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Are your cat’s kidneys crock? – The signs of kidney failure

Kidney failure is very common in cats, between 20% and 50% over the age of 15 will suffer to some degree.  Unfortunately, it is often missed until it becomes advanced because the early symptoms are subtle and our feline friends are very good at hiding illness.  However, the sooner it is caught the better In most cases the cause for the kidney’s failing is unknown, it is just a gradual dying off of the tissue, particularly in elderly cats.  If younger animals are diagnosed with the problem then can be a more obvious cause but it doesn't often change the treatment plan. The kidneys are the filtering organs for the blood.  They remove all the waste products and toxins, sending them out in the urine.  When they start to malfunction they become less efficient, these by-products stay in the body and, as they are effectively poisons, make the animal feel unwell and mildly nauseous. They are often mildly dehydrated, so it is not unlike a permanent hangover. Feeling sick understandably means affected cats have poor appetites and to survive the body has to break down its own tissue.  Unfortunately, this creates very high levels of toxic metabolites, which stay in the blood stream, make the cat feel worse, so they eat even less and so the vicious cycle continues.  The toxins themselves also directly damage the kidneys, further exacerbating the problem. The big challenge with kidney disease is that the organs will have been dying long before any signs, either in the cat or on tests, are seen.  Animals have far more kidney tissue than they need and it is only when approximately 70% is destroyed, is there any sign of the problem.  Also, the organ is non-regenerative, so once it’s gone, it’s gone. I describe it to my clients that it’s like a snowball rolling down a hill.  Once we discover the problem it has already picked up significant momentum.  We cannot stop it but we can slow it down.  This is why it is so important to catch it as early as possible. [caption id="attachment_3985" align="alignright" width="300"]"The early signs of renal disease are vague..." "The early signs of renal disease are vague..."[/caption] The early signs of renal disease are vague; slow, gradual weight loss which is often missed; being quiet in themselves and sleeping more, which can easily be written off as ‘just old age’ and occasional vomiting.  Unless vets and owners are actively looking for problems; for example regularly weighing older cats or doing simple urine tests or blood analysis, it is easy to miss until it is more advanced and the pet is obviously poorly. The mainstay of treatment for kidney failure is a change in diet.  Prescription foods for renal disease are designed to treat several aspects of the problem at once and studies have shown that cats who eat them, will live longer. These diets are easily digestible, so produce fewer toxic left-overs than normal cat food; they are supplemented with ingredients which help the remaining kidney tissue to function as best it can and contain vitamins and minerals that affected cats are often deficient in. Although these foods are very palatable and with time and patience most cats will accept them, some elderly felines are very stuck in their ways!  A good appetite is vital in renal patients so for them, and for some more badly affected pets, there are supplements that can be added to their usual food which have similar, positive effects. Another treatment which I use regularly is the administration of fluid under the skin.  Although renal patients drink copious amounts, they are chronically dehydrated. Subcutaneous fluids really help to combat this, helping them feel better and therefore eat better. Also, kidney disease is often both a cause and consequence of high blood pressure, another very common problem in older cats.  Again a vicious cycle is in action; the higher the blood pressure, the poorer the kidney function and poor kidney function very often leads to high blood pressure.  All feline renal patients should have their blood pressure regularly checked and treated if it is raised. Chronic renal failure is one of the most commonly diagnosed illnesses in older cats and all owners should be on the lookout for the early symptoms.  My one tip is to weigh your cats regularly, as often the first sign of this, and many other diseases, is insidious weight loss. If you are concerned about your pets, have a chat to your vet.  Kidney problems are easily identified with simple, non-invasive urine and blood tests and the sooner it is caught the better!  Affected cats, with the correct treatment and care, can live for years after diagnosis! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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How to get your kids involved in your cat’s care

