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The mythical cat health conundrum

Posted on: November 28th, 2011 by

A cat that could benefit from cat insurance licks her coat.

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

It’s quite common for my clients to come into an appointment thinking that vomiting is normal in their cats. Before I even inquire as to whether they have cat insurance for their pet, I ask if their cat has any problems related to vomiting. I’ve learned to ask very directly, “Does your cat vomit?” And I’m always surprised by the number of clients who answer “Yes, but that’s what cats do, right?” Wrong!

These clients tend to respond that the cat is fine even though I later discover that the cat has been vomiting habitually for years. I’m not sure how this myth started, but the truth is that vomiting in cats is NOT normal. Sure, an occasional hairball once a month or so can be expected, especially in a long-haired cat, but vomiting that is more frequent than that needs to be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. Having a pet health insurance policy for your cat can significantly help diminish vet-related costs when it comes to visits and diagnosing cat vomiting problems.

So why do cats vomit? The list is long! My approach to a vomiting cat depends on whether the vomiting is acute or chronic, the age of the cat, and how sick the cat is. If the cat is young to middle-aged, still bright and alert and feeling good, and if the vomiting has been going on for several months or longer, I feel comfortable taking a little more time trying to uncover the underlying problem. However, if the vomiting started suddenly, the cat is not feeling well and not eating, or if the cat is older and I see weight loss or other problems, then I will be more aggressive with my diagnostic testing and treatment.

If there is evidence of hairballs, I will use a hairball diet along with consistent brushing of the coat so the cat won’t ingest as much fur. I have clients keep diaries of the vomiting so we can look for frequency and patterns as well as help to determine whether our treatments are resolving the problem.

If the hairballs have decreased but the cat is still vomiting, I try to determine if food is a factor. I will generally recommend a grain free diet first, a hypoallergenic diet to rule out food allergies or sensitivities next, and then a so-called gastrointestinal diet that has a more highly digestible protein component.

If the cat is allowed outside unsupervised, and especially for cats that hunt, I make sure I do a thorough deworming treatment. I also make sure the cat is not ingesting any toxic/irritating material or plants. Many people think that if cats don’t feel well they will instinctively eat grass to make themselves vomit to feel better. I don’t think cats can reason like this. I more often see that many cats just like to chew on greens naturally and may vomit from stomach irritation that plants can cause, particularly grass. If your cat likes to chew on grass, provide him or her with organic wheat grass or oat grass that you can find in local markets. It’s less likely to cause vomiting.

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For young cats that come in with vomiting and a painful belly, I often think of possible ingestion of a foreign body like a string or small toy. I use x-rays or an ultrasound scan to try to identify those problems, and the kitty may need surgery to remove the material. Again, because diagnosis can be costly, I always recommend pet insurance to my clients. While pet insurance will not cover preexisting conditions, it’s a good idea to invest early to ensure coverage for accidents and illnesses that can crop up thereafter.

For older cats or for cats that are very sick on presentation, I’m more likely to recommend immediate diagnostics including bloodwork, a urine test, blood pressure measurement, and abdominal x-rays. Unfortunately, this does not always give us the answers. Sometimes the cat may need special procedures like endoscopy with biopsies or exploratory surgery of the abdomen. These more invasive techniques can be costly. Pet health insurance allows the pet owner to give her cat the best possible treatment available without financial worry. Because of this, cost does not have to be the major factor in the medical choices you make for your furry friend.

In my future blogs, I’ll look more closely at specific causes of vomiting in cats and how to diagnose and treat them successfully. For more information about cat health and pet insurance for your cat, visit Pets Best Insurance.

The 5 surprising truths about senior pets

Posted on: November 22nd, 2011 by

A cat, that would benefit from cat insurance, sits on a table.

By: Chryssa Rich
For Pets Best Insurance

No one can deny the joy puppies and kittens bring. Even before I started working for a pet insurance company, I always loved animals. I can’t think of anything cuter than a tiny ball of fur running like crazy around the house and falling asleep in your arms. But most pet owners know how much work a young pet can be, and that’s why some adopt older pets instead.

When you hear the term “senior pet”, you may think of a frail pet who is half blind and can hardly walk. But that’s not the case! In fact, cats and small breed dogs are considered seniors at just 9 years old, and larger breed dogs become seniors as early as age 6. My mother-daughter cats are 9 and 8, and they run, play, chase toys and snooze in the sun just like when they were younger.

Furthermore, there’s no reason to assume an older pet is damaged or defective in any way. They typically end up in shelters because their owners passed away, moved to a non-pet friendly rental, were deployed overseas, welcomed a new baby into the family, or even developed pet allergies.

