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Cats Aren’t Small Dogs: Avoid Common Medical Pitfalls for Your Feline Companion

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that one quarter of all U.S. households own a pet cat, amounting to almost 60 million cats, compared with 75 million dogs. 

Unfortunately, cats lose not only in popularity, but also in terms of medical care. The AVMA reports that dogs average more veterinary visits per year (i.e., 2.4 to 1.3), and a higher average veterinary expenditure per year (i.e., $253 to $98). Dogs are more likely to cut their paw or tear a nail and require an extra trip to the veterinary office, but they still make more routine veterinary visits, whereas many owners forgo annual wellness visits for their cats, often because they appear to be healthy. However, there are many reasons why regular veterinary visits are important for your cat. 

Annual physical exams can save cats’ lives

Life with dogs may sometimes seem like a roller-coaster ride, whereas life with cats is often blissfully consistent, making it easy to forget that your cat should visit her vet. But, many illnesses in cats progress slowly with only subtle changes, which means annual physical veterinary exams are vital. For example, your cat may be slowly losing weight, but her weight loss is not noticeable until she’s lost a significant amount. Every veterinary exam includes a weight measurement that is compared to the cat’s weight at her last visit, so our team will immediately note any changes. 

An annual physical also involves checking your cat from her head to the tip of her tail and will include: 

  • Her teeth, to ensure they are in good shape; because cats seldom have bad breath, dental disease may go undetected
  • Her heart, lungs, and abdomen, for any abnormalities or pain
  • Her back and joints, to ensure she has no arthritis or other pain

Chronic illnesses in cats

These serious chronic diseases that affect cats can be managed successfully if they are detected early at a wellness exam:

  • Kidney disease — An estimated 1% to 3% of the feline population will develop chronic kidney disease, which is hard to detect early, because cats show no clinical signs until the disease has progressed into the late stages. However, diagnosis can be made through routine blood work and urinalysis, and your cat may live longer with medication and other treatments.
  • Thyroid disease — Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, is commonly seen in middle-aged and older cats. Signs include weight loss, and increased appetite, excitability, drinking, and urination, and, if left untreated, severe cardiovascular side effects, including heart failure. If found early, hyperthyroidism also can be treated successfully with daily medication.
  • Heart disease — Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or thickening of the heart wall, is the most common heart disease in cats, and is typically seen in middle-aged cats and specific breeds, including:
    • Persians
    • Sphynx
    • Norwegian forest cats
    • Bengals
    • Turkish van cats
    • Maine coon cats
    • Ragdolls
    • American and British shorthairs

Cats typically show no obvious heart disease signs, but the disease can be diagnosed during a regular veterinary checkup. 

Cats can be sneaky when sick

A hungry cat can be hard to ignore, but a sick cat is easy to miss because she can hide it so well. Dogs often seek human help when they are sick or injured, but cats who are not feeling well usually shun human company, and their owners may take days to realize the cat isn’t napping in her normal spots. Cats instinctively know they can become prey, especially when ill, and they tend to hide their illness for as long as possible in small, dark, enclosed spaces where they feel safe. This also makes detecting your cat’s illness difficult, and another reason why routine checkups are critical for early detection and successful outcomes.

Cats make wonderful pets, but understanding their need for regular veterinary attention to help ensure a long, healthy life is important. If your feline friend is overdue for her checkup, call one of our three conveniently located clinics and schedule an appointment. All our veterinarians are crazy about cats.

Fleas, Ticks, and Mosquitoes: A Year-Round Threat

Don’t get sucked into believing that falling temperatures also mean a fall in flea, tick, and mosquito populations. While it’s true that some of these blood-suckers die off over the winter, they’re often highly active during autumn—especially ticks. Here are five ways to help battle fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, even during the fall:

#1: Don’t give up on grooming

As winter approaches, with its frigid temperatures and frosty precipitation, you may cut back on your pet’s grooming. Short summer cuts designed to keep your furry friend cool are a thing of the past until next spring. In addition, thick undercoats shed less as pets gear up for winter, so grooming sessions tend to occur less frequently. But, fleas and ticks may take advantage of fewer comb-throughs and set up shop on your pet, where they are much harder to see than when they are scurrying through your pet’s short fur or latched onto her skin when you are brushing her daily or weekly. 

