Tag Archives: pet care

So Your Cat Has A Heart Murmur

cat wellnessThere’s probably nothing more frightening for a pet owner than hearing that little “humpf” from their veterinarian while they’re listening to their kitty’s heart. But just because your cat has a heart murmur doesn’t mean that something is seriously wrong with your cat. Heart murmurs are common in cats of all ages and something that vets encounter on a weekly, if not daily, basis.

 
Simply put, a heart murmur is just an out of the normal sound heard through a stethoscope. They’re the result of turbulent blood flow which can be caused by a lot of reasons including fear and stress. So that instead of producing the normal “lub-dub” sound that your kitty’s (and your own) heart normally makes, a heart murmur will have a whooshing sound that some vets refer to as being “sloushy.”

Heart murmurs in cats are graded on a scale one to six. A grade one murmur can barely be heard even with a stethoscope and can be very hard to detect. The grade six murmur is the easiest to detect and can sometimes be so loud that it obscures normal heart sounds. With severe heart murmurs, you can feel the murmur through your kitty’s chest.

Heart murmurs are very common in cats. Many are undiagnosed and maybe as many as one third of cats may have this condition. Although a murmur may signify a problem with the heart or its blood vessels, around half the cats diagnosed with a heart murmur don’t have any underlying heart disease, and many of those who do may not develop symptoms.

The turbulent blood flow that causes a murmur is usually caused by a structural defect in the heart.  In younger cats, it could be a congenital condition, a defect with which they were born.  In older cats, it is usually a defect that they acquired over time.

Unfortunately, sometimes kitties with heart disease show no signs of illness. That’s why it’s important to investigate a heart murmur or any signs of illness in your cat.  The problem with murmurs, especially low scale ones, is that they can come and go. You vet may hear one during an exam, but not on a recheck or even a few minutes later. Murmurs are easiest to notice when a cat is stressed and their heart rate is elevated, but may be gone a few minutes later when a cat has calmed down. Some kittens may have a heart murmur when they’re first seen for testing which may disappear over time. But with older cats, it can be harder to determine just what a murmur may mean.

On its own, a heart murmur is not a reliable indicator of heart disease and can be found in sometimes even in healthy cats. If the murmur does not appear to be due to a functional problem, your kitty may not need any treatment. But depending on your cat’s age, the grade of the murmur or other symptoms, your vet may want to do some extra testing.

If your kitty has other signs of illness like as weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, or increased thirst, your vet will likely recommend a blood profile and/or a series of x-rays and echocardiogram to help determine if your cat has a non-heart-related problem that may be causing the murmur. A predisposition for heart conditions are hereditary in some breeds like Maine Coons, British Shorthairs, Ragdolls, Rex and Persian cats, but the disease can also affect other breeds including mixed breed kitties.

If you see any of these signs of illness in your kitty or if your vet detects a heart murmur, it’s always best to check it out with additional testing. Signs of heart disease in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain and inability to walk on the hind legs caused by thromboembolisms, a type of blood clots. One of the first noticeable signs of thromboembolisms in some cats is weakness or inability to walk on the hind legs.
  • Depression, fainting, or weakness
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss or gain/swollen abdomen
  • Restlessness

Most heart murmurs are identified during routine checkups and many healthy cats with a heart murmur never develop any problems with the heart’s function. Even kitties with a mild heart condition may never develop symptoms. Cats with mild cardiomyopathy may not need any initial treatment although in time they may need beta-blocker medications and other vitamins and supplements.

Remember a heart murmur doesn’t necessarily mean that your furry friend is doomed. And even if they are determined to have an underlying heart condition, there are still plenty of things your vet can do to help your kitty live as healthy and long a life as possible. So if you do hear this diagnosis, don’t stress. Get the facts, investigate, and help your vet make sure that your kitty has the best care possible.

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Warm for the Holidays: Winterizing Your Pet

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Those cold winter months are right around the corner. Antifreeze and snow chains are being added to cars. Gutters and roofs are receiving inspections and heating systems are being checked for the long months ahead. But, your house and car aren’t the only things that need special attention—outside pets need cold weather consideration as well. And, though the optimal course would be to bring your furry friend inside for the winter months, if that’s not possible, you should make sure that he has a weatherproof, dry, heat-retaining place to weather the cold months.

Although all my cats are cushion-sitters whose pampered paws have never touched grass, I do keep a small dog-house outside for the benefit of my neighbor’s roaming duo of felines, George and Fionna.  I also like to put out a bit of extra food in the ‘stray’ bowl during the winter months.  Although most of it is pilfered by the ravaging squirrel hordes in my backyard, Fionna does usually stop by for a nibble in the winter months.  Extra calories are a requirement for outside animals and Fionna has never been one to turn down a spare bowl of Purina.

If you have a pet that spends all or part of his time outdoors, you’ll want to make sure he has fresh food and water.  Keeping food and especially water unthawed during the colder months can be tricky.  But most pet stores now carry several varieties of heated dishes that keep Fluffy or Fido’s food and water ice-free in all but the most extreme temperatures.  I tend to find that food disappears quickly during the winter months.  So I refill the outside dish a few times a day.  Last winter, Mr. Cat, my current house-cat-in-training, had just made his appearance and I was desperate to keep him in kibble and water through the dark months.  This year, with Mr. Cat safely indoors and no feral cats in the area, there’s no real reason to keep out kibble.  But old habits die hard and I find myself still filling the stray bowl.  I seldom find it full at day’s end.

