Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Fixing" Your Girl Kitty

We have had a minor flurry of young female cat surgeries of late. You see, it's "that time of year" - when last spring's crop of girl kittens has become old enough to neuter ("spay" is the slang term). We recommend spaying females at 6 months of age, after the kitten vaccinations have been finished, but before most females come into estrus ("heat"). By the age of 6 months, we no longer consider it to be pediatric anesthesia, so it is much safer than in a younger cat.

Back in the old days, the thinking was that going through a heat cycle or even getting pregnant and having a litter made a cat a much better pet. We now know that is simply not true. And we DO know that the more times a female cat goes through heat, the greater the chance of her developing mammary cancer down the road. So we like to beat Mother Nature to the punch, and the target date of 6 months works best when we consider all the factors involved.

Prior to making an appointment for your cat's spay, we will need to have seen her at least once for a physical exam, and also to ensure that vaccinations are complete per our hospital's protocol. We cannot schedule this surgery if we have never seen your cat - the exam is a mandatory prerequisite. Please do not ask our reception staff to waive this rule - we do this to ensure your cat gets the safest surgery experience we can deliver.

Once you have our official go-ahead on the surgery, you can make your appointment. We only do spays on weekdays. You will be instructed to withhold food (not water) at a certain time, and then be told what time to drop her off the morning of surgery (usually 8:30-9:30 AM but this can vary). Surgery will be performed that morning, and kitty will need to stay one night in the hospital for the equivalent of enforced bed rest in humans. Again, this is a safety policy and not subject to negotiation. No one is here at night, but your cat doesn't spend that night post-op because she is in critical condition - she stays so that she will be confined to a small space and forced through sheer boredom to get a good night's sleep. We never leave a patient unattended if we are not satisfied that it is completely stable and recovering normally.

The procedure itself is considered major abdominal surgery, though it is one of the less technically demanding surgeries we do. Ovaries and uterus are completely removed - this is not simply a tubal ligation. The sutures that we place in the abdominal wall and skin are absorbable, so no post-op recheck for suture removal is needed. You may, however, see a lump or knot about an inch wide at the surgery site - this is perfectly normal but varies in magnitude from cat to cat - it's just the body recognizing the wound, starting healing, and starting to absorb the suture material. Please note that drainage or worsening redness at the surgery site are NOT normal and always necessitate a recheck, as does failure to return to normal activity levels after a couple of days.

Most kitties have only a day or so of slightly subdued behavior post-op, and then get right back to bouncing off the walls. So we discourage throwing frisbees for them for at least a week. And yes, the fur WILL grow back!

The Upcoming Holidays

Well, the season is almost upon us - that time of year when it seems like every other week we have a federal holiday or religious holiday of some sort or another. I am not closed on ALL federal holidays, however, because I like giving our schoolteachers a chance to get in here for weekday procedures on kitties throughout the year and not just in the summer.

Halloween - Saturday Oct. 31 - not an official holiday but worth mention - OPEN
Veteran's Day - Wednesday Nov. 11 - OPEN
Thanksgiving - Thursday Nov. 26 - CLOSED - we WILL be open on that Friday and Saturday
Hanukkah - OPEN throughout unless it falls same time as Christmas
Christmas Eve - Thursday Dec. 24 - CLOSED EARLY at 1 PM
Christmas Day - Friday Dec. 25 - CLOSED - also closed that Saturday
New Year's Eve - Thursday Dec. 31 - CLOSED EARLY at 1 PM
New Year's Day - Friday Jan. 1 - CLOSED - also closed that Saturday

If I wind up visiting family back east at Christmas, this schedule could change, but I probably will be staying here this year.

What To Do If You Have An After-Hours Emergency

For 18 years we have referred after-hours emergencies to Animal Emergency Care Center/Animal Critical Care down at the corner of Ventura and Winnetka. One of the drawbacks to their facility is that they close at 8 AM and all patients must be either transferred directly to a daytime practice like ours or taken home. This is not always in the pet's best medical interest.

