Archives for March 2013

Ear Infections in Cats and Dogs

     Ear disease is one of the more common diseases in dogs. Infection of the ear or otitis can occur in the external or middle ear. Clinical signs of ear infections include – head shaking, scratching at the ears, a stinky ear, discharge, swelling or redness of the skin inside the ear. Not all red ears are infected ears, however, if they are left untreated it can become infected.

     The normal ear is a structure made up of cartilage that is lined with skin, hair follicles, sebaceous (sweat glands) and modified ceruminous (wax forming) glands. Normally the skin cells and glandular cells produce wax to trap dirt and debris in the ear canal. The normal ear canal is smooth, light pink, with a pearly appearing tympanic membrane.

     The development of ear infections can be divided into predisposing, primary and perpetuating factors. Predisposing factors include the environment such as moisture and or heat, hair plucking, grooming powders and/or anatomic variation; floppy ears (like cocker spaniels), stenotic or narrow ear canals (like the sharpei), and the number of wax/ glandular cells, and number of hair follicles lining the ear canal. Other predisposing causes include hormonal or autoimmune diseases.

     Primary causes include foreign bodies (foxtails), cancer, ear mites, food/inhaled allergies, endocrine or autoimmune diseases.

     Perpetuating factors – these are causes that make treatment challenging and prone to failure –include bacterial or yeast infections, chronic changes to the structure of the ear from inflammation or deep infection, or inappropriate treatment.

     Determining ear infections begins with an otoscopic examination – to assess the surface of the ear canal and to determine if the ear drum is intact. Next is obtaining a sample of the material in the ear by rolling the exudates (wax) onto a slide. There we look for yeast and/or bacteria or even parasites!

     If bacteria or yeast are seen, we need to clean out the ear wax and debris using a special ear cleaner. In order for a medication to work and adhere to the skin in the ear, we need to start with a clean dry ear. If some infections are very deep we may need to add oral antibiotics and steroids to decrease inflammation.

     Maintenance ear care prevents ear infections from occurring again. Depending on your veterinarian they may recommend routine ear cleanings with an appropriate cleaner and medication. Over cleaning can also predispose our pets to developing ear infections by disrupting the normal microenvironment in the ear. Successful treatment of ear infections require identification of the primary cause (allergies, foreign body, autoimmune, endocrine diseases etc), and choosing the appropriate antibiotic along with regular visual assessment of the ear canal and tympanic membrane by your veterinarian.

Caroline Li, DVM

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)

     Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) is an inflammatory disease of the bladder that is fairly common in cats. This condition has also been referred to as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) and feline urologic syndrome (FUS). Cats with this disorder will have various clinical signs related to abnormal, painful urination. It is important to learn about FIC so that you can recognize if you cat is having problems at home and needs medical attention.

     The definitive cause of FIC is unknown, but various risk factors have been identified which make certain cats more prone to the disease than others. Most cats with FIC are indoor kitties that eat dry food, are members of multi-cat households, and may have had a recent stress in their life (new pet introduced, moving, etc). Often times, they are overweight and may have other medical conditions. The most common age of onset is between 2-6 years old, though cats of any age can get this disease.

     Cats with FIC show various clinical signs related to abnormal, painful urination. They may strain in the litter box, pass small amounts of urine frequently, or have bloody urine. Some cats will urinate outside the litter box.

     If your cat is showing the above signs, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian. A physical exam will be performed and blood and urine tests may be recommended to rule out medical conditions like kidney disease or urinary tract infections. An abdominal ultrasound may be needed to look for bladder stones or other abnormalities that could be causing your cat’s problems. If none of these tests diagnose a problem, then your cat is likely suffering from FIC.

     Dietary modification is the most important component of treatment. Your cat should have free access to water and should be encouraged to drink. It may be helpful to provide a pet water fountain or allow a faucet to drip because many cats prefer running water to drinking from a bowl. Your cat should also start eating wet (canned) food and may require a special urinary tract diet – ask your veterinarian for details.

     Treating FIC also involves lifestyle changes for your pet. Reducing environmental stresses is an important component to treatment. There should be at least 1 litter box for each cat in the house and they should be easily accessible and in a safe, quiet place. New pets should be introduced gradually to allow time for your cat to get used to their new friend. Environmental enrichment is also an important component to decreasing stress. Toys and climbing posts help give your indoor cat opportunities for exhibiting their natural behaviors. Pheromone therapy may be helpful in conjunction with environmental enrichment. Pheromones are chemicals like hormones that are used for inter-animal communication. Products like Feliway® may help decrease anxiety for your kitty and are available as room diffusers or sprays.

