Californians Vote Yes on Proposition 2

I will never forget walking into a veal barn for the first time.  Dozens of newborn black and white calves stood in small iron stalls.  Their heads chained to the front.  The calves had enough slack to back up about a foot or lie down with their head out in front of them.  They could not curl their heads back into their body. Nor could they sleep with their legs outstretched due to the cramped quarters.    

Beside the scarcity of space, the other shock was the poor physical condition of these calves.  Their eyes and mouths were a sickly gray color instead of healthy pink.  The veterinarian I accompanied explained that veal calves are fed a special diet deficient in iron in order to produce pale, tender veal.  As a result, these calves were anemic and prone to infection.  I left the barn feeling sick to my stomach.  Despite the fact that I do eat beef, I vowed never to eat veal again.

Proposition 2 establishes standards for the humane confinement of egg-laying hens, veal calves and pregnant sows.  The proposition states these animals must have enough room to lie down, stand, turn around and fully extend their limbs.  It is supported by the California Veterinary Medical Association as well as the San Diego County Veterinary Medical Association.  I am ashamed to report that the American Veterinary Medical Association, of which I am a member, refused to take a position on this vital proposition.  

If you are a California resident, I encourage you to please vote yes on Proposition 2.  Give farm animals enough room to sleep in whatever position they find comfortable.       

Taming Feral Cats

    I divide feral cats into two groups;  passive-response cats and active-response cats.  Both groups are terrified of people.  During kitten hood, they missed a critical window of socialization that removes their fear of people.  As adult cats, they view humans with trepidation.  The passive-response or scaredy-cats freeze when forced to interact with us.  They avoid eye contact and flatten onto the ground.  The active-response cats follow their fight or flight instincts.  They will do anything to escape.  I had a friend lock a feral cat in her tack room overnight.  The next morning, the place looked like a war zone.  The cat urinated and defecated all over.  It knocked tack off the racks and left bloody paw prints on the door.  If you corner a active-response cat, look out.  They will fight to the death.

    In my experience, it takes a miracle to tame an active-response cat.  I am sad to say, there is little hope of success with these animals.  The passive-response cats, on the other hand, can become loving pets.  Here are my tips for working with passive-response cats.  I cannot overstate the following:  This process may take months and must unfold at the pace the cat chooses, not the one we hope for!

PHASE ONE

1)  Confine the cat to a small room.  This forces it to interact with you.  Bathrooms work well because there are limited places to hide.  They are also easy to clean.
2)  Provide a hiding spot for the cat.  A box or small carrier works well for this.  Do not place your hands inside the carrier.  Remember, this is the cat’s “safe” spot.  Respect this area.
3)  Place a litter box, food and water in close proximity to the hiding spot.  Keep food and water available at all times. 
4)  Allow the cat a few days to acclimate to the room before moving on to the next phase.  Do not start phase two until the cat is eating well. 
5)  Choose one or two people to work with the cat.  Do not allow other animals or people to enter the room. 

PHASE TWO

1)  Stop free-choice feeding the cat.  Leave the empty bowl in the room.
2)  A few times a day, offer the cat a small amount of food while you sit outside the carrier.  Talk to them in soft, soothing tones.  Wait five minutes before leaving.  The goal is to teach the cat to associate humans with food.  Food is good so therefore, humans are good.  Place the bowl right in front of the safe area.
3)  Eventually, the cat will stick their head out to eat in your presence.  Do not try to touch them!  Let them eat undisturbed.  Do not move until they are done eating and back in the carrier.
4)  When the cat sticks their head out before you put the food in place, start to move the bowl away from the carrier.  Move it three inches at a time until the cat must completely leave the carrier to eat.  Again, do not move or try to touch the cat.  Move onto the next phase when the cat runs to the food bowl and waits for you to scoop up dinner.

PHASE THREE

1)  Slowly, move your hand towards the cat while it is eating.  If the cat is frightened, stop immediately.  Over time the cat will let you get closer and closer.
2)  Reach towards the rear end, not the face.  Most cats enjoy a good scratch along their back, just in front of the tail. 
3)  When the cat purrs, slowly move to other areas of the body.  Save the top of the head for last.
4)  With time, the cat will jump into your lap for more attention. 

PHASE FOUR

1)  Introduce the cat to the rest of the house.  Open the bathroom door, sit on the floor outside and let the cat explore at will.  Always keep the door open so the cat may return to the safe area if frightened.  Do not force the cat to leave the room.  They will leave when they are ready.  It took my cat Kalani a week of peering out the door before he decided to leave the room.  
2)  Once the cat is comfortable out of the room, introduce other family members.  Always give the cat a means to escape.  Do not let children chase the cat into its safe area.

PHASE FIVE

1)  Continue acclimating the cat to novel events such as nail trimming, carrier rides and brushing their teeth.  
2)  Train them to come when called.  When they arrive, reward them with a tasty treat.
 
  

Kalani, A Feral Cat

        Kalani

My husband noticed an orange flash outside his office window.  With further investigation, he discovered an orange tabby crouched under a bush.  The cat flicked his left ear from side to side.  The tip was shriveled.  After a few minutes, the cat stood up on his hind legs and nibbled on the lower leaves.  He looked like he was starving.    

The next day, Steve placed food and water beneath the bush just in case the cat returned.  A few hours later, he did.  He chowed down on food, drank some water and settled in for a nap beneath another bush.  That evening, Steve and I plotted our strategy for catching this feral cat.   

