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Fireworks

It is estimated that between 45% and 70% of dogs and cats are afraid of fireworks, and of these, perhaps one in 10 requires veterinary treatment. To a great extent, however, it is a treatable problem and we have a few pointers here to get you started. Should your pet be severely affected, do seek help from your vet and/or a behaviourist

Signs that might suggest your pet is struggling to cope with loud noises are: trembling or shaking, clinging to owners, barking excessively, cowering or hiding behind furniture, pacing and panting, refusing food, soiling the house and trying to run away. Many owners will try to reassure their pets as they do their loved ones – with stroking/physical contact or talking to them. This unfortunately reinforces the idea that pets should be afraid and it is preferable to ignore fearful behaviour, whilst remembering that animals will be more relaxed with a familiar person present. Dogs are likely to pick up on any anxiety their owners are feeling so staying calm and relaxed for them is paramount! Their usual routine may benefit from slight changes to ensure they are not taken for walks after dark when fireworks may be let off. In addition, try to feed and settle them for the evening before any whizzes or bangs begin and keep cats in the house for the night. Make sure your house and garden are secure in case your pet is suddenly startled and tries to run away – microchipping and a dog tag are essential. Keep pets indoors, close the curtains and play music or turn the television on to disguise the noises, consider making a den of old, familiar blankets to enable your pet to hide away and settle. Similarly, if your cat is happier hidden under the dresser, leave them there as long as they need.

Adaptil (DAP) – Dog Appeasing Pheromone is a synthetic version of a chemical produced by the mother after birth and can naturally calm older dogs. It is best to place a diffuser near your dog’s favourite spot and turn it on several days before the firework period begins. There is a CD that can be used in conjunction with Adaptil to desensitise your dog to typical firework noises. It usually takes several weeks to see a marked improvement and so is best carried out well in advance – contact Knutsford Vets if you would like to know more. For cats, Feliway performs a similar function, although there is not as much information as to whether desensitisation to loud noises works. There are herbal remedies available for both dogs and cats which are worth trying to see what your pet responds to best. If your pet becomes severely stressed, then do approach your vet to discuss sedatives but beware that all drugs have potential side effects. Especially in older pets, blood testing to check kidney and liver function is preferable before starting medication, especially as fireworks can be a concern for several weeks.
If you have any queries or would like to know more information about any of the products mentioned, or any veterinary treatments available, please do contact us on 01332 345119.

A Stressed Cat

A number of factors can cause cats stress. Such factors include moving house, a new member of the family (for example a new baby or a new animal joining the household) or something of shorter duration such as a visit to the vets. It is important to be able to recognise both potential stressors (things that cause stress) and the symptoms of stress in order to help prevent and alleviate it and keep cats happy.

How do I know if my cat is stressed?

Cats can show their stress in a number of ways but there are certain key signs to look out for in your cat’s facial expressions and body posture. When a cat’s pupils are very large they indicate that the cat is aroused and that arousal may be due to stress associated with pain, fear or anxiety. A cat that is stressed for a short time (eg from a startle or the approach of an unfriendly cat) may raise its back in an arch, flatten its ears and erect its fur. A cat that is stressed for longer periods of time (for reasons such as living with a cat it does not like or an inability to cope in a boarding cattery) may not groom and have a scruffy looking coat due or may appear dull and lifeless, often curled up with its head pressed closed to its body.

How does a stressed cat behave?

Cats tend to express their stress either actively or inactively depending on their temperament. An active type cat that is stressed will often vocalise excessively and if confined (eg in a vet cage or boarding cattery) may attempt to escape or spend long periods of time trying to gain attention. Conversely, an inactive type cat often exhibits stress by being as quiet as possible and trying to find a place to hide. It may hide its head or whole body under its bed or hide somewhere within the house. Cats that are stressed can often change their feeding and toileting patterns. They may withdraw from eating or eat excessively and they may start toileting outside of their litter boxes.

What sort of things stress a cat?

