Category Archives: Ask The Vet

Redirected Aggression in Cats

Cats display a complex behavior known as redirected aggression. According to Dr. Debra Horwitz, ” Redirected aggression arises from the cat being in an aggressive or agitating circumstance, but unable to vent that aggression on the causative agent.” Here’s a common history. A cat is looking out the window and sees another cat invade their yard. The angry cat wants to attack the intruder lurking on the other side of the glass. Since they can’t, they attack whatever is close. This can be humans or other animals in their immediate vicinity who are innocent bystanders. The victim is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Redirected aggression can be caused by the sight, sound or smell of another cat or animal. Less frequently, unusual sounds, unfamiliar people or objects and even pain may trigger an episode.

Treatment is based on removing the inciting factor from the cat’s environment. This is often easier said than done. For outdoor cats or other animals, cover windows and remove perches and furniture from the area. Remove any sources of food, water and resting places from the yard that may attract other cats or animals. Discourage visiting cats with motion detector air canisters or water systems that provide a surprise shower. Shield the cat who suffers from redirected aggression from windows by blocking their access to the window. Removing furniture and/or covering the window will work for cats who are visually aroused but may not be enough if scent is the trigger.

Once a cat becomes aroused, it should be left alone to calm down. Create a safe room for the cat that contains a litter box, water, food and a Feliway diffuser. Gently herd the cat to the room with a broom or box. A cat in this state of arousal may inflict serious damage on people or other animals. Take extreme caution to avoid injury. If the cat must be picked up, use a thick quilt wrapped around their entire body including the head. Once in the room, turn the lights off and leave immediately. Give the cat plenty of time to calm down before entering. For some cats, it may be several days before they are back to normal. A video camera placed in the room is a great way to access their state of arousal from a safe distance. An aroused cat will have a bushy tail, dilated pupils, flattened ears and growl as they pace about the room.

If the inciting cause cannot be completely removed from the cat’s life, then counter-conditioning and desensitization may help control re-directed aggression. The cat is exposed to the stimulus at a low level and then rewarded for good behavior. Slowly the cat will learn to associate the stimulus with good things as the feelings of anxiety disipate.

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. “Feline Aggression Toward People” Australian Veterinary Association Proceeding 2012, AVA2012, VIN.com.

 

Wool Sucking in Cats

Wool sucking is a compulsive behavior seen in cats, especially in Siamese and Birman breeds. Cats affected with this medical disorder suck, lick and chew on soft materials including wool and other fabrics. Over time, they often progress to other materials including rubber, nylon, cardboard, paper and plastic.  I know of one cat who got into a closet and chewed out the inseam of his owner’s favorite jeans. Another cat suffered electrocution when she went after an electric cord.  She received a nasty bruise on the roof of her mouth but survived.

The cause of wool sucking is not completely understood. Dr. Borns-Well performed a case controlled study of 204 Birman and Siamese cats and found that small litter size and early weaning was associated with an increased risk of wool sucking in the Birman breed of cat. In Siamese, the risk of developing wool sucking increased when they developed other medical conditions. Further research by Dr. Nicholas Dodman into the genetics suggests a dominant mode of inheritance for this condition. Another common finding in affected cats is an abnormally intense appetite. These cats are extremely oral, mouthing anything in reach when they are hungry.

Treatment is based on decreasing the stress that causes this compulsive behavior and providing alternative outlets when it occurs. Here’s how I tackle patients with wool sucking:

