Feline Leukemia (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

Cat owners often hear of FeLV and FIV but aren’t too sure exactly what they are and how they may affect their beloved fact. We’ve put together this blog to help explain and break down what each of these viruses are and how they can cause great damage to our pets and our lives.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is usually transmitted through grooming and social behaviors – sharing water dishes, food bowls, litterboxes etc. Kittens become infected during either development in mom or when mom starts to groom and nurse her kittens. Saliva and nasal discharge is how this virus is transferred among cats. Cat’s often do not primarily pass away due to FeLV, but they instead acquire an infection or cold that their body cannot fight off and pass away from the infection they acquired, due to their body being unable to fight it off because of FeLV.

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) transmission is usually associated with cats that fight over territory and roam outdoors. As the name implies, FIV is similar to the human form of HIV, where the virus primarily attacks the immune system – therefore these cats generally present to the veterinary hospital with signs not directly associated with the virus. Like FeLV, the cat typically acquires an infection or wound that will not heal which leads to the cat’s death.

Both of these feline viral diseases are preventable. While neither of which have a “cure”, cats with these diseases can live relatively normal lives until they become clinically sick and show signs of illness. Usually secondary illnesses are what “unmask” their underlying condition (you may notice your cat sneezing, you bring him or her into the veterinarian and after some blood work is done, it is learned that while your cat is sick [sneezing], the bigger issue is that he or she also suffers from FeLV or FIV).

Approximately 5% of cats can be infected with both FIV and FeLV. Cancer risks increases 6x with FIV, 60x with FeLV and 80x with FeLV and FIV infections. In the United States approximately 2 – 3% of cats are infected with the leukemia virus. Infection rates increase when cats are very young and sick, or have increased exposure to viruses. The age groups commonly affected are cats between 1 to 6 years of age with a median age of 3 years.

Prevention: keeping cats indoors is one way to prevent your cat from exposure. When introducing new cats to the household, temporary segregation is always recommended to reduce residents from becoming exposed to bacterial and viral disease present at shelters. Vaccines are also available to prevent both of these viruses to be picked up by your cat (please continue reading for more information).

Disinfection: both viruses are easily killed by household detergents and do not last in the environment.

Vaccination: Generally FeLV vaccination can be administered to kittens at 8 – 9 weeks of age with a second booster 3 – 4 weeks later. Vaccine booster is administered once yearly. A vaccine is available for FIV cats, however this particular vaccine will yield a positive result on routine testing. Therefore, young kittens that test positive are generally retested at 6 months of age.

In conclusion, these viruses are not a death sentence for your cat and you can prevent your cat from obtaining these viruses. Annual blood work, exams and indoor only cats will help your cat stay healthy, virus free and alive! If you would like to discuss your cat’s health, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Jill Christofferson, Dr. Blythe Jurewicz or Dr. Wendi Aengus today: (925) 937-5000

Caroline Li, DVM

Anesthesia Free Dental Cleanings

    Dental care is extremely important for our pets. As one of the ICU technicians at Encina Veterinary Hospital, I have personally seen the painful aftereffects of non-anesthetic dental cleanings performed by individuals (feed or pet stores, groomers) and I felt compelled to write about it (as well as some pushing and shoving [read: strong encouragement] from our blogger, Christina!) Although I am not one of the dental technicians, my heart breaks when someone brings in their pet with a tooth root abscess, or some other damage inflicted by an individual who “cleaned” their beloved pet’s teeth.

    Here at Encina Veterinary Hospital we recommend dental cleanings to our patients which require full anesthesia so that our Doctors and Technicians can do a safe and thorough job of fully examining, evaluating, cleaning and polishing your pet’s teeth. There are many places out there now that advertise non-anesthetic dental cleanings for very little money, who also convince/put the fear in pet owners that this is a safer technique than general anesthesia cleanings performed by licensed professionals like registered veterinary assistants and veterinarians. The problem lies in the fact that they may not be cleaning and polishing all the teeth properly. If teeth aren’t polished after scaling, bacteria can work its way deeper into the tooth cavity and create abscesses and many more (expensive) problems. It may seem like an easy and inexpensive alternative, but if not done correctly can be both expensive to your wallet, painful to your pet and even deadly.

    I know I have enough trouble trying to brush my dog’s teeth on the outside, never mind getting in all those nooks and crannies on the inside! And she certainly wouldn’t allow me to spend time scraping tartar off any of her back teeth and then polishing out the microscratches that the scraping leaves behind. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposed a bill (AB 2304) recently which would allow unlicensed individuals to scale pet’s teeth as long as it is with an unmotorized instrument without veterinary supervision. There are companies and websites out there touting the benefits of non-anesthetic cleaning, which are ill informed and send the wrong message to owners. They leave owners scared of veterinarians and general anesthesia, while subjecting your pets to harmful and scary improper dental cleanings. While cleanings here Encina Vet Hospital may be more expensive than the “cleanings” at your groomers, we have your pet’s best health and care in mind; we always treat your pets as if they are our own and we don’t lie to our clients to make a buck. Aren’t your pets worth doing what is right for them?

– Meg Davies, RVT


Here is an excerpt from Dr. Jill Christofferson’s advice article in the Contra Costa Times regarding anesthesia free dental cleanings:

When an animal is anesthetized, the area under the gum line can be properly cleaned using ultrasonic or sonic instruments and any pockets can be assessed and treated properly. The teeth are then polished. Dental X-rays and oral surgery can also be performed when needed. Many pet owners are frightened by anesthesia and think that having the teeth cleaned without it will be safer for their pet.

Anesthetic deaths do occur, and almost every veterinarian can tell of a death that occurred under their care. These deaths are rare, however, and the anesthetic agents currently used in veterinary medicine are considered very safe.

Animals who have had their teeth scaled without anesthesia can suffer from cuts to the gums, bruising of the skin due to excessive restraint, neck injuries, and even jaw fractures. I have known a few dogs who have had expensive and even life-threatening illnesses as a result of having their teeth cleaned in this manner.

The law in California states that performing dentistry on an animal constitutes the practice of veterinary medicine and needs to be done under the supervision of a veterinarian. The people performing anesthesia-free dental cleanings are not state-licensed or regulated and rarely work under a veterinarian’s supervision.

– Dr. Jill Christofferson

Procedure Day Play-By-Play

I recently had the unique experience of bringing one of my furry babies in for a COHAT (Comprehensive Oral Health Assessment and Treatment…a.k.a. dental cleaning), and I gained perspective on what you encounter as clients on the day your pet undergoes a procedure. Please read on for what happens before, during, and after a procedure.

Meet Seal, my gregarious black lab. I rescued him from the pound two years ago, and let me tell you, he has come a long way since our first night together. We don’t know his age for certain, but we are guessing he is somewhere in the neighborhood of five to six years old. Prior to my adopting him, it would appear that he had no dental care. Though I brushed his teeth every night, fighting against the amount of tartar and plaque that had built up was impossible, he needed a thorough cleaning to get his mouth in order.

The night before the procedure: Seal was fed a normal-sized dinner and was given access to water until we left home in the morning. My parents wanted to feed him an extra-large feast since he was going to miss breakfast the next morning, but I reassured them that this was not necessary, as he would be anesthetized and given fluids early on in the day (large meals also = large bowel movements during the surgery).

Dropping off for the procedure: I brought Seal into Encina at 7:15a sharp on procedure day. When you drop your pet off, you can expect to sign an estimate, and leave the low end of the estimate as a deposit. The COHAT estimate has a very important portion for you to initial, regarding whether or not you authorize the veterinarian to extract teeth in the event that you cannot be reached, among other particulars. A client services representative will then take your pet to be weighed, and back into our surgical pre-op area.

Pre-procedure: Technicians will get vital signs, and place an intravenous catheter. If your pet has not had blood work processed within the last month or so, they will also draw blood and run an in-house blood panel to ensure your pet’s safety during anesthesia. The veterinarian performing the procedure will then perform a physical exam on your pet, again to make certain that your pet is healthy enough for the procedure to be performed. The patient is then administered intravenous fluids until anesthesia is given. Seal was very brave during the poking and prodding, and thankfully his lab results were all within normal range.

Going under: Pets are given a cocktail of what we refer to as “pre-medication,” which basically means that a technician administers a sedative prior to inducing anesthesia to reduce the stress level of our patients, and also to decrease the amount of anesthetic needed as well. Once the pre-medication has taken effect, an induction agent is administered, and technicians place an endotracheal tube when the jaw has relaxed completely. The tube allows doctors to use gas anesthesia, and gives them more control over the pet’s breathing during the procedure. After the endotracheal tube is placed, sevoflourane is used to keep the patient in a peaceful state of slumber.

Part one of the COHAT: One technician is posted at the side of the anesthetized patient at all times. Her sole purpose is to monitor and log vital signs (blood pressure, blood oxygen concentration, temperature, etc.) every five minutes, while keeping watch over the animal. A warming blanket is placed over your pet to combat the lowering of body temperature that can occur under anesthesia. A second technician then cleans and scales the teeth using the same type of sterile tools that your dental hygienist uses when you get your teeth cleaned. Gum pockets are measured and the teeth are deep-cleaned and polished in a process that can take up to an hour. As you can see below, Seal had a very dirty mouth!

Part two of the COHAT: After the teeth are shined up, the technicians then take radiographs of the entire mouth. These x-rays are used to measure the health of the roots and teeth, and help the veterinarian to determine whether or not extractions are necessary. This part of the procedure takes thirty to sixty minutes. The veterinarian reviews the radiographs and if needed, may ask the advice of one of our specialists. At this point, a doctor’s assistant will contact you if extractions are recommended, and provide you with an updated estimate of any additional cost. Seal only needed one extraction, the tooth pointed out in the picture below (the picture was taken post-cleaning/radiographs).

Extractions: If extractions are required, a technician will administer a “nerve block,” which is a local anesthetic that reduces the amount of pain your pet endures resultant of the procedure. The veterinarian will then surgically remove the teeth, and repair the area with dis-solvable suture material (stitches). Once this is complete, the mouth is rinsed, inspected, and fluoride foam is applied to the teeth. After the teeth are taken care of, the technicians trim the nails and express the anal glands, and administer both an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory injection, both of which last until the next day.

Post-Procedure: The sevofluorane is turned off, which enables the patient to wake. Technicians continue to monitor the pet, and once it is clear that the pet is awake enough to breath reliably on his own (indicated by an attempt to cough around the tube), the endotracheal tube is removed. Intravenous fluids are continued as the pet is placed in a cage to recover, and technicians carefully monitor the temperature and appearance of the patient until he is fully awake. We wait until this point to call you to set up a pick-up time. Your pet is administered fluids until the IV bag is empty. Technicians take your pet outside to use the bathroom as needed.

Pick-up: Several hours after the procedure (typically between 3-6 p.m.), we have you come in to meet with a doctor’s assistant and pick up your little friend. The assistant will have typed discharge instructions prepared for you, in addition to any medications that will be sent home. If no extractions were required, no medications are necessary unless the gums became overly inflamed during the cleaning. With extractions, patients are usually sent home with an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and depending on the severity of the extraction(s), a pain medication. Seal was sent home with clindamycin (an antibiotic commonly used to fend off infections in the mouth), and Rimadyl (the veterinary version of Ibuprofen). The assistant will go over what to expect when you go home, as well as any questions you may have.

The night after the procedure: Seal went home a bit more tired than usual, but not overly drunk. At around 7pm I offered him water, and when he kept that down, I fed him half of his normal amount of kibble, which was soaked in warm water for ten minutes. He ate eagerly (he is a lab, after all), and then retired to his bed for the evening.

The next day: I fed Seal his normal amount of food, again soaked in warm water. I began his medications, which he took with a bit of cheese. He was as good as new, though I caught my parents feeding him scrambled eggs because they felt he looked extra hungry. Encina called to check on him in the afternoon, as they do with all patients. I nearly forgot to clear the house of any hard toys. The rule of thumb (pun intended) with post-extraction patients is that if your fingernail can leave an indent on a toy, it is soft enough for them to chew.

