Monday, November 26, 2012

Car Engines and Cats

As the days start getting shorter and cooler, your outside cat, as well as other cats in the neighborhood, may be looking for warm places to spend the night. A common place for cats to go for warmth is under the hood of cars, because engines retain their warmth long after the car has been driven. If a car is started under these circumstances, great injury, or even death, can occur for the cat. Protect your outside cat, and your neighbors’ cats, by knocking on the hood every morning before you start your car. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Diabetes. What it is, what it's not, and understanding the difference.

So, you just got the news from the vet. Your fuzzy darling has diabetes! Insulin shots, blood testing, sugar values, infections. Life as you know it is ruined.

Is it?

No, not really. There are a lot of things to learn about diabetes, some new things to stick into the daily grind, but honestly, you'll be just fine.

Understanding diabetes is the best place to start. What it is, what it's not, what's happening in the body, and how to control it are just the first bits of info you'll need. With a good understanding, you'll find that you'll be on top of the situation in no time.

Sugar. What we put into our coffee, eat in sweet things, drink in sodas.sugar. It's everywhere. And it's important.

The body needs a certain amount of sugar to produce enough energy to keep on living. Imagine a cell as a small globe, with 'doorways' leading into and out of it. That's the basic structure of the body.a cell. From the blood, certain things like salt and sugar and protein find their special 'doorway', enter the cell, and feed the cell what it needs to do it's job - make another cell, or make a hormone, or make energy, or all of that and more. Some cells have many jobs, some cells have only one or two; but all are important to the body's health.

Specifically to sugar, the cell's doorway has a lock on it. Insulin, a hormone, has the key. I call insulin a "key" because if a sugar molecule and an insulin molecule hold hands, insulin can open the cell door, let the sugar in, and then close the door behind it; but without insulin, there is no key to opening the door. The sugar can knock on the door all day long, and nothing happens; the cell can't open the door and let the sugar in by itself.

But the cell needs the sugar. To make energy, or to make a new cell wall, or to create a protein, the cell can't do it's job without sugar. Each and every living cell needs sugar - especially the brain cells - and if there isn't any available, things in the system start to go wonky. The body can't produce energy, and without energy, the body can't do it's normal things like keep blood flowing, let signals from nerves get to the places it is supposed to go, and, in the end, breathing and thinking get affected and sometimes stopped. Not so good, right?

Insulin is the key to the door. If there is no insulin, the sugar can't make it into the cells. If the cells don't have sugar, they can't function. Pretty simple.

So where does sugar come from? Mostly from the foods we eat. There's sugar that we eat - sweetened stuff (like coffee and tea), sugar from proteins (like meat and legumes), and sugar from carbohydrates (like breads, potatoes, cereals, rice, pasta). Cats need far fewer carbohydrates than humans do, so when we give them carbohydrates, it shows up as sugar that they can't use. Cats don't actually drink sweetened drinks, or eat ice cream (well ... so one of mine actually likes ice cream, but whatever). Their bodies are designed to extract enough sugar for their cells' needs from protein, and not from sweetened stuff or from carbohydrates (for more info on that, look at Dr. Peirson's article on feline diet).

When there is too much sugar in the system, other organs have to work harder to clear the sugar. The liver, kidneys, and circulatory system go into high gear, and do their best to get the extra sugar out of the body. The liver takes it and hides it away for future use. Once that happens, and there's still extra sugar, the kidneys stick it into urine, and the sugar passes out of the body through peeing. But after a while, sometimes the liver's storage is full, and the kidneys can't get more sugar into the urine, and the blood system has to hold onto the sugar until something changes. And that's when we get "high" blood sugar numbers.

Well, what about insulin? Where does it come from? It comes from the pancreas. The pancreas is a floppy bit of tissue that lays over the top of the stomach and next to the liver. There are special cells called "beta cells" which only produce the hormone insulin; that's their whole job. They do nothing else, really, except make insulin. When the body discovers that the cells don't have enough sugar, insulin runs out of the pancreas, chases down a sugar molecule, and escorts it into the cell that needs it to make whatever it is the cell makes - thoughts, nerve conduction, energy for movement or building new cells.whatever that cell's job is.

So, why isn't there enough insulin? Because the beta cells are damaged somehow. Sometimes, it's temporary. Sometimes, it's permanent. It can be from a virus, infections, trauma, some medications (steroids), or even just because we've worn them out with too much sugar or carbohydrate consumption. But whatever causes it, the beta cells are not working anymore; which means they can't send out insulin to escort the sugar into the cell; which then means that the cell can't do it's job. That's called diabetes.