  1. Medical examination – The work-up for a cat with wool sucking always starts with a thorough veterinary examination and lab work looking for other medical problems. Cats are good at hiding their illnesses until they become severe.  Through blood work and physical examination, I find many of these patients have chronic problems when their family thought they were healthy. The behavior decreases and sometimes stops when the underlying problem is resolved.
  2. Environmental examination – The next step in the work-up for wool sucking is evaluating the cat’s environment for specific stress inducers as well as behavioral enrichment areas. Cats have a pretty simple routine – hunt, eat, urinate/defecate, groom, rest. A healthy environment will provide specific areas for all of these behaviors to occur. Stress occurs from lack of resources, other housemates that may bully the cat, outdoor cats and the lack of outlets for normal behaviors. Cats view valuable things like resting spots, food and litter boxes as valuable resources. Problems occur when there aren’t enough to go around. Ideally, there should be one litter box for each cat. Place the box in a private area with at least two escape routes to prevent another cat or dog from cornering the cat. The same rule applies for food and water bowls. Use a large dog bowl for water as cats like to drink from large flat surfaces. For resting areas, variety is the key. I like to give the cat a choice between low places (basket in a closet, blanket under a bed, cat tunnel, etc), medium places (chair when pushed under a table, sofa back covered with a blanket, inbox on a desk, etc) and high places (perch on upper window, closet shelf, cat tree, etc). If outdoor cats are a problem, keep the perches far away and cover windows with blinds.
  3. Normal behavior outlet – Entertainmental areas are important for giving the cat an outlet for their normal behaviors. In the wild, feral cats hunt, stalk and then kill their prey. Behavior enrichment for indoor cats should provide the means for expressing these behaviors. Window perches by a bird feeder, aquariums, cat trees and cat videos appeal to the hunting instincts of cats. Scratching post scattered throughout the house are fun as well. Use posts with vertical as well as horizontal surfaces for scratching. Interactive toys including feather wands, stuffed mice on a string, while balls and wads of paper are great for stalking and exercise. Remember to let the cat catch and kill the toy every few minutes to simulate normal hunting. My cats come running when they hear me get the feather wand out of the closet. I have to put it away between plays times because they will chew it up. I am not a fan of laser pointers because some cats develop frenzied play syndrome because they can never catch and kill the dot.
  4. Outlets for wool sucking behavior – Even with a good environment, some cats will still exhibit the wool sucking behavior. The key in dealing with this is to redirect the behavior away from the expensive inappropriate items to safe toys. Soft cat toys and stuffed animals work well for this. A small amount of cat nip or lanolin may be rubbed on the toy to help attract the cat. Place the toys in areas where the wool sucking behavior occurs. With time, the cat will learn to seek out their special toys when they feel the need for oral stimulation. Since many of these cats seem to have extreme hunger, break up their meals throughout the day. Put food in puzzle feeders or treat balls and then scatter them throughout the house. Make the cat work to find the food. Encourage the cat to play and then reward them with small bits of food. Because of their food motivation, many of these cats can learn to do all kinds of tricks.
  5. Severe Cases – In some cats, the compulsive behavior is ingrained and drug therapy is required. For these cats, I also recommend creating a safe room filled with soft toys for mouthing until the compulsive behavior is better controlled.

Sources:

-Borns-Well, S, et. al., A case-control study of compulsive wool-sucking in Siamese and Birman cats (n=204). J. Vet. Behav. November/December 2015:10(6):543-548.

-Dodman, Nicholas. Recognition, Management and Genetic Findings in Canine and Feline Compulsive Disorders. Tuft’s Canine and Feline Breeding Genetics Conference 2015.

Petting-Related Aggression in Cats

Most cats enjoy human interaction especially if it involves petting. As the saying goes, ‘Cats are connoisseurs of pleasure.’ Most love a good head rub, especially when the sides of the face by the whiskers are stroked. Unfortunately, petting may stimulate some cats to bite. The most common history I hear is that the cat was lying next to or on their owner. The owner was scratching their chin, face and/or back when suddenly, the cat bit the owner and ran away.  Most of the time, the cat will inhibit their bite which means only use light pressure but I have seen a few deep wounds during my career.

Petting-related aggression is a clinical syndrome in cats that is poorly understood. The cause is thought to be pain or exceeding the cat’s tolerance for attention. Cats with back pain from arthritis or disc disease will often cry and twitch when their backs are stroked. If the petting continues, they may bite to stop the pain. There is also a condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome that causes a normally sweet cat to suddenly bite. Cats with this syndrome seem to experience episodes of extreme pain that cause some to lash out at anyone around them. Petting the lower back can cause an episode but I have also seen cats trigger without any stimulation.

