Travel – Airplane Travel with your Cat

I’m planning an airplane trip and would like to take my cat with me. What arrangements are necessary?

Cats travel on planes every day. Although some highly publicized mishaps occur on rare occasions, most can be avoided if some simple precautions are followed.

It is crucial to contact your airline well in advance of your trip and discuss travelling requirements for your cat to avoid a last minute crisis.

“Take direct flights whenever possible, and try to avoid connections and layovers.”

Take direct flights whenever possible, and try to avoid connections and layovers. Sometimes, this is easier to achieve if the travel occurs during the week. Avoid the busiest travel times so airline personnel will have extra time to handle your cat. The well-being of your cat could be a source of concern if the baggage connection between flights should be missed.

Determine whether the airline has requirements for “acclimation.” In the event that you are unable to book a direct flight, your cat and carrier may be left outside the plane for a period of time. To avoid liability on their part, some airlines require a letter from your veterinarian stating that your pet is acclimated to a minimum or maximum temperature. It is important to find out if the airline requires that your veterinarian give a precise acclimation temperature, such as 20°F (-7°C) for a specified period of time.

Verify the airline’s policy regarding baggage liability, especially with respect to pets. In some cases, your general baggage liability coverage will include your pet. Check your ticket for liability limits or, better yet, speak directly with the airline. If you are sending an economically valuable pet to another person via air, you may need additional liability insurance.

“Some airlines will allow one pet in coach and one in first class, with some provisions.”

Some airlines will allow one pet in coach and one in first class, with some provisions. You will need to book in advance with the airline if you plan to travel with your cat in the cabin. Your cat must remain within its carrier during the flight, and must not disturb your fellow passengers. There may be an additional cost for this privilege. Before purchasing it, check the cage dimensions and airline requirements so that there won’t be a problem stowing the carrier beneath the seat. Some airlines require that the pet be able to stand upright in the carrier. A collapsible fabric carrier is suitable for this situation.

Are there any special veterinary considerations?

Have your cat examined by your veterinarian in advance of the trip, especially if it has been more than a few months since the last health check. This is especially important for senior cats (over seven years of age). Travel by plane can pose a risk for cats with heart or kidney disease, or with some other pre-existing medical problems. Some shortfaced breeds such as Himalayans, Persians and Exotic Shorthairs can run into respiratory difficulty if they are in a confined carrier or are placed in the cargo compartment of the airplane, especially in hot or humid weather. If any of these concerns apply to your cat, be sure to discuss the advisability of airplane travel with your veterinarian.

Purchase any pet supplies that you might need in advance of your trip. These include heartworm and flea preventive or any prescription medications that your cat may require. If your cat is on a specific diet, especially a therapeutic diet, you need to ensure that it will be available at your destination or take along a sufficient supply.

“If you are travelling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official.”

Be sure that you have written proof of current vaccinations, especially rabies vaccination, and a valid health certificate. These documents cannot be obtained “after the fact.” You must be able to present them on demand. If you are travelling to a foreign country, you may need to provide a specific international health certificate signed by a government-approved veterinarian or other government official. The specific requirements vary by country, either within North America or to other continents. It is your responsibility to ensure that you meet all criteria for your chosen destination. Some countries have specific requirements for blood testing or anti-parasitic treatment that must be performed within a certain time interval prior to the trip. The specific requirements can be obtained from the consulate’s office, or by searching government websites for the country of interest. It may take several days to weeks to get test results or obtain the appropriate paperwork, so be sure to research your destination’s requirements prior to travel. You should also inquire about any quarantine requirements for your cat, especially if you are travelling to an island country.

How should I prepare my cat for the flight?

Your cat should always travel with an updated identification tag attached to a collar or harness. The tag should contain contact information in case the cat escapes from its carrier. You should include a leash for secure restraint in case the cat needs to be taken out of the carrier. Make sure that the carrier has been clearly marked with some form of permanent identification, including your name, telephone number, flight schedule, destination, and the telephone numbers of someone at the point of destination. For additional security, all pets that travel should be microchipped prior to travel (and you should take a copy of the number with you for reference). For further information, see our handout “Microchipping”.

“Do not tranquilize or sedate your cat unless you have discussed this with your veterinarian.”

Do not tranquilize or sedate your cat unless you have discussed this with your veterinarian. Cats do not tolerate some medicines well and giving over-the-counter or prescription pharmaceuticals can be dangerous, even fatal. Altitude and pressurized cabins can create additional stress on your cat. Your veterinarian will advise you on safe medications if you feel that your cat needs to be sedated for travel. In order to determine the most appropriate dose, your veterinarian may recommend giving a “test dose” of the medication to determine its effect in advance of the trip.

Avoid feeding your cat within 4-6 hours of the flight. You should provide fresh water until boarding time. Take along a supply of drinking water to provide your cat with fresh water during layovers and waits. Give your cat fresh water as soon as you arrive at your destination. If you have a senior cat with marginal kidney function, it is important that it not be deprived of water, even for a few hours. There are collapsible water containers that should fit in your cat’s carrier and can be left filled during the flight. Discuss this with your veterinarian. In these cases, try to book a direct flight with no layovers.

What should I look for in a travel cat carrier?

Your cat’s travel carrier will be its “home” for much of your trip. It’s important to choose the right carrier for its comfort. Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • The carrier should provide sufficient room for the cat to stand up and turn around easily, but not so large that the cat can be tossed about inside during turbulence. Remember that airlines have special requirements for onboard carriers so be sure to check with them before your destination.
  • The walls of the carrier should be strong enough to prevent the sides from being crushed. The flooring of the cage should not allow urine to leak through the bottom. You can place a disposable absorbent puppy-training pad or an underpad designed for bedridden people with bladder control problems in the bottom of the carrier.
  • The carrier should have good ventilation. Mesh panels and numerous holes or slits are characteristics of a good quality carrier.
  • The carrier must have sturdy handles for baggage personnel to use.
  • The carrier should have a water tray that is accessible from the outside so that water can be added when needed.
  • Try to familiarize your cat with the travel carrier before you leave for your trip. Give your cat access to the carrier both with the door open and closed. This will help eliminate some of your cat’s stress during the trip.

Pet stores, breeders, and kennels usually sell carriers that meet these requirements. Some airlines recommend specific carriers that they prefer to use. Check with the airline to see if they have other requirements or recommendations.

What about a carry-on kennel?

Cats may be allowed in the passenger cabin as long as the carrier will fit under the seat. Soft, airline-approved, carry-on kennels, sometimes called Sherpa bags, are available. Be sure to check with your airline regarding their specific carry-on policies and requirements. There may be an extra charge to take your cat in the passenger cabin.

What arrangements should I make at the destination site?

  • Be sure that your hotel or destination will allow cats. There are many internet sites and travel guidebooks with this type of information. Do not try to “sneak” a pet into a hotel. This will not only result in your being given an financial penalty or asked to leave, but also gives a negative impression of pet owners in general. If we want more hotels to accept our pets as guests, we must obey the rules and be sure that we are exemplary guests.
  • Bring your own litter pan and food and water bowls for the hotel room.

“Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door so that housekeeping will not inadvertently let your cat escape.”

  • Place a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your hotel door so that housekeeping will not inadvertently let your cat escape. Plan to have your room cleaned only when you are present and your cat is safely in its carrier.
  • It is probably best to put the cat in the carrier or confined inside a closed bathroom whenever you plan to leave the room.
  • Should your cat get lost, contact the local animal control officer immediately. If your cat is microchipped, advise them of its number so that you can be contacted directly.

Remember, advance planning is vital to making the trip an enjoyable experience for both you and your cat. By applying a few common sense rules, you can keep your traveling cat safe and sound.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Ernest Ward, DVM

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Toxoplasma

General Information

ƒ Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoal parasite capable of infecting any warm-blooded animal, including humans. ƒ

  • Cats are the only species which can shed one of the infective stages of the parasite (oocysts) in their stool. In all other animals (and humans) the parasite forms microscopic cysts in the tissues which can only infect another animal or person if the tissue (such as muscle) is ingested. ƒ Cats are the only species which can shed one of the infective stages of the parasite (oocysts) in their stool. In all other animals (and humans) the parasite forms microscopic cysts in the tissues which can only infect another animal or person if the tissue (such as muscle) is ingested
  • In all species, Toxoplasma infection usually causes no illness, but sometimes it causes mild signs like fever and swollen lymph nodes. In immunocompromised (e.g. HIV/AIDS, cancer or transplant patients) or pregnant animals and people, the infection may be more serious.
  • There are three important ways of transmitting Toxoplasma:
  • Eating undercooked meat containing Toxoplasma tissue cysts. 
  • Ingesting Toxoplasma oocysts from cat feces, either directly or in contaminated food, water or soil. 
  • If a woman or female animal is infected for the first time while pregnant, the parasite may also infect the fetus.
  • The risk of contracting Toxoplasma infection (toxoplasmosis) from cleaning the litter box of a house cat is very small, especially if a few simple precautions such as appropriate hand washing are observed.

How Common is Toxoplasma?

  • ƒ Toxoplasma is one of the most widespread zoonotic infections in the world. ƒ
  • It has been estimated that 225 000 cases of clinical toxoplasmosis (i.e. with signs of sickness) occur annually in the USA, and that 50% of these are due to transmission from contaminated food or infected meat. ƒ
  • In North America, about 1/4 of the population has probably been exposed to Toxoplasma. Most people don’t even know they’ve been exposed and will never be sick from the disease. Cultural habits affecting how food is handled and cooked, how cats are handled, and personal hygiene can significantly affect the risk of exposure. ƒ
  • In North America, about 1/4 of the population has probably been exposed to Toxoplasma. Most people don’t even know they’ve been exposed and will never be sick from the disease. Cultural habits affecting how food is handled and cooked, how cats are handled, and personal hygiene can significantly affect the risk of exposure. ƒ
  • Between 40 to 400 children born in Canada each year are infected with Between 40 to 400 children born in Canada each year are infected with Toxoplasma Toxoplasma before birth. before birth. ƒ
  • The prevalence of oocyst shedding in cats is very low (0-1%), even though at least 15-40% of cats have been infected with Toxoplasma at some point. This means very few cats at any one time are actually able to pass their infection on to people. Infection is more common in pets that go outside, hunt, or are fed raw meat.

How Is Toxoplasma Spread?

  • The risk of transmission of Toxoplasma from a household cat is small, and can be easily controlled by good hygiene when handling litter and stool. ƒ
  • Contamination of water sources and soil with the stool of wild or domestic cats is more difficult to control, and can lead to infection due to ingestion of oocysts on unwashed, uncooked vegetables or in contaminated water. Insects may also transfer infectious Toxoplasma oocysts from cat feces to food, water, or utensils. ƒ
  • Contact with contaminated soil or sand, such as in a garden or a sandbox, may also be associated with Toxoplasma infection. ƒ
  • Eating undercooked meat, especially from free-range pigs, sheep, goats or wild game, is one of the most common ways of contracting Toxoplasma.

What Does Toxoplasma Do?