What we see at that point is high sugar numbers in the blood stream. The meters count only that sugar which can't be brought into the cells, usually because of a lack of insulin. We'll also see things like lots of peeing and lots of water drinking, lots of hunger, weight loss, hair loss, skin changes.all because there is no sugar available to let those cells do their jobs. (More about that in a minute.)

When we put insulin into the body, we are replacing the hormone our body naturally makes. This replacement takes the sugar from the blood stream and into the cells, and lets the cells use it for their work. When you have enough of the hormone insulin and the right balance of sugar, urination will become normal, eating will become less frenzied, hair growth will resume, and energy will be restored. Why? Because all the cells are getting what they need, and are able to do their job again.

All because of a little hormone called insulin.

But too much insulin is actually far more dangerous than too little. Imagine all these insulin molecules standing by the door to the cell, waiting for sugar to cross it's path, lurking, lying in a sugar molecule comes by, the insulin will kidnap it, throw it into the cell, and slam the door (I call that the "Insulin Gestapo").well, once that goes on for a little while, there is not enough sugar for the rest of the cells, right? That's why we treat low sugar by putting sugar back into the system - so we can use up the insulin 'Gestapo' and let the cells who need it, get it, and do their job. That's the whole idea behind feeding the low sugar event; we're using up the excess insulin, and trying to create a balance of available sugar and enough insulin so the sugar can get into the cell, but not an overactive insulin molecule that kidnaps sugar and throws it into the first available cell it finds.

So finding the balance - the correct ratio of sugar to insulin - is important. The only real way to do that is to test the blood a lot, and see how much sugar is left in the blood, and at what time it's there. We can reduce or increase the insulin based on that information, and make it better for the cells to have a continuous, regular supply of sugar to do it's job. But it's vital to know how much sugar is in the blood stream at a given point, because you don't want to create the Insulin Gestapo. The only way to know that, is to test. And test. And test.

Diabetes is a pretty simple illness to understand. But it's important to really understand it, because the key is the balance between sugar and hormone insulin. That's the "sugar dance", as we call it.the in and out of sugar and insulin in the cells, the replacing of insulin that the body can't make for whatever reason, and finding the correct amount of insulin to give so that there is enough sugar in the blood, but not too much and not too little. And, much to our dismay, it can vary from day to day, and even time to time within a day, depending on food, stress, happiness, and - let's face it, they're cats; they do their own thing.

So why all the peeing? The excessive thirstiness? The rough hair, the dandruff? The weight loss?

Peeing too much comes from the kidneys realizing "hey, there's a lot of sugar here. We'll filter some out and throw it into the urine, and get rid of it that way." The kidneys go to work and creates a lot of urine production in a short amount of time, and it has to let it go down to the bladder and out. Voila, lots of peeing.

Well, why the thirst? Because when the body is getting rid of sugar, it takes water from the rest of the body to make the urine, to give the sugar somewhere to go, and the end result is peeing. The body realizes that the kidneys are using a lot of water up, more than usual, and says "hey, we need more water!" and triggers the thirst response. So drinking goes way up, because the body's pee production is in overdrive, and the body needs to have enough water in it for everything else. So now you've got big time thirst, too.

Peeing and drinking. Fine. So what about the eating like they're starving?

If the body's cells think they're not getting sugar, even though it's in the blood stream (remember the doorway and the key?), the body says "hey, get some food in here so we can break it down to sugar and get the sugar into the cells for energy. We're starving here!!" Problem is, it's not actually a lack of food; rather, it's a lack of insulin keys to get the sugar into the cells.but the cells don't know that. They just figure that if more food comes, they'll be able to get the sugar they need. Wrong message, but it's what happens. The body is trying to stay alive, the cells are trying to do their job; but without sugar (because the door is locked, and insulin is the key), they can't. So they trigger the hunger response.and more food is consumed.

Which, of course, raises the blood sugar even higher. Which, in turn, makes the liver store a lot of sugar, and then the kidneys work overtime to get rid of the excess sugar in the blood stream, which, of course, leads to more peeing, which then in turn leads to more drinking.

Vicious cycle, isn't it?

So, why is there weight loss?

Because if the body can't use the materials sent to it through food, it will turn to its pantry. The pantry is all the stored 'fat' the body has; it's been stored for exactly times like this - starvation times. The cells raid the pantry, but if the pantry can't be restocked (because there is no insulin to provide the key), the body uses up all it's stored stuff, and then starts breaking itself down so it has enough food to keep the vital functions going - the brain, the heart, and the lungs. The weight loss comes from raiding the pantry.and even though we put food into the body - it can't use it, because there is no insulin to unlock the doorway and let the sugar in from all that food that's been eaten.