Overstimulation is the other cause of petting-related aggression. Some cats seem to have a low threshold or tolerance for human interaction. Some behaviorists speculate that there is an internal conflict occurring between the adult and juvenile response to human attention because many of these cats will solicit attention. They will purr and head butt but then bite when touched.

Treatment starts with keeping the humans safe. I recommend using some sort of inanimate object to stroke the cat like a wand or towel. Watch the cat closely for signs of overstimulated. Look for dilated pupils, flicking the tail, flattened ears or raised hair along the back. If observed, stop touching the cat immediately and slowly back away. If the cat is on your lap, slowly stand up allowing the cat to jump off without injury.

Once the warning signs are known, slowly build the cat’s tolerance to human interaction by rewarding it for good behavior. When the cat is hungry, offer small bits of their favorite treat. Once the cat is comfortable taking the treats, start petting them. Pet once then give a treat. Gradually increase the cat’s tolerance to more petting between treats. Remember to stop immediately if any signs of over- stimulation occur. Hopefully, the cat will learn to control their stimulation to get more treats. Keep the sessions short and vary the food reward for maximum effectiveness.

 

Source:

-Horwitz, Debra. ‘Feline Aggression toward People’, Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

Misdirected Play Aggression in Cats

Scratching and biting are common kitten behaviors. Their predatory nature motivates them to explore the world looking for prey. They stalk, pounce and bite anything that moves during play. Unfortunately, this natural behavior can become a serious problem in some cats as they grow and the strength of their bite increases. Beside the physical trauma from their large canine teeth (fangs), cats carry several bacteria in their mouths that can cause serious infections. People can also develop cat scratch fever from the bacteria Bartonella henselae that is found on some cat’s nails.

Misdirected play aggression is usually seen in cats under two years of age.  They are often the only cat in the household or live with other cats and/or dogs that do not play. The worst cases are seen with orphans who were raised alone. These little ones didn’t learn to inhibit their bites during play because their was no queen(mom) or siblings around to let them know when they bit too hard. The other common history findings are rough play with humans as young kittens and being left alone for long periods of time. One of the biggest mistakes people make in raising kittens is allowing them to bite hands and scratch during play. Rough play teaches kittens to surprise attack without the normal warning signs. What was once a cute little nip turns into a deep wound.

Diagnosis of misdirected play aggression is made by observing the cat or kitten in their environment before, during and after the bite. Most often, movement is the trigger. In my experience, feet moving under the covers, making the bed and walking down the hall are the most common triggers. It is also reported that walking up and down stairs as well as  coming out of a closet will trigger play aggression. Most kittens assume a crouched position with an intent look on their faces before striking. Usually their ears are forward in anticipation of doing something fun i.e., biting. They do not growl or vocalize during play. This is a very important point to remember to differentiate misdirected play aggression from other forms of aggression. If the kitten hisses, growls or screams, the behavior is not play related.

Treatment is based on giving the kitten or cat a different outlet for their energy. As I was taught in veterinary college, ‘A tired cat is a good cat.’ If the home can accommodate another feline, adding another slightly older kitten or cat that likes to play is a great solution. Beside giving the troublemaker an outlet for their energy, another animal will get a home which is a win for everybody. Consult with your veterinarian about the proper methods for introducing cats and go slow. Dumping a new cat into an environment and letting them ‘work it out’ is not recommended. Make sure the new addition is free of disease before the introduction. A two week quarantine is recommended just in case the kitten was exposed to a virus during the re-homing.