  • ƒ If a person or another animal (other than a cat) eats Toxoplasma oocysts or tissue cysts, the parasite takes the form of tachyzoites. Tachyzoites can travel through the tissues anywhere in the body, multiplying as they go. Eventually the tachyzoites slow down and stop multiplying, and form cysts within the remains of the last cell they invaded, often a muscle cell. The cysts persist for the life of the person or animal, and usually don’t cause any problems. However, if the body’s immune system is weakened, the organisms in the cysts may reactivate and start multiplying and spreading again. Usually the damage done by the spreading tachyzoites doesn’t cause any problems, but if they get out of control the effects can be much worse. The organs most commonly damaged are the lungs, liver, brain and eyes, but any organ can be affected.
  • If a cat eats either oocysts or tissue cysts, the parasite does two things – some of the organisms multiply in the intestine to form more oocysts, which are passed in the cat’s stool. This process only happens in cats. The parasite can also form tachyzoites, which migrate through the cat’s body to form more tissue cysts, just like in people and other animals.

Important Facts About Toxoplasma Infection

  • ƒ Once an animal or a person is infected with Toxoplasma, they are usually immune to reinfection for the rest of their lives, unless their immune system becomes weakened. ƒ
  • Once a cat is infected with Toxoplasma, it will usually start shedding oocysts in its stool in 3-10 days and then stop in less than 3 weeks. Although it is possible for the cat to shed oocysts again if it is re-exposed to the parasite, this is thought to be uncommon and it will shed far fewer oocysts than the first time. ƒ
  • If a previously infected cat develops a disease or is given drugs that inhibit the immune system, it may start to shed oocysts in its stool again. However, overall very few cats are shedding oocysts at any one time. ƒ
  • Pregnant women (and animals) will only pass the infection on to their babies if they are infected for the first time while they are pregnant. If they were infected before they became pregnant, their immune system will protect their babies (and themselves) if they are exposed to the parasite again.

How Do I Know If My Pet Or I Have Toxoplasma?

  • ƒ Usually you don’t ever know that you or your pet has been infected by Toxoplasma. ƒ
  • Occasionally the infection (in a person or a pet) may cause mild fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. ƒ
  • If the immune system cannot control the spread of the tachyzoites, they can damage the liver, lungs, eyes, brain, muscle and other organs. The person or animal will be very sick, but could have many different signs, which may appear slowly or very suddenly. Your doctor or your pet’s veterinarian will have to run several tests to determine if the sickness is being caused by Toxoplasma and not by another infection or disease. ƒ
  • Worldwide, infection of the brain (Toxoplasma encephalitis) develops at some time in approximately 40% of people who have HIV/AIDS. This condition is very hard to treat in these patients, so they are often treated preventatively with antibiotics. ƒ
  • If an animal is infected when it is pregnant, its young may be born dead or very sick, and die soon after. ƒ
  • If a woman is infected when she is pregnant, the baby may die before or soon after being born, develop mental problems, or the baby may be normal and not show any signs of infection until the person is an adult. Eye problems are very common in these delayed-onset cases.

Should I Test My Cat For Toxoplasma?

There is very little value in testing your cat for Toxoplasma, because:

  • Although 15-40% of cats have been exposed to Toxoplasma, less than 1% of all cats are shedding oocysts at any one time, and even some of these may be shedding so few oocysts that they can’t be detected in the stool. Young cats and kittens are more likely to be shedding than older cats which are already immune, but they may still be hard to catch during their short shedding period.
  • If a blood test shows your cat has been exposed to Toxoplasma (i.e. seropositive), it is probably already immune and no longer shedding oocysts. However, it could potentially shed small numbers of oocysts if it is re-exposed. ƒ
  • If a blood test shows your cat has not been exposed to Toxoplasma (i.e. seronegative), then it is also likely not shedding oocysts. However, if it is exposed, it will likely shed a large number of oocysts for a short time.

Try to minimize your cat’s exposure to Toxoplasma by keeping it indoors and not feeding it raw meat.

Should I Be Tested For Toxoplasma?

Testing healthy pregnant women for Toxoplasma is not generally recommended in the USA and Canada, as it is in some European countries such as Belgium and France, because the risk of exposure to Toxoplasma is comparatively low. If you are concerned, or if you have traveled to another country where Toxoplasma is more common, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be tested.

How Is Toxoplasmosis Treated?

  • ƒToxoplasmosis only needs to be treated (with antibiotics) if the person or animal is pregnant or really sick. However, if a person or animal develops a disease or needs to be treated with drugs that will severely inhibit the immune system, they may need to be treated preventatively, because if Toxoplasma is already present in their body in cysts, it may be reactivated and cause a lot of damage to their vital organs. ƒ
  • In the exceptional case that a cat is found to be shedding oocysts, treatment is not necessary. However, if the cat lives with a high-risk individual, it should be removed from the premises temporarily and may be treated to help it stop shedding oocysts sooner. There is no vaccine available for Toxoplasma in cats, dogs or people.

How Do I Stop My Cat From Giving Me Toxoplasma?

Given the emotional benefits associated with owning a cat, and the minimal risk of contracting Toxoplasma infection from a house cat if proper hygiene is practiced, pregnant or immunocompromised people do NOT need to give up their cats, but they should avoid contact with cat litter and litter boxes if at all possible, by having someone else clean their cat’s litter box for them.

  • Because cats are usually meticulous groomers, it is unlikely that oocysts will be found on their fur, so regular handling of your cat is not a significant risk. ƒ
  • Oocysts in cat stool actually take 24 hours or more to develop into their infective state. Removing the stool from your cat’s litter box every day therefore reduces exposure to infective Toxoplasma oocysts. ƒ
  • Once the oocysts become infective, they are very resistant to disinfectants, but can still be killed by soaking and cleaning the litter box and other objects in scalding or boiling water. ƒ
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after contact with cat stool, cat litter or the cat litter box. ƒ
  • Keeping your cat indoors and controlling rodents in the house will decrease the risk of your cat being exposed to Toxoplasma through hunting rodents and birds, and therefore also the risk that it will shed oocysts in its stool. Don’t feed your cat raw or undercooked meat for the same reason.

What Else Can I Do To Prevent Toxoplasmosis?

HEALTHY ADULTS / OLDER CHILDREN

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^  RISK = 2

Pregnant women and immuncompromised individuals must be particularly diligent in following all of the guidelines outlined above, because infection with Toxoplasma is often much more serious in these individuals.

  • ƒThey should avoid contact with cat stool, litter, garden soil and sand that may be contaminated with cat stool. ƒ
  • If it cannot be avoided, they should wear gloves and wash their hands immediately when the task is finished. ƒ
  • They should also avoid contact with kittens and young cats, as these animals are more likely to shed oocysts in their stool.

For these groups, the zoonotic risk posed by Toxoplasma in household cats is:

PREGNANT / IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PERSONS

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 4

Additional Information

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Toxoplasmosis homepage: http://www.cdc.gov/toxoplasmosis/

 

Skin – Cutaneous Histiocytoma

What are histiocytes cells and what do they do?

The histiocyte group of cells are part of the body’s immune surveillance system. They take up and process foreign antigens, such as pollens and viral, bacterial and fungal microorganisms. They then migrate to the local lymph nodes. Here they present the antigens to other immune system cells (T lymphocytes) to stimulate them into a variety of activities to protect the body.

The cells that are involved in cutaneous histiocytoma are usually histiocytes of Langerhans cell origin. They are named after a medical student, Paul Langerhans, who first recognized these cells under the microscope. Langerhans cells also help prevent damage to the skin by UVB radiation and therefore are protective against other types of skin cancer.

What is a cutaneous histiocytoma?

This is a common benign tumor of Langerhans cells. 99% are permanently cured by removing them surgically. In their early stages, over the first 1-4 weeks, they grow rapidly. During this period of rapid growth, they often ulcerate and may become secondarily infected. Later they may regress spontaneously.

What do we know about the cause?

“Spontaneous self-cure is common.”

Most dogs that develop these tumors are young, and spontaneous self-cure is common with time. This suggests that they are hyperplasias (overgrowth with regression when the stimulus for proliferation of the cells is removed) rather than true cancers (where cell proliferation is out of control and does not regress). No infectious agent (such as a virus) has been isolated, but a history of previous injury that could have allowed entry of such an agent is not unusual. Insects such as ticks could transmit these agents by biting, carrying the stimulus for histiocytoma from dog to dog.

Is this a common tumor?

This is a common tumor. Most dogs affected are less than six years of age, occasionally as young as eight weeks. The tumor can occur in any breed but some breeds appear to be more susceptible to the tumor. These include Boxers and Bull terriers.

How will this tumor affect my dog?

The most obvious effect of this tumor is the lump. Many will regress spontaneously over a few months. Usually, these tumors are removed because of ulceration, infection and bleeding. It has been known for a dog to die from secondary infection of an untreated tumor.

Occasionally the local lymph nodes may swell. This may be because the migrating histiocytes have proliferated there or because there is a reaction to secondary infection. It is unusual for more than one tumor to be present on the same dog or for the same tumor to occur later at another site, but both these situations have been found in otherwise normal young dogs. Very, very occasionally, in older dogs or those with inadequate immune systems, histiocytomas become multiple and progress to malignancy.

How is this tumor diagnosed?

Clinically, this tumor has a typical button-like appearance. Accurate diagnosis relies upon microscopic examination of tissue. Depending on the location, your veterinarian may recommend one or more methods of obtaining a tissue sample for diagnosis. The most common methods include needle aspiration, punch biopsy and full excision biopsy. The sample will then be examined by either cytology or histopathology. Cytology is the microscopic examination of aspirated cell samples. This is used for rapid or preliminary assessment. More accurate diagnosis, prediction of behavior (prognosis) and a microscopic assessment of whether the tumor has been fully removed rely on microscopic examination of tissue (histopathology). This is done at a specialized laboratory by a veterinary pathologist. Your veterinarian may submit a small part of the mass (biopsy) or the whole lump (an excision biopsy). If your veterinarian performed an excision biopsy, the pathologist will also assess whether the cancer has been completely removed.

“Cutaneous histiocytomas are usually wrongly diagnosed as malignant by human pathologists.”

Although cutaneous histiocytomas are usually benign, histopathology will rule out other more serious cancers. It is important that histopathology is performed by an experienced veterinary pathologist as cutaneous histiocytomas are usually wrongly diagnosed as malignant by human pathologists.

What treatment is available?

Treatment is surgical removal of the lump to confirm the diagnosis.

Can this tumor disappear without treatment?

Yes. This is one of the rare types of tumor that the body’s own immune system can eliminate. However, ulceration, itching, secondary infection and bleeding are often problems that require surgical intervention.

How can I nurse my dog?

Preventing your dog from scratching, licking or biting the tumor will reduce itching, inflammation, ulceration, infection and bleeding. Any ulcerated area needs to be kept clean.

After surgery, you need to keep the incision site clean and dry, and prevent your pet from rubbing, licking, biting or scratching at it. Report any loss of sutures or significant swelling or bleeding to your veterinarian. If you require additional advice on post-surgical care, please ask.

Are there any risks to my family or other pets?

There are no risks to people or other pets. There are no records of tumors spreading by close contact between animals, and the tumors do not occur in clusters in a household or neighborhood.

Langerhans cells have been recognized in most animal species including cats, birds, horses and man, but tumors are only recorded in dogs, goats and man. The tumors in different species are not related nor are they transmitted between these species.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Joan Rest, BVSc, PhD, MRCPath, MRCVS

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Ringworm

What Are Dermatophytes?

Dermatophytes are fungi that are most commonly found on the skin and hair of animals and people. Skin infection caused by dermatophytes is referred to as ringworm, tinea, dermatophytosis or dermatomycosis.