As the hot season fades into fall and your pet’s fur grows out, detecting fleas and ticks is more challenging. Your pet may seem to require less upkeep, but continue the grooming sessions, because frequent brushing will help you catch fleas, ticks, and any abnormalities. Pay particular attention to your pet’s tail base, ears, groin, armpits, and under the collar, as fleas and ticks like to lurk in these spots. 

#2: Load up leaf litter

Kids and pets love to jump and play in huge leaf piles, but have you ever considered what’s lurking within? If you think it’s cool enough to skip parasite prevention, your pet may be unarmed in her pile of fun. Fleas, ticks, and many other insects make their home in decaying leaf litter, which provides warmth, shelter, and occasionally sustenance, and they may attack your pet’s warm body when disturbed. 

Removing leaf piles from your yard is preferable, but if you can’t resist the sight of your kids and pet frolicking in autumn leaves, ensure you administer parasite prevention year-round and check thoroughly for fleas and ticks after their outdoor fun. 

#3: Learn about the life cycle

Many people think insects die off over the winter. While some insects thankfully perish with falling temperatures, many more use their strong survival skills to make it through the winter. Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes can slip into your warm home or heated garage and ride out the cooler weather. Fleas are exceptionally hardy and can survive inhospitable climates easily. A flea in its pupal form can hang out for months—or as long as a year—inside its protective cocoon, and burst forth as an adult when temperatures rise, ready to make a meal out of your pet. Knowing how your enemy lives can help prevent any parasites from gaining a foothold in your home and on your pet. 

#4: Search for defective screens 

Opening the windows to allow a burst of fresh fall air into your home is wonderful, but first, check your screens carefully. Are they still in the correct place with no visible holes, tears, or gashes? If your open windows are letting in more than the smells of bonfires and falling leaves, you may need to keep them shut tight. Insects can easily slip through tiny tears in your screens, seeking the warmth of your home and your pet. 

#5: Don’t fall for falling temperatures

Winters, and even fall conditions, can turn downright frigid in Illinois, but that’s no reason to stop giving your pet her flea, tick, and heartworm preventive. Our weather can turn 180 degrees with little warning, turning from summer to winter over several hours. The opposite can also happen, and if the temperature rises above 35 degrees, fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes will be on the prowl for a meal. Since our weather patterns are so unpredictable, why gamble on your pet remaining parasite-free throughout the cooler months?

Stick to your normal schedule of flea-, tick-, and heartworm-preventive administration to ensure your pet is protected year-round. It’s easy to fall off track when you skip a month or two, thinking it will be chilly enough to prevent insect movement, but then you may forget to start back up again when the weather is nicer. Stay safe with our recommended prevention products, and stock up by stopping in at one of our locations.

Top 7 Painful Conditions in Dogs and Cats

Could your pet be experiencing pain? Here are seven medical conditions that could be causing pain in your furry friend.

1: Degenerative joint disease

Otherwise known as arthritis, degenerative joint disease can strike dogs and cats of any age. Congenital problems, such as hip dysplasia, can predispose pets to developing arthritis, as can trauma. Senior pets are also prone to developing painful arthritic changes in their joints as they age. Arthritis is common, affecting 25% of the total dog population and more than 90% of cats over the age of 12 years. 

2: Periodontal disease

Periodontal disease occurs when gingivitis and tartar buildup are left unchecked. Severe dental disease is accompanied by inflammation and infection under the gumline. Tooth root abscesses and tooth loss are common side effects, and although your pet may not act as if he is in pain, if periodontal disease is present, you can count on the presence of pain.

3: Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, is associated with a range of clinical signs that vary in severity, often overlapping with signs of acute gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, gastrointestinal obstruction, peritonitis, or acute renal failure. Abdominal pain occurs in 58% of dogs with pancreatitis and 25% of cats.

4: Bone cancer

Osteosarcoma (OSA), the most common bone tumor, most commonly strikes dogs and cats between the ages of 6 and 8 years, although a small group of dogs has been recognized who can develop OSA at ages 18 to 24 months. OSA is incredibly painful, and amputation of the affected limb to alleviate the severe pain associated with this neoplasia is the most common treatment.

5: Cystitis

Dogs and cats can develop bladder infections, also known as cystitis. Cats are prone to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), a painful, cyclic inflammation of the bladder that results in bloody urine and inappropriate elimination. FIC is not caused by an infection, and cannot be resolved with antibiotics. 

6: Intervertebral disk disease

Intervertebral disk disease (IVDD) describes herniation or protrusion of intervertebral disk material into the spinal canal. Compression of the spinal cord results in pain and possible paralysis.

7: Ear infections

Dogs and cats tend to get ear infections in their external ear canal, as opposed to humans, whose ear infections affect the part of the ear located behind the eardrum. Akin to human swimmer’s ear, canine and feline ear infections are caused by fungal and/or bacterial overgrowths, and patients presenting with ear infections are significantly uncomfortable. 

How to recognize pain in your pets

Obviously, you can tell your pet is in pain if he limps, will not bear weight  on a limb, or cries out when bearing weight. However, pets are masters at hiding pain and illness. From an evolutionary standpoint, they mask their pain so they do not appear weak and become the first to be picked off by a predator. 

Because your pet will be trying to hide his pain or illness, you must closely watch his demeanor. According to the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management, the subtle, less-recognized signs of pain in dogs include: 

  • Decreased interaction with family and housemates
  • Anxious facial expression, with or without panting
  • Submissive behavior
  • Reluctance or refusal to move
  • Whimpering and whining
  • Growling
  • Aggression, including biting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Self-mutilation from chewing on painful areas
  • Changes in sitting or standing posture

Subtle signs of pain in cats include:

  • Reduced activity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of curiosity
  • Changes in elimination habits, such as going outside the litter box
  • Hiding
  • Hissing or spitting
  • Lack of agility
  • Decreased jumping
  • Excessive licking and grooming
  • No longer grooming, with matted fur
  • Stiff posture or gait
  • Tail flicking
  • Weight loss

Pain management options

If infection is causing your pet’s pain, antibiotics or antifungals will be in order, and the pain should dissipate once the infection is cleared. For chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis or FIC, long-term medications should be considered. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and opioids have been used successfully, as have alternative treatment modalities, such as laser therapy, acupuncture, and massage. 

If you suspect your pet is in pain, don’t wait around for obvious signs before seeking veterinary care. Give us a call so we can examine your four-legged family member and develop a treatment plan that is best for you and your pet.

How to Battle the Back-to-School Blues: Study Up on Canine Separation Anxiety

Poppy, or as her family affectionately calls her, “Princess Poppy,” is an adorable little ball  of fluff. Definitely the household diva, Poppy the toy poodle demands her fair share of attention. After a fun summer packed with road trips, beach adventures, and lazy days by the pool, Poppy is in for a rude awakening as back-to-school activities kick into high gear. Poppy’s mom and dad are both high school teachers, while her two non-furry siblings are beginning their educational journey. How will Princess Poppy handle the desertion of her adoring subjects? Let’s find out.

“Ooo, what are these bright bags for? Maybe they’re my new sling carriers, so Mom can easily take me on her shopping trips. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a Puppachino…,” Poppy thinks to herself. “Oh, but they’re already stuffed full! There’s no room for me. Pencils, paper, folders, crayons—mmm, I do love crayons. I definitely tasted the rainbow that day, and the rug still has colorful stains to prove it.” 

