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Cat Box Blues

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Cat Box Blues

Thinking outside the box is generally regarded as a creative and rewarding activity. Unless it is your cat that is thinking outside his/her litter box. Feline litter box issues are the main reason cats either end up living totally outdoors or get surrendered to animal shelters. Best to prevent the problem if you can. If your feline friend has already decided that the litter box is out-of-bounds, here are a few tips that could help return the cat to the proper potty place.

How many litter boxes do you need? Veterinary behaviorists recommend you have one more litter box than you have cats. Yes, if you have three cats, you need four litter boxes! The boxes need not be all the same. Nor do they need to be in the same spot in your house. Some can be covered. Some can be open models. Many cats are fearful of the mechanical (self-cleaning) litter boxes, though, so don’t make this your only option.

What type of litter should you use? That’s simple. Use the type your cat prefers! Sometimes cats don’t like the feel or the smell of certain litters. To each their own. You might need to set up a kitty litter buffet to test which type your cat prefers for duty. You can do this by getting several cardboard soda flats from the store. Place a sample of different litters in each flat. You might try clay, recycled paper, corn cob, sand, some with odor crystals, some without, some pelleted, some clumping, etc. Paws down, your cat will accept the challenge and christen her preference. Not all boxes in the household need to have the same type of litter, however. If you have multiple cats you might offer a variety of litter types.

Where to place the litter box? You might know where you want the box. But your cat could have other ideas. Tucked away in the laundry room seems like the best spot for many households–until the cat is inside the box when the dryer alarm rings or the washer spins off-balance. Once the cat is startled in the privacy of her box, she may never return to that location. So pick some quieter, more private spaces. Next to the cat’s food and water bowl is not a prime choice either. If your cat is older, don’t make him climb the stairs to get to his box. Also get a low-sided box for cats that have arthritis symptoms. If your cat is already soiling the bathroom rug, you will need to put the litter box on top of the rug! Leave it there until the cat reliably uses the box on the rug, then gradually move the box an inch away each day until it is relocated in a more convenient place.

How often should you clean the litter box? Ideally you will scoop every day, each time the box is used. And you will empty the box and scrub it with soap and water at least weekly. Promise. Because if you don’t, you might later regret it. Cats are fastidious about odors and textures. If they need their box and it is already soiled or smells like bleach, they might decide to go elsewhere. Cat box liners are not recommended either. They might make your messy cleaning job easier, but cats typically don’t like the plastic feel in their space.

Remember, it is relatively easy to train dogs. For cats, just do what they want and everyone lives happily ever after.

Next time I’ll discuss what to do about cats that spray or mark objects (like your shoes) with urine. Spraying is a whole different cat problem that is not necessarily related to avoiding the litter box.

Have you ever experienced cat box blues in your household? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida

www.bpanimalclinic.com LIKE us on FaceBook!

727-863-2435

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Who’s Afraid of F.I.P.?

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Who’s Afraid of F.I.P.?

By Terry Spencer, DVM

Recently a reader of this blog asked me to discuss FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis).  I am happy to oblige and appreciate the suggestion.  If you have topics you would like to learn more about, please let me know in your comments. 

(FIP) is a deadly virus that affects mostly young cats and kittens.  The FIP virus doesn’t act much like any other virus common to pets.   Affected cats don’t survive the infection, although they can linger with symptoms for some time.  Unfortunately, there currently are no vaccines that protect against this virus, and there is no exact way to diagnose the infection while the cat is still alive.  FIP remains a diagnosis of suspicion until confirmed after death with a necropsy. The cat must be the right age, coming from the right background, and with the right symptoms to be considered possibly infected.   It is definitely a frustrating disease for veterinarians to diagnose and for pet owner’s to experience.

FIP is a form of the very common Feline Corona Virus.  Almost every kitten is exposed to Corona Virus soon after birth. Corona Virus lives in the GI  (gastrointestinal tract) of cats, usually without symptoms and is spread by cat feces.  A few cats will have symptoms of mild diarrhea or sneezing, but most cats show no symptoms of Corona Virus at all.  Because it is such a common virus, testing a cat for antibodies to corona virus does not verify a diagnosis FIP.  Having a blood titer that is positive for Corona Virus simply means that a cat was previously exposed to Corona Virus.  A higher titer doesn’t mean a cat
has FIP.  It just means the cat might have an active or recent infection of Corona Virus.

