Browsing tag: cat

Ask a vet online-‘How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray’

Question from Janine Anne-Ruby Law:

How often should an 8 week old kitten be using the litter tray, I got my kitten on Saturday afternoon and she has only pooped twice is this normal? She seems to have settled in really well but I am a bit concerned about this help please?

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Janine and thank you for your question regarding your kitten and toilet training.  From what you are describing about how well your kitten is settling in to her new home and the fact that she is using her litter tray you probably have very little to worry about.

Cats and kittens will pass faeces (poo) when they receive a signal from their bowel (large intestines) that faeces are present and ready to be passed. The exact frequency with which faeces are passed will depend on each individual, their diet, and if they are stressed or have any underlying problems such as bacterial, viral or parasitic infection.

It is normal for kittens to pass faeces as often as they are fed a meal, so at eight weeks old your kitten is probably being fed 3-4 times a day and could therefore be expected to pass faeces up to four time a day, however as your kittens digestive system becomes more efficient and dealing with food and waste products this may well decrease down to once or twice a day.  An adult cat would usually pass faeces once or twice a day.

More important than how many times a day your kitten is passing faeces is whether the faeces looks normal, are passed easily and without any pain or distress.

What might cause my kitten problem passing faeces?

If your pet has a change of diet her digestive system might take some time to adjust to this change, the result may be an increase or decrease in the amount of times they pass faeces and changes to the consistency( harder or softer).

If your kitten is not drinking enough water or getting enough moisture from its diet then the faeces may become dry and more difficult to pass, leading to less frequent passing of faeces, straining and discomfort passing faeces and possibly the passing of some blood with the faeces.

Infection of bacterial and viral causes can lead to soft faeces with or without blood/mucous being passed more often than normal.

Parasites such as round worms are a common finding in the digestive tract of kittens; this can cause constipation, diarrhoea with or without vomiting.  Most kittens are wormed( treated for worms) before you collect them and further worm treatment will be advised by your vet either in the form of paste, liquid, granules, tablets or spot on treatments.

Lack of an opening at the anus, is a very rare condition which can prevent a kitten form being able to pass faeces or a lack of the development of part of the intestine which means the faeces cannot get to the anus.  This is usually detected in very young kittens prior to weaning and can sometimes be treated surgically by your vet.

Blockages of the digestive system such as a foreign body, hair balls and even tubes of gut stuck into it (intussusception) can all lead to abnormalities in faeces production.

In conclusion it sounds as though you have a healthy kitten that is using her litter tray well and regularly, so long as this continues then you should not need to worry.  I hope that what I have discussed in my answer gives you an idea of how many different factors can affect how often your kitten will pass faeces.  The most important thing is to look at how your kitten is in themselves, if they appear bright, are eating, drinking, and toileting normally then do not worry. If there are any changes which worry you, then ask your vet for advice.

Shanika Winters MRCVS Online vet

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.

"The early signs of renal disease are vague..."

“The early signs of renal disease are vague…”

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 www.catthevet.com

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

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.

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.

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.

Toxocariasis

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.

Dermatophytosis

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.

 Leptospirosis

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.

Rabies

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.

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 www.catthevet.com

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

Ask a vet online – ‘ have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs’

Question from Margaret Duke:

Have taken our cat to the vet at least 4 times regarding the fact that she has lost the hair on inside of back legs. Vet thought it maybe an allergy and we stopped allowing her milk. Vet gave her tablets which made her eat [she is a very fuzzy eater] This has gone on for months and she is just the same.

Answer from Shanika Winters:

Hi Margaret, sorry to hear that your cat has been suffering with ongoing hair loss on the inside of her back legs.  I will discuss possible causes for the hair loss and some treatment options.

Why has my cat lost hair on the inside of her back legs?

It is really important to have a full clinical examination of any pet suffering from hair loss by your vet to make sure that your pet is in good health, hair loss can be associated with conditions such as hormone imbalances, parasites and allergies .  It is also worth being aware that hair loss can be self- inflicted as a result of stress this is often referred to as ‘over grooming’.

Could my cat have an allergy?

Yes it is possible that the hair loss could be due to an allergy causing your cat’s skin to feel uncomfortable and then it licking and chewing away the hair on the inside of its legs.  Allergies can be to substances that your cat eats/drinks, breathes in or is in contact with.  Most cats are fed a commercially prepared diet with few treats, but if trying to rule out a food allergy a low allergy or specific protein diet (a protein your cat has not eaten before) can be tried. Diet trials need to be carried out for 8 weeks or longer to give meaningful results.  If the allergy is a contact allergy then you need to avoid your cat coming into contact with the suspected substance. Inhaled allergy or ‘Atopy’ is sometimes more challenging to avoid as it may be to for example house dust mite which would be difficult to avoid other than keeping your cat 100% outdoors.

