The New Cat Urinary Health Problem Preventive

When New York City account executive Ingrid Fulmont noticed a small amount of blood in the litter box of her 3-year-old cat, Simon, she rushed him to the veterinarian. “Was he eating and playing normally?” the veterinarian asked. “Was he urinating more often?” Fulmont said she’d noticed more frequent trips to the litter box. She also suspected he might have soiled the rug once or twice, but otherwise, he was his happy, hungry self.

The veterinarian took a urine sample before diagnosing Simon with FLUTD, or feline lower urinary tract disease, a common condition in otherwise healthy adult cats. Simon was prescribed increased water intake, a low stress lifestyle and a veterinary formula diet.

FLUTD can develop when a cat has a lot of crystals in its urine, which are irritating to the bladder. Veterinary formulas that treat FLUTD balance urinary pH to minimize crystal formation, says Tricia Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists. Below, Dr. Joyce elaborates on FLUTD and other common feline urinary health issues.

Blood in the urine is one sign that something has gone awry in your cat’s urinary tract. Other signs include frequent and prolonged attempts at urination, urination outside the litter box, excessive licking of the genital area and even crying out during urination. These symptoms may indicate a serious condition that warrants a trip to the veterinarian.

The Three Most Common Urinary Tract Issues
No. 1: FLUTD The most common urinary tract health problem in cats is FLUTD. This painful, yet benign, problem can clear up with treatment but may recur throughout the cat’s life span. The initial episode usually happens in healthy cats between 2 and 6 years of age, often due to the presence of bladder-irritating crystals that most frequently form in carnivores. For cats with clinical signs of having a lot of crystals, put them on diet therapy that adjusts the pH of their diet. A diet that promotes more urine acidity can help to ward off crystal formation.

No. 2: UTI The second most common cat urinary tract problem is infection, the all-too-familiar (to human females, anyway) UTI. These infections are common in older cats with underlying health issues, such as diabetes and kidney problems. The symptoms are the same as FLUTD, but treatment is different, requiring antibiotics. Healthy or younger cats rarely get UTIs, because they make more concentrated urine that isn’t hospitable to bacteria.

No. 3: Urinary Tract Obstruction Third on the list is urinary tract obstruction. Particularly in male cats, the urethra is very narrow, which makes it prone to obstruction. A bladder stone moves from the bladder to the urethra, and he’s plugged up. A cat with a stone will have the same symptoms as a cat with FLUTD but will also become progressively sicker, vomiting and refusing food. In this case, an immediate trip to the veterinarian is crucial, as urinary obstruction can be life-threatening. If a blockage is found, catheterization will be the first step. Surgery may ultimately be required to remove the stone.

Urinary Tract Health Maintenance
Below are steps you can take now to prevent urinary tract health problems in your cat.

  • Diet Ask your veterinarian if a pH-balancing diet would be good preventive medicine for your healthy adult cat. These foods may help stop the formation of crystals that are irritating Fluffy’s bladder. 

  • Weight Overweight cats are more likely to develop urinary tract issues. Keep your furry friend at a healthy weight to minimize the chance of many health problems.

  • Water Ensure your cat is drinking its water. Make water tempting by flavoring it with clam or tuna juice. Leave a dripping faucet for cats that like to drink from the sink, or glasses of water around your home for cats that prefer that.

  • Stress Monitor your cat’s stress level. Crystal formation may be related to anxiety -- the sort that cats experience after a move -- or when a new animal or person comes to live in the home. Consult your veterinarian about feeding pH-balancing kibble as a preventive measure if your cat is facing one of these transitions.

As for Simon, his new diet and increased water intake solved his potty problems, which have yet to recur. Fulmont reports that he is back to his litter box using ways, and that both of them are truly relieved.

Flu Season for Cats

You’re sneezing and coughing, aching all over, and you feel just all-around rotten. It’s flu season, but you fear you’re not alone: Kitty’s sneezing, too. You wonder, Did I give my cat the flu?

Relax -- you didn’t. Human and feline influenza viruses differ, but your cat may have an upper respiratory infection common among felines.