If the body can't get enough food and sugar from the stored fat, it will turn to the muscles. If you imagine this process as if it were a house and there is a bad snowstorm outside, it helps. Let's say this storm has been raging for a while now. You've eaten everything in the fridge, and burned all the wood in the woodshed. Now, you're cold, and hungry. You start getting into the pantry, and soon deplete all of that. You've burned the chairs and dining table for heat. And the storm is still raging - no let up in sight. Now what are you going to do? Start taking down the cabinets and using that for firewood.and then the built in bookshelves. And then the walls. That's sort of what the body is doing by breaking down the muscles; using the structures of the house (body) as a source of energy to keep the vital systems going.

After all the fat has been depleted, the body turns to the muscles as sources of food. The body will canabalize itself, again to preserve the vital functions, and break down the protein that the muscles are made from. This is a problem, you know? What happens is that the cell takes what it needs from these broken muscles, and lets the rest remain in the blood stream. When that stuff gets to the kidneys, the kidneys again are in overdrive, trying to get rid of this stuff - called ketones - and throws it out in the urine. Ketones are the end products of excess protein - or leftover muscle - and are a result of having no insulin in the blood to let the sugar go into the cells. The body breaks down the muscles (the cabinets and walls of the "house"), and the by-product is called ketones.

The biggest issue with ketones is that they clog up the kidney's tubes and collecting spots. It's like hair in a drain - a little isn't so bad an issue, but collect a lot and you've got yourself one good, solid clogged up drain. So if ketones are clogging the drain, the stuff the kidneys are supposed to send out of the body - sugars, excess protein bits, and lots of toxins - stay in the blood, and soon, the kidneys give up; they can't work under those conditions, and just kind of throw up their hands and go on strike. If that happens, it's called "acute kidney failure", and it's pretty serious.

With insulin, though, the cells get the sugar they need because insulin provides the key to the sugar doorway. The cells don't have to resort to breaking down the muscles; they don't have to find other sources of sugar to produce energy. They don't get to starvation mode, and they don't get dehydrated because the kidneys are using up all the water available in the body. Everything works the way it's supposed to, and no backup systems get triggered. Cells thrive, produce energy needed for everything, and all is in balance (called "homeostasis").

We do need to replace the insulin, as that is the foundation for everything here. If there is one hormone more important than any other one, it's insulin. But it's a dangerous hormone, too. If you put insulin into the body, there is always a chance to produce the dreaded "Insulin Gestapo" and have a low sugar event (called 'hypoglycemia'). But again, the way to deal with that is to use up the Gestapo - give them all the sugar they can handle, and get them all tired out and broken down.

Use the insulin carefully. "Start low, go slow" is the motto around here. Don't start giving a lot of insulin in the beginning, because you don't really know how much sugar your baby has available. When you increase, increase slowly; prevent the Insulin Gestapo from arriving by carefully testing, monitoring, and handling a low sugar count quickly. And especially don't give high doses of insulin if you're changing the diet to a high protein, ultra-low carb one. That might be all your feline "owner" needs - a change of diet. But you won't know unless you're testing regularly, right? Change the dose after you've changed the diet, but not at the same time. Otherwise, how will you know which had the effect you wanted?

And before you get overwhelmed about the testing and the injections, realize this: it's totally doable. It's a learned skill, and you will have some ups and downs, but you and your fuzzy friend can learn it together. There are a lot of tutorials available, and there are many people here who will help walk you through it. You can do this!

That's what diabetes is, in a nutshell. It's a common, survivable, chronic issue for both people and felines.

The good news is that in felines, sometimes those beta cells come back from vacation, heal, and get back to work! That doesn't happen in humans... lucky cats, right?

Originally published at FelineDiabetes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


While pumpkins are generally considered non-toxic for pets, making them a safe Halloween decoration, remember that jack-o-lanterns are a different story! Jack-o-lanterns often have lit candles inside of them, making them potentially hazardous for pets who may knock them over. Candles have open flames and hot melted wax that could do a lot of damage. We encourage you to keep jack-o-lanterns out of your pet’s reach, and consider using powered lights instead of candles. These can be purchased cheaply at most stores that sell Halloween decorations. They look almost as natural as flames but are so much safer!

