We've all been there - waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of our cat hacking and retching up a hairball. Or better yet, not waking up and getting the squishy surprise of stepping in it the next morning. Ick. But why do cats get hairballs? When should you worry?
What is a hairball?
Cats are self-grooming creatures, so they ingest hair on a daily basis as part of their normal routine. They may also groom their friends and ingest hair from housemates. Have you ever noticed how rough your cat's tongue is? Those tiny papillae point backwards and help the cat catch loose hair and untangle knots. They also prevent the cat from spitting out most of this hair, so instead they move hair towards the back of the mouth to be swallowed. Most of this hair will pass through the GI tract uneventfully and be passed in the stool. Sometimes the hair accumulates in the stomach or esophagus, leading to a hairball. When enough hair is trapped in the stomach it will often trigger the urge to vomit. Bringing up a hairball is usually an active process for most cats. They may make noise, hack, retch, or cough before bringing up the hair. A healthy hairball can be anywhere from 1-5 inches long, and is usually tube shaped from coming up the esophagus. The fluid around the hairball can range from clear to yellow to green to brown and still be normal. It will depend on how recently your cat ate and drank.
How many hairballs are normal?
Healthy cats can bring up a hairball on a weekly basis. Some will do so much less frequently (or never), and some cats will increase their hairballs during their twice yearly major shedding cycles. Cats who are distressed by their hairballs, vomit repeatedly, or bring up hairballs more than once a week should see the veterinarian.
How to treat hairballs:
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to make your cat's hairballs less frequent.
Fall is here, and that means certain wildlife may be trying to make their way into your home to find a cozy spot for the winter. But don't reach for that rat bait just yet - take these simple precautions to keep your pets safe from poisoning.
Rat and mouse bait:
Rodenticides are poisons that kill rodents. They are frequently used to control mice and rats in homes, businesses, and some public areas. Unfortunately, children and pets are susceptible to the same active ingredients, so they are at risk for accidental poisoning. There is no such thing as a "pet-safe" bait. They are designed to smell good to get the rodents to come eat them. I've seen dogs who moved rocks to dig up buried baits, who chewed through heavy plastic bait stations, who opened cabinets to get to refill packs. They are motivated by the smell and have no idea that the delicious treat is designed to kill.
So the bottom line is, if you value your pet's life, DO NOT BRING THESE INTO YOUR HOME. Choose integrated pest management instead. This starts by removing food sources that draw the rodents into your home, blocking the entrances, and using mechanical traps (placed far away from inquisitive paws and noses), glue traps, or live traps to remove the creatures already present. Click the link for more information.
On the other hand, ant and roach baits are rarely toxic to dogs and cats. They may vomit or have mild diarrhea, but ingestion is rarely an emergency. An obstruction can occur, however, if they swallow the plastic or metal casing. If your pet eats an ant or roach bait, call your veterinarian or poison control with the specific active ingredient to verify whether or not any treatment is needed.
Antifreeze is one of the most common pet poisonings in the United States, probably because it's commonly found in most homes. It frequently contains the toxin ethylene glycol, which can have a sweet taste that is attractive to dogs and cats. They will lick it off garage floors if it drips down from the car. The poison causes changes to behavior and quickly progresses to kidney failure.
Signs of antifreeze poisoning include:
How to keep your pets safe:
Ah-choo! Cats can sneeze for a variety of reasons ranging from no big deal to serious illness. Here's how to tell whether to stay home and relax or call the vet.
Sneezing is a normal response to nasal irritation. Occasional sneezes are nothing to worry about, especially if your cat is immediately back to normal after the sneeze.
Sneezing can produce clear spray or thick snot. In general, clear spray sneezes are often viral or allergic in origin, while thicker green or yellow snot can mean bacterial or fungal infection. The nasal discharge can be present on both sides (bilateral), or just from one nostril (unilateral). Unilateral nasal discharge usually means something is structurally wrong, like an abscessed tooth or a foreign object stuck in the nasal passage. It always warrants a trip to the vet.
Causes of sneezing:
When to see the vet:
If in doubt, call us! While sneezing can be a normal sporadic part of a cat's life, any chronic sneezing or ill cats should be evaluated and treated.
As a new pet owner (or an experienced owner of a new pet), you may ask yourself whether or not you should have your dog, cat, or rabbit spayed (for females) or neutered (for males).
Prevent unwanted behaviors:
What are the risks of spaying and neutering?
Did you know that summertime is flu season for dogs? Or that parvovirus is more common in warm weather? Summer is a great time to review your dog and cat's vaccines to make sure they're fully protected while they play.
Who needs what?
Vaccinations prevent infectious diseases. We carefully select vaccines that are safe, painless, and effective to provide your dog and cat with the best protection with the least risk of side effects. Vaccinations are divided into two categories by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP): core and noncore. Core vaccinations are for every pet. Noncore vaccinations are selected based on what diseases are present in your area and your pet's individual risk factors and lifestyle.
