How do cats get Feline
Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)?
Most cats become infected with FIV when they are
bitten while fighting with an infected cat. The virus, present in
the saliva of infected cats, passes beneath the skin of the victim
when it is bitten. Once it is in the body, FIV infects cells,
replicates, and spreads to new sites via blood vessels and lymph
Most FIV-positive cats have a history of cat
fights and bite-wound abscesses. Considering that bites are the
primary mode of transmission, it is not surprising that cats at
greatest risk of FIV infection are outdoor, adult males, who are
most likely to engage in aggressive fights over territory.
A less common route of FIV transmission is from
an infected mother cat (queen) to her kittens. Infection can occur
in the uterus during pregnancy, through ingestion of virus-laden
milk after birth or possibly as the kitten is delivered.
Not all kittens born to FIV-positive cats become
infected with the virus. The reasons for this are not well
understood although it appears that several factors may be involved,
such as the strain of FIV and the health status of the mother cat.
One FIV-positive queen might have a litter with no infected kittens.
In some cases, litters may include some kittens with FIV and some
without. This is an area of active research, and there are still
more questions than answers.
Cats can also become infected with FIV if they
receive FIV-positive blood or blood components in transfusions.
However, the risk from blood transfusions has lessened considerable
since reliable FIV diagnostic tests have become widely available.
Today blood donor cats should be routinely screened for infectious
Sexual transmission of FIV is theoretically
possible. However, the actual incidence of sexual transmission is
unknown. This possibility can be greatly reduced by early neutering.
FIV is rarely spread through casual contact (by
sharing food and water bowls or litter pans, by airborne germs, or
by mutual grooming). However, extremely sensitive, sophisticated
tests have detected FIV proteins in some previously uninfected cats
that had been living with positive cats for long periods. These
"hidden" infections presumably occurred even though the
cats did not fight. Although the affected cats had FIV proteins in
their bodies, they did not test positive for FIV infection using
routine blood tests and so far have not developed clinical signs of
FIV infection. Therefore, the full implications of these
observations are still unclear. However, casual FIV transmission
must considered a possibility.
What is FUS?
Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS) is a common
problem that affects cats. Its exact cause is still unknown. Diet,
inadequate water intake, bacteria, viruses, and stress may all be
involved. Four common disorders are often associated with FUS:
Cystitis- inflammation of the lining and
wall of the urinary bladder.
Infections- blood or mucus associated
with inflamed tissue is a perfect place for bacterial infections.
Urethral Blockage- crystallization of
minerals and irritation of the lining of the bladder and urethra can
plug up or block the urinary outflow tract. This blockage is
life-threatening if not relieved.
Uremia- a life-threatening accumulation
of poisonous wastes in the bloodstream. The lack of urination causes
a full bladder and this prevents the kidneys from discharging wastes
from the body. Unless the blockage is promptly removed, the cat will
suffer a painful death. Straining to urinate, depression, weakness,
vomiting, and collapse are the signs which, if not corrected, lead
to coma and death.
Symptoms to look for:
- Straining to urinate
- Small amounts or no urine at all
- Failure to use a litter box
- Urinating in a sink or bath tub
- Blood in the urine
Since we do not know the exact cause of FUS, the
treatment procedures may vary. Medication may help or minimize the
problem, but some cases may require surgical or professionally
applied procedures. In order to avoid FUS, be sure to provide plenty
of fresh water, feed your cat a balanced diet, keep a clean litter
box, and provide your pet with exercise.
Tick-Transmitted Diseases in
Ticks are such small insects, but they can pose a
very great danger to us and our companion animals. They prey on the
blood of dogs, horses, deer, birds, rodents, and people. There are
hundreds of kinds of ticks, including the dog tick and the deer
The diseases that ticks can transmit to companion
animals include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever,
ehrlichiosis (a bacterial infection), and babesiosis (a blood
Ticks live in cracks and crevices in the home or
outside in vegetation, such as grassy meadows, woods, brush, and
weeds. They cannot fly or jump, but they have a way of finding a
host. Oftentimes, they will wait in wooded or grassed areas and
attach themselves to any living creature that brushes them. Ticks
can also detect the carbon dioxide given off by warm-blooded
animals. They can crawl several feet to the carbon dioxide source.
The first human outbreak of Lyme disease was identified in Lyme,
Connecticut, in 1975, when an unusually large number of cases of
arthritis resembling rheumatoid disease occurred within a small
geographic area. Studies concluded that dogs from the same location
also developed arthritis similar to that in human Lyme disease.
