Are You Protecting Your Cat’s Health?

We all want our pets to live healthy lives, but are we as informed as we should be? Take this quiz to see how you measure up.

1. I schedule basic veterinary checkups for my adult cat:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. When needed

Optimal answer: b. Twice a year

Although annual visits are a good start, twice-yearly exams are your best insurance against hidden diseases, says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina. “I also recommend checking your pet’s blood test and urinalysis once a year in patients over 7 years old,” he says.

2. I treat my cat with over-the-counter medicines (e.g., painkillers):

a. As soon as symptoms appear

b. Only in emergencies

c. Never

Optimal answer: c. Never

The No. 1 cat poison is human medication. “Simple human drugs, like acetaminophen, can be fatal to cats,” says Dr. Patricia Joyce, an emergency veterinarian in New York City. Keep your pills to yourself.

3. I check my cat’s ears:

a. Once a year

b. Every few months

c. Every few weeks

Optimal answer: c. Every few weeks

Ear infections are preventable with careful monitoring. “If the earflap is red and inflamed; if the canal is narrow, has a heavy buildup of debris or is smelly; or if touching your cat’s ears is painful; you have a problem that needs to be addressed,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian in California.

4. My cat gets its teeth cleaned:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. Once a year

Annual cleanings are recommended, but Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian, says some cats need more. “Just like some people have more cavities, some cats have significantly more severe dental disease than others. Your veterinarian will be able to determine how often they need those teeth cleaned,” she says. Between cleanings, brush your cat’s teeth at least weekly.

5. I bring my cat for vaccine renewal:

a. Yearly or sooner

b. Every three years

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. or b. Yearly or sooner, or every three years

Core vaccinations are given every three years, others last a year or less. Discuss this with your veterinarian and know the schedule for each vaccine.

6. I enrich my cat’s environment by:

a. Leaving toys out

b. Creating a window perch

c. Dedicating part of a room to my cat, with toys and structures

Optimal answer: c. Dedicating part of a room to my cat, with toys and structures

“Even though cats can be elusive, dedicating a part of the room to them -- with toys, perches and attention -- is essential to making them feel part of the home,” says Nelson. This simple step can help prevent behavior problems and unwanted pounds, and it can even prevent disease.

7. I exercise my cat:

a. Daily

b. Weekly

c. Seriously? Exercise my cat?

Optimal answer: a. Daily

To keep your cat lean and healthy, and to prevent many behavioral problems, daily exercise is key. “Two to three five-minute play periods using interactive toys, laser pointers, dancing feathers or whatever your cat enjoys is just as important as nightly chin-scratches,” says Ward.

8. I let my cat roam outside:

a. Never

b. All the time

c. Only when I go out

Optimal answer: a. Never

“Today’s outdoor environment poses many dangers for cats,” says Ward. “Whether being struck by a car, attacked by a dog or poisoned by trash, it’s always better to keep your kitty indoors.” Cruz recommends a microchip implant, just in case.

9. My cat’s food bowl is made of:

a. Plastic

b. Ceramic

c. Metal

Optimal answer: b. or c. Ceramic or metal

“Plastic is associated with allergies, ulceration of the lips and chin acne,” says Nelson. Plastic is also more likely to retain bacteria.

Score:

Eight to nine correct: Congratulations! You are doing a great job of safeguarding your cat against medical problems. But remember that as your cat ages, you’ll need to adapt too. Maintain a close relationship with your vet and your cat will live a long, happy life.

Five to seven correct: Looks like you’ve got a decent foundation when it comes to safeguarding your cat against medical problems, but there’s room for improvement. Go back over your incorrect answers and take action on them!

Zero to four correct: Oh no! We’re sorry to say it, but at 50 percent or less, you scored an F. You’ve got some work to do when it comes to safeguarding your cat against medical problems.

Can a Pain Management Center Help Your Cat?

From dealing with bad knees to recovering from a recent surgery, cats nationwide are benefiting from new interest in animal pain management treatments. These veterinary practices specializing in pain alleviation are now available to help you and your cat, no matter the situation, whether you have an elderly cat or one suffering from a more chronic condition.