If a new feline roommate isn’t an option, then play is the key. A variety of toys should be placed in the environment to stimulate the kitten. Remember that cats and kittens will habituate which means become bored with toys quickly. Change the toys frequently to keep them engaged. Create several play stations in their environment to keep them moving. Here are some examples:

  1. Cat nip infused scratching post tucked in the corner of the room. Provide a horizontal as well as a vertical scratch pad. Cardboard scratch pads work well for the horizontal surface.
  2. Hang a toy from door nobs in multiple areas. Make sure the toy is secured well to prevent swallowing a string.
  3. Boxes and/or bags left out to explore. After grocery shopping, leave a few paper bags on the floor to give the kitten something new to explore. When the kitten becomes bored, put them away until the next day or place some cat nip inside.
  4. Perches placed by windows provide ‘natural T.V.’
  5. Outdoor fully enclosed ‘catio’ will keep the cat safe while allowing them to experience the great outdoors. The screened in area should have multiple perches placed at different heights to help the cat exercise. Some cats may also enjoy munching on container grass.
  6. Fabric tunnels placed along walls or behind sofas give the cat a ground level space to explore.
  7. Ping pong balls in the bath tub work well for curious cats.

Beside the play stations, cats also need interactive play. Four to six fifteen minute active play sessions per day are recommended. Cat fishing rods, wads of paper to retrieve or bat around, balls and feather dusters work well. Stimulate the actions of a mouse or bird with the toy by pulling it under and around furniture. Make the motions unpredictable, slow then fast, smooth along the ground with pops up into the air. Many cats can’t resist the whirling noise made when a feather toy is spun over head. Many people make the mistake of throwing the toys directly at the cat which frightens them. Remember, cats are used to chasing prey. The toy mouse jumping into their face is illogical to them.

Be extremely careful with laser light pens. Direct eye contact may result in blindness. Also, some cats develop ‘frenzy play syndrome’ because they can never catch, touch and kill the dot. If using a laser, stop every few minutes and give the cat an actual toy they can bite and scratch. When the cat feels the toy has been ‘killed’, go back to the laser.

Food dispensing toys or feeder toys are great for burning off energy. Instead of regular meals placed in a dish, make the kitten work for their food. Place small amounts inside and then let them roll it around until something good falls out. Treats may be hidden around the house to stimulate exploration. A few kibbles placed in a water bowl can provide entertainment as the kitten works to get the floaters. Remember to vary the flavors of food often (every 2 or 3 days) for added interest.

Battery operated toys that simulate prey can be a nice addition to a cat’s toy box especially when the humans need a break. Although some cats like the battery operated vacuum cleaners and robots, most seem frightened by these machines. Stick with ‘Panic Mouse’ and similar toys.

Now that the cat has an outlet for their play drive, it is time to teach them not to attack humans. First, evaluate the environment where the attacks occur. If possible remove furniture or other items that are the launch point. Second, obtain a noise maker to startle the cat. Compressed air or pennies in a soda can work well. When the cat shows signs of stalking behavior such as raised hair, twitching tail or slinking on the ground, startle them with the noise. Third, re-direct their attention to an appropriate toy. This is the most important step as they must have an outlet for the behavior. Negative punishment does not work because the cat associates the bad thing with the human, not their behavior of biting the human. Cats subjected to punishment often become more aggressive as they adopt a ‘I’m going to bite you before you can spank me’ approach. Some cats may become fearful and start urinating outside the litter box. As veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Debra Horwitz states, “It is important to redirect the behavior, not punish it.”

Source:

-‘Cat Scratch Fever’ www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html.

-Horwitz, Debra F. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

-Thomas, Nicole & Brook, Itzhak. ‘Animal Bite-Associated Infections’ Expert Rev Ant Infect Thor. 2011;9(2):215-226.

Aggression in Cats Toward People

Aggression in cats toward people is a serious problem. Beside the pain, a cat’s teeth and claws may harbor organisms that cause serious disease. Scratches may causes cat scratch fever, a condition caused by the organism Bartonella henselae. Cats also often have several bacteria in their mouths including Staphylococcus sp, Streptococcus sp., Moraxella and Pasturella multocida that can cause infection. The worst infections are usually caused by Pasturella multocida which means ‘many deaths’ in Latin. Immediate medical care and antibiotic therapy is recommended for all bites.