Many factors can cause stress and what one cat may find stressful, another may not. However, cats are often stressed by a change in their lifestyle, routine and/or environment. Examples include a visit to the vets, a stay in a boarding cattery, a new baby, other cats in the neighbourhood, building works or renovations to the home, or a new pet. For sensitive cats, something as minor as a new piece of furniture or a change in position of the litter tray can be stressful.

Do cats pull out their fur when they are stressed?

In some extreme cases cats can pull their fur out (or more commonly groom an area so much the hair is removed) when they are stressed. However, there are a number of medical reasons why a cat may over-groom or lose its fur including skin complaints and allergies. If you notice your cat is losing fur or has bald patches, take it to the vet for an examination. Cats may also groom very little or stop completely if they are stressed, therefore any change in normal grooming should be monitored and reported to your vet.

Is it stressful for a cat to live without access to the outdoors?

There is a lot of debate on the topic of welfare of the indoor only cat. If a cat has to be kept indoors only (eg due to a disability or living close to a busy road), it is important its behavioural needs are met in order to prevent it getting stressed. Foraging games, interactive play, hiding places, scratching posts, high walkways and vantage points at windows are all important ways of enriching the indoor environment in an attempt to prevent stress.

How do I reduce the stress for my cat when moving house?

The first step would be to put your cat’s carrier in a nice safe quiet place in a room in your current house that your cat spends lots of time in. Place your cat’s favourite treats and toys in the carrier to encourage your cat to use it. Building the association that the carrier is a nice place will help your cat cope with the journey to the new house. Synthetic pheromone sprayed in the carrier 30 minutes before travelling may also help with the journey. Once at the new home, confine your cat to one room initially until he or she is confident and secure and the unpacking has finished. Make sure you take the cat’s old bedding to the new house so he or she has something that smells familiar. Alternatively, placing your cat in a cattery while the house move takes place means the cat does not need to experience the stress often associated with packing and unpacking homes.

My cat gets really stressed when we go to the vets, what can I do?

There are a number of things that may stress your cat about a visit to the vets. It may be going in the cat carrier, travelling in the car, waiting in the waiting room where there are strange smells and sights (and even dogs) or it may be the actual vet examination itself. It is common for a combination of these events to stress a cat. In order to try and make the visit as stress free as possible for your cat, leave the cat box open in the home at all times. Try making it a positive place by putting food and toys in there. A synthetic pheromone spray can be sprayed in the box 30 minutes prior to travelling to help the cat cope during the journey. Travelling time and waiting time are both known stressors to cats so don’t make any extra stop offs to or from the vets. At the vets, place the carrier high up if possible and try to keep in an area of the waiting room away from dogs.

How can I prevent my cat getting stressed?

Stress is a part of life for all animals but too much can cause behavioural and medical problems. Within the home there are a number of things that can be done to try to minimise stressors. These include providing:
Adequate numbers of litter trays for the cats residing in the home (general rule is one per cat plus one)
Plenty of places to gain food and water (separately) within the home
A choice of places to rest (up high, away from hustle and bustle of household)
Opportunities for your cat(s) to express hunting behaviour (through play and foraging games)
A secure home. Make sure no neighbouring cats can enter your cats home (magnetic collared cat flap or microchip scanning cat flaps can help prevent unwanted cats in the home).

Should I see my vet if I think my cat is stressed?

Yes, if you think your cat is experiencing stress, the vet should always be your first point of contact. Not only can the vet check for medical causes of stress, they can advise you on further help if the problem appears to be behavioural.

Should I get another cat to help my cat feel calmer?

Cats do not have the complex emotional social groups that people enjoy. While company may make a person feel less stressed, this isn’t necessarily the case for a cat. Adding another cat to an environment where the existing cat already feels stressed is not guaranteed to help.

Feline Behaviour

Cats are very special creatures and despite man’s best efforts are not that far removed from their wild ancestors. They have a large range of behavioural patterns and a secret language of their own. So whilst we bring them into our homes and try to tame them they do tend to continue to know their own mind and ‘do their own thing’! This can be very frustrating for cat owners but the truth is you have to learn to live with cat rather than them learn to live with you. Understanding why they behave the way they do can help you develop strategies to persuade your cat to do things the way you want.