Although Lyme disease is an illness common to humans and animals,
there is no evidence that it can be transmitted from one to the
Lyme disease cases have been documented in more
than 40 states. The disease is transmitted by the deer tick in the
Northeast and Midwest, the black-legged tick in the South, and the
western black-legged tick in the West.
Clinical signs of Lyme disease in pets include
loss of appetite, lameness, lethargy, and fever. Scientists believe
the disease can affect humans for a long time, causing problems to
the joints, heart, and central nervous system.
Lyme disease vaccinations are available for dogs.
If you live in an area that is prone to Lyme disease, consult your
veterinarian about the availability and use of this vaccine.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is primarily found in New England and
the West. Dogs that live in wooded or mountainous areas are more
susceptible to the disease. Depression, fever, rashes, skin
hemorrhages, and joint disease are typical signs of Rocky Mountain
Antibiotics are effective if the disease is
caught in the early stages. Improvement in the animal's health is
usually seen within the first 12-24 hours. Once an animal has
recovered from this disease, it is probably immune for up to 12
months. However, re-infections can occur if the animal is
Female ticks release a toxin while feeding that causes tick
paralysis. The toxin affects the nervous system and can cause
weakness and even paralysis that develops 7-9 days after the tick
attachment. The signs can vary from a mild form of unsteadiness of
all four legs, to acute quadriplegia that leaves all four legs
At times, ticks can be difficult to find. Common places to find
hidden ticks are the head, neck, ears, or feet. The longer a tick is
attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. If you
find a tick, remove it immediately with tweezers. To protect
yourself, wear gloves and do not touch the tick. Carefully grasp the
exposed section of its body near the pet's skin. Gently pull until
the parasite lets go. You can help prevent inflammation by applying
antiseptic onto the bitten area.
To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several
tissues and flush it down the toilet. Or, you can drop it in a small
container of rubbing alcohol (ticks won't drown in water). Do not
crush, burn, or suffocate the tick--this may spread the infectious
Dog owners should inspect their dogs regularly for ticks, especially
after trips outside to the woods or mountains. By thoroughly combing
your dog within 4-6 hours of exposure to tick-infested areas, you
can help prevent ticks from attaching to your dog.
Your veterinarian is the best source for more
information on the dangers of ticks in your area. Your veterinarian
can recommend tick repellents that are available to help ward off
tick infestation. When numerous ticks are found, contact your
veterinarian for advice on insecticidal bathing or dipping.
Canine Hip Dysplasia
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disorder in which dogs
have a poor fitting hip joint. This ball and socket joint should fit
together neatly, allowing dogs to move the legs freely and without
pain. Because their bones do not fit properly, dogs with hip
dysplasia are prone to develop arthritis and related joint pain as
they age. Motion of the hip joints slowly causes erosion of soft
cartilage in these joints. Hip dysplasia can affect either or both
of the rear leg joints.
Hip dysplasia can occur in most breeds, but it is
predominant in larger dogs, particularly the German Shepherd, St.
Bernard, Labrador Retriever, Pointers, and Setters. Although hip
dysplasia is a genetic condition, research shows that environmental
factors can also put a dog at risk. Overfeeding (especially of
puppies) can predispose a dog to hip dysplasia. Excessive exercise
may predispose dogs as well.
Signs of severe hip dysplasia usually appear before the dog reaches
one year of age. Signs include rear leg pain, incoordination, and a
limp or wavering gait. A common sign is the dog that has trouble
rising. Dogs with severe hip dysplasia typically develop lameness by
two years of age. Dogs with less severe cases may not experience
arthritis and the related pain or lameness until six to ten years of
Since the clinical signs of hip dysplasia are
similar to those of other diseases, veterinarians rely on X-rays to
make a final diagnosis. This requires a mild anesthetic in order to
carefully position the dog on the radiographic table. Veterinarians
look for degenerative changes and abnormal shapes of the hip joint.
Depending on the severity of the dog's condition, veterinarians
treat hip dysplasia with either drugs or surgery. Drug therapy doesn't
reverse or cure the progression of hip dysplasia, but it does offer
relief from the associated pain. There are several steroidal and
non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs available through
veterinarians. Most require daily administration. For many dogs,
these prescriptions can offer a tremendous relief--they return to a
more active lifestyle that is free of joint pain.
Recent advances in veterinary medicine have made
surgery a more successful option for treating severe cases of hip
dysplasia. Surgeons can improve the joints in young dogs by making
changes to the shape of the femur or pelvis. Another surgery option
is hip replacement, which replaces the joint with a stainless steel
ball and socket.
