Oh, you're a vet?!?!

-ramblings from a cranky vet.

Archive for the tag “ask the vet”

The Feline Upper Respiratory Infection: It snot an easy fix

Over the last few months, I have received multiple questions related to feline upper respiratory infections. Rather than address them separately, I decided to give you a nice summary here, so pay attention. It’s a complicated and frustrating problem for vets and people owned by cats alike. Here’s why.

What are the common symptoms of feline upper respiratory infections?
-sneezing
-coughing
-discharge from eyes and nose
-conjunctivitis
-oral and nasal ulcerations
-fever
-loss of appetite
-loss of energy

What organisms cause these infections?
– there are several, which is part of the reason they are so difficult to manage
feline herpes virus (rhinotracheitis)
– only survives for 18 hours outside host
– many infected cats remain carriers for life
– carriers may intermittently shed later in life at times of stress/illness
– carriers are sources of infections for other cats
– since it is a virus, antibiotics are not effective
– some say approx 1/3 of all cats are carriers of feline herpes virus
calici virus
– most cats do finally clear the virus after several months
– many do remain contagious for months even though the illness has improved
– some remain carriers for life
– the virus can remain active for up to 10 days outside the host cat
– only bleach, not normal laundering, will kill it
– since it is a virus, antibiotics are not effective
– these two viruses account for a majority of infections, close to 90%
– don’t worry- these viruses are only infectious to other cats

Other possible causes of feline upper respiratory infections include:
– mycoplasma
– chlamydophila (formerly known as chlamydia)
– bordetella
-these account for generally less than 10% of feline upper respiratory infections
-these can be responsive to antibiotics, such as doxycycline, however, doxycycline can not be safely used in young, growing animals (such as kittens), complicating the treatment even further

More crappy news:
– infections may be caused by multiple organisms, which can obviously complicate treatment/recovery
– to further complicate it, there is no simple test to determine which organism is causing the illness, and some cats are infected simultaneously with multiple organisms

OK, so how do these illnesses spread?
-airborne (sneezing, coughing)
-fomites (objects carrying the organism such as bedding, toys, grooming utensils, and your clothes and hands that have been contaminated)
-crowded conditions (such as shelters and breeders) increase the likelihood of outbreaks
-stress or illness may induce a carrier cat (herpes virus) to show signs or begin shedding again

So, why are these illnesses so common?
– they are highly contagious
– 90% are viral, so there is no direct treatment available except for time
– carrier cats with no symptoms of illness can shed the infectious organisms for months
(calicivirus) or years (herpesvirus)
– stress (changes in household including new people, pets, construction, or moving) or other
illnesses may cause carrier cats to begin intermittently shedding for weeks (herpes virus)
– some organisms (calicivirus, remember?) can last for days outside of the host on bedding, toys,
etc, and aren’t deactivated by non-bleach detergents

Why are they so hard to treat?
– weren’t you paying attention?
– 90% of them are caused by viruses so like the common cold or flu, there is no effective direct treatment other than nursing care and time
– there is no simple testing to determine what is causing the infection, so treatment has to be aimed at the most likely causes and the symptoms
– there is no easy way to determine if and when a cat has ceased shedding the organism and is no longer contagious
– generally the time of exposure to illness is 2-7 days, so in crowded situations, many cats can get sick very quickly
– active illness generally lasts 7-10 days regardless of treatment
– upper respiratory infections can result in secondary pneumonia, which can be life threatening

Well this sucks. How can I prevent an upper respiratory infection in my household?
– short answer, you can’t
– many cats become carriers (therefore infected and/or contagious) before they reach your house
– many cats that are carriers/contagious are not showing any symptoms of illness at the time of
adoption
– many cats that are carriers/contagious remain so for weeks, months, or even a lifetime, even in
the absence of obvious symptoms of illness
– there is no simple test to determine if your cat is infected, contagious, or a carrier of an
upper respiratory infection

