Kitty questions, kitty answers

A cat with cat insurance looks at the camera.

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

Q: My cat was diagnosed as being hyperthyroid not long ago. We decided to have radioactive iodine treatment for her which we did approximately 1 month ago. She has recently been having bad diarrhea and I wondered if that is normal after the iodine treatment?

A: When it is available, radioactive iodine therapy is quickly becoming the treatment of choice for most cats with hyperthyroidism(overactive thyroid gland). This is one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to have a pet health insurance policy in place. As During treatment, radioactive iodine is administered as an injection and is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream.

The iodine is taken up by the thyroid gland, but not by other body tissues. The quantity of radiation destroys the abnormal thyroid tissue but does not damage the surrounding tissues or the nearby parathyroid glands. The therapy is curative in greater than 95% of cats with hyperthyroidism.(1) The procedure has no serious side effects, so your cat’s diarrhea is likely due to some other problem. Your veterinarian can help determine what is causing the diarrhea and prescribe any necessary treatment.

Q: In your opinion, what is the safest, most effective flea control product for cats?

A: This is a difficult question as it often depends on individual circumstances. Flea prevention is always the best strategy. In general, I recommend the monthly flea control products. Specifically, I use Frontline, Advantage and Revolution. These are very safe products when used according to label directions. I caution my clients about using some of the other over-the-counter products as there have been reports of toxicities and side effects. The verdict is still out on some of the “generic” monthly flea products available on the market. Time will tell if they are as effective as the brand name product. There is also the possibility that some populations of fleas may be developing a resistance to some of the most commonly used flea control products. Certain geographic locations may be more affected by this problem than others. Cleaning and treating the environment is also imperative. Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations for your particular situation.

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Q: Why would a cat randomly pull his fur out?

A: There is actually nothing random about it! A cat pulls his fur out or overgrooms his fur for a variety of very specific reasons. Your veterinarian just has to figure out which reason it is, and that’s not always an easy task.

Some cats will overgroom due to stress or anxiety. In my experience, these cats are often “secret groomers”. The owners do not witness the overgrooming. The cats are chewing their fur when the owner is gone during the day or at night while the owner is asleep. These cats also tend to lick their fur off right down to the skin, but rarely cause self-trauma to the skin. The hair loss is commonly seen on the belly.

Occasionally cats will overgroom an area due to underlying pain. I once had a feline patient that licked all his fur off over his knee area. I diagnosed arthritis in his knee, and after his pain was treated, he stopped overgrooming and all his fur grew back.

The most common reason for a cat to overgroom is that the skin itches. Some cats can be so itchy that they will lick and chew their fur and skin so much that they cause raw or scabby areas along with the hair loss. Flea allergies are very common in cats, and typically they’re one of the first things I look for. Food allergies can also cause itching and scratching, especially around the head, face and neck. Inhalant allergies are another big cause of overgrooming and fur pulling in cats. Cats can react to inhaling indoor or outdoor allergens just like people do. Rather than the sneezing and runny eyes like seen in people with allergies, though, cats primarily get itchy skin. Having a cat insurance plan in place may help with costs associated with overgrooming when there is an underlying pet health issue.

Less common causes of itchy skin in cats include mites, fungus or bacterial skin infections.

(1) from the website of Advanced Veterinary Medical Imaging, Tustin, CA

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

Do you have the Best Pet Story? Enter to win!

A pet insurance enthusiast writes a story about her pet.

Calling All Writers!

We here at Pets Best Insurance are unabashed animal lovers just like you. We love reading stories about heroic pets, funny, smart or jet-setting pets, and of course stories about how pet insurance helped your pet out. That’s why we want you to share your Best Pet Story with us!

If you have a heartfelt, interesting or completely hilarious story about your pet (remember that time Fido dragged your dirty laundry out in the middle of your family reunion?) we want to hear it!

