Wednesday, April 28, 2010 8:21 PM

Treating Diabetes in Cats

Replacing the missing insulin will be a priority in the treatment of your cat's diabetes. However, nutrition is just as important - and not just in the sense of timing meals with insulin injections. There is some evidence that a natural diet can alleviate many symptoms of diabetes, and sometimes even reverse the disease entirely.

The diet, of course, must be homemade. Drs. Donald Strombeck and Richard Pitcairn are both in agreement on this score. A commercial diet full of fillers, toxins and carbohydrates cannot be good for a diabetic patient, so it makes perfect sense. For cats, a homemade diet made primarily of meat (with some grains and vegetables) will often reverse the disease, according to Pitcairn. Cats are obligate carnivores, so it is not surprising that giving them what they naturally would seek out for themselves can also heal them.

In addition to this regimen, Pitcairn suggests supplementing the cat's diet with calcium (a pinch), vitamin E (200 IU per day) and brewer's yeast. I would go even further and suggest a homemade supplement containing all of the above, plus other nutrients, as well. Unlike with diabetic dogs and humans, fiber has no proven value to cats with diabetes. As the cat recovers, you can feed a regular homemade diet; for instance, mine is approximately 15% vegetables and 15% grain, with the rest being made up of meat.

The new diet and supplementation is crucial not only because of the insulin insufficiency but because of the serious nature of diabetes. If supplying the missing hormone was all that was necessary, people and animals would be as well as the unaffected population, as long as they took their medication. We know, however, that this is not so. Pancreatic inflammation is common, and damage to blood vessels and nerves is almost impossible to avoid, given enough time. Small capillaries, such as those feeding blood to the eyes, are often the first to die off, leading to blindness. The best way to put off these complications is to make the animal as hardy as possible, and the best way to do that is through excellent nutrition. With this type of diet, it may be possible to avoid drug therapy entirely!
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010 1:25 PM

What Causes Diabetes in Cats?

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that is becoming ever more prevalent in both human and animal populations. The disease affects all mammals similarly, and the symptoms for humans and animals are very much the same. The islets of Langerhans, located in the pancreas, either secrete no insulin or not enough to be able to convert the glucose from carbohydrate-heavy foods into a form usable by the body. The latter situation causes adult-onset or Type 2 diabetes in humans, and is very often due to poor nutrition and obesity.

With cats (and dogs), the commercial diets they are commonly fed are definitely suspect, since there are many added sugars and carbohydrates that would not be present in a natural diet. Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn also points out that, just as with humans, diabetes is very possibly a form of auto-immune disease in animals. He notes that over-vaccination can actually bring on this disease, and that diabetic animals should no longer be vaccinated at all.

With insulin either not present or present but ineffective, blood glucose levels soar. Because the body cannot transform this glucose into energy that is bio-available, it simply moves through the kidneys and out of the body. The lack of usable nutrients and energy causes the animal to eat voraciously, often as they lose ground nutritionally. As the body struggles to dilute the high sugar content of the blood, thirst increases.

Usually, the first symptom the owner notices is that the cat is increasing its water intake and urinating much more than usual. If the cat is an outdoor pet, however, this change many not be noticeable until the disease has progressed so far as to be virtually untreatable. Although the owner may notice some weight loss and decreased energy levels in their pet, they may attribute these changes to natural aging, particularly since this disease usually shows up in middle-aged and older cats. Therefore, by the time the owner is concerned enough to have the cat checked by a veterinarian, the physiological damage caused by diabetes may be irreversible. Fatty liver disease, chronic pancreatic inflammation, nerve damage and circulatory insufficiency are all side effects of untreated diabetes.

The situation is not without hope, however. Treatment, generally consisting of drug and nutritional therapy, can prolong life. Tomorrow's post will discuss these issues.
Chat later!

Monday, April 26, 2010 4:07 PM

Grieving for a Lost Pet

Losing a pet, either to traumatic injury or disease, is always heartbreaking. After all, we love our companion animals just like members of our own family, which, in the truest sense, they really are. As a matter of fact, many would say that pets are more forgiving and less judgmental than family members!

