Archive from May, 2013

Domestic-Wild Cat Hybrids: Are They Suitable as Pets?

May 25, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

I received a phone call on November 30, 2011, that I will never forget. I had granted myself a rare day off because it was my birthday. That afternoon, my receptionist, Brittany, left a message on my voicemail relaying some disturbing news and an urgent plea for help from Ian, a long-term client Ian had tearfully informed Brittany that his friend Tony, who was also a client of the cat hospital for many years, had suddenly and inexplicably died the night before. I quickly recalled that Tony was single and shared his home with his only son, Kimbu. Kimbu is a neutered male F2 Savannah cat. He was 5 years old when Tony died.

Ian went on to explain that when the police had arrived at Tony’s home to investigate, a cat that clearly was not like any cat they had seen before immediately confronted them. Kimbu was and still is an imposing feline; tall, muscular, agile, extremely alert and unpredictably reactive to sights and sounds in his environment Subjected to unfamiliar and threatening conditions, with strangers entering his home without Tony’s comforting presence, it is no surprise that Kimbu reacted in an anxious, agitated and defensive manner. He demonstrated his discomfort by pacing with his large upright ears twitching. He would howl with his characteristic low voice hiss while arching his back with raised hair and rhythmically flicking his puffed up tail. I would be intimidated by this kitty, wouldn’t you? When approached by the officers, Kimbu demonstrated classic Savannah athleticism as he effortlessly jumped straight up from a standing position on the floor to shelves Tony had bolted to the walls 8 feet above the floor. The offers informed Ian that

Kimbu had to be removed from the “crime scene”, (Tony’s home) by the time the coroner arrived or he would be taken to a nearby animal shelter for euthanasia. Ian then placed the call to us to see if we could provide a temporary home for Kimbu at the cat hospital until other arrangements could be made for him. Ian knew we could handle Kimbu safely. I agreed without reservation. Somehow, one courageous police officer and a coroner succeeded in capturing and crating Kimbu in his carrier. Kimbu was then driven across town in rush hour traffic and was triumphantly delivered to his safe haven in our clinic. Brittany stayed after closing time to greet and welcome the terrified Kimbu. We left him in his carrier in our kitty playroom for a few days with the door open. He finally emerged when we lured him with one of Tony’s shirts and some of his own toys.

I have known Kimbu since he was 8 weeks old and knew his history of biting Tony’s hands and face, which Tony tolerated, in spite of my warnings. Tony told me that he allowed Kimbu to sleep with him under the covers at night and claimed to regularly brush his teeth with an electric toothbrush. Tony’s family and close friends heard tales of Kimbu’s affinity for shredding cardboard and paper. He can easily open heavy drawers and doors and likes to hide in small spaces. We all knew that Tony considered Kimbu to be his “son” and that he would want to have him in a safe and stable environment. Tony’s family from the East Coast officially and legally allowed me to adopt Kimbu and they still regularly check in on him. All Savannah cats are assigned a Filial Designation, F1-F5, which describes how close the Savannah cat is to a Serval ancestor.

As an F2 Savannah, Kimbu is somewhere between 25% and 37.5% Serval. An Fl is 75% Serval (Tom is Serval and Queen is 50% Serval). The USDA defines all hybrids as domestic. This certainly can be misleading in that behavior and the genetic makeup of hybrids differs from domestic cats. Serval cats are prohibited in Massachusetts and Georgia. New York State only allows Savannahs that are greater than 5 generations removed from the Serval, with the exception of New York City, which prohibits ownership of all hybrids. Federal law due to fears that improved hunting skills could emerge and put endangered species at risk prohibits import of Savannahs into Australia.

Today, Kimbu spends most of his time in a spacious enclosure in which he spent countless weekends in the desert while Tony visited friends. He doesn’t mind wearing a harness and enjoys leisurely leash walks around the clinic. He likes to inspect objects slowly and cautiously but has never been comfortable with other cats. He will attack other cats or turn his aggression to me when he gets near other cats or is “spooked” by sounds, smells and unfamiliar sites. He enjoys creating windows in cardboard boxes by biting and shredding cardboard with his nails. I have never let him walk freely without his harness and leash. I feel bad about this and hope that I can create a larger safe environment for him in the future.

I have pondered and reflected many times on whether my choice to keep this cat on public display in a cat hospital is a responsible choice. Does it send the message that I support and even promote the mixture of wild and domestic cats? Is it safe and even humane to mix these species? Would a typical cat household be safe and satisfying for

Kimbu? Would he pose a danger to children and other pets? Would it not be very easy for him to pop through ceiling tiles and hang out with electrical wires and hot pipes? Several drawbacks to breeding Savannahs have been identified. First of all, the gestation period (length of pregnancy) is 75 days for the Serval and 65 days for the domestic cat. In addition, some Serval males can be “picky” about breeding with a domestic female, making it difficult to continually create the Fl stud necessary to perpetuate the breed. Thirdly, male Savannahs are usually sterile until the F5 generation, although Savannah females are fertile from Fl forward. Recently (2011), it has been reported that male sterility is on the rise in F5 and even F6 males. Clearly, disparity in gestation periods and genetic differences cause increased fetal deaths. We don’t really know what percentage of hybrid kittens don’t make it since actual statistics haven’t been published. I would suspect that some breeders would prefer not to disclose some of these breeding challenges.

My advice to those considering acquiring a hybrid is to spend some time with the cats at the breeders just observing and processing how the behaviors I described will fit or not fit into your household and lifestyle. Remember, you must be prepared to commit to 15-20 years of responsibility from the perspective of human safety. Just as importantly, you should seriously contemplate the sacred responsibility you take on to protect the cat hybrid and to provide a safe and pleasurable environment for many years.

Dr Elyse Kent

Dr. Elyse Kent graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 and completed an Internship at West Los Angeles Veterinary Medical Group in 1981.

In her early years in practice, Dr. Kent began to see a need for a separate medical facility just for cats, where fear and stress would be reduced for feline patients. In 1985, in a former home in Santa Monica, Dr. Kent opened the only exclusively feline veterinary clinic in Los Angeles, Westside Hospital for Cats (WHFC). Along with other forward-thinking feline practitioners from across North America, Dr. Kent founded the Academy of Feline Medicine in 1991. Through the efforts of these practitioners, feline medicine and surgery became a certifiable species specialty through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). Dr. Kent became board certified in Feline Practice in the first group to sit for the Feline exam in 1995. She certified for an additional ten (10) years in 2005. There are now 78 feline specialists in the world. Dr. Kent served as the Feline Regent and Officer on the Council of Regents for 9 years. She is currently the immediate Past President of the ABVP, which certifies all species specialists. She also heads up a task force joining certain efforts of the ABVP with The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). She currently serves as a Director on the Executive Board of The American Association of Feline Practitioners.

The present day WHFC facility opened in 2000. It was the fulfillment of a vision for a spacious, delightful, state of the art, full service cat medical center that Dr. Kent had dreamed of and planned for over many years.

Westside Hospital for Cats
2317 Cotner Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Phone: 310-479-2428

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May 16, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

How often does this happen to you? You are awakened from a sound sleep by the unmistakable sound of your cat about to cough up a furball on the comforter next to you. If you are lucky, you will be able to move kitty safely to the floor or be resigned to washing the comforter again! Many cat owners think that vomiting hairballs is normal behavior in a cat. But that is not always true. For example, one of my patients is Francis, a 14 year old handsome red and white tabby, who was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago. Up until last year Francis flourished, his weight went back to normal, his appetite was consistently good, and his litter box habits were regular. Then 6 months ago, Francis came in with a few days history of decreased appetite and vomiting. His physical exam was normal; his basic blood tests and urinalysis were normal. A few days later Francis vomited a furball. His owner was happy figuring this was the reason for the symptoms. Over time his weight began to decrease, and he intermittently repeated his pattern of exhibiting a poor appetite and then a few days later vomiting a furball. Additional blood tests and an abdominal ultrasound indicated the possibility of pancreatitis and/ or inflammatory bowel disease as the cause(s) of his symptoms. For now, we are keeping a close eye on Francis. If his condition changes, we will discuss confirming this diagnosis by biopsy and possibly diet changes and medication to treat those diseases.

To his owner, Francis was just having furball trouble. To his doctor, Francis’ furball vomiting was an indication of an underlying problem. Why was I suspicious? A review of Francis’s history indicated that he was vomiting furballs much more frequently than he had in the past. Vomiting furballs more often, particularly in a middle aged or older cat – even as the only change in a cat’s behavior; can be an indication that something is amiss. Either Francis was ingesting more fur because of increased grooming activity – meaning itchy skin (see recent post), or there was a change in the way food was moving through his upper digestive system. There are multiple reasons why this might have happened. Chronic inflammatory disease is the most common explanation. Pain or hormonal changes can also result in alterations in intestinal movement. Just as with Francis, a visit to your veterinarian is a good place to start to rule out an underlying problem.

A few months ago Francis’ owner told me, “ You were right doctor”. What he meant was that he had been skeptical when I had expressed my initial concerns that Francis’ vomiting reflected more than just furballs. Francis’ owner is a loyal reader of this blog. When he was in the other day, he suggested that I write about furballs. He had overheard a comment between cat owners that furball vomiting was routine ( i.e. normal). He now knows that it isn’t necessarily so. He asked that I write about furballs to educate other cat owners about this situation. I am happy to oblige.

Dr Kathleen Keefe Ternes

Dr. Kathleen Keefe Ternes grew up in western Massachusetts. She received an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1974; a BS degree in 1978 and a DVM in 1979 from Michigan State University. Dr. Keefe Ternes returned home to New England in April 1980. In 1984, she achieved one of her professional goals by opening The Feline Hospital in Salem, MA. . Dr. Keefe Ternes, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), initially certified as a companion animal specialist in 1990. She became certified as a feline specialist in 2000 and recertified in 2010. Dr. Keefe Ternes is a member of AAFP, the AVMA, the MVMA, and her local organization, the Veterinary Association of the North Shore (VANS). Her involvement in organized medicine includes having been a past president of VANS and current member of the board of directors. She is also a case reviewer for the ABVP and recently joined the Feline Welfare Committee of the AAFP.

Dr. Keefe Ternes lives in Salem with her husband and two college age daughters. Her two senior cats Toby and Petunia keep her on her toes medically.

The Feline Hospital
81 Webb St
Salem, MA 01970

Phone: 978-744-8020
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Boycott Mother’s Day!

May 12, 2013 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Personal Opinion

This weekend is one of the most sacred holidays in the world – Mother’s Day. Everyone has a mother, and most of us celebrate all the things they’ve done to help us become the people we are. We shop for the card with just the right sentiment, order her favorite flowers, select the age and taste-appropriate candy of cocoa bean origin (milk chocolate is my own mother’s self-admitted favorite food!), or perhaps celebrate her memory with a visit to her resting place. It’s a great time for the free-enterprise economy, too. Florists are busier than accountants in April, and Hallmark heralds May as a month with highest single category sales (greeting cards) than any other month including Christmas (verification withheld to make my point).

So why would we even consider boycotting Mother’s Day? Well, if you’re a cat, since you don’t really care about cards or flowers (though both seem tasty to some cats with intestinal problems), it’s all about the numbers. And while owned pet cats outnumber dogs as pets in the US- 74 million to 70 million according to the American Veterinary Medical Association- there are many cats without homes that are brought to shelters across the country. And more keep coming. There are untold millions of community cats which may or may not be owned or cared for- including being spayed or neutered. Therein lies the problem- left to their own devices, like most other species, cats will reproduce again and again! That may sound shocking to some, and when environmental conditions are favorable, unspayed female cats can have three litters a year! Let’s say those “intact” females have an average of 4 kittens/ litter- that would be twelve more cats from just one in twelve months! If only financial institutions could have such feline fecundity with our funds…

While many shelters are able to find homes for all their healthy adoptable cats, nationwide the numbers don’t balance. Thankfully, many feral cat colonies are cared for by dedicated people who’ve had them spayed and neutered so the colony population stays stable (and healthier!) But in countless communities, because there’s an oversupply and not enough demand (some people have not yet experienced the fun of owning a cat), the all-too-often sad result is that many cats are euthanized.

If you’re a cat, would you rather go home to a family that feeds you, plays with you, cleans your bathrooms and takes you to the veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup, or live “on the streets” like a homeless person, foraging through trash cans and hoping that the soup kitchen is open? That’s why cats boycott Mother’s Day- there’s just no reason to honor having more feline families!

This Sunday I’ll be with my mother! I’ve already sent two Mother’s Day cards and her roses arrived yesterday. I’d still like to get her one more “sweet” gift, though, and I have the perfect one in mind. We’ll take a drive out to the county animal control and check out the cats up for adoption. There’s a good chance we’ll find a beautiful brown tabby with its signature cocoa-colored “M” on her forehead. Maybe I can persuade my mother to call her Lady Godiva…

Dr Jane Brunt

Dr. Jane Brunt, founder of Cat Hospital at Towson (CHAT), is the pioneer of feline exclusive practice in Maryland. She received her DVM from Kansas State University (go