Monday, September 24, 2012

But She Never Goes Outdoors: Why Indoor Cats Still Need to Go to the Veterinarian

A cat food ad states “We know what every indoor cat needs- a big window, sunshine, healthy skin and fur” The pretty kitty sitting in a window may give the appearance of being healthy and safe; but there are dangers to his health, even if he never goes outdoors. The person who really knows what your indoor cat needs to enjoy life to the fullest is your veterinarian. Your cat’s doctor will make sure he is healthy both inside and out.
One misconception is that indoor cats do not need to receive vaccinations. An indoor cat needs to be protected against diseases that can come in even if he does not go out. Rabies is the most serious of the viruses to which an indoor cat can be exposed. The most common carrier is a bat. Many owners have come home to discover their cat has cornered or killed a bat. An unvaccinated cat needs to be quarantined. If the bat tests positive and the cat is not current on its rabies vaccine, the authorities’ first recommendation would be to have the cat euthanized. The other option is strict isolation for three months in a facility equipped to handle those stringent requirements. Then three months of strict home confinement. Indoor cats also can become ill by exposure to upper respiratory viruses, which are very hardy and can live outside the body for 10 to 14 days. There are cats that shed virus but show no signs of illness. An owner may pet a seemingly healthy cat and bring the virus home.
Infectious diseases are not the only risks for an indoor cat. Some issues are more common if a cat lives indoors: obesity, psychological disorders resulting from boredom ( for example-overgrooming or destructive behavior). Your doctor will make recommendations to prevent or correct these problems. ( See previous blog, “ Do we really know what it takes to keep a cat happy”.) Many health concerns, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, arthritis, or intestinal disorders can remain undetected until they are so severe they are obvious, even to an untrained eye. Unfortunately, the cat may have been in pain for quite a while or it may be too late to treat the illness successfully or without great expense.
Keeping your cat indoors increases the likelihood that he will live a long life. However Abraham Lincoln’s bromide that “in the end it is not just the years in a life that count, but the life in the years” applies to our feline friends too. Regular veterinary care will maximize the probability that your indoor cat will live not just the longest but the best possible life. 

Originally published at FelineDocs.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How To Care of Your Cat's Paws

Part of being a responsible cat owner is to check your cat’s paws. Cats have the reputation of being clean animals. However, this should not stop you from checking your kitty cat’s feet once in awhile to see if they are clean and healthy. Red swollen paws, obsessive cleaning, limping or favoring one paw are signs that your cat is experiencing paw problems.

Care for your cat’s paws by following these tips:

  • If you are a stickler for cleanliness and your cat goes out of the house during the day, check your cat’s paws at least once a day before turning in. Wipe all four paws gently with a damp towel.
  • Cats instinctively sharpen their claws as they climb up trees. In the absence of a tree, they will claw at anything that can help them keep their deadly weapons in tip-top condition. It’s best to provide your cat with her own scratching post. This way you can save your sofa or other furniture from utter destruction.
  • Cat claws are for climbing and for gripping things. There is really no need to trim your cat’s claws especially if your cat regularly grooms herself. Should you, for some reason, need to trim your cat’s claws, use a special cat nail clipper. You can buy these at your local pet store. Don’t use your nail cutter. Remember that cats can be sensitive about their nails. Hold one paw and gently give it a squeeze. This will make her extend her claws. Make sure to only trim off the white tip of her claw. Do not trim beyond the point where her nail curls. Otherwise, you might hit a vein and cause it to bleed.
  • Longhaired cats have fur that grows in their paw. If you notice that your cat is cleaning her paws excessively, the long fur may be causing her some level of discomfort or annoyance. Some cats even attempt to pull these out. Using a pair of scissors, trim the fur in her paws.
  • If your cat loves the outdoors, she can get splinters or foreign objects (like foxtails, burs and sticker paper) caught in between her paws. Use tweezers to remove these. Remember to be gentle.
  • Cuts on a cat’s paw are not uncommon. Thorns, broken glass, sharp rocks and burs are some of the things that can cause lacerations on her feet. Wash your kitty’s paw with antibacterial soap. Larger cuts are for your vet to take care off.
  • Make sure your cat’s paws do not emit any unusual smell or odor. Her paws should also be free from excretions or any other irregularities like infections. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, bring your cat to her vet as soon as possible.
  • In the winter, make sure to wipe your cat’s paw clean after each foyer outside. This is to remove both ice crystals as well as road salt from her paws. Road salt can cause dryness. Ask your vet what moisturizer he can recommend for your feline’s furry feet.
  • Cats that obsessively clean their paws may be feeling pain or discomfort at some level. Make sure to check her paws immediately and act accordingly. But even without the obsessively cleaning, make it a habit to inspect your cat’s feet once in awhile. Doing this is part of providing your furry friend with the right loving care she truly deserves.