  • Different dermatophytes are more common in certain species, such as Microsporum canis and Trichophyton mentagrophytes in dogs and cats.
  • Dermatophytes that are adapted to humans (e.g. T. rubrum, the cause of athlete’s foot) do not normally infect animals, but can contaminate their fur. o Dermatophytes, specifically M. canis, are very commonly found on cats,
  • Signs of infection in animals are not always apparent.
  • Cats are considered the primary zoonotic source of dermatomycosis in humans.
  • Dermatomycosis is the most commonly reported zoonotic disease in people who work with cattle.
  • Dermatomycosis is normally limited to skin infections, but in high-risk individuals (e.g. very young, elderly or immunocompromised) the infection can spread, resulting in much more severe systemic illness.

How Common Is Ringworm?

Humans

  • Ringworm occurs all over the world, but in general it is not reportable so no one knows exactly how common it is. Many mild cases likely go undiagnosed.
  • Ringworm from animals may account for 20-50% of fungal skin infections in humans. One study showed that 50% of people who had contact with infected cats developed infection with M. canis. Infection was more common in children than adults. In general, the very young, very old, or immunocompromised are more likely to be infected.
  • Transmission from rodents can occur through contact with shed hair and skin in the environment, or indirectly via dogs and cats that hunt infected rodents and become infected or contaminated themselves.
  • There may be some genetic predisposition to chronic ringworm in humans, and possibly cats, who have a certain type (antibody-based) of immune response the fungi.

Animals

  • The percentage of dogs and cats suspected of having ringworm that actually test positive for the fungus varies widely, from 14-92%. From 3-30% of normal animals may be positive. The percentage is consistently higher in cats.
  • Ringworm may be less common in cats that do not have contact with other cats. It is more commonly found in stray cats and those from multi-cat facilities.
  • Ringworm is more common in warm, humid environments. Crowding and close contact increases the likelihood of transmission. Any type of minor skin trauma or chronic moisture also increases the likelihood of infection.
  • Long-haired animals may be predisposed to ringworm, as hair mats can interfere with normal grooming and provide an ideal environment for fungal growth on the underlying skin.
  • Excessive bathing or grooming may also predispose animals to infection by increasing the hydration of the skin and removing the natural oils and proteins on the skin that help prevent fungus from growing.

How Is Ringworm Spread?

The natural habitat of dermatophytes is the skin of humans and animals. The fungi grow around hair shafts and in the superficial layers of skin, where they form infective arthrospores. Large numbers of these arthrospores are present in shed skin cells and hairs, and may remain infectious for months or even years in the environment. The arthrospores usually only start to grow again when exposed to warm, humid conditions, such as when they come in contact with broken or macerated skin. Arthrospores cannot penetrate normal, intact, dry skin,

  • People and animals can be infected by direct skin-to-skin contact with another infected person or animal, or by indirect contact through things like contaminated clothing, blankets or hairbrushes.
  • Arthrospores can also be spread like dust in air currents, or by vectors like fleas.
  • Zoonotic dematophytes spread more easily between animals and people than between people alone.
  • Animals are occasionally infected with environmental fungi such as M. gypseum from digging in rich soil.
  • Infection with Trichophyton spp. is commonly associated with direct or indirect contact with rodents.

How Do I Know If My Pet Or I Have Ringworm?

Humans: Like many fungi, dermatophytes grow best in warm, moist environments, but they can grow almost anywhere on the body. The incubation period for infection is 1-2 weeks. In children 4- 11 years old, the disease most commonly occurs on the scalp. The infection can be, but is not necessarily, quite itchy. A classic “ringworm” skin lesion tends to spread out from one point on the skin, causing hair loss as it progresses, resulting in a bald patch. The outside (most active) edge of the infection often appears as a red ring, from which the condition gets its name (photo left: ringworm lesions on a person’s arm (credit A. Yu)). Fungi that are adapted to humans tend to cause less pronounced signs of infection. In HIV/AIDS patients, lesions from T. mentagrophytes and M. canis infection may spread over the skin all over the body.

Animals: Not every animal that is infected with ringworm develops signs of infection. It has been estimated that ~90% of cats carrying dermatophytes do not show any clinical signs. The incubation period is generally 1-3 weeks. Particularly in cats, ringworm can mimic almost any skin condition. Classic ringworm lesions (as described above) are more common in dogs than cats. Cats most commonly develop lesions on their face and paws (see picture right (credit A. Yu)) and may be anywhere from intensely itchy to not itchy at all.

Mice and guinea pigs are typically affected by T. mentagrophytes, but may not have any apparent lesions. Lesions in horses can range from dry, bald, thickened, scaly skin and brittle hair, to oozing lesions that cause hair to stick together and are extremely itchy. Calves are affected more frequently than mature cattle, and typically develop grey-white, dry lesions on the face and neck that then scab and leave a bald area. Sheep are not commonly affected by ringworm, but infection can occur, particularly on the head and face, and is easily spread between sheep by sheering implements and close contact after sheering. The fungi that cause ringworm in swine and chickens are rarely transmitted to humans, but a few cases have been reported.

How Is Ringworm Diagnosed?

Approximately half of M. canis strains will fluoresce blue-green under a special ultraviolet light called a Wood’s lamp. However, other debris in an animal’s hair coat may fluoresce as well, and other species of dermatophytes do not fluoresce, so this test is not useful by itself in most cases. Sometimes the fungus can be seen on hair shafts when examined under a microscope, but it is easy to confuse other debris and structures for dermatophytes, or to miss the infected hairs altogether. The best way to diagnose ringworm is to culture the fungus from the infected individual. In animals, one of the best ways to do this is to comb over all the fur and skin with a new toothbrush, and then try to grow dermatophytes from the toothbrush. Fungal culture takes much longer than bacterial culture – instead of days, it may take up to three weeks to grow some dermatophytes.

Because cats so often carry dermatophytes even when they look healthy, a positive fungal culture from a cat with skin disease does not rule out other causes, so your veterinarian may still recommend other tests as well.

How Is Ringworm Treated?

Most healthy individuals will eventually eliminate a ringworm infection even if no specific treatment is given, but this may take several months (e.g. 60-100 days in cats). Nonetheless, any animal (or person) found to be carrying a zoonotic dermatophyte should be treated in order to decrease the risk of spread to other animals and people.

Humans: Most cases of ringworm can be treated with either oral medication or topical ointments. The keys are that treatment must be continued for a long time (at least 2-3 weeks) and reinfection must be avoided.

Animals: It is important to treat infected animals both systemically (usually with oral medication) and topically (e.g. dips, shampoos, sprays) to help reduce ongoing contamination of the environment; the combination can help eliminated the infection more rapidly than either type of therapy alone. Unfortunately, some anti-fungal medications can be quite expensive, especially for large dogs. Topical treatment must be applied to the animal’s whole body – just treating the areas where the infection is obvious is ineffective. Body clipping, particularly long-haired animals, is recommended, but may not be necessary for shorthaired animals with only a few small lesions. Cleaning the animal’s environment at the same time is essential to effective treatment. Treatment should be continued until 2-3 recheck cultures (done every week or every other week starting at four weeks) are negative.

  • Treatment failures or relapses are often due to not treating thoroughly enough, not treating for long enough, failure to decontaminate the environment, underlying illness or incorrect diagnosis.
  • There are vaccines to prevent ringworm in livestock, but at the moment there is no ringworm vaccine available for companion animals.

What Do I Do If My Pet Has (Or May Have) Ringworm?

Infected Animals: Animals with known or suspected ringworm infection should be confined to a separate, easy-toclean room to prevent spread of the infection. Whether lesions are present or not, treatment with topical and oral medication is recommended. An infected animal may have infective fungus on any or all areas of its fur/skin.

Environment: Eliminating ringworm from a household can be difficult, because the fungi can be found anywhere that an infected animal (or person) sheds hair or skin cells. Recommendations for environmental disinfection are:

  • Dust all surfaces and ledges with a disposable dusting cloth (e.g. Swiffer).
  • All bedding, brushes, combs, rugs, cages, etc. should be vacuumed and scrubbed with hot water and detergent. This should be followed by application of an effective disinfectant (see below). It is best to discard any items that cannot be thoroughly disinfected.
  • Walls, floors, lamps, etc. should be scrubbed and cleaned in a similar manner.
  • Ideally use a wet-dry vacuum to remove any dirty water after cleaning.
  • Ensure sufficient contact time with disinfectant for all surfaces (e.g. at least 10 minutes for bleach).
  • Wear appropriate protective clothing (e.g. gloves, eyewear) and ensure the room is well ventilated during disinfection. Ideally place a fan by a window to blow air out of the room to the outdoors.
  • Use a disposable mop pad to clean non-porous surfaces in high-traffic rooms.
  • Carpeted areas may be impossible to effectively decontaminate. If possible, remove the carpet and either wash it in hot water and bleach, or discard it. Otherwise, frequent vacuuming with immediate disposal of the collection bag is necessary. However, regular vacuuming may actually spread fungus further around a room. To avoid this, use only vacuums equipped with a HEPA filter, steam cleaning or a central vacuum unit.
  • Vehicle interiors should be decontaminated as much as possible in a similar manner.
  • Curtains can be dry-cleaned at a professional cleaner.
  • Clean all heating vents, and install a good-quality furnace filter. The filter should be changed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and at the very end of the decontamination process. Ideally, do not keep infected animals in a room with a cold air return.
  • Avoid blowing air from heavily contaminated rooms to other parts of the house. If fans are used to improve air circulation, they should be pointed to blow air outside.
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in heavily contaminated rooms.

Mopping/vacuuming and dusting in heavily contaminated rooms should be done daily, and disinfection should be done at least weekly. In other rooms, cleaning and disinfection should be repeated at least once every 4-6 weeks (the more often, the better) until all affected animals and people have eliminated the fungal infection.

In catteries, additional recommendations for control of dermatomycosis include:

  • Cats should be separated into clean and contaminated rooms/areas according to individual infection status.
  • Use disposable garbage bags to cover clothes while treating infected cats or working in contaminated rooms.
  • Wear designated footwear in areas housing infected cats.

Many environmental disinfectants labeled for use against ringworm are, in fact, not effective, because the fungi are usually found on small fragments of infected hairs, which may protect them from the actions of some disinfectants. Disinfectants that are effective against ringworm on infected hair and skin in the environment include:

  • Household bleach (1:10 to 1:100 solution in water): Cheap and readily available.
  • Lime sulfur (1:33 solution): Effective, but many people don’t like the smell.
  • Enilconazole (0.2% solution used as an environmental spray): Also used as a topical treatment for dogs and horses, this compound is approved for use in catteries, but technically not for household use.

Use of other products, including Virkon-S® (a detergent-peroxide based product) and Peroxigard® (an accelerated hydrogen peroxide product) have been recommended in some cases, but their efficacy in published studies varies.

How Can I Prevent The Spread of Ringworm?

Control and clean-up of ringworm after having one or more pets infected can be a major undertaking, and often requires weeks to months of diligent animal care and environmental disinfection. If ringworm can be identified early, lesions can potentially be kept covered and movement of affected animals can be restricted to reduce the extent and amount of environmental contamination.