Everybody loves a kitten.  They’re cute, they’re cuddly and they do lots of funny things which make great YouTube videos.  Your kids may have been pestering you for years to get a kitten and at first, all eyes are on the new little ball of fluff.  Over time, however, the children’s interest in the little critter often fades along with their promises to help with their daily care.  Sure, you could easily care for the cat on your own, but don’t give in that easily – learning to care for another living creature is a lesson that not only your kids will benefit from, but your cat as well.  Here are a few ways to get your children more involved in the care of your cat. 1.      Have your child take responsibility for feeding the cat every day Most children can learn to feed a cat, and many get great joy out of watching them eat their meals.  Wet food can be fed in a different place every day - your cat will start to follow your child around the house as they choose the next spot, providing exercise and entertainment for everybody involved.  Dry food can be scattered on the kitchen floor, to be chased and caught by the cat, or placed in a treat ball so they have to work at getting it out.  This may sound a bit mean at first, but is actually closer to their natural feeding behaviours.  Of course, you could just ask your child to put the food in the bowl every day, but that can get a bit dull after a while.  No matter what you or they choose, just make sure you manage the portion size as children have a tendency to overfeed.  Use a measuring cup or draw a line on the bowl and educate them as to what can happen if they feed too much.  Don’t forget to put fresh water out every day too! 2.     Teach your child how to groom the cat Many cats enjoy being brushed, so this can be a good way for your child to bond with them and vice versa.  Teach them to always brush in the same direction, WITH the fur and not against it, and to avoid any areas that the cat may find sensitive (try it yourself first so you can learn where that may be).  Either a brush or a comb will do though it’s harder to do it wrong with a brush.  They can check for fleas, examine the claws and get a good general idea of their overall health during these regular grooming sessions.  Some cats just don’t like to be brushed, and in this case I wouldn’t recommend having your child do it.  If they used to enjoy being brushed and then suddenly don’t be sure to let your vet know as it could be a sign of pain. 3.     Play with the cat Kittens aren’t the only ones who like to play, adult cats enjoy a good play session too!  Your child can choose their favourite toy at the pet shop, or even make their own out of cardboard rolls, pipe cleaners or feathers.  Adding catnip will encourage your cat to play with them even more.  Older children could even sew a catnip mouse.  If you use string, be sure that it is securely attached to a wand or larger toy so the cat can’t swallow it and stay away from smaller items that could potentially be eaten.  Playing together creates a good bond between pet and child, and is good exercise for both.  Laser pointers are particularly fun, just be sure to provide your cat with something they can actually catch after playing with the laser or they may become frustrated at the game. 4.     Keep a scrapbook Artistic kids may enjoy keeping a record of their cat’s life, much like new parents keep a baby book.  Photographs and stories, even videos if the record is kept in digital form.  It makes a nice keepsake and keeps kids on the lookout for interesting cat moments worth recording.  Older kids (and let’s face it, adults too) can even give their cat its own social media account. 5.     Get the whole family involved in your cat’s veterinary care Whenever possible, schedule vet appointments for a time when the children are around so they can see what’s involved.  Or, if the thought of taking your very active kids to the veterinary clinic sends a shiver down your spine, see if your vet can arrange a home visit.  Encourage your children to ask questions and ask the vet to explain what they’re doing throughout the exam.  If any treatment is needed, be sure the kids understand what is wrong with the cat and how you are going to try to fix it.  It’s a great way of exposing them to healthcare concepts and medical techniques such as injections that’s often less scary than going to the doctor themselves.  You may also find that your kids are better at remembering treatment advice than you are! The more involved your kids (though the same principles also apply to partners…) are in your cat’s health and daily care, the better.  Not only is it a good learning experience for the child, but it means the cat is likely to be treated with kindness and respect as well – less tail pulling and chasing wildly around the house!  And of course you will benefit too by spreading the responsibility and time required to care for them.  So don’t just give in when your kids start to lose interest, get creative and find ways to keep everybody involved. Amy Bergs DVM MRCVS If you are worried about any aspect of your cats health, please book an appointment with your vet or use our symptom guide.
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Ask a vet online-‘my cat has suddenly lost weight, she was fine a few weeks ago’