Little does Poppy realize that her family is gearing up for the first back-to-school day, and she will be left alone at home for the first time in her short life. See if you can pick up on the mistakes her family members make when heading out the door.

The first day of school arrives. Chaos ensues. Poppy is used to a leisurely lie-in, with breakfast appearing later in the morning. As her family yells across the house about misplaced shoes, missing lunchboxes, and mismatched clothes, Poppy stares wide-eyed at her normally relaxed family. Her breakfast has been hastily tossed in her dish, and her water is running low. Too nervous with the commotion to eat, Poppy hides under the dining room table until her mom calls her. 

Oh good, Poppy thinks. We can go back to bed and wake up at a normal time later! But Poppy feels the leash clipped to her collar as her mom mutters, “We have to hurry—the bus arrives in five minutes.” Poppy is rushed out into the yard to take care of business, and hurried back indoors. 

“What happened to our walk around the block? Or our game of keep-away with my favorite stuffed bunny?” Poppy wonders. 

Poppy is disappointed with this change in her routine, but she hears a loud honk outside. Rushing to the window, she sees a giant yellow beast of a vehicle swallowing up the two youngest members of her family, while mom and dad wave a tearful good-bye. 

As the adults hurry back indoors to grab purses, wallets, keys, and jackets, Poppy is shuffled to the side. Before running out the door, her mom bends down and lovingly dotes on Poppy with kisses and baby talk for a brief minute. Then, Poppy is all alone. 

Poor Poppy had never been left alone in her short life. As a puppy born right before summer vacation, she has enjoyed constant attention from her family these past few months. Since it was summer break, someone was always home for comfort, or she traveled with her family. Princess Poppy’s world has been turned upside-down. 

When her family returns home from the first day of school, they are greeted with a disaster scene. The new leather sofa has deep claw marks gouged into the plush fabric. The curtains have been ripped from their hangings. There are multiple “accidents” scattered throughout the home. And, there is a message from the neighbor blinking on the voicemail, which says he heard barking and howling for the better part of the day. As they take in the destruction, Poppy rushes in, panting heavily and covered in slimy drool, and hurtles into her mom’s arms. As her entire family coos and fusses over her, Poppy finally begins to relax. Little does she know that this will be a daily occurrence.

Did you spot the ways Poppy’s family could have eased her into independence and knowing how to relax while alone? 

  • Lack of independence training — Poppy has always had at least one family member in the same room with her—she whines and scratches at the bathroom door if she’s shut out. She has not been taught to entertain herself or relax on her own. To teach Poppy independence, start small. Train her to lie on her bed at the opposite end of the room, contentedly chewing a treat. Walk around the corner, pause for five seconds, then return and praise Poppy for remaining in the same position. Gradually build up to extended absences, and Poppy will learn that remaining calm while left alone is an action that’s rewarded.

  • Over-the-top greetings and departures — To reassure Poppy that they love her, the family lavished her with exuberant departures and greetings. Instead, calmly exit and enter the home, ignoring an overexcited pet until she calms down. In time, Poppy will learn that it’s not a big deal when her people leave or enter her home.

  • Abrupt routine change — In Poppy’s mind, her family had abandoned her. She did not understand how to be alone and that her family was coming back. A gradual routine change that begins with brief absences and builds up to longer time periods similar to a workday works best.

  • No toys or treats — Poppy was given no special treats or toys to keep her occupied while her family was gone. Give her a long-lasting chew, food puzzle, or stuffed Kong to focus on rather than the fact that she’s alone.

  • Shortened exercise session — Lack of exercise can create several problems. A shortened walk may not give Poppy the time she needs to eliminate before being confined for the day. Plus, a bored dog can be a destructive dog, and Poppy needs time to burn off her energy before her family leaves.

Does Poppy’s situation sound familiar? If your dog is suffering from the back-to-school blues, we can help. Schedule a behavioral consultation with our team.