Author Archives: Dr. Jane Matheys

Foster a kitten this spring, save a life

A dog with dog insurance sits with a baby.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Along with warmer temperatures and lovely flowers, spring also brings kitten season! Kitten seasons are periods of time during the year when cats have kittens.

The mating season in cats is determined by a number of factors, including warmer weather and the length of daylight. The natural mating season of cats in the Northern hemisphere is from March to September. Although cats can go into heat and produce a litter at any time of the year, typical kitten season begins in spring time when the days start to become longer.

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The thought of all those cute, adorable kittens may be appealing, but the truth is that kitten season can be devastating for animal shelters across the country. Every year, between the months of April and November, shelters experience a flood of homeless cats and newborn kittens in need of care and fostering. Most animal shelters operate on very limited budgets, and are often forced to make the difficult decision to euthanize unwanted, abandoned and stray or feral kittens. But you can help.

First and foremost, ensure that your own cats are spayed and neutered. It’s also a good idea to find the best pet insurance for your cat early on, in case of future accidents and illnesses. Some pet insurance companies even offer routine care options that can help pay for a portion of spaying and neutering.

According to Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal’s “Numbers Guy”, a single unspayed female cat will produce somewhere between a low of 98 and a high of 5,000 cats in seven years. his is in contrast to the often quoted but flawed statistic of “420,000 offspring in 5 years”. Still, it’s a whole lot of unwanted cats that may suffer needlessly.

Another way to make a life-saving difference is to become a foster parent for a litter of homeless kittens. Shelters and rescue organizations don’t have the space or resources to care for the kittens until they are old enough to be put up for adoption, so they rely on the assistance of volunteer foster parents to provide temporary care for kittens in their own homes. The more kittens that get into foster homes, the more spaces there are in the shelters. By offering your home to kittens in need, you truly are saving lives.

If you’re willing to foster kittens, it’s usually best to start out by volunteering with a shelter or rescue group since they can provide expert advice and support. Contact your local animal shelter, rescue group or feral cat organization to sign up as a foster parent. Each organization has different guidelines for foster parents, and once you begin, they will provide you with detailed instructions.

As a foster parent, you will be responsible for feeding, cleaning, socializing and cuddling your kittens. In some cases, you may need to bottle feed, give medications or take kittens to the veterinarian. Some rescue organizations supply all the necessities like cat food and litter, while others require the foster parents to supply these items. Depending on how old the kittens are, you’ll be caring for them for one to eight weeks, so make sure you understand all the costs involved.

Fostering kittens can be a lot of hard work in some situations. Bottle feeders (or bottle babies) are kittens under four weeks old who need to be bottle fed every 2-6 hours depending on how old they are. This can lead to some sleepless nights! Since these kittens don’t have a mom, you will also have to help them to go to the bathroom, keep them clean, wean them, and train them to use a litterbox. A mom cat with kittens is one of the easiest fostering situations since mom does most of the work. Self-feeding kittens from 4-8 weeks old can already eat on their own and use the litterbox, but need TLC until they are old enough to be adopted. Feral kittens have grown up with little or no human contact, and will need more intensive socialization to help them become comfortable around people. You can find a fostering option that fits your needs and abilities, and there are numerous resources to help educate you about the proper care of kittens.

If you have a little extra space in your home, a bit of free time, and some love to share, consider becoming a kitten foster parent. You are sure to find that fostering is one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences there is. You’ll be amazed at how much you learn and how gratifying it is to see the kittens grow and develop under your care. Best of all, you’ll be saving lives and helping to ensure that all kittens get the loving homes they deserve.

Kitty pulling out fur? Allergies could be to blame

A dog with dog insurance sits with a baby.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Spring is one of my favorite seasons, as it ushers in new life and warmer temperatures. I enjoy going out for walks to see the beautiful colors of Daffodils and Tulips, and to smell the lovely fragrances of the flowering trees like Dogwood, Cherry and Crabapple.

What brings happiness to me, though, can spell misery to allergy sufferers as pollen counts rise and their symptoms kick into high gear. A couple of my co-workers are sneezing quite noisily and they have a constant supply of Kleenex on hand to help with runny eyes and noses.