Can cats be trained?

Dogs are probably easier to train than cats because dogs are keen to please their owners. Cats, on the other hand, are highly motivated by their own pleasure. The key to cat training is to make sure that you make whatever you want your cat to do highly rewarding. Behaviours that you don’t want should be unpleasant for the cat. Punishing cats does not work – they will just learn to misbehave when you cannot see them! Some cats misbehave to get attention and this attention is a reward that encourages your cat to continue this behaviour.

How do I train my cat to use a litter box?

Cats are naturally very clean and litter training is easy in most cases. After feeding or waking take your kitten to a clean litter tray. When your cat gets to the box, scratch the litter to get her interested. The litter tray must always be kept clean so that your cat learns it is a great place to be. If your cat uses the tray let her know how pleased you are.

Can I stop my cat from hunting?

Many owners find it difficult to get used to the fact that their cute pet is also a cruel hunter. It is especially difficult to live with a cat that insists on bringing his prey home. Hunting is a very strong instinct in cats and they will continue to chase and catch prey even when they are well fed. Kittens instinctively use hunting behaviour in their play and as they get older they develop the techniques through practise.
You will not be able to stop your cat hunting unless you keep them indoors all the time. Fitting a bell on a collar may reduce the number of animals that your cat catches.

Why does my cat scratch the furniture?

Claws are an important part of the armoury of cats in the wild. They use them for hunting, fighting and climbing. It is important therefore that the claws are kept sharp and in good condition. Scratching conditions your cat’s claws by removing the old layers of the nails. Cats may scratch at furniture in order to keep their claws sharp but usually you can teach them that this is unacceptable behaviour by making the experience unpleasant, ie by shouting when they do it. However, you will need to teach your cat where they are allowed to scratch and provide something for the purpose such as a scratching post. Cats may also scratch furniture in order to mark it and define their territory. If your cat persists in this behaviour you may need to get some advice from your vet to help you deal with it.

Obesity (Excessive Weight)

Excessive Weight

Obesity is a nutritional disease which is defined by an excess of body fat. Animals that are over nourished, lack the ability to exercise, or that have a tendency to retain weight are the most at risk for becoming obese. Obesity can result in serious adverse health effects, such as reducing the lifespan, even if your pet is only moderately obese. Multiple areas of the body are affected by excess body fat, including the bones and joints, the digestive organs, and the organs responsible for breathing capacity.

Obesity is common in pets of all ages, but it usually occurs in middle-aged animals, and generally in those that are between the ages of 5 and 10. Neutered and indoor pets also tend to have a higher risk of becoming obese.

Symptoms

• Weight gain
• Excess body fat
• The inability (or unwillingness) to exercise
• An above-ideal score in a body condition assessment

Causes

There are several causes of obesity. It is mostly commonly caused by an imbalance between the energy intake and its usage ie eating more than the animal can possibly burn off during exercise. Obesity also becomes more common in old age because of the normal decrease in a pet’s ability to exercise. Unhealthy eating habits, such as high-calorie foods, an alternating diet, and frequent treats can also bring on this condition.

Other common causes include:
• Neutering
• Underactive Thyroid

Diagnosis

Obesity is diagnosed primarily by measuring the animal’s body weight or by scoring its body condition, which involves assessing its body composition. Your veterinarian will do this by examining your pet, palpating its ribs, lumbar area, tail, and head. The results are then compared to the breed standard.

If a pet is obese, it will have an excess body weight of approximately 10 to 15 percent. In the nine-point scoring system, animals which have a body condition score greater than seven are considered to be obese.

Obesity can increase the risk of many diseases including:

1. Arthritis
2. Diabetes
3. Cancer
4. Heart Disease

We run free weight clinics so please get your pet booked in if you think they may be over-weight.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a disease caused by an overactive thyroid gland, an organ found on either side of the windpipe at the base of the neck. This gland produces thyroid hormone which helps to regulate your cat’s metabolism, or rate of bodily activity. When the thyroid gland produces too much hormone, your cat’s ‘internal motor’ effectively goes into overdrive. Untreated this would eventually be fatal but the condition can now be successfully treated.