Cat Flu
“Herpesvirus and calicivirus are the two chief infectious agents that account for 90 percent of feline upper respiratory infections,” says Dr. Karen Miller Becnel of the Cat Hospital of Metairie, in Louisiana. “Most cats are exposed to one or the other virus at some point in their lives.”

Some cats, however, are more vulnerable to cat flu than others. Persian cats may be predisposed to these conditions: Because their faces are flattened, they tend to tear more and can develop an inflammation within the skin folds, which can open the door to virus entry. If you have a Persian cat, gently wipe its face clean daily with a warm, damp cloth. Be careful when cleaning around the eye area.

Other vulnerable cats are those from animal shelters, the ones that otherwise live in close quarters with other cats and those living outdoors. Kittens are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems aren’t mature enough to fight off either virus. The infections are easily spread between cats through bodily contact, sneezing, or nasal or eye discharge. 

Other than sneezing and coughing, symptoms of cat flu include loss of appetite, open-mouthed breathing, high fever, squinting, cloudy eyes or severe swelling of the tissue around the eyes, and heavy yellow or green eye discharge. In addition, a cat with feline calicivirus may have lesions around the mouth and tongue, making eating and drinking painful.

Most people with the flu take over-the-counter medicines and retreat to their beds, but flu-stricken felines need professional help. “These infections can be quite severe,” warns Dr. Becnel. “It is best to seek professional treatment for any ‘cold’ in a cat, especially a young one. Untreated, the cat could be left with permanent damage to the eyes, a complete loss of vision, a chronic sinus infection or even the loss of life itself.”

Although viruses generally cause feline respiratory infections, most veterinarians use antibiotics to treat them. The reason is that bacteria, which can complicate the cat’s condition and create additional discomfort, accompany many such infections. A veterinarian may also prescribe eye ointments for affected eyes and suggest over-the-counter human nose drops to ease nasal congestion. Generally, the virus lasts between seven and 14 days.

If your cat shows signs of feline flu, take the following steps:

  • See your veterinarian A professional can determine whether your cat has an upper respiratory infection and map out an appropriate course of treatment.
  • Practice good hygiene Feline viruses can live outside the cat’s body for a while. Calicivirus, for example, can survive for as long as two weeks. Be scrupulous about washing bowls, bedding or anything else with which your cat comes into contact. And if you have other cats, always wash your hands and clothing after handling the sick cat so that you don’t spread the virus to the other pets.
  • No human cold meds Although nasal spray for humans can help a cat with a stuffed-up nose, other medications for humans should be kept away from cats. “Never use human cold medications,” warns Dr. Becnel. “These contain aspirin or acetaminophen, which are toxic for cats.”
  • Be proactive The best way to handle cat flu is to keep it from becoming too serious. “Despite the highly contagious nature of all feline upper respiratory infections, most cats can be protected from severe disease,” says Dr. Becnel. The first line of defense is vaccination, either by injection or by nasal spray. Keeping your cat safe and cozy indoors with you, even if you are feeling under the weather yourself, helps as well.

How Minor Cat Health Issues Become Major

It might sound like a page out of a spy novel, but your cat is a master of disguise. Unfortunately, this skill isn’t always in your cat’s best interest. That’s because felines are adept at hiding health issues until illnesses can escalate into serious problems.

“It’s the nature of cats,” explains Dr. Eileen R. Adamo, DVM, who runs a felines-only practice in Penfield, N.Y. “They kind of put on a good face, show they’re fine. They are masters of hiding illness and pain.”

Your cat disguises its aches and pains because showing weakness would have made its feline ancestors more vulnerable in the wild, Dr. Adamo says. Your kitty will be vulnerable, as well, if you don’t pay attention to health warning signs. It’s important to recognize when outwardly minor symptoms could indicate a more significant, underlying problem.

