Old age can cause challenges whether you have 2 legs or 4. Here are some simple steps you can take to make your older pet's daily life more comfortable and maximize the enjoyable moments.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being over- or under-weight can both be a problem for the senior pet. Work with us to adjust your pets' feeding schedule so that we can optimize lean muscle mass, decrease the stress of obesity on joints, and make sure your pet has the reserves he or she needs to fight illness.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has many people worried for their health and the health of their families and pets. Concerned owners in China have even started putting face masks on their cats when outdoors to minimize the risk of exposure. Should you be worried about your pet? In a word, no.
The current outbreak is caused by a novel coronavirus named Sars-CoV-2, that causes a disease known as COVID-19. As of February 18, the World Health Organization reports it has infected over 73,000 people and caused almost 1900 deaths. That's a lot of people, but let's put it in perspective: the CDC estimates that there have been at least 26,000,000 (yes, million) cases of influenza since October 2019 and at least 14,000 deaths this season here in the United States alone. Companion animals like cats and dogs don't become ill from COVID-19, but it is conceivable that they could carry the virus from one person to another. So a person infected with COVID-19 should minimize contact with their pets to protect other people in the household.
The best protection against viruses is to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your nose and mouth, and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers after touching public objects (like doorknobs). Stay home if you are ill, and if you are coughing or sneezing in public cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow to minimize the spray.
But what about other coronaviruses?
Dog Coronavirus Infections:
Cat Coronavirus Infection:
We like to find healthy teeth under a small amount of tartar, with healthy gums that are pink and sharp-edged. Dental xrays will show us healthy roots and bone. These procedures are the shortest and least invasive, and our pets wake refreshed with healthy mouths and fresh breath. An optional dental sealant provides up to 6 months of extra protection against periodontal disease.
- gingivitis: swollen red gums
- pockets: when infection travels along the tooth root under the gum line
- root exposure: chronic infection leads to loss of gum and bone
- loose teeth: this is the end stage of periodontal disease, when the supporting structures around the tooth have been destroyed by infection
- tongue or cheek ulcers or wounds
- growths: lumps inside the mouth can be either cancerous or non-cancerous, and biopsy is required to tell the best course of treatment
- swollen tonsils or lymph nodes
- foreign objects: we've removed hair, pieces of acorn, and even sticks!
- laryngeal changes: some patients develop problems with the soft tissues around their larynx as they age, leading to swallowing or breathing changes
After we've done our job, it's up to you. Daily home care will keep your pet's mouth healthy.
- Dental diets: Hill's T/D is specially created so that each kibble mechanically scrapes the teeth rather than shattering as your pet chews
- Dental chews: There are many available brands. Look for the VOHC seal on the packaging and always watch your pet while they enjoy their chew. We recommend CET HEXtra chews, CET Veggiedent chews, or Oravet dental hygiene chews.
- Daily brushing: Brush your dog or cat's teeth every day with an enzymatic toothpaste like the CET enzymatic toothpaste. Learn how - click on the video!
Resolution #1: 5 more minutes of play
Even just 5 extra minutes of active play makes a difference in your pet's mental and physical health. Throwing a ball, taking a walk or teaching a new trick are good ways to engage your dog. Cats may not retrieve toys but will usually walk to eat kibble tossed in front of them at mealtimes (one piece at a time, folks). Laser pointers, feather dancers, and toys that move on their own can be stimulating for cats. Birds will enjoy paper boxes to shred and foraging toys. Extra bonus - you'll move yourself as well as your pet, and get those creative juices flowing to keep them engaged.
