May is Pet Cancer Awareness Month

Few of us have not had our lives touched by cancer. Most of us know someone who has been affected by this disease, be it a family member, a friend, or even a pet. And while cancer is the most common cause of death of cats and dogs, it also the most curable of all chronic diseases. While we tend to associate cancer with serious disease in our pets, not all cancers carry the same prognosis. Many can be cured, long-term remissions can be achieved for others and, for the rest, a good quality of life is possible for a little extra time. Pet Cancer Awareness Month is designed to help owners recognize the signs of cancer early and understand how it is diagnosed and treated.

What is cancer?

All cancers share a common property: the development of new and abnormal tissue (a neoplasm) whose cells have lost the capacity to control their own division. The affected cells grow and divide without control and result in the development of masses (lumps or tumours) or thickening of affected organs. Neoplasia can affect any tissue type in the body.

Benign tumours do not spread to other parts of the body or invade surrounding tissue. Malignant tumours may invade surrounding tissue and can spread to other sites in the body (or ‘metastasize’) via the blood stream or lymphatic vessels. The term cancer is generally used to refer to these malignant growths. Because of their more aggressive and invasive nature, malignant tumours are usually more serious than benign tumours, often causing more extensive disease and may be more difficult to treat. Overall, cats get cancer about half as often as dogs do. But when cats do develop tumours they are much more likely to be malignant. Early detection and treatment are, therefore, essential for the best possible outcome.

What causes cancer?

The cause of cancer in any individual cat is often unknown, and many cancers likely arise for a number of different reasons. Genetic susceptibility to the development of certain tumours almost certainly occurs in cats. The two most common types of cancer found in cats are lymphoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Exposure to environmental factors may trigger abnormalities within cells that may lead to the development of some cancers. This may include exposure to sunlight or to a wide variety of different chemicals (carcinogens). In most individuals the underlying causes and triggers for the cancer remain unknown.

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A tumour under a cat’s tongue

We do know that some viral infections in cats can cause cancer, and feline leukemia virus is probably the best example of this. Fortunately, vaccination has helped decrease the incidence of this virus in many areas. However, when susceptible cats are exposed to this virus it can infect the blood-producing cells of the bone marrow and can lead to the development of leukemia or lymphoma. Infection with feline immunodeficiency virus also can lead to the development of cancer. Testing for these viruses is simple and is recommended for at-risk cats.

How would I know if my cat had cancer?

Because cancer is not a single disease, how it affects any one cat will depend on the type of cancer and the region of the body affected. Some cancers grow slowly and initially cause only vague signs of illness such as poor appetite, lack of energy, or weight loss. In other cases there may be more obvious signs such as persistent lumps under the skin or in the mouth, changes in the eyes, vomiting, diarrhea, unexplained bleeding or wounds that do not heal. As the disease progresses, additional complications may develop that relate to the affected tissues or organs.

Ten Warning Signs of Cancer in Pets
1. Lumps and bumps
2. Abnormal odours (especially bad breath)
3. Abnormal discharges (from the eyes, ears, nose, etc.)
4. Wounds that won’t heal
5. Unexplained weight loss
6. Changes in appetite
7. Coughing or difficulty breathing
8. Lethargy and depression
9. Changes in bathroom habits
10. Pain

It is important to remember that many other diseases commonly cause the same signs as cancer – especially in older cats. If cancer is diagnosed, there are usually treatment options that will cure, control, or manage the disease, at least for a period of time. As it is important to diagnose cancer early, it is vital to seek veterinary advice as soon as any abnormalities are noticed.

How is cancer diagnosed?

If you or your veterinarian suspect your cat has cancer based on clinical signs and physical exam findings, further testing will be needed to confirm the diagnosis. The diagnosis of cancer can be made only by the microscopic examination of the affected tissue. A biopsy (a small fragment of tissue) is obtained by the veterinarian and sent for microscopic examination for evidence of neoplasia.

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X-ray of a cat with a cancerous mass in the chest

Additional tests including radiographs (X-rays) or ultrasound examination of the chest and/or abdomen are often needed to identify the location and extent of the disease and may be recommended prior to any extensive treatment. Blood and urine analyses are performed to determine how the cancer may have affected the patient’s major organ systems and to identify any concurrent disease before treatment is initiated.

With some cancers, occasionally more sophisticated techniques may be required to either make (or confirm) the diagnosis, or to plan the most appropriate treatment. Computed axial tomography (so-called ‘CAT’ or ‘CT’ scans) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans) are becoming more widely available for pets and can be very helpful, especially, for example, in the diagnosis of brain tumours, and in assessing the extent of tumour invasion.

How is cancer treated?