If we think your Best Pet Story fits the overall pet-enthusiast vibe we have here at Pets Best Insurance, we’ll post your story on the Pets Best Insurance blog! Each month one Best Pet Story blog will be selected as a winner. In addition to being published, we’ll award the author a $25 gift card.

Authors of winning stories will also have access to our unique blogger badge, which can be posted on your own personal blog or site to let the world know you won the Best Pet Story contest!

To enter the Best Pet Story blogging contest email your submission to us. Please limit your entry to 500 words or less and check spelling and grammar before sending. Remember to include the following information:

Your full name
Your pet’s name and breed
Email address
Phone number
Two clear jpg. photos of you and/or your pet!

For official rules, see the Notes tab on the Pets Best Insurance Facebook page. We look forward to reading your “tails.” Happy blogging!

How to teach your dog to use doggie stairs

Five small Chihuahuas learn how to use doggie stairs.

By: Judy Luther
Certified Professional Dog Trainer
For Pets Best Insurance

One of the best inventions for small breed or older dogs are doggie stairs! Because pet health and joint health can decline in aging pets, I highly recommend these steps to help pets get on and off furniture safely!

Not only are they a great, convenient item for the pet owner, but they also keep your dog safe from injury while struggling to ascend or as a result of jumping off the furniture.

Training your dog to use the steps is much easier than you would think and it can be a fun learning game for your dog. There are actually two behaviors you will be teaching your dog. The first behavior is going up the steps, and the next behavior, of course, is going down the steps.

First, find a yummy treat that your dog loves. Sit on the floor next to the steps. Place a treat on the ground at the base of the first step. Your dog should come up and eat the treat. Next, show your dog another treat and put it on the first step. Praise your dog when he approaches the step and eats the treat from the first step. If your dog was uncomfortable approaching the steps you may want to give him teats on the first step several times until he is more comfortable.

Next you will show your dog another treat and put it on the second step. If your dog steps up on the first step to reach the treat located on the second step, great you are almost there. Next you will show your dog the treat and lure him up the steps. Go slowly, you don’t want to rush this step and scare your dog. Take small steps until you can lure your dog all the way from the floor to the top step and onto the furniture.

Now it is time to teach your dog how to go down the steps. Start once again at the bottom of the steps. Put your dog on the bottom step and using a food lure, lure him to the ground. Repeat this several times until your dog is comfortable going down the step. Next, you will put your dog on the second step and lure him down to the ground. When your dog is comfortable you can place him on the next step up. Soon he will be going down the steps comfortably.

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While it’s always a good idea to have a dog insurance policy in place in case of accidental slips or falls, doggie stairs can help your pet remain mobile in your home– even if he’s older or a small-sized breed. Here are some more training tips:

Training Tips
1. Take your time teaching these behaviors. Break the behaviors into small steps.

2. Stay close to your dog, so you can give him gentle support as needed. You want him to feel secure on the steps.

3. Make sure your dog does not rush up and down the steps, safety is priority.

4. If you don’t have a carpeted floor, place a small rug at the bottom of the steps so your dog does not slip on slick floors.

5. Be patient. Some dogs will progress quicker than others at this.

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

Take a deep breath, kitty

A cat with feline asthma, who would benefit from cat insurance, is held by his owner.

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

Last week, a client brought in a 3-year-old, female, Siamese mixed breed cat who had a severe pet health issue. The cat had been coughing for 5 months. The coughing started out randomly, but had now progressed to multiple coughing attacks daily. She was coughing during her examination, and her abdominal muscles where heaving in and out in an effort to breathe. I diagnosed her with feline asthma, and with proper medications she is now breathing easily.

Feline asthma is a disorder that causes decreased airflow in the small airways of the lungs called bronchi and bronchioles. This airflow limitation generally is the result of some combination of airway inflammation, accumulated airway mucus, and airway smooth muscle contraction. Asthma in cats is sometimes also called feline bronchitis, but these are actually two separate disorders. However, the distinction between asthma and bronchitis is not made easily, and many times it is not possible to distinguish bronchitis from asthma in cats. They do share a common finding of chronic airway inflammation and hyper-responsive (over-reactive) airways.