  • Early identification of ringworm is key. If your pet develops bald patches, particularly if they’re itchy, it should be examined by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • If you or anyone in your household develops an area of skin that appears infected (especially if it appears as a red “ring”), keep it covered with a piece of clothing or a bandage and see your doctor. Let the doctor know about any pets you have.
  • Clean your pet’s grooming supplies (e.g. brushes, combs) regularly.
  • Always wash your hands after handling your pet, its bedding, toys and other articles.
  • If you get a new pet (especially a cat) from an animal shelter, rescue group or pet store, a toothbrush culture of the hair coat should be performed as part of the animal’s routine examination, particularly if there are any highrisk individuals (e.g. young children, elderly or individuals with a weakened immune system) in the household.

Therapy Animals

Guidelines have been developed to reduce the risk of pets involved in animal visitation programs acquiring or transmitting infectious diseases, as these animals may frequently come in contact with individuals with weakened immune systems. However, control of ringworm is not specifically considered in these guidelines. It is prudent to include a toothbrush culture with any regular examination (i.e. twice yearly) of cats involved in such a program, particularly if the animals are from a multi-cat household. The prevalence of dermatomycosis in clinically normal dogs is likely low enough that this is unnecessary for these animals.

If I Have Ringworm, Should I Test My Pets?

If a person is diagnosed with a ringworm infection involving a fungal species commonly found in animals (e.g. M. canis), then any pets should be examined by a veterinarian and a toothbrush culture performed. Because these fungi can be transmitted from animals to people and vice versa, a positive culture from a pet does not necessarily mean the animal was the source of infection, but all culture-positive animals should be treated to prevent ongoing contamination of the environment and reinfection of other household members and pets.

The zoonotic risk to the general population posed by ringworm in house pets such as dogs and cats is:

HEALTHY ADULTS

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 3

Individuals with compromised immune systems (e.g. HIV/AIDS, transplant and cancer patients) are more susceptible to many kinds of infections, including those which may be transmitted by pets. While these individuals are not advised to get rid of their pets, precautions should be taken to reduce the frequency of contacts that could result in pathogen transmission. Infants and young children (less than 5 years old) are more likely than adults to extensively handle animals if given the opportunity, more likely to touch their faces or mouths, and less likely to wash their hands after handling an animal. Children may “snuggle” with pets; this very close contact can increase the risk of disease transmission.

  • Pets with abnormal skin lesions should be promptly examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause as soon as possible. High-risk individuals should avoid handling affected animals at least until the diagnosis is known.
  • Keep all cuts and damaged skin covered to prevent contamination with pet hair and dander.
  • Do not allow pets to sleep in the same bed as a high-risk individual.
  • Thorough hand hygiene after touching any animal, as always, is very important.

For these groups, the zoonotic risk posed by ringworm in house pets such as dogs and cats is likely:

YOUNG CHILDREN / IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PERSONS

LOW RISK    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 4

 

Pet Selection – Guidelines

Seeking guidance before obtaining a new pet can prevent many behavior and health problems in pets. Such a consultation will help you select the best pet for the household, but also provide information on how to prepare in advance for the new arrival. Selection topics to be discussed include the species, breed, age, and sex of the pet, where to obtain the pet and how the kennel, breeder, and pets can best be assessed. Advice on preparing the home will include housing, bedding, feeding, training, exercise, scheduling and health care requirements.

What pet might be best for my family?

“Be certain that you understand the time, commitment and expense that you will be undertaking over the next 15 to 20 years.”

The primary reason that pet owners might one day relinquish their pets is because of the unrealistic expectations that they had when they first entered into pet ownership. Therefore, before getting started, be certain that you understand the time, commitment and expense that you will be undertaking over the next 15 to 20 years. While pet ownership has innumerable benefits, it also comes with tremendous responsibilities. The first decision therefore is whether a pet is right for you, and if so, which type of pet. For example, dogs require a level of training, exercise, housetraining, and outdoor activities that are not required by most cats. They will need to develop proper social skills with each new animal or person that they meet, and may present a greater challenge for supervision and preventing household damage than do most cats. On the other hand, cats that live indoors will need to take their entire repertoire of behaviors that they might normally do outdoors and have them directed toward appropriate indoor outlets (for elimination, scratching, climbing, perching, playing and feeding/hunting).

Take the time to learn about normal behavior, the principles of reward based training, the time, effort, and expense that will be needed for training and care, and the housing, feeding, grooming, and health care requirements of each species and breed that you might be considering. Also consider your support system during times of illness or vacation to insure that you will have sufficient care for your pet. Finally, seek guidance from your veterinarian about obtaining a pet that is suitable for your home, family and lifestyle, and as to how to prepare your home for the arrival of your new pet.

What breed is best for my home and family?

Once you decide upon the species (e.g. dog or cat), the next decision is whether to obtain a purebred or a mixed breed. By selecting a mixed breed from a shelter or a purebred from a breed rescue agency, you will give a new home to an abandoned animal. With a mixed breed, some of the genetic problems associated with inbreeding can be avoided and the initial cost to acquire the pet will be considerably lower by obtaining a mixed breed. However, the best way to predict the behavioral and physical attributes of an adult dog or cat is to obtain a purebred from known parentage. This is particularly important when selecting a puppy. Unless the parents are known it is extremely difficult to predict the size, health, or behavior that is likely to emerge as the dog grows up. In contrast, selecting a mixed breed adult allows assessment of the physical characteristics, health and behavior of the animal.

If a purebred is chosen, it should be a breed with physical and behavioral characteristics that best suit the family. However, with hundreds of breeds to choose from and such a wide variation of behavior types within a breed, the most consistent selection factor will be the physical characteristics. Therefore first select a few breeds that appeal in physical appearance, including coat type, size and shape. Also consider that the lifespan, since the giant breeds of dogs live considerably shorter lives than smaller breeds.

“Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the origin or purpose of the breed…”

Before the selection consultation, visit dog and cat shows to observe the appearance and behavior of the adult individuals of each breed. Do some reading. There are a variety of books and Internet sites that can help to guide you through the selection process. Some books concentrate on the physical characteristics, history of the breed, or health concerns, while others cover breed behavioral characteristics, and how to select individuals from a breeder, shelter, or litter. Behavioral factors to consider as you try to decide upon a breed of dog or cat include activity level, exercise requirements, coat care and any reported behavior problems of the breed. Perhaps the most important factor to consider is the origin or purpose of the breed as the traits and behaviors for which the breed has been bred and selected (herding, protection, hunting, etc.) are the most strongly inherited. These factors are also an important consideration when considering the type of household, exercise and training that you will need to provide for your pet, and the types of behavior problems that might arise. Once you have narrowed the selection down to a few breeds, your veterinarian can guide you regarding the physical, medical and behavioral problems that you need to be aware of for each breed.

At what age should I obtain a pet?

Puppies are most social from about 3 to 12 weeks of age. For the first seven to eight weeks, primary socialization should be directed to other puppies and littermates to aid a puppy to develop healthy social relationships with other dogs. From seven weeks on, well before the socialization period ends, socialization should be directed to people, new environments and other pets.

“An ideal age to obtain a new puppy might be at 7 to 8 weeks of age.”

For these reasons, an ideal age to obtain a new puppy might be at 7 to 8 weeks of age. This allows adequate time to be in its new home, and bond to its new family, well before its primary socialization period ends. However, one drawback of obtaining a puppy at this age is that socialization and play will also need to continue with its own species, so that if you do not already have another dog in your home, this may be a challenge to accomplish successfully. It may suffice to arrange for regular play sessions with the dogs of family, friends and relatives. If this option is not available, puppy classes should be considered.

“Most receptive period for kitten socialization is 3 to 9 weeks of age, a kitten should either be obtained by 7 weeks of age…”

Since the most receptive period for kitten socialization is 3 to 9 weeks of age, a kitten should either be obtained by 7 weeks of age, or the new owners must ensure that the kitten has had adequate human contact prior to 7 weeks of age. Don’t obtain a kitten much earlier than 7 weeks since this deprives it of social contact with its mother and littermates.

Acquiring an adult dog or cat can avoid some of the problems of bringing a new puppy or kitten into the home. This is especially true for dogs where the time and commitment required to train a puppy are considerable. Fulfilling the play, feeding, elimination, and exercise needs of a puppy or kitten may be impractical for a family who spends much of the day away from home. On the other hand, an adult dog or cat that has had insufficient or inappropriate training or insufficient socialization may have behavior problems that are difficult to resolve. However, temperament testing of adult dogs and cats may be a useful means of assessing behavior. For owners who are ready and able to meet the demands of a growing puppy or kitten, obtaining a pet during its primary socialization period is strongly recommended.

Should I consider a male or female pet?

In dogs, males tend to be slightly larger in stature than females of the same breed and somewhat more assertive. Castration of male dogs reduces sexually dimorphic behaviors such as mounting, roaming, urine marking, and aggression directed toward other male dogs (see our handout ‘Neutering for Dogs’). Castration in cats reduces urine odor and sexually dimorphic behavior traits such as roaming, fighting, and urine marking (by about 90%). See our handouts ‘Neutering in Cats’.

Where should I obtain my pet?

“To observe the physical characteristics, health and behavior of the parents.”

Perhaps the most important reason to obtain a pet from a breeder or a private home is the ability to observe the physical characteristics, health and behavior of the parents. Although often not available for assessment, the genetic effects of the father, especially in cats, are important when it comes to boldness and assertiveness. If the parents have been previously bred together, you might be able to get more insight by contacting the owners of any siblings from previous litters. Choose a breeder who is open and willing to answer questions, and who will allow you to tour the kennel and meet the parents. When a puppy or kitten is obtained from a breeder or private home you are also able to observe the early environment and assess what sort of exposure to people that the pet has had. A personal relationship with the breeder may be helpful should later problems arise. Be certain to ask your veterinarian to prepare you with appropriate questions for the breeder. These might include whether the parents have had orthopedic (hip and elbow certification), eye, or cardiac screening examinations, and questions about any other specific health or behavioral problems to which the breed may be prone.

The benefits of obtaining dogs or cats from an animal shelter or rescue organization were mentioned above. However, dogs or cats acquired from pet stores, puppy mills, or shelters, may have received insufficient early socialization, have a higher risk of exposure to infectious diseases while in that facility, and you are unable to meet or observe the parents.

How do I decide which pet to choose?

The value and effectiveness of performing assessment tests on young puppies and kittens is highly debatable since many behavior and health problems do not emerge until the pet matures. Different puppy temperament tests have been detailed in the literature, but there is no good available evidence that they are predictive of future behavior. However, puppy or kitten testing can identify problem areas that may need attention from an early age. For example, puppies or kittens that are excessively fearful, timid, pain sensitive or noise reactive and those that exhibit excessive biting may be less suitable for certain homes and environments.

“For dogs, recent studies have shown that assessment testing becomes increasingly more accurate as the dog ages.”

For dogs, recent studies have shown that assessment testing becomes increasingly more accurate as the dog ages. In fact, one advantage in selecting an adult dog is that it might be possible for a trained observer using well-designed tests to be able to accurately assess the pet’s temperament and personality to determine the potential for behavior problems to arise. However, most of these tests have yet to be rigorously evaluated as to their predictability. (For a list of some of these tests see references below).

For cats, three personality types have been identified: 1) sociable 2) timid and unfriendly or 3) active and aggressive. Because the socialization period for kittens ends earlier than in dogs, early handling is extremely important. Kitten assessment tests can be a valuable tool in determining the effects of genetics, socialization and early handling. If the cat tolerates handling, lifting and petting with little or no fear or resistance, it is likely to make a good family pet. Fearful, timid, hard to restrain or aggressive cats should be avoided.

