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Why does the cat wheeze?

Posted on: September 22nd, 2011 by

A cat with cat insurance and feline asthma looks past the camera.

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

Feline asthma is a common, but poorly understood respiratory disease in cats. It is very similar to asthma in people, but cats pose an interesting challenge in terms or delivering medications to control this disease! Because of the difficult nature of treating this disease, it’s advised to research cat insurance early on.

It is thought that the cause of feline asthma is related to an allergic reaction to something inhaled. Successful therapy will often include attempting to determine what in the environment the cat is reacting to. Often this is difficult to do; possible allergens include dust, cigarette smoke, mildew and mold, pollen, cat litter, and possibly household chemicals.

Cats in city environments and in households with owners that smoke do seem to be at an increased risk for feline asthma. There is no conclusive proof, but it is thought that avoiding these allergenic triggers can help to control this condition.

This disease is characterized by inflammation of the lower respiratory system resulting in bronchoconstriction. When the bronchioles narrow, there is less room for airflow. Cats will compensate for this by increasing their respiratory rate. Thus, most cats I have seen with this condition have a rapid respiratory rate and cough, but every cat can show somewhat different symptoms.

Some cats will have a slight chronic cough or wheeze for years and never seem in distress. Other cats can have a seasonal component to their symptoms. Some will only acutely present in respiratory distress without any history of coughing. Because diagnosis and treatment can sometimes be expensive, it’s a good idea to have pet insurance for your cat. Purchasing this when your cat is still a kitten is a good idea. Left untreated, cats can suffer severe bronchiospasms, leading to asthma attacks and even death.

Cats can compensate for respiratory disease in amazing ways and subtle changes in breathing can actually indicate a serious problem. Any change in character or depth of breathing, or a resting respiration rate over 50 to 60 breaths a minutes is typically abnormal in a cat. Any cat that is breathing with its mouth open, like a panting dog, is also abnormal. Respiratory issues warrant immediate veterinary attention to treat and diagnose the underlying problem. Consider having cat insurance as a way to help keep your cat healthy!

There is no one reliable test that proves feline asthma is the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will need to perform several tests, likely blood work and chest radiographs in order to rule out other diseases that can also look this way. This is really important since other respiratory diseases mimicking asthma can be even more serious; such diseases include pneumonia, heartworm disease, lung cancer, heart failure and chronic bronchitis, just to name a few.

Initial treatment in an acute crisis will likely include steroids, bronchodilators and oxygen therapy. Hospitalization and veterinary medicine in general is expensive, and considering pet heath insurance is always a good idea to help with unexpected costs. Once a diagnosis is made, most cats can be managed on two types of medication, similarly to people. One medication is used for long term control (usually some type of steroid), the other medication (usually a bronchodilator) is needed for short term immediate relief during an ‘attack.’

Believe it or not, there are feline asthma inhalers available that can deliver medication directly to the lungs. They are shaped like a face mask and are placed over the nose and mouth. This isn’t always tolerated well by cats. In those that refuse this, oral or injectable medications are needed.

An asthma attack can be a scary thing to watch, and certainly always warrants medical attention, but the good news is that cats can live very comfortable lives as a well-controlled asthmatic.

Cat’s life– hanging by a thread

Posted on: September 20th, 2011 by

A cat, without cat insurance, plays with a string.

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

Oscar, a handsome 7-year-old male, black and white, short-haired cat was brought to our clinic because his owner thought he might have eaten embroidery thread. She had come home at the end of the day to find a trail of the string she left on the kitchen counter the day prior, wrapped around the legs of the counter bar stools. The next morning she noticed that he was listless, didn’t eat and had vomited clear fluid a couple of times. Unfortunately, Oscar’s owner didn’t have cat insurance. Sometimes pet owners assume that if their cats live indoors they will be safe from harm’s way. But cats can have numerous accidents and illensses, even if they are indoor cats– just like Oscar.

As I began the exam, Oscar was bright and alert with no evident belly pain. However, I could see a royal blue embroidery thread caught around the base of his tongue. Oscar was anesthetized later that afternoon. I re-examined his mouth and found that both free ends of the thread were already down his esophagus. I removed the thread from around the tongue base and gently tried to pull it. I was only able to move the thread about 2 inches before feeling resistance, so I had to stop to prevent any tissue damage.