The grief we experience at this loss is real as well. Those who don't understand may pooh-pooh it, but the pain we feel is very real. It is nothing to feel ashamed about, or apologize for. It is a natural byproduct of love, for which none of us should ever be sorry.

Some people who have put their pet to sleep compound their grief by second-guessing themselves. They wonder if they weren't a bit hasty, if there might not have been another alternative. Don't let this happen to you. We have within our power to end our pets' suffering, something we cannot do for human family members. We each know our pets as well as we know ourselves, so we feel it when we know that there is nothing more to do. With your veterinarian's concurrence, you ended the suffering. You did the right thing, rest assured.

If this was your only pet, you probably feel the loss more keenly than those with multi-pet households. You have no animal to comfort you, and the house seems empty. If you have other pets, you also see their confusion and grief. It's a difficult situation, but will get better with time. Cry, and think about your well-loved pet. In a few days, the sadness will time out and you will see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Before long, you will be remembering not the end of your pet's life, but all the good times.

That's when it is time for the ultimate grief remedy: A new pet! Visit your local shelter and bring home another animal to love. Your other pets will be a bit annoyed, but will forget their sadness, too. If you have no other pets, then you really are on a new adventure. Enjoy!
Chat later!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 3:42 PM

Protecting Pets from Outdoor Environmental Toxins

The great outdoors presents many opportunities for pets to become exposed to poisonous substances. The arrival of spring brings with it some particular hazards that dog and cat owners should be aware of, as well:

Cocoa hull mulch: Two people have emailed me recently regarding this hazardous material. Theobromine, the ingredient in chocolate and cocoa that makes it so poisonous to cats and dogs, is also present in this mulch made from the hulls of the cocoa bean. Dogs have died after ingesting this product, and it is equally dangerous for cats. If you must mulch your gardens, use another type; there are many alternatives.

Compost heaps: Some dogs can't seem to resist diving in and sampling the contents of these piles, newly visible after a winter of snow cover. Some veterinarians call this "garbage gut": The dog becomes ill after rooting around and finding a few not-completely composted delicacies. Usually they recover without permanent damage, but a trip to the vet is usually in order. A similar, more dangerous problem occurs when dogs ingest the carcasses of animals that died during the winter. Their decomposing bodies were partly frozen, but are now able to rot away with the warmer weather. The smell often attracts free-roaming dogs, who can develop pancreatitis and other symptoms of poisoning.

Pesticides: Lawn-care companies use a toxic brew to produce those green lawns, and animals who walk on freshly-treated surfaces can become ill. These chemicals can be absorbed through the pads of the feet, and cats will also lick these toxins off of their bodies. Insecticides used to control ants and termites are also dangerous to pets. Use natural alternatives whenever possible and don't allow your pets to roam onto neighbor's treated lawns.

Automotive fluids: Dogs and cats love to drink out of driveway puddles, but can get more than they bargained for when contaminants such as radiator fluid, oil and transmission fluid that leaked from parked vehicles are mixed in. Also, be sure to store these products on high shelves if your pets are allowed in your garage, since many pets actually like the taste of anti-freeze and may seek it out if they can smell it.

This list represents only a portion of the poisonous substances pets are exposed to in our modern life, and it's up to us to keep them safe. They look to us to protect them, so be aware of these outdoor toxins and take steps to protect your pet.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:34 AM

Protecting Pets from Indoor Environmental Toxins

We live in a toxic world, no doubt. Environmental toxins and contaminants cause illness in all living creatures. While much of this pollution is not within our personal control, some of it certainly is, and it is well worth the effort to make our own immediate environs as toxin-free as possible. Here are some well- and not-so-well-known poisons that we can eliminate from our personal realms to help keep our pets, as well as ourselves, as healthy as possible:

Household cleaners: Keep all store-bought cleaners away from your pets. Better yet, don't buy them at all. You can easily make your own cleaners at home from common items such as baking soda and white vinegar. Use shampoo as an all purpose cleaner, but be aware that dandruff shampoos contain carcinogenic ingredients and should be avoided.