Selection resources:

Numerous internet sites are available that contain breed facts and pictures and breed selection guides. In addition, breed organizations and rescue groups offer detailed advice on individual breeds, but may be somewhat biased in favor of the breed.

  • Internet sites are also available that can serve as guide for pet selection including ckc.ca, akc.org, cfainc.org, dogsincanada.com
  • Temperament testing for shelter dog placement – Assess-a-pet – http://www.suesternberg.com, SAFER test www.americanhumane.org, ASPCA New York – http://www.aspca.org/aspca-nyc/
  • Temperament testing: AKC good citizenship test (http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/training_testing.cfm), American Temperament Test Society Inc. (www.atts.org/index.html), CKC good citizenship (www.habac.ca)
  • Temperament testing for therapy dogs: Therapy Dogs International (www.tdi-dog.org), Delta Society Pet Partner (www.deltasociety.org)

Texts / resources:

  • Ackerman L. The Genetic Connection. AAHA Press, Lakewood, CO, 1999
  • American Kennel Club Complete Dog Book. 19th edition. Howell House, Foster City, CA 1998
  • Baer N, Duno S. Choosing a Dog. Your Guide to Picking the Perfect Breed, NY, Berkley, 1995
  • Benjamin CL, The Chosen Puppy: How to Select and Raise a Puppy from an Animal Shelter, Howell Book House, 1990
  • Boneham S. Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog. Alpha/Pearson Education, 2002
  • Caras R. The Roger Caras Dog Book. M. Evans and Company, NY, 1996
  • Coile DC. Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. Barron, 2005
  • Coren S. Why We Love the Dogs We Do: How to Find the Dog that Matches Your Personality, Firefly Books, 2000
  • Fogel B. The New Encyclopedia of the Dog, Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc, NY, NY, 2000
  • Fogel B. The New Encyclopedia of the Cat, Dorling Kindersley Publishing Inc, NY, NY, 2001
  • Hart BL, Hart LA, The Perfect Puppy, W. H. Freeman and Co., New York, 1988
  • Kilcommons B, Wilson S. Paws to Consider. Choosing the Right Dog for you and your family, NY, Warner Books, 1999
  • Lowell M, Your Purebred Kitten-A Buyer’s Guide. NY. Henry Holt, 1995
  • Peterson C. Please Oh Please Can We Get a Dog? Parents Guide to Dog Ownership, Howell Book House, 2004.
  • Sternberg Sue. Successful Dog Adoption. Howell Book House, 2003
  • Tortora D. The Right Dog for You. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1983
  • Walkowicz C. Choosing a Dog for Dummies, Hungry Minds Inc., NY, NY, 2001
  • Welton M, Your Purebred Puppy-A Buyer’s Guide. 2nd edition, NY: Henry Holt, 2000

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Overweight, Obesity and Pain in Cats: Overview

Is overweight and obesity really a problem for cats?

More than 50% of cats and dogs in North America are overweight or obese. These epidemic levels are reflected in the human population as well. Obesity in pets is now the most important disease process pet owners must face. And the effects of obesity are far reaching because it contributes to many other diseases and shortens cats’ lives.

What other medical conditions are associated with obesity?

For overweight and obese cats, one major concern is the dramatically increased risk of diabetes mellitus. In addition, obesity increases the risk for and consequences of heart disease and cancers of all types. Although we do not yet have a scientific study in cats, moderate excess weight and obesity in dogs have been shown to shorten life expectancy by as much as 2 years. It is quite likely that we will find this frightening statistic to be true for cats as well.

Even more common than diabetes, overweight and obesity set the stage for joint damage and osteoarthritis (OA), leading to chronic pain. One study showed that 90% of cats 10 years of age and older had x-rays that showed significant deterioration of multiple joints—in both the legs and spine. It takes years of joint damage for such changes to show up on an x-ray. That means cats that are overweight or obese are traumatizing their joints over a very long period before we can see clinical evidence of that damage.

Obesity contributes to many other diseases and shortens cats’ lives.

Is there more to this linkage between overweight/obesity and pain?

Until recently, veterinarians thought that the increased pain and inflammation associated with OA in overweight and obese cats was primarily due to the increased wear and tear on the joints. What we now know is that fat tissue is very biologically active and secretes hormones and other chemicals that both cause and enhance inflammation. The hormone leptin, which is produced by fat cells, causes inflammation when it infiltrates joints. In addition, leptin may influence the bone changes associated with OA. Finally, inflammation can affect the body’s responses to other hormones such as cortisol and insulin, further unbalancing the body’s attempts at self-regulation and influencing the amount and extent of pain cats experience.

The important underlying message is that fat itself contributes to inflammation; inflammation is a part of the pain associated with OA and degenerative joint disease; and overweight and obesity contribute to this vicious cycle.

How can I tell if my cat is overweight or obese?

The most reliable way to evaluate a cat’s body condition is with a hands-on examination. There are three key areas of the body to evaluate:

  • Just behind the shoulder blades, you should be able to feel individual ribs easily with the flats of your fingers.
  • At the end of the ribcage where the lower back begins, you should feel a clear indentation—similar to the shape of an hourglass—on your cat’s sides.
  • Although some cats have a fold of skin that “droops” between the rear legs, the actual abdomen should feel “tucked up.” If you were to draw a line along the abdomen from the end of the breastbone to the pelvis, the angle should be between 30° and 45°.

If all of these criteria are met, odds are strong that your cat is in good body condition, which will contribute to a pain-free lifestyle.

I’m not sure if my cat is overweight or obese. How can I be sure?

The best first step in the “battle of the bulge” is an evaluation by your cat’s veterinarian. Your cat’s weight and body condition score will be recorded in your cat’s medical record as a baseline (starting point). Be sure to ask that a pain assessment be included in the exam. If pain is present, the earlier it is detected, the quicker your cat can be treated and have its pain resolved.

I know my cat is overweight. What can I do?

Your veterinarian is your best resource for feline weight loss. He or she will recommend a specific food and portion per day and will provide guidance about how to deliver that portion based on lifestyle, convenience, and your cat’s individual needs. If there is already evidence of OA, reducing inflammation and pain will help encourage your cat to become more active, which will speed appropriate weight loss.

What is my take-home message?

Fat cells contribute to inflammation. Inflammation causes pain. Therefore, having extra fat cells sets cats up to become and remain painful! The path to successful weight loss and weight maintenance includes partnership with your veterinarian to track results as well as to manage any pain. Regular weigh-ins at your cat’s veterinary practice are important steps along the way.

Having extra fat cells contributes to inflammation, which causes pain.

Once appropriate weight and body condition score are achieved, your veterinarian will recommend a maintenance food and daily portion. Ongoing regular assessments will help track the success of pain management strategies, and weigh-ins will provide accountability and ensure a great long-term outcome. Your cat deserves to achieve its best life!

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

© Copyright 2011 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Overweight, Obesity and Pain in Cats: Action Steps

Overweight and obesity have emerged as the most important disease processes in cats today. The perils of obesity are farreaching. It shortens cats’ lives and can actually contribute to chronic inflammatory pain. The good news is that obesity is preventable. More good news is that even if a cat is overweight or obese, the disease can be reversed, normal body condition can be restored, and life expectancy can be returned to normal.

Overweight and obesity in cats is preventable.

Why is obesity so widespread in cats?

Many factors of our modern life with cats contribute to the increased prevalence of feline obesity. Cats now live predominantly indoors. They no longer must roam and hunt for their food. That means fewer calories expended. In addition, when cats are permitted to eat free choice (when food is left in the bowl all day), it is easy for cats to eat more calories than they need. The bottom line is that when calories taken in exceed calories expended, weight gain is inevitable, leading to overweight and obesity.

How does being overweight or obese contribute to pain in my cat?

As covered in the overview article on the same subject (Overweight, Obesity and Pain in Cats: Overview), Overweight and obesity set the stage for joint damage and osteoarthritis (OA), leading to chronic pain. Until recently, veterinarians thought that the increased pain and inflammation associated with OA in overweight and obese cats was primarily due to the increased wear and tear on the joints. What we now know is that fat tissue is very biologically active and secretes hormones and other chemicals that both cause and enhance inflammation.

We now know that fat tissue secretes hormones and other chemicals that both cause and enhance inflammation.

Fat itself also contributes to inflammation; inflammation is a part of the pain associated with OA and degenerative joint disease; and overweight and obesity contribute to this vicious cycle.

How can I prevent my cat from becoming obese in the first place?

Here are some effective strategies for preventing cats from becoming overweight or obese:

  1. Ask your veterinarian to help you choose the most appropriate food for your cat. Kittens need a food that is formulated for their life stage, one that will meet their specific nutritional needs, rather than an “all-purpose” cat food. Adult cats have different needs from kittens, so a kitten formulation is not the best choice for them. Your veterinarian can suggest the best age to switch to an adult food. And senior cats are in yet another life stage that needs its own formulation for optimal health. Furthermore, cats with certain health conditions or diseases have very specific nutritional requirements. (For further information on feeding your cat, see our handout “Nutrition—Feeding Guidelines for Cats.”)
  2. Portion control is critical. Most cat food bags overestimate the amount of food a cat needs, so ask your veterinarian for a portion recommendation, and stick to it!
  3. Choose specific meal times, and then be consistent. It is a myth that cats need to “graze” or eat whenever they like. Cats learn quickly when food is available and when it is not. This minimizes what we may perceive as “begging” behavior.
  4. Consider using interactive feeding toys. These types of toys allow cats to “work” for their food. Cats eat more slowly, and they have the added bonus of expending more calories.
  5. Increase your cat’s exercise. We know that optimal body condition score depends on the balance between calories taken in and calories expended. Increased activity may be accomplished several ways. Consider an outdoor enclosure with ledges at various heights to encourage moving around. Such an enclosure is limited only by space and imagination. Most cats can also be taught to walk on a leash. They generally prefer to take the lead rather than walking at “heel” like dogs. Cats do best with a snugly fitting harness on the torso rather than attaching the leash to the collar.There are also ways to increase feline activity inside the house. In addition to interactive toys that dispense food, other interactive toys, such as dangling feathers, allow us to play with our cats. Laser pointers can provide hours of chasing fun. Finally, cats can be taught many of the same tasks as dogs—come, sit, stay, up on the sofa, etc.
  6. We can assess your cat’s body and muscle condition score at each visit. These assessments can help you keep track of your cat’s condition; if your cat is heavy, your veterinarian can provide you with an estimated ideal body weight to use as a guide during weight loss.
  7. Accountability keeps us honest. Schedule regular weigh-ins at your veterinarian’s office to track both weight and body condition score in your cat’s medical record. Trends up or down can be identified early, and minor feeding adjustments can be made. Minor modifications are always easier to make than major transformations.

What is my take-home message?

Our feline friends do not deserve to hurt. Fat tissue plays an active role in perpetuating pain. Reversing overweight and obesity in cats—or better yet, preventing it in the first place—is truly a pain prevention and management technique. With a bit of planning and some simple monitoring, cats can maintain the svelte figure nature intended and can live their best life for as long as physically possible.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM

© Copyright 2012 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

 

Nutrition – Raw Food Diets

What are some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet to pets?

Raw food diets are available commercially, or can be prepared at home. They contain whole animal and plant tissues that are left in their raw state, and have not undergone processing to denature (break down) their proteins, starches and fats. The natural enzymes and cofactors such as trace vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are intact and available to assist in nutrient digestion and absorption.