     If diet and lifestyle changes are not sufficient to decrease your cat’s clinical signs, medical therapy may be indicated. There are drugs available to help with inflammation, bladder control, and anxiety. Your veterinarian will prescribe whatever medications are necessary to make your cat as comfortable as possible.

     It is important to distinguish FIC from a lower urinary tract obstruction. Male cats are predisposed to lower urinary obstructions because their urethras are very narrow. Stones or mucus can get plugged in the urethra and block the flow of urine that is trying to leave the bladder. A urethral obstruction is a medical emergency that requires veterinary attention immediately. If you are ever concerned about your cat’s health, please contact a veterinarian for advice.

Kerry Thode, DVM

Why is My Pet Eating Grass and Plants?

     The answer for why many dogs and cats eat grass and other plants is not clear – cut. Some of the more popular theories are that they have a deficiency in diet, need for more fiber, or that it is a natural instinct inherited from ancestors to rid the body of intestinal parasites. Recent research suggests that most pets eat grass when they are not showing signs of illness. In a recent study conducted at UC Davis by Karen Sueda and her colleagues, it was reported that only 9% of dogs appear ill prior to consuming plant material and only 22% were seen vomiting afterward. It also suggested that younger animals tend to eat plants more often and less frequently appeared ill before plant – eating. Younger animals also have an increased likelihood of consuming other non- grass plants.

     If your pet is consuming plant material, it may be normal behavior. If your pet has other signs of illness, please consult your veterinarian. Your pet should have a complete physical exam to rule out any underlying illnesses.

     The following is a short list of some common toxic plants. If you suspect that your pet has consumed these or other toxic plants, please consult a veterinarian immediately:
Castor beans
Cycad palms (Sago palm)
English Ivy
Peace lily
Autumn crocus
Tulip/narcissus bulbs

Lacey LaVigna, DVM

Importance of Vaccines

      Vaccinations are an important component of pet healthcare and also play a key role in the control of disease at the national and global level. Vaccines are designed to strengthen an animal’s immune system against a certain disease, to either prevent or minimize the effects of that infection, should the animal later be exposed. They consist of either modified or killed forms of the microorganism. Vaccine guidelines have been created for our pet population and generally consist of “Core” vaccines, which every animal should receive, and Non-Core” vaccines, which are given depending on life style. However, the most important component in vaccine management is consulting with your veterinarian so they can create a vaccination plan specifically tailored to your pet.

      You may have wondered why puppies and kittens receive a series of vaccinations. Young animals have naturally occurring immunity to disease, which they receive from their mothers during pregnancy and while nursing. This natural immunity begins to breakdown over the first few months of life, putting the puppy or kitten at risk for disease. For an animal to mount their own immune response, and for a vaccine to be effective, the naturally occurring immunity must be gone. We don’t know the exact point that any given animal will lose their natural immunity, and be ready to mount their own individual immune response, so a series of vaccines are given to ensure we don’t put a young animal at undue risk for disease, but also are able to impart long term immunity. For this same reason it is important not to exposure your puppies and kittens to animals with uncertain vaccination history, or environments where sick animals may have been, until their vaccine series is completed.

      There are two “Core” vaccinations given to dogs. The first is rabies, which is required by law due to its potential to spread to human beings. The second is DAP, which is a combo vaccine which protects dogs from some very serious viral diseases, including parvovirus and distemper. Several “Non-Core” vaccines for dogs exist which you and your veterinarian can decide upon based on your pets lifestyle and the diseases they may be at risk of contracting.

      “Core” vaccinations for cats include rabies, and the combo vaccine FVRCP, which primary is designed to cover cats for upper respiratory infections. One of the primary “Non-core” vaccines for cats is Feline Leukemia Virus, a life threatening disease which outdoor cats are at risk of contracting.

      Veterinarians would agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks. About 1 in every 200 animals will have an adverse vaccine reaction, but most reactions are very mild. Most vaccine reactions are limited to pain at the injection site, but they can also include facial swelling, hives, vomiting, diarrhea, and in rare causes anaphylaxis and shock. Some cats can also develop cancer at the site of injection years after their vaccination, but this condition is rare (about 1 in 10,000) and modern vaccines put cats at less risk.

      Although there are risks associated with vaccinations, they are an important tool available to your veterinarian to prevent serious and often life threatening disease in your pet. Vaccines are also largely responsible for controlling and even eradicating several of the world’s most serious infectious diseases, in both people and animals. By working with your veterinarian a vaccination plan can be made to minimize risk and keep your pet protected.

Trevor Miller, DVM