“You have to be super sensitive to any change,” Dr. Adamo advises. Here are warning signs Dr. Adamo and other experts say you should never ignore:

  • Increased vocalization If you’re suddenly holding a pillow over your ears at night because your furry friend is yowling, your cat is actually trying to tell you something. The howling or yowling could be a sign of several health issues, say the experts. For example, a cat that howls at night could have thyroid problems, says Dr. Jessica Stern, DVM, who runs a feline veterinary practice in Columbus, Ohio. Left untreated, hyperthyroidism can affect almost every aspect of a cat’s health and even cause heart problems. If hyperthyroidism is suspected, your veterinarian will likely order blood work and a test to check thyroid-related hormone levels. Among treatment options are medications and surgical removal of the thyroid. Yowling could also be a sign of high blood pressure or even cognitive changes in an older cat, says Dr. Adamo.

  • Changes in litter box behavior If your cat suddenly stops using the litter box to urinate, it could indicate a urinary tract infection or urinary tract disease, says Dr. Stern. Left untreated, some urinary problems can lead to life-threatening obstructions. If you notice that your cat is producing more urine than usual, it could signal the onset of diabetes, hyperthyroidism or chronic progressive kidney disease, says Dr. Adamo. Diabetes can be managed with early detection, and your veterinarian might prescribe oral medications or insulin injections. Progressive kidney disease is a common and serious condition affecting older cats, but treatment plans could slow down the disease’s progression.

  • Bad breath If you catch an unpleasant whiff every time your cat opens its mouth, it’s time for a checkup. Bad breath isn’t the norm for cats. It can be a sign of dental disease, even if your cat is still eating regularly, says Dr. Adamo. “People tend to think, ‘If I had a sore tooth, I wouldn’t want to eat,’” she says. “Cats will find a way to eat even with a sore mouth.” Dental disease can lead to abscesses, bone loss, loose teeth and even infection that can spread to other parts of your cat’s body. Bad breath could also be a warning sign of an oral mass or kidney disease, cautions Dr. Stern. Your veterinarian will likely place your cat under general anesthesia to clean its teeth or perform needed extractions. You can help maintain your cat’s dental health by brushing its teeth with products designed for felines.

  • Vomiting It’s not a pleasant task, but you need to know whether your cat is coughing up hairballs or vomiting. “People are very quick to write off vomiting in cats,” Dr. Adamo says. An occasional hairball with its distinctive tubular shape isn’t usually cause for concern. However, if your cat throws up more than once a month, it’s time to visit your veterinarian, says Dr. Adamo. Increased vomiting can be related to pancreatitis and/or inflammatory bowel disease. Acute pancreatitis may be life threatening, and inflammatory bowel disease is a chronic condition that can require dietary management and anti-inflammatory medication.

  • Dinnertime pickiness Your cat suddenly turns its nose up at its favorite food. Is your friend becoming a demanding gourmand? If your cat walks up to its food dish and then walks away without eating, it could be feeling nauseous, say the experts. Nausea can have many underlying causes, such as liver disease, kidney disease and inflammatory bowel disease. Your veterinarian will evaluate the cause of the nausea and may prescribe medication to relieve the symptoms.

  • Changes in grooming If your kitty isn’t grooming as thoroughly as usual, it could have an endocrine disease, such as feline diabetes or kidney disease, says Dr. Stern. Your cat’s endocrine system includes glands and organs that produce regulating hormones. Problems with the system can affect your kitty’s grooming habits. An unkempt cat might also be suffering from oral discomfort or arthritis, both of which can be eased with proper veterinary care.

  • Social interaction Too often, feline owners attribute their pet’s sudden aloofness to the nature of cats, says Dr. Adamo. “If your cat is dragging itself under the bed, going off into its own area when it normally would be socializing, that’s a big clue,” she says. Your cat might be anxious, stressed or in pain. A visit to your veterinarian can help to determine the cause of your cat’s behavior.

If you notice any of these symptoms or other changes in your cat’s behavior, don’t hesitate, says Dr. Adamo. Either call your veterinarian to ask if a symptom is worth further evaluation or schedule a visit. And don’t feel like you have to diagnose the problem right then and there. “Don’t wait and don’t feel like you’ve got to figure it out,” says Dr. Adamo. “You don’t need to worry about that. We’ll sort that out. That’s what you’re paying me for.”