Originally written by Linda Hightower and published on How to Do Things.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Keeping Your Cat from Getting Bored

There is ample evidence that cats who spend their lives entirely indoors live much longer than their outdoor-only counterparts. But keeping an indoor cat happy as well as healthy means providing more than just good nutrition and regular veterinary care - you must also enrich your kitty's environment. Eliciting a cat's natural behaviors with hunting and foraging games can do wonders for your companion's well-being.
With a little creativity, you can keep your cat stimulated and interested, even in a small apartment and on a limited budget. And the good news is that enrichment research has shown that toys that are removed and then returned after several weeks regain much of their novelty; extend your enrichment budget by rotating your cat's toys regularly. Get started with a few of these feline friendly activities, but begin slowly and be sure to get a thumbs up from kitty's veterinarian.
Foraging Fun
Separate each day's food rations into small batches. Place the clusters around the house and then toss a few small treats in random directions. Not only will this encourage active foraging, it'll also keep kitty from scarfing down her food too quickly.
Pleasurable Puzzles
Toss a few treats into a square Rubbermaid® bottle and leave it on the floor with the lid off for a great beginner puzzle.
Any plastic container with a secure lid can become a hanging puzzle. Just cut two or three slots around the bottom outer edge of the container and place a few treats in the center. String a cord through the lid and hang this puzzle over a doorknob. Once your cat gets the hang of it, you can encourage exercise by raising it higher.
Scent Searching
Use old socks as washable scent baits. Just mark the sock with a dab of perfume, lotion, vanilla extract or even peanut butter, or place a pinch of any aromatic spice inside, then rub it over a slice of lunchmeat to pick up the scent. Scatter the socks throughout the house and your cat will be on the prowl for hours, delighted by the variety of scents. If you're pressed for time, simply mark a scent trail with a bit of cheese and then hide the cheese at the end of the trail.
Bird Watching
Attach a suction-cup bird feeder outside your cat's favorite window. Hungry birds will provide hours of entertainment. Don't place feeders too close to the ground as it leaves birds vulnerable to enemy attacks, and be sure to keep the window closed - 'excited cats can push right through screens.
Mouse Trap
Leave a ping-pong ball in the bathtub and watch as your cat makes it sail around the curves during her hunt for the elusive orb.
Crafty Cardboard
Use cardboard boxes as beds, dens, tunnels and mazes.
Make a "busy box" by attaching small toys to short lengths of cord and suspending them from the ceiling of a large box. Cut window flaps in the den at various heights.
Add a "Tiger Tug," ' a miniature version of a game popular with both tigers and chimps. Feed both ends of a length of parachute cord into the box through small holes. Tie a toy or a large knot on each end. When the cat tugs at one end, the other end mysteriously comes to life. For multicat households, run the ends into separate boxes.

This article was originally published by PetFinder.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thunderstorms and Your Cat

Have you seen your cat run and hide under a bed or in another secluded place, like a closet, basement, or dark, unused room when it’s thundering and lightning outside? Cats often experience fear and anxiety from thunderstorms or fireworks because both present unexpected lights and sounds that they can’t understand. Because they are predators by nature, they do their best to avoid showing signs of weakness or fear, and hiding is the best indication of their discomfort with a situation. It’s important to think in advance of ways to relax your cat during thunderstorms, so be sure to talk to us right away if you have an anxious cat. Thunderstorm season is here right now, so if your cat is disappearing during these weather events, ask us for advice today. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Allergies and Cats

Allergies make us miserable…headaches, runny noses, sneezing. But with our cats, it’s different. They experience itchy skin, uncomfortable rashes, and even earaches. During the fall, your cat may develop seasonal allergies, and for some they might be more severe than in the spring or summer season. If your cat has seasonal allergies, be sure to get them medical attention right away, so their uncomfortable symptoms can be relieved. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hot Weather and Cats

During hot weather, it’s important to think about your inside pets, such as cats! When your air conditioning stops working, or when your power goes out, remember that your indoor cat may become just as overheated as you or your other pets. Watch for signs of discomfort such as panting, anxiety often characterized by pacing, respiratory distress or hyperventilation evidenced by heavy breathing, or lethargy. Some options to cool your pet are to wrap a cold compress (a bag of frozen peas works great) in a towel and place it in your cat’s bed, or wipe them down with a cool wet towel. If their symptoms worsen, you may want to see medical help from us. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Cats & Screendoors

Time to open your doors and feel the nice breeze of spring! Remember to put your screen door in so your cat doesn't try to enjoy the breeze on their own! They are enjoying the outdoors longer as the urge to explore new territories grab their attention. Even if your feline friend never wanders away, remember that cats can wander too far to retrace their steps.