Unfortunately, the reason for feline aggression can be hard to diagnose. Cats, like humans, have complex personalities with different emotional triggers. Feline aggression is broken down into categories based upon the inciting cause. The categories are: Misdirected Play-Related Aggression, Petting-Related Aggression, Redirected Aggression and Fear-Based Aggression. In the future, another form of aggression based on frustration may be added to the list.

In young cats, most aggression is a form a misdirected-play aggression. Kittens like to attack anything that moves, especially feet under blankets. To combat this, the kitten must be given a positive outlet for their energy. Interactive toys like a feather wand allow the kitten and human to play together.

Petting-related aggression occurs when the cat becomes over stimulated from petting. To prevent this, limit petting to the face and stop when tail twitching starts. Also, the cat must be evaluated by a veterinarian for a medial condition called hyperethesia syndrome that can have similar clinical signs.

Redirected aggression occurs when something upsets a cat but circumstances prevent the cat from engaging the thing that upset it. This is common when indoor cats notice a stranger cat through a window. The indoor cat becomes aroused and then takes their aggression out on the humans or other animals inside the house. To avoid injury, never interact with an aroused cat. Gently guide it into a dark room with food, water and a litter box then leave it alone until the cat is back to normal.

The last type of aggression is based on fear. Cats with fear based aggression attack first and ask questions later. They have learned that a good offense is the best defense. Most of these cats were poorly socialized as kittens and/or suffered a traumatic experience early in life. Punishment usually makes this type of aggression worse.

Successful treatment of feline aggression requires a thorough history, physical examination and environmental evaluation. The history taking starts with obvious questions as to where and when the aggression take place. In addition, it is important to determine what occurred right before the aggression. Did strangers enter the house? Was there an unexpected noise? Was the cat trapped in a corner or did the cat seek out a specific person?  The next step in the history is to note how the cat acted before, during and after the episode paying special attention to the cat’s facial expressions and tail activity. Videos of the aggressive episodes are helpful in answering these questions. Keeping a behavior log that records the above information is a huge help in documenting patterns of behavior.

Once the history is finished, the cat needs a thorough physical examination. Many cats suffer from osteoarthritis of their backs and legs just like humans. A cat may bite because it hurts when picked up or petted. Kidney disease, pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism which are common in older cats can make them feel bad and grumpy. Since cats are good at hiding their illnesses, routine blood and urinalysis as well as X-rays are performed to rule out a medical reason for aggression. Cats are just like humans … it’s hard to be nice when feeling bad.

If the results of the physical exam and testing are within normal limits and the history is consistent with aggression, the final step in working up aggression is performing an evaluation of the cat’s environment. Does the cat live alone or have roommates? Is the cat kept strictly indoors or allowed to go outside in an enclosed space? What kind of toys are available? How much exercise does the cat get? Does the cat have high resting places as well as low? Are the food bowls and litter boxes placed in an area with escape routes? Again, video of the cat in their home is helpful in assessing the environment.

Diagnosing the cause and then implementing a treatment plan for aggression can be challenging. The upcoming blogs will go into more detail on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of each type of aggression.

Source:

-‘Cat Scratch Fever’ www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html.

-Horwitz, Debra F. ‘Feline Aggression Toward People’ Australian Veterinary Association Proceedings 2012, VIN.com.

-Thomas, Nicole & Brook, Itzhak. ‘Animal Bite-Associated Infections’ Expert Rev Ant Infect Thor. 2011;9(2):215-226.