As for dog houses and other outdoor pet shelters, one problem that I have noted is that they tend to sweat if you’re in an area that has much temperature fluctuation.  Here in Tennessee, we can wake up to a balmy 30 degrees and see temperatures around zero by nightfall.  This can lead to wet bedding and, even worse, wet cedar chips.  Plastic lining under bedding does tend to help and heated bedding dries quickly. So your pet’s house and bedding need to be checked daily for moisture during the winter months.  And look for a shelter that is slightly raised off the ground—they stay a bit warmer.

If your dog is short-haired, you’ll want to invest in a pet-sweater and/or boots for those long walks during the winter months. You may even want to knit a sweater yourself. There are patterns available to make both pet clothing and sweaters which can be purchased at your local fabric supply shop. If you do decide to knit Fido some winter-wear, make sure you weather-proof the fabric. You’ll also need to make sure that your dog isn’t allergic to the fabric used or the weather-proofing spray.

Staying warm and dry while on his winter walks is just important to your dog as it is to you! If you don’t use footwear for your dog, make sure to inspect his paws daily for chapping, frostbite, or ice crystal formation between the paws. There was a reason Puss wore boots in the fairytale. No dog or cat wants a frostbitten paw! As a personal note, I wouldn’t attempt to actually try adding boots and a cap to your cat’s winter ensemble.  The cute little Santa hats that my Grandmother knitted for Tig and Lo ended up as chew toys—although I was able to snap one cute picture before the yarn-unraveling frenzy began.

In addition to the cold itself, winter months provide other related dangers for outdoor pets such as anti-freeze poisoning, shocks and burns from exterior holiday lights, as well as vehicle hazards. Anti-freeze, de-icer, and other winter chemicals should be stored safely and out of any pet’s reach.   And remember, just because your pet isn’t outside, doesn’t mean you don’t have neighbors’ pets who are. Make sure holiday lights are high and out of the reach of all pets–whether they are yours or not. And, be certain that no dangerous substances are left lying about to be sniffed or licked. Actual salt can be used to thaw frozen walks instead of chemical melting solution and pet-friendly ice-melt is also available.   Cats are also attracted to cars in the cold months.  You may want to rap your hood (or honk your horn) before starting your car on frosty mornings just to make sure that no one small and furry has taken residence during the night.

Even the most festive of times can be a hazard for pets.  Each year pets and rushed to the vet after ingesting tinsel, toxic holiday foods, and decorative plants is also a problem. Holly, poinsettias, Xmas cactus, and peace lilies, as well as onions and onion powder, potatoes, and chocolate should be kept well out of your pet’s reach. Keep pets away from live trees and their water.  And keep a close eye on your pet for signs of poisoning. Fatigue, nausea, weakness, drooling, leg-dragging and muscular tremors, coma, and convulsions are all signs of poisoning. Encourage friends and holiday guests not to give pets table scraps – no matter how sweetly or insistently they ask for them.  You might want to even consider keeping a jar of pet treats around just in case some kindhearted soul can’t resist throwing poor ole Fluffy something to eat during your celebrations.

Winter can be a time of great fun and wonder with its holidays, snowy days, and nights spent in front of roaring fires (whether real or artificial). Just make sure that you take time to consider your best friend’s needs when those winter days roll around so that your furry family can enjoy a Winter Wonderland as well.  And, please find two of my personal recipes for holiday treats below. I hope your pets enjoy them and that you all have a safe holiday season!

Lady Dog’s Peanutbutter Biscuits:

  • 4 cups of whole wheat or self-rising flour
  • ½ tbsp. Baking powder
  • ½ c. shortening (veggie)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tbsp. Peanut butter (creamy)
  • ¼ c. carob chips

Preheat your oven to 375.  Sift flour and baking soda with carob chips in a mixing bowl.  Add milk, shortening, egg, and peanutbutter mixing thoroughly.  Knead dough and roll on a cutting board.  Cut into shapes using cookie cutters or a biscuit cutter.  Bake on a cookie sheet (ungreased) 15-20 minutes at 375.  Cool and store.  These can be stored 2 weeks in an airtight container or frozen.  This recipe will make 2 dozen biscuit sized bones.

**This recipe is for dogs only.  Cats and carob do not mix.

Granny Whiskers’ Rice and Nip Pudding:

  • ½ c. rice (white or brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • ½ cup cream (or half and half)
  • ½ stick butter
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tbsp. Catnip
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube or ¼ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. oil

In a deep pan, add rice, oil, and water and bring to a boil for 15-20 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a saucepan, heat milk, cream, and butter over medium heat until all butter is melted.  Add bouillon cube and dissolve.  Add rice and simmer over medium low one hour.  Combine egg and catnip.  Simmer 15 minutes more until mixture is thick and serve warm.

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