (third eyelid) could mean eye irritation or something more serious. Eye irritation probably won't affect both eyes, however, and the cat will otherwise act fine, except for rubbing its eye, etc. Otherwise, your cat needs to see the vet, as this symptom is usually the harbinger of something serious.
Limping/Pain: If your cat is an outdoor one, this could mean an injury. Gently check him over; be careful, though--a cat in pain may lash out. A tender bump, along with symptoms like lethargy, hiding and lack of appetite may mean your cat has an abscess. Never attempt to treat this yourself; kitty needs medical attention. Once again, lots of blood means a trip to the vet, pronto.
Straining in the Litter Box: Almost always a sign of urinary problems, less often a symptom of consitpation. If the cat is male, don't delay--Feline Urological Syndrome ("plugged cat") can be fatal in just a few hours!
Shaking/Crying: Yep, to the vet. Don't try to puzzle this one out!
Our pets count on us to make sure they are happy and healthy. A tall order, to be sure, and vigilance is key. It's the least we can do for them, am I right?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 2:25 PM
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 4:44 PM
Just as with people, the condition of a cat's gums and teeth are often an indicator of the animal's overall health. If you notice bad breath, the first place to look for trouble is in the cat's mouth. Check for reddened, inflamed gums and teeth that look heavily streaked with brown (a little is OK) or have brownish or yellow buildup on the teeth. This is tartar, the stuff that causes gingivitis. If the problem is pretty severe, you will need to have your veterinarian put the cat under anesthetic to have the teeth cleaned. Since this is something you will want to avoid, especially in older cats, let's talk about how to prevent the problem in the first place.
Get in the habit of checking kitty's teeth early on. Cats aren't crazy about having their mouths prodded, but once they are in the routine of having their teeth and gums gently examined by you, it won't bother them. If the animal is in good health, there will probably be no gingivitis. Look for a red line along the gum line, and swelling. Checking often and cleaning with some gauze wrapped around a finger should keep this from happening. No need to use kitty toothpaste; plain water will do. Small chunks of tartar can often be removed with a fingernail before they cause trouble.
It is a common belief that dry cat food "cleans" a cat's teeth, preventing tartar buildup. Gee--that's like saying that if we humans eat enough crunchy junk food, we'll never need to brush or floss! Of course, that is untrue. Dry cat food is mostly made up of carbohydrates (sugars) which are the enemy of healthy teeth. Also, cats don't have grinding teeth, like herbivores (plant eaters), so there's no "scrubbing" going on. Have you ever noticed how your cat turns its head to eat dry food? Cats' teeth are for tearing, not grinding.
The best prevention against tooth and gum disease is to feed your cat a high-quality diet. This precludes dry food, which is not a healthful food. Since my cats have been on a homemade diet, their teeth are perfect. Goldie, the only one of the three who had mild gingivitis, has no problems now. A premium canned food will have a similar effect, although Goldie had gum issues when he was on such a diet. Careful screening, along with such a diet and perhaps a monthly cleaning at home will probably stave off any real problems. The sooner this new routine is instituted, the better!
Helpful Hint: Take a tip from the French and give your cats treats of cubed cheddar cheese a few times a week. All cheese, particularly cheddar, contain enzymes that neutralize bacteria that cause tooth and gum disease. And, of course, cats love it!
Eat a cube yourself after every meal, as well!
Monday, September 28, 2009 10:22 AM
Ear mites cause cats untold misery. These nasty little parasites burrow deep inside the ear canal, feeding off of the blood supply and laying their eggs in the delicate skin lining. If you have ever had an ear infection, especially something such as swimmer's ear, you can imagine the itching, discomfort and pain this causes. Chances are that at some point in his life, each and every outdoor cat will have ear mites. The itching sets up a cycle of scratching that often leads to infection, scarring and "ear hematoma", a blood blister that forms between the layers of skin in the ear flap and, if left untreated, causes severe ear deformity.
If your relatively young cat suddenly starts digging in his ears with his rear paws, scratching the outside of the ear and violently shaking his head, chances are that he has ear mites. (Older cats also get ear mites; I want to point out, however, that ear tumors can cause the same symptoms as mites and are more common in older cats). Gently look inside the ear. If you see what looks like sticky dirt, the problem is most likely ear mites.