Question from Gemma Loopylou Moorey: I has my cat suddenly lost weight I can even fill her ribs now she was fine a few weeks ago. Even her mood is changed she meows loudly when I talk to her in a bad mood way Answer from Shanika Winters online vet: Hi Gemma and thank you for your question regarding your cats sudden weight loss and change of temperament.  I will discuss in my answer some possible cause for the changes you have noticed in your pet.  I would advise that you take your cat to see your vet as soon as possible. A sudden loss of a significant amount of weight can be very dangerous for your cat, regardless of the cause of the weight loss in the first place such changes can lead to organs failing and your cat being in need of emergency veterinary care. An average cat weighs between 4 and 6 kg so even a change of a few 100g of weight is significant on such a small animal.  Ideally your vet will weigh your cat each time they are seen; it is easy to keep track of your cat’s weight at home too, weigh your cat carrier empty and then with your cat inside and the difference is your cat’s weight.  This should be easier than trying to convince your cat to stand on weighing scales.  Some owners may be able to weigh themselves and then again when holding their cat if the cat carrier causes stress. The fact that you have described that you can feel your cats ribs and you could not before suggest a lot of weight has been lost. You have mentioned that your cat seems to meow as if in a bad mood, this is what we would call a change of temperament.  Changes to a cat’s temperament can be due to many stresses or changes to their home, environments, routine, companion animals or due to pain/illness. What will happen when I take my cat to the vet? Your vet will ask you lots of questions about your cat’s general state, what time scale the changes have happened over and if you can think of anything that may have led to the weight loss and temperament change such as moving home, new pet/family member and or exposure to chemicals such as rat/mouse poisons. Your vet will then perform a full clinical examination of your pet including recording its weight.  If the physical examination and the details you have given your vet are not enough to confirm a diagnosis then your vet may advise further test most likely blood tests and or x-rays to work out what is happening with your cat. What will the blood tests and x-rays tell us? Blood tests usually consist of routine haematology, biochemistry, and or specific disease test. Haematology looks at your cat’s red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.  These give an indication of whether your pet is fighting an infection, anaemic (low in iron) or has abnormal cells or parasites present. Biochemistry looks at the chemicals in your cat’s blood and gives an indication of how the major body organs are functioning.  Significant changes can suggest for example liver or kidney disease. Specific disease tests include looking for viruses such as FeLV (feline leukaemia virus), FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and increased levels of thyroid hormone (Hyperthyroidism). X-rays are often done of the chest and abdomen( tummy) two views of each at 90 degrees in order to look for any obvious abnormalities such as enlarged or shrunken organs or unexpected tissues ( infection or tumours). Some practices may also offer ultrasound scans and or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to help make a diagnosis. Biopsies may need to be taken, this is when small or large pieces of tissue are removed from your cat (under anaesthetic if appropriate) and sent to a laboratory for analysis. What happens next? Hopefully all the information your vet has found out will lead to a diagnosis and then treatment plan for your pet.  From the information you have given in your question some of the possible disease that come to mind are Kidney failure, hyperthyroidism and or a severe infection. Kidney disease can be treated by increasing your cat’s fluid intake, reduced protein diets, anabolic steroids( body building) and various medications to reduce the components in your pet’s that are difficult for the kidneys to deal with . Hyperthyroidism can be treated medically with tablets to reduce thyroid hormone production, surgically by removal of thyroid gland tumours or by radiation therapy to destroy the thyroid gland tumour tissue. Severe infections can be treated by use of appropriate and in some cases several antibiotics at the same time, and supportive intravenous fluid therapy. I hope that this answer has helped you to understand some possible causes for your cat’s condition and why a full examination from your vet with or without further tests is most likely to help lead to a diagnosis and treatment plan for your cat. Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet) If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.
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Zoonotic diseases – what could you catch from your pet?

Zoonosis is any disease that can pass from animal to human. Although most are easily treated, some of them can be serious and even fatal. Below are several zoonotic diseases that can be passed from dogs and cats, sometimes via other organisms that use the dog and cat as their host.