Before Adopt a Senior Pet Month comes to an end, I encourage you to consider adopting an older pet the next time you’re looking to add to your family. Here are some advantages to doing so:

1. They’re Housebroken and Litter Box Trained
When you adopt an older pet, you almost never have to worry about housebreaking or litter box training. You’ll have fewer accidents to clean up and fewer lunch breaks demanding you to run home.

2. No Size Surprises
When you adopt a puppy, especially a mixed breed, it can be anyone’s guess how big he or she will get. With senior pets, what you see is what you get. There’s no chance that Lab mix you wanted for hunting will only grow to 20 pounds or that supposed Boxer mix will turn out to be a Mastiff mix.

3. They Let You Sleep
Kittens love to run through the house at night and wake you at 2 AM to play. Puppies being crate trained can whimper for hours and sometimes need a potty break in the middle of the night. All this can lead to quite a few sleepless weeks – even more if your kitten is extra active or your puppy’s bladder takes a while to catch up with his body.

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4. The Dangerous Curious Phase has Passed
Puppies and kittens explore their worlds and cure boredom with their mouths. This can mean frequent trips to the vet for things like foreign object ingestion and accidental poisoning, and both puppies and kittens have been known to destroy furniture, electrical cables and clothing by chewing. While pet health insurance can help with the costs of these vet trips, the number will likely be diminished if you adopt a more mature pet who is less curious.

5. They’re Less Demanding
Mature cats and dogs who have already bonded with humans are more likely to be content just hanging around the house with you. Senior dogs don’t need hours of play every day like younger dogs, and senior cats may be perfectly happy staying indoors and out of trouble.

As with any pet adoption, look into dog and cat insurance as soon as possible. The earlier coverage begins, the better the odds your pet will be protected before developing a pre-existing condition. Pets Best Insurance is one of the only pet insurance companies with no upper age limits for pets, and no canceled or reduced coverage based your pet’s age.

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

Eggs and Dewclaws – What’s Normal for Dogs?

Posted on: November 21st, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. Today I’m answering questions from Pets Best Facebook page.

The first one comes from Hannah, who says, “My dog goes nuts for eggs, whether they’re hardboiled or scrambled. Is it okay for her to have some once in a while?”

Absolutely. In moderation, that’s a fine treat for dogs to have. I would prefer that the eggs be cooked. Dogs can get salmonella, just like people can, from raw eggs, so cooking them is probably better. As with any people food, definitely in moderation.

The next one comes from Natalie, who says, “Our dog keeps chewing on her dewclaws and tearing the hair off around them. She does this every year. Is there any treatment other than making her wear an E-collar all the time?”

It sounds to me like this is seasonal if it’s happening every year. Chances are she’s got some type of seasonal allergies that coincide with the time of year. Because it’s on her feet, you might try rinsing off her feet after she’s outside or using a hypoallergenic shampoo on the feet.

If she’s actually causing damage to the skin or there’s an infection, you’re going to need to see a veterinarian so you can get her on the appropriate antibiotics. At that time it would probably be a good idea to talk about things that you can do to prevent this when that time of year comes around. This might include antihistamines, special prescribed topical shampoos, or topical sprays that can go on the feet and give her some relief.

Top 12 things I’m thankful for as a vet

Posted on: November 21st, 2011 by

A dog with pet health insurance gets ready to eat a turkey dinner.

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

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means it’s the time of the year to pause (or paws) and be grateful for the joys and priviledges pets bring into our lives. Why not take a moment this year to think of all the things you’re thankful for, aside from having pet health insurance, of course. As a vet, I like to reflect on and be thankful for the pets in both my professional life and within my own family. Pets ask us for so little and have so much to give in return. Here are the top 12 things I’m thankful for as a vet:

1. Unconditional love
If our pets misbehave and we’re forced to use our scary “stern” voice, our pets will forgive us instantly. They’re happy to curl up in our laps or give us a loving lick just moments after.

2. Unlimited kisses
There is always a sweet, wet tongue waiting to meet our faces– whether it’s a 5 am wake-up kiss on a Satuday morning, or a “just because” kiss at the end of the day.

3. Companionship
Fido is there for us anytime of the day or night, and happy to give us love and attention whether we’ve had the worst or the best day of our lives.

4. Exercise
Our pets give us a reason to get some fresh air at the dog park, or throwing a frisbee in the yard. By doing activities like these with our pets, they keep us healthy and we keep them healthy.

5. Stress relief
It’s actually been proven that having, holding and petting your pet physically reduces stress levels and keeps us healthier.

6. Always a tail wag and a happy face to greet you after a long day of work.
After a long day at the vet hospital, I’m always thankful to be greeted by my two dogs when I return home. No one will ever be as excited to see you as your pet.

7. Constant source of entertainment
Pets really do the darndest things! Whether it’s pawing at your leg for a bite of breakfast eggs and sighing defeatedly when you won’t give in, or chasing their tail, pets provide laughter and happiness to their owners.