I wish I could tell you that there is an all-natural remedy for this problem, but that has not been my experience. I've tried mineral oil, mullein oil, as well as garlic/olive oil, all to no avail. It alleviated the problem a bit, but didn't really "drown" the mites, as the articles had claimed. Also, just like with fleas, once the eggs hatch you'll have the whole problem back in spades.
This is one of those times when only a prescription from the veterinarian will do the trick. These drops contain an insecticide to kill the mites, usually Sevin, and an antibiotic to treat secondary bacterial infection in a soothing, oily base. You will have to scrupulously follow the directions for treatment or the problem will come right back. You will also have to treat all other animals in the household, as mites spread like wildfire. Sweet Pea managed to get mites from the kittens when I first brought them home, even though they were separated from her in another room and she never even saw them!
Remember: When instilling drops in the ears and (gently) cleaning them before doing so, be sure to set up in a room where it will be easy to clean up the mess!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 3:54 PM
Every now and then I see an outdoor cat wearing a collar. Personally, I have never put collars of any kind on my cats, even when the previous two went outdoors. What kinds of collars are available for cats? Are they safe? People put collars on their cats for different reasons, so let's take each one in its turn.
Cat flea collars are still available, despite much evidence that they just don't work. They do irritate a cat's skin, though, and since cats groom themselves constantly, they are ingesting whatever insecticide is impregnating the collar. They usually have a wimpy little buckle, not all that adjustable. Even though directions say not to put these products on kittens, some people do. We once saw a young neighborhood cat flopping around in our yard because he got one of his lower teeth caught in that buckle. Luckily we were there to help, or he may have hurt himself badly. The other problem with using these collars on young cats is that they grow so fast, people sometimes forget to keep adjusting them and they can become too snug. They also don't stretch, so a cat can get hung up and trapped by getting them caught on things.
There are a plethora of different decorative collars for cats, and almost every one addresses the issue of "stretchability" and "breakaway" capability so that cats don't get caught on branches, fences, etc. Why put a collar on a cat, knowing this propensity of theirs to squeeze under and around things? Some owners feel more secure if their cat wears a collar and identifying tag. Others like to put a bell on their little hunter, to preserve avian lives. Reflective collars supposedly prevent cats getting hit by cars at night. Some just claim to make kitty even prettier.
Are any of these necessary? I don't think so. Can you guess how all of the above concerns can be assuaged easily? That's right--keep kitty indoors!
Hazards and parasites can't touch your pet inside your home. No collar, no worries. Oh, and cats don't need bling-bling. They're beautiful enough all on their own!
Movie of the Week: Undertaking Betty, directed by Nick Hurran and starring Brenda Blethyn, Alfred Molina and Christopher Walken. Set in Wales, this very cute romantic comedy features superb acting, excellent direction and a very witty script. If you're a fan of Christopher Walken (who isn't?) you won't want to miss his antics here. Truly a laugh a minute!
If you have cats in your home, then you know that there is nothing like the sound of a door closing to rouse them out of a deep slumber (well, except for the sound of cat bowls being set out). Heads shoot up, third eyelids still receding: What was that? they seem to be thinking. I'd better go investigate. Next thing you know, there's a cat or two (or three) on one side of a closed door, pawing, scratching and peering underneath. If the door remains closed, they start with the yelling. They meow, chirp, yowl and generally make as much noise as possible until that door opens up to reveal--not much new, but, darn it, they need to know! They'll look around for a few seconds, then saunter back to their napping posts, feeling relaxed and assured that nothing is going on in their house that don't have a handle on. Another job well done!
Cats are naturally curious, as we all know, but nothing excites that predisposition more than a closed door. In our house, doors are left open or, if privacy or convenience is really needed, ajar. This way, we don't have to listen to annoyed cats trying to get into the bathroom while one or the other of us is showering. Closet doors are also left this way, since once, many years ago, we almost left the house on a day trip with Goldie closed up in the linen closet! Luckily, we always do a head count before we leave, and ever since then the doors are never completely shut.