 

The Effect of Smoking on Dogs and Cats

We all know that smoking tobacco products is harmful to the smoker as well as their family who are exposed through second and thirdhand smoke. But what about the pets? Unfortunately, the pets are effected as well when they breathe in the toxic fumes or ingest the residue left behind in the environment. When burned, cigarettes release an amazing 7,000 chemicals including ammonia, arsenic, benzene, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, lead, mercury, nicotine, toluene and uranium-236. Beside the smoker, other family members suffer secondhand exposure when they breathe the fumes. Eventually, the chemicals settle out of the air onto surfaces creating a residue. Thirdhand exposure occurs when chemicals are ingested, absorbed through the skin or inhaled through dust. Pets may also come into contact with these chemicals when they lick a smoker. These chemicals persist in the environment for months even with cleaning.

Dogs and cats who live with a smoker have an increased risk of cancer. The length of the dog’s nose will determine what kind of cancer they may develop. Dogs with long noses like Greyhounds and Dobermans have higher risks of cancer developing in their nasal passages because the cancer causing chemicals settle out there. The chemicals make it to the lungs in dogs with short and medium length noses.  This predisposes them to lung cancer. Cats have increased risk of lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the mouth when they live with a smoker. The risk of a cat developing lymphoma increases by three times when they live with a 3 pack a day smoker. The squamous cell carcinoma occurs when cats groom the toxic chemicals from their fur. The risk for this aggressive cancer increases two to four times.

To prevent secondhand smoke, many people will smoke outside. Unfortunately, this does not prevent thirdhand exposure to pets and children because the toxic chemicals from tobacco contaminate the smoker’s hands and clothing. The chemicals are transferred to the children and pets through thirdhand contact. As mentioned above, pets are at the greatest risk if they lick the smoker.

For more information of the effect of smoking on pets, please check out the FDA website. Here’s the link: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm

Sources:

-Bertone, E.R., et. al. ‘Environmental Tobacco Smoke and Risk of Malignant Lymphoma in Pet Cats’ J. Am. Epidemiology 2002; 156:268-273.

-Matt, G.E., et al. ‘When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure.’ Tobacco Control 2011: 20(e1) 1-8.

-Reif, JJ. et al. ‘Cancer of the oral cavity and para-nasal sinuses and exposure to harmful tobacco smoke in pet dogs’ Am. J. Epidemiology 1988:  147(5):488-492.

-Schick, S. ‘Thirdhand smoke: here to stay’ Tobacco Control 2011:  20(1):  1-3.

-‘Be smoke-free and help you pets live longer, healthier lives.’ U.S. Food and Drug Administration Animal Health Literacy, last updated 9/22/16. www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm520415.htm

Keep Pets Out of Christmas Tree Water

Christmas decorations can cause problems for pets. While most people know about the common holiday dangers including tinsel, candles, electric cords and ornaments, few people know about a potential danger hiding at the base of the tree – Christmas tree water.

christmas-tree

The big problem from Christmas tree water is bacterial overgrowth in the stagnant water. In warm indoor temperatures, bacteria can multiply quickly. When consumed by pets, this often causes vomiting, anorexia and/or diarrhea. Most animals will recover with supportive care including fluids to correct dehydration, antibiotics to get rid of the bacterial overgrowth, probiotics to repopulate the gastro intestinal tract and a bland diet.

Tree extenders are a mix of fertilizer and sugar to keep trees fresh. If the concentration is low, pets will suffer from gastrointestinal upset (vomiting, diarrhea), irritation to their mouths, esophagus and stomach. If the concentration is high, cats may develop a serious condition called methemoglobinemia.

To keep your pets safe, I recommend blocking access to the tree stand. If that isn’t possible, use plain water for trees and change it frequently. Although adding bleach may decrease bacterial growth in the water, I certainly do not recommend it.  Bleach causes gastrointestinal irritation. I have seen it cause severe ulcers in cats and dogs.  Please, never use bleach in any place where animals have access.

I hope you and your pets have a wonderful and safe Christmas!

