Handling A Hairball Hassle

As every cat owner knows, hairballs are not very pleasant for the cat or the person who cleans them up. They can also be an indication of other health issues, especially if they are happening frequently.cat

In honor of National Hairball Awareness Day on April 26, Dr. Carly Patterson, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the causes of hairballs and how to reduce their occurrence.

She said that while any cat can get hairballs, they tend to be most common in long-haired cats.

“There are two basic mechanisms by which hairballs are generated,” Patterson said. “Hairballs form when too much hair accumulates in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract or when there is a change in overall gastrointestinal tract motility.”

Frequent hairballs can be a sign of an underlying disease or health issue, so if a cat is having hairballs regularly, it should see a veterinarian.

“Cats may have itchy skin and groom excessively, which causes them to ingest more hair than usual,” Patterson said. “Cats may also over-groom when they are in pain.”

Once the cause of the hairballs is known, a veterinarian can recommend a personalized treatment plan, often involving diet changes, daily grooming, and sometimes even medications.

“If a cat frequently vomits hairballs and it is not due to gastrointestinal disease, then it is possible that increasing overall dietary fiber may help minimize hairball formation by moving material through the gastrointestinal tract,” Patterson said.

Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals can also reduce hair buildup in the gastrointestinal tract, she said. In addition, daily brushing can reduce the amount of excess hair, especially for long-haired cats.

If the problem persists, the cat’s veterinarian may recommend medications such as lubricant laxative drugs to promote hair movement through the gastrointestinal tract and to reduce hairballs.

“It is important that an owner work with their veterinarian to address any underlying medical problems first,” Patterson advised. “Long-term medical management with drugs should not be the first choice.”

Hairballs may be a common problem, but they can usually be greatly reduced with simple changes in diet and grooming. Life without regular hairballs will be much happier, both for you and your cat.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Truth About Feline AIDS

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is commonly known as Feline AIDS because of its similarities to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). FIV is relatively uncommon, but it can have serious impacts on a cat’s health and well-being.two cats napping

With proper care, cats with FIV can live many years and usually can share a household with other, FIV-negative cats. Medications and good nutrition can help greatly increase the lifespan of a cat with this disease.

Dr. Debra Zoran, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the stages and prognosis for cats that become infected with FIV.

“FIV is not a virus that is easily contracted by contact in normal household settings, such as from grooming, eating from the same food bowl, or contact with other secretions from the nose, mouth, or urine of infected cats,” Zoran said.

FIV does not survive well outside the body; it is mostly transmitted through bite wounds and blood transfusions, or is passed to kittens during birth. It is also spread through breeding, so cats that are spayed or neutered have a much lower chance of contracting the disease.

“A cat with FIV that is neutered and not prone to fighting can live with another cat in a household and the virus will not affect the other cat,” Zoran said.

Zoran highly recommends that cats with FIV become indoor-only cats, both for their own safety and to reduce the risk of transmission to other cats.

She said that if a cat becomes infected with FIV, the disease will go through three stages, the first of which is characterized by a lack of symptoms.

“After the virus gets into the body, it enters the body’s T lymphocytes and lives in them without causing problems—often for years,” Zoran said. “Some infected cats that have poor immune function can get signs of illness in months, but most cats carry the virus for months to years before the virus transitions into the active stage.”

During the active stage, which can also last for years, cats are more prone to illnesses because the virus interferes with the immune system. They may have frequent respiratory, skin, or urinary tract infections, but veterinary care can allow these cats to recover completely.

“Cats with this stage of the disease do best if they live inside because they are exposed to fewer things to cause illness,” Zoran said.

During the third stage of FIV, called the AIDS stage, cats typically develop chronic illnesses or cancers.

As of now, there is no cure, but cats with FIV can have a good quality of life if they live indoors and have good veterinary care.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Managing Feline Acne

Acne may be most common with teenagers, but many cats also develop this skin condition on the chin and lips. Fortunately, feline acne is usually minor and easy to treat.

Cat SleepingBrandi Miller, a veterinary student at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has advice for managing cat acne and avoiding infections.

Cat acne can occur for many reasons, though the specific cause is usually unknown. Typically, the hair follicles on the chin produce too much oil, causing lesions and other bumps.

“The severity and painfulness of the lesions vary,” Miller said. “Most commonly, owners will see comedones, or ‘blackheads,’ on the chin and lips, and the cat may be itchy and want to rub its chin on furniture.”

Though this condition sounds rather unpleasant, it really is no worse than an average case of human acne. Miller said feline acne tends to need lifelong management but is usually treatable with over-the-counter medications.

“This condition is often cosmetic and does not affect the quality of life of the animal, as long as there is no infection,” Miller said. “Daily topical wipes, gels, and shampoos may help manage the lesions, but it is important to avoid alcohol and peroxide-based products, as these may be irritating to the skin and make matters worse.”

Miller said that human acne medicines should also be avoided, as they can be very harmful to animals. Sometimes one of the best treatment options is simply cleaning the cat’s chin on a regular basis.

“Popping zits is the absolute worst thing you can do—it causes a lot of pain and irritation, disrupts the structure of the hair follicle, and can spread the infection to other parts of the chin,” she said.

Miller recommends being careful when treating cats, as some may try to bite and scratch if they are in pain.

Consulting with your veterinarian is always recommended, because while feline acne is usually minor, it can become a larger issue if infections occur. Infected lesions can develop into painful bruises if left untreated.

“We don’t always know why this occurs,” Miller said. “However, plastic food dishes tend to harbor microbes, so we recommend that owners switch to metallic dishes and clean them daily.”

If a cat is prone to infections, its veterinarian may want to test for other skin conditions or parasites that could be causing the acne.

Treatment for feline acne can easily be incorporated into a daily routine, and usually takes only a minute or two. If properly cared for, cats with acne should be able to live the same pain-free life as any other cat.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Joys and Challenges of Adopting an Animal

person holding a black and white puppy in their arms, close upAdopting a pet from a shelter is a great way to find a new best friend. But it’s also a great way to make a huge difference for an animal, and potentially even save its life.

Sadly, many of the animals that end up in shelters come from bad situations. Adopting a mistreated animal can have extra challenges, but can be a great lesson in love, patience, and trust.

Kit Darling, infection control coordinator at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains the benefits of adopting an animal that has been mistreated and discusses the best ways to earn its trust.

Adopting an animal can greatly improve its quality of life; an animal that has known nothing but loneliness and fear can be given the chance to feel love and safety, Darling said.

In return, these pets can provide unconditional love and support for their owners. The benefits of pet ownership may take longer, but can be just as strong in the end.

“It takes patience and consistency to gain the trust of an animal that has been mistreated,” Darling said. “It may take a while for the animal to trust and accept your love. Go slow, take baby steps, and do not expect too much.”

At first, these animals may show signs of fear or aggression, such as cowering, growling, or shying away from touch. Some may even have an injury if they did not have time to heal at a shelter.

“Animals that have been mistreated may show significant emotional reactions to certain situations or objects,” Darling said.

She explained that fear may cause these animals to be withdrawn, unwilling to play, or have the inclination to hide. Some may also show separation anxiety when away from their new owner.

Darling recommends giving the animal a secluded, quiet place to retreat to so that the animal feels safe and secure and is not rushed into frightening situations.

She said that trust building begins by spending quiet time together on a daily basis. Speak clearly in low tones, give the animal treats, and do a quiet activity nearby to help the animal learn to trust you.

“Allow the animal to meet his new family one by one and at a pace that is not overwhelming,” she said. “If he is fearful of people or other animals, do not force interactions with them.”

Once the animal has begun to adjust to you and your household, basic training can be used to decrease any remaining fear.

“Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist or certified animal behaviorist can be helpful when dealing with mistreated animals,” Darling advised.

It can take a short or long period of time before the animal is fully comfortable with its new family. Some animals will always retain a bit of fear, but many others will fully recover and go on to live a normal life.

“It is important to be patient, consistent, and persistent in the rehabilitation process,” Darling said. “It can be rewarding to see an animal overcome their fears and enjoy life again. If you are willing to take the time and open your heart and home to helping a neglected animal, it can give you a joyous and rewarding experience.”

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.