We are very happy to now be able to refer our after-hours emergencies to Veterinary Specialists of the Valley at 22123 Ventura Blvd in Woodland Hills, just west of Topanga Canyon Blvd on the north side of the street. VSV, in addition to having internal medicine and surgery specialists on staff during the day to see referral cases, provides 24/7 emergency and critical care, and has board-certified critical care specialists on duty all night and weekend. Their phone number is 818-883-8387.

Dr. Deborah Rackear is the lead internist. I have referred a number of cases to her over the years, particularly cardiac cases needing ultrasound evaluation. With a 24-hour facility I can now refer difficult cases like unstable ketoacidotic diabetics to her as well (these are not well suited to a small day practice such as Cat's Meow).

Dr. Morgan Cavanaugh is in charge of the emergency services. Emergency and Critical Care is one of the newer veterinary specialties, and one we have needed desperately in this part of the Valley.

Dr. Charisse Davidson is director of surgical services. Charisse did her surgical residency at VetSurg under Jack Henry just down the street from us, and divides her time between VSV and another surgery referral practice in the Pasadena area.

Several other veterinarians are on staff, but I didn't grab their cards when I went to the open house, so I don't have their names handy. I'm just thrilled to know that they are available for my clients.

As always, if you have an emergency during our business hours please call us first to see if we can fit you in and determine if it sounds like a genuine emergency. An exception would be if your cat JUST got hit by car or attacked by a dog and seriously injured - in that case it would be perfectly reasonable to drop everything and head straight for VSV - they do see daytime emergencies, surgeons are always either on site or on call, and they have radiography, ultrasound, and CAT capabilities on-site.

With a brand new facility, state-of-the-art equipment, and multiple specialists on staff, veterinary services at VSV are obviously not going to be at bargain-basement prices, nor should anyone expect that. Their fees are in line with equivalent services elsewhere in the area, and it is especially true here that you get what you pay for. Emergency exam fees are $70-90 depending on time of day/night, and obviously any diagnostic tests, treatment, surgery, medications etc are in addition. Please do not expect them or us to quote fees over the phone for treating a sick or injured animal they have not yet seen (this also applies when you call about coming to Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic - we still don't have a magic crystal ball to look into and read the future).

While we sincerely hope that you will never have a medical emergency and need their services, I can sleep easier at night knowing that VSV is available.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Dusty Robison (1991-2009) - In Memoriam

It is with great sadness we report the passing of Cat's Meow Veterinary Clinic's mascot of the past 10 years, Dusty. She was euthanized today after a long illness.

Born in Ft. Collins, Colorado, Dusty adopted my grandparents as a kitten and spent her first 8 years with them, demanding endless brushing and petting, chewing holes in oxygen tubing, and in general living the life of a princess. When my grandparents eventually both passed away, I was assigned the task of dealing with Dusty, so I brought her to California in late 1999.

After a few days, I decided I liked her well enough to keep her rather than place her with a new home, and because Mummy liked her too, she made an excellent mascot. So she settled in here. For many years her days were spent at the front desk, eagerly awaiting petting from anyone and everyone who came through the front door. She was especially fond of elderly men, who obviously reminded her of my grandfather. One of her favorite activities was sandpapering the skin right off you if you lingered too long at the front counter.

In 2006 we diagnosed Dusty with hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. It took quite a balancing act with multiple medications, supplemental fluids, and lots of follow-up blood and urine testing, but we were able to keep her happy and eating very well until the last few months. A grand mal seizure in the spring of this year marked the beginning of her final decline, and a week ago she stopped eating and clearly wasn't feeling well. We adjusted her treatments to buy a little more time, but it became obvious that we were reaching the end of the line.