Pesticides: Indoor pesticides used for roaches and ants contain chemicals that can sicken or kill your pet. Use more natural methods of pets control, such as keeping food preparation areas clean and clearing brush and trees that touch your home and therefore provide an easy entrance for ants. It goes without saying, of course, that mothballs are extremely toxic and should never be used under any circumstances.

Air fresheners: These products contribute considerably to indoor air pollution and should be avoided. Many of these contain phthlates, a known hormone disruptor. Additionally, your pet could conceivably be poisoned if he licks the product, especially if some of the actual chemical stick is visible. Keeping your house clean is the best way to control indoor odors.

Laundry Products: According to Prevention magazine, all of the most popular laundry detergents and softeners contain chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency considers toxic or hazardous. Remember that you are washing your pet's bedding with these products (as well as your own)! Use plant-based, dye-and-fragrance free detergents; avoid softeners. Never let your pet play with dryer sheets, even ones that have been used.

Indoor paints: Buy only low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and use during good weather so that you can open windows to vent and allow the product to "gas off" over a period of two or more weeks. Clean up well after each painting session, and never allow your pet into the room you are currently painting. Use only latex paint, so that you can at least clean up tainted paws with soap and water in case of an accident.

Tomorrow: Wait! There's more!
Chat later!

Monday, April 19, 2010 8:30 AM

A New Kitty for Miss P.

A short while ago, our neighbor Miss P. mentioned to us that she would like to adopt a new cat. She has always had many pets, but over the past two years their numbers have been decreasing. After the recent loss of Mr. D., her German Shepherd, her cat Punkin has been pretty lonesome. Miss Molly, the "retired" old lady cat, isn't much fun for him to play with. Upon hearing this comment, both J. and I immediately offered to accompany P. on this adoption quest. The date was set for a week ago Saturday, the 10th. A local garden center was hosting a kitten adoption day with the Dakin Animal Shelter, similar to what the shelter had done with local banks a while back. It was decided that a kitten would be a better choice than another adult, who would most likely be considered an interloper by Miss P.'s two cats.

At the appointed time, we all piled into our car and set off. As we discussed cats and kittens en route, Miss P. said, "One thing is for sure: I'm not getting another tri-color cat!" Miss Molly is a calico, and, as we have discussed here before, they certainly have their own special ways. We were all sure that there would be plenty of kittens to choose from, so color would not be a problem. Shortly, we arrived at our destination. Happy as clams, we all made for the door of the garden center, sure that many kittens awaited us there.

It didn't take long to ascertain that there weren't any kittens on the premises. We asked and were told that the adoption day was the next Saturday. Miss P. had called that very morning to check on the time, plus there was a sign out front announcing "Kitten Adoption Saturday", but with no posted date. Disappointed, we decided to go straight to the Dakin shelter in a nearby town to examine the merchandise at the very source.

As we entered the shelter, cages of adult cats greeted us. They were all very handsome, but where were the kittens? Oh, we were told again, they didn't have any kittens. What about the garden center's gala the very next weekend? They were going to bring kittens from their larger facility for that event. Did we want to look around, anyway? Well, what the heck, we said. We're here, so we might as well see what they have to offer.

It was lucky that we did. In another room, we immediately noticed a young female, very frisky and friendly. A four-month-old tortoiseshell, she was incredibly cute. But, another tri-color? Miss P. looked dubious, but was soon under her spell. We all took turns petting her and unanimously decided that this was the one. Wouldn't Punkie be surprised!

As the shelter employee clipped her nails, she writhed and squirmed in a most entertaining manner. When we got back to Miss P.'s house, Libby (as she was to be called) immediately set out to make the place hers. As Miss P. said later, "It's like she's been living her for years."