Well that sucks too. So what can I do to prevent infection?
– short answer, again, you really can’t (have you been paying attention?)… but…
– vaccinate- herpes and calicivirus are part of the feline “distemper” vaccination and vaccinated cats are less likely to develop illness if exposed or may have less severe symptoms if they do become sick
– isolate new cats (not just obviously sick ones)- just remember, some cats are carriers for months or for life, and do not show obvious signs of illness, so this will not be 100% effective
(this is also a good idea in general- intestinal parasites are also very contagious, so until you have had an exam by a veterinarian and a stool check for parasites, you should never allow new cats to come in direct contact with other cats in the house, especially sharing litter boxes)
– wash all materials in bleach that have come into contact with a sick cat (not entirely practical or possible, considering your carpet, furniture, and hands are likely included in that)
– try to minimize stress and be aware stress or illness may cause a carrier cat to become sick again and/or begin shedding the infectious organism again, for weeks or months

Well crap. My cat has an upper respiratory infection… what should I do?
– If you have multiple cats, separate the sick cat as soon as you notice symptoms. Even though this will not likely prevent the spread of infection at that point, it may help minimize it.
– Make sure all other cats’ vaccinations are up to date.
– Have the sick cat examined by a veterinarian, especially if there is lethargy, loss of appetite, severe congestion or conjunctivitis, or coughing. While the underlying organism may not be directly treatable, many of the symptoms can be managed with medications such as anti-histamines, decongestants, eye medications, immune supplements, and appetite stimulants. Your vet may also be able to give you tips about home care (such as steamy shower therapy for congestion.) It is also smart to determine if there are signs of secondary pneumonia, which may require antibiotic treatment to prevent severe or even fatal infections. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems, are especially susceptible to severe complications due to upper respiratory infections.
– Never give any over the counter medications to your cat without a veterinarian’s recommendation. Many over the counter medications are toxic to cats. Also, cats and esp kittens require very small doses of the medications they can safely take.

So it sounds like there really isn’t any way to be positive my cat will never be exposed to an upper respiratory infection… is there any good news?
– Yes! Most cats with upper respiratory infections are able to successfully overcome the signs of illness and do not have any obvious long term health problems. But remember, some may remain carriers for months or even a lifetime. So, although respiratory infections are almost impossible to contain and prevent, in otherwise healthy cats, they are usually nothing more than annoying outbreaks (much like a common cold or flu in people) that do not impact the cat’s overall quality of life in the long run. What makes them different from the common cold and flu is the fact that many cats remain chronically infected carriers for months or years even after recovering from the signs of the infection.

I told you. It snot fun.

Think of it like this… #2

Why be confused when your indoor cat occasionally scratches your furniture?

We keep them in a house to keep them safe but that means their entire world is inside however many square feet you live in…

They are cats. Scratching things is what they do. So give them lots of other acceptable options or you are just setting them up to fail. (And you’ll have to keep replacing sofas.)

Think of it like that.

*”think of it like this” (TM) is a regularly irregular purely opinion-driven piece of thought about pets and their owners pointing out the seemingly obvious*

Think of it like this…

Why be surprised when bringing home a new dog or cat creates conflict among your pets?

Wouldn’t adding a complete stranger to your household kinda freak you out?

Think of it like that.

*”think of it like this” (TM) is a regularly irregular purely opinion-driven piece of thought about pets and their owners pointing out the seemingly obvious*

Q&A: July 16, 2011- Ticks- They Suck!

Yes, kids, it’s time for another installment of Ask the Crankyvet. Gather round.

Our first question comes from @sizah1:
How about tick removal, and tick identification?

This is a fantastic question. Well done.
I generally try to address multiple questions in each blog, but I am going to dedicate this entire blog to this topic. Why? Because it’s important. Also, I am The Cranky Vet and I say so.

The key to tick removal is speed and caution. Most diseases transmitted by ticks (such as Lyme’s disease) require that the tick be attached for at least 24-48 hours. One easy way to minimize the possibility of your pets acquiring these illnesses is to do a daily tick check, especially if you live in areas with high tick prevalence or engage in outdoor activities such as hiking or camping where ticks may be present. The most common places you will find ticks include the feet, head, ears, and neck, but I recommend running your hands over the entire body so that none would be overlooked.

