What You Need to Know About the Kissing Bug & Chagas Disease and Your Pet

Recent news reports on vectors and emerging diseases have pinpointed “Kissing Bugs” as a growing threat to humans and other mammals.  The amiable name belies a blood-sucking insect that can transmit a protozoan parasite known as Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi), causing an incurable disease known as American Trypanosomiasis or Chagas Disease.  In the past few years “kissing bugs” (triatomines and related insects) have been moving north from tropical climates.

The disease is endemic in 21 countries in South America, Central America, and Mexico, and has now spread as far north as the entire lower half of the United States (U.S.).  Human and animal migration and climate change have allowed the insects to invade not only the USA but Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, and England, where the disease has been diagnosed readily in people and in dogs.

Domesticated pigs, cats, and wildlife such as opossums, armadillos, raccoons, skunks, woodrats and non-human primates are also affected, though to what degree is not fully known.  Chagas infection in dogs and people in endemic regions can range anywhere from 5% to 92%. It is considered somewhat rare in the United States – unless you fall in that 92nd percentile.

What Are Kissing Bugs?

Kissing bugs are nocturnal insects that feed on blood, not plants.  They are also known as assassin bugs, cone-nose bugs, vinchuca, chinche and barbeiro and there are over 130 species of Triatomes in the Americas.  They have a flat, broad back that may have a ridge of orange or red stripes along the edge; adults are less than an inch long and are wingless. Triatomes look like some other bugs that are plant eaters, but their behavior is distinctively different.

Kissing bugs that invade a home hide during the day and come out at night, attracted by the carbon dioxide (CO2) exhaled by their targets, thus their painless bites frequently are on the face, near lips or eyes (kissing). Like bedbugs, they are found in mattresses and other areas in a home and hide in rocks, wood, debris or under concrete outside. Should you find unexplained sores on your face or other body parts or find blood on your pillow, contact a professional exterminator or your doctor for more information.

What is Chagas Disease?

Reports from Texas A&M in 2011 showed that about 50% of tested kissing bugs carried the T cruzi parasite.  Kissing bug nymphs and adults defecate while feeding and that is when T. cruzi is passed to the host. Scratching or rubbing the bite can transfer the parasite into the skin and from there the organism enters tissues, muscles, and cells and begins reproducing.  The invaded cells eventually rupture, allowing entrance to the bloodstream where the disease sets sail for other organs, especially the heart and brain. This is known as the acute stage, a time when there may be a local reaction known Romaña’s sign, localized irritation or no symptoms at all.

According to the CDC, the acute phase can last for weeks or months. It is possible to find the parasite in various blood tests during this time, a diagnosis that is very difficult in later stages. Other means of infection include entry by mucous membrane, crossing the placenta in a pregnant mammal, passage via mother’s milk, ingestion of an infected animal or ingestion of the bug itself.

Following the acute phase, most infected people enter a latent stage during which few or no parasites are found in the blood. Most people are asymptomatic at this time, and thus are unaware of any problems for months or years.  Of these people, 20 to 30%, including immuno-suppressed individuals, will eventually develop a chronic phase of Chagas that can cause severe medical problems. Complications may include heart rhythm issues resulting in sudden death, heart dilation that interferes with adequate pumping, megaesophagus or dilated colon causing gastrointestinal issues.

How Can Chagas Affect My Dog?

Incubation requires 5 to 42 days with sporting dogs or dogs in rural areas most at risk.  During the acute phase, animals younger than six months primarily develop myocarditis and cardiac arrhythmias that can result in collapse and sudden death.  Other symptoms may include fever, anorexia, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, diarrhea, pale gums, cough, enlarged liver or spleen, depression, anemia, bloat. Learn more about Chagas Disease in Dogs.

The latent phase of the disease may cause no symptoms at all and typically lasts around 8 months.  When the disease enters the chronic phase, the heart is the most common organ affected, resulting in heart failure or sudden death.  Supportive treatment of symptoms is usually indicated. Nifurtimox or Benznidazole are antiparasitic drugs used in people but they may cause serious side effects and are not always readily available for animal use. Learn more answers to the Top 5 Pet Owner Questions About The Kissing Bug.

How to Prevent Chagas Disease in Your Dog

There is currently no vaccine available against canine Chagas disease.

Honoring the Cats of War

War horses, war dogs, and even war pigeons are known through movies and books, but are you aware that there are also many famous cats in war?

According to the United States Naval Institute, cats in war have been highly beneficial, probably dating back to ancient times in Egypt. Ever the talented hunters, cats in war protected grains stores and rode in boats as assistants when their human companions hunted birds along the shore. Some accounts say that the Persians would carry cats in their vessels, believing that Egyptians would not attack a boat with a cat on board. There are even claims that the Egyptians lost a war because of this strategy.

Cats at Sea

In the mid-14th century, the Bubonic Plague broke out in Europe. The disease was probably carried into Europe by flea-infested rats that swarmed upon merchant ships from Asia. Misguided superstition resulted in the mass killings of cats in the belief that, as witches’ consorts, they caused the disease. This allowed the diseased rats to flourish, and nearly a quarter of the world’s human population was wiped out as a result.

In reality, cats were (and still are) exceptionally valuable as vermin control. Men of the sea knew that rats and mice chewed ships’ ropes, devoured grain and food stores, and spread disease. Louis XIV of France, who ruled in the 17th and 18th century, ordered that there be two cats to every French ship. Contrary to the beliefs of the 1300s, cats were now regarded as good luck and were indispensable shipmates. Sailors also believed cats were skilled weather forecasters. If a cat licked its fur, it foretold a hailstorm. A sneeze meant rain, and a frisky cat foretold high winds. There is scientific evidence that the sensitive inner ears of cats can indeed detect weather changes. Polydactyl cats (those with extra toes) were especially prized as ship’s cats.

A distinguished role amongst feline companions, cats in war were instrumental in the Civil War, WWI, and WWII. Not only were they kept for their hunting prowess, but they also improved the morale of troops who spent long months at sea. (Sometimes dogs were allowed on board for morale, as well.) The Royal Navy carrier HMS Victorious had a black cat named Tiddles as Captain’s Cat who traveled over 30, 000 miles at sea. Tiddles is credited for the British tradition that black cats are lucky.

Emmy was a ship cat on the RMS Empress of Ireland. She never missed a trip … until May 28, 1914. On that day, Emmy absolutely refused to board and watched from a shed roof as the ship departed Quebec City. The following morning, the Empress collided with the SS Storstad in heavy fog at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and sank. One thousand were killed. Did Emmy have sixth sense? The world may never know.

One of the most famous of the cats in war was Simon of the HMS Amethyst. Simon was rescued while the ship was in Hong Kong in 1947. He was sickly at first but became an excellent ratter and enjoyed Captain’s bunk privileges. On April 20, 1949, the Amethyst was on its way to relieve the HMS Consort from its guard of the British Consulate during the Chinese Civil War when it was unexpectedly fired upon and the Captain was killed. There were many casualties, and the ship became trapped in the Yangtze River.

During the next several days, battle ensued as the British Navy attempted to free the Amethyst. Simon was missing and presumed KIA but eight days later, the gravely wounded cat dragged himself up on deck and was tended to by corpsmen. He comforted the wounded and resumed ratting, sometimes depositing his trophies on sailor’s bunks or by their boots. The new captain did not like cats and shooed Simon away. One day the captain became ill, so Simon climbed into his bunk and curled up next to him, winning the captain’s heart in the process. In July of 1949, the Amethyst was finally able to escape the Yangtze Incident and Simon became a celebrity. He received so much fan mail that a secretary was assigned to answer it. Upon his return to Surrey, Simon was quarantined before entry to the country. At the shelter he contracted a virus and, probably also due to his war wounds, he succumbed to his illness on November 28, 1949, at only two years of age. Simon is the only cat to have ever received the Dicken Medal for Animal Gallantry and was buried with full Navy honors at Ilford, East London. The entire crew of the Amethyst attended the ceremony. His grave marker reads: “Able Seacat Simon, D.M., R.N.”

Black Cats: The Myth, The Legend, And The Science

One of nature’s prettiest sights is that of a sleek, shiny black cat with deep amber eyes. But as pretty as they are, they don’t come without controversy, and it can be hard to decipher the difference between black cat myths and facts.

One thing is certain, black cats stand out. I have owned many black cats and have never had one with a bad disposition. They are sweet, smart, funny and affectionate.

Black Cat Myths and Facts

Black cat lore is widespread and diverse. Wherever you go, someone has an opinion about black cats. Black cat myths and facts are often confused.

The Egyptians revered all cats as representatives of their goddess Bast (or Bastet). In Celtic mythology a Fairy named Sith takes on the form of a large black cat with a white spot on its chest.

Many superstitious Americans and Europeans have long held the opinion that black cats are unlucky.  This is where a lot of the confusion between black cat myths and facts comes from. During the Middle Ages ignorance assumed that single women who fed stray cats were suspect in witchcraft and that the cats were their “familiars,” or companions in black magic arts. This belief led to massive eradication of black (and other color) cats and gave rise to witch burnings, as well. The purging of cats thus allowed The Plague (Black Death) to wipe out nearly a quarter of the world’s population because the Plague was carried by rats and misguided people eliminated the rat’s enemy.

In contrast, many countries view black cats as being lucky. Great Britain, Russia, and Japan all regard black cats as bringing luck, especially if one crosses your path. In Ireland, however, should a black cat cross your path in the moonlight, you will die in an epidemic. Germany complicates things by believing that if a black cat crosses your path from right to left it brings bad luck, but if it crosses from left to right the luck will be good. Pirates complicated things further by believing that if a black cat walks toward you it is good, but if it walks away from you, your luck will be bad. This belief is the opposite in the U.K.

Seafarers and fishermen generally feel that cats are lucky, but if a cat walks on board a ship and back off, the ship is going to sink. Cruise goers take note!

Scots believe that a stray black cat will bring you prosperity. In Japan a single woman owning a black cat may expect many suitors, while in the English Midlands a black cat is considered to be a good luck wedding present.

English monarch Charles I grieved the loss of his black cat and declared that his luck was gone. The very next day he was arrested for high treason.

Thanks to still misguided beliefs and pranks, most shelters will not adopt out black cats around Halloween for fear of harmful intentions.

 

Famous Black Cats

In life and lore, black cats have made their mark. Some notable black cats are Dr. Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge, Trim, a brave seafaring cat, George W. Bush’s cat, India, Felix the cat, Pluto (Edgar Allan Poe), Salem Saberhagen (Sabrina the Teenaged Witch), and Thackery Binx (Hocus Pocus).

The Science of Black Coats in Cats

Cat Fancier’s Association recognizes twenty two breeds of cats that may be black. The breed known as Bombay is exclusively black. Many black cats have golden eyes because of high melanin pigment content. Black cats come in short, medium and long-haired fur. One of my long haired black cats has white roots and he appears silver if shaved. This color is known as black smoke.

All cats are genetically either red or black or variations thereof. Two melanins account for the color. Eumelanin produces the blacks and browns, and Pheomelanine produces the reds to creams. Both cat parents must carry the black color gene in order to produce a black kitten. Two black cats will almost always have black kittens. The all-time dominant cat coat pattern is agouti, or tabby. In order for a cat to be solid black, it must carry a recessive gene known as non-agouti. Some black cats carry the agouti gene and therefore can be seen to have tabby patterns if they are in the sunlight. If one of the parents carries a red gene, the black coat may appear slightly rusty in bright light. Note that a rusty tint may also indicate a tyrosine deficiency which is required for the creation of eumelanin. Phenylalanine and tyrosine are important to long term neurological function in cats and your veterinarian can check for this deficiency and provide a supplement for your cat.

Should Dog Housemates Be Present for Euthanasia?

Should A Dog Housemate Be Present for Euthanasia of a Companion?

Performing euthanasia is one of the most important things veterinarians can perform to alleviate suffering in dogs. Frequently, clients want to know whether they should bring the dog’s “housemates” (that is, the other furry members of the household) to the procedure. Is it beneficial if a dog or cat witnesses the death of their housemate? We will address this question below.
The choice to put an animal to sleep is often an animal lover’s last act of compassion for their dog. When everything has been done that can be done, and when our dogs are on the verge of suffering beyond our control, euthanasia is a kindness. In fact, the word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek phrase that actually means “good death.” Our dogs are our responsibility, and that includes giving them a peaceful and relatively pain-free life. Their natural demise is usually not going to involve naturally going to sleep and not waking up; unassisted death is rarely so serene. And if an animal is suffering, eventually we owners have to make the decision with their best interests in mind.

Grieving the loss of an animal companion, for most people, begins before the decision. Illness, mental decline, and bodily changes in our dogs signal the end. We see it, and sometimes, so do the other four-legged members of the household. They can frequently sense and perhaps even smell disease. They know something is not right, and they frequently act accordingly; sometimes they nurture the ill and sometimes they ignore them, but their awareness can be uncanny.

How Should Dog Housemates and Euthanasia Be Handled?

The question of whether dogs and cats should be present when a companion is being euthanized is more complicated than previously thought. I interviewed veterinarians and trainers for their experience and perspective. As with any care issue, there are benefits and drawbacks to every approach.