Each of our cats has his or her own way of dealing with the occasional shut door, or, as is more the norm, one that is ajar. The two male cats have no problem just pushing their way in in the latter case, while Little Girl will usually just sit outside the door and politely yell until she's invited in. Goldie will take a couple of tentative pushes at the door, then just stand up and push with his whole body, sending the door flying open. The Bear, ever subtle, does his signature front paw insertion technique: He pushes his front paw in between door and frame, then, slowly, extends his entire arm and shoulder until the door is open enough for him to walk in. It's very funny to watch from inside the room he's entering. We call this "The Long Arm of the Paw" routine.
By the way, never allow cats to bat at each other through the hinge side of a partially opened door--all it takes is one cat pushing on the door while the other's paw is in between to cause a nasty injury!
Monday, September 21, 2009 10:43 AM
Like people, cats vomit occasionally. There are basically two types of vomiting in cats: The type where the cats still wants to eat, and the kind where the cat is anorexic. As you may have guessed, the former is much less of a concern than the latter. Let's take a look at the possible causes of each.
Some cats tend to vomit only occasionally, while with others, it seems as if almost every day you're stepping in a yucky pile of vomited goo. When we had Min and Sweet Pea, Min was the "puker", while Pea zealously held onto every morsel she consumed. Until the end of his life, it was never a health issue until it heralded other, more ominous problems. With our present passel, Goldie is the upchucker, tending to vomit hairballs fairly consistently, despite being the cat that receives the most grooming. Besides hairballs, other causes of occasional but not worrisome vomiting are: Eating grass and other inappropriate things outside, eating too fast, eating dry food without drinking water, and something I've found with males in particular, vomiting clear stomach fluid after an overnight fast.
More troublesome are cats that vomit, often repeatedly, and are also refusing food. In this case, vomiting is a symptom of something more serious, not a response to some of the scenarios listed above. Especially in older cats, this can mean things like kidney failure, heart problems, liver or pancreatic disorders and/or cancer. It is very important not to let a cat fast for more than a couple of days, since cats can develop irreversible kidney damage. Dehydration, with all its attendant problems, should also be avoided.
If your cat is having a bout of upset tummy, withhold all food and water for about 8 hours. Kitty will be starving by then, but ease back into feeding by giving a small bowl of meat baby food such as chicken, lamb or turkey. Cream of Wheat is also a good choice (all my cats, past and present, loved/love it). Remember, just a little bit! If all is well, feed baby food once or twice more, gradually adding in her regular canned food.
If vomiting continues, try giving kitty approximately 1ml (cc) of milk of magnesia using a plastic syringe or eye dropper. Do this where it will be easy to clean up the mess! Usually, one or two doses of MoM will do the trick without causing diarrhea. If not, or your cat has no interest in food, has a fever and/or other symptoms, you'll need to get to the vet ASAP.
Just so You Know: Vomiting blood is always a sign of serious trouble and should be checked out by a veterinarian.
Thursday, September 17, 2009 11:27 AM
Kennel cough, usually caused by the Bortadella bacterium, can really be a term used to describe any extremely contagious upper respiratory infection in dogs.
Because of this tendency to spread easily to other dogs through aerosol droplets, supportive home care is the usual course of treatment, rather than hospitalization. The disease, which can last up to three weeks, generally exits the acute phase within the first few days and is self-limiting. Symptoms are influenza-like in nature, and complete recovery is the norm.
Vaccinating dogs against this disease is very common. Since, like many other vaccines, the usefulness is questionable and negative side effects occur with some regularity, you might well wonder why it is even necessary. Like the rabies vaccine, politics are responsible for the majority of dog owners getting their dogs inoculated against these two diseases.
In the case of rabies, as we have seen, a serious, usually fatal disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans cannot be overlooked as a public health concern. Legislation in most states requires rabies vaccination in order to license a dog. This is not negotiable, so in order to reduce vaccine-induced reactions, one should try to limit other, not-so-necessary inoculations.
Dog owners will have difficulty avoiding kennel cough vaccination, as well. If you board your dog, this will have to be done if not up-to-date. Otherwise, the kennels will not board your dog. If your dog needs hospitalization, the veterinarian will require the same. Therefore, this is another shot that many dogs receive on a regular basis.
