Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Evolution of House Cats

Scientific American has just published an excellent article on the evolution of the domestic cat - I highly recommend taking the time to read it.

Many of you have heard me say that our kitties descend from Felis libyca, the desert wildcat of the Middle East. Now I have a legitimate scientific source to back me up. This is why I feel that cats should not be fed fish - they simply did not evolve in an environment where fish were available to them.

I am surprised to hear that cats began to be domesticated as many as 10,000 years ago. One would think they would be acting a little less wild after that much human influence, but no...........

Saturday, June 13, 2009

LAPD Enlists Feral Cats For Rat Patrol

Those of you who have had the change to commiserate with me on the subject know that I am generally not a fan of the practice of maintaining feral cat colonies (as opposed to trap-neuter-place or euthanize), but after reading this 2007 article from the LA Times I think I have found one variety of TNR I can get behind enthusiastically.

LAPD Enlists Feral Cats For Rat Patrol

.......Unlike other strays that might rub up against a leg hoping for a crumb or a head rub, these felines are so unaccustomed to human contact that they dart away when people approach. Feral cats cannot be turned into house pets. When they end up in municipal shelters, they have little hope of coming out alive. animal welfare group has figured out a way to save their lives and put them to work in Los Angeles. The Working Cats program of Voice for the Animals, a Los Angeles-based animal advocacy and rescue group, has placed feral cats in a handful of police stations with rodent problems, just as the group placed cats in the rat-plagued downtown flower district several years ago -- to great effect


........Their reputation as furtive and successful exterminators grew after feral cats were introduced to the parking lot of the Wilshire Division nearly six years ago. Rats had been burrowing into the equipment bags that bicycle officers stored in outside cages; inside the facility, mice were sometimes scurrying across people's desks.

......."Once we got the cats, problem solved," said Cmdr. Kirk Albanese, a captain at the Wilshire station at the time. "I was almost an immediate believer."


Click on the blue-lettered link in my lead paragraph to read the entire fascinating story.

Feral cats are generally considered a public health threat (by health authorities), an environmental threat (by birders and environmentalists), and a public nuisance (by those whose property they enter and damage). But by placing them in the urban and semi-urban environments found around ost Los Angeles police stations, it is difficult to envision them posing much threat on any of those counts.

Any time a feral cat can be placed in a home or home-like environment and allowed to live out its life with some level of human caretaking, rather than forced to fend for itself entirely on the street, it's a good thing. These cats were slated for euthanasia, and now they get to "Protect and Serve" our city. Kudos to Chief Bratton and LAPD for allowing this!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Maybe It's The Full Moon......

We had a full moon earlier this week, so I will just chalk our latest insanity up to it.

Poor Alison (my trusty #1 assistant for those of you who haven't met her) had to take a phone call this morning from a woman who took offense at the fact that we do not treat dogs. Well, actually, that's putting it rather charitably. She yelled and screamed at Alison for several minutes, demanding to know WHY we didn't do dogs and cursing us and saying we had a lot of nerve, and in general behaved like a crazy person. Perhaps that's what she was.

Maybe I should say a few words about the fact that we don't treat dogs, since clients of the more sane variety frequently ask me: why a CAT hospital?

In the beginning, veterinarians treated all manner of animals and mostly livestock. After WWII the small animal vets came about because of the increased urban and suburban population which had no livestock anywhere near. So we saw "dog and cat" hospitals, but in truth cats were ever only a small percentage of the patient load. In the late 1970's and early 1980's, veterinarians began to pay attention to cats, and the first feline-exclusive practices opened. So the concept was nothing new when I opened in 1991.

I had always enjoyed working on cats, and thought about having a cat hospital, and when I had the chance to buy the former Corbin Village Veterinary Clinic (closed for remodeling and most clients gone elsewhere for good) I saw the opportunity to have my dream practice, so I brought my housecall clients with me and opened up. This place is, in my opinion, far too cramped to fit dogs into it (and all their associated equipment and drugs) anyway.

Some people assume I don't treat dogs because I don't like them, but that is not the case. I love dogs. I just love treating cats more than the alternative, which is treating (mostly) dogs and (some) cats. And as for the rabbits and pocket pets such as rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs that I see very occasionally - they fit neatly into the practice without a lot of extra equipment or drugs, and so few vets know anything at all about them that I just took pity and decided to include them. But we are for all intents and purposes a feline-exclusive practice.