The Negative Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Most veterinarians I interviewed did not particularly embrace the idea of having dog and cat housemates around while putting their companion to sleep. In the home setting, trying to get a vein with a small needle is hard enough without having other animals walking through the scene and trying to see what is going on. One vet interviewed knows of a colleague who sustained a bad bite when the other dog in the house perceived him as hurting the patient. One trainer commented that it would be quite possible for housemates to be aggressive toward the doctor, given the circumstances. Another vet will allow the companions to be there but asks they be put in another room while the actual euthanasia takes place.

Bringing housemates to the veterinary office for euthanasia is not always as peaceful as one might hope. The vet trip can be unnerving in some animals and is more difficult logistically, and who is to say they will not connect the vet’s office with a bad experience (as many animals already do)? Many times, the companion dogs are stressed by the trip and smells of the office, making the events even more upsetting for the dog being euthanized.

The Positive Aspects of Dog Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Some veterinarians perform home euthanasia and do believe that having the housemates present is a good thing. A number of owners believe that witnessing the death eliminates any confusion the housemates might have about where their companion has gone, and propose that it could make the patient more comfortable to have more familiar presences surrounding them in their last moments.

 

How to Housemates React to a Dying or Deceased Dog Companion?

As they experience the sense of death, or perhaps because the patient has become peaceful, and also because they are often very aware of human emotional changes, animal housemates react in varied ways. Some of them sniff the body, some watch and wait, some cry or whine, and others simply walk away with little reaction. If you are extremely upset, your dog may react differently and be more nervous and upset themselves.

Grief in Dog Housemates

Animals mourn in their own ways. Elephants have been known to carry the bones of their departed herd companions for miles, swaying in grief. In my own household I have observed dogs and cats looking for their companions, wandering from room to room, or questioning me with their eyes. In my opinion, dogs are more demonstrative of this type of emotion than cats.

Orange Cats: The Facts and The Legend

Orange cats are real eye-catchers. They range in hue from red to pale yellow and they are prevalent in history and art. Orange tabbies are also described as marmalade or ginger cats. All orange cats are tabbies, but not all tabbies are orange. More on that in a bit.

Orange Cats of Note

Admirers of orange tabbies describe them as mild-tempered, playful, gluttonous, opinionated and affectionate. Every orange tabby I have ever had fits all of those descriptions. They can have short, medium or long hair.
Some famous orange cats in both story and history are Garfield, Morris, Orangey (from Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Milo (and Otis), and Spot (from Star Trek Next Generation). Winston Churchill had an orange cat named Jock who attended cabinet meetings with the Prime Minister. There are many orange tabbies in books and paintings that illustrate the unique attractiveness of these cats

What is a Tabby?

Tabby is a term taken from a striped silk fabric made near Baghdad. Tabby cats all possess the agouti gene, which patterns the fur as tabby.

There are four tabby cat patterns: Mackerel, Classic, Striped and Ticked. Most tabbies have defined “eyeliner” around their eyes and an “M” on their foreheads. A common legend is that a tabby cat jumped into the manger to keep baby Jesus warm and Mary stroked its forehead. Thence forward all tabbies have had Mary’s mark. Various cultures have different legends which shows how much the pattern is revered throughout the world. Eye color in orange cats can vary from yellow to copper to green. In rare instances an almost turquoise with gold flecks has been seen.

So, Where Does the Red-Orange-Yellow Come From?

All cats are either black or red and melanins decide the final color. Eumelanin produces black and brown fur from dark to light shades and pheomelanin makes red to cream shades. Red or orange fur is due to dominant epistasis: one gene changes the expression of another. This actually changes black pigment into orange!

Orange tabbies are 80% male to 20% female because the color depends on what is known as a sex-linked gene. Arnold Plotnik, DVM, has detailed writings annotating the science behind the complicated gene matchups. Basically an orange female must inherit two orange genes. The mother must be either orange, tortie or calico and the father must be orange. The gene that codes for orange must be on the X chromosome in each parent. Since female cats have two X chromosomes, they can carry both eumelanin and pheomelanin, resulting in calico and tortoise patterns. A multicolored female with outstanding stripes is known as a torbie. Should a male cat have a rare calico color, he has an extra X chromosome and is therefore sterile. There may be a white masking gene combined with orange in some cats resulting in orange and white spotted or accented cats. Occasionally black freckles may appear on gums or lips of orange cats. This is known as lentigo and it is usually harmless, but any change in pigmentation should be checked out with your veterinarian in case it is something serious.

What Will You Call Your Orange Cat?

Naming orange cats is always fun. You have the range of pigments or natural elements (copper, red, marmalade, topaz, amber, butter, cream, and rust), or go with names like Penny, Saffron, Sherbet, Goldenrod, Butterscotch, Pineapple, Carmel or Goldie. Get inventive with Phoenix, Goldeneye, Rum Tum Tugger, or stay predictable with Tiger. See our full list of ideas – go to Great Orange Cat Name Ideas. Whatever you call it, your orange cat will not fail to reward you with intelligence, affection and antics.


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Can Cats Get or Give Legionnaires’ Disease?

What is Legionnaires' Disease? Can Cats Get it?

A client called and asked me a very interesting question: “Can my cat or dog get or give Legionnaires' Disease?” They were right to be concerned; this disease, unknown to many, can be fatal. A hotel in Philadelphia, PA was the scene of a strange outbreak of pneumonia in 1976 that brought the disease into medical textbooks. A group of American Army veteran legionnaires were the victims; of the over two thousand attendees who had gathered for a meeting that fateful weekend, 220 one were infected, and 34 died. That incident was the first time that the disease-causing organism Legionella pneumophilia was diagnosed, and it remains a relevant problem in healthcare today.

In August 2015, an outbreak in New York infected over one hundred people and killed ten. The sources of the disease have been traced to a mall, a hotel, and a hospital. Given the severity of the disease, this raises a number of questions. What do we know about Legionnaires' disease? How contagious is it, and can cats get or transmit it?

According to the World Health Organization, Legionella is a gram-negative, non-spore-forming, rod-shaped aerobic bacteria. There are 42 known species of Legionella bacteria. 1976 was not the first time that Legionella was involved in a disease outbreak. In 1968, a less serious form of the disease infected several people in a department of health office in Pontiac, MI. Caused by a different form of the bacteria, it sickened people with flulike symptoms, but there were no deaths. This version, called Pontiac Disease, has an incubation period of one to three days and tends to affect people in their late 20s to 30s. 90% of those exposed to Pontiac Disease will become ill (potentially as the result of a hypersensitivity rather than an infection). Legionnaire's Disease, however, has an incubation period of two days to two weeks and is a threat to people 45 and older as well as those with compromised immune systems. It likely accounts for 4% of all pneumonia cases, and it is believed that approximately five out of every 100 exposed people will contract Legionella pneumophilia. It is thought that 8,000 to 18,000 cases are thought to occur in the United States annually. Identifying Legionella must be done by urinalysis, sputum testing, lung biopsy, or blood test.

OSHA reports that Legionella bacteria occur in nature, usually in small amounts. They can be identified in the ground, ponds, lakes, streams, and in other water sources, but the survival of the bacteria requires warm, stagnant water of 90 to 105 degrees F as well as the presence of other bacteria or protozoa and iron, rust, or scale.

Legionella-related diseases are not spread person-to-person, nor animal-to-animal. The bacteria must be inhaled or aspirated to infect a living thing. Colonization of large numbers of the bacteria most commonly occurs in water heaters, cooling towers, and aquatic systems and as aerosolized mist and vapor. Fountains, whirlpools, spas, showers, and other water sources in hotels, cruise ships, railways, nursing homes, and hospitals are all known sources of Legionella infection. People are most likely to contract Legionnaires away from home in commercial settings or while traveling. Potting soils can also harbor the bacteria, and one known outbreak was even caused when the basement of a bar flooded.

Do Cats Get Legionnaire's Disease?

There has not been a diagnosed case of Legionnaire's Disease in cats (also no cases in dogs). In laboratories, guinea pigs, rats, mice, and marmosets have been purposely infected with Legionella but did not pass it on to other animals in the course of study. Evidence of past infection (confirmed by serum antibody levels) has been discovered in horses and some wild animals, but neither animal reservoir of the bacteria nor transmission between animals has been found. In 1998, one calf died of pneumonia related to Legionella bacteria; the bacteria was found to originate from a hot water system, and no other animals in the herd became ill. It's safe to say, then, that there is little cause for concern regarding the transmission of the disease via household pets. Given both the rarity of Legionnaire's disease and the current evidence on the matter, transmission to and from cats is extremely unlikely and not a cause for concern.

More information on Contagious Diseases of Cats

Should Cat Housemates Be Present for Euthanasia?

Performing euthanasia is one of the most important things veterinarians can perform to alleviate suffering in animals. Frequently, clients want to know whether they should bring the cat's “housemates” (that is, the other furry members of the household) to the procedure. Is it beneficial if a dog or cat witnesses the death of their housemate? We will address this question below.
The choice to put an animal to sleep is often an animal lover's last act of compassion for their cat. When everything has been done that can be done, and when our cats are on the verge of suffering beyond our control, euthanasia is a kindness. In fact, the word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek phrase that actually means “good death.” Our cats are our responsibility, and that includes giving them a peaceful and relatively pain-free life. Their natural demise is usually not going to involve naturally going to sleep and not waking up; unassisted death is rarely so serene. And if an animal is suffering, eventually we owners have to make the decision with their best interests in mind.

Grieving the loss of an animal companion, for most people, begins before the decision. Illness, mental decline, and bodily changes in our cats signal the end. We see it, and sometimes, so do the other four-legged members of the household. They can frequently sense and perhaps even smell disease. They know something is not right, and they frequently act accordingly; sometimes they nurture the ill and sometimes they ignore them, but their awareness can be uncanny.

How Should Cat Housemates and Euthanasia Be Handled?

The question of whether dogs and cats should be present when a companion is being euthanized is more complicated than previously thought. I interviewed veterinarians and trainers for their experience and perspective. As with any care issue, there are benefits and drawbacks to every approach.

The Negative Aspects of Cat Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Most veterinarians I interviewed did not particularly embrace the idea of having dog and cat housemates around while putting their companion to sleep. In the home setting, trying to get a vein with a small needle is hard enough without having other animals walking through the scene and trying to see what is going on. One vet interviewed knows of a colleague who sustained a bad bite when the other dog in the house perceived him as hurting the patient. One trainer commented that it would be quite possible for housemates to be aggressive toward the doctor, given the circumstances. Another vet will allow the companions to be there but asks they be put in another room while the actual euthanasia takes place.

Bringing housemates to the veterinary office for euthanasia is not always as peaceful as one might hope. The vet trip can be unnerving in some animals and is more difficult logistically, and who is to say they will not connect the vet's office with a bad experience (as many animals already do)? Many times, the companion dogs are stressed by the trip and smells of the office, making the events even more upsetting for the cat being euthanized.

The Positive Aspects of Cat Housemates Being Present During Euthanasia

Some veterinarians perform home euthanasia and do believe that having the housemates present is a good thing. A number of owners believe that witnessing the death eliminates any confusion the housemates might have about where their companion has gone, and propose that it could make the patient more comfortable to have more familiar presences surrounding them in their last moments.

How to Housemates React to a Dying or Deceased Cat Companion?

As they experience the sense of death, or perhaps because the patient has become peaceful, and also because they are often very aware of human emotional changes, animal housemates react in varied ways. Some of them sniff the body, some watch and wait, some cry or whine, and others simply walk away with little reaction. If you are extremely upset, your dog may react differently and be more nervous and upset themselves.

Grief in Dog and Cat Housemates

Animals mourn in their own ways. Elephants have been known to carry the bones of their departed herd companions for miles, swaying in grief. In my own household I have observed dogs and cats looking for their companions, wandering from room to room, or questioning me with their eyes. In my opinion, dogs are more demonstrative of this type of emotion than cats.

Crazy Cats: Can Cats be Mentally Ill?

Can cats have mental illness? Can cats actually be crazy? My exotic cat, Xiao Mei, was rescued as a kitten after having spent days in the top of a tree. The poor thing must have been terrified, yet the truth is, she prefers to be way up high. She gets on top of a door and lets her four legs hang down like a lion in a tree. She never has purred, and she despises the other cats. Another of my rescue cats hisses and spits a lot, even when he is purring. Where he learned such language is beyond me, but that is all it is: noise. I know Siamese who yowl their heads off and tortoiseshell cats with a “tortie ‘tude” who just can’t seem to calm down. Are they crazy? Not at all; these are breed-specific characteristics encoded to some degree in each cat’s respective DNA. Sometimes, when they have no safe and acceptable outlet for their instincts, they tend to get into trouble. They need their space, entertainment, a safe place, and high perches to truly be happy.

However, can cats actually be “crazy” or “mentally ill”? The answer is YES.

What is Mental Illness?

According to The Mayo Clinic, “mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions: disorders that affect mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.”

Can Cats be “Mad”?

Laurel Braitman, Ph.D, wrote her book Animal Madness in 2014 using her observations based on personal experience and scientific research. “There is not a branch of veterinary science, ethology (the science of animal behavior), neuroscience, or wildlife ecology dedicated to investigating whether animals can be mentally ill,” she writes. “[H]umans and other animals are more similar than many of us might think when it comes to mental states and behaviors gone awry: experiencing churning fear, for example, in situations that don’t call for it, feeling unable to shake paralyzing sadness, or being haunted by a ceaseless compulsion to wash our hands or paws.” Rather than condemn anthropomorphism (the act of assigning human traits to animal behavior), she recognizes it as a way to understand how animals relate to our human selves. Dr. Braitman states: “Madness is a mirror that needs normalcy to exist. This distinction can be a murky one.” Indeed.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder In Cats

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a behavioral disorder in which a cat engages in repeated, exaggerated behaviors that do not seem to have a real purpose. These include over-grooming to the point of irritation or exposure of bare skin, pacing, vocalizing, overeating, sucking or chewing on fabric or plastic, to name just a few examples. Some breeds seem to be more prone to OCD, especially Siamese or other Asian breeds.

Behaviors usually have a reason, however, and your veterinarian will likely want to rule out physiological problems before diagnosing your cat with a mental illness. The doctor will consider parasites, fungi, bacterial infection, allergies, skin cancer, and pain as possible factors. Tests should be performed to check for lead poisoning, thyroid problems, hypertension, vitamin deficiencies, liver and kidney disorders, and thiamin deficiency. Does the cat have brain lesions or trauma? Are there neurological problems such as epilepsy or a tumor? Rupture of a spinal disc or nerve inflammation may be causing significant pain in your cat, and hearing loss may cause vocalization. Blood screens, fecal and skin tests, food elimination, and many other avenues of exploration may solve the puzzle of your cat’s behavior.

Spaying and neutering should also be considered as a possible solution for some concerns. Regulating feeding times, eliminating inconsistencies and distressing stimuli in the household, and making play, exercise, and social time priorities can alleviate the problems. An increase in dietary roughage or a change in diet may help stop fabric sucking and chewing in particular.

Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome

FHS in cats is a rare disorder that can surface in cats of any age, but it usually affects mature cats. This is a rare condition that causes the cat to react to physical stimuli that should not cause pain. Also called “rippling skin disorder,” the skin and muscles on the cat’s back move in a distinctive way when the pain hits. It seems to be more prevalent in Asian breeds such as Siamese. I once had a Siamese that would suddenly burst into a “cat fit,” tear around the house, and even empty his anal glands on the way when an episode began. According to Dr. Alexander de Lahunta, DVM and professor emeritus of anatomy at Cornell University, these symptoms may be the result of a seizure disorder. Dr. de Lahunta describes additional signs such as salivation, wild vocalization, and uncontrolled urination. Other signs might be similar to OCD behavior described above. Medical treatment may include amitriptyline or fluoxetine, phenobarbital, prednisolone, or Gabapentin. Scheduling feeding and play times may help, as well as avoiding scratching Kitty’s back so as not to set those muscles spasming. Sometimes affected cats will try to attack the pain, which can result in other distressing behaviors. If you remember the news story of the family that called 911 because their cat had them trapped in the bedroom, that cat was eventually diagnosed with FHS and was successfully treated.

Ebola Virus: Can Your Cat Get It?

Understanding Ebola Virus in Cats

Can cats get or transmit the Ebola virus? One can scarcely turn on the news today without hearing the latest frightening statistics about the 2014 African Ebola epidemic. WHO (World Health Organization) predicts that before it is contained, 20,000 people will have been infected and it will cost 600 million dollars to fight this outbreak. To date there is no cure, but there are promising new treatments and vaccines being developed to battle the disease that was first identified in 1976.

What Is Ebola?

According to comprehensive Center for Disease Control (CDC) studies, Ebola is a virus or group of viruses that originated in central Africa, possibly in birds. The main reservoir for the virus now is thought to be African fruit bats.

In people the virus causes headaches, muscle and joint pain, fever, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting and then progresses to kidney failure and the hemorrhagic stage when the victim begins bleeding internally and externally.

Among primates, including humans, the disease is 50 to 90% fatal.

What Creatures Are at Risk For Ebola Infection?

Ebola is a zoonotic disease, which means it can be passed between species. The most adversely affected group is primates, including gorillas, chimpanzees, monkeys and humans. Other animals known to have been naturally infected are the African fruit bats, antelope, porcupines, rodents, pigs and dogs. There have been no documented infections in felines at this time.

How Is Ebola Spread?

Ebola is spread in several ways. An important study done by CDC infectious disease experts and veterinarians following the 2001-2002 Ebola outbreak concluded that consumption of infected meat was one avenue. Gorillas and other primates kill and eat infected animals, African hunters trade in "bush meat" and people who consume that can become infected.

An important way Ebola is spread amongst humans is by direct contact with body fluids such as urine, saliva, vomit, feces, semen and blood from infected individuals.

Objects such as needles may also be contaminated with infected fluids.

