Acupuncture for Cats

You knew alternative medicine was catching on with some people, but how about for pets? The truth is, the use of acupuncture on animals traces back to China's Western Jin dynasty, circa 300 A.D. In the western world, animal acupuncture's roots are more recent and seeping into the mainstream. But when might it be appropriate to try it with your cat? And what should you expect from treatment? We asked New York-based veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist Stacey Joy Hershman to provide a fresh look at an age-old therapy.

An Overview
Acupuncture involves inserting thin, sterilized needles into pressure points slightly below the skin for between five and 30 minutes. It works by increasing blood flow, thereby promoting healing, relieving muscle spasms, stimulating nerves and helping to regulate the immune system. In doing all of the aforementioned, it is thought to treat the whole animal, rather than simply treating a set of symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with other treatments, including traditional Western medicine.

Kitty acupuncture is indicated mainly for musculoskeletal problems, skin problems, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal problems, inflammatory problems and cancer (to boost immune functioning and control pain). "Some common chronic illnesses treated with acupuncture include torn ligaments, muscle sprains, slipped discs and arthritis," says Dr. Hershman. 

Success for Some
Concerned about the side effects of conventional medicine, Barbara Stocker of Tuscan, Arizona took her cat to an acupuncturist to treat a hip joint disease. "When my cat, Violet, was diagnosed with hip dysplasia, we thought her fun-filled, active life was over. We didn't want to go with painkillers, so we talked to the vet about acupuncture," Barbara says.  "Violet has responded so well to the treatments. From the beginning, we saw increased mobility and energy. It was obvious that the treatment was alleviating some of her pain." Today, she receives an acupuncture treatment once a month.

Olivia Goldstein of Chicago wasn't sure how her new cat would react to the treatment, but decided to experiment as a last resort. "I adopted an abused cat, and before I adopted her, she'd gotten her front paw stuck in the grill of a car," says Olivia.  "The vet could have amputated the paw, but suggested trying acupuncture first. Apparently, the needles can restore nerve function, and that's what they did. Banjo walks normally now, and doesn't seem to have pain anymore."

Unique Approach to Healing
How a cat responds to acupuncture has a lot to do with its individual temperament. "It depends on the cat," says Dr. Hershman. "Some relax and stay still, or fall asleep. Others won't tolerate the needles." Because cats tend to be more comfortable in their home environment, Dr. Hershman and many other certified veterinary acupuncturists make house calls, though this option is more costly. (For example, Dr. Hershman charges $100 for a house call, plus the cost of the treatment -- between $65 and $80 per application.)

Dr. Hershman notes that the needles can also be used to treat depression and behavioral problems. "After the possibility of any underlying medical issues are ruled out, a cat can receive calming points for anxiety, stress and spraying of urine due to stress," says Dr. Hershman.

Acupuncture isn't a one-shot cure-all, and requires commitment on the part of a cat owner. "Treatment can be once a week for four to eight weeks depending on what the cat is dealing with," explains Dr. Hershman. If relief from symptoms occurs during the initial treatment period, some cats are put on a maintenance schedule of one visit each month.

Soothing Spas for Precious Paws

Soothing Spas for Precious Paws

As the growing trend of day spas for cats spreads across the country, felines everywhere are learning to love the same kind of pampering people do -- body wraps, massages, hot oil treatments, pedicures -- all in a relaxed, serene setting. Of course, most cats are natural born divas, so taking them to a spa geared specifically to their needs is one opportunity to provide them with the royal treatment they so richly deserve. "Because pets give their owners unconditional love, owners like to pay them back with a luxury experience," says Liz Sands, owner of Lulu and Luigi's Grooming Pawlor in Wayzata, Minn. That's why a visit to a cat spa is so special.

Stephanie Lantgen brings her two long-haired cats, Max and Moe, to Lulu and Luigi's at least once a month for The Shed Reducing Treatment and a full brush-out. "I can tell they're happier after a visit to the spa by the way they strut around afterwards," says Lantgen. "It also gives me peace of mind that their nails, teeth and coat are getting the best possible care."