Asthma affects about 1% of cats* and Siamese cats seem to be more susceptible. It usually starts between the ages of 2-8 years old. The most common symptoms in cats with asthma are wheezing and coughing. The coughing has been described as a dry, hacking cough that can be confused with retching or gagging. Many cats assume a squatting position with the neck held low and extended during these coughing episodes.

Mildly affected cats may cough only occasionally and appear to be normal otherwise. These early signs are often overlooked or are mistaken for hairballs. The frequency of coughing will increase with time in many cats, and the most severely affected cats have daily bouts of coughing and wheezing with severe airway constriction leading to open-mouth breathing and respiratory distress that can be life-threatening. Like humans with asthma, cats can die from an acute asthma attack.

The exact cause of the underlying airway inflammation and airway hyper-responsiveness in cats with asthma remains under investigation. It does appear that when the airway of the cat is sensitive to certain stimuli, exposure to these agents leads to a narrowing of the airways. The inciting agents are usually direct irritants to the airways or things that provoke an allergic response in the respiratory tract.

These agents can include inhaled allergens (dust from cat litter, cigarette smoke, perfume, hairspray, deodorizers), pollens or mold, infectious agents (viruses, bacteria), and parasites (heartworms, lungworms). Regardless of the irritating agent, the end result is the same: muscle spasm and constriction of the airways, build-up of mucus and airway inflammation.

Because feline asthma could occur in any cat, it’s a good idea to be prepared with cat insurance. After a thorough physical examination of your cat, your veterinarian will take chest x-rays to help diagnose asthma. Characteristic changes in the lungs are common on x-rays. Bloodwork may be run to help provide clues as to the underlying cause and to rule out other possible diseases like heartworm. In some cases, bronchoscopy and airway flushing are performed under anesthesia to visually examine the airways and obtain cell samples from deep in the lungs for microscopic examination and testing.

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Asthma in cats can be treated successfully but not cured. The most important drug for treating feline asthma is a corticosteroid to reduce the chronic airway inflammation. The traditional method is to utilize oral corticosteroids which are given at a higher dose for about 10-14 days and then slowly tapered down to an every other day dosing regimen. Cats are much more resistant to the side effects of steroids than are dogs or humans, and most cats do quite well with low-dose, long-term steroid use. Bronchodilators may also be used to open the airways and allow the cat to move air more freely.

In recent years, veterinarians have found that the most effective cat health therapy for feline asthma may be to use inhalers like human asthmatics use. A mask and spacer system has been designed for use in cats similar to those used for babies and small children. Both corticosteroid and bronchodilator inhalers are available for cats. The advantages of inhalers are that the medication is delivered directly to the airways where it is needed, and they are associated with fewer long-term side effects than oral systemic steroids. The downside of inhaler therapy is that it can be expensive. Your veterinarian will help determine which treatment is best for your cat.

Any factors known to trigger or aggravate breathing problems should be avoided. This may include trying different brands of cat litter, eliminating cigarette smoke from the home, and discontinuing use of any aerosols or sprays in the home or using them well away from the affected cat. Air purifiers may also be helpful. In addition, obese cats with asthma will benefit from weight reduction.

1. Padrid, Philip. Asthma. In August, JR, editor: Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine, vol 6, St. Louis, 2010, Saunders, p 449.

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

Dog’s runny nose may be life threatening

A German Short Hair Pointer with pet insurance looks at the camera.

By: Dr. Fiona Caldwell
Idaho Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

Duke is a sweet-as-pie male German Shorthaired Pointer. In his nine years he has been his owner’s faithful hunting companion, flushing out birds and doing his breed-trademark pointing. He had always been healthy until this last fall, when he seemed to catch a cold and had a snotty nose with mucus discharge and sneezing. Concerned about his depleting pet health, his owners made an appointment with the veterinarian to determine what was wrong.