Although you cannot avoid these two inoculations, limit vaccine exposure by choosing against other, unnecessary (and ineffective) vaccinations; avoid getting more than one vaccine inoculation at a time and don't get vaccinations early--wait the full, required time before boostering.
In the near future, I will be discussing homeopathic "nosodes" for immunity to common diseases. Stay tuned.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 3:50 PM
The symptoms of Lyme disease are fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, pain and joint swelling. It is difficult to test for infection serologically (blood serum tests) due to false positives/negatives. Usually, diagnosis is made using symptoms (which can mimic other diseases) and the fact that the dog lives in an area known to have ticks (dicey, again).
Chronic Lyme disease infection has been blamed for many cases of arthritis and auto-immune disorders. We have friends whose old Labrador Retriever was diagnosed late in life, 10 years old or so. She went through the treatment, to no avail. Supportive treatment kept her comfortable for two more years. Unfortunately, by the time a dog is that age, all health problems become magnified by the mere passage of time.
This is a disease that dogs should be vaccinated against, since it is such a health threat. As you may have guessed, though, an organism so tricky that it cannot even be serologically identified as being present or not, does not lend itself to efficacious vaccine protocol. Vaccines have been known to actually cause the disease, and, when these dogs were tested it was found that the inoculation was the source. Not very helpful. So far, no vaccine has shown promise. The best way to avoid this problem is to check your dog daily for ticks, and remove promptly. If they are removed within 24 hours, chances of disease transmission is extremely slim.
Just So You Know: Check yourself daily, as well!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009 2:13 PM
Canine distemper is a disease for which veterinarians have been vaccinating dogs for decades. It is not related at all to feline distemper (actually, panleukopenia) which, as we've seen, is more closely related to parvovirus (or, at least, was at one time). Distemper in dogs is caused by a morbillivirus, which is more closely related to measles than anything else.
Mainly an upper respiratory disease, most dogs will be exposed to the distemper virus at some point in their lives. Even unvaccinated, though, few dogs will actually become ill; this could be a result of natural immunity from repeated exposure. Dogs that do develop symptoms will present with fever and lethargy, which seems to resolve itself within a week. The fever relapses, however, with nasal discharge, eye inflammation, coughing, anorexia (no appetite) diarrhea and lethargy. In severe cases, the dog's foot pads become thick and hard, hence the moniker, "hardpad disease".
Due to its close relation to the measles virus, some countries use that vaccine to inoculate against both distemper and measles. In the U.S., a modified-live vaccine replaced the less efficient killed version decades ago. The vaccine has good efficacy, but has been known to induce disease, particularly in young pups. Interestingly, there have been reports of dogs exhibiting behavioral changes after inoculation, similar to the autistic changes noted in some children after a measles shot. Again, it is best to not bundle this vaccine in with others but to give separately to avoid vaccine-induced reactions.
So Cute: The other day, a mama deer and her two fawns were grazing in our front yard. I grabbed the camera, but, unfortunately, they must have sensed something was up, as they took off, little white tails waving. That would have been a great pic!
Monday, September 14, 2009 2:44 PM
Of course, such a canine health crisis did not go unnoticed by the drug companies, who naturally came up with a vaccine for the disease. Its sudden appearance spurred research into its source, which seems to be feline panleukopenia, which somehow morphed into a canine virus. There is a theory that this mutation occurred in the laboratory, most likely while producing panleukopenia vaccines.
Symptoms of "parvo" are, besides the bloody diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, fever, lethargy and anorexia (no appetite). The treatment is still supportive, consisting mostly of fluid administration until the disease runs its course. The vomitus and feces can carry the virus, so scrupulous clean-up is a must.
Canine parvovirus vaccines seem to vary widely in their efficacy. As I recall from my vet tech days, dogs were initially inoculated with the feline panleukopenia (distemper) vaccine, which was thought to be similar enough to induce immunity. Wrong! After experimenting with killed virus, a modified live version came out that instilled a limited immune response. By this time, however, the disease had mutated into two distinct strains, so the vaccine lost efficacy after a time.