Most spas get creative when it comes to making kitty feel special. Exotic treatments such as aromatherapy baths and even Thai massages are not uncommon. The blueberry facial is a big hit at The Golden Paw in San Diego, Calif. And at the Biju Pet Spa in Sherman Oaks, Calif., cats can have their hair dyed with organic, washable hair color. Or at The Cats' Inn in Belmont, Calif., every feline spa package comes with a pick-up and drop-off in the "kitty limo."

No time to visit a cat spa? Creating a spa-like atmosphere at home is easier then you might think. Christi Fabisiak, a cat groomer at Claws N Paws Day Spa in Fountain Valley, Calif., suggests using clippers, not scissors, when grooming a cat. "A cat's skin is a lot thinner than a dog's, so clippers are safer," she says. She also suggests wiping your cat's fur down with baby wipes to keep the dander down, which will prevent fur from matting.

Next, bath time! "Before giving a cat a spa-worthy bath, make sure your cat is relaxed," suggests Sands. "Place the cat in a shallow tub of lukewarm water. Bathe the cat slowly with a pet-friendly shampoo. Watch for the cat's reaction -- if it's nervous or skittish, cut the bath short. Have a warm, fresh-from-the-dryer towel at the ready."

After the bath, take a cue from Kelly Roll of Lakeland, Fla., and treat your cat to a salon-style blowout. "I spend ten minutes every day blow-drying my long-haired tabby Annabelle's hair -- first with the round brush, then the straight brush," she says. "She just loves being pampered!"

Cats Can Improve the Mental and Physical Health of Kids

Cats have always possessed a coolness factor. Uber-hip jazz artists were called “hep cats.” Felines grace billboards, conveying a sexy chic. Over the years, however, this coolness has somehow become confused with danger, perhaps because movie villains seem to favor felines, and Halloween evokes the old “bad luck” stereotype. It’s time that cats shed this dangerous reputation, because the truth is cats are good for us -- especially for kids.

If you don’t have a cat yet, you might reconsider adopting one. If you do already share your digs with a cat, the latest research should reinforce your fondness for your feline pal.

Cats Safeguard Against Respiratory Illness
In recent research published in the journal Pediatrics, Dr. Eija Bergroth, a pediatrician at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, studied 397 children from their birth onward. A diary was kept for each child, mentioning the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections, together with info about dog and cat contacts during the first year of life.

Kids that were in contact with dogs and cats had fewer instances of infection and, as a result, required fewer antibiotic treatments. (Antibiotics can, of course, come in handy, but they do sometimes have undesired side effects, such as nausea and rashes.) Children even had a lower risk of dying from infection, with the decrease associated with time spent with pets. As Bergroth and her team wrote, “both the weekly amount of contact with dogs and cats and the average yearly amount of contact were associated with decreased respiratory infectious disease morbidity.” They added: “Our findings support the theory that during the first year of life, animal contacts are important, possibly leading to better resistance to infectious respiratory illnesses during childhood.”

The researchers speculate that “animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system.” It’s therefore possible that early exposure to pets stimulates growing human bodies to jumpstart the immune system, which can then better kick into action to ward off illnesses with a health boost that could extend into adulthood. Some individuals are allergic to pet dander; for these people, the problems probably would outweigh the benefits, but the majority of people are not allergic to cats.

Cats May Help Prevent Cancer
Tied to the “cats are dangerous” stereotype is a misrepresentation of feline research over the years. Over the past several months, for example, tabloid-like headlines have falsely linked cats to cancer and even craziness. Marion Vittecoq of the Tour du Valat research center actually worked on the cancer-related research, and even she and her colleagues conclude that cats should not be blamed for human cancer. In fact, studies show just the opposite.

