De-stress Veterinary Visits for Your Cat

Few cat owners relish the thought of taking their feline to the veterinarian, so imagine how your cat feels about it. “Cats are the ultimate control freaks,” explains Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif. “If you even so much as move a couch in your home, your cat will likely be in a tizzy for weeks.”

Richter is very gentle with his furry clients. He was recently named one of the top ten veterinarians in the entire country by Petplan pet insurance, but even he has seen many vet-phobic cats over the years. Is it a hopeless mission to ease the fears of a freaked out feline in such situations? Absolutely not, he says, as does Dr. Jane Brunt CATalyst Council Executive Director and former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Here’s what they suggest:

1. Schedule appointments at less busy times.

The same way you wouldn’t want to wait in a noisy room packed with malcontent patients, neither does your cat. Richter advises scheduling appointments either early in the morning, first thing, or toward the end of the vet’s day. In both cases, the crowd should have dissipated, making the atmosphere less noisy and chaotic.

Brunt additionally says that “you might want to consider finding a cat-friendly veterinarian. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has developed a program that certifies veterinary practices as ‘cat friendly.’” Participants have to apply and may obtain either a gold (“optimum level”) or silver (meets “essential criteria”) status.

2. Get your cat to like its carrier.

Richter echoes Brunt’s advice above. “You wouldn’t believe some of the carriers that people bring in,” he says. “Some look like they’ve lived on a workbench in a garage for ages. They come in dirty and smelly. It’s no wonder the cat hates the carrier.” He and Brunt recommend that owners do the following:

·         Leave the carrier out in the open in high cat traffic areas. The cat will then become more used to it and not only associate it with scary things.

·         Keep the carrier clean at all times. Cats are among the world’s most fastidious individuals.

·         Place a soft blanket, towel or other cover inside. Brunt says that many cats may even nap inside the carrier willingly.

·         Put food treats in the carrier every so often, again so that your pet will associate it with pleasant happenings.

3. Make the vet visit as fun as possible.

Your cat reads your emotions, so stay calm and upbeat. Drive smoothly, avoiding any bumps and sharp turns, if possible. Avoid loud air conditioning and radio, since less stimulation during potentially scary times is better for your cat.

4. Lessen visual and auditory stimulation while in the waiting room.

If you have a scared-y cat, it helps to lessen what your pet sees and hears. Ideally, your veterinary office will have separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats. Place a towel over your cat’s carrier, if necessary, to close out visual stimulation and some smells (your cat will be sensitive to these).

5. Work with your vet to determine the proper level of restraint.

Richter has some feline patients who seem to crave any and all attention, while others “get really wound up and are ready for blood by the time I enter the room.” Even cats that are tame at home can suddenly revert to a more feral state when out of their familiar environment. In those cases, it helps to have an understanding, experienced vet. Richter keeps detailed records on each cat patient, so that he knows exactly how to manage each feline’s needs.

6. Keep the visit brief.

“This is more on the vet,” Richter says. But you can help by not stopping for unnecessary social chats or running errands while your cat may be hoping to get back home.

7. At home, allow your cat to calm down.

“Cats are classically known for displaced aggression,” Richter explains. “They may dig you one if they are unhappy once out of the carrier. If stressed, just let them calm down for a while.”

All of the above might seem like a big hassle, but Brunt reminds that 68 percent of all cats over the age of three suffer from dental disease. She adds that most cases of diabetes can be prevented with proper advance care. “A simple checkup can help detect and treat preventable diseases and conditions that can cut a life short,” Brunt shares. Patience and preparation before vet visits can therefore offer big rewards.

How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses

You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.

Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”

Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.

GI Upset
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even pancreatitis.

Diabetes

Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes, advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer your cat some exercise.

Dental Disease

Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise. “Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your cat’s dental health.

Heartworm and Other Parasites

Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly application of a preventative will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.

Injuries and Trauma

The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.

Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put them at risk.”