“A common misconception is that raw food is completely digested by animals…”

A common misconception is that raw food is completely digested by animals, due to its “increased enzyme content”. Research evidence suggests the opposite. Raw foods are likely to be more slowly digested and absorbed. Over time, there is evidence that the animal responds by increasing its own digestive enzyme production, making its digestive tract stronger, not weaker. In the short term, some animals may show symptoms such as diarrhea or vomiting that is not related to the presence of bacteria in the food. These symptoms will usually resolve over time.

Rather than being a disadvantage, delayed absorption may be the chief reason behind what appears to be impressive clinical benefits of raw food diets. Lower digestibility results in a lower glycemic index, or rate of an increase in blood sugar after a meal. Foods with a lower glycemic index play an important role in preventing obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes mellitus. Raw food diets that have minimal carbohydrate content may also help prevent tumor growth and may play a role in preventing and treating chronic inflammatory disorders of all types.

Even conditions such as Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) appear to be prevented by a low glycemic index diet. Many of the conditions discussed above are associated with insulin resistance and excessive carbohydrate intake in humans.

“There is emerging evidence that small animals may be similarly prone to insulin resistance and its sequelae.”

There is emerging evidence that small animals may be similarly prone to insulin resistance and its sequelae. If true, raw food diets and diets low in carbohydrate content may play an important role in preventing these conditions in dogs and cats.

What are some common misconceptions about feeding raw food diets to pets?

Advocates of raw food diets, whether they include raw bones or not, generally state that raw food diets represent the natural or ‘paleolithic’ diet for dogs and cats.

“…modern dogs and cats are not necessarily the same as their ancestors.”

What they often forget is that modern dogs and cats are not necessarily the same as their ancestors. Thousands of years of domestication, adaptation to diets based on human foods or leftovers, and genetic modification by inbreeding to establish specific breed characteristics have altered the anatomy as well as the digestive physiology of the modern dog and cat, thus affecting their nutritional requirements and biochemical individuality.

Are there concerns about nutrient balance when feeding a raw diet?

Raw food diets may be significantly imbalanced with respect to their mineral content, with excesses or deficiencies in calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium and iron being the most common imbalances. Some raw food diets are deficient in fiber. Many supporters of raw food diets maintain that the diet does not need to be balanced over the short term because it will become balanced over the long haul. This idea overlooks the fact that most of our pet animals are reliant on us to provide all of the components of their diet, and if we don’t provide all of the necessary nutrients, it is impossible for the diet to become balanced over time. Some authors propose that animals will only eat what they require in order to balance their nutrient intake. This contention presumes an owner would see fit to offer a range of choices, varying in nutrient content, which many don’t. In addition, if offered a highly palatable food such as raw meat (at least, palatable to the carnivore) at the same time as an offering of vegetables or fruits, most carnivores will preferentially choose the meat.

“Typical raw food diets may not meet the additional requirements for growth or reproduction…”

Typical raw food diets may not meet the additional requirements for growth or reproduction, especially for puppies or kittens, and pregnant animals. Veterinary advice is very important to ensure a balanced diet is being fed.

If you are using or considering using a raw diet for your pet, we STRONGLY encourage you to consult wtih a board certified veterinary nutritionists for guidance (see article at end of this handout). For a fee, they can evaluate you and your pet’s priorities and help you come up with a diet which minimizes the risk of problems. Resources for this service include North Carolina State University’s Veterinary School: http://www.cvm.ncsu.edu/vhc/vhwc/nutrition/index.html, University of Tennessee Veterinary School: http://www.petnutritiontn.com, University of Florida Veterinary School: http://smallanimal.vethospital.ufl.edu/clinical-services/nutrition/nutrition-services-offered/, and Tufts Veterinary School: http://www.tufts.edu/vet/nutrition/, PetDiets.com, Balanceit.com and the website for the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, ACVN.org.

Are there any risks associated with feeding raw meats to pets?

Healthy pets may be relatively resistant to developing disease associated with contamination of foods with bacteria or their toxins. However, many of our pet animals have health problems and may be susceptible to infection by disease-causing strains of bacteria.

Raw foods may themselves contaminate the environment and even if the pet is in a state of optimal health, it is still possible for him or her to contaminate the environment by shedding disease-causing bacteria in the feces. The bacteria of most concern are Salmonella, some species of E. coli, and Campylobacter jejuni, any of which can be present as contaminants on human-grade food products.

In order to minimize these risks, it is imperative that you follow the same sanitation practices that you use in preparing your own foods. Wash your hands and all utensils thoroughly before and after handling raw meat. DO NOT use wooden chopping boards. Store the pet’s meat so that it can’t contaminate human foods (ideally, you should have a separate freezer for storage of your pet’s food).

“Confine the feeding of the raw diet to one location in the house…”

Confine the feeding of the raw diet to one location in the house, or to one location outdoors. Do not allow your pet to lick or kiss your face. Ensure meat is frozen before preparation, and that raw food prepared in advance is frozen until needed. Freezing does not kill bacteria, but may reduce their numbers in food, or delay their rate of multiplication.

To avoid environmental contamination, after your pet is finished eating, always clean and disinfect the spot where your pet ate the meal. Make sure you scoop up any fecal material immediately after elimination and dispose of it properly.

Is there any benefit associated with feeding raw bones to your dog?

When used properly, the exercise and pleasure that your dog gets from chewing bones is beneficial, and may minimize the build-up of tartar on the teeth. Raw bones represent a bioavailable source of calcium as well as containing other minerals that are needed in the body. The cartilage contains glucosamine, chondroitin, and other glycosaminoglycans that are beneficial to joints.

Is there any risk associated with feeding raw bones to your dog?

Raw bones may be fine in a diet, depending on the size of the pet being fed and the size of the bone. An improper size of bone may cause an intestinal accident such as an intestinal obstruction or blockage. Cooked bones must NEVER be fed, since they are brittle and prone to splintering, which can cause tooth fractures, intestinal obstruction and intestinal perforations.

Caution must be used when feeding raw bones to avoid contamination of the environment with bacteria, and to minimize spoiling of the bone marrow. To minimize environmental contamination, bones should be fed outdoors and the area that was contaminated should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before humans are exposed to it.

“Fresh bones containing lots of marrow must be discarded within one day, especially in the summertime, to avoid rancidity.”

Fresh bones containing lots of marrow must be discarded within one day, especially in the summertime, to avoid rancidity. After you have handled a raw bone, you should thoroughly wash your hands and use routine sanitation practices.

Is there any other concern I should have about feeding raw food diets to my pet?

Under certain conditions, there can be serious health consequences to human companions of animals fed raw food diets. Young children are much more susceptible to bacterial infections, and are more likely to become contaminated by crawling around in the feeding areas of pets. They are also more likely to be licked by dogs or otherwise come in contact with bacteria shed in the pet’s feces. If there are adult family members with compromised immune systems due to serious diseases or chemotherapy, these family members will be at increased risk of contracting bacterial infections. In any of these circumstances, it is extremely risky to handle or feed raw foods to your pet.

Addendum: In August 2012, both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released statements discouraging the feeding of raw protein diets. Part of the AAHA statement reads as follows: “Past proponents of raw food diets believed that this was the healthiest food choice for pets. It was also assumed that feeding such a diet would cause no harm to other animals or to humans. There have subsequently been multiple studies showing both these premises to be false. Based on overwhelming scientific evidence, AAHA does not advocate or endorse feeding pets any raw or dehydrated nonsterilized foods, including treats that are of animal origin.”

Addendum: November 2013

The FDA released results of a two year study on raw diets for pets. The study identified potential health risks for the pets eating the raw food, and for the owners handling the product. Owners who feed their pet a raw diet may have a higher risk of getting infected with Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes. For more information visit the FDA’s website at http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/AnimalHealthLiteracy/ucm373757.htm#The_Pet_Food_Study

July 2013 Addendum from UC Davis Veterinary School:

Dog owners who cook food for their pets at home may be putting a lot of love into the recipes, but they are likely not adding enough nutritional value, according to researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

The researchers analyzed 200 recipes for homemade dog food to determine how many of them meet established nutritional standards. According to the results published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, very few of the recipes were nutritionally complete.

“The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog,” said Jennifer Larsen, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis and lead author on the study. “It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner – or even veterinarians – to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use.”

Most recipes have nutritional deficiencies

For the study, researchers analyzed 200 recipes from 34 sources including veterinary textbooks, websites, and pet care books. They used a computer-based program to evaluate recipes for the nutritional content in the food as well as the specificity of the instructions, UC Davis said. The researchers’ findings included:

  • Out of 200 recipes studied, only nine contained essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards for adult dogs established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Eight of the nine recipes were written by veterinarians.
  • Five recipes – all written by veterinarians – featured essential nutrient concentrations that met the National Research Council’s Minimum Requirements for adult dogs.
  • Only four recipes were written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists, and all of those recipes had acceptable nutrient profiles for adult dogs.

According to Larsen, 95 percent of the recipes produced food that lacked the necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient such as choline, vitamin D, zinc, or vitamin E. Eighty-three percent of the recipes lacked multiple nutrients, she said.

Vague or incomplete instructions for majority of recipes

In addition to the nutritional deficiencies discovered, researchers also determined that 92 percent of the recipes had vague or incomplete instructions. The faulty instructions left pet owners to make at least one guess regarding ingredients, preparation methods, or the use of supplement-type products, UC Davis reported.

Researchers also reported that 85 percent of the recipes did not supply owners with calorie information or specify the size of dog for which the recipe was meant.

Researchers’ recommendations regarding homemade food

According to Larsen, preparing homemade pet food isn’t a bad idea for pet owners – she just believes her group’s research shows that it should be done under the guidance of experts.

“Homemade food is a great option for many pets, but we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist,” she said. “These specialists have advanced training in nutrition to help formulate customized and nutritionally appropriate recipes.”

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Steve Marsden, DVM ND MSOM LAc DiplCH AHG, Shawn Messonnier, DVM and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Nutrition – Home Made Diets

What should I know about feeding a home-prepared diet to my pet?

The first inclination of some people when feeding a home-prepared diet to their pet is to simply feed the animal leftovers of what they are eating. It should be realized, however, that the nutritional needs of dogs, cats and humans differ. Humans are omnivores, and can maintain excellent health on a meat-free diet with only minimal dietary supplementation. Dogs are facultative carnivores, and therefore able to make better use of non-meat ingredients than true carnivores. To a significant extent, however, dogs are also well adapted to a high meat diet.

“Cats are obligate carnivores and must consume meat.”

Cats are obligate carnivores and must consume meat. Veterinary nutritionists have determined that cats have no biological requirement for carbohydrates in their diet, suggesting that a high meat and low grain diet may be ideal for their well-being. It is important to realize that cats are not just small dogs!

The optimal diet varies from species to species, and contains an ideal ratio of the major essential nutrients of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, as well as adequate levels of trace nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. The specific requirements of an individual within a species may vary somewhat by age, health, and level of exercise. Over the course of a day, a properly balanced diet should meet the animal’s minimum caloric needs for energy, and should not exceed its maximum energy requirements.

How do I determine what is a properly balanced diet?