What tablets did the vet give my cat?

From the side effect of the tablets your cat was put on it sounds likely that your cat was given a steroid treatment to try and treat the suspected allergy.  Steroids come in tablet and injectable forms and treat allergies by suppressing your cat’s immune system so as to stop it feeling uncomfortable in the first place.  Steroids also can stimulate the appetite which would explain why your cat was eating more when previously its appetite had not been so great.  Cats on the whole tend to tolerate steroid treatment well and your vet will try and reduce the dose to the smallest amount that works.

Why did the tablets not work?

There are a few possible reasons as to why the tablets did not work, the condition causing your cat to lose hair might not be allergic, and your cat might have needed a different dose of tablets or even treatment for a longer period of time.

The next step would be to return to your vet and discuss how your cat’s condition has not improved and take further steps to find out the cause and then the correct treatments plan.

How can a diagnosis be made for the hair loss?

As much as examining the cat, the details you give to your vet about your cat’s behaviour, home environment and general activities will help to make a diagnosis.  Physical examination plus or minus skin/blood tests may be performed to look for hormone imbalances, parasites and signs of allergy.  Which tests are carried out on your cat should be a joint decision between you and your vet.

Could the hair loss be due to stress?

I always keep in mind with hair loss and cats the possibility of stress being the cause. Stress can cause some cats to lick and chew at their fur most commonly on the inside of their hind legs, on their tummy and on their front legs.  Some cats may lick excessively in between their feet pads making them, wet, red and sticky/infected.

It is not often easy to tell if a cat is stressed as they tend to become quieter, hide away or simply over groom.  The smallest change to your household from new work hours through to a big change like a new pet or baby arriving can impact on your cat’s well-being.

Hopefully a chat with your vet will help to work out if your cat could be suffering from stress leading to over grooming.

Treatments for hair loss

If an allergy is suspected the avoidance, medications to supress reactions to allergy or specific vaccines may be an option.

Antiparasite treatment for your pet, the home and any other pets you have may be needed if parasites are detected.

If a hormone imbalance is detected on a blood test then correcting this may then allow the hair to regrow.

If there is infection present then your cat may need a course of antibiotics to help clear this.

If stress is suspected then treatment may involve medications to help your cat feel more at ease such as antidepressants or hormones.  There are also pheromone products in plug in or spray form which can help to reduce stress levels in cats.  The obvious thing not to forget is to make changes at home to minimise stress to your cat such as giving it a space of its own to retreat to where no one else can bother it.

I hope that my answer has helped you to understand some possible causes and treatment option for your cat’s hair loss and that she is soon feeling a lot more comfortable and that her hair regrows.

Shanika Winters MRCVS (online vet)

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

Does your cat have dementia? – A guide for owners of older felines

It may sound like a silly question but I would bet most owners with older cats could recount multiple examples of ‘feline senility’.  Some are funny, some are sad and some are just plain unpleasant.  But as tempting as it is to be angry with your cat for, say, mistaking your bed for a litter tray, the truth is that more than 50% of cats over 15 years of age suffer from some degree of dementia, also known as Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).  Is your cat one of them?

Let’s start with a couple of questions to get you thinking:

1)       Has your older cat started to urinate or defecate in inappropriate places?

2)      Does your cat demand more attention that she used to?

3)      Have you noticed your cat crying out more frequently, particularly at night?

4)      Is your cat less adventurous than he used to be, preferring to stay close to home?

5)      Is she behaving strangely – staring at walls, forgetting there is food in her dish or perhaps interacting differently with a housemate?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your cat is in fact showing at least one of the signs of feline dementia or CDS.

What is Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome?

The first question that often comes to mind is whether or not it is related to human dementia and in fact the answer is yes, there are many physical and behavioural similarities between CDS in cats and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.  Both diseases are likely caused at least in part by physical changes related to decreased blood flow to the brain and an increase in nasty little molecules called ‘free radicals’.  They may have a funny name, but the damage these molecules do to living cells is hardly a laughing matter.  The older the body gets the more free radicals it produces and when combined with decreased blood and oxygen flow, these molecules wreak havoc on the particularly sensitive and fragile cells in the brain.  All this damage also leads to the deposition of protein ‘plaques’ around the nerve cells, making it even harder for signals to make it through.  The end result is a collection of tired, damaged and dirty cells trying unsuccessfully to maintain normal brain function.  A pretty distressing thought!