Parvovirus vaccines don't work well on young pups. Otherwise, in adults, protection lasts approximately 5 years; due to the modified-live aspect of the vaccine, though, more side effects can occur. Intestinal as well heart problems have been reported in inoculated dogs, and side effects are exacerbated when given in tandem with other vaccines. Since parvoviruses depress the immune system, the list of health problems that could conceivably occur with repeated vaccination seems endless.
What to do? If you really need to inoculate your dog against this disease, it seems prudent to wait until he's older than 16 weeks, give the parvovirus shot separate from all others, and don't inoculate again until at least 5 years. This should give your dog protection without unduly taxing his immune system.
Next up: Canine distemper.
Thursday, September 10, 2009 3:33 PM
There is also the issue of laws and regulations. Since dogs must be licensed in almost every state (perhaps every state, by now), state laws generally require certain vaccinations to be up-to-date or the license will not be issued. These requirements vary from state to state, but rabies vaccination is one that I believe is always required. As discussed here recently, the public health aspect of this disease cannot be ignored, nor should it be.
When cat owners go away for the weekend, they often leave bowls of water and dry food out for their cats, knowing that they will be gone only overnight. I'm not saying I agree with the feeding of dry food, mind you, only that this is a convenience many people like about owning cats versus dogs. At any rate, dogs need much more attention than cats and it's still simpler to have someone come in a couple of times each day to feed your cats and clean boxes than it is to set up in-house care for a dog. That is why most people board their dogs at a kennel when they go away. Most, if not all, reputable kennels require proof of state-mandated vaccinations before boarding, and usually insist upon inoculation against kennel cough as well. This disease will spread like wildfire through their facility if given a chance, something that is definitely not good for business!
Next week, we'll start looking at which vaccinations you'll most likely be considering (or be counseled to consider) when you adopt your new pup.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 2:38 PM
Anyway, while I was reading this article, I started thinking about cats (so unusual). Now, there are the experts on napping! Well, just look at the title of this post, for example. Everyone knows cats excel at relaxing and sleeping. Just think of all the English words that describe rest (sometimes permanent), inertia, slowness, or quiet that use "cat" as a
prefix: catacomb, catatonic, caterpillar, catastrophe...oh, wait, scratch that last one. Well, you get my drift. Even silent, creeping burglars get the "cat" connotation! And which yoga pose reminds you of a stretching, lithe, relaxing cat? Why, the cat pose, of course.
Cats sleep a lot. Adult cats sleep about 16 hours each day. That seems excessive, doesn't it? Kittens sleep even more than that and as cats age, they also spend more time asleep. Think about how a cat sleeps, however. Often, they take short naps (!) and, even when they are fast asleep, they almost literally have one eye open. Cats are light sleepers, a trait inherited from their wild and not-so-distant relatives. Always being on the alert for danger necessarily makes one's sleep less deep.
One note of interest from the above mentioned study was the fact that only 18% of respondents who had napped in the previous 24 hours described themselves as "happy". The majority were only "pretty happy" or, more depressingly, "not too happy". Well, I guess there is ONE aspect of napping that has nothing to do with cats!
Movie of the Week: Hud, starring Paul Newman and directed by Martin Ritt. Made in 1963, it's a story of dysfunctional family values that never seems dated. An interesting bit is that all these family members are male. I'd never seen this movie, which is strange because Paul Newman is (still) one of my all-time favorite actors. Mm-mm! That guy was hot, right into old age, I must say. Anyway, a great flick--check it out.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009 12:52 PM
Are you lonely? Bored with your life? Feeling unappreciated, unloved, unneeded? Want someone to talk to? Do you need a hobby or a new love interest to fill up your empty hours? Well, look no more. Right now, at your local shelter, waits the answer to all your problems: Free cats! That's right, not far from your very doorstep there are scores of adorable, soft, loving cats just waiting for you to come and take them home! Young ones, middle-aged one, older ones--there's one (or two or three) just right for you, all you need to do is come on down! And, of course, the best part of all this is--they are free (except for worming, shots, neutering, etc.)! But, hurry to get the best selection! For an unlimited time only.