The biggest mistake people make with starving animals is overfeeding.  Giving a starving animal or human too much food too quickly may cause a life-threatening condition called re-feeding syndrome.  To avoid this, I formulated a strict feeding regime for Steve.  For the week, he fed the cat a small amount of food every morning.  By the second week, we increased to twice a day feedings and tried to acclimate the cat to Steve.    

After three weeks of feeding, the cat began to follow Steve at a distance.  We placed a humane trap covered with burlap beneath a bush.  Every feeding we moved the food and water closer to the trap.  In a few days, the cat ate his meals inside the trap.  Now it was time to catch this wild boy.  

The night before we set the trap, Steve skipped the cat’s evening meal.  I wanted to use hunger to motivate him to enter the trap.  The next morning, the cat arrived right on schedule.  At 10 am, Steve observed the little fur ball rubbing on the trap door.  For thirty agonizing seconds, Steve watched in fear that he would spring the door at the wrong time.  Finally, he walked to the back.  In a flash, the trap door crashed down behind him.  We finally secured the little guy.  That night, a large storm passed through Scottsdale.  The parking lot storm drain where he used to sleep flooded.  Raging waters blocked his only exit.  Fortunately, Kalani was safe inside our house.  He was spared a horrible death by drowning. 

I wish I could write that Kalani instantly became a loving member of our family.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  As a feral cat, it took months for him to trust us enough to sit in our laps.  Now, a year and a half after we first met, he allows us to pick him up and brush his teeth almost every night.  As you can see from his picture, Kalani enjoys his new life as an indoor cat.  He is a wonderful, although shy, addition to our family.  

For anyone interested in feral cats, please see the post “Taming Feral Cats” in the Ask The Vet category of this blog.         
    

IVECCS Tip #5: Owners Self Diagnosing And Treating Their Pets During The Economic Slow Down

During IVECCS, I heard many stories from other veterinarians about owners treating their pets with human medications to save money.  Unfortunately, this happens every time the economy slows.  This practice may be harmful to the animal and result in large veterinary bills to undo the damage.  It is essential to understand that physiologically, pets are not miniature humans!  Just because a drug works well for us does not mean it is safe or effective in animals.    

The best example is ibuprofen.  This drug causes renal, gastrointestinal and central nervous disease in acute overdoses.  The most common symptoms I have seen are anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, black tarry stools, depression, seizures and coma.  In some cases, the diagnosis is made at necropsy when perforations are found in the gastrointestinal tract.  (A necropsy is the veterinary equivalent of an autopsy.)

Please do not give ibuprofen to dogs, cats or ferrets.  While it works well in humans, ibuprofen is not used in dogs because of its narrow margin of safety.  Even at low doses, gastric ulceration and perforation may occur.  Cats are even more sensitive than dogs because they are deficient in glucuronyl transferase, an enzyme needed for excretion of the drug.  Ferrets are susceptible to ibuprofen because of their small size.  One 200mg tab can be fatal.  

What should you do if your pet accidentally ingests a human drug?  Call your veterinarian immediately.  Fast action is the often the difference between life or death.  You should also know how to reach Pet Poison Control should your veterinarian be unavailable.         

You Make The Diagnosis: Dog With Swollen Face

For aspiring veterinarians, I have created a new category called “You Make The Diagnosis”.  I will present cases for you to diagnose.  Hints will be provided on the tough ones.  Here’s the first case.

Blondie is a young intact female pit bull.  She is shy around people.  Blondie loves to play out in the yard with her siblings.  This morning, her owner noticed a change in her appearance.  Please study Blondie’s picture carefully and then diagnose her condition.  Sorry, no hints on this one!

 

DIAGNOSIS: Allergic Reaction

Notice the severe swelling of Blondie’s face.  Her cheeks are enormous.  Dogs may be allergic to many things including plants, medicines, vaccinations, household cleaners, perfumes, fabrics and insects just to name a few.  Besides facial swelling, animals undergoing an allergic reaction may also vomit, have respiratory problems and act lethargic.  After speaking with her owners, an insect bite is the most likely cause of her reaction.  Blondie was treated with antihistamines.   

If you notice facial swelling on your pet, seek medical attention immediately. 

IVECCS Tip #4: Uncommon Presentations of Arterial Thrombembolism in Cats

Arterial thromboembolism is a serious and painful disease of cats.  In the most common form, a thrombus (clot) flows from the heart, down the aorta and lodges where it divides to supply the back legs.  It straddles the “Y” like a saddle straddles a horse.  Hence the name, “saddle thrombus”.  Symptoms of this problem include lameness and/or paralysis of the back legs. 

Clots can occur in other areas as well.  Dr. George Kramer’s notes from IVECCS 2008, reminded me that the right brachial artery is the second most common site for clots to lodge.  These poor cats lose blood flow to their right front leg.  They present with lameness and sometimes paralysis of the right front leg. 
 
Some cats generate mini clots intermittently.  Because of their small size, they reduce but do not completely block blood flow to the effected limb.  I imagine the leg feels numb or like it is “asleep”.  Cats with this condition often shake their leg.  

As a cat owner, it is important for you to recognize the signs of thromboembolism.  Lameness, pain, vocalizing, rapid breathing, paw shaking and paralysis are the most common symptoms.  If you observe any of these, please seek veterinary care immediately.