Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bite Wound Abscesses

It's that season again - the season, that is, for outdoor cats to get into fights with each other and develop abscessed bite wounds.

Starting with the winter solstice in late December and fading away in late summer, cats experience a breeding season that brings out their worst territorial instincts. While intact males tend to be the instigators of most fights, and the most aggressive participants, any cat whether male or female, spayed or neutered or intact, can get into a fight and receive a dangerous bite wound from the other cat.

The typical feline bite wound is small in diameter but has substantial depth. Within a few hours, the skin puncture seals over, leaving bacteria and debris behind in the underlying tissues. Bacterial infection, usually with Pasteurella multocida, begins quickly, and within 3 to 7 days a swelling develops.

Listlessness, fever, swelling, limp (if on a leg), and a draining lesion with foul-smelling pus are common consequences of an infected fight wound. The abscess lesion almost always requires aggressive surgical treatment, which can be expensive. But there is good news: if you are aware of a bite wound or even a fight with no visible wounds in your cat, if you present it for treatment right away, we can prevent the development of most abscesses with a simple course of antibiotics.

A new antibiotic injection has recently become available for use in bite wounds in cats in the US which does away with the need to send oral antibiotics home with the patient. We all know how much people love to give medications to their cats! So this drug is a fantastic development.

Abscess surgery almost always requires overnight hospitalization, and in addition to removal of dead tissue and flushing the wound thoroughly, often requires placement of a cloth drain to keep pus from reaccumulating. At least one post-op recheck is customary to ensure healing is proceeding as expected.

The take-home message: bite wound abscesses are largely preventable by neutering, housing indoors, and prompt treatment of any fresh bite wounds. If you have housecats who get along well with each other, you'll probably never have this particular expense to worry about.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kitten Care Basics: Behavior/Training

Locate your kitten's food/water away from the litter box. The sleeping area should also be some distance from the litter box. And yes, it is ok for kitty to sleep with you in your bed. Good luck stopping it!

Do not reward early morning fussing with food or attention. Teach your kitten through habit that feeding time is when YOU get up and get into the kitchen (to be fair this should be the same general time every day). Gently but firmly discourage nighttime pestering. Have a major play session before bedtime to encourage actual sleeping at night.

Teach kitty the meaning of the word: NO. Strategic use af a squirt gun or bottle is alsohelpful in discouraging undesirable behavior such as jumping onto counters and dining tables, and clawing at furniture. Physical discipline such as hitting does not generally work with cats and can backfire badly. Do not use your hands as playthings OR weapons because cats will learn this "game" well and hurt you.

Do not discipline your kitten for litter box use problems. Consult your veterinarian about it before it becomes a persistent habit. Most these problems are easily solved with adjustments in the environment.

Get your cat a scratching post and cardboard scratcher boxes to lay on the floor - cats LOVE these. Use squirt gun and two-sided tape in your quest to prevent furniture damage. We only declaw as a last resort with destructive cats - never without exhausting other options.

Be aware of your own play behavior with your kitten. NEVER use your hands as playthings - let the kitten attack its toys instead to ensure it stays gentle with humans. Make sure everyone in the home knows and obeys this rule - particularly young boys (who have a well-known tendency to play rough). Keep your kitten's claws clipped short so no one gets hurt if play does get rough.

Make sure everyone in the home knows and is on board with house rules for the cat: where it is and is not allowed inside the home, whether or not it is allowed outside, how to play, how to discipline, and who is responsible for feeding (this should be an adult or very reliable teen only) and litter box care (adult only).

Remember that veterinarians are trained in behavior as well as medicine and surgery. Don't hesitate to set up an appointment for an exam and consultation for your behavior problems, and deal with them earlier rather than later.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Kitten Care Basics: Medical

We've all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that is especially true when it comes to kittens. Proper preventive medical care in early feline life sets the stage for a lifetime of good health.

At Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic we recommend a series of three well-kitten visits at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age. For kittens presented for the first time before or after 8 weeks, we can tailor a schedule based on individual criteria.

First visit: We recommend bringing in all newly acquired kittens within a few days of obtaining them. In the case of bottle babies this is sometimes as early as a few days of age.

8 week visit: First FVRCP (distemper and upper respiratory) vaccination, first parasite treatment (for fleas, ear mites, roundworms, hookworms).

12 week visit: Second FVRCP vaccination, first FeLV (feline leukemia virus) vaccination, second parasite treatment, and screening tests for FeLV (feline leukemia virus) and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus).