Vittecoq says that “studies that have focused on the link between cancer and cat ownership so far have found either no association at all or a reduced risk of cancer in cat owners.” Vittecoq and colleague Frederic Thomas mention a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and colleagues. It found that dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership was, the less chance the individual would suffer from this type of cancer.

Cats Promote Good Mental Health Too
So far, we’ve been addressing how cats can benefit our physical health. Studies also show that felines are good for our mental health too. For example, psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted multiple experiments to see how pet ownership affects people. Almost 400 individuals -- with pets and without -- participated.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

We haven’t even mentioned the other positive aspects of pet ownership, such as comfort, companionship and a pleasant, vibrant life force to share one’s days with. The fact that felines may also improve our mental and physical health is merely sweetening, so to speak, the already sweet kitty.

Cats have always possessed a coolness factor. Uber-hip jazz artists were called “hep cats.” Felines grace billboards, conveying a sexy chic. Over the years, however, this coolness has somehow become confused with danger, perhaps because movie villains seem to favor felines, and Halloween evokes the old “bad luck” stereotype. It’s time that cats shed this dangerous reputation, because the truth is cats are good for us -- especially for kids.

If you don’t have a cat yet, you might reconsider adopting one. If you do already share your digs with a cat, the latest research should reinforce your fondness for your feline pal.

Credit: Infographe_Elle    

Allergic to Cats? New Vaccine Could Help

Did you know that 8 to 10 percent of the population is allergic to cats? If you’re one of those individuals, then the itching, watering eyes and sneezing associated with cats are all too familiar.

Now, a new vaccine holds promise of not just diminishing cat-allergy symptoms, but of curing the problem altogether. An added perk is that, unlike drugs that come with a laundry list of scary side effects, this vaccine has next to none, according to its creator Mark Larche and his team. Here, Larche, a professor at McMaster University’s School of Medicine, explains how the cutting-edge new vaccine could help you or your cat-allergic friends and relatives.

Cat Allergy Cause and Effect
It is a common myth that cat fur itself causes all of the sneezing and wheezing in those who suffer from pet allergies. What’s on the fur, however, turns out to be more important. “Allergies to cats are caused by proteins that are secreted by the cat and spread onto its fur by grooming,” says Larche. “Our vaccine is composed of synthetic fragments of one (the most important one) of these proteins.”

To identify the protein and to learn more about it, he and his team analyzed blood samples from 100 patient volunteers who are allergic to cats. Doing this allowed the scientists to see which components of the protein activate T-cells in certain people. T-cells are helper cells that fight infection in the immune system.

“Allergies are a form of hypersensitivity,” explains Larche. “We all make immune responses to allergens that we encounter in the environment, but most people make a tolerant response that results in no inflammation. However, for reasons that are incompletely understood, some people make the wrong kind of response -- an allergic response.” By providing low doses of the allergen -- tweaked so they don’t contain the parts that may stimulate the immune system -- the researchers came up with the new vaccine.

How Patients Receive Treatments

The vaccine is still only available in drug trials, but it appears that four to eight doses may be required in the first year, with possibly none required for subsequent years. Larche thinks a needle-less injection system could be used to administer the needed doses in the future.

Stephen Durham, head of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology department at Imperial College London, says the data about the new vaccine is very encouraging. “A significant proportion of cat owners develop allergy to their cats, which varies from bothersome eye and nasal symptoms through to moderate-severe disease or even life-threatening asthma attacks,” says Durham. “Avoidance strategies may be impossible or refused.”

Durham mentions that traditional allergy shots pose a risk of serious side effects, “particularly in asthmatics.” This new vaccine promises to provide “good symptom-control and disease remission, while avoiding the risk of side effects,” he adds. Cat-allergy sufferers both with and without asthma have participated in the trials, and so far so good.

Other Ways of Curbing Cat Allergies
Until the new vaccine becomes widely available, the Humane Society of the United States suggests that you try these five steps if your household includes one or more cat-allergy sufferers:

1. Clean your house often to remove dust and cat dander. Vacuum or wash curtains, furniture covers, pet beds and other items.

