When I look around the waiting room at one of the two Idaho veterinary hospitals where I practice, I too often see something that concerns me.
Where are the cats?
Cats have long been the most popular of pets. At the nation's veterinary hospitals, though, dogs take most of the appointment slots and get most of the wellness care. The biggest reason cats are shortchanged when it comes to their health is that people don't like catching them, putting them in carriers and dealing with the difficult behavior of fearful cats. So what can be done?
The lack of preventive care for cats means making these pets happier has become a high priority for many veterinarians. Veterinary behaviorists have been helping veterinarians design facilities and protocols to make cat visits less stressful for all, including dogs, pet owners and hospital staff. You'll see a lot of changes in the years to come, as veterinary clinics and hospitals begin to handle feline patients with greater knowledge of feline behavior.
The use of pheromones is one such change. When I'm practicing, I wear so much of the synthetic cat pheromone called Feliway (a version of feline facial pheromones, which relax cats) that it's more like aftershave to me.
As veterinarians work to make their practices fear-free and feline-friendly, there's a lot you can do to help your cat relax when it's time to see the doctor. The American Academy of Feline Practitioners offers new guidelines at CatVets.com. Here are the main points:
-- Get your cat used to being handled. Be patient and build up your cat's tolerance for handling. Make sessions short and reward your cat with treats or the kind of petting she enjoys, such as under the chin.
-- Choose a cat-friendly carrier. Find a carrier that opens from the front (BEGIN ITAL)and(END ITAL) top or that opens from the front and unclips easily to allow the entire top to come off so the cat can remain on her bedding in the bottom part.
-- Make your cat's carrier part of the furniture. If the only time your cat sees a carrier is when he's headed to the vet, he can't relax inside. Leave the carrier out and place soft bedding inside. If your cat likes treats, give them to him inside the carrier. Spray Feliway liberally in the carrier. It's "Kumbaya" in a can.
-- Locate your cat the day before a veterinary visit and don't let him outside to disappear. Let the vet's office know in advance that your cat is uncomfortable with veterinary visits so they can prepare.
-- If your cat has freaked out at the veterinary office before, ask your veterinarian for medication to calm your cat's anxiety. If your cat becomes car sick, discuss a medication for that as well.
-- Make sure the carrier is belted safely into your car to minimize movement, and put a towel over the carrier to block the view.
-- Try to remain calm and positive. Your anxiety will make your cat's worse.
If you have more than one cat, prevent post-visit aggression by leaving the cat who's been to the veterinarian in his carrier when you get home. Watch for problems. If all seems well, open the door to the carrier, but don't force your cat out and don't force the cats to interact. Let time -- and more Feliway -- ease the stress of reintroduction.
Lab's worn-out tail
will soon wag again
Q: Our Labrador suddenly stopped being able to wag his tail after we spent a day on the lake. The problem is "dead tail," according to our veterinarian, who said it would heal on its own. But what caused it? Will it happen again? -- via email
A: Good news first: Your veterinarian's right in that the problem will resolve on its own in a couple of days. Because the condition can be painful, your veterinarian may prescribe a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) for a day or two to make your dog more comfortable in the meantime.
"Dead tail" (also called "cold tail" and "limber tail") is sort of a canine version of "weekend warrior syndrome," a muscle problem that happens when a body is pushed to peak performance without building up strength and stamina first. Typically, "dead tail" is seen in hunting dogs near the beginning of the season after a long day's work. Swimming in cold water under such circumstances also seems to be a trigger.
What causes "dead tail" is muscle exhaustion. The muscles of the tail are used for more than wagging. The tail is also used for balance and, in the water, for steering. "Dead tail" is a pretty accurate description: The tail just hangs down, and the dog can't even wag it.
Treatment is pain medication and rest. Prevention involves taking your dog on a series of shorter outings that demand peak performance before attempting a full day of hard work or play. Veterinarians also suggest stretch breaks for dogs confined for long periods during a day's outing (such as in a crate, waiting the turn to compete), and ending the good times before the dog is exhausted, especially when cold water swimming is involved. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dog's leg action
on a hair trigger
-- Every healthy dog has a reflex reaction to any passing skin irritation, whether it's an insect crawling among his hairs or a fingernail giving a scratch. If nerve endings detect something that's annoying the skin, the dog's leg will automatically come up to scratch off the pest -- even if there's no pest there. The response is most pronounced if you scratch a dog on the rump near the base of the tail, along the upper part of the flanks or on the belly -- not coincidentally, places where fleas like to congregate. The "scratch reflex" is so predictable that veterinarians will use it to help with their neurological exam when spinal damage is suspected.
-- Want to avoid a tussle when it comes to trimming the claws on your cat? Don't trim them until you can massage your cat's paws gently during lap time. As you massage a paw with one hand, offer an irresistible treat in the other. Make the procedure as pleasant as possible -- for both of you. Trim only one nail each day and take off only the tip.
-- Cats can get heartworm disease as well as dogs. If these microscopic larvae -- transmitted by mosquitoes -- settle in a cat's lungs, they can cause big health problems. Found in all 50 states, feline heartworm disease is incurable but 100 percent preventable with medications from your veterinarian. Think your indoor-only cat is safe? Think again! A North Carolina study reported that 28 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworm disease were indoor-only cats. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetsteet.om and also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.