Cancer treatment is as varied as the disease itself. Treatment depends upon the type and extent of the disease, the presence of concurrent disease, and owner finances. Other factors to consider include the patient’s personality and the owner’s ability to provide nursing care at home. Treatments range from simple surgical excision of a benign skin tumour to referral to a veterinary oncologist for therapy involving a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation of an extensive malignancy.

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Cat receiving chemotherapy at our hospital

Cancer treatments should always include provisions for pain control, nutritional support, and prevention of nausea. Many veterinary patients can be successfully treated for cancer but for those cats whose disease is advanced or who cannot be treated for other reasons, hospice care and humane euthanasia provide compassionate alternatives for our feline companions.

[Dr. Glenys Hughes]

For more information:

Pet Owner’s Guide to Cancer (video)

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The Cat Hospitals website

Animal Emergency Hospital

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

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Does your cat have hair balls? They might be trying to tell you something

Mark your calendars everyone, and get your feline friends to do the same. On Friday April 25th we will be celebrating National Hair Ball Awareness Day! It falls each year on the final Friday of April, and is an important holiday to recognize. Hair balls can be a sign of illness in cats but they are all too often dismissed as being an annoying but “normal” gift from our furry companions. In fact all vomiting, whether it is of hairballs, food, or liquid/foam, needs to be taken seriously!

Hairball

When should you worry?

As a general rule, hair balls (or vomiting) warrant a visit with your veterinarian if:

• It occurs more often than twice per month;

• It is becoming a more frequent occurrence;

• Your cat is losing weight.

What are hairballs?

Cats spend about 25% of their waking hours grooming and as a result, ingest a large amount of fur on a daily basis. In a healthy cat this fur passes through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and comes out undigested in the feces. Hair balls occur when the hair is vomited back up instead. They can form if:

1. The stomach is overwhelmed by hair and cannot pass it all into the small intestine. This can occur with overgrooming (e.g., from flea infestations, skin diseases, allergies, pain or anxiety) and also occurs in some healthy long-haired cats.

2.  The motility of the GI tract is decreased (i.e. things are not being moved along the digestive tract as quickly and easily as they should be) and hair is collecting in the stomach. This can occur with chronic GI diseases such as food intolerance or allergy, inflammatory bowl disease, and lymphoma.

How serious are these chronic GI diseases? How are they diagnosed and treated?

Food intolerance or allergy can cause frequent vomiting and hair balls as well as other signs such as poor appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, and skin irritation. Left untreated, it can lead to serious weight loss. It can also make a cat feel quite unwell on a daily basis. Imagine how we would feel if we ate something everyday that made us vomit. Frequent vomiting is never normal, for us or for our cats. Food sensitivities can be addressed by working with your veterinarian to find an appropriate diet for your cat.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of chronic disorders that are characterized by an increase in inflammatory cells in the lining of the stomach and small intestine. This causes thickening of the walls, which can affect digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as motility through the digestive tract. Clinical signs include vomiting, hair balls, weight loss, diarrhea, and even constipation. IBD can be diagnosed with the help of blood tests and diagnostic imaging (an x-ray or, even better, an ultrasound). The diagnosis is confirmed by obtaining biopsies of the stomach and small intestinal wall. These tiny biopsy samples are collected by performing an abdominal surgery or an endoscopic procedure. The prognosis is generally very good. The disease is treated with medications to reduce the inflammation, vitamin B12 injections, special diets and probiotics.

Lymphoma is a cancer that involves the lymphoid tissue of the small intestine. Clinical signs and diagnostic tests are the same as for IBD. The two diseases can only be definitively distinguished by biopsy. The prognosis is generally guarded, however many cats can successfully go into remission for months or years with appropriate treatment. Treatment is similar to that for IBD but with additional medication. It is thought that IBD can transform into GI lymphoma, especially if it is left untreated – another reason not to ignore the hair balls. It is very important to identify and start treating IBD as early as possible.

What about those special “hair ball diets” and products for hair ball prevention?

Hair ball diets that can be found in pet stores and grocery stores are generally high in soluble fibre, so they produce a softer stool to help carry hair through the GI tract. Similarly, products to help prevent hair balls are lubricants or stool softeners to facilitate the movement of hair through the digestive tract.

These products should be used with caution, as they may just be a “band-aid solution” for a serious underlying illness. We recommend that they not be used without first checking with your veterinarian to find out if your cat has a disease of the digestive system.

So on April 25, let’s all take a moment to square up to those nasty hair balls. For the sake of our beloved cats, let’s vow to get to the root of the problem so that we can help them feel healthy and happy.

[Dr. Alison Green]

For more information:

The Danger of Hairballs, Cornell Feline Health Center

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The Cat Hospitals website

The Cat Hospitals on Twitter

Animal Emergency Hospital

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

Merivale Cat Hospital on Facebook

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Pet identification saves lives!

The week of April 20, 2014 is National Pet ID week. As a veterinarian, I have seen situations with happy endings where cats were reunited with their family after being lost for several weeks to many months. They were found and identified because they carried a microchip under the skin. Here’s a sad statistic: in 2010, the Canadian national average rate of lost cat return-to-owner was less than 4%. Identification greatly improves the odds – the microchipped cat has a 20 times higher chance of being reunited with its owner!

All cats should have both permanent (microchip or tattoo) and visual (break-away collar with ID tag) forms of identification. At the cat hospitals, we will provide you with an ID tag for your cat’s collar when your cat receives a rabies vaccination. Remember indoor cats are at risk of getting lost too: a door left open by mistake, a fire alarm, or other emergency situations. Most humane societies, veterinary clinics, and shelters scan lost pets for microchips. Be sure to keep your contact information (e.g., email, address, phone numbers) up to date with the microchip company so your cat can be reunited with you.

A microchip is a small object (the size of a small grain of rice). The implantation is minimally invasive, painless, and well tolerated without the need for sedation. It can be done during regular veterinary visits, or at the time of routine surgeries (such as spay or neuter, and dentistry). We are about to start a new program using a mini microchip that is one-third the size of traditional microchips. With every minichip placed, the company makes a donation to breast cancer charities, so everyone wins. The cost is reasonable, considering the huge benefit of being able to find your cat if it were to become lost!

Your cats will be scanned regularly at our hospital to make sure the chip is in place and functional. The chances of a wonderful and happy reunion with a missing pet are very much improved if your cat has a microchip. Please contact our hospital for more information.

[Dr. Sylvie Nicholson]

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The Cat Hospitals website

The Cat Hospitals on Twitter

Animal Emergency Hospital

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

Merivale Cat Hospital on Facebook

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New ways to treat diabetes in cats

Our November newsletter spotlighted Pet Diabetes Month and the signs of this disease in cats.  A new form of insulin called ProZinc specifically for cats has just been licensed for use in Canada. In the past, veterinarians had to use human insulin products for dogs and cats. In Canada, we now have two insulin products licensed for use in cats: Caninsulin (Merck) and ProZinc (Boehringer Ingelheim).

Insulin treatment is almost always essential for cats diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.  Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas, which helps control and regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. There are several different types of insulin, classified by how they are made and their duration of action in the body.  Most cats require twice daily administration of a long-acting insulin.  By using effective, long lasting insulin such as ProZinc, the chance that a cat may lose their dependence on insulin over time is increased. 

Another exciting development in insulin treatment for cats will arrive in Canada soon – the first insulin pen specifically designed for use in cats and dogs. Caninsulin VetPen is easier to use and more accurate than the traditional syringes and needles. The VetPen has been available in Europe for over a year and has proven its worth with owners of diabetic pets.

VetPenThe manufacturers of both ProZinc and Caninsulin have helpful videos and information on their website for owners of diabetic pets, including home diaries. When treating a diabetic cat with insulin, it is very important to monitor things like water intake, urine output, activity level and coat quality. This can help your veterinarian tailor the insulin dose to your cat (along with glucose testing done in clinic or at home).  

Caninsulin: http://www.caninsulin.ca/

ProZinc: http://www.prozinc.us/

Please consult your veterinarian before starting or making changes to an insulin treatment plan.  Many factors are considered when choosing an insulin type, and every cat will respond differently.

For more information on diabetes in cats, see the video series by Partners in Animal Health on Caring for Your Diabetic Cat which includes these topics:

  • Getting the diagnosis
  • How to give an insulin injection
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Monitoring
  • Recognizing and treating hypoglycemia

[Dr. Amy Lowe]

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The Cat Hospitals website

The Cat Hospitals on Twitter

Animal Emergency Hospital

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

Merivale Cat Hospital on Facebook

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Giving back to people and pets

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to helping the less fortunate. We’d like to share with you the work that we have done throughout the year in support of organizations that benefit the needy – both people and pets!

In October, both cat hospitals raised money through bake sales, penny drives, and paw print sales for the Farley Foundation. The Farley Foundation assists people in need by subsidizing the cost of veterinary care for their sick or injured pets. Thanks to our many generous clients we were able to donate over $1100 to Farley!

Merivale Cat Hospital works closely with Ottawa’s Cat Rescue Network. This is a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that rescues abandoned and feral cats, and places the cats with foster families until they are adopted. By performing sterilization surgeries, vaccinations, and deworming at a reduced cost, the cat hospital has helped previously homeless cats become suitable for adoption. We even have a donation jar on our front desk! In fact, the doctors and staff of the cat hospitals help match up stray cats with new families every year as well as reunite lost cats with their owners.

OttawaHumaneSocietyOur veterinarians are involved in helping homeless and neglected animals. Dr. Alison Green comes to us after two years of working as a veterinarian at the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) where she provided care for the shelter’s homeless and neglected or abused animals. Dr. Green continues her work there on an intermittent basis. At its Annual General Meeting on Sept. 27, the OHS honoured several volunteers, celebrating the passionate individuals who help make our community better for animals. One of them was our own Dr. Glenys Hughes. Dr. Hughes received the Dr. James Hutchison Animal Welfare Award for her work saving animal lives as a volunteer veterinarian at the OHS since 2009. We’re proud to see Dr. Hughes receive the public recognition she deserves for dedicating her professional life to the health and welfare of our companion animals.

Amy JamaicaDr. Amy Lowe escaped the cold this November to participate in a sterilization clinic with the International Spay Neuter Network (ISNN) in Kingston, Jamaica.  ISNN offers free sterilization and basic veterinary care for pet owners who cannot afford these services, as well as for feral and unwanted animals. It is the only organization operating in Jamaica to provide these services and volunteers from around the world work side by side with local veterinarians to reduce animal overpopulation and improve animal welfare. About 50 cats (and 200 dogs!) received spay or neuter operations during the 3-day clinic, which was held at the Jamaican SPCA.

WinnLogo_6-5-06 Small AThe Winn Feline Foundation is an international non-profit organization that funds feline health research. Projects funded by Winn help veterinarians diagnose and treat common feline health problems and prevent many diseases. Dr. Susan Little has served as a volunteer on Winn’s board since 2001, and was Winn’s President from 2005-2009. Dr. Little raises money for the Foundation and helps run the grant review program to assure that donations from pet owners are used to support research into the most important feline health problems with the world’s top experts.

Both Dr. Amy Lowe and Dr. Glenys Hughes volunteer with Community Veterinary Outreach, a registered charity that integrates veterinary education and care in the community. Their Mission Veterinary Care program began in 2003 to provide preventative health care to animals of the homeless and street-involved at the Ottawa Mission. Clients are also accepted on a referral basis from community partnerships that include other area shelters, municipal public health, community health centres, and mental health organizations. As well, the organization runs the popular Mini-Veterinary School to provide the public with insight into the field of veterinary medicine, educate about animal health and the human-animal relationship, increase awareness of veterinary medicine as a profession, and raise funds for ongoing work in the community.

Dr. Doug Boeckh has been the head organizer of the Terry Fox Run in Alexandria since 2001. His passion for helping this worthy charity extends to his whole family as everyone gets involved, even the family dog! Doug has helped raise tens of thousands of dollars over the years to support cancer research.

We hope that you might share our passion for helping those in need this holiday season! All the best from our doctors and staff to you and your family for the holidays.

Xmas

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Holiday Hours

Holiday Hours

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Helping your sick cat at home

So your cat has been sick and perhaps even had to be hospitalized for diagnosis and treatment. Successful treatment of illness may partly depend on your ability to continue care at home, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds! Your veterinary team should assist by providing information about your cat’s illness, guidance on how to carry out home treatments, and ongoing support and follow up.

Amiel Eating Feb 21_2013 (1)

Medications are often available in different forms, such as liquids versus pills or tablets. Discuss options with the veterinary staff to determine which is most appropriate for you and your cat. In some cases, medications can be flavoured to make them more palatable. Special types of treats are available for administering pills as well. A veterinary staff member should be able to give you a demonstration on how to administer medications such as pills, liquids, and eye drops or ointments.

While it might seem like an easy option to simply add your cat’s medication to food, that is not always a good plan. Some medications should not be given in that way, while others will give an unpleasant taste to the food, leading your cat to refuse both the medication and the food.

Here are some tips and tricks to help with administering medications:

  • Establish a routine for giving medications and follow the same pattern every day
  • A bathroom sink lined with a soft towel provides a secure place to give medications
  • Be sure to give positive reinforcement such as a treat or a brushing when administering medication goes well
  • Don’t forcibly remove your cat from a hiding place or interrupt eating or using the litter box to give medication
  • If you are having difficulties, call your veterinary clinic for help

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Nursing Care for Your Cat: Practical Tips for Cat Owners is a useful brochure full of advice

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Step-by-step instructions on how to give a pill or capsule (Partners in Animal Health video)

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Step-by-step instructions on how to give liquid medications (Partners in Animal Health video)

[Dr. Susan Little]

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The Cat Hospitals website

Animal Emergency Hospital

Bytown Cat Hospital on Facebook

Merivale Cat Hospital on Facebook

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