16 week visit: Third FVRCP vaccination, second FeLV vaccination, and a one-year Rabies vaccination.

6 months: Best age to spay females

8 months: Best age to neuter males

During these very important first examinations, you should take the opportunity to discuss any health or behavior concerns you might have. We generally spend some time discussing housing, nutrition, safety, and behavioral issues.

Obviously, if your kitten is listless, not eating enthusiastically, or has any coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, or does not seem to be growing properly, you should bring it in before the next scheduled preventive care visit. Kittens have very little energy reserve or ability to fight disease on their own, so prompt intervention is critical if they become ill.

Remember, we want your kitten to grow up healthy and have a long life, and the best time to lay the groundwork is right at the start.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy Healthy Cat Campaign

Cats are America's No. 1 pet, with more than 80 million in U.S. homes according to the AVMA. But they receive far less veterinary care than dogs. In an effort to counter this sad situation, Morris Animal Foundation has launched the Happy Healthy Cat Campaign to help ensure that cats get their fair share of health care and medical research.

Morris now has a website chock full of information on cat health, research success stories, and resources for cat owners:

A DVD and brochure are also available if you're interested.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of feline health issues and increase funding for feline health research. This ties in with Morris's support of CATalyst, a new organization that seeks to improve feline health and welfare.

I'm going to stick a link for this site over in the list on the right side of the blog page for quick reference.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kitten Care Basics: General Husbandry and Nutrition

Having a new kitten is an exciting experience, but it carries great responsibility. Your new kitten will need a lot of attention and care, so it's a good idea to learn some basics about these wonderful creatures. Your relationship with kitty will benefit tremendously.

First vet visit: Schedule your new kitten's first visit with us for 3-7 days after you obtain it (sooner if it is still not on solid food). The first visit for vaccinations/parasite treatment is normally at 8 weeks of age, but kittens younger than that still need to be seen to make sure they do not have any immediate medical concerns. Obviously if kitty has vomiting, diarrhea, visible parasites, or is not eating enthusiastically, it needs to be seen promptly.

Naming: Keep it short and simple so it's easy for kitty to learn. Teach the name by using it consistently.

Feeding: You should place the food and water bowls together, preferably in the kitchen. Special mats are available to help control spills. Use ceramic or stainless steel dishes - plastic can contribute to chin acne and is impossible to clean thoroughly. Provide fresh food and water daily, and clean dishes frequently.
Avoid the following foods: human foods as a general rule, chocolate, garlic/onions, dairy products, bones, fats, and all seafood. Stick with a proven high-quality commercial food to prevent potentially serious medical problems.

Sleep: Provide soft, washable bedding for kitty, and try placing it in a basket or cozy box near your own bed or in a sunny spot in the home. Give your kitten a soft or plush toy to cuddle with in bed to ease the transition away from littermates. We discourage shutting kittens out of your bedroom at night because cats hate closed doors and the resulting fuss will probably prove more disruptive to your sleep than nighttime roughhousing. Play with kitty for a while right before bedtime to encourage sleep patterns similar to your own.

Litter Box: The rule of thumb for litter boxes is one per cat, plus one - if you have the available space. The best location for the box is in the bathroom or a laundry/mudroom, well away from the feeding station for sanitary reasons. Clumping litter is best, but kittens need to be at least 8 weeks before using it so they do not eat it mistakenly. Scoop out the feces and urine clumps daily, and add more litter as the level drops. Wash the box itself on a regular basis (to get those near-miss marks off the sides). We advise against boxes with lids and the automatic cleaning type - they are gimmicky and can backfire badly. Kittens have a strong instinct to use litter and bury their own waste so they usually just need to be shown where to go.

Collars/ID: Get kitty a breakaway collar and adjust it so it just barely slips over the head. Don't forget to adjust it frequently as the kitten grows. Attach an ID tag with your current phone number. Consider having a microchip implanted at the time of spaying/neutering - we recently reunited an injured stray cat with its owners because it had a microchip - they were delighted.

Basic Safety: Never allow your cat or kitten to play with any potential linear foreign bodies such as string, thread, yarn, ribbon, rubber bands, sisal rope, or newspaper ties as these can cause fatal intestinal injury. Never give your cat or kitten any human medicines (including OTCs), vitamins, or cat grass unless your own veterinarian specifically instructs you to do so. Catnip IS safe, and kittens may safely partake of its mild euphoric effect, though some do not respond to it (and never will). Do not allow access to houseplants as many are toxic.