The resistance indicated that the thread was already in the stomach and possibly even down into the intestines. I cut the thread as short as possible in hopes that it might be able to pass uneventfully.
Cats, especially young ones, love to play with long, thin objects like string, yarn, ribbon or thread. If ingested, though, these linear foreign bodies can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

It can cause the intestine to scrunch together, or plicate, just like if you were to pull a loose thread on the hem of a skirt or pant leg. In addition, very fine objects like thread can actually start to saw through the intestinal walls where they are all bunched together. This can cause holes in the intestines and bacteria can leak out into the abdomen potentially causing massive infection and maybe even death. As you can see, it’s because of accidents like these, that cat owners should consider purchasing pet insurance for their kitties.

X-rays of Oscar’s abdomen showed a suspicious area of intestines that I thought might be starting to plicate. He also seemed to be getting a little painful in his belly at this point too. He was stabilized overnight with fluids and pain medication, and after reassessment in the morning, I decided he needed surgery to remove the embroidery thread before it caused major damage.

Oscar was anesthetized for the second time, and I surgically opened up his abdomen. I cut into his stomach and found one end of the thread inside. I tried gently pulling it out from the intestine, but it wouldn’t budge. I made an incision into the beginning of the small intestine, grabbed the thread at that point, gently pulled it from the stomach and stabilized it. I then went back and stitched the stomach closed. My next incision was about 5 inches further down the intestine from the first incision. Again I grabbed the thread and gently pulled it free and went back and stitched the previous incision.

I continued in this step-by-step manner, making an incision, pulling the thread loose and closing the previous incision, until I was able to completely remove the entire amount of thread. There was a lot of it, and it had almost made it all the way down to the large intestine. Luckily for Oscar, none of it had cut through the intestine. I ended up making nine incisions into the intestines, plus the one into the stomach.

Oscar recovered like a real trooper. He was up and about the next day wanting to eat! He went home under close supervision and never looked back. That turned out to be quite an expensive skein of embroidery thread! The total bill was nearly $2,100. Pet health insurance would have made it a lot easier on my client’s pocketbook. Especially since 5 months earlier Oscar needed surgery to remove a bladder stone, and 2 months after eating the thread, he and his housemate devoured some chocolate and ended up at the emergency clinic to make sure it didn’t make them toxic. If you have an indoor (or an outdoor cat) be sure to research cat insurance. It just might help save your kitty’s life.

Kevin and The Cat Doctor Part 2

Posted on: September 19th, 2011 by


Hello, I’m Dr. Jane Matheys from The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital and Hotel in Boise, Idaho. Today I’m answering some questions from the Facebook page of Pets Best Insurance. Also, we are continuing our series that we call “Kevin and the Cat Doctor”.

Some questions here from Kevin. The first one, “The animal shelter insists on fixing my kitten before I can take her home. Is it really that safe at such a young age?”

Yes. The shelters are very good at doing these early-age spays and neuters on the kittens. There are a few more possible complications because the kittens are so young and so little, but done with the proper anesthesia and proper monitoring of the anesthesia, it is very safe and we have good results. Most importantly, it assures that the cats will no longer be able to reproduce and it can really help to reduce our problem of pet overpopulation.

Next, Kevin asks, “I got my cat chipped for her protection, but do the RFID implants have any long-term negative health consequences?”

I’m happy to say that no, we have not seen any problems with those microchip identifications. It is a very good way to permanently identify your kitty-cat in case she gets outside or lost. I do highly recommend them for all cats.

Then, Kevin asks, “My cat will tell me when she’s happy and when she’s mad, and even when she’s sad, but why not when she’s sick?”

Actually, Kevin, your kitty does tell you when she’s sick. We sometimes just don’t notice it. The signs can be very subtle, so it’s really best to watch your cat carefully. Know what your cat’s normal behaviors are so that you’re more likely to be able to identify when she’s acting differently.

Some of the main things that you want to look for to indicate that she might be ill are backing off on her food, not eating as much or if she totally stops eating. Another thing to watch for is any type of weight loss. Sometimes if they are pulling away from you, hiding or not interacting with you as much anymore, that can also be an indication that she’s feeling ill. You want to, of course, be looking for things like a smelly mouth, odors, diarrhea, vomiting, and things of that sort.