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Just like humans, cats can have allergies to things they inhale from the air too. An allergy occurs when a cat’s immune system overacts to foreign substances or particles called allergens. Unlike humans, though, a cat that has inhalant allergies (also called atopy) will often have skin problems and severe itching rather than respiratory symptoms. It would seem logical that if a cat is allergic to something it inhales, the cat will have a runny nose. But, simplistically, an allergen causes the immune system to produce a protein called IgE. This protein attaches to mast cells located in the skin causing the release of various irritating chemicals such as histamine. In cats, these chemical reactions and cell types occur in highest amounts in the skin, so that’s where the symptoms appear.

Inhalant allergies in cats usually start to develop between one and three years of age. Unfortunately, as cats age, they often develop allergies to additional things, and the response to any one allergen may become more severe. Allergens can be found in the indoor or outdoor environment, and they can be seasonal or non-seasonal. Common allergens include tree pollens (like flowering trees in the springtime!), grass pollens, weed pollens, molds, mildew and house dust mites.

The skin lesions of allergies are often the ones the cat produces by mutilating her skin through chewing, licking and scratching. Allergic cats often groom excessively and pull out tufts of hair, leaving bald patches on their skin. Their skin may appear red and sensitive, and lesions can range from small little bumps to crusty, scabby areas that bleed and ooze. Pet health issues like secondary bacterial and yeast infections are common.

Diagnosis of inhalant allergies starts with a detailed medical history and a through exam. Tests may be performed to rule out other possible skin conditions such as flea allergy, contact dermatitis, ringworm and food allergy. Specific allergy testing is done either by taking a blood test or performing intradermal skin testing. The blood tests are reasonably reliable for detecting airborne allergies, but skin testing is considered more accurate. It involves shaving a patch of hair on the cat’s side and then injecting small amounts of allergens under the skin and observing to see if it elicits an allergic reaction.

One of the most important treatments for inhalant allergies is to minimize the cat’s exposure to things he is allergic to. While it may be impossible to completely eliminate all of the offending allergens, many can be reduced with minimal effort on the owner’s part. Simple measures include keeping allergic cats indoors with windows closed during periods of high pollen season, using air conditioners or air purifiers to help reduce allergens, and rinsing the cat off after periods in high grass and weeds.

Other treatment options are chosen based on the severity of your cat’s allergy symptoms and the length of his allergy season. Mild allergy symptoms with only localized itching may sometimes be treated with topical shampoos or rinses, topical anti-itch solutions, antihistamines, omega-3 fatty acid supplements or a combination of these products. Always consult a veterinarian before giving your cat any human allergy medications.

Corticosteroids are very good anti-itch and anti-inflammatory medications. Cats show many fewer side effects to steroids than dogs do, and they can be quite safe and effective in cats when used properly. There are many different kinds of steroids available in both injectable and tablet form. Newer medications include maropitant, which has anti-inflammatory effects, and cyclosporine, which is an immunosuppressant. Both of these drugs can be used to control allergies alone in some cases or in combination with steroids to reduce the dose of steroid needed. Antibiotics and antifungal medications are used to control secondary bacterial and yeast skin infections.

Finally, severe allergies are sometimes treated with hyposensitisation therapy or “allergy shots”. Offending allergens are mixed together by a laboratory and very small injections given weekly at home over several months may help your cat to become less sensitive to them. Unfortunately, it can take up to one year to see the full effects.

Inhalant allergies tend to be chronic conditions, so it is wise to have pet health insurance to help cover the financial burden of long term treatment.

For more information about cat health or to learn more about pet insurance, visit Pets Best Insurance.

Anorexia in cats: Not what you’d think

A cat with pet health insurance refuses to eat.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Most people are familiar with the term “anorexia” as it applies to human health. Outside of medical literature, the words anorexia and anorexia nervosa are often used interchangeably.

Anorexia nervosa is a psychological eating disorder characterized by excessive food restriction, irrational fear of gaining weight and distorted body image. We’ve all probably heard about it in the news, but thankfully, this kind of anorexia doesn’t actually occur in cats. Anorexia, on the other hand, is simply a medical term for loss of appetite for food, and it’s a very common in cat health condition.