For a few cats, the normally mild form of Corona Virus seems to mutate to the deadlier FIP. For these unlucky cats, their own immune system carries the disease throughout their bodies.  The virus then affects internal organs in one of two ways.  In the “wet” form of the disease, the cat’s chest and/or abdomen begins to slowly fill with a sticky, yellow, fluid.  By the time this becomes noticeable, the cat already has difficulty breathing, eating, or moving.  Veterinarians can temporarily drain the fluid from body cavities, and testing the fluid can help support a diagnosis of FIP.  In the “dry” form of the disease, there are no outward symptoms.  The cat slowly deteriorates, and blood work shows multiple organ failures.  Biopsies can support the diagnosis.  Sadly, FIP is almost always fatal.

Feline Corona Virus seems more likely to mutate to FIP in cats exposed to large numbers of other cats.  FIP is more common to cats that once lived in a colony, rescue, shelter, or other facility where many cats mingled.  And, research also seems to point to a common genetic link among the affected cats.  Only those cats with a genetic susceptibility to the virus that are also exposed to the form of the virus that is more likely to mutate, develop FIP.   It happens to a few unlucky cats every year.

For now, there is no way to predict which cats will be affected. The best a pet owner can do to prevent the disease is keep your cat well fed, well vaccinated, and away from other cats.  If you must bring a new cat into the home, keep the new cat isolated from your other cats until your veterinarian gives you the OK to let them mingle.   FIP isn’t the only disease that cats freely share.  So a short quarantine time can prevent many problems when introducing a new cat to the household.

Veterinary scientists are busy working on better diagnostics, treatments, and preventions.  Fortunately, FIP is still a rather rare infection.  But those unlucky few cat owners who experience the disease are forever scarred.

So who is afraid of FIP? I am.  I hate to diagnose it, and I hate that I can’t prevent it.

To learn more about FIP, please visit Cornell University’s Feline Health  Center  at:   http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/brochures/fip.html

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey

www.bpanimalclinic.com
727-863-2435

Raccoons are Rocky

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Raccoons are Rocky

By Terry Spencer, DVM

Before I became a veterinarian I did things that now would make me cringe.  For example, one morning while hiking I found this adorable, nearly hairless lump of flesh in the leaf litter under a large oak tree. Possessing the curiosity of a cat, I scooped it up and examined it.  The tiny eyes weren’t yet open, but they had a distinct darkly pigmented mask over the skin.  It was definitely a newborn raccoon.  Seeing no mother raccoon nearby, I took the baby home and raised it.  It was a lot of work feeding it every few hours, wiping its tiny bottom, and keeping it warm.  But it lived!  I brought it home scraps of fish and scallops from the seafood restaurant where I worked putting myself through college.  I taught it how to wash its food in water bowls.  It followed me everywhere I hiked—even without a leash.  Then, when he was old enough, he took off to do whatever raccoons normally do.  At first, he would visit nightly on my deck stopping long enough to picnic on some pieces of dog food.  Eventually, he stopped visiting.  I always hoped that meant he had become a self-sufficient raccoon who just had a rocky start in life.

I would never do that now.  During veterinary school I learned all the reasons why people should not handle wild raccoons.  Knowing what I know now, it is a wonder I survived my youth.  I was a female Dr. Doolittle with a death wish.

Some researcher should certainly study the immune systems of raccoons.  How is it possible that these creatures can carry several types of diseases that are deadly to other species, yet seldom show any symptoms?  Those adorable masked creatures apparently act like cockroaches.  Raccoons have adapted to living in urban, suburban, and wild areas all over Florida. And wherever they live, they can spread disease.

Here in Florida, raccoons carry rabies.  Rabies is a virus that is almost 100% fatal to mammals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and humans.  Since rabies is zoonotic (it is possible for an animal to spread the virus it to a human), it is a major public health concern. Oddly enough, raccoons seem to carry the disease and remain symptom free. This is one reason the Florida Wildlife Commission does not allow the trapping and relocation of raccoons.  Every time you move a wild raccoon, you increase the risk of spreading rabies.  The Florida Department of Health works jointly with the Florida Wildlife Commission to vaccinate wild raccoons by placing oral rabies vaccine “bait” where wild raccoons will eat the smelly fish-flavored cubes.   The program seems successful.  Over the past few years, the number of documented rabies cases attributed to a virus strain from raccoons has dropped in those locations where rabies baits were placed.  That doesn’t mean feeding or handling raccoons is safe, though.  Not every raccoon has taken the bait.    That is why veterinarians vaccinate your dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, and cattle against rabies; so your pets can’t catch rabies from wildlife and spread the deadly virus to you.