Dogs with hip dysplasia should not live a
sedentary lifestyle that is free of exercise. By carefully allowing
your dog to exercise, at her own pace, you can help loosen up the
stiffness in joints. Pet owners should also pay close attention to
their dog's weight. Just a few extra pounds can cause skeletal
stress and increase your dog's pain. Another precautionary measure
is to keep your dog out of the cold. Don't allow your dog to sleep
in a drafty area, as the cold can aggravate her arthritis.
To prevent passing on hip dysplasia to puppies, pet owners should
use extreme caution before breeding their dogs. Large breed dogs
that are prone to hip dysplasia should be radiographed by a
veterinarian to rule out the condition prior to breeding. Since the
signs of hip dysplasia may not be evident until a dog is fully
grown, these radiographs should not be performed until the dog is at
least two years of age.
For more information regarding canine hip
dysplasia, consult with your veterinarian. As with all pet health
care issues, your veterinarian is the best source for information
concerning your individual pet's health care needs.
Heartworm is an insidious disease that has spread
to virtually all parts of the US and many parts of Canada since the
early 1970s. It is spread only by mosquitoes; thus, areas heavily
populated by these insects tend to have a greater incidence of
Heartworm can strike both dogs and cats, although
it is much more commonly seen in dogs. As its name implies,
heartworm lives in the blood of a dog's or cat's heart and
adjacent blood vessels. The adult heartworms living in the heart
produce offspring, called microfilariae, which circulate in the
infected animal's blood.
When a mosquito "bites" an infected
pet, it sucks out blood containing the microfilariae. After about
two weeks in the mosquito, the microfilariae become infective
larvae. This step is necessary for the transmission of heartworm.
When the mosquito bites another pet, the infective larvae are
Veterinary research has resulted in medications and procedures that
have improved the treatment of canine heartworm disease. Prompt
detection and early treatment are vital to a successful cure.
Highly effective diagnostic testing and
preventive medications have been developed in recent years. It is
necessary to have a heartworm test prior to using a preventive.
Severe or fatal reactions may occur if preventives are given to dogs
with heartworm disease, or may create diagnostic confusion at a
A small amount of blood is all that's necessary
for a preliminary heartworm screening test that is very accurate in
detecting the presence of heartworm. In many regions, this may be
the only test needed before starting a preventive program. If the
dog shows heartworm symptoms or has visited a known heartworm
problem area, additional tests are recommended before a preventive
or treatment program is started.
Common blood screening tests can verify the
presence of heartworms. Radiographs or X-ray films and other
sophisticated laboratory tests are used to detect heartworm disease.
Canine heartworm disease symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tires easily
- Weight loss
- Rough hair coat
In many cases, there are advanced symptoms. Some
dogs do not appear to have symptoms in the early stages.others do.
If not detected and controlled with proper treatment, heartworm can
lead to congestive heart failure and death.
As a safeguard, many veterinarians recommend
annual or biannual screening tests even for dogs that are on
heartworm preventives. In known heartworm areas, or if dogs are
traveling into these areas, veterinarians usually prescribe
preventive medications. This medication prevents the larvae from
developing into adult heartworms. Prescribed medications must be
given as directed.
Today, the majority of dogs with heartworm
disease survive. Most are cured by medications. Some require
surgery. Prompt detection prevents needless suffering.
Although heartworm is seen less frequently in cats, the disease
poses a much greater danger. The outcome is often fatal.
There currently are no drugs approved for
fighting heartworm in cats. Cats can be treated with canine
medications, but this can lead to dangerous side effects, including
lung failure and death. Another approach to battle the disease is by
treating the symptoms, with hopes of the cat outliving the worms
(heartworms live within a cat for about two years). However, this
approach can result in sudden death as the worms exit through the
pulmonary arteries to the lungs.
There are no consistent clinical signs of
heartworm in cats. Common clues include coughing and rapid
breathing. Other signs include weight loss and vomiting. However,
all of these signs are also common in other diseases. Diagnosis is
difficult for veterinarians and may include outside laboratory
tests, radiographs, and ultrasound studies.
The good news is that there are heartworm
prevention drugs available for cats. If you live in a heartworm
infested area, or plan on visiting a heartworm area with your cat,
your veterinarian can prescribe a preventive medication. These drugs
are given once monthly and are very effective in cats and kittens.
Research continues into all phases of heartworm
disease. For the latest advice, consult your veterinarian.