8. Protection
Nobody likes to mess with man’s best friend. Having a dog alert you if someone’s at the door, or letting you know if he hears a funny noise can be the best kind of protection.

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9. Having a cute dog on a leash is a great way to encourage people to come say hello and introduce themselves!
Your pet may just give you that extra push you need to make a new (human) friend.

10. Puppy breath and puppy hiccups
Another thing I’m thankful for is puppy breath and little huccups. There is truly nothing sweeter.

11. Owners who take their pets in for routine care
As a vet, I’m very thankful for owners who bring their pets in for wellness check-ups. Bringing pets in at least once a year for a visit may help detect health problems before they become an even bigger problem. My dogs actually love going to the vet!

12. Pet insurance!
Of course one of the things I’m most thankful for as a vet is pet insurance! Companies like Pets Best Insurance help pet owners afford the best possible care and treatment options. Cat and dog insurance can often mean the difference between providing treatment to your pet, and the alternative no pet owner wants to think about. Get a free quote today! Your pet will be thankful you did.

Cat health: What’s wrong with Grace the kitty?

Posted on: November 19th, 2011 by

A cat with cat insurance and IBD is held by his owner.

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

My 4-year-old cat Grace started vomiting sporadically when she was only around 1 ½ years old. I didn’t get too excited about it since it was so infrequent and she was showing no other signs of illness. As time went on, though, the vomiting became more frequent, so I knew she had a serious cat health problem. Then the diarrhea started. Eventually, Grace was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and she’s been a challenge to treat ever since.

IBD is actually a group of gastrointestinal disorders, usually chronic in nature, which are characterized by an increase in the number of inflammatory cells in the lining of the digestive tract. If the inflammation predominates in the stomach or small intestine, chronic vomiting is typically the main symptom. Inflammation in the large intestine usually causes chronic loose stool or diarrhea. Some unfortunate cats, like my Grace, have inflammation in all areas resulting in both vomiting and diarrhea. In my experience, chronic vomiting is most common.

The cause of IBD is unknown. Genetics, nutrition, infectious agents, and abnormalities of the immune system may all play a role. It is interesting to note that two of Grace’s littermates have vomiting issues, although not officially diagnosed with IBD yet.

Most cats with IBD appear perfectly healthy otherwise, so owners may not realize their cat is sick. Many people buy into the myth that it’s normal for cats to vomit. It’s not unusual for me to diagnose a cat with IBD that has been a “vomiter” its whole life. That’s why it’s important to tell your veterinarian about any vomiting than is more than an occasional hairball, before it becomes serious for your cat. Being sure to invest in cat insurance prior to these kinds of issues can also help you afford the best care for your kitty. Severe IBD can cause weight loss and change of appetite, and in some cases can even progress to cancer of the intestines.

To rule out other causes of gastrointestinal disease, your veterinarian will perform blood tests, stool examinations, x-rays and possibly other tests. Because diagnosis can be expensive, it’s important to research pet health insurance early on. Common diseases such as chronic kidney failure, hyperthyroidism, and pancreatitis can also cause vomiting and diarrhea. A definitive diagnosis of IBD is only possible by intestinal biopsy, which is best accomplished using minimally invasive endoscopy under short anesthesia.

A combination of dietary management and medical therapy will successfully manage IBD in most cats. The realistic goal is control, not cure, and treatment tends to be life long. The costs can add up for chronic medical conditions like IBD, so pet health insurance plans purchased in the younger, healthy years can really be a benefit later on in life.

Sensitivity to food antigens contributes to the gastrointestinal inflammation in some cats, so a change in diet often provides symptomatic relief. A hypoallergenic diet is usually one of the first steps in the initial treatment. Grain free diets, highly digestible diets or fiber diets may also be helpful. Your veterinarian can help guide you to the best diet for your cat’s particular situation.

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Many medications can be used to control IBD. Corticosteroids are the treatment of choice in most cases. These have potent anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive properties with relatively few side effects in cats. Oral prednisolone is the steroid I use most frequently to treat IBD in cats, and it has literally been a life saver in many cases. Antibiotics such as metronidazole or tylosin can be used in combination with steroids for better control. B vitamins and probiotics may also be helpful additions. Severe or non-responsive cases may require more potent immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine or chlorambucil. A newer drug called Cerenia may also be effective in combination with steroids.

I have used all of these dietary therapies and medications for Grace’s IBD without full success. She is very sensitive to drugs, and several of them made her diarrhea worse. Her vomiting is fairly well controlled on steroids, but she stills flares up with loose stool. I continue to experiment with different treatments for her. Fortunately, she is the exception. The majority of cats respond fully and rapidly to basic medications with only occasional recurrence. If you think your kitty might have IBD, make an appointment with your vet right away.

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