Seriously, even if you only sometimes feel lonely, bored, blah blah blah, you'll still benefit from having a cat. For example, the other morning I was trying to get to the computer to write this blog and Little Girl kept yelling at the top of the stairs until I went up there to give her the usual morning massage. Now, J. usually does this, but he wasn't here, so the responsibility fell to me. After she'd had enough and started licking herself all over, I heard Bear and his signature "Mwahhhh-mwaaaahhhh" yowl that means he's bringing me a sock and, dang it, he'd better get some petting for it. So. By the time I actually had time to start writing, it was time for lunch. How time flies when you have a houseful of cats! Just so you don't think I was ignoring Goldie, he got his share, too.
Another benefit of having cats in the house is that you've always got someone to talk to. Whether it's whining, chit-chat or just sharing your day, cats will always listen. They'll respond, too if you play your cards right. We can get any of our cats to "speak" just about on cue. Of course, we brought them up that way, because we like chatty cats. Also, we can tell when they're in a talking mood (which is almost always)!
Let's face it--when you've got cats around, you've always got someone to love. And, of course, they love you right back. They'll even tell you so. By the way, if you're really starved for conversation, get a Siamese (or two)!
Just So You Know: All of the above will work with dogs, too!
Monday, September 7, 2009 9:00 AM
Rabies affects all warm-blooded animals. It is only considered a threat in some and not others, however. For example, mice and squirrels can contract rabies; their size and the speed with which the disease kills them however, keep them from being much of a public health problem. Where they present a problem is when a cat comes into contact with them, setting the stage for infection. Cats and dogs, infected by wild animals like foxes, coyotes, racoons, skunks and even fisher cats (though most don't survive that encounter!) are the main concern of public health officials, both because they live in close proximity with humans and also because we are in a position to control their health care, including inoculating them against disease.
The efficacy of the rabies vaccine is unclear. Some studies have shown the vaccine to induce the paralytic type of rabies in cats receiving the vaccine. Catherine Diodati, author of Vaccine Guide for Dogs and Cats,
relates the experience of Pennsylvania in the late 1980s. Rabies vaccinations were legislated for cats in 1987, despite no increase in rabies cases. What did increase, however, were the cases of negative reactions at the injection site, including cases of fibrosarcoma. When researchers examined the tumors, they found traces of aluminum, which was used in the vaccines. Of course, they couldn't prove that the tumors were caused by the rabies shots; she notes, however, that the cases of fibrosarcoma in Pennsylvania outnumbered the number of nation-wide rabies cases in 1991 alone.
For cats, the risk of health problems due to inoculation are probably greater than that of contracting rabies. Since these vaccines are usually administered along with two or three others in one shot, the risk of complications increases. From a public health point of view, vaccination doesn't always alleviate the risk of humans contracting rabies from a cat that has been bitten by a rabid animal. Just handling the cat can allow infected saliva to enter wounds or breaks in the skin; the idea of rabies seldom enters the minds of concerned owners who see Tom limping home after a rumble, wounded and needing care.
Can you guess what the solution is? Keep your cats indoors!
Happy Labor Day, when we remember all those who came before us, fighting for the 8-hour day, child labor laws and work place health and safety legislation.
Thursday, September 3, 2009 4:13 PM
When I was a kid, I remember watching a movie on a Saturday afternoon. It was about a man, bitten by an angry dog, who became obsessed by the notion that he had contracted rabies. I'm pretty sure this movie was black and white, from the 1950s or even 40s. The entire film followed the hapless fellow as he lurched from one room in his apartment to another, thirsty but unable to drink a glass of water (a nod to rabies' misnomer, "hydrophobia"). As it turned out, he didn't have rabies at all, just a hysterical rendition of the illness.
Rabies is a deadly disease, no doubt about it. Of course, there are other diseases just as horrible, but rabies occupies a special place in our psyche. The attack, possibly a maiming one, of a virus-maddened animal (remember, "Cujo"?); the creeping insidiousness of the disease as it takes hold, causing lack of control, madness, then an agonizing death. No wonder we fear it!
Cats, more than dogs, tend to exhibit the furious (aggressive behavioral symptoms) v. the dumb (progressive paralysis) type of rabies. Changes in behavior, particularly an aggressive fearlessness, lack of coordination and hypersensitivity to stimuli are symptoms of furious rabies. Once the virus replicates at the infection site, it moves through the body via the nervous system to the brain, then the salivary glands. This progression is the same in dumb rabies, where paralysis starts in the throat causing an inability to swallow (aha!). The infected animal can shed the virus for months or even years, as in cases where the animal recovers without exhibiting debilitating symptoms. So, even if an animal doesn't die of rabies, he can still infect others, who may not fare so well.