Ear infections are very common in dogs, although
less so in cats. Two types are most often seen: otitis externa,
infection of the external ear canal, and otitis media, infection of
the middle ear. Although any dog or cat can get an ear infection,
some breeds appear to be more prone than others. Dogs with pendulous
ears, like Cocker Spaniels and Basset Hounds, or dogs with hairy
inner ear flaps, like Miniature Poodles and Schnauzers, tend to have
a higher occurrence of ear infections. In cats, the Persian breed
seems to be more prone to such infections.
Most ear infections are easily and successfully
treated. But if left untreated, they could result in serious damage.
Bacteria or yeast are most often the culprits of otitis externa.
Other causes include an accumulation of wax, thick or matted hair in
the ear canal, debris, a foreign body, a tumor or impaired drainage
of the ear. Sometimes, infections of the external ear canal are a
secondary result of some other bodily infection or ear mite
Otitis media usually results from the spread of
infection from the external ear canal to the middle ear. Also,
foreign bodies, debris, ulceration or improper ear cleaning can
rupture the eardrum and allow infection to reach the middle ear.
Ear infections are very uncomfortable for your pet. Your dog or cat
will show his discomfort by shaking his head or scratching at his
ears. Often, the ears will become red and inflamed with an offensive
odor and perhaps a black or yellowish discharge. If your pet tilts
his head constantly, it could be a sign of a middle ear infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Because many different culprits can be the cause of your pet's ear
infection, it is important to have your cat or dog examined by a
veterinarian, who can then determine the proper medication or
treatment. Your veterinarian will also make sure the eardrum is
intact, as some medications can result in hearing loss if
administered to a pet with a ruptured eardrum.
What is involved in an ear exam? Your
veterinarian will use an otoscope-an instrument that provides light
and magnification-to view the ear canal. He or she will determine
whether or not the eardrum is intact and if any foreign material is
present. If this is very painful to the pet, sedation or anesthesia
may be necessary to complete the exam.
Next, your veterinarian will take a sample of the
material in the canal and examine it under a microscope. This is
called cytology, and allows the doctor to determine the organism
causing the infection. If more than one organism are culprits,
multiple medications or a broad-spectrum medication is necessary.
If your veterinarian finds a foreign body, a tick
or a very heavy buildup of debris, sedation will likely be required
to remove the irritant or to allow a thorough cleansing.
A middle ear infection can be more difficult to
clear up. Diagnosis and treatment may include lab tests, X-rays and
even surgery. Four to six weeks may pass before the infection
disappears, and often during this time you will be told to restrict
the activity of your pet.
For both types of infection, you should keep
water from entering your pet's ears. Follow-up visits to your
veterinarian are very important to make sure treatment is working
and the infection has disappeared.
Remember, the longer infection is present, the
harder it is to get rid of it. If an ear infection goes untreated,
your pet will continue to be in pain. Your pet's head shaking and
scratching can cause further problems, such as broken blood vessels
that require surgery to correct. Chronic infections can harm the
eardrum and close the ear canal. Surgical reconstruction of the ear
canal may then become necessary.
Treatment prescribed by the doctor usually includes administering
medication to and cleaning the ears daily for one to two weeks.
Remember, your pet's ears are painful, and Fluffy or Fido might not
appreciate what you are about to do, so use caution. Ask your
veterinarian for a demonstration on how to treat the ears properly.
Most often, with proper diagnosis and treatment, your pet's ear
infection will be cured. However, if ear infections are chronic or
recurrent, an underlying problem, such as allergies or thyroid
disease, may be the cause.
Because cats are normally resistant to ear
infections, other problems should be explored. Your cat may have an
unusually shaped ear canal, or its immune system could be
suppressed. Have your veterinarian test your cat for the feline
leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), both of
which affect the immune system. Also, diabetic cats tend to be prone
to ear infections, so testing for diabetes may be indicated.
Pet owners can help their pets avoid ear infections by practicing
preventative care at home. This is especially important for those
animals that have pendulous ears, have lots of hair in their ears,
or have allergies or other medical problems that make them prone to
ear infections. A weekly ear cleaning with a
veterinarian-recommended ear cleansing solution can minimize or
prevent infections. Such a cleaning provides other benefits, as
Weekly ear cleanings give pet owner the ability
to really see the ear on a routine basis, allowing him or her to
notice any early warning signs of infection. This also gets the pet
used to having its ears handled, making exams and medication
administration easier when necessary.
In addition to ear cleanings, pets with lots of
hair on the inside ear flap should have those hairs plucked
periodically by their groomer or veterinarian.