These are the roundworms of the dog and cat (and other species). They can be transferred to humans via their eggs which are left in soil after infected animals have defecated. Children are more predisposed to ingesting the eggs as they might play in the soil and not wash their hands. Adults can also ingest the eggs from eating raw vegetables that have not been washed properly.

If the infection is heavy or repeated, it can cause the disease ‘visceral larva migrans’. This is when the worm larvae move through the body and causing swelling to the major organs and affecting the central nervous system. High-temperature, coughing even pneumonia are various symptoms. The disease is also known to cause ‘ocular larva migrans’ when the worm larvae enter the eye causing inflammation and even blindness.

Once this disease has been diagnosed it is treatable by medication from a doctor.


More commonly known as ringworm this highly infectious disease, affects cats and dogs, it is not a worm at all, but a fungal disease. It can be transferred from animals to humans by skin to skin contact. It can also be spread by contaminated clothing, grooming brushes and other items that have come into contact with the animal.

The disease is characterised in cats and dogs by circular, raised and dry lesions that are normally crusty and cause hair loss. The disease often starts on the head and feet areas, but can spread across the body if left untreated. In cats ringworm is often difficult to detect as it sometimes causes only very mild symptoms. In humans the infected areas are often red rings with scaly edges.

Ringworm can be treated both in animals and humans with the correct medication, however full recovery can be prolonged.

Sarcoptic mange

This is caused by a mite known as sarcoptes scabei canis and is found predominantly on dogs, a different, but closely related mite causes scabies in humans. A similar condition is caused in cats by the mite Notoedes cati. In animals sarcoptic mange causes fur loss and intense itching, where in extreme cases animals can bleed by prolonged scratching, the sarcoptic mange mite that infests dogs can infest humans, however in most cases the mite will quickly die off as they cannot complete their life cycle.


This is a bacterial disease that is carried through the body of the infected animal (in companion animals this is normally dogs) and excreted in the urine. Dogs can pick up the disease by wading through, sniffing or drinking contaminated water where rats have been. Humans can contract this disease with direct contact of the animal’s infected urine.

In dogs the disease can cause vomiting, high-temperature, dehydration, shivering and muscle weakness. In advanced stages it can also cause chronic kidney failure, causing death.

In humans common symptoms are like influenza, however severely infected people can get intense headaches, muscle weakness, high-temperature, vomiting and diarrhoea and meningitis. The infection can go on to produce jaundice and kidney failure. In humans the condition is known as Weil’s disease.

Although there is a vaccine for dogs, there is no vaccine for humans. In some cases people are known to have come into contact with leptospirosis are put on antibiotics by their doctor as a precaution. Toxoplasmosis

This is a parasitic disease carried by cats. It can be transferred to humans by contaminated soil which carries the parasite after the cat has defecated in the area. The soil may be on poorly washed garden produce, much the same as Toxocariasis can be contracted. It can also be transferred to humans by poor hygiene after cleaning cat litter trays.

In cats there are very non-specific symptoms of toxoplasmosis, they might display a lack of appetite, vomiting or diarrhoea, high-temperature, lethargy and weight loss. These symptoms can be attributed to many other cat illnesses. In humans the symptoms are usually mild but people may display a prolonged high-temperature. The main issue with toxoplasmosis is for pregnant women. Should women that are carrying unborn children contract the condition, it can result in miscarriage or severe disease in the new-born child.


Although this condition in the UK is very rare, it is not unknown. With the stringent guidelines of the pet passport scheme and quarantine, animals are highly unlikely to carry the disease in the UK.

The disease itself is an acute viral infection that affects the central nervous system. Affected animals normally show behavioural changes, in further stages they can start to drool, become excited then aggressive, attacking people and other animals. Convulsions and paralysis normally follow, before death.