When removing ticks, be careful not to expose yourself to possible disease exposure (though the risk is low) by either wearing gloves or using tweezers or specially made tick removal tools, which can be purchased at major pet store chains at a minimal cost. Lots of “old school” methods have been described as well, such as applying alcohol, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish, and lit matches. These are not encouraged due to speculation that they may either cause irritation or even speed up the process of disease transmission from the tick to the pet. One such method (that I personally have employed when necessary with no negative results over the years) is to apply a dollop of liquid soap to a cotton ball and apply to the tick for a minute, effectively smothering the tick, which generally results in it detaching from the pet. Again, it is preferred that tweezers or a removal tool are used in a swift lift and slight twist motion to dislodge it. You want to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible and pull steadily but surely. Try not to squeeze the tick when removing. If the head is accidentally left attached, it will dislodge on its own but may result in local irritation or swelling for a few days, which is generally self-limiting and not harmful.

Ticks can transmit many different diseases. Most people have heard of Lyme disease, but Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are other concerns. In fact, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever is the most prevalent disease transmitted from ticks to humans. Ticks can also cause tick paralysis in pets, which is often resolved quickly one all of the ticks have been removed. Here is a link with more information about these diseases, their regional prevalence, and which ticks are responsible for their transmission. The information about the illnesses relates to human exposure. I will address these illnesses in pets later in this blog.

Generally, ticks require 3 separate blood meals during separate life stages (egg, larvae, nymph, adult) during their average 2 year lifespan. The larvae and nymphs require a blood meal in order to be able to successfully molt to the next stage. It is the final life stage and meal, or the adult tick, that attaches to pets and humans. Adult ticks are generally most active in the fall but can survive through the spring without a host. Interestingly, after the males feed, they generally detach and die.

The easiest way to prevent exposure from these harmful illnesses that ticks can transmit, as well as prevent your pet from a tick infestation is to use one of the many safe and effective monthly preventatives. My favorite is Frontline, though there are many on the market. Some may be only available through your vet’s offices, but this is because they are the most recent, well-studied, and safe products available. Always check the label for safety instructions based on size, age, and type of pet. This is especially important when shopping for products for cats as many insecticides are marketed solely for dogs and may be highly toxic to cats.

This is a concise and informative summary about the common tick diseases affecting dogs in the U.S.

Also a concern is a disorder called “tick paralysis” which is caused by a neurotoxin secreted by the female tick while attached. Several varieties of ticks may cause this condition. It is most commonly seen after 5-7 days of attachment which is why early detection and removal of ticks from your pet is so important. Unlike the other diseases mentioned, once the ticks are removed, the condition does not continue to progress and usually resolves.

There are different types of ticks which are more prevalent in different areas of the country. Not all ticks spread the same diseases: Here is a quick guide to the most common varieties of ticks, how to identify them, where they are prevalent, and what diseases they are associated with transmitting. The information about disease symptoms on the following link applies to humans. Pets may exhibit different symptoms and often do not generally develop the famous rash or target lesions like humans do when exposed to Lyme’s disease. It is important to talk to your vet if you are concerned about tick exposure in your pets. It is especially helpful if you can identify the type of tick or have your vet examine the tick if possible to determine what exposure risks may be present for your pets. Not all ticks spread all diseases. Different areas of the country have different prevalences of tick types and disease concerns.
I believe these cards are available from this website for download or possibly even ordering for wallet sized guides.

Finally, this is a link to a map to the prevalence of reported tick-borne diseases and heartworms in dogs in the U.S.

Bottom line? While ticks can certainly be a nuisance and even a threat to the health of pets and humans, regular body checks, rapid removal, use of preventatives, and discussions with your local health professionals can minimize the risk and lead to a safer and more enjoyable summer and fall with your pets outdoors.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for your interest and stay tuned for more Q&A from me, The Cranky Vet, (when I feel like it of course.)

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: