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Cat Advice

Top tips on caring for your cat

Please see our general health and disease advice guide for cats below. For further information, please don't hesitate to contact us.

Diabetes in Cats

Diabetes is an inability of the body to control the normal level of glucose (blood sugar).

Glucose provides the cells in the body with the energy they need to live and function normally. Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of the hormone insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas. Sometimes the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body fail to respond normally to insulin. Therefore, the cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and too much remains in the blood.

When the blood contains a high level of glucose, some of it is able to leak through the kidneys and it begins to appear in the urine, causing increased urine production. To replace this fluid loss, the affected animal must then drink extra water. Also, because an important energy source is being lost from the body, affected animals tend to lose weight. Because the body cells aren’t absorbing enough glucose for their needs this sends a signal to the brain and the animal constantly feels hungry. There may also be other signs of low energy such as lethargy and poor coat condition. The high level of sugar in the urine can cause intermittent or on-going urine infections.

Main symptoms:

  • Excessive hunger
  • Increased thirst
  • Lethargy / weakness
  • Recurrent urinary infections

Some of these symptoms such as an increased appetite, increased drinking, urine infections or lethargy, can also be caused by a number of other diseases. Therefore, your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis.

The main aim of treatment is to restore the body’s ability to control the levels of glucose in the blood. Just as in people, diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin. Providing the body with an easily accessible source of energy by modifying the diet as well as keeping a stress free day to day routine is just as vital to the successful treatment of the disease as the administration of insulin. Some animals’ diabetes is controlled purely through diet and routine alone.

When an animal’s treatment requires insulin, each animal’s individual requirement is different and your vet will need to tailor the dosage to your particular pet’s needs. It can take several months to achieve full stabilisation, although overall improvements in your animal should be seen within a few weeks of starting treatment.

Insulin is given at least once daily by injection and this is something that most owners can learn to do for their pet at home. While it feels very daunting at first, you will be shown how to draw up the correct dose of insulin and how to give the injection just under the skin. It is surprising how easy this all becomes with a little practice.

With well controlled diabetes, many animals can live for many years with a good quality of life. For more information please contact us directly.

Heart Disease in Cats

What does the heart do?
The heart is a large muscle located in the chest. The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen. The left side of the heart receives blood from the lungs and pumps it around the body. The left and right sides of the heart each consist of 2 chambers; these are separated by valves which ensure that blood flows only in one direction.

What can go wrong with the heart?
Rarely cats are born with heart defects such as ‘hole in the heart’. These conditions may be noticed when kittens are examined for vaccinations. Sometimes these ‘congenital heart conditions’ may only become evident as animals age. More commonly, heart diseases develop as animals age and the heart muscle starts to wear out. As cats now live longer, heart disease is becoming more common.

You may have heard of angina and heart attacks. These occur when the supply of blood to the heart muscle is reduced or totally blocked. While heart attacks are common in humans they rarely occur in other animals. Indeed, cats develop different heart conditions from dogs, and within species heart conditions can occur more frequently in certain breeds.

The heart muscle of cats can become abnormally thickened with age. This is called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The thickened walls reduce the capacity of the chambers and therefore the volume of blood delivered to the body. It has been suggested that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may be due to thyroid or kidney problems. It most commonly occurs in Persian cats. The heart muscle of cats may also stretch in a manner similar to dogs. This stretching has been linked to low dietary levels of taurine. The condition is now rare as most pet foods are now supplemented with extra taurine.

How do you know if your cat has heart disease?
Cats can be very good at concealing ill health. Heart conditions may therefore be quite advanced by the time they are noticed. The signs are also similar to general aging changes, e.g. poor appetite, reduced activity and increased resting. Reduced oxygen delivery can cause a bluish tinge to the tongue. Water retention can lead to panting, weight loss, coughing, fainting, restlessness or swelling of body parts.