If a human contracts the disease through a dog or cat bite, it is invariably fatal. After the initial bite, a high-temperature followed by headache and nausea are common. Mood changes such as apprehension or excitability come before paralysis, fear of water and delirium. A respiratory paralysis is often the final cause of death. Other Zoonoses Of course it is not just cats and dogs that carry diseases that can be passed to humans. Other species such as birds, goats and cattle can also carry diseases which can, if severe and left untreated, cause death. Reptiles and tropical fish are known to carry salmonella which can make humans very ill and even be fatal. Scientists are constantly monitoring infection and trying to develop treatments for new strains of zoonotic diseases for example avian bird flu, CJD and others. There are numerous zoonotic diseases in the UK (and there are more carried by cats and dogs than are listed above). Despite this, by the use of proper vaccination (in the case of leptospirosis, regular boosters as well), parasitic treatments, stringent hygiene and common sense, risks to human health from animals can be minimised.

David Kalcher RVN, DipCW(CTJT), A1

If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.

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June bugs – stopping parasites from bugging your pets!

Hurrah, it’s June!  Which means the weather is (hopefully) warming up and summer is just around the corner!  However, just as we enjoy the sunny conditions, so do the bugs and beasties that live on our pets.  A little forethought and treatment now, can save a whole lot of trouble (and maybe some vets bills!) in the future. Fleas These irritating little creatures are the ones everyone thinks about as the weather warms but here’s an interesting fact; actually the worst time of year for fleas is the Autumn.  Then the few fleas our pets have picked up over the summer move into our centrally heated houses and have a party.  However, what that means is by protecting our pets over the summer, we not only keep them from getting itchy bites now, we can stop a house infestation later! It can be surprisingly difficult to know if an animal has fleas, especially cats who are good at grooming out all the evidence, but you need to look for small black flecks of flea dirt in the coat, small red raised bites on the skin, excessive scratching and, of course, the insects themselves.  Rather than waiting for them to appear (especially as you will probably miss them anyway), treating against them preemptively is best.  There are various ways of doing this including spot-ons, tablets, sprays, injections and collars.  However, whichever you chose to use, make sure it comes from your vet, who will provide far more effective products (and better advice!) than pet shops. Scabies The more common name for Scabies is ‘Fox Mange’ and certainly most dogs (it is very rare in cats) who contract it are often those who enjoy rolling in fox poo (why DO they do that?!) or poking their heads down fox holes.  The Scabies mite is a burrowing kind; it digs through the skin causing a great deal damage.  The most commonly affected body areas are the head, ears, limbs and groin, where the skin will lose the hair, be very red and inflamed, is often extremely scabby and always very itchy.  It is easily treated, and prevented, using veterinary spot-on medications. Ticks Although these little blighters are most active in the Spring and Autumn, if the weather remains warm but wet (which pretty much describes our summers!), they can survive longer.  When they are attached, ticks look like small, grey beans stuck onto the skin.  They remain in place for a few days and get larger over this time as they gorge themselves on our pet’s blood.  Left untreated they will eventually drop off but while they are biting they can infect animals with some nasty diseases, are unsightly and can leave the skin very sore.  There are spot-ons which kill ticks but usually the best way to remove them is manually.  Tick pullers are cheap and easy to use, your vet can give you a demonstration! Worms Regularly worming your pets all year round is important, especially if you have young children, but it is particularly vital in the warmer months.  This is for several reasons; firstly, many of the worms that infect our pets are passed from prey animals, so hunters (and it is mainly cats but some dogs are very good rabbiters!) are more vulnerable when prey numbers are higher.  Secondly, worm eggs (which are microscopic & are passed in faeces in their millions) can survive in soil for a long time and although most pets get out and about all year round, most inevitably spend more time outside, and more time snuffling though flowerbeds and undergrowth, in the summer. Like fleas it can be very difficult to know if a pet has worms.  Many people know about signs like itchy bottoms & bloated tummies but, in fact, most infestations are symptom free, another reason why regular treatment is vital.  There are spot-ons, tablets and liquids available and, again, your vet is the best source for advice on which kind to pick. I hope I haven’t made your skin crawl too much thinking about all these little blighters!  Just remember, prevention is always better than cure and the best people to ask for advice on what is best for your pets is always your vet! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at If you have any worries about your pet, please make an appointment with your vet, or try our Symptom Guide.