Rabies is one of the few true zoonoses (pathogens transmissible from animals to humans) and this fact, along with the disease's seriousness, make it a true public health threat. Since the virus may take several weeks to move from the point of entry to its destination in the brain, people handling these animals run a very real risk of infection. Hence the laws requiring pet (particularly dog) vaccination against rabies.
Next week we'll take a look at the efficacy, side effects and risks associated with the rabies vaccines being used on our cats and dogs.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009 11:27 AM
As long as I can remember, panleukopenia has been dubbed, "feline distemper". I really don't know why, as it's cause is parvovirus, not a morbillivirus like canine distemper. The symptoms are not remotely the same, either, as panleukopenia, or feline infectious enteritis, is an intestinal infection and canine distemper is an upper respiratory disease. Another of life's little mysteries, I guess.
This disease is widespread, and outdoor cats will most likely be exposed to it by their first birthday. The symptoms are fever, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal swelling. Healthy cats will most likely not exhibit serious symptoms, but the few that do are usually very young kittens either with immature immune systems or they were infected in utero. These animals usually die within a few days. If they recover, they will most likely exhibit signs of poor coordination and muscle tremors. When I first started working for a veterinarian, one of my co-workers adopted a kitten ill with the disease, and, though it recovered through much TLC, it obviously had neurological damage. In fact, I think my co-worker named the kitten "Tipsy".
Veterinarians have been vaccinating cats against this disease for decades. Tests have shown that, unlike some other vaccines discussed here, efficacy is quite good. In fact, immunity is known to last for approximately seven years, so most vets don't revaccinate any more often than every three years. There are two types of injectable vaccines: modified live, and inactivated (killed). Since modified live can actually cause the disease in susceptible kittens and those younger than four weeks, the inactivated form seems the reasonable choice.
Should you have your cat revcaccinated every three years, as many vets recommend? Look at the facts. Again, this is usually a disease of very young cats, and immune response is actually very good, lasting several years. Even if you let your cats outdoors, the risk of infection seems quite low. As usual, this shot is generally given bundled with other vaccines, raising the risk of negative reactions. At the risk of repeating myself (as if), if you keep your cats indoors, infection won't be a problem. Period.
Tomorrow, I'll wind up this discussion with a post about the mother of all diseases and its vaccine protocol: rabies.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009 7:10 AM
If your cat has been vaccinated at any point in time, chances are that he has received the Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) shots. These two, always given together (and often combined with other vaccines, as well) are two of the four "biggies", the other two being Feline Panleukopenia (or distemper, as it is inappropriately called) and Rabies.
Both of these infections present as a nasty cold, or influenza. runny nose, sneezing, coughing, eye irritation and discharge and anorexia (no interest in food). There may be fever present, and with FCV there may be joint inflammation and lameness, although this is temporary. These infections are self-limiting and cats generally recover within a week or two, though some cases take up to six weeks to fully resolve. Those cats that tend to develop complications such as pneumonia are usually the very young and very old, as well as those animals with compromised immune systems. Formerly infected cats can shed either or both viruses, since these diseases sometimes occur together, for several months after recovery. Neither are considered fatal diseases.
Despite the fact that these respiratory diseases do not cause high mortality, veterinarians have been routinely immunizing cats against them for decades. Vaccination does not prevent infection or shedding of the virus; some experts claim that it does at least prevent the most serious symptoms of the disease from evolving, although this theory is contentious. In older cats, the vaccine has been known to actually trigger disease; because of this, and the fact that older cats should be kept indoors anyway even if they were previously let outdoors occasionally, vaccination of older cats should not be done. Since these shots are often bundled together with panleukopenia and rabies, increasing the incidence of negative reactions. If you are concerned, immunizing kittens, who also suffer the ravages of this disease due to their immature immune systems, may be useful. If you keep them indoors, however, it is unnecessary (hint: Keep them indoors).
Tomorrow: Panleukopenia and vaccination.