The longer this process goes on, the harder the cat finds it to do the simple things that used to come so naturally.  They may forget where the litter tray or cat flap is, resulting in poor toilet habits.  Changes in sleeping habits and activity levels can lead to increased stress, which in turn can result in loud, seemingly pointless crying.  Meals are forgotten and relationships with both human and animal housemates may suffer.  Nobody wants to see their cat experience this kind of stress, yet in reality, most of the time the symptoms of CDS either go unnoticed or are simply put down to ‘getting older’ and as a result, nothing is done about it.

What CAN be done about it?

The first step to treating Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome is actually diagnosing it in the first place.  CDS is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that it cannot be diagnosed directly but rather by ruling out other conditions.  There are many other conditions which can cause similar symptoms though, so it’s important to speak with your vet to try to figure out what’s really going on.  The disease that most closely resembles CDS in terms of symptoms is arthritis, and in fact there are many similarities between the two conditions as both the underlying causes and the treatments are quite similar.  Other conditions that result in some of the same symptoms as CDS include kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, deafness, blindness or brain tumours.  As some of these are easily treatable, it is definitely worth trying to get to the bottom of it.

If your vet diagnoses your cat with cognitive dysfunction, there are several things that you can do to help your feline friend as they learn to cope with their illness.  The first is to feed a high quality diet, and preferably one that is particularly high in antioxidants (which kill off those free radicals) and other supportive compounds such as vitamin E, beta carotene and essential fatty acids.  Several other vitamins and molecules have also shown promise in treating the condition and this has led to the development of several therapies including special diets and nutritional supplements.

Perhaps equally if not even more important than changing what goes into a CDS cat’s body is changing their environment to support their condition.

Some of the things that owners can do at home to help cats with dementia (and, incidentally, arthritis as well) include:

  • Feed your cat according to a routine schedule so they know what to expect when
  • Increase the number of food bowls, water dishes and litter trays to make them more accessible from wherever the cat may be in the house.  Litter trays should be wide with shallow rims to allow easier access and sand-like litter may be kinder to older toes.
  • Try to keep their environment otherwise unchanged (especially for those cats who may also be blind or deaf) as change creates confusion which increases anxiety and stress.  If changes do need to be made, try to introduce them slowly and gradually.  A Feliway or Pet Remedy plug-in or spray can help anxious cats cope with daily life
  • Provide several deeply padded and comfortable resting/hiding places throughout the house and make them easily accessible by building a ramp or steps up to those that would otherwise require a big jump.
  • Give your cat the attention and reassurance they seek but do not overdo it as they also appreciate time to themselves.  Don’t rush to get a new kitten thinking they need companionship, as this usually causes more stress than it is worth.

As with so many diseases of older cats, Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome may be common, but it isn’t normal so if you think your cat may be showing some of the symptoms, the first thing to do is speak with your vet.  Together you may be able to significantly improve the quality of your cat’s life with a few simple changes.  It can also help to think about your cat’s schedule and environment from their point of view rather than your own, as you may discover other ways to make their lives a bit easier.  Next time your cat has a ‘senile moment’ and wakes you up at 3am with a howl, spare a thought for their ageing brain before getting cross!

Caring for older cats – Part 2 – helping your feline through old age

Did you know that cats age the equivalent of 24 human years in their first 2 years of life?  After that, each cat year is about equal to 4 human years.  So my 18 year old Maddy cat is the same age as my 88 year old grandmother.  Doing that calculation helps put her age in perspective, and makes you wonder, am I taking care of her as I would care for my grandmother?  In my last blog I talked about some of the signs that your cat may start to show as they get older.  Observations such as changes in behaviour, toileting issues or changes in sleep patterns are all relatively common in older cats, but could actually indicate an underlying medical condition.  Any changes in your ageing cat should be discussed with your vet so that if there is any concern, the appropriate diagnostic tests can be run and treatment can be started if necessary.  But if you and your vet decide that your older cat is physically well, there are still lots of things that you can do to help them age a bit more gracefully.

Give them a nail trim

Most cats, especially those that go outside regularly, don’t need (and don’t want) their nails trimmed.  Older cats, however, don’t tend to need them much for hunting, tree climbing or fighting with their neighbours.  Although feline claws naturally shed with daily activity, the nails of older, less active cats tend to get overgrown and can even grow all the way around and into the pad of the foot, a very painful condition.  Even if they’re not overgrown, they still frequently get stuck on the sofa or their bedding, particularly if the cat suffers from arthritis and has limited movement.  Trimming the claws is relatively straightforward and most of the time you can do it at home.  Ask your vet or vet nurse for a demonstration if you are unsure.