How to decide which noncore vaccines your dog needs:
Social dogs should be protected against kennel cough and dog flu. That includes dogs who go to day care, dog parks, grooming, or boarding facilities. It also includes dogs who may come into contact with friends on neighborhood walks. We've had 2 outbreaks of flu here in Cincinnati, and several boarding facilities even had to close temporarily to stop the spread. Both flu and kennel cough are airborne. They are spread by sneezing and nasal discharge.
Here in Cincinnati, we strongly recommend that all dogs be protected against leptospirosis because our local raccoon and opossum populations are carriers of the bacteria. The bacteria are hardy in moist conditions, so all it takes to get infected is for a raccoon to pee in your yard and your dog to sniff/lick the area. Then the bacteria multiply and cause damage to the liver and kidneys. Even more scary is that leptospirosis is contagious to people, so you are at risk if you come into contact with your sick pet's urine.
Lyme disease vaccination is not usually needed for dogs who stay in Cincinnati as long as they are on year-round tick prevention. That may change in the future, however, as our tick population becomes more infected with the bacteria and the risk for the disease increases. Dogs who are not protected against ticks or who travel to the northeast or northern midwest should be vaccinated.
Which noncore vaccines does my cat need?
Cats who go outside where they may come into contact with other cats should be protected against FelV (Feline leukemia virus). That virus is spread through saliva, so sharing a water dish, mutual grooming, or fighting can lead to virus transmission. The virus can lead to a supressed immune system and even the development of certain cancers like lymphoma.
Cats who live with an FIV-infected cat can receive the FIV vaccine. This virus is transmitted from cat to cat by biting. Only cats who are microchipped should receive this vaccine, because it will cause the cat to test positive for the disease on the screening tests used in most veterinary offices. So if your cat ever gets lost, he or she might be mistakenly diagnosed with the disease and considered sick and contagious. FIV causes immunosuppression, making your cat more susceptible to infections.
Chlamydophila, Bordetella, and FIP vaccinations are rarely needed for cats in the Cincinnati area.
Summer - it's time for the sun, backyard grill-outs, pool parties, and fireworks! But those bangs can be scary for our pets - so here are some tips for calming our nervous friends when the thunder starts crashing or the fireworks start booming. Here's what you can do to keep your furry friend more comfortable.
Signs of a nervous pet:
Pets who are anxious because of a storm or fireworks display may have mild to severe symptoms. They can be extra clingy and stay by your side, or you may see hiding and trembling. Nervous pets may pant, pace, urinate or defecate, drool, or become destructive to furniture or objects if left alone.
Give them space
Provide a hideaway, preferably without windows and away from exterior walls. Bathrooms, closets, and basements are often soothing locations. Your pup may want to shelter in the bathtub, and kitty may find under the bed to be her place of refuge.
Start up the music
Playing music indoors can mask the sound of thunder or fireworks and make the loud noises less startling.
Dampen the noise
You can put cotton balls in your dog's or cat's ears to muffle the sound of thunder or fireworks. Dog caps, ear muffs, and headphones are also available and may help make the noises less loud.
A tight jacket like a thundershirt can give your pet a constant hug feeling and helps through pressure points. Foods and supplements that decrease anxiety and promote calm responses can work wonders for fearful pets. These will usually work better if given daily, so are best started several weeks to a month before the scary event.
Medicate if necessary
Some pets require more help than you can give at home. Pets who are shaking, urinating or defecating in the house, or are unable to eat or rest require stronger medications to decrease the fear and terror. This is important to make future episodes less scary, because fears can build over time and can lead to destructive behavior if not modified. These prescriptions include medications like Sileo, alprazolam or diazepam, gabapentin, and trazodone. We will decide together which is best for your particular pet.
I'm not sure there's anything redeeming about ticks. They crawl, they bite, and they carry diseases. Thankfully there are some easy ways to just say no to ticks this spring - and all year long.
Here's what you need to know to keep your pets (and your family) safe from ticks.
As you can see, there are a number of effective options available. Some are available in pet stores, others through your veterinarian.
Found a tick? Now what?
Gross - you just found a tick. First, take a deep breath and don't panic. Next, how to remove a tick: grab a pair of tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull straight out. This applies to ticks on people as well as pets. The goal is to get the tick's head and mouthparts out if possible. Do NOT pour alcohol on the tick or try to burn it - those techniques just make the tick regurgitate more into the wound and increase disease transmission. Do save the tick and send a photo of it to the folks at tickencounter.org for identification. They will let you know what the risks are for that particular species, and then you can decide whether to pay to have your tick tested for diseases.
Watch for illness - watch your pet closely for lethargy, fever, limping, swollen joints, bruising, or changes to thirst or urination. These are signs of several of the tick-transmitted infections like Lyme disease or Ehrlichiosis. Seek veterinary care quickly if your pet becomes ill.