What causes the disease?

Hyperthyroidism was first seen in cats as recently as 30 years ago and appears to be caused by a form of benign cancer in the thyroid gland. However, it is still not clear what causes the cancer to develop. The disease is rare in young cats but becomes more common in later life. It is now the most frequent hormonal disease in middle-aged and older cats.

What are the symptoms?

The first indication that anything is wrong is usually a marked increase in your cat’s appetite. Even though your cat is eating more it may lose weight and its coat may become rough and unkempt. Other changes include restlessness and aggression, body tremors, increased drinking and urinating, vomiting and diarrhoea. In about one case in ten the symptoms are unusual and the opposite of what might be expected, such as depression, loss of appetite and physical weakness.

How can my vet diagnose hyperthyroidism?

Apart from recognising the symptoms, there are a number of other steps in making a diagnosis. When your vet examines your cat’s throat the thyroid gland may feel lumpy or enlarged. Blood tests are usually taken to rule out other diseases of the liver or kidneys. Directly measuring levels of hormone in the blood may help confirm the diagnosis but in some cats the thyroxine levels may be normal. Your vet will also want to check your cat’s heart – an abnormally fast or irregular heart beat is often a feature. Early diagnosis and treatment is important to prevent and even reverse damage to the heart and kidneys.

What treatments are available?

Medication

– There are drugs available which block the production of hormones by the thyroid gland. The medication is given one to three times a day.

Advantages
Simple and does not require an anaesthetic.
Suitable for cats with severe kidney disease which might be made worse by the other types of treatment.

Disadvantages
Does not tackle the underlying problem and so treatment must continue throughout your cats life.
Difficulties in getting your cat to swallow tablets.
You must remember to give the tablets every day.
In some cats there are side effects of the drug ranging from fatique to anaemia.
In the early stages your cat must be carefully monitored to make sure that the dose is right.

Surgical

– The abnormal gland can be surgically removed.

Advantages
Treatment should permanently cure the disease so no need for further medication.
Disadvantages
Not suitable for all cats, such as those with severe kidney disease or the very elderly.
Your cat may need drug treatment for a few weeks beforehand to show that its kidneys will cope and to stabilise their condition before anaesthesia.
Needs a general anaesthetic which is always a slight risk but more so in ill animals.
Possibility of damaging the parathyroid glands, which lie close to the thyroid and control the use of calcium in the body, so needs an experienced surgeon.
After surgery cats should be carefully monitored for a couple of weeks to make sure there are no changes in blood calcium caused by parathyroid gland damage.

Radiation

– An injection of radioactive iodine will destroy the abnormal thyroid tissue while leaving normal cells unaffected.

Advantages
No anaesthetic required and very few unwanted side-effects.
A single treatment will permanently cure the disease in 9 out of 10 cases and a second treatment will do the trick in most of the rest.
Radiation will also work in much rarer cases in which the tumour is malignant or where a portion of thyroid tissue has broken away from the main gland and is normally missed during surgery.

Disadvantages
Availability – there are only a few places offering the treatment because of tight regulations covering the use of radioactive substances and there is likely to be a waiting list.
Your cat will have to stay in complete isolation until the radiation level has died down, usually around four weeks.
Your cat cannot be handled during this time and so this method is unsuitable for cats needing urgent treatment for other serious conditions.
The cost of treatment and prolonged boarding can be high.

What is best for my cat?

The decision on which method to choose should be made after careful discussion with your vet. Each has advantages and disadvantages and not all may be suitable for your cat. There are a number of things to consider, your cat’s age, the severity of the condition, the presence or absence of other diseases and the risk of complications, etc. Cost may also be a factor as both surgery and radiation treatment can involve a significant expense. However, medication may also be costly in a cat diagnosed with the disease relatively early in its life and treated continuously for several years.