Creating a balanced diet can be difficult. Many diet templates available in books or on the internet were not produced by veterinarians–much less a veterinary nutrition specialist, and when analyzed are not properly balanced. In addition, pets at different ages and with different medical concerns have varying nutritional needs. Another common problem referred to as “diet drift” occurs over months and years if we substitute or even leave out ingredients either because ingredients are not as easily available, are labor intensive to prepare, or if the pet decides not to eat certain ingredients. Those with the most success follow diet recipes that have been formulated by animal nutritionists or that otherwise are shown to meet the basic nutritional requirements for the species. To avoid trace nutrient deficiencies or excesses, it is recommended to vary the source of each diet component (for example, using different protein, vegetable, and grain sources with each batch of food).

“Because all meats and most vegetables are deficient in calcium, it is absolutely necessary to provide supplemental calcium in the diet.”

“Home-prepared diets require supplemental calcium, but ALWAYS follow a recipe since mineral imbalances can occur when improperly used.”

Because all meats and most vegetables are deficient in calcium, it is absolutely necessary to provide supplemental calcium in the diet. To meet the minimum daily requirements, it is usually necessary to add other minerals or vitamins. For this reason, most diet recipes include vitamin and mineral supplements.

Vitamin supplements added before or during the cooking process may become denatured or inactivated, and should instead be added after food preparation is complete.

Calcium supplements can be added at any time during the cooking process. Calcium citrate may be a more bioavailable form of calcium than calcium carbonate, and the citrate molecule may help solubilize calcium in the urine and prevent calcium oxalate stones.

Some vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and collard greens contain high levels of calcium in a bioavailable form, and should only be included in a diet if specifically directed. Although spinach is high in calcium, it does contain high levels of oxalates, which may predispose some animals to develop urinary stones.

What are the benefits of home-prepared diets for my pet?

Supporters of feeding home-prepared diets to pets emphasize the importance of a variety of fresh whole foods for the maintenance of health. The benefits of homemade diets include confidence in the freshness and wholesomeness of the ingredients (especially if you use organic source foods), and the potential inclusion of non-essential or synergistic components in the diet. Many dogs and cats have improved hair and skin condition and increased levels of energy on homemade diets. The exception to this is the pet with pre-existing allergies or intolerances to one or more components of the diet.

“When an ingredient is included that an animal is intolerant of, or not well adapted to, home cooking does not provide any advantage over commercial dry kibble or canned food.”

When an ingredient is included that an animal is intolerant of, or not well adapted to, home cooking does not provide any advantage over commercial dry kibble or canned food.

What are the risks of home-prepared diets for my pet?

As mentioned above, it is not enough to just feed a diet of table scraps, or to toss some meat, grains, and vegetables into a bowl for your pet. If you do that, your pet could end up malnourished as opposed to undernourished. You can decrease these risks by using recipes that have been analyzed for nutritional adequacy and by adhering strictly to the recipes when preparing the food. Avoid using recipes that are complicated or time-consuming to prepare, since you will be more likely to take shortcuts in the preparation.

While a recipe for a home-cooked diet may appear to come from a knowledgeable source, ideas about what constitutes the ideal diet for dogs and cats is currently evolving. Rigid adherence to one recipe over a long time may thus cause severe nutritional imbalances if that diet is later found to be inadequate.

Problems may occur if diets are either under- or over-supplemented with certain vitamins and minerals. The most common imbalances in home-prepared diets involve calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Animals have different nutritional needs based on their life stage and lifestyle. For example, both growing animals and animals used for breeding have increased requirements for energy, and require enhanced protein levels and optimal ratios of vitamins and minerals to support growth and reproduction. The advice of a veterinarian with advanced nutritional knowledge is imperative to decrease these avoidable risks to the pet’s well-being.

Some popular authors of pet diets recommend feeding grain-free (or carbohydrate-free) diets, raw meat diets, or bones and raw food diets. Some animals fed these diets show impressive clinical improvements in health, which is perhaps not surprising given that dogs and cats are largely carnivorous. Other animals do not fare as well on these types of diets, possibly because of improper nutritional balance.

Raw meat and poultry are commonly contaminated with bacteria, some of which are pathogenic or harmful. Cooking will kill bacteria, although it may not necessarily destroy toxins that were produced by the bacteria.

“Freezing does not kill bacteria…”

Freezing does not kill bacteria (in fact, bacteriologists use freezing to preserve bacteria, viruses, and fungi), and improper food storage allows them to multiply. Advocates of raw meat diets maintain that healthy animals are resistant to the bacterial pathogens found on commercially available raw meat sources. Critics of raw meat diets maintain that bacterial pathogens common in intensively reared poultry and livestock could represent a health risk to animals or their owners, mainly through environmental contamination. To minimize these risks, it is necessary to ensure that the ingredients are stored properly, that good food preparation practices are followed, and that you pay strict attention to hygiene, including hand washing after food preparation, sanitation of food bowls and feeding areas, and immediate cleanup of feces.

Both animals and humans with immature or otherwise compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to illness caused by bacteria. Therefore, the risks and benefits associated with raw food must be carefully considered if there are young or old family members or pets, or if any member has health issues such as cancer, immunodeficiency disease, or if anyone is undergoing chemotherapy.

Likewise, raw bones are not without some risk; several cases of fecal impaction and intestinal complications such as bowel perforation have been reported and can result in death. Most problems associated with raw bones have been caused by feeding an inappropriate size of bone, either one that is too small or too large.

“Cooked bones must NEVER be fed…”

Cooked bones must NEVER be fed, since they are brittle and prone to splintering, that can cause both obstructions and perforations of the intestinal tract.

How can I minimize these risks?

Be honest with your veterinarian, and discuss exactly what you feed your pet, including any treats or supplements that you provide. Your veterinarian can help you ensure that your pet’s diet is appropriate, or can direct you to some appropriate sources for information, including reputable references for healthy recipes for home-prepared meals.

Have your pet examined regularly so that any early indicators of problems may be detected. Since animals age more rapidly than humans, a good rule of thumb is to have a complete physical examination every six months. In addition to a physical examination, it is prudent to have a biochemical analysis and complete blood count conducted on the pet’s blood at these intervals. Periodic radiographs to assess bone density and structure as well as tissue density will assist in detecting overt mineral imbalances such as calcium deficiency. By having a baseline and several sets of test results available, your veterinarian can compare results over time and may spot trends that indicate potential problems.

What symptoms or conditions are most often treated with home-prepared diets?

Symptoms such as excessive shedding, itching, skin lesions, and digestive disturbances may be caused by food allergies, intolerances to ingredients in commercial diets, or to the nutritional inappropriateness of the diet for a specific individual, breed or species. Animals with specific dietary needs or health problems are often put onto special home-prepared diets that are nutritionally formulated to meet these needs. Pets that are inappetent, anorectic, or ‘fussy’ will often eat a homeprepared diet more willingly than commercial food.

How successful is treatment with home-prepared diets?

Animals with specific dietary needs or health problems show dramatic improvement in their state of health when fed a home-prepared diet that has been nutritionally formulated to meet these needs.

How do I know if the diet is properly balanced?

“…a sample batch of the diet can be analysed at a commercial food laboratory to determine its nutritional adequacy.”

For a fee, a sample batch of the diet can be analysed at a commercial food laboratory to determine its nutritional adequacy. The patient can be assessed by means of blood and urine analysis and radiographs to determine whether the pet is showing any sub-clinical abnormalities that could be related to dietary deficiencies or excesses.

What is the cost of home-prepared diets?

Home-prepared diets are often comparable in price to premium commercial diets. If the diet is prepared with organic source ingredients, its cost will increase.

How can I find out more information about home-prepared diets?

If you are using or considering using a home-prepared diet, we STRONGLY encourage you to consult wtih a board certified veterinary nutrutionist (see article below). For a fee, they can evaluate you and your pet’s priorities and help you come up with a diet which minimizes the risk of problems. Resources include North Carolina State University’s Veterinary School: http://www.cvm.ncsu.edu/vhc/vhwc/nutrition/index.html, University of Tennessee Veterinary School: http://www.petnutritiontn.com, University of Florida Veterinary School: http://smallanimal.vethospital.ufl.edu/clinicalservices/nutrition/nutrition-services-offered/, and Tufts Veterinary School: http://www.tufts.edu/vet/nutrition/ , Balanceit.com, PetDiets.com, You can also find more information at the website of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN.org).

For basic home-cooked diets, consult The Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine by Dr. Susan Wynn and Dr. Steve Marsden, or The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats, by Dr. Shawn Messonnier.

July 2013 addendum:

New UC Davis Veterinary School study:

Dog owners who cook food for their pets at home may be putting a lot of love into the recipes, but they are likely not adding enough nutritional value, according to researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

The researchers analyzed 200 recipes for homemade dog food to determine how many of them meet established nutritional standards. According to the results published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, very few of the recipes were nutritionally complete.

“The results of this study, however, indicate that most available recipes for healthy dogs, even those published in books by veterinarians, do not provide essential nutrients in the quantities required by the dog,” said Jennifer Larsen, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at UC Davis and lead author on the study. “It is extremely difficult for the average pet owner – or even veterinarians – to come up with balanced recipes to create appropriate meals that are safe for long-term use.”

Most recipes have nutritional deficiencies

For the study, researchers analyzed 200 recipes from 34 sources including veterinary textbooks, websites, and pet care books. They used a computer-based program to evaluate recipes for the nutritional content in the food as well as the specificity of the instructions, UC Davis said. The researchers’ findings included:

  • Out of 200 recipes studied, only nine contained essential nutrients in concentrations that met the minimum standards for adult dogs established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Eight of the nine recipes were written by veterinarians.
  • Five recipes – all written by veterinarians – featured essential nutrient concentrations that met the National Research Council’s Minimum Requirements for adult dogs.
  • Only four recipes were written by board-certified veterinary nutritionists, and all of those recipes had acceptable nutrient profiles for adult dogs.

According to Larsen, 95 percent of the recipes produced food that lacked the necessary levels of at least one essential nutrient such as choline, vitamin D, zinc, or vitamin E. Eighty-three percent of the recipes lacked multiple nutrients, she said.

Vague or incomplete instructions for majority of recipes

In addition to the nutritional deficiencies discovered, researchers also determined that 92 percent of the recipes had vague or incomplete instructions. The faulty instructions left pet owners to make at least one guess regarding ingredients, preparation methods, or the use of supplement-type products, UC Davis reported.

Researchers also reported that 85 percent of the recipes did not supply owners with calorie information or specify the size of dog for which the recipe was meant.

Researchers’ recommendations regarding homemade food

According to Larsen, preparing homemade pet food isn’t a bad idea for pet owners – she just believes her group’s research shows that it should be done under the guidance of experts.

“Homemade food is a great option for many pets, but we recommend that owners avoid general recipes from books and the Internet and instead consult with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist,” she said. “These specialists have advanced training in nutrition to help formulate customized and nutritionally appropriate recipes.”

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Steve Marsden, DVM ND MSOM LAc DiplCH AHG, Shawn Messonnier, DVM and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license

MRSP and Cats

What Are MRSP & Staphylococcus pseudintermedius?