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Anorexia in cats usually starts with a decrease in appetite followed by complete refusal to eat food. It can be a very serious indicator of an underlying pet health condition that needs prompt treatment, so always consult with your veterinarian if your cat has not eaten in 24 hours. For a kitten younger than six weeks of age, food avoidance for just 12 hours can pose a lethal threat, so seek veterinary attention immediately.

Anorexia can be a symptom of a diverse number of feline health problems including a fever, nausea/vomiting from gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, diabetes, upper respiratory infections, dental or mouth pain, trauma injuries and cancer.

Stress can be an important contributing factor. Anorexia is commonly seen in hospitalized patients and among cats that are placed in boarding kennels. Anorexia can also be induced by other stressful and psychological events such as moving into a new house, loss of a companion, a new pet/person in the house and other environmental changes. Dietary changes can prompt anorexia too. Some cats are “picky” eaters, and may dislike a new food that is offered. Whatever the cause of anorexia, the condition is never the result of a cat simply deciding not to eat like with anorexia nervosa in people.

Anorexia in cats is corrected by identifying and treating the underlying problem. A detailed medical history and thorough physical examination should be followed by any labwork or imaging studies indicated by the exam. These may include blood tests, urine tests, x-rays or an ultrasound. Results will help dictate specific treatment plans. Because these kinds of tests can often be expensive, it’s a good idea to have invested in a cat insurance policy early on.

Some cats may need to be hospitalized for fluid support to treat dehydration. Nutritional support may be provided with appetite stimulants, syringe feeding (as long as it doesn’t worsen food aversion) or via a feeding tube. Stress reduction is necessary, and it’s good to offer finicky cats a variety of foods. It’s especially important to quickly treat anorexia in overweight cats since they are more prone to a very serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis due to prolonged anorexia and/or rapid weight loss. Treatment of the underlying cause of anorexia can be costly, so it is important to be financially prepared for unexpected illnesses in your furry friends. Pet health insurance is a good option to help manage veterinary medical costs.

Rock and a hard place: Kitty bladder stones

A cat with cat insurance is lost. Dr. Jane Matheys, is a veterinarian blogger for cat health insurance provider, Pets Best.

Urinary stones (also called uroliths) are rock-like deposits of minerals and organic material. Uroliths can form anywhere in the urinary tract, but they are most commonly found in the bladder. Stones vary in size and quantity ranging from a single, small stone to multiple little pebbles or even a large stone over an inch in diameter. Because these can occur in any cat, whether it lives indoors or out, it’s a good idea to consider cat insurance early on. Pet insurance may help pet owners more easily pay for unexpected pet ailments. Different conditions contribute to the formation of different types of bladder stones. The two most common types in cats are struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) and calcium oxalate. Struvite stones are becoming less common as most commercial diets are now formulated to reduce the likelihood of struvite formation by limiting the amount of dietary magnesium and promoting production of more acidic urine.

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Unfortunately, the percentage of stones composed of calcium oxalate has increased since these stones are more likely to form in urine with a lower pH (acidic). High calcium levels in the blood can also play a factor in some cases of calcium oxalate formation. Cats can develop bladder stones at any age. Females seem to be at a higher risk of struvite stones, and males are a bit more affected by oxalate stones. The risk of oxalate stones increases with age, and they seem to occur more frequently in Burmese, Himalayan and Persian breeds. If you think your cat may have bladder stones here are four things you should do:

1. Check for Symptoms First, and most importantly, if your cat is displaying symptoms you will want to take her to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Cats with bladder stones usually show symptoms typical of other lower urinary tract diseases: bloody urine (hematuria), painful urination, straining to urinate, frequent urination, urination outside the litterbox in unusual places, urine spraying and licking the genital area more frequently. Some cats with bladder stones may show no signs at all.