The following two weeks: Seal’s food had to be soaked in warm water for the two weeks following his procedure. He was given antibiotics for the first week, and the anti-inflammatory for the first five days. You would never know anything had happened to him, as he was back to doing his kibble ballet during meal times. No tug-of-war was played, and we were instructed not to brush his teeth.

The dental recheck: Two weeks after the procedure, if extractions were needed, we ask that you bring your pet in for a complimentary dental recheck with the veterinarian. The appointment takes roughly fifteen minutes, and during that time the doctor looks to see that everything is healing properly. After the recheck, you may commence brushing, feeding un-soaked kibble, and games of tug-of-war.

For a video of how to properly brush your pet’s teeth, please visit our YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/encinavet.

Thanksgiving Safety Tips for Pet Owners

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, we saw it fitting to have our own Dr. Jill Christofferson has put together some tips on what’s okay and what’s not okay for your pet this Thanksgiving.

Turkey: White turkey meat is okay for pets to eat; you want to avoid the dark meat and skin though because it is full of fat. Food full of fat is bad for your pet because it can cause pancreatis (pancreas becomes inflamed) which can be life threatening to your beloved pet.

Bones: Bones are a general no-no and cooked bones are an even bigger no-no; cooked bones can often splinter inside of your pet and puncture a vital organ. It’s very important you dispose of your turkey’s carcass securely in the trash. Should an emergency arise, please call us (we are open 365 days a year, 24 hours every day): 925 937 5000.

Green Beans: Green beans with no butter or onions are fine for your pets. The butter is very fatty and can cause damage to the pancreas and onions are toxic to pets.

Potatoes: Cooked potatoes are great for your pet! But as with green beans, be sure there is no butter or onions.

Garlic: If you’ll be seasoning your food this thanksgiving with garlic, a little bit of garlic is okay for your pet. Generally garlic is considered to be toxic but a small amount shouldn’t harm your pet.

Onions: Onions are considered to be toxic for pets and should never ever be fed.

Pumpkin: Pumpkin pie is much too high in fat for your pet and can cause pancreatis. A nice substitute for your pet would be unsweetened canned plain pumpkin (also good for helping firm up stool in pets with an upset stomach or diarrhea).

I want to prepare a safe thanksgiving dish for my pet, what can I or should I include?
White cooked turkey meat, plain cooked or raw green beans (or any green vegetable), baked potato and for desert, plain unsweetened canned pumpkin.

If you should experience any emergency, please do not hesitate to call us! The sooner, the better for your pet’s health: (925) 937-5000.

We will be open all day and night Thanksgiving, staffed with experienced emergency doctors and technicians.

Dexter the Wonder Poodle

In June of this year a special puppy named Dexter walked into our clinic with the NorCal Poodle Rescue group. The little black poodle had been rescued from a homeless encampment in Sacramento, where he was not able to receive the veterinary care that he desperately needed. Dexter was not classically good looking by any means, as he was suffering from demodex (a parasite that lives in the hair follicles of mammals) and was more or less hairless. However, his personality shined through his soulful brown eyes, and he quickly won over the hearts of everyone at EVH, Dr. Jill Christofferson in particular. Jill led the charge in collecting donations and organizing surgical treatments to give the sweet poodle the chance to live a life that was pain free.

Dr. Christofferson was able to treat Dexter’s demodex (parasitic mites of the hair follicle), and also donated her time to perform entropion surgery to correct the fact that Dexter’s eyelids folded inward causing his eyelashes to rub on his eyes. During all of his treatments, Dexter never so much as lifted a lip at our staff; his patience and tolerance truly amazed us.

For more information on Dexter’s story, please see Dr. Christofferson’s YouTube video “Dexter’s Story”

And be sure to check out the NorCal Poodle Rescue Summer/Fall 2011 Newsletter, which honored the contributions of Dr. Christofferson and Dr. Nurre in Dexter’s journey to health.