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    

Top 10 $1,000 Cat Health Insurance Claims

Few of us consider that treatment for a single pet-health incident or condition can cost $1,000 or more -- a reason many cat owners give for surrendering their pets to shelters. A recent survey from Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the nation’s oldest and largest provider of pet health insurance, identified the top 10 most common claims that cost $1,000 or more. They are:

1. Torn knee ligament/cartilage

2. Foreign object in the intestine

3. Foreign object in the stomach

4. Intervertebral disc disease

5. Stomach torsion/bloat

6. Broken leg

7. Laryngeal paralysis

8. Tumor of the throat

9. Ear canal surgery/ablation

10. Ruptured bile duct

Heart disease, diabetes and other types of cancer didn’t make the list because the survey includes large one-time expenses rather than the cost of care for chronic diseases.

Common Sudden Expenses for Cat Owners
Out of the top 10, the most common costly problems affecting cats are Nos. 2 and 3, related to cats accidentally swallowing foreign objects like string, according to Dr. Silene Young, a veterinarian and the director of veterinary marketing for VPI. “Because the digestive tract is basically a long hose open at each end (mouth and rear), if a long, stringy object is ingested and then the ‘hose’ is wiggled around, the string ends up causing twisting and ‘knotting’ in the hose. This results in damage (holes) to the intestine (hose) and requires surgical removal.”

The surgical process isn’t simple, though. “As you can imagine, if you put a string through a hose then twisted it up and then pulled from each end, the string would cause more damage; it wouldn’t just pull out of the twisted mess of hose,” she explained. “Any surgery involving opening up the abdomen and cutting open intestines, in one or multiple locations, to remove objects requires a good deal of surgical time, anesthesia, pain control, medications and recovery.” The average cost for a pet insurance claim for such work comes close to $2,000.

Preventable Conditions
When shown the top 10 list, Dr. Karen Halligan, a veterinarian and the director of veterinary services at the Los Angeles SPCA, was surprised. “What I thought was interesting was that several of the conditions on the list were preventable.” Cat owners, for example, can keep strings, ribbon, tinsel and other dangerous-when-swallowed items hidden.

Halligan was also surprised with throat tumors being that common, since she rarely diagnoses them, but cancer in general is on the rise partially because pets are living longer. That’s an important point, because cats go through the aging process faster than we do. Prevention can help stave off certain health problems, but you will probably be caring for your pet through its old age, when medical issues can creep up.

Pet Insurance to the Rescue
The only thing likely to cure the shock you experience when a steep veterinary bill comes is pet health insurance. “Most of us will have pets with an expensive veterinary bill at least once,” says Young. “Pet insurance is how you plan for that eventuality so in a time of stress, you can focus on your cat and not your bank account.”

People often think that insurance is an investment that should pay back money. Some owners do save quite a bit, depending on when an illness or accident happens. Like home, auto or any other type of insurance, however, the real benefit is planning for the future -- with your cat in mind.

Cat Health Care on a Budget

During the economic meltdown, families are looking to cut expenses, including their pets’ health care costs. But Arden Moore, editor of Tufts University's Catnip magazine and author of Happy Cat, Happy You (Storey Press 2008), learned firsthand why it's sometimes a good idea to pay a little more up front and avoid costly veterinary bills later.

Moore had purchased pet health insurance for her two dogs and her youngest cat. But when her 12-year-old cat, Callie, had to undergo radioactive iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism, it cost $1,500 from her pocket. "Because of her advanced age and preexisting condition, the insurance policy would only cover accidents -- not medical conditions," Moore says.

The lesson she learned: get a health insurance policy when your cat is young, before it develops a health condition. "We love our pets," Moore says, "but medical procedures can be very expensive." Here are some other pointers on how to best maintain your cat's health during the recession, without it costing an arm and a leg:

Tip No. 1: Don't Skip the Annual Checkup
While it may be tempting to skip your cat's annual or biannual veterinary appointment, you may end up paying more in the end. At a routine checkup, your veterinarian can spot signs of illness so that you can treat them early, potentially saving a bundle on bills later on and possibly saving your cat's life.

"When talking about pet health care on a budget, treat it like your child’s health care -- it’s the one thing you don't want to skimp on," says Pam Johnson-Bennett, certified animal behavior consultant and author of several books on cats, including Psycho Kitty (Ten Speed Press 2007). "Your cat should be going to the veterinarian a minimum of once a year for a checkup and whatever else the cat needs for its stage of life. The sooner you find out about something that might be wrong, the easier and cheaper it is to correct."

Tip No. 2: Shop Around for Vaccines
Vaccinations are one form of routine care that your cat needs on a regular schedule. But did you know that you have choices about where to get them done? Low-cost -- and safe -- alternatives are widely available for less than you'd pay at a veterinarian’s office.

First, try your local animal shelter or humane society. They often hold walk-in clinics. It may cost you in time (there are often waiting lines), but it will save you in your pocketbook. Certain humane societies, for example, have advertised feline leukemia vaccines for $15 apiece and rabies shots for as little as $12. Fees can vary.

If your local animal welfare organization doesn't offer vaccinations, ask other cat owners or inquire at your local pet shop about where an animal lover on a budget can get low-cost vaccines for kitty. 

Tip No. 3: Ask for Generic Medications
Pet medications can cost a bundle. So when your cat needs a prescription, don't hesitate to pop the question that you've learned to ask your own doctor: "Is there a cheaper, generic version of the medication available?"

"Veterinarians are like that, too. You can ask them if a generic is OK," Johnson-Bennett says. "If it's not, they will specifically write that on the prescription." She also suggests that if you must spring for the name brand, see if your veterinarian might let you pay in increments on a payment plan if you've lost your job or are having other money troubles. There's no harm in asking.

Tip No. 4: Brush Kitty's Teeth and Hair
Get in the habit of brushing your cat's teeth at least a couple of times a week, Moore recommends. Use special toothpaste and brushes made specifically for cats. You can find these at most pet stores. Cats are physiologically different than humans, so don't try your own favorite brand on your cat. Regular dental care may prevent oral health problems that can be more costly in the end. "It can cost up to $400 to do a professional dental cleaning," Moore says. "By just getting in the habit, you'll be able to see early on if the gums aren't pink or if there is a tooth problem."

By the same token, another regular grooming routine to get into with your cat is brushing its hair. "I have a short-haired cat, and I brush it not only to keep the coat clean, but to let me feel for any lumps and bumps that weren't there last week," says Johnson-Bennett. Another positive effect of a regular brushing is that you can possibly cut down on your cat's hairballs. The more dead hair you remove, the less the cat is ingesting. Hairballs can become costly if they cause an intestinal blockage, which may jeopardize both your cat and your pocketbook.

Tip No. 5: Practice Good Nutrition and Don't Overfeed
Moore suggests that you spend a little more -- even in tough times -- to buy a good-quality commercial cat food made with real protein and all the other nutritional elements that cats need. In the end, you're actually going to save more on veterinary bills than you would if you started buying bargain-priced kitty food. To help cut costs, buy in bulk sizes. Moore recommends putting extra food in resealable freezer bags, adding a date and storing the food until you need it; however, freezing will not extend the “best used by” date of the product.

Keeping your cat at a healthy weight can also prevent future health problems. "Fat cats may look cute, but those cats can cost you because they’re more prone to developing diabetes, arthritis and other conditions," Moore says. "Treat them with calorie-free hugs, rather than a bunch of extra food treats."

Tip No. 6: Try Pet Health Insurance
Ultimately, as Moore discovered, it may be worth your while to spring for cat health insurance from the start. For as low as $8 per month, you can find some basic coverage for your cat that will pay up to 80 percent of most veterinary bills related to major illnesses or accidents. There are a variety of companies and groups that now offer cat health insurance, including Pets Best and VPI Pet Insurance. Even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals now offers pet insurance in conjunction with the Hartville Group.

Here are some quick questions to ask when considering cat health insurance:

  • Are there discounts for insuring multiple pets in a household?
  • What are the different tiers of coverage, and what is the maximum per ailment that each tier will pay out?
  • Does the plan cover wellness visits and routine care?
  • What is the lifetime maximum payout?
  • How much will your costs increase as your pet ages?

As Moore found out the hard way, cat health insurance "­­­is your safety net."