Dogs don’t typically get sinusitis, or infection of the sinus cavity, without an underlying condition. Usually they get a sinus infection due to some other problem, such as snorting up a grass seed, for example. Duke was an active outside dog; it was possible he could have gotten something stuck up one nostril. In fact, the list of possible underlying causes was relatively short: allergies, foreign body (seed or other plant material most likely), mites, fungal infection, bacterial infection, tooth root infection, and lastly, cancer had to be included.

We decided to tackle the list systematically and treated him for allergies and nasal mites first. When he didn’t respond, we tested for fungal infection by looking for antibodies in his blood to the most common nasal fungi, and treated for bacterial infection. In the meantime Duke seemed happy despite his snotty nose and sneezing.

The fungal test was negative. Duke partially responded to antibiotics, which made him go from having discharge from both nostrils, to only the right nostril. The only causes left on his list of differentials were foreign body, tooth root infection and cancer. Duke’s owners agreed it was time to perform a rhinoscopy and skull and nose radiographs. Because procedures like these can be expensive, it’s always a good idea to have a pet health insurance policy in place. Dog insurance can help make the best pet health care more affordable.

A rhinoscopy is a procedure where a very small camera on the end of a rigid scope is used to examine inside of small cavities, like nostrils, while the patient is asleep. We were hoping to find a grass seed or some other foreign body there, as this would be quite treatable. There was none. Duke’s X-rays showed no tooth root infections that could be communicating with the sinus cavity and no other boney changes in the skull.

Unfortunately, this left cancer as the sole remaining possible reason for Duke’s chronic nasal discharge. His owners loved him and were determined to find the answer, and agreed to advanced imaging, and ordered an MRI of his nose and head. An MRI uses advanced technology to provide a much more detailed image of body tissues, allowing the clinician to visualize soft tissue as well as bone. It also will take the images in ‘slices’ allowing the clinician to visualize small sections of the body part, from the tip of Duke’s nose, through the back of his head.

Much to all of our dismay, Duke’s MRI revealed unequivocally he had a nasal tumor in his right nostril. The most common neoplastic condition in the nose of the dog is an adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is a malignant neoplasm that can occur in a variety of different tissues. Nasal adenocarcinomas generally carry a poor prognosis without treatment. Duke wouldn’t have long if the owners decided not to go forward with the recommended treatment.

Radiation therapy is the treatment of choice for intranasal carcinomas. About 50% of treated dogs will live longer than 12 to 18 months with a good quality of life. Most dogs tolerate radiation very well, with minimal side effects. Side effects that can occur are usually mild superficial burns secondary to radiation on the skin.

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Duke’s pet health condition isn’t uncommon. Cancer occurs in about 50% of dogs and a third of cats. Veterinary oncology is becoming more and more advanced, keeping up with human medicine, in terms of treating cancer. The biggest road block veterinarians often face, is the acceptance of owners to be financially responsible for costly cancer treatment, and the stigma that radiation and chemotherapy will somehow be cruel. Animals very rarely have the serious side effects of chemotherapy like people do; they don’t lose their hair or their appetites. In fact, owners often can’t tell anything has changed! As more people recognize the value of pet health insurance, hopefully this will allow more people access to lifesaving treatment options for cancer.

Duke’s owners were put in a difficult position. They didn’t have dog insurance for Duke and they had already spent a significant amount of money diagnosing him. Radiation therapy would be an additional $4,000.

Throughout the whole ordeal Duke has been a stellar patient. He never complains, is always happy to be examined, doesn’t mind being poked and prodded. It is unclear how Duke will do long term; his owners are still on the fence about pursuing additional treatment. It is clear Duke is a special part of his family, and he’ll love them either way.

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