 

Salt Toxicity in Animals- Surprising Sources of Poisoning

Salt is widely used in food to prevent spoiling and to provide taste. In small quantities, it is not harmful to humans or animals. But consuming large amounts can be deadly. Dogs, cats, horses, cattle, pigs and birds can become poisoned. When large amounts of salt are ingested, the salt is absorbed into the bloodstream. A sudden increase in Na+Cl- attracts fluid from other places in the body back to the bloodstream causing dehydration. Organs shrink in size due to the loss of fluid. When the brain shrinks, blood vessels inside the skull can tear and bleed. Intracranial hemorrhage is a life-threatening condition that must be corrected immediately to prevent coma and death.

Clinical signs in the early phase of salt poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration and lethargy. As the condition worsens, the animal walks like it is drunk which is called ataxia then starts to tremor. Depending upon the amount of salt ingested, the animal may progress to seizures, coma and death. It is an awful way to die. Sadly, if the animal survives the initial toxicity, kidney disease may occur.

Besides the shaker filled with table salt, there are many other sources of salt that aren’t readily apparent. The list includes:

  1. Rock salt used to de-ice sidewalks and roadways during winter.
  2. Homemade playdough. Dogs love to eat ornaments made of dried playdough hung on the tree.
  3. Sea water. Please bring fresh water to the beach for your dogs.
  4. Paintballs are loaded with salt. Please clean up all the remnants after a party to prevent toxicity. Also, do not allow dogs off leash in areas used for paint ball.
  5.  Jerky when excessive amounts are consumed.
  6.  Sodium phosphate enemas.
  7. Rawhide when excessive amounts are consumed. I heard about a women who gave her Labrador retriever 12 raw hides in one day to keep him busy when she worked. The dog developed salt toxicity.
  8. Canned foods including soup and vegetables. Soup contains a lot of salt. Some canned varieties contain up to 60% of the recommended human daily dose of salt. Use fresh or low salt frozen vegetables with pets.
  9. Packaged breakfast cereal contains a surprising amount of salt. Pot bellied pigs have been known to break into the pantry and become poisoned after eating as little as two packages of breakfast cereal.
  10. Pretzels and crackers in birds. Birds, especially parrots, love crackers and pretzels. Please use salt free products to prevent toxicity.

Sources;

-Salt, Pet Poison Helpline. www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/salt/.

-Shell, Linda. “Hypernatremia” VIN Associate, Last update 07/20/2007.

Holiday Dangers for Pets

Winter holidays are fun but can present dangers for pets. Here are some of the common hazards for dogs and cats:

  1. Chocolate – Chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine which are toxic to animals.  This fact surprises a lot of people because humans are fairly resistant to this class of drugs. We can drink a lot of coffee and eat chocolate without too many problems. But dogs are much more sensitive to the effects of these chemicals. The half life of caffeine in dogs is 4.5 hours while the half life of theobromine is 17.5 hours!                                                                                             The amount of these two chemicals varies with the type of chocolate. Milk chocolate contains the least amount of caffeine and theobromine while the bitter chocolate used in cooking contains the most. Dark chocolate falls in between. The general rule that I was taught in veterinary college is the more bitter the chocolate, the more of these chemicals and the greater the danger of poisoning.
  2. Lilies – Lilies cause severe kidney problems (renal tubular necrosis) within two to three days of ingestion.   All parts of the plant are poisonous including the pollen.  In my experience, cats are more attracted to these plants than dogs. If your pet is exposed, bring them in for veterinary care immediately!  This is not something you can treat at home.
  3. Poinsettias – These plants irritate the mouth and stomach leading to vomiting and gastrointestinal upset. Despite the hype, I have never seen any serious toxicity from poinsettias ingestion.
  4. Mistletoe – At high doses, this plant can cause cardiovascular disease.
  5. Christmas Tree Water – Bacterial overgrowth often develops in the stagnant Christmas tree water. The water may also contain fertilizers. To be safe, use water free of additives and change it out at regular intervals.
  6. Batteries – batteries are extremely toxic to animals. Most batteries contain a strong acid or alkaline material that will burn any tissue it contacts. Some batteries emit an electrical current that causes severe electrical burns. Batteries may also contain heavy metals such as zinc, mercury and lead which are poisonous.
  7. Escape – During parties, open doors and gate provide opportunity for escape. In my practice, we see the most lost pets during holiday parties.
  8. Antifreeze – Antifreeze causes serious kidney damage and often death. If there is even a remote chance that your pet has ingested antifreeze, seek immediate medical care. Treatment will only help if given early to prevent kidney destruction.
  9. Electric cords – Electrocution is a big problem when the decorations go up. Keep pets away from electrical cords at all times.
  10. Tinsel and Ribbon – Tinsel and ribbon can cause serious damage to the intestines when eaten.
  11. Potpourris –  Dry potpourris may contain toxic plants or cause obstruction when eaten. The simmer pots can also be dangerous if the pet drinks it or gets it on their fur.
  12. Candles – Thermal burns are common during the holidays. I see a lot of cats with singed whiskers.
  13. Xylitol – Xylitol is an artificial sweetener used in many products including gum, mints, candy and even baked goods.  When dogs ingest this compound, it causes insulin release from the islet cells of the pancreas.  The insulin causes a drop in blood sugar.  The drop is dose dependent which means the bigger the dose the more severe the drop in blood sugar.  Dogs who ingest toxic doses of xylitol may be depressed, shaky on their feet, tremor and even seizure if blood sugar drops low enough.  This effect lasts about twelve hours.
    In addition to causing excessive insulin release, xylitol also harms the liver by causing necrosis. In my experience, the liver enzymes begin to rise about 12 hours after ingestion and peak about two days later.  The full extent of liver damage may not be known for several days.  Unfortunately, there are no antidotes for this poison in dogs.  Victims of xylitol toxicity are treated symptomatically.
  14. Ornament Dough – Ornament dough contains high levels of salt that is dangerous to dogs and cats. Ingestion of a large amount can cause severe neurological disease including seizures.

Sources:

-Lee, Justine A. ‘Holiday Dangers Poisonous to Dogs and Cats’ Midwestvet.net/resources/articles. Dec. 2016, pp 11-12.                           -Wisner, Tina, ‘Winter Holiday Hazards for Pets’ VIN Veterinary Partner, Published Dec. 11, 2001 and revised June 7, 2010.

Vasculitis in Dogs

Vasculitis is thankfully, a fairly rare condition in dogs caused by  Inflammation within the blood vessels. The inflammation stops blood flow to the area causing the tissues in that area to die. Areas that are most severely affected have poor collateral perfusion such as the ears and tip of the tail. It is also reported on the lips, pads and nose.

Left ear flap
Left ear flap

Although the exact cause of vasculitis is unknown, it is thought to be an immune reaction. In primary vasculitis, the dog’s immune system mounted a response without any precipitating factor. In secondary vasculitis, the immune system was stimulated by something the dog encountered.  It has been associated with infections (bacterial, viral and tick borne), drugs, vaccines, food allergies and insect bites. When no precipitating cause is found, the disease is called idiopathic and assumed to be primary disease. I believe this classification will change as more research is done on this disease.

I see vasculitis most often on the ear tips of Dachshunds. It’s hard to miss the thick white crust that forms on the skin. When removed, bleeding is minimal. Usually, I find stiff gray colored skin. Other breeds that are reported to have vasculitis include Bichon frise, German shepherd dog, Greyhound, Jack Russel Terrier, Maltese, Pekingnese, Poodle, rottweiler, Scottish terrier, Silky terrier and Yorkshire terrier.

Right ear flap
Right ear flap

Treatment is aimed at removing the inciting cause and suppressing the inflammation. Although it sounds easy, removing the inciting cause is difficult. Identifying the trigger is the first problem because the inciting cause may have occurred quite awhile before the dermatitis is seen. If the cause is found, it can’t always been removed. For example vaccines and some venom from insect bites linger in the body for a long time. Diet trials take many weeks to complete. Steroids or pentoxifylline are used to suppress the inflammation.

Sources:

-Holm, Kristin. “Vasculitis” VIN Associate, Last updated 12/5/2009.