How the Process Starts
All veterinarians offer pain medications, but you might want a specialist in pain management. If so, and depending on where you live, you might wind up at places like the Animal Pain Management Center in Snyder, N.Y.; The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo.; or at Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital & Pain Management Center in Lafayette, Colo.

Even if you are seeking a second opinion, your cat will likely have to undergo routine blood work and X-rays. “These allow us to see exactly what’s going on,” says Michele Beveridge, practice manager of Mountain Ridge. Cats are notorious for hiding pain and illness. Conversely, some of their behaviors might be misinterpreted as pain. It’s therefore essential to find out the truth behind the symptoms. “We cannot just pass out medications,” says Beveridge. “If medications are prescribed, we also have to run routine blood tests, since each individual handles medications differently.”

Available Treatments
Once a diagnosis is made, one or more pain medications may be prescribed. Alternative treatments are also possible. These could be offered in addition to the prescribed meds. They may include one or more of the following:

  • Acupuncture Small-animal acupuncture care is becoming more common both nationally and internationally. Mark Bianchi, a holistic veterinarian at the White Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Edmond, Okla., is certified to provide veterinarian acupuncture by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. “As pets age, natural wear and tear on the joins can lead to pain and reduce a pet’s ability to move comfortably,” says Bianchi. “Pets that have sustained an accident injury may also suffer recurring pain, even after the injury has healed. Pet acupuncture is a natural way to relieve this pain by restoring balance to the nervous system and enhancing a pet’s natural endorphins for pain relief.”
  • Laser Therapy Laser therapy involves a low-light laser that is run over areas of the cat’s body. Doctors now use this kind of therapy on humans too. “It can decrease inflammation, improve blood flow to target areas and may decrease pain,” says Beveridge.
  • Stem Cell Therapy To treat pain and chronic conditions, some veterinarians now also use another carryover from human medicine: stem cell therapy. “It requires a surgical procedure,” says Beveridge. “Fat is removed from the animal’s stomach. Stem cells are harvested from the fat and are then later injected into trouble sites.” Rob Landry, veterinarian and owner of Mountain Ridge, says she has successfully treated both dogs and cats with stem cell therapy.

Cats Can Live a Pain-free Life
Thanks to new therapies and animal pain management specialists, your cat has a very good chance of living a long, healthy and pain-free life. If your cat suffers from a serious illness, sometimes discomfort can hurt the chances for healing. For example, many cat cancer patients suffer from appetite loss after chemotherapy. Bianchi believes acupuncture can help to both relieve pain following cancer treatments and prevent this loss of appetite that often happens. Your cat then has a better chance of eating as usual, keeping your pet’s strength up at a time when fortitude is needed.

Your cat’s behavior might even improve for the better. “Many times, a pet may act out or be aggressive toward other humans or animals because of pain,” says Bianchi. “By relieving the pain, a pet’s natural even temperament emerges, resolving the behavioral problems.”

6 Ways to Keep Your Cat Healthy in 2012

With the turn of every year, countless people resolve to improve their health by losing weight, exercising and more. The vast majority breaks those promises and ends up disappointed. So rather than subject yourself to another year of self-defeat, why not resolve to improve the health of your cat instead? Below are a handful of both timely and timeless ideas to choose from.

1. Assess your choice of cat food. As your cat ages, its nutritional needs will change. “Aging brings with it physiological changes. Some are obvious, others are not,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams. “Skin and hair coat changes may be obvious, while lean muscle mass loss and digestive or immune system failure may be less evident or hidden.” The science behind today’s cat food has gotten specific enough that there are different blends for almost any situation. Talk to your vet about whether your cat is due for a change.

2. Upgrade your cat’s ID tag. The classic heart-shaped metal collar charm may help your cat get returned if it wanders away, but technology allows for so much more. Dr. Patricia Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists says, if possible, to use a GPS tracker that allows you to find your cat wherever it is. Another option is a QR code tag, like those offered by PetQRTag. The tags are the same size as a regular ID tag but are not as constrained by space. They point a person to a Web page that can hold as much information as you’d like to give, from contact info to special medical issues your cat has. As your cat ages and your contact information changes, the tag never needs to be replaced.