How to Strengthen Your Cat's Immunity

Most people don’t think of a cat as a four-legged war machine. A feline that is napping on a soft blanket, playfully pouncing on its favorite toy or rubbing up against his/her human doesn’t exactly look like a soldier. But make no mistake. Your feline friend is a kitty combatant, battling 24/7 to defeat a tenacious enemy. That enemy is germs, and the stakes are your cat’s health -- even its life. 

Fortunately, your cat’s equipped with a remarkable set of defenses: its immune system. But while this system is amazing, it’s not always able to withstand assaults from germs and to fight off resulting illnesses. That’s where you come in. You can strengthen your cat’s immune system so that your pet is better able to combat germs and disease by following these four steps.

Step One: Feed Well
Just like you, your cat needs good nutrition to keep its immune system in tip-top shape. “We do believe diet is important,” says Vicky Thayer, DVM, who is on the board of directors of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and owns Purrfect Practice, P.C. in Lebanon, Ore. She recommends a diet that’s high in proteins -- particularly those with amino acids, such as taurine, arginine and carnitine -- and relatively low in carbohydrates. Proteins are crucial to building and maintaining immune system strength. High-quality manufactured cat foods can fit this need. Access to fresh water is also important.

Step Two: Reduce Stress
Stress can lower your cat’s bodily defenses, so keeping stress to a minimum is important. “Crowding with too many other cats, poor sanitation and poor ventilation increase exposure to pathogens and stress,” says Dr. Thayer. “And I have historically seen that if one has more than five cats, especially in a smaller space, the amount of behavior issues and illnesses seem to increase.” 

Step Three: Enrich the Environment
A good diet, clean home and plenty of personal space aren’t always enough to strengthen a cat’s immune system, although they certainly help. Equally important is an environment that provides lots of exercise opportunities and chances for your cat to tap into its natural instincts. “Regular moderate exercise enhances immune function,” explains Dr. Thayer. “Play toys, especially with owners, multilevel housing structures, ramps and outdoor enclosures all help. Cats have historically been hunters and outdoors looking for prey. Adding some of this natural behavior back to their [indoor] routine is important to keeping them disease free and healthy.”

Step Four: Consider Alternatives
Some alternative (also known as complementary) therapies may go a long way toward reducing the stresses that can compromise a cat’s immune system. Dr. Thayer maintains, “Anything that relieves pain and stress for cats helps their immune systems. So massage and acupuncture all have their uses.” That said, it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian before treating your cat with any alternative therapies. 

Keeping your cat healthy doesn’t have to be difficult. Just give your pet the weapons it needs to keep its immune system strong and to fight off disease. These include a good diet, minimal stress, a rich home environment and openness to alternative therapies. With that strategy in place, you’ll greatly increase your feline friend’s ability to win the battles against illness for years to come.

Cat Summertime Disease Safeguards

Summer often conjures up pleasant thoughts of vacations, outdoor cookouts and warm afternoons at the beach. For your cat, though, it can be the season of miserable infections spread by a number of unpleasant parasites, such as roundworms and giardia, which proliferate in warm temperatures. These bloodthirsty bugs of summer can cause serious health problems for your cat -- and can endanger your health too. Just remember that no parasite is invincible, so with a little know-how and prevention, you and your cat can both enjoy the summer months.

No Fleas, Please
Fleas seem to multiply by literal leaps and bounds in the summer, but they can thrive whenever weather temperatures rise and are known as a year-round problem in areas with warm climates. “Fleas can also survive very harsh winters in protected places like barns, garages and houses,” says Michael Paul, DVM, executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council. Fleas live in a cat’s fur and bite the skin, causing your cat to scratch and lick itself more than usual. When ingested, fleas can transmit tapeworms, another parasite. White sections of a tapeworm can be seen around your cat’s backside or in your cat’s bed.

If you notice fleas, talk to your veterinarian about how to safely use flea-killing products. Treat any other pets in the house as well, since the fleas can jump from pet to pet. Clean all rugs, bed covers and other areas where your cat sleeps. If your cat has tapeworms, your veterinarian will most likely recommend that you get rid of the fleas first. He or she will then give your cat a treatment that will kill the tapeworms.