You'll need a measuring cup and 5 minutes to start this one. I hate to break it to you, but those labels on the back of the food bags usually overestimate the amount of food your pet needs. A basic rule of thumb is that a healthy weight spayed or neutered indoor cat or small dog needs roughly 20 calories per pound. Talk to us about your pet's specific needs, because our pets are individuals and the estimates are only starting points. Overweight sedentary pets may need significantly fewer calories while active pets will need more. Carefully monitor weight and body condition after changing the diet to ensure that your pet is fed properly. Check out the Pet Nutrional Alliance calculators or look at the tables by the World Small Animal Veterinary Association for dogs or cats to get the number of calories to start with. Your pet's food should have a calories per cup or can somewhere on the bag, usually near the ingredients. Then you can do the math. If you like giving treats, here's permission: 10% of the calories can come from treats. For example:
- my 60lb dog needs roughly 1000 calories according to the chart, or 1167 according to the calculator
- my Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diet DRM is 418 calories/cup
- 1000 / 418 = 2.4 cups or 1176 / 418 = 2.75 cups - this is your starting point
- I have been feeding Cooper 2.5 cups per day, or 1,045 calories of kibble, with a 190 calorie dental chew 3 days/week. Don't forget to add in dental chew calories - as you can see, a single chew is more than Cooper's 10% treat allowance! I balance that by not using one every day. Since Cooper is maintaining his weight and muscle mass, I know that I have his calorie needs in balance
- I ignore the bag, which recommended 2.75-3.5 cups per day for a 60lb dog
Resolution #3: Weekly once-overs
Think of this as petting with purpose, and a chance to bond with your pet. Once a week, run your hands over your pet's entire body. You're feeling for anything out of the ordinary or asymmetric. This is your chance to find anything from a mat in the fur to a new skin bump to realizing that one leg more muscle than the other or that a joint is swollen. Lift the ear flaps to look and smell - any brown gunk or odor? Clean off any eye goobers, using a wet washcloth to moisten dried out crusts so you don't rip the fur. Lift the lips and look at the teeth - any red angry gumlines, lumps, or brown tartar? Here is your chance to catch little things while they're still little and easier to fix.
Nothing spoils a meal faster than the dog eating the roast, carving knife and all (yes, that's actually happened). Keep pets away from tempting holiday spreads to prevent everything from a minor bellyache to life-threatening pancreatitis.
Onions, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, the sweetener xylitol, and chocolate are all toxic to dogs and cats. If your pet gets a hold of food with any of these ingredients, call us and induce vomiting as quickly as possible.
Holiday decorations provide a variety of new smells and tastes for the curious dog, cat, or parrot. Block all access by your inquisitive friend for the safest holiday. Pitfalls include:
Christmas trees - can fall over if pets climb on them or run into them
Christmas tree lights - chewing on the cord can lead to electric shock
Christmas tree water - additives can be toxic if swallowed
Tinsel - cats can become obstructed if they swallow it
Candles - possible fire hazards, and burn risks if knocked over
Ornaments - fragile ornaments will break if knocked over and possibly cut paws and mouths
Decorative plants - lilies, amaryllis, mistletoe, and cedar are all toxic. For a complete list, look at the ASPCA Poison Control's toxic plants for dogs and cats.
Expecting guests, or a petsitter?
Make sure your pet is identified with a microchip and wearing their collars and tags when you're expecting visitors. That gives them the best chance of returning home if they accidentally get out during the commotion. Keep pets away from the exits while you are occupied collecting coats and belongings for your guests.
Boarding your pet?
Make sure they are up to date on their vaccinations, especially against kennel cough (bordetella) and the canine flu (H3N8 and H3N2 influenza). Also make sure they are protected against fleas and ticks so they don't bring home any unwanted guests.
Interstate and international travel require a health certificate from your veterinarian, usually within 10 days of travel. Check with your airline for any additional paperwork requirements. Be sure to pack sufficient supplies of food and medications, and bring your pet's medical records with you in case of emergency at your destination.
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.
Thankfully, there are several things you can do to make your cat's hairballs less frequent.
- Brush your cat. Less loose hair = less hair ingested = less hair to vomit up. Long-haired cats afflicted by hairballs will benefit from being shaved.
- Feed a hairball-specific diet. Science Diet Hairball Control, Purina Proplan Hairball Management, and Royal Canin Hairball Care cat foods all use proprietary fiber blends to catch the hair and pull it through the GI tract so it can be passed in the stool rather than vomited back up.
- Use a hairball remedy. Laxatone by Vetroquinol is a tasty gel that comes in tuna and maple flavors. It acts as a lubricant that coats the hair and allows it to pass through the GI tract
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.