I am often described by others as a feline "specialist", but you won't hear me use that term for a very important reason: its use is reserved for those with a higher level of training in the field of their specialty who can and should be held to a higher medical and legal standard than their non-specialist colleagues. I have no special cat training beyond vet school electives and many hours of continuing education lectures on feline medicine and surgery, so I have no business holding myself out to be a "specialist" and will not do so. If my clients wish to think that focusing on cats all day, every day makes me a better cat vet than someone who sees mostly dogs, that's their prerogative.

Cats especially like cat hospitals. There are never any barking dogs on our premises; no dog smells, no inquisitive noses snuffling at poor terrified cats in carriers. We enjoy the relatively peaceful environment, too, and Alison appreciates never having to clean up "parvo poop", the bane of most veterinary staff's existences.

The benefits, on the whole, far outweigh the minor disadvantage of the occasional disgruntled and hostile dog owner.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Look What The Cat Brought In!

It seems like I'm on a roll with the posts about zoonoses, so here's a reprint of an article I wrote for Pediatrics for Parents a couple of years ago:


Gayle Robison, DVM

While cats make wonderful house pets and companions, these intelligent, graceful creatures have the potential to carry several diseases that can infect their human friends. Among these are bacterial and fungal diseases, and worm infestations. Children, by virtue of their immature immune systems, are particularly susceptible to the most common of these: cat scratch disease, ringworm, and ocular/visceral larva migrans.

Cat Scratch Disease
Otherwise known as cat scratch fever or bartonellosis, this bacterial infection is most often associated with kittens, though an obvious scratch is not always involved. Human infection results in fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and rarely more serious disease in immunosuppressed individuals.
Cats infected with Bartonella bacteria often have no signs of illness. They acquire the disease by means of flea bites, which spread the bacteria from other cats. When fleas subsequently feed on an infected cat, they leave bacteria-laden droppings in the cat’s fur. As the cat scratches at its fur in response to the crawling fleas, the claws pick up the flea feces, which then are inoculated into the skin of an unsuspecting person if they are scratched by the cat.
Feline bartonellosis is entirely preventable by adequate flea control, particularly while the cat is still young. Since the introduction of monthly flea control products such as fipronil and imidacloprid ten years ago, this disease has become less common, but it remains a concern for vulnerable people.
To minimize the risk of human infection, cats’ claws should be clipped short (front and back). Cats suspected of harboring the bacteria should be treated with antibiotics after consulting with a veterinarian. Children should be taught how to handle the cat or kitten so as to decrease opportunities for scratching. Aggressive flea control on pets is vital to avoid this unpleasant condition in people.

Properly called dermatophytosis, this pesky infection is caused, not by a worm, but by a common fungus that ordinarily inhabits the soil. Most people are familiar with the scaly, reddened, circular skin lesions typically seen with ringworm. The condition may or may not be itchy, and can be highly contagious.
Cats acquire ringworm infection from either the environment, another infected cat, or rarely from a person with fungal lesions. Skin lesions may not be apparent on the cat, but can be quite dramatic when they do appear, also as reddened, circular, flaky patches with a raised rim. Kittens are more commonly infected than adult cats due to their immature immune systems. Some cats have no visible skin lesions at all, and require special testing to determine whether they might be the source of a human infection.
Dermatophytosis prevention in the cat consists of avoiding contact with affected individuals and housing in a clean, dry environment. Treatment of cats, which can in some cases be prolonged and expensive, involves a combination of clipping the fur, bathing or dips, topical medication, and systemic medication. Prevention of human infection requires good hygiene (i.e. handwashing after petting the cat) and avoidance of contact with affected cats. Children especially should not hold affected cats close to their skin. Normal, healthy skin is ordinarily quite resistant to fungal infection, but minor abrasions or constantly damp skin can allow the fungus entry.