Guarding Against Giardia
Unlike tapeworms, giardia is a one-celled parasite that cats can pick up from damp ground or the feces of another infected animal. “The main symptoms are diarrhea and vomiting,” says Charles Cohen, DVM, of the Sherman Oaks Veterinary Group in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who notes that giardia is far more common in Western states than in the East. Your vet can determine if your cat has picked up this parasite by examining a stool sample. Some cats require several rounds of medication to get rid of the parasite, says Dr. Cohen.

Getting Rid of Roundworms
Cats can pick up roundworms in the egg stage by eating an infected rodent, which is one reason why veterinarians recommend keeping cats indoors. Cats can also get it from warm soil. The dirt transfer happens when the eggs wind up on a cat’s fur, and the feline could then ingest them while grooming. Kittens may become infected when nursing from an infected mother cat. The eggs will then hatch in the victim’s intestinal system and migrate to other organs.

Roundworms can cause diarrhea and vomiting, and may give your cat a pot-bellied appearance. Examination of a feces sample will help your veterinarian confirm whether or not your cat has roundworms. Since this parasite can be transmitted to humans, you must wash your hands after handling feces and keep children from playing in areas where animals do their business.

Heartworm Heartbreak
Heartworm larvae enter a cat’s blood through a bite from infected mosquitoes, which proliferate in the warm and humid days of summer. The larvae can then migrate to a cat’s heart or lungs. Coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting and weight loss are all symptoms of potentially fatal heartworm infection. Your veterinarian may need to conduct tests to find out for sure if your cat has heartworms. Although extra vigilance is required in the spring and summer, year-round treatment, under the guidance of your veterinarian, is key. “Heartworm preventives keep heartworms that are transmitted by mosquitoes from maturing to the next stage when they begin to develop into adult worms,” says Dr. Paul.

Ticked Off
Although ticks pose a more common problem for dogs, they also prey on cats and humans. Prevalent during the warm months, ticks are particularly prone to be around forested areas. These tiny, dark parasites crawl onto a cat, bury their heads into the skin, and expand as they take in the victim’s blood. They are visible to the eye, so check your cat’s fur regularly for ticks all summer. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which can be a serious health threat to humans, but less so for cats. If you see a tick on your cat, visit your veterinarian so he or she can remove it. You can pull it out yourself with tweezers, but be sure to remove the head of the tick; otherwise the tick bite could become infected.

Hookworm Heave-ho
Too small to be visible, hookworms enter a cat’s body as larvae picked up from the soil. They can then penetrate the cat’s skin, as well as your own. From that point, they may migrate to the victim’s lungs and intestines. The main symptom of an infected cat is dark stools. Fortunately, hookworms are easy for veterinarians to diagnose and treat.

Even though many parasites proliferate in the summer, most are a year-round reality. “Parasites are not generally the seasonal problem people think they are,” says Dr. Paul. This means that you should talk to your veterinarian about preventive medications and practices before and after summer rolls around. Tell your veterinarian if you plan to take your cat on vacation, especially if it’s a destination where different parasites may be more common, says Dr. Cohen.

In order to fully protect your cat, make these seven steps a part of your everyday routine:

  • Clean your cat’s litter box regularly.

  • Pay attention to your cat’s behavior, appetite or appearance, and visit the veterinarian if you notice any changes.

  • Take kittens to the vet for deworming and related medications.

  • Take your adult cat to the veterinarian at least once a year for checkups, fecal exams and parasite preventive medication.

  • Prevent your cat from hunting mice or other wild animals. Keeping your cat indoors at all times is optimal.

  • Never allow your cat to come into contact with the feces of other animals. For multi-cat households, provide one or more large (18-inch by 14-inch, approximately) litter boxes.

  • Wash your hands well after contact with a pet’s feces.

  • Dwelling on parasites can ruin any summertime daydream, but don’t put these pesky bugs out of your mind. With proper safeguarding, these potentially deadly, unwanted guests will choose to vacation somewhere else this summer!