Test for disease - make sure your veterinarian screens your dog every year for the most common tick diseases, even if you've been using prevention. This can usually be done with a few drops of blood right in the office. A positive result means your pet has been exposed to the organism, and further testing is needed to see if treatment is recommended.
April is First Aid Awareness Month, so here are the essentials - and how to use them - for your first aid kit.
The essential pet first aid kit:
What to do if your pet is choking:
A choking pet will have difficulty breathing, may paw or rub at his or her face or mouth, may cough or retch, and may have blue-tinged lips or tongue.
February was Pet Dental Health Month, so we're going to focus on those (hopefully) pearly whites today. Not so pearly or not so white? Probably time for a checkup and professional cleaning. Because even veterinarian's dogs get dental problems too, here's my Truffle's dental story from last month.
There is a new swelling on the left side of her face, underneath her left eye. Trace the jawline and it will become more clear (I'm sorry, she's a black fuzzy dog so photos aren't as obvious). The picture to the far right has the swelling outlined in red.
The most likely cause of a lumpy swelling on the face in dogs is an infected tooth. If the whole face is swelling or the eyes are swollen, think allergic reaction and seek treatment immediately. Unfortunately, tumors are also a possible cause, especially in older pets, so it's important to get a diagnosis quickly to address the problem.
After a week of antibiotics, Truffle's face was almost back to its normal shape. This made a tooth root infection the most likely reason, so we proceeded to dentistry to find the culprit.
This is what Truffle's teeth looked like once she was asleep. The orange tube goes into her airway and is connected to an anesthetic machine giving her oxygen. It allows us to closely adjust how deeply she's asleep and even breathe for her if necessary, and is one of the many precautions we take to ensure safe anesthesia.
Not too bad, right? But on probing carefully around each tooth, I found a pocket in the center of the largest upper molar. We took x-rays:
After the bad tooth was surgically removed, the gum was stitched back together to provide quickest healing time. Here is Truffle's mouth at the end of the procedure.
A week after the dentistry, I let Truffle start chewing on rawhides and dental treats again. Her mouth is pain-free, and the swelling on the side of her face is much improved. She may never be exactly symmetric again, but now she has a chance to heal and the source of the infection is gone for good.
So here's the moral of the story - even teeth that look ok can hide some pretty nasty problems. Have your pets' teeth checked every time they visit the veterinarian, and follow up with an anesthetic dental cleaning if recommended. Scraping the teeth while your pet is awake will miss a problem like Truffle's every time.
Heartworms are scary, and unfortunately, they're here in Cincinnati. We earned the dubious honor of being the city with the fastest growth in the country of new heartworm cases last month. You can't see them, and they can make your dog or cat seriously ill. Heartworms are parasites that live in the heart, lungs, and large blood vessels of dogs and cats. They are transmitted as microscopic larvae by mosquitoes. Luckily, there are effective ways to prevent your dog and cat from getting heartworms.
As you can see from these maps, heartworm disease is steadily spreading across the country, and unfortunately Cincinnati is now in the red zone. We'll get the next updated map in 2020.
How do you get heartworm disease?
From a mosquito. A mosquito bites an infected dog, and ingests baby heartworms, called microfilaria. She then carries these microfilaria to the next dog or cat, and infects the pet when she feeds.
Those heartworm larvae now spend 2 - 4 months migrating through the tissues of the new dog or cat, growing up into adult heartworms when they reach the vessels of the heart. Heartworms can grow to be over 12 inches long, and can live for 7 years inside your dog. The heartworm preventions are only effective during the first 2 months from infection by the mosquito.
What should you do?
Protect your dog and outdoor cat every single month with heartworm prevention.
Common tasty chewable brands include Sentinel, Interceptor, Heartgard, and Triheart. Topical heartworm preventions are also available for cats and dogs - Revolution and Advantage Multi. There are many options, and they're all just about equally effective at preventing heartworms from reaching adulthood as long as they're given monthly. There is even a long-acting injection, ProHeart 6, which provides 6 months of protection.
We can help you decide which heartworm prevention is the best for you. They are all slightly different in what other parasites they treat, but they are equally effective at preventing heartworm. But they all MUST be given EVERY SINGLE MONTH in order to work. Talk to us about which particular medicine is best for your pet's lifestyle. Once those baby heartworms become adult, they are resistant to the preventatives and your pet needs treatment for the disease.
How to diagnose heartworm disease:
A couple drops of blood is all it takes to check your dog or cat. Here at Montgomery Animal Hospital, we will also screen your dog for tick-borne infections with the same test. Check with your vet about which test is being run, since some tests screen for heartworm only.
How to treat heartworm disease:
Heartworm treatment is a long, arduous process for dogs. There is NO treatment for cats - we are limited to supporting their hearts and lungs as best as we can until the worm dies on its own, a process that can take years. While it's worth it in the end to save your pet's life and lungs, it's not a fun thing to go through.
warning - graphic photograph below