Another happy adoption story...with a moral. If you are ready to open your heart to a (or another) pet, don't be discouraged because the "ideal" you had in mind is not available. Look around the shelter, take it all in. Chances are the one you didn't know you wanted is right there waiting for you!
Chat later!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 8:27 AM

Diagnosis and Treatment of Liver Disease

If you suspect your cat has liver disease, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more liver tissue will be destroyed and the less treatable your cat's condition will be. Your vet will order blood work for a liver function test, which should give you an accurate assessment of the situation.

If the test is positive for disease, time is of the essence. The only real treatment is dietary; the animal must immediately be put on a homemade diet. Dr. Strombeck notes that while commercial cat food does not directly cause hepatic disorders, it can certainly exacerbate the problem once it appears. These foods are full of chemicals and fillers, and, as we all now know, substances like melamine. Continuing on with such a diet will only speed the destruction of liver tissue.

As Strombeck states, there is not really any drug therapy available for this problem. The entire treatment consists of nutritional therapy. Homemade food saves the liver from having to continually screen out ingested toxins from the animal's blood. Since many cats become anorectic (lack of appetite) with this disease, it is imperative that the food that is eaten is nutritionally available.

If lack of appetite is a problem, adding chicken fat to the meal will often get an anorectic cat eating. Although it seems counter-intuitive to add fat to a diet for liver dysfunction, Strombeck writes that this does not seem to cause a problem for these animals. The real problem comes with fasting, whereby fat stores in the liver become metabolized for energy, thus releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream. The presence of these ketones in the blood is very dangerous to cats, which is why cats should never be allowed to fast for more than two days. Sardines are also used to get anorectic cats eating again, and are beneficial because of the high vitamin B12 content.

In addition to several small homemade meals each day, a cat with hepatic disease will also benefit from supplementation. Strombeck warns against too much vitamin A, which can be injurious to the liver. Elevated levels of copper, often present in commercial foods, is also problematic. Vitamins E, K and C are all very useful for cases of liver disease, and Strombeck notes that additional zinc is desirable not only because many animals with liver problems are deficient, but zinc competes with copper for absorption, reducing the latter's presence in the body.

Despite the fact that a low-protein diet would benefit an ailing liver, cats need high levels of protein in their diets. The best source to use is chicken, which is readily available and more easily digested. Supplement with taurine, as well as B vitamins which cats tend to deplete when they have suppressed appetites. Nutritional therapy represents the best method of preserving both the quality and the quantity of your ailing cat's life.
Chat later!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:30 AM

Hepatitis and Liver Disease in Cats

Liver disease is another serious disorder that is becoming more prevalent in cats. According to Dr. Donald R. Strombeck, author of Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, this problem was seldom seen thirty years ago. He credits the increased accuracy and use of diagnostic veterinary tests, but also mentions that the toxins that contribute to this disease enter the body many ways, including in food products. What else became the norm during the 1970s? The feeding of commercial pet food!

Cats have very sensitive systems, as I have mentioned here before. They are apt to react violently to small amounts of toxic substances, but more often just suffer more and more negative effects from toxins in their environment. Many people (and dogs) also are exhibiting symptoms of toxin overload, such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder. Many auto-immune diseases are thought to be brought on and aggravated by environmental contaminants. Even in otherwise healthy animals, eventually the toxic load, combined with age and diminished immunity, prevails. The animal begins to show signs of disease.

Anitra Frazier mentions many household chemicals that can be implicated in liver disease. Cleaners, pesticides, moth balls--all have a cumulative effect on one of the most important organs in the body. The liver spends all its time cleaning the blood, which means it comes into direct contact with contaminants that find their way into the animal's bloodstream. When the organ becomes inflamed from this saturation, hepatitis sets in. Animals can recover from this ailment, but part of the liver is now scarred. If steps are not taken to help the liver reduce its heavy load, cirrhosis occurs. As the liver becomes less and less able to clean the blood, toxins circulate freely, causing allergic reactions, particularly of the skin. Bile, produced by the liver, becomes less available, so fat metabolism is incomplete.

Liver disease is insidious, and often the symptoms are not noticed in time to be able to halt the damage. Often, the lethargy, weight loss, hard belly and frequent vomiting are attributed to old age, as are the more frequent skin disorders.