Cats are pretty stoic and they can often hide their illnesses very well. You have to pay close attention to what your kitty-cat is doing so you can identify problems early and get her to your veterinarian.
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Kennel stress: Signs and what to do

Posted on: September 19th, 2011 by

La La the Chihuahua watch dog looks out the window.

By: Chryssa Rich
For Pets Best Insurance

Working in the pet insurance industry, I tend to follow pet-related groups on Facebook. Some of the pages I follow include rescue groups where I see daily pleas for foster parents to come forward and help pets showing signs of “kennel stress.”

It’s true that most dogs would prefer not to stay in a strange kennel by themselves, although many do okay. But those who start suffering clear signs of stress need to be handled in a special way to ensure they’re happy, well-adjusted and adoptable when the right family comes looking for them.

Whether a dog was surrendered by its owners, found running the streets, or just boarded in a kennel while its owners are on vacation, the causes of kennel stress are pretty clear. All of a sudden, the pup is contained in a new area, eating different food, sleeping with different bedding, surrounded by unfamiliar animals and accompanied by unfamiliar humans. All these changes can really affect pet health.

Some top signs of kennel stress include:
• Pacing
• Shivering or shaking
• Tail chasing
• Bed chewing
• Refusal to eat
• Lethargy
• Excessive barking and jumping

Fostering, which is also called domestic socializing, is often the best way to counter the effects of kennel stress. When that’s not an option, shelter and rescue workers can try:

• Playing soft music
• Going for individual walks with the affected dog
• Grooming
• Socializing the affected dog with other dogs
• Playing games and teaching tricks

If you’re boarding your dog while you’re on vacation, you can reduce kennel stress by doing the following:

• Visit your dog’s kennel before you leave town to make sure it’s run properly and it will be staffed at all hours by a knowledgeable staff.
• Ask to leave your dog for just a few hours a day first, to ensure he’s comfortable there before the big trip.
• When you drop off your dog, include his favorite food, treats, toy and bedding
• Include an unwashed blanket or shirt of your own for an added familiar scent

Of course, not all dogs respond the same to the above solutions and preventive measures, so it’s important to monitor progress and see what works for each pet. And if you have room in your pet-friendly home, consider becoming a foster parent. Your efforts could help keep pets healthy, happy and ready for their forever homes.

For more information about pet health, well-being and pet insurance, visit the Pets Best Insurance blog.

Kidney Diesease Diets and Spooked Dogs – Answers from a Vet

Posted on: September 14th, 2011 by

Hi, I’m Dr. Fiona Caldwell and I’m a practicing veterinarian at Idaho Veterinary Hospital. I’m at home today answering Pets Best questions on their Facebook page.

The first question comes from Nicole. She says, “I have a five-year-old Chessie with kidney disease. I need to switch food and I’m considering going to a raw diet. What considerations should I take into account when switching over and with a raw diet?”

First of all, with kidney disease, I definitely think that you should get your dog on a kidney-formulated diet. These diets tend to be lower in phosphorus and have balanced amounts of protein, making it easier for the kidneys to function at their optimal level. Typically, the best thing for kidney diets is to use a prescription diet that’s formulated for kidney disease. There are some homemade diets that can be done this way, formulated for kidney disease as well. You probably need to talk to your veterinarian about those homemade diets.

I’m not a huge fan of raw food diets for the same reason that you don’t eat raw meat. Dogs can get salmonella and all kinds of other GI diseases from raw food. There are some veterinarians out there who are more of an advocate for it, but personally, I see so many food-borne illnesses with raw food diets that it’s not something that I would recommend.

The second question comes from Carrie. She writes, “My dog has suddenly become terrified of loud noises and trucks on our walks. He will start shaking violently and drags me home. What can I do to help my poor baby?”

This is really unfortunate. Noise anxiety can happen at any time and with any dog. It can be triggered by any number of different things. My advice to you is going to be to work with a behaviorist. I think that’s going to be your best plan to get him over this fear. There are some things that you can try to do, such as desensitization, which can be a little bit tricky. I would talk with your veterinarian about how desensitization towards noises works.

There are anti-anxiety medications that can be used. You might try walking him in an area that’s not as noisy or maybe taking him somewhere completely different, like a park that’s a little bit quieter. If you’re interested in desensitization or anti-anxiety medication, contact your veterinarian.
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