- Anti-coagulant: these are the oldest type of baits and prevent blood clotting. They interfere with Vitamin K's role in the clotting cascade, eventually causing bleeding and death. Examples include Warfarin, Diphacinone, Bromadialone, and Brodifacoum. The latter two are single dose because they bind irreversibly to an enzyme and get stored in the liver, so the animal is affected long after eating the bait. Vitamin K can be used to reverse the effect of many of these baits, and your veterinarian will monitor your pet's clotting times closely to determine how long treatment is required. Unfortunately, the EPA banned the use of several anti-coagulants because of toxicity concerns, so the poison manufacturers moved on to chemicals with no antidote:
- Bromethalin: one of the most common types of bait currently available in the US is a neurotoxin. It causes nerve cells to swell, increasing the pressure in the brain. This leads to seizures, paralysis, and death. Unfortunately, there is no antidote to bromethalin when our pets are exposed. Treatment is limited to decontamination by inducing vomiting if the exposure was within the past 4 hours and giving repeated doses of activated charcoal to try the bind the toxin as it circulates through the intestines. Neurologic signs can develop within 7 days of exposure. These can include weakness, trouble walking, seizures, and death. These pets usually need to be hospitalized and medications given to decrease the pressure in the brain. Pets with mild signs can sometimes recover, but unfortunately those with severe signs will often die from their exposure.
- Cholecalciferol: Vitamin D3. The popular bait d-CON now uses cholecalciferol instead of anticoagulants. Vitamin D3 is important in the body for calcium retention, and an overdose causes levels of calcium and phosphorus to soar. This leads to mineralization of organs and rapid kidney failure. Signs of cholecalciferol poisoning usually take 1-2 days to occur, by which time the damage can be permanent and sometimes fatal. Signs to watch for include increased thirst and urine, vomiting, weakness, lethargy, decreased appetite, and lack of urine in the end stages. It is crucial that cholelciferol exposure be treated immediately to preserve your pet's kidneys.
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:
- wobbly gait, acting drunk
- vomiting and/or diarrhea
- urinating more
- rapid heart rate
- depression, acting dull, or coma
How to keep your pets safe:
- Purchase antifreeze with the safe propylene glycol instead of the toxic ethylene glycol
- Keep antifreeze in closed containers out of reach of pets
- Dispose of used antifreeze properly
- Clean any spills immediately to prevent pet contact
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.
- Viral upper respiratory infection - this is the most common cause of acute (rapid onset, short term signs), especially in shelters, boarding facilities, and outdoor cats. Herpes and calici viruses are the most common causes and are both highly contagious. Nasal discharge is bilateral, can be clear or white, there is often eye involvement, and it can be accompanied by fever. Signs will usually clear in 7-10 days, but cats can become chronic carriers and spread the virus to other cats.
- Bacterial infection - bacterial infections are often secondary to another cause (like a foreign body or mass), but can also occur on their own. Chlamydophila, mycoplasma, and bordetella can all cause nasal infections. They usually show up with thick green/yellow discharge from both nostrils.
- Allergies - environmental allergies can cause sneezing in cats just like in people. Molds, pollen, and dust mites are the common triggers. Nasal discharge is usually bilateral, clear, and watery. Anti-histamines like chlorpheniramine can help relieve symptoms.
- Fungal infection - less common in Ohio than in the Southwest, cryptococcus infections can cause severe destruction and remodeling of the sinus, leading to facial asymmetry. Affected cats will have thick and sometimes bloody nasal discharge, and often only one nostril is affected.
- Foreign object - cats can inhale grass awns, seeds, or bits of plant material. Acute onset severe sneezing, pawing at the face, and unilateral nasal discharge are signs that something could be stuck.
- Dental disease - tooth root abscesses can breach the nasal cavity and lead to nasal discharge and sometimes bloody noses. This is usually unilateral, and the discharge is usually thick and green/yellow.
- Polyps - polyps are benigns growths that can cause severe nasal discharge from secondary infections. Discharge is usually unilateral and thick green/yellow. Young cats are the most commonly affected. The polyps can grow toward the ear as well. They will often cause congested breathing sounds.
- Cancer - older cats can develop cancer within the sinuses or nasal turbinates that leads to nasal discharge and facial asymmetry. Usually the discharge is unilateral, and it can sometimes be bloody.
- Idiopathic - there are some cats with chronic (long-standing) disease for whom no cause can be found. It is possible that early episodes of viral or bacterial infection remodeled the nasal turbinates or sinuses and predispose these cats to inflammation throughout their lives. While they can rarely be cured, signs can usually be managed to the point that these cats are comfortable and living well.
- Any sneezing cat with a decreased appetite needs to see the veterinarian. Cats are very sensitive to smell, and many will not eat if they can't smell their food. A thick snotty nose definitely impairs ability to smell, so these cats need help quick. Offering smelly canned foods and tuna can perk up an appetite, and hanging out in a steamy bathroom or near a humidifier can also help loosen nasal secretions.