Give them a toilet

Would you want your 88 year old grandmother to have to go downstairs, out the back door and down the garden to use an outside loo in the middle of the night?  Do your older cat a huge favour and give them a litter tray in an accessible location.  Make it big and uncovered with low sides if possible, as these are easier to use for older arthritic cats.  If you have lots of stairs, consider one on each floor.  Not only will they appreciate the shorter trip and be less likely to have accidents on your carpet, but many older cats have trouble going through cat flaps so the less they have to use it, the better.  Cleaning the litter tray also gives you an opportunity to notice any changes in urine volume or blood in the stool.

Give them a (gentle) brush

Old, stiff cats often find it difficult to groom themselves as much as they used to.  Their bodies just don’t bend that way anymore, or if they do, it hurts.  They also tend to sleep more and that leaves less time for activities like grooming.  I think they also just plain forget sometimes.  Cats that don’t groom themselves, even those with short hair, can get matted fur and this hurts.  By brushing your cat daily, you can help them remove dead hairs and dirt and prevent painful matts.  Long haired cats need a more thorough groom.   Be gentle though, particularly over the spine and legs as these are the areas most likely to be affected by muscles loss or arthritis.  While you’re at it, take a look for fleas or any new lumps or bumps on the skin and bring these to the attention of your vet.  If your cat objects, try a grooming glove or very soft brush rather than the typical wire cat brush.  If they still won’t let you near them, speak with your vet about a possible underlying cause and consider having some of the fur trimmed and matts removed by a professional with clippers.  Whatever you do, never try to cut out closely matted fur with scissors – I have seen some horrendous injuries as a result and it is simply not safe.

Give them what they want to eat

You may notice that your older cat doesn’t have the same appetite that he used to.  While this can be due to a decreased sense of smell or taste with age, it could also be the result of an underlying medical problem so it’s very important to speak with your vet.  If your older cat ever needs some encouragement to eat, here are some things that you can try if your cat finds eating to be a bit of a chore:

  • Warm the food up slightly (beware heating cat food in the microwave, it gets very hot very quickly!) to just below body temperature.  Warm food generally smells and tastes better.
  • Giving your cat a good stroke before or sitting with them during a meal can encourage them to eat.
  • Don’t leave food sitting out all day – if they don’t eat it within an hour pick it up and put down fresh food at the next meal.
  • Trying a new brand or flavour can encourage them to eat.  But at the same time, try not to leave out several bowls of different foods for them to choose from as this can be overwhelming.
  • Wet food is almost always more palatable than dry, especially for older cats who may have dental problems, so consider changing the type of food you offer.  You could also try adding a bit of water to the food or mashing it with a fork.

Make it easy for them

  • If your cat prefers to sleep on your bed, put a chair next to it so they can use it as a step to get up and down.
  • Consider keeping a food and water dish in the bedroom or just outside it so they don’t have to go far for the things they need.  Older cats (particularly those fed dry food) can become dehydrated easily.
  • Keep their environment quiet and warm, and try to avoid letting the children grab them at every opportunity.
  • Offer a horizontal scratching post instead of a vertical one, and don’t forget, they may be old but they still need mental stimulation.  They may choose to play with different toys as they age, but things like open cardboard boxes or bags can give them something to investigate and a large catnip toy can be batted and kicked around the house.
  • Try to keep their routines as constant as possible, as older cats can take great comfort in knowing that things always happen when and how they’re supposed to happen.

As your cat starts to age, take a good look at their daily activities and see if there is anything you can do to make things a little bit easier on them.  Your vet or vet nurse may have other suggestions, so it’s always a good idea to ask for advice.  You could even try asking elderly members of your own family for ideas – you might be surprised by what they come up with!  And remember, if you wouldn’t want your 88 year old grandmother doing it, you probably shouldn’t expect your 18 year old cat to do it either.

Caring for the older cat (part 1) – helping your feline friend through old age

Sammy is 12 years old.  That is a respectable age for a cat, so I was very happy to hear from his owner that he was still very well in himself and she had no concerns at all.  The purpose of my visit was a routine health check and vaccination and based on Sammy’s good report, I was expecting to issue him with a clean bill of health.  However as I began to collect a thorough history, it became apparent that things were not as simple as they had first appeared.  ‘Now that you mention it, Sammy HAS been drinking more than he used to, but I thought that was normal for older cats so I didn’t think twice.’  He had also had a great appetite lately, in fact he’d been eating an extra pouch a day, and he had been more talkative lately.  All things that his owner had associated with good health but could actually be signs of illness.  On physical exam it turned out he had lost some weight and muscle mass, and that he had a lump under his neck.  A blood test was recommended and the results confirmed hyperthyroidism.  He was started on medication and is now back to his normal self, his owner couldn’t believe the difference!  She was surprised how the changes had happened so gradually that she didn’t notice them, but was very happy to have her old cat back.  And Sammy certainly agreed.