Pet owners with animals that have chronic ear
problems must realize that life-long preventative care and
maintenance will be necessary to ensure their pet's good health.
Get Help Quickly if
Your Male Cat is Straining in the Litterbox
If your cat is straining to urinate and only
produces a few drops of urine or none at all, he needs to be seen by
a veterinarian immediately. Your cat could be experiencing urethral
obstruction, and if the problem is not solved, he could die within
just a couple of days.
What is urethral obstruction, and why is it
The urethra is a tubelike structure that carries urine from the
bladder to the outside of the body. Sometimes, mineral crystals or
stones form in the urethra and block the path to the outside. The
blockage is called a urethral plug. Because a male cat's urethra
is longer and narrower than a female's, urethral plugs are most
often seen in males (whether or not they are neutered). Once a plug
has formed, urine builds up in the bladder. This is not only painful
to the cat, but can quickly cause kidney damage. The kidneys' job
is to release poisonous wastes from the body; when kidneys don't
function properly, these poisons accumulate in the bloodstream. The
final result, if not treated: a painful death.
The cause of urethral plugs is not fully known. Plugs could result
from a combination of poor diet and highly concentrated, alkaline
(low acid) urine. Possibly, some viruses or bacterial infections
trigger their formation. Some experts believe plugs may be linked to
tumors, masses, or diseases of the prostate gland in some cases.
If Kitty is using his litter box often, but with no or little
resulting urine; if he is trying to urinate in unusual places; or if
he is constantly licking his genitalia, he may have a urethral
obstruction. Don't assume your cat is constipated and just give
him laxatives. Instead, play it safe and seek veterinary attention.
Other signs of obstruction include depression, weakness, vomiting, a
lack of appetite, dehydration, and collapse.
Urethral obstruction is an emergency. Yet, if the symptoms are
noticed early and professional treatment is obtained immediately,
your cat's chance of recovery is almost 100 percent.
Your veterinarian will first try to relieve the
obstruction by applying gentle pressure to the bladder and
manipulating the penis. If the plug remains, the doctor may insert a
catheter through the urethra into the bladder (with the cat sedated
or under a light anesthesia) or suction urine directly from the
bladder with a needle and syringe.
Usually, one of the above procedures will remove
the obstruction. As a last resort, however, or if the cat is prone
to obstructions, surgery is required. Even if the initial procedures
do work, obstruction may recur in some cats within days or weeks.
What does the surgery entail?
The surgical procedure is called a perineal urethrostomy. Your
veterinarian will remove much of the penis and the narrow portion of
the urethra and leave a wider opening for the remaining portion
under the anus. Your cat may be hospitalized for several days, and
often a catheter will be left in place overnight or longer.
Afterward, Kitty may be treated with antibiotics, urinary
antiseptics, and urinary acidifiers. Post-operative care at home
will require you to carefully observe Kitty and his potty habits.
Perineal urethrostomy will permanently cure
urethral obstruction in 90 percent of male cats. The surgery does
not affect the formation of crystals (which result in the plug to
begin with), but provides a wider passageway for their release
outside the body. Thus, blockages should not recur, but bladder
All cats should be encouraged to exercise and be kept at a trim,
healthy weight. Feed your cat a high quality cat food that is low in
magnesium. Entice him to urinate frequently by keeping his litter
box clean and always accessible. He should have constant access to
plenty of fresh water, as well; if necessary, you can add salt
(sparingly) to Kitty's food to encourage him to drink more. If
your cat is prone to obstructions, you may need to administer
medications, Vitamin C, or a special diet to help keep his urine
acidic. You can also increase his urine's overall acidity by
restricting feeding to twice daily. This is because the digestive
process temporarily lowers the acidity, so every time Kitty eats,
his urine becomes less acidic for awhile. In addition, have your
veterinarian perform periodic urinalyses on Kitty. This will keep
you and your veterinarian alert to the urine's acidity level and
to the presence of any crystal formations, so you can stop problems
before they start.
Be sure to discuss these and other preventative
measures with your veterinarian, and get his or her approval before
administering any medication or supplements to your cat.
Help your cat live a long, full life
Urethral obstruction in cats is becoming less common as more cats
are routinely fed premium quality cat foods that discourage crystal
formation. Pet owners should be aware that the condition is an
Urethral obstruction can rapidly become
life-threatening over the course of just one to two days. Because of
this, any cat owner whose male cat is showing signs of frequent
efforts of any kind in the litterbox is strongly urged to seek
veterinary attention at once.
Now that you know what to look for, you can help
ensure your cat's good health by reacting quickly to signs of