Raccoons also spread canine distemper virus.  Distemper virus can be deadly for dogs that are not properly vaccinated.  Distemper virus starts out looking like a simple “kennel cough.”  Usually it goes away in a few days, although some dogs get pneumonia first.  A few months later, just when the dog seems fine, distemper returns with tremors, seizures, and death.  Puppies are at greater risk of serious problems from distemper virus than adult dogs. .  Dogs that survive distemper are likely immune, but may shed the virus for months.   Here in Florida, I have witnessed widespread outbreaks of distemper virus in dogs.  Fortunately, your veterinarian can vaccinate your dog against distemper.

Wherever raccoons urinate, they can spread a deadly bacterium called Leptospirosis.  “Lepto” is also potentially zoonotic to you, the pet owner.  Your dog walks on the same ground where the raccoons urinate and then becomes infected.  Once infected, this bacterium affects the dog’s kidneys and liver.  When your infected pet urinates, it can expose you. I see symptoms of Leptospirosis in dogs here in Pasco County quite often.  Again, your veterinarian can vaccinate your pet against Leptospirosis.

Lastly, raccoons spread roundworm eggs in their feces. One particular species of raccoon roundworm, known as Baylis ascaris, is particularly dangerous for children.  Because raccoons tend to defecate in “latrines” where they deposit their feces regularly, microscopic roundworm eggs become highly concentrated.  Children playing in the dirt accidentally get exposed to these high concentrations of roundworm eggs.  Once swallowed, the roundworm egg hatches, travels to the child’s brain, and causes permanent damage. When I lived in Northern California a few years ago, a 3-year-old girl went blind after playing in her own back yard and becoming infected with raccoon roundworm.  I don’t want this to happen to any of my clients here in Florida.

After you read this you will probably think I am a raccoon bigot.  Really, I am not.  I am just a veterinarian, trained to protect the public from zoonotic diseases and to protect animals from infectious diseases.  This is what I do.  My relationship with raccoons these days is a bit rockier than it once was, but I still adore them.  I just watch from a distance.

Kitten Season

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Kitten Season

It must be “kitten season” because the last four appointments kept me busy dealing with feline reproduction issues.

In Room 1:  A very cranky 9-month- old cat presents because last night she delivered 4 dead kittens.  The queen seems healthy as she swats my stethoscope with her razor-sharp claws.    I understand her irritability.  She went through 63 days of pregnancy and the attentions of a tom cat for this?  It is time to spay her so this can’t happen again. 

In Room 2:  A Good Samaritan found two orphaned kittens under her shed.   One is a male and the other is a female.  They weigh only 12 ounces each—so tiny!  But things don’t look so good for these kittens.  They are weak and refusing to eat.  They are covered with fleas, likely anemic, and have diarrhea.  Poor little orphaned babies.  Have to warm them, force feed them, and rid them of fleas fast!  What a way to start life. 

In Room 3:  A very pregnant recently adopted cat.   She has been hanging around the neighborhood for weeks.  Nobody claimed her until a young woman decided to take her in.  The ultrasound shows that all the fetuses are viable.  It is too late to vaccinate now.  Will just test the queen to be sure she is negative for feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and feline heartworm disease.  It will be an ethical dilemma to deal with if she tests positive. 

In Room 4:  A new kitten.  Someone was giving away free kittens in front of the grocery store.  Isn’t he cute?  But now he needs vaccines, deworming, flea control, heartworm prevention, treated for ear mites, and neutered.  The free kitten no longer looks like such a good deal to the adopters.  They cannot afford the medical care needed to keep the kitten healthy.   Nothing in life is ever free, especially when it is a very young pet or a very old pet. 

I think of myself as the “spay/neuter Nazi” on days like this.  Each of these cats is suffering because of lack of sterilization.  I’ve done my fair share of sterilization surgeries to try and prevent tragedies like these.  Last year I personally sterilized more than 5000 cats and dogs.  But they just keep coming.  I am on a mission to help my clients sterilize their pets before they can reproduce. 

Did you know that intact female cats all go “in heat” together?  Their reproductive cycles are tied to daylight cycles.  As the days begin to lengthen, cats go into season!  And, they stay “in season” until they are bred.  Unlike dogs, cats only ovulate when they are bred.  Then they carry the fetuses for 63 days, give birth, and go back into season.  Each queen can produce about three or four litters during a “kitten season.”  That is a lot of kittens!  I better get busy in surgery….

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey 

www.bpanimalclinic.com     727-863-2435