Ocular/Visceral Larva Migrans
Cats and kittens commonly harbor a variety of roundworm and hookworm intestinal parasites that can cause devastating illness and permanent injury to children. These worms, while usually only causing mild disease in their feline victims, shed their eggs in the pet’s stool to contaminate the environment. Children become infected by inadvertently ingesting the eggs, which then develop into larvae and migrate throughout the body, causing organ dysfunction and even severe damage to the eyes.
Kittens become infected during nursing (the worm eggs are passed in the queen’s milk), the worms develop inside them, and then the mature worms shed millions of eggs in the stool. These can build up in the soil to astonishing levels, and persist in the soil. Warm, moist conditions favor this ongoing environmental contamination, so we see more intestinal parasites in the southeastern United States, but they can be found everywhere. Sandboxes and loose garden soil can become special problem areas.
While roundworms and hookworms cannot be prevented in cats, they can be treated easily and cheaply. Veterinarians recommend frequent deworming of kittens beginning as early as two weeks of age. Proper disposal of fecal material from litter boxes is important. Routine deworming of adult cats may be necessary, depending on its risk of exposure to other sources of parasites such as prey ingestion.
Children should be taught to wash their hands after playing out of doors, and should avoid placing their hands in their mouths. Sandboxes should have latching lids that cannot accidentally close while the box is in use, and should be kept latched closed when not in use, as cats instinctively favor them for toilet use. The cat’s litterbox should not be accessible to small children.
In order to make our cats safe members of our families, it is important to be aware of the potential risks of the relationship, and take appropriate measures to minimize that risk. Pet cats can enrich our children’s lives in so many ways!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Plague: It Isn't a Thing of the Past

The Associated Press is reporting the season's first bubonic plague death in New Mexico:

New Mexico boy dies of plague, sister recovering

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico health officials say an 8-year-old boy has died after contracting bubonic plague and his 10-year-old sister, who also contracted the illness, is hospitalized and recovering.

The state Health Department announced the boy's death Thursday, saying the siblings' cases are the first human plague cases in the nation so far this year.

Health officials are conducting an environmental investigation at the family's Santa Fe County residence to determine if there is any ongoing risk to people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says an average of 10 to 15 persons contract the plague each year in the United States. Modern antibiotics are an effective treatment.

Most people think that plague, otherwise known as the Black Death, is a thing of medieval times and faraway places. It takes a sad story like this to remind us that we live with the very real threat of plague in the American southwest every day.

The plague bacteria came to North America sometime after Columbus, courtesy of ship rats. From there it made its way into wildlife, particularly the ground squirrel, which is our local source of endemic plague in Southern California. Interestingly, the common "roof rat" of Los Angeles is the very same rat that spread plague throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, which should give one pause.

Plague is a bacterial disease occasionally infecting cats and humans, transmitted by fleas, which means we have two ways of fighting it. First and foremost is aggressive flea control, which should be used on all cats that go outdoors at all, whether or not they are allowed to wander at large, and regardless of how much time they spend outside. It only takes one flea bite, and you have no idea who that flea bit recently that might have given it plague. Fortunately, plague is treatable with antibiotics, but that assumes your physician (or veterinarian) has figured out that you (or your cat)have plague in the first place, and that's a big assumption since it's not common in people or cats at the moment.

I recommend monthly use of Advantage or Frontline (state-of-the-art OTC flea control products), or Advantage Multi (prescription multi-parasite control). We carry Advantage and Advantage Multi but not Frontline. If you wish to purchase OTC Advantage, you need to know your cat's weight because the cutoff between product sizes is 9 lb, which is average so guessing might not work. Advantage Multi is effective against ear mites, heartworm, roundworms, and hookworms, in addition to fleas. But you need to bring your cat in for an exam and weigh-in unless we have seen it recently because it is prescription only.

I guess I might sound like a corporate shill at this point, but I thought this was a great opportunity to point out what terrible hazards lie in wait for the unsuspecting, and how easy it is at times to decrease those hazards to nearly zero. We veterinarians are at higher risk of plague than average people due to the risk of workplace exposure, so we rely in large part on our clients to be responsible pet owners and keep fleas at bay. Los Angeles lost a veterinarian to plague about 25 years ago, and that is one death too many.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rats and Rabies

This just in from the Ukraine (well, ok, it was in April): a cabbie was attacked and bitten by a rat which was later found to have rabies. I didn't believe it at first, because while rat rabies is theoretically possible, it is just extraordinarily unlikely.

So now I stand corrected. For over 25 years I have been reassuring my clients that rats pose NO rabies threat (and in the US they still have not been found to), but this case shows me to have been in error.

I can't find out whether the Ukrainian public health authorities have subtyped the virus to determine in what species it originated, but that would shed a great deal of light on how this amazing event happened. One would ordinarily expect that a rat bitten by any rabid animal would die outright or die of wound infection, and never stand a chance of surviving to develop rabies. Wonders never cease.

I seem to recall years ago hearing about a bird of some sort (raptor or vulture) that contracted rabies. That was also a stunner.

I think I'm gonna go wander off and shake my head for a while.