- Fever is another reason to see the veterinarian. If your cat has decreased energy or is running a fever (most accurately measured rectally by your veterinarian), veterinary care is needed.
- Lethargy or trouble breathing - if the congestion impacts your cat's ability to play and exercise or if your cat ever appears to be in distress, seek veterinary care immedicately.
- Unilateral (one-sided) nasal discharge or bloody nose - since this often means there's a foreign object or structural reason behind the sneezing, seek veterinary care quickly.
- Thick green/yellow snot, or any sneezing that lasts more than a couple weeks
- Acute sneezing with clear discharge and a happy cat - if your cat sneezes but is playful, alert, and has good appetite, it's usually safe to monitor at home for a week or so. Viral upper respiratory infections will run their course and you should see improvement after 7 days.
- Mild seasonal sneezing with clear spray - sneezing that recurs each year during a specific season may be allergic in nature. As long as your cat is otherwise acting fine you can try antihistamines at home as needed (talk to your vet about dosages). Stop all smoking within the home, scented air fresheners, and candles, and install an air purifier to decrease inhaled allergens. This will minimize their discomfort.
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.
From a pet population perspective, the answer is crystal clear: an unambiguous yes. A female cat will produce 12 kittens per year on average. (A female cat will usually produce 3 litters per year, with an average size of 4 surviving kittens per litter. ) Each of those kittens can start having her own litters by the time she's 6 months old. So in 10 years, a single cat and her offspring will produce more than 50,000 new cats. Check out this kitten calculator for the details. That is obviously far too many cats for the available homes. Spaying and neutering prevents the suffering and possible starvation of unwanted pets, so is clearly the responsible choice for the population.
But what about the individual perspective? Spaying and neutering has health benefits for each individual pet too.
Prevent disease in dogs, cats, and rabbits:
- Spaying eliminates heat cycles. Female cats go into heat for 4-5 days every three weeks during breeding season. If you haven't had the experience, this involves a lot of yowling - usually at night - and frequent urination - not always in the litterbox - as she tries to attract her mate. Female dogs will bleed during their heat cycle twice a year and may need to wear a diaper to prevent soiling the house and furniture.
- Neuter to decrease the urge to roam. Intact dogs and cats will get creative in their drive to escape and find mates in heat. Neutering will keep them safe from traffic and fights over mates or territory.
- Neuter to decrease spraying and humping. Intact dogs and cats often feel the need to mark their territory by urinating, and the urine smells strongly. Neutering will decrease this, but can't remove the behavior entirely once it's been learned. Early neuter (before 6 months old) is the best way to prevent it. The urine odor decreases dramatically once neutered.
- Myth: my pet will get fat. Reality: no, your pet won't get fat because of the spay or neuter. The reality is that excess calories for your pet's level of exercise leads to packing on the pounds. Our pets' metabolisms slow down after 6 months of age because they stop growing so quickly, so it's easy to over-feed them. See our blog post on how much to feed for more information.
- Myth: Spaying is risky and painful. Reality: at our AAHA-accredited hospital surgery is safe and pain is minimized. Our patients are monitored throughout their entire anesthesia and recovery, and we use multi-modal protocols involving small doses of multiple medications to minimize risk of side effects. Pain-relieving medication is used before, during, and after surgery. We want you keep your pet quiet and calm after surgery, but our clients tell us it's just about impossible because their pets are feeling so well they want to run and play.
- Myth: spaying and neutering is expensive. Reality: the cost of the spay or neuter is far less than caring for a single litter of puppies or kittens. Low-cost spay and neuter facilities that are subsidized by donations (like UCAN here in Cincinnati) make responsible pet ownership affordable to all.
- Fact: Spaying and neutering can slightly increase the risk for certain medical conditions in dogs. These are very breed and gender specific, and can be impacted by the age at time of spay or neuter. For example, urinary incontinence can occur in large-breed spayed female dogs, with the greatest risk occuring if they are spayed before 3 months of age. Talk to us about your individual pet so we can determine the optimal timing to achieve the benefits listed above while decreasing any negative impact. The AVMA has the technical details here.
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.
Core Vaccines for Dogs
Core Vaccines for Cats
Noncore Vaccines for Dogs
Noncore Vaccines for Cats
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.
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.