Dusty was particularly loved for her odd meow ("that's not a meow, that's a QUACK!"), those gorgeous blue eyes looking at us in slightly cross-eyed confusion, and her total obsession with being brushed (until the past couple of years).

She will be greatly missed. In lieu of flowers, her family and friends request that you make a donation in her memory to the animal charity of your choice.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Couple More Of My Favorites

I have two new Doctor's Picks for you: one is cat-related, and one is totally off-topic.

First, my favorite humorous website is I Can Has Cheezburger, aka ICHC. Every day several captioned cat (or occasionally other animal) photos are posted. They never fail to lift my spirits, and sometimes leave me rolling on the floor.

The other is my new favorite French bakery/pastry shop. Avignon Bakery is just west down the street from us in the next block, on the north side. Their croissants and danish pastries are the best I have had outside of France, and reasonably priced. Try the raisin roll or pain au chocolat! They have a small menu with quiches and sandwiches, along with coffee. The proprietor is Vietnamese by way of France, and her baker is French. Apparently they use imported dough, and it is the flakiest and tastiest imaginable. No, I am not being paid to write this, either. Please consider spending your consumer dollars at a local business: Avignon Bakery, 19973 Ventura Blvd, Woodland Hills, 818-610-8478. Open 7 AM - 3 PM Tues - Sun. Closed Mondays.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

California's Catfight Over Declawing

I wish I could post here the article I just finished reading in VIN about the proposed ban on declawing cats in San Francisco and the SF-SPCA's surprising opposition to the proposal. Unfortunately, it is from a vets-only site and is copyrighted.

So, in a nutshell, SF activists are in a big rush to ban declaws before a new state law goes into effect at the first of the year making such city ordinances an illegal interference in the veterinarian-client-patient relationship. I fully support the new state law, and feel that local bans on any medical procedure are fundamentally inappropriate.

The SF-SPCA, to my utter amazement and delight, opposes the anti-declaw activists for the simple reason that cats who are truly destructive of property and cannot be made to stop are likely to be abandoned or relinquished, or even euthanized, so in many cases the daclaw saves a cat's life and keeps it in a safe, suitable home. This has always been my view, and why you won't hear me issuing any blanket condemnation of declaws.

We get occasional phone calls about our declaw policy, so I will reiterate it here. We DO perform declaws, but very infrequently, and only if I have determined that the cat is genuinely destructive, and the owner has made reasonable efforts to get it to stop. The procedure is a last resort, and definitely never a first option.

The declaw procedure consists of amputation of the last bone of all 10 front toes. It is not taken lightly, and is more prone to post-op complications than any other surgery I do. We always perform it under anesthesia, and two to three nights hospitalization are mandatory to ensure "bed rest". We administer post-op pain medications as needed, which has made it less stressful for hospital staff (when a patient is in pain, so are we!) in addition to the patient, and helps to greatly decrease complications due to waving sore paws. I have, after many years, placed severe age restrictions on my declaws - I will only perform them on cats from 6-8 months up to 3 years of age, unless there is a compelling medical reason to do so. We also will not ever declaw hind paws without a medical need in the patient such as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

If you are considering declawing your cat, we recommend an office visit so we can spend the necessary time discussing alternatives and behavior modification techniques (we regret that this lengthy discussion is not suitable for a phone call). We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves anymore for training kitties to "leave the darned sofa alone!!!" (can you tell I have personal experience with this?).

Another Pet Food Recall

This time the problem is with Premium Edge, produced by Diamond Pet Foods.

Diamond Pet Foods has withdrawn from distribution the following date codes of Premium Edge Finicky Adult Cat and Premium Edge Hairball cat: RAF0501A22X 18lb., RAF0501A2X 6 lb., RAH0501A22X 18 lb., RAH0501A2X 6lb. The calls from pet owners or veterinarians regarding this issue have been centered in the Rochester, NY area. All retail outlets shipped the above lots were contacted, asking them to pull the product from the store shelves. The retailers were also asked to contact their customers via email or telephone requesting them to check the date code of the food. However, if you or anyone you know has these date codes of Premium Edge cat food, please return them to your retailer.