  • Staphylococcus pseudintermedius is a bacterium that is commonly found on the skin or in the mouth, nose or intestinal tract of 50% of more of healthy dogs, and a smaller percentage of healthy cats. Typically it causes no problems at all, but it is an opportunistic pathogen – if an animal gets injured or sick for another reason, S. pseudintermedius can take advantage of the body’s weakened defenses and cause infection and illness.
  • This bacterium can infect almost any tissue, but skin and soft tissue infections are more common, particularly when the skin has been damaged by something else (e.g. allergies, scratching, chronic wetness, wounds, surgery). Skin and ear infections are also very commonly caused by S. pseudintermedius. Infections of other body sites and organs are much less common, but can be very severe.
  • Staphylococcus pseudintermedius can also be found in the nose of up to 4% of healthy pet owners.
  • MRSP stands for methicillin-resistant S. pseudintermedius, which is a form of S. pseudintermedius that is highly resistant to many antibiotics, including most of the drugs that are commonly used to treat bacterial infections in dogs and cats. Non-MRSP forms of S. pseudintermedius are methicillin-susceptible (MSSP).
  • People and animals that carry MRSP without any signs of infection at all are said to be colonized. When infection with S. pseudintermedius (either MRSP or MSSP) occurs, this causes signs of inflammation (e.g. heat, pain, swelling, discharge, fever).

What Are MRSI & Staphylococcus intermedius?

Staphylococcus intermedius is a bacterium that is very closely related to S. pseudintermedius. MRSI stands for methicillin-resistant S. intermedius which, similar to MRSP, is an antibiotic-resistant form of regular S. intermedius.

Staphylococcus intermedius was previously considered to be the most important Staphylococcus species in dogs and cats. In the past few years, it has been determined that what has typically been identified as S. intermedius in these species is truly S. pseudintermedius, and that S. intermedius is actually extremely rare.

  • Molecular tests are required to tell S. intermedius and S. pseudintermedius apart. Because identification is so difficult, some diagnostic laboratories still report isolation of S. intermedius from dogs and cats. It is almost certain that these bacteria are actually S. pseudintermedius. Fortunately, this distinction does not have any impact on how to treat infection with either bacterium.

How Is MRSP Different From MRSA?

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the antibiotic-resistant form of S. aureus. Although S. aureus and S. pseudintermedius are related, MRSA and MRSP are very different.
  • In people, MRSA is a huge problem, but MRSP in people is only a minor concern.
  • In dogs, MRSP is a major health problem but MRSA infections are much less common.
  • MRSA can infect both people and animals, and can be transmitted between people and pets relatively easily, in both directions. It appears that MRSP can also be transmitted from pets to people, but this seems to be quite uncommon. Therefore, the zoonotic disease risk from MRSP in animals is low.

How Common Is MRSP In Dogs & Cats?

  • Healthy animals can carry MRSP. One study found MRSP in 4.5% of healthy dogs and 1.2% of healthy cats. More recent studies indicate that a greater percentage of healthy dogs and cats are now carrying MRSP.
  • MRSP infections appear to be increasing substantially in animals, particuarly dogs. Veterinary dermatology specialists are reporting very large increases in MRSP skin infections (often called pyoderma). Infections after surgery are also becoming increasingly common, and they can be very difficult to treat.
  • Anecdotal evidence indicates that MRSP infections are being identified in dogs and cats throughout the world, although published data to support this perception are not currently available.
  • Risk factors for MRSP in pets are unknown. Antibiotic treatment is a potential risk factor.

Can people get MRSP infections?

Yes, but this seems to be quite rare. There are only a couple of reported MRSP infections in people worldwide. Human infections with methicillin-susceptible S. pseudintermedius is also very rare, despite the fact that dog owners are probably exposed to the bacterium on a regular (if not daily) basis. This bacterium is apparently not well adapted to cause disease in people. While the risk is not zero, it’s not a major concern.

How Do Animals & People Get MRSP?

  • MRSP is probably transmitted to pets by direct contact between animals. Healthy, colonized animals with no signs of infection are probably the major source of MRSP. Indirect transmission, which occurs when a person or animal gets MRSP from touching an object or surface that has been contaminated with MRSP by another animal, is theoretically possible but probably uncommon if it occurs at all.
  • People most likely get MRSP from direct contact with an infected or colonized pet. It has been shown that people who regularly wash their hands after touching their pets less commonly carry S. pseudintermedius compared to people who don’t regularly wash their hands. Transmission of MRSP from people to pets can also occur, although the risk of this is probably very low because MRSP in people is so uncommon.
  • MRSP can survive in the environment for a limited period of time, but it’s susceptible to most commonly used disinfectants, if the surface/equipment is cleaned properly first.

What Happens If A Pet Gets Infected With MRSP?

  • In dogs and cats, MRSP most commonly causes skin and ear infections. Wound infections, surgical site infections and other types of infection can also occur.
  • Rarely, MRSP can cause severe disease like necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh-eating disease”).
  • While MRSP infections can be hard to treat, available evidence indicates that the outcome should not be any different for an MRSP infection compared to an MSSP infection if MRSP is promptly diagnosed and proper treatment is started right away. If MRSP is not diagnosed quickly and ineffective antibiotics are used, it is possible that more serious disease will result.

How Is MRSP Diagnosed?

It is impossible to tell for sure what kind of bacteria are involved in any type of infection based on how the infection looks. MRSP is diagnosed based on bacterial culture, which takes a few days to complete. MRSP infections do not look any different from infections caused by MSSP or other staphylococcal bacteria. The only way to tell them apart is to culture the bacteria and test their susceptibility to antibiotics in a laboratory.

How Is MRSP Treated?

Infection: All MRSP strains are resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics (e.g. penicillins, cephalosporins), but because different strains may be resistant to other antibiotics as well, the bacteria must be tested in order to chose the best antibiotic. Automatically choosing the most powerful antibiotic to treat the infection when a more common drug will do can be very dangerous (and expensive), because the MRSP, or other bacteria in the body, may become resistant to it, and then there may be no drug that can effectively treat the infection. Local treatment of skin and soft tissue MRSP infections (e.g. lancing and flushing an abscess) is often very effective as well, and should not be overlooked, even if the person or animal is also treated with antibiotics. Sometimes a strain of MRSP may be resistant to almost all available antibiotics, making selection of an appropriate antibiotic extremely difficult. In these cases your veterinarian may need to consult an infectious disease expert or pharmacology specialist to determine the best treatment.

Colonization: There is no information about when or how to eliminate MRSP from colonized animals. Because S. pseudintermedius evolved to live on dogs and cats, decolonizing these animals may be difficult or impossible. Decolonization therapy with antibiotics is not recommended for animals colonized by MRSP – it is highly unlikely to be effective and may lead to further bacterial antimicrobial resistance.

What Should I Do If My Pet Has An MRSP Infection?

  • Relax. Although MRSP infections can be very serious, most animals with MRSP infections can be treated quite successfully.
  • Follow your veterinarian’s instructions. Proper treatment right from the start is very important. Make sure you follow all treatment recommendations. Always ensure that dosing and timing of medications are followed exactly. It is especially important to completely finish any antibiotic prescriptions, as directed, even if your pet seems to be better before they’re done.
  • Avoid contact with the infected area of your pet. If possible the area should be kept covered or bandaged to reduce the risk of transmission and contamination of the environment. Follow all bandaging instructions from your veterinarian very carefully. If you need to change a bandage, wear gloves and put the dirty bandage directly in the garbage.
  • Wash Your Hands! Hand hygiene, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, is the simplest and most practical way to prevent transmission of MRSP between animals and people. In general, MRSP colonization is uncommon in healthy pets, but it is possible that any given animal is carrying MRSP at any time. Therefore, hand hygiene is important for everyone after handling any animal, but it is particularly important for individuals who may have a weakened immune system. It is also especially important after handling an animal with an active MRSP infection, because the risk of contamination with MRSP is greater.
  • Strict quarantine is not necessary. MRSP is widespread in the dog population, so really aggressive measures to restrict contact with an infected animal in the community aren’t indicated. However, use common sense to help reduce the likelihood of transmission of MRSP to other dogs (and people) by:
  •    Avoiding dog parks, puppy classes and other similar events while the infection is still active.
  •    Not letting your dog off-leash, as it may then have uncontrolled contact with other dogs.
  •    Promptly removing any stool that is passed, particularly in public places, since MRSP can be shed in stool.
  •    Keeping your dog away from people with compromised immune systems.
  • Assume that your pet is also carrying MRSP at other body sites, not just where it has the infection. You should therefore also following the basic practices recommended below for colonized pets.

What Should I Do If My Pet Is Colonized With MRSP?

  • Avoid contact with the pet’s nose, mouth or bum, as these are the most likely areas to harbour MRSP.
  • Don’t let your pet lick a person’s face, or any area of broken or damaged skin.
  • MRSP-positive dogs should be walked in low-traffic areas, where they are not likely to encounter other animals or people to which they may transmit MRSP through direct contact. MRSP-positive cats should be kept indoors.
  • MRSP can be found in the stool of colonized animals, so stool should be collected as promptly as possible and disposed of directly into the garbage. Cat litter boxes should be scooped out daily.
  • Although the importance of the environment in transmission of MRSP is unclear, MRSP can survive in the environment for some time. The toys and bedding of an MRSP-positive pet should regularly be changed/cleaned to reduce the exposure of both the animal and people to MRSP. Contaminated laundry should be washed separately and dried in a hot air dryer (such as most normal clothes dryers).
  • It’s probably also a good idea to keep MRSP-positive animals off of people’s beds.
  • Hand hygiene remains the most important means of preventing transmission.

How Long Will My Pet Be Colonized With MRSP?

There is no information about how long animals remain colonized with MRSP, but long-term colonization is likely possible, because we know S. pseudintermedius is well adapted to live on pets (especially dogs). This is quite different from MRSA, which pets only seem to carry for a short period of time if they become colonized.

How Do I Prevent My Pet From Getting MRSP?

  • It’s impossible to completely prevent exposure to MRSP in pets because it is carried by so many healthy animals (and a few healthy people).
  • Risk factors for MRSP colonization and infection in pets are not well known. One important step for preventing MRSP from emerging is using antibiotics responsibly.
  • Always follow prescriptions (for you or your pet!) as carefully as possible. Give the right dose at the right time, and finish the entire prescription, unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian.
  • Only use antibiotics when they’re really needed, and only if your veterinarian advises their use.

What Is The Risk?

The zoonotic risk to the general population posed by MRSP in healthy house pets such as dogs and cats is:

HEALTHY ADULTS

LOW RISK  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10  HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 1.5

Individuals with compromised immune systems

(e.g. HIV/AIDS, transplant and cancer patients) are more susceptible to many kinds of infections, including those which may be transmitted by pets. While these individuals are not advised to get rid of their pets, precautions should be taken to reduce the frequency of contacts that could result in pathogen transmission (e.g. avoiding contact with open wounds, feces), as well as the ability of infectious agents to survive in the household (e.g. prompt and thorough disinfection of potentially contaminated surfaces).

  • Immunocompromised individuals should avoid contact with any pet that is colonized or infected with MRSP.

Infants and young children (less than 5 years old) are more likely than adults to extensively handle animals if given the opportunity, more likely to touch their faces or mouths, and less likely to wash their hands after handling an animal. Children may “snuggle” with pets; this very close contact can increase the risk of disease transmission.

  • Young children should be supervised when playing with animals, and an adult should ensure that they wash their hands afterwards, and especially prior to handling food. Older children should be taught to do the same.

For these groups, the zoonotic risk posed by MRSP in healthy house pets such as dogs and cats is likely:

YOUNG CHILDREN / IMMUNOCOMPROMISED PERSONS

LOW RISK   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   HIGH RISK

^ RISK = 3