How does a vet diagnose heart disease?
The most useful tool for the vet is a stethoscope. A change in normal sounds can indicate heart disease. In heart disease the heart rate may be increased (or occasionally decreased). An irregular or unusual (murmur) noise may be heard. X-rays can show that the heart is enlarged or that fluid is present in the lungs. In some cases, a vet may require ultrasound to image the heart or an ECG to look at the heart’s electrical activity.

It is good advice to ask your vet to examine a new kitten. You may want to return to the breeder a kitten born with a heart defect. Alternatively, it may be possible to correct a condition surgically before any symptoms develop.

How is heart disease treated?
In the cat, medication may also slow the progression of heart disease. Again, the disease can unfortunately not be stopped.

Treatment includes:

  • Lifestyle changes to eliminate stress
  • Drugs to remove retained fluid
  • Drugs to increase the strength of the heart beat or change the rate of heart beat

 A vet may prescribe aspirin to reduce the chance of blood clot formation. However, even low levels of aspirin can be dangerous to cats as it lasts much longer in the body. You must not give aspirin without specific veterinary advice. Dietary changes may also be of benefit.

Heart disease is not the same as heart failure. Many animals with heart disease lead relatively normal lives without medication. However, heart disease is progressive and once symptoms develop, treatment will probably be needed for the rest of an animal’s life.

What is the prognosis for cats with heart disease?
This is an impossible question to answer. While some animals can live normal lives with no symptoms, others may die quickly despite treatment. A vet may be able discuss prognosis on a case by case basis. The most important factor is obviously the quality of life which your pet enjoys. If you have concerns that medication is not helping or that your pet seems unwell, you should contact your vet.

Complications of heart disease include increased blood pressure which can lead to blindness or clot formation which can lead to hind limb paralysis in cats. The latter is often misinterpreted as the result of a road traffic accident.

For more infomation please contact us directly.

Hyperthyroidism in Cats

Cats with hyperthyroidism have a thyroid gland that is producing excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.

These hormones have several functions:

  1. They are essential to proper growth of body cells
  2. They help regulate metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrate by cells
  3. They are involved in the regulation of heat production and oxygen consumption

This excessive amount of hormone causes a dramatic increase in the body’s metabolic rate – the speed at which the body uses up calories. This means that a cat with hyperthyroidism burns calories very quickly and has to eat a lot of food to provide this energy.

As the condition progresses it becomes increasingly difficult for a cat to eat enough to provide the huge amount of energy required, so they start to lose weight. This is why the most common clinical sign in cats with hyperthyroidism is weight loss despite a ravenous appetite. A high metabolic rate also causes increased heart rate, high blood pressure and restlessness. Cats may also have an increased frequency of vomiting and diarrhoea, increased drinking and an unkempt coat.

In 98% of cases, the enlarged thyroid gland is benign – meaning non-cancerous. So far science still does not fully understand why some cats develop an overactive thyroid although it is age related with most hyperthyroid cats developing the disease from 12 years old onwards.

It is really important to diagnose and treat hyperthyroidism, as left untreated, your cat may develop secondary problems such as heart complaints and problems due to high blood pressure – such as damaged retinas in the eye (which can result in blindness) or kidney damage.

If you think your cat may have any of these symptoms, you should contact us immediately. Diagnosis is normally very straightforward. This will include the vet trying to feel an enlarged thyroid gland in your cat’s neck and taking a blood sample to measure thyroid hormones.

We may also suggest that other blood tests are performed at the same time to assess other organ function, as other medical conditions might affect the successful treatment of hyperthyroidism. We’ve already mentioned that increased blood pressure can affect kidney function so it is important we check for this problem as well, as this may need additional treatment.

Hyperthyroidism can be treated very successfully. It is common for us to prescribe an initial period of tablets to help neutralise the excessive thyroid levels in order to stabilise the condition. Long-term options include lifelong medication with tablets, surgical removal of the over-active gland or treatment with radioactive iodine to kill off the overactive portion of the gland. These options all have advantages and disadvantages and how appropriate they are for each individual cat and what suits you best as the owner will be discussed with your vet.

Long term, the outlook for your cat is good if we can maintain well managed hyperthyroidism. For more information please contact us directly.