2. Act Fast Occasionally, a small bladder stone will get stuck in the urethra as it tries to pass out of the bladder causing a total blockage with little to no urine production at all. Urinary obstruction is a true medical emergency, and any cat suspected of suffering from this condition must receive immediate vet attention. If the obstruction is not relieved, the cat will eventually lose consciousness and die. A cat experiencing urethral obstruction shows the same symptoms listed above, but as time passes, an obstructed cat typically becomes much more distressed-often crying out in pain. If bladder stones are big enough, the veterinarian may be able to feel them through the cat’s abdominal wall. However, they are most commonly diagnosed with x-rays, ultrasound, urinalysis and urine culture. The treatment of a cat with urinary stones depends on the mineral composition of the stones. For cats with struvite stones, a special stone-dissolving diet may be prescribed to eliminate the stones. If the diet fails to dissolve the stone, then surgical removal may be necessary. Calcium oxalate stones cannot be dissolved with special diets, and most often surgery is required.

3. Consider your Options Treatment of urethral obstruction usually involves catheterization under anesthesia to try to flush the stone out of the urethra. Surgery is sometimes necessary in addition to hospitalization and supportive care. This can be an expensive proposition, so it is wise to purchase pet health insurance to help cover the costs of unexpected medical emergencies. Cats that have had a bladder stone are at risk for recurrences of this pet health issue. However, dietary management can help a great deal to prevent future formation of both struvite and oxalate stones. In addition, canned diets do a better job of preventing recurrences because they encourage more water consumption than dry diets.

4. Provide After Care After your cat has been diagnosed with bladder stones, you will want to keep a close eye on her, since they can reoccur. More frequent vet check ups may be necessary. Speak with your veterinarian to determine what the best after care will be for your pet.

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Spring Danger: Symptoms of Lily Poisoning

An Easter Lily, which can be bad for pet health, is beautiful but can be deadly to cats.

Dr. Jane Matheys, is a veterinarian and guest blogger for petinsurance provider, Pets Best.

With Easter quickly approaching, it’s a good time to remind pet owners that Easter lilies can be very bad for pet health, as they are highly toxic to cats. But even a single bite or nibble of a flower or leaf of the plant can be deadly for your cat.

Easter lily poisoning in cats has only been recognized as a problem by the National Animal Poison Control Center for about 20 years. Easter lilies are part of the scientific Lilium plant family that contains around 100 potentially toxic species and many hybrids. The more common Lily species that are known to be toxic to cats are the Easter lily, Tiger lily, Asiatic lily and Stargazer lily.

Easter lilies are very popular around Easter holidays, but most pet owners know little about the dangers these plants pose to cats. Because cats can experience accidents or illnesses at any time, even if they live indoors year round, it’s a good idea to have cat insurance.

Cats can suffer from kidney failure after ingesting even tiny amounts of the plant and flower or drinking water from the plant. All parts of the plant are toxic, especially the flower. Even the pollen is toxic and the large amount of pollen can get everywhere, including on a cat’s coat or paws where it can be ingested while grooming.

Cats are very sensitive to poisoning by Easter lilies. Pet health is in danger, as the kidney is the primary organ affected, and cats can die of kidney failure 3-5 days after exposure. Initial symptoms usually develop 6-12 hours after ingestion and include vomiting, salivation, anorexia and depression. Kidney failure typically follows, and the signs are increased thirst and urination, dehydration and lethargy. Toxins build up in the blood as the kidney failure rapidly progresses, and there may be a recurrence of vomiting, decreased urine production or even absence of urine production, weakness, recumbency, hypothermia and death.

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If you suspect that your cat has ingested any part of the Easter lily plant, pollen or water, consult your veterinarian immediately or take your cat to an emergency veterinary hospital without delay. The sooner your cat sees a veterinarian, the better. And having a pet health insurance plan in place, may help make tough pet health financial decisions easier. Fast treatment is imperative!

Diagnosis of Easter lily toxicity is usually made from the history provided by the owner along with blood and urine tests. Treatment is supportive and includes IV fluid therapy and protection of the gastrointestinal tract. Cats will need to be hospitalized for several days which can be costly. Consider purchasing cat insurance while your cat is young and healthy to help cover the expenses of these life- threatening emergencies.

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