2. Bathe your pet often. Consult with your veterinarian to make sure that you are doing this correctly and using products that will not deplete your cat’s skin and fur of necessary oils.

3. Set up an allergy-free area. Close this area, such as the bedroom, off to your cat.

4. Consider purchasing a HEPA air cleaner, perhaps just for the allergic individual’s bedroom. Central heating and cooling systems can also be outfitted with stronger filtration systems to help clean the air.

5. Make sure it’s a cat allergy. Many things in the home can cause allergic reactions. Even people who are allergic to cats can be allergic to other things, so be sure the individual receives a thorough checkup from an appropriate specialist.

Some very good news is that the same research know-how that resulted in the new cat-allergy vaccine is being applied to allergies caused by dust mites, ragweed, grass, birch tree and moulds. In the future, most allergies may therefore figuratively bite the dust.

Improve Cat Veterinary Office Visits

For many cat owners, taking kitty to the veterinarian is so fraught with struggle and discomfort that they avoid visits altogether. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats outnumber dogs as pets in this country, but dog owners take their pets to the veterinarian twice as often as cat owners do.

Your cat’s good health is dependent on regular examinations. The good news is that there’s plenty you can do to make the veterinary experience a better one for both you and your pet.

Cat Veterinary Office Tips

  • Make the cat carrier a home. Familiarize your cat with its carrier. The key is for the carrier to become a part of your cat’s everyday life. “Make it a comfortable resting, feeding or play location,” advises Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the CATalyst Council, which works to raise the level of care cats receive.

Marilyn Krieger, a Redwood City, Calif., certified cat behavior consultant, recommends using a hard carrier. Begin by taking the top off and leaving the bottom out for your cat. Place a soft, familiar blanket or treats in the carrier. Play with your kitty around the carrier. Eventually, you can add the top, but leave the door off. “Put the door on after your cat goes in and out on its own,” says Krieger. When you’re ready to travel with the carrier, try a spritz of Feliway, a calming pheromone spray. Bring another towel to cover the carrier, which can provide some security.

  • Be relaxed. Your cat knows when you’re upset. “If you’re anxious, your cat will be anxious,” says Dr. Deb Givin, a Portland, Maine, veterinarian. Try to schedule visits when you aren’t stressed or on a tight schedule.
  • Train your cat to travel. Mix in outings to other locations and try a “social” visit to your veterinarian’s office, where your cat is rewarded with a treat or two. Start by placing your cat in its carrier in the vehicle, then turn on the motor briefly before returning your kitty to the house. Add short trips around the block, then to the veterinarian’s parking lot, and finally to the reception area before scheduling a formal visit.
  • Make your cat feel safe. Allow your kitty to stay in its carrier in the waiting area, facing away from other animals. If your veterinarian doesn’t have a separate entrance or waiting area for cats, ask to be placed in an exam room as soon as possible, says Dr. Annie Harvilicz, founder and chief medical officer for Santa Monica, Calif.-based Animal Wellness Centers.
  • Provide comfort in the exam room. Remove the lid to your latching carrier and let your veterinarian examine your cat while it is still sitting in the bottom of the carrier. If you need to place your kitty on an exam table, lay that extra towel on the table to make a more comfortable surface.

What Your Veterinarian Can Do
Veterinarians can also work to make each visit a better experience. They should consider:

  • Office noise Their offices should be neither libraries nor stadiums, with no whispering, which mimics hissing, or loud noises.
  • Proper greetings “It’s a good idea to formally greet the cat and let the cat get to know you,” says Krieger. That might mean letting a cat sniff your fingers as the animal health care expert averts his or her gaze.
  • Careful handling Gentle, respectful handling is important to a cat’s sense of security. “Have several techniques for getting cats out of their carriers so you can accommodate any carrier style and cat temperament,” says Givin.
  • Bribery Tasty treats, catnip and play may help distract or reward a cat.

If both you and your veterinarian work to control the experience, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.