3. Hop on the social media bandwagon. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you diagnose and work through potential health problems. A standout is PetPop.com, where pet owners create profiles and link up. In the PetPop Healthy section, a panel of veterinary experts fields questions from site members and provides advice.

4. Enrich your cat’s environment. Scientific evidence continues to show that when a cat is stressed, it can get sick. The good news is that the same scientific data has now shown that an enriched environment can help prevent illness. “Happy cats are healthy cats, and their environment plays a role in that,” says Dr. Tony Buffington, a professor of veterinary clinical sciences at Ohio State University. “There’s now good evidence for this.”

5. Don’t ignore dental health. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, periodontal disease is the most diagnosed problem in cats. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Dental disease is one of the most preventable conditions in veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a veterinarian in Arlington, Va., who is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. Schedule an appointment with your cat’s doctor for a teeth cleaning, and start doing brushing on your own as well.

6. Get pet health insurance. Sometimes even the best prevention can’t stop disease or an accident, and veterinary bills can add up quickly. It can put pet owners in the most difficult of positions: You either set yourself up for extreme financial hardship, or consent to putting your cat down. Health insurance allows an alternative. Thanks to more modest monthly premium payments, decisions to undergo costly procedures are easier to make.

So this New Year’s, let yourself off the hook and make a resolution for your cat. Whether you opt for the tried-and-true or the timely and trendy, following through with just a few of these tips can make a world of difference.

Cat Cancer Study Sheds Light on Human Cancer

Cancer is the leading cause of death in cats, according to the Pet Cancer Center. Among humans, cancer remains a primary cause of death around the globe, the World Health Organization reports, with up to 84 million people projected to die of cancer by the year 2015.

Such statistics are daunting. But for reasons not yet fully understood, cat cancers tend to be among the most aggressive among mammals. It’s possible that we’re just not detecting them early enough. Researchers, however, are learning more about cancer, with treatments improving with advanced science, knowledge and technology. Kim Selting, an associate teaching professor of oncology at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Veterinary Medicine, shares some of her latest findings, which could also apply to our health.

The Mammal Cancer Connection

Researchers, like Selting, are working to establish connections that can benefit all mammals suffering from cancer. “Recent initiatives in medicine emphasize the fact that despite differences in anatomy, the basic parts are the same across species, especially mammals,” she explains. “And despite minor differences in physiology, those parts have very similar functions and responses to disease across species.”

As a result, her university has created the One Health, One Medicine initiative. It emphasizes research on numerous animals -- not just rodents, which used to be the norm for cancer studies. Selting recently coauthored such a study, published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association. In it, she suggests that the following five factors can apply to cancer in cats, dogs and humans:

1. Genes Selting explains that “breed affects cancer risk just as race/ethnic origin can do so in human medicine.” This is because the genes among individuals in certain pet breeds, or human populations, are likely to be similar. “If said genes, such as tumor suppressor genes, are faulty and are related to the risk of acquiring a certain cancer, then it follows that these cancers will be overrepresented in a given population.” Siamese cats, for example, can be predisposed to intestinal and breast cancers.

2. Environment Selting suggests that cats that breathe tobacco smoke, for example, may have a heightened risk for lung diseases. “Cats are fastidious groomers, and every environmental contaminant that is present in the air and settles on the fur is then exposed to the cat’s mouth and system as they lick their fur.”

3. Diet Food may also contribute to disease prevention or instigation. “Feeding a good-quality diet logically can improve health, though no particular diet is known to abrogate cancer,” says Selting.

4. Lifestyle Countless studies conclude that exercise and stress levels can impact cancer.

5. Medical Care No tests can currently predict cancer occurrence in cats, but “early detection often offers a better prognosis,” says Selting. “Any change in a cat’s health should be investigated.”

Cancer Prevention for Cats and Humans

While much about cancer still remains a mystery, the new studies at least suggest a course of preventative action.

  • Pay attention to genes. Consult with your doctor and your cat’s veterinarian and discuss the risk factors related to your ethnic origin and your cat’s breed.
  • Do not smoke, and keep your home clean and free of potentially dangerous chemicals.
  • Follow the latest research concerning food and cancer prevention.
  • Both you and your pet need to exercise. Our bodies evolved to handle ample activity, so talk with your doctor and your cat’s veterinarian about what exercise would be best.
  • Note physical changes in both you and your cat. Schedule regular medical appointments, which can detect cancer before symptoms even surface.

While Selting and others prove that studying cancer in cats can shed light on human cancer, researchers are also driven to learn more about cats. “Companion animals rely on humans for food and shelter, but they repay the favor with devotion and companionship. We are their voice and are responsible for their quality of life,” says Selting.

Cat ‘Breast Cancer’: Mammary Disease

Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian for New York City Veterinary Specialists, knows how lethal mammary disease -- cancer of the mammary glands -- can be in cats. The first case of mammary cancer she saw was with a cat that was brought in with a lump. “We removed the tumor and the cat was fine. Six months later, the couple and the cat were back. Another tumor had appeared. This one had ulcerated, and it was too late to treat it.”

Since that time, Joyce has counseled cat owners on how to prevent and detect mammary disease, and how to proceed once it’s been diagnosed. Below, she shares her advice on each of these.

Risk Factors
Mammary cancer is the third most common cancer among cats, and it is also one of the most preventable. “First and foremost, spay your cat,” says Joyce. Kittens spayed before they are 6 months old have a 91-percent reduction in their risk of developing the disease. Kittens spayed before they are 1 year old have an 86-percent risk reduction. In contrast, cats spayed before the age of 2 have only an 11-percent reduction, with no reduction of risk at all after age 2.

Mammary tumors are most commonly found in unspayed cats between 10 and 12 years old. Siamese cats are more likely to develop the disease, and the onset is typically earlier. Male cats very rarely develop mammary cancer, although it can happen -- and is usually aggressive when it does.

Detection
When Joyce meets owners of unspayed cats, she encourages them to perform regular mammary exams at home. The idea is similar to the self-exams that women are taught to perform by their gynecologists in order to become familiar with their own breast tissue. “If you know how your cat’s mammary glands feel when they’re free of tumors, it’s easier to catch a growth if one develops,” she says. The tumors are not painful to the touch, though cats that don’t like to be stroked may try to get away.

To examine your fluffy friend, run your hand over the fatty tissue around her nipple. “Just rubbing the belly is too superficial. Squeeze the tissue a little, almost like milking a cow. You’re looking for a lump like a little hard pea, or sometimes bigger,” says Joyce. Finding a lump is a good reason to visit the veterinarian as soon as possible: Doctors estimate that as many as 90 percent of mammary tumors in cats are malignant.

Other than these telltale lumps, mammary cancer is asymptomatic in its early stages. If it metastasizes, the cat may go on to develop health problems related to where the cancer has spread.

Diagnosis and Prognosis
Because feline mammary tumors are so likely to be malignant, prompt removal of the entire mammary chain on the effected side is most veterinarians’ treatment of choice. Mammary surgery is less complicated than mastectomy in women, as a cat’s breast tissue is outside of the muscle layer. Prognosis is best the earlier the cancer is caught, and the smaller the tumor is. Surgery yields a disease-free year for 50 percent of cats, while almost one-third of cats will go two years without the development of additional tumors. Surgery is often followed by a course of chemotherapy.

In advanced cancers that have metastasized, surgery may still be performed to reduce the impact of the tumor and improve quality of life. Sometimes, though, a metastasized mammary tumor means it’s time to let your cat go. “The tumors can become ulcerative, making just moving around extremely uncomfortable, or if they spread to the lungs or the bones and make breathing or walking very hard, the most humane option may be euthanizing,” says Joyce.

Mammary cancer in felines is fairly common, but it is also preventable, and most often not immediately fatal. With early detection, surgery and chemotherapy, your cat may have additional good years to spend with her loved ones.