How Do Cats Get Ebola?

To our knowledge, cats do not get the Ebola Virus. Dogs and other animals pick up Ebola from consuming infected meat, direct contact with infectious fluids such as urine and feces. Dogs and how they get it – dogs are kept as pets and for hunting in Africa but are not typically fed, therefore they scavenge and ingest infected meat or residue from infected people. The very detailed CDC study found evidence of infection in dogs by testing hundreds of blood samples for antibodies.

What are Symptoms of Ebola in Cats?

Cats don't get Ebola virus to our knowledge and therefore get no symptoms.

Even in dogs – the CDC concluded that infected dogs are asymptomatic (do not develop symptoms) from Ebola. During the initial time of their infection, however, they can spread the disease to humans and other animals through licking, biting, grooming, saliva, tears, urine, and feces. However, once the virus is cleared from the dog it is no longer contagious. Dogs do not die from Ebola infections.

Can My Cat Get Ebola?

Based on research from the CDC, the answer is no.

No, your cat can not get the Ebola virus. In the United States and areas of the world not contiguous to the affected countries in central Africa, the chances of contracting Ebola are extremely low.

The virus is spread mainly in the current prevalent areas where the lifestyle is far different from ours. There is no known source of infection outside of affected areas in Africa. In our country, and most countries with more stringent rules concerning food production and sanitation, our pets should be protected as well as we are from this type of catastrophic disease.

I hope this gives you more information about the Ebola Virus in Cats.


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Dr. Google vs the Vet: A Dog Debate

Dr. Google vs the Vet: A Dog Debate

The other day I actually had a client tell me that their veterinarian was "Dr. Google" and they looked up all their dog's healthcare online. Don't get me wrong – I love Google! I use it every day to look up all sorts of things: news, places, stock prices, quotes, definitions…you name it, I Google it. As far as searching goes it's a great tool, but as with all tools, it must be used wisely.

Have you ever noticed the numbers at the bottom of the Google results page?
They go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on. These indicate pages of information, and depending on what you search, they are seemingly endless.

The confounding thing about all those pages is that the articles on them represent countless points of view from hundreds of sources all over the world. You have to choose which ones are correct or most helpful to you.

The Dangers of Doctor Google

Google has articles from respected and proven resources, but it also has bogus and even dangerous advice. Nothing is stopping some writer from telling you that applying a "cow patty" to a wound is the right thing to do, but don't count on it actually working.

Be discerning in the sources of your answers. If the answer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Blogs, chat rooms, and Facebook content can be based on opinion with very little fact or medical knowledge involved. If you find a solution that sounds fairly odd, do more research before trying it out. Be informed, but don't be gullible.

I once had a mysterious radiating pain that Dr. Google convinced me was my gall bladder. I went to my doctor and explained the exact symptoms I was feeling. I didn't mention the online diagnosis. He immediately examined my neck, ordered an MRI, and found that the problem was two bulging discs in my cervical spine (which, by the way, is nowhere near my gall bladder).

I've seen misinformation on the causes and treatment of many different dog problems online. I've actually seen sources on the Internet (at the hands of the owner) encourage clients to do things that can actually harm their dogs or even kill them. A puppy recently died of parvovirus because the owners were treating the dog at home with a concoction they found on the Internet. Proper medical treatment by a veterinarian would likely have treated the puppy effectively and saved its life.

Here is another example of how Dr. Google can do harm: a client read an article on how to give their own vaccines to their dog. The dog owner picked up vaccines at their local tractor and farm supply and proceeded to give shots. She didn't store the vaccines properly; they sat in her car for a couple days before she administered them. Her dog had a very bad reaction that ended up being life-threatening. The owner didn't have a vet to turn to and ended up calling an emergency clinic. Those ended up being very expensive shots.

Working in a clinic now, I know better than to give my own shots. Many veterinarians won't even administer vaccinations to their own dogs at home. As our clinic owner puts it, "I want everything I need if there is a reaction when I give a shot. I always bring the animals here." It just goes to show that there is a ton of information on the internet but it isn't always the best to act on for your dog.

How to Get Great Information for Your Dog's Health

Your best source of qualified information in a health situation concerning your dog is your veterinarian. An article or two from Google is not going to substitute for all those years of study and research in veterinary school. Every physiological reaction in an animal is tied in some way to another system, and a computer just can't make those determinations.

Several years ago, my veterinarian was examining one of my dogs before administering routine vaccines. He found a growth in her belly that probably would have taken her life. If I had given my own vaccines, there would have been no exam and she would not have had the lifesaving surgery she needed.