The above scenario is not at all uncommon.  Cats are experts at hiding their illnesses, and sometimes they can become very poorly on the inside whilst appearing relatively normal on the outside.  And as in Sammy’s case, sometimes the changes that do happen occur so slowly that we just assume it’s a normal part of aging.

He’s turned into such a ‘grumpy old man’

One of the best examples of this is an older cat’s ‘grumpiness’.  It’s easy to assume that older cats have been through enough and now just want to be left alone, but could there be a cause for their change in attitude?  Perhaps they can’t see or hear as well as they used to and are more frightened by strange sights or sounds.  Maybe they have severe dental disease that causes them to hide away or change their eating patterns.  Is arthritis the reason behind their dislike of the brush or even your previously adored petting strokes?  These conditions frequently go unnoticed except for a change in behaviour, yet if diagnosed, there are many things we can do to make them more comfortable.

She just can’t seem to ‘hold it’ anymore

Another common but decidedly abnormal symptom is a change in urination or defecation patterns.  ‘She just can’t seem to make it to the litter tray anymore, bless her’ is a common complaint, yet one that doesn’t always get brought to the vet’s attention.  Cats are clean, proud creatures and don’t generally wet or soil the house without good reason.  Perhaps she has kidney disease and is having to cope with large volumes of dilute urine.  Could arthritis again be the cause behind her new dislike of the litter tray?  Small, covered or high-sided litter trays can be a nightmare for cats that find it painful to position themselves to defecate.  Maybe she has diabetes and the sugar in her urine has brought on a bladder infection.  Changes in urination or defecation should always be brought to your vet’s attention as there is usually an underlying cause.

All he ever does is sleep these days

Now I am the first to admit that I do not have as much energy as my 3 year old.  And my grandmother frequently complains that she’s not able to get out and about as much as she used to.  The difference between my son and I is mainly the 30 year age gap.  But my grandmother’s reasons may have more to do with her failing eyesight and worsening arthritis.  It’s certainly true that kittens are more active than their more mature housemates, and that some slowing can be expected with age.  But when your previously active older cat starts to sleep 23 hours a day instead of her usual 20, what might seem like a small change to you could indicate a big problem.  High blood pressure can cause depression and lethargy and can also result in blindness, making affected cats less likely to venture from their bed.  A cat who used to love going outdoors may find the cat flap too painful now that arthritis has set in.  Anaemia (not enough red blood cells carrying oxygen around the body) and its associated decrease in energy levels is another symptom that frequently goes unnoticed.

Some alarming statistics

In a recent study of older cats brought to the vet for routine vaccination, one third of those described as ‘completely healthy’ by their owners were found to be suffering from significant diseases such as kidney disease, high blood pressure or hyperthyroidism.  Two thirds had abnormally dilute urine, an early warning sign for kidney disease.

  • Chronic kidney disease is estimated to affect about 30% of cats over the age of 15
  • 10% of cats over the age of 9 are thought to suffer from hyperthyroidism
  • Cognitive dysfunction (a deterioration in brain function giving cats Alzheimer’s-like changes in behaviour) is estimated to affect over 50% of cats over the age of 15

And perhaps most alarmingly, a staggering 90% of cats over the age of 12 (which is not that old really) are thought to suffer from arthritis.  Only a tiny fraction of these cats are ever brought into the vet because they appear painful, and only a small percentage of those receive regular treatment for their pain.

‘Common’ does not mean ‘normal’

I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that although some things like drinking a bit more or losing a bit of weight may be COMMON in older cats, they are not NORMAL and may in fact indicate discomfort or illness.  If diagnosed (particularly if caught early), most of the above conditions can be treated successful and for those that can’t be cured, we can at least provide care that can dramatically increase the quality of their lives.  I’ll talk about some of the things we can do to help our aging feline friends next time but in the meantime, take a good long look at your older cat and think about some of the changes that might be taking place inside that they may not be telling you about.  If you discover anything that causes concern, bring it to the attention of your vet.  Sure, your grumpy old man may not enjoy being dragged out of his bed and into the vet (don’t be afraid to ask your vet if they would be willing to make a home visit), but the possibility of a more comfortable life far outweighs the temporary inconvenience.  Your cat has nothing to lose and everything to gain!

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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