Symptoms displayed by an affected cat will be neurological in nature. Any cats fed these date codes that display these symptoms should be immediately taken to a veterinarian.

Product testing proved no contaminants were discovered in the cat food; however the cat foods were deficient in thiamine. Diamond tracked the vitamin premix lot number that was utilized in these particular cat foods and have performed testing on another lot of Premium Edge cat food that used the same vitamin premix, and it was not deficient in thiamine. No other neurological signs have been reported on any other product manufactured by Diamond Pet Foods.


I thought it was interesting that a few weeks ago, some veterinarians in the Northeast started asking questions about how to handle a rash of ataxic (uncoordinated) kitties. Several of them put their heads together, and one found an article online about a similar problem in the Netherlands a while back that involved thiamine-deficient food, and then they reported it to the FDA, and voila! A recall. This would have been greatly delayed if caring cat owners had not gone the extra mile with diagnosis and treatment of these puzzling cases. Eventually we private practice veterinarians, as a group, figured it out. Yay us!

Diamond has had several recalls in the past, some involving contamination with mold toxins. They need to clean up their act.

Yay, It's Fall!

Now that the weather has cooled off (and HOW!), my cats at home have become much more active and playful. Boochi has gone back to one of his favorite pastimes: yelling and bopping around my home with tail puffed, flinging toys hither and yon, and calling Hobie in an effort to get Fatty Himself to play. Dusty has even perked up a little and started batting her mousie "babies" around under my desk in the office, though at 18 1/2 her play sessions are remarkably brief.

Water consumption is down, and food consumption is up. When it's ghastly hot outside, most cats do a lot more drinking than eating, even with air conditioning on.

So if you are noticing these things, don't be alarmed. It's all normal for this time of year. Of course, if your cat is way too active for its age, or eating a whole lot while losing weight, be sure to make an appointment for an exam as a serious medical condition could be developing.

An Ounce of Prevention

I just got finished with an office visit of the sort that is unfortunately becoming all too common these days. An otherwise perfectly healthy middle-aged cat presented with severe (and painful) eye inflammation and sneezing, and wasn't eating well. Poor kitty had a fever and was simply miserable, and it didn't have to happen. And sadly, the cat didn't need to get sick enough to require costly medical attention. The culprit: feline herpesvirus, the most common respiratory virus in cats.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when I rarely saw patients for respiratory viruses, and when I did, they typically didn't need my help, just a little reassurance for the owner. But in the past two to three years, much more severe respiratory infections are becoming one of the most common things I see.

What is this about? Has a common virus suddenly become more virulent? I think not. The common thread with virtually every last one of these patients is that their annual vaccinations are overdue.

I have always recommended annual vaccinations for FVRCP (respiratory viruses and panleukopenia virus), and for many years my clients were largely compliant with my advice. But with the economic downturn and the false rumors of vaccines being terribly dangerous, an ever-decreasing percentage of my patients lacks this most basic preventive medical care.

Even though most cats are initially infected with feline herpesvirus as small kittens, like other herpesviruses, once infected, always infected. So why, you might ask, bother with a preventive vaccine? I wondered that myself, and then finally concluded after much pondering that the vaccine stimulates immunity that plays a critical role in keeping relapses of the viral infection from becoming severe. Why else would cats kept current on their FVRCP have such an obviously lower rate of respiratory infections requiring medical intervention?

This whole thing is just one more reason why it is so important to bring Kitty in for the recommended annual exam and vaccinations. The small amount you spend to do so pays big dividends when you consider how much less likely an expensive visit to deal with serious respiratory disease will be. An ounce of prevention is still a bargain after all these years.

Please make an appointment today if your cat is overdue for its annual checkup and vaccinations. It's the responsible thing to do.