How is this disease diagnosed, and is treatment available? Tune in tomorrow for more facts about this serious illness.
Chat later!

Monday, April 12, 2010 8:38 PM

Environmental Influences on Cat Behavior

Although I had always leaned more towards the environmental influences on behavior, I actually acquired the perfect test subjects for a study to prove this theory when I brought home the litter of kittens I found at the lab 13 years ago. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we kept three of the kittens for ourselves and gave one of the males to some friends of ours. This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to observe how much influence the nurture part of the equation really would have in the personality development of these four kittens.

Early on, my friend had trouble with her kitten. She and her husband had two neutered middle aged cats already, both of whom were very nice. She would call me in a panic a few times a week over her inability to control this small kitten. "He's growling at everyone when I feed him!" She complained; when I told her to pick up his food and not let him eat it until he stopped growling, though, she refused. "He's got a sock in his mouth and is growling! He won't let me take it!" Take the sock away, I said. She claimed she couldn't. When he got bigger, he would beat up on the other males. One of them actually ran away for a while because she and her husband would not stop this behavior.

Mind you, we had three of these kittens at our house, all doing the same things but being taught the difference between what was acceptable and what was not. By the time these cats were a year old, our cats were sweet and friendly, while their brother, having learned he could do whatever he wanted, terrorized the other two cats in their household and drew blood from anyone silly enough to try to pet him. Of course, when people would ask my friend if her cat would bite or scratch, she would invariably say, "no", despite the livid marks on her own arms. If I was there, I would tell them the truth and let them make their own decision. She never cared for that!

Certainly, this proves that environment and training have more impact on the behavioral maturity of animals than heredity does. This makes perfect sense to me, since, now matter how well-bred an animal may be, there is no way for it to know the house rules unless taught. Young children and animals need direction and training to teach them how to behave later in life, when their youth and immaturity will no longer be an adequate excuse for bad behavior. Only an exemplary individual would be able to discern proper behavior in the absence of education.

While it is true that the older an animal gets, the harder it is to break bad habits (seems I've heard this about humans, too). It is not impossible, however, and patience and persistence on your part will reap great benefits if, for example, you adopt an older cat with ingrained habits you don't approve of. Be firm, gentle and loving and your cat will respond. Cats are smart, and will soon realize that doing things your way is the path to happiness!
Chat later!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 11:50 AM

Are There Really No Bad Cats?

Many books have been written about how to change nasty behavior in cats. Some tips are better than others, certainly, and the general idea seems to be that you can change a cat's behavior simply through training. By necessity, these books have come down squarely on the "nurture" side of the famous "nature vs. nurture" debate, since there is not much you, as a cat owner, can do about the genetic makeup of your pet. The question is, though: Are they correct?

As usual, the answer is, "Yes, and No". Very few things in life are black and white; most are shades of grey. Something as complicated as animal behavior most assuredly fits into the latter category. I remember studying the nature vs. nurture theory in college psychology classes, and thinking how ridiculous it is to even suggest that all of one's essence stems from either genetics or the environment. Anyone with several decades on this planet and an ability to observe the behavior of others knows that every individual is a product of both her heritage and her background. It is true of people, and just as true of animals.

If I had to lean more in one direction than the other, though, I would definitely give environment more weight in the formation of an animal's nature than genetics. True, genetics are very important, so much so that breeders strive for those behavioral characteristics they know are desirable in certain breeds. Look through any book on cat breeds and invariably there are listed identifiable traits associated with particular breeds. Of course, none of these traits are "bad" ones, but you get the idea.

The question remains, though, whether you could place a cat bred for a mild temperament into an environment that would turn him into a hellion, and vice versa. I believe that this scenario is entirely possible, and, in fact, probable. We'll start off next week looking at this very issue, so tune in.
Chat later!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 12:17 PM

Can Pets Develop Senile Dementia?

