You Make The Diagnosis: Cat With Hair Loss On Both Rear Legs

Pictured below are the back legs of a cat who suffers with diabetes mellitus.  Notice the areas of hairloss below the hock (tarsus) on each leg.  Examine the picture closely and then answer the following question, what is the cause of the hair loss? 

Diagnosis:  Diabetic Neuropathy

When cats experience high levels of glucose in their blood stream, the glucose affects nerve function. Instead of walking on their toes, a cat with diabetic neuropathy will walk down on the lower part of their leg.  It resembles the way a rabbit moves.  Over time, the abnormal motion causes hairloss over the lower part of the leg. 

Marmots Explore Car Engines

After my last post on marmots, I received a wonderful comment that I would like to share.  The commenter’s husband is a mineral collector in Colorado who regularly travels above 14,000 feet in elevation.  During a trip home, a marmot hitched a ride in his car causing $600 worth of damage.  “This cute fellow was in the engine for about 36 hours including a 2.5 hour drive home.  His tenacity was impressive.  When we found him and he finally relinquished his struggle to be caught, he was close to his last breathe.” Thankfully, the Colorado Division of Wildlife took him back to Pikes Peak and he is believed to have made a complete recovery.  Here is a picture of the wayward marmot in the engine. 

After that experience, another marmot hitchhiked back from Mt. Anterno.  Fortunately, this marmot’s high pitched squeaks were recognized within 24 hours.  Again, the Colorado Division of Wildlife relocated the youngster back to the wild. 

I want to thank the commenter for providing this information about marmots.  Now that I know about these mischievous animals, I will always pop the hood and check for hitchhikers before leaving the high country.  This is another reason not to feed marmots and get them comfortable with human contact. 

Human Food Creates Problems for Marmots and Other Wild Rodents

While in Rocky Mountain National Park, I met this adorable little creature on the Trail Ridge Road.  Marmots are large rodents that eat as much as possible during the summer to build up fat reserves that will sustain them during winter hibernation.   

Unfortunately, these smart marmots learned that it is easier to beg for food from tourists than search for it on their own.  This marmot followed me along the sidewalk, scampering from rock to rock.  I do not feed wild animals because I do not want to make them dependent upon people.  I also learned another reason why humans should not feed rodents from a sign at the park. (See image below)  According to park officials, studies show that the fat produced from junk food is not as good as the fat from a rodent’s traditional diet.  This poor quality fat leads to problems during hibernation and sometimes death.   


Advice for Junior High Students Who Want to Become Veterinarians

Recently, I was contacted by a student in junior high school who wants to become a veterinarian.  Here are some thoughts that may be helpful as she prepares her journey to veterinary college. 

1) Grades-Grades are very important.  When you apply to veterinary school, you must list your overall grade point average as well as your grades in required courses from college.  Although your grades in junior high and high school are not counted, it is important to establish good study habits now.  Work hard and aim for an A in every class you take.  If you struggle in a particular area, get extra help now before you get behind. 

2) Classes-If you have a choice, select as many classes as possible in math and science.  A strong foundation in the basics of math and science will give you an advantage when tackling the tougher courses in high school.  

3) Experience-Experience is broken into two categories for veterinary college, animal-related and veterinary-related.  Veterinary-related means experience working under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.  The animal-related category includes work with animals in any setting.  Here are some ideas for students below the age of 16:

– Join 4-H and do projects with animals and veterinary medicine.
– Participate in the annual wild bird counts.
– Foster an animal for a rescue group.
– Train a puppy for an animal assistance program.
– Take riding lessons at a stable to learn how to handle horses.
– Volunteer to take care of a classroom pet.
– Go to veterinary camp to learn about animals.
– Learn the terms associated with each species of animal.  For example, a female cat is called a queen while the male is called a tom.
– Study the different breeds of the common animals.  As a veterinarian, I am expected by owners to know their pet’s breed.  Starting young to learn breeds will give you a leg up later on.  Besides, it is fun to learn the various attributes.

*Advice for high school students can be found in a prior post at

You Make The Diagnosis: Cat Urinating Outside Litter Box

The following x-ray is of a female/spayed cat who started urinating outside the box.  She urinated on throw rugs, under a desk, in the sink and in the clothes basket.  Unfortunately, the clothes were clean.  Study the x-ray closely and then make your diagnosis. 

Diagnosis:  Urinary stones in the bladder and kidneys

Cats are susceptible to several types of urinary tract stones.  If the stones contain calcium, they show up on x-rays like bone.  The two most common types of radio opaque stones are struvite and calcium oxalate.  See the oval shaped white spot just under the hips?  This is a stone in the urinary bladder.  The black colored areas in the center of the abdomen are gas in the intestines.  Look on the left side of the x-ray above the gas filled intestines and below the spinal column.  There are two small stones in the cat’s kidneys. 

Pets Reduce Stress

Most pet people know intuitively that pets are good for us.  We feel better in the presence of an animal.  The stresses of our day seem less daunting with a cat purring in our lap and a dog at our feet.  Scientists Karen Allen, Barbara E. Shykoff and Joseph L. Izzo, Jr. decided to study the interaction between people and pets to determine if the pet effect is real or simply a placebo.  They studied 48 stock brokers who suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure).  All of the participants were placed on the drug lisinopril (ACE inhibitor) and then divided into two groups, the first group adopted a pet while the second remained petless.  The lisinopril decreased resting heart rate and blood pressure in both groups equally. 

The big difference occurred when the two groups were asked to give a speech and solve math problems to induce stress.  While blood pressure and heart rate increased in both groups during the exercises, the group with pets had better results.  Their heart rate and blood pressure increased less than the group without pets and returned to resting levels more quickly.  The authors concluded, “ACE inhibitor therapy alone lowers resting blood pressure, whereas increased social support through pet ownership lowers blood pressure response to mental stress.”  (‘Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress’, Hypertension. 2001;38:815-820.)

If you want to improve your blood pressure and heart rate, get a pet!  There are many wonderful animals waiting at shelters to help you improve your health.