Just like people, animals can also develop the symptoms of dementia as they enter into old age. Our brains are not all that dissimilar from those of animals, so this should not be much of a surprise. Companion animals, who typically live much longer lives than those that live in the wild, are more prone to this syndrome due to their longer lifespans. Even if a wild animal started to exhibit such symptoms as we associate with dementia, they would not survive long enough to get much worse.

Dogs seem to suffer from senility more often than cats. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian from Tufts University, describes canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome as developing sometime after age ten. Dogs with this problem wander around as if disoriented, seem indifferent to other animals and people they once interacted with, soil inside the house more often and suffer sleep disturbances, particularly restlessness after dark.

In cats, the symptoms may be similar. A neighbor's 20-year-old cat stumbled into our yard last summer, continually wandering around in circles and listing to one side. This cat was obviously deaf and at least partially blind, as well. It should go without saying that an animal in that condition should not be let outside!

Fear and a constant state of trepidation often affects animals with dementia. The fact that they are often deaf and blind, or nearly so, only adds to their discomfort. A constantly stressed animal is not a happy one. Is there anything you can do to help your pet be more comfortable?

Depending upon the age of onset and the speed with which the decline continues, there are some things that may help. Contaminants and toxins in commercial pet food most likely helped this condition develop, so taking this item out of the mix can only have a positive impact. That means homemade food, or people food mixed with premium canned, at least. Don't worry too much about a homemade diet being sub-standard for your old pet. It will be easier to digest and free of poisons, as well as more nutritionally complete--especially if you give your animal a good vitamin supplement, too.

Provide snug spots for your animal to rest, where she will feel safe and secure. If your pet constantly has an anxious expression, try to comfort her. Pets who are deaf and blind are often the most anxious. They can't tell what is going on, and it upsets them. The stress will only make their condition worse. Try diluting Rescue Remedy in water and giving several drops in the pet's food at every meal. A quarter to half tablet of Calms Forte may also be helpful. Try each and see which one works best.

Senile dementia has no cure, and is fatal. These few simple steps will help until the time comes when nothing can make your companion comfortable. As you make plans to do what you know what must be done, remember that there is now an opportunity for you to give some other animal a new home, and a place in your heart.
Chat later!

Monday, April 5, 2010 7:00 AM

Stress and the Older Pet

Stress is detrimental to the health and well-being of both people and animals. Studies continually show that high cortisol levels, representing increased output of the adrenal glands due to sustained stress, is a prime suspect in both the generation and worsening of disease. As animals age, stress can pose a more serious problem due to the presence of chronic health issues as well as an immune system that has diminished in efficiency. How do we go about reducing the stress levels in our pets' lives?

If you have cats that have not been kept indoors their whole lives, start doing so by at least nine years of age. Older cats who get into fights do not heal as quickly as youngsters, and are more prone to infection. They are also slower-moving, making them prime targets for dogs and other predators. Their slower immune response will be less stressed if it does not need to constantly combat pathogens encountered in the outside world.

Dogs who reach the same age cannot be kept indoors, obviously, but should no longer be allowed to roam free (if they ever did). Exercise is just as important for older dogs as younger ones, but it must be lower-intensity, with you as a direct participant. Take walks, play fetch, etc. but make sure Fido doesn't run off and get into trouble by eating something his system now cannot tolerate or by being unable to avoid the hazards of road traffic anymore.

Change the diet to a premium one that delivers more nutrition and fewer empty calories and low-quality fillers. Give a quality vitamin-mineral supplement, or make your own. Take your pet to the vet whenever the need arises, but resist if talk of continuing on with vaccinations comes up. If you need to follow state and local laws and get a rabies shot for your dog or cat, then so be it; all other inoculations are no longer needed, and will only unduly stress your animal's system.

Animals, just like people, like their routines and become stressed when things change. People can understand why change must sometimes occur, but animals cannot. Therefore, it is probably better to pay someone to take care of your pets in your own home than to board them. They will be exposed to fewer disease-causing germs that way, too.

Keeping your pet's life as stress-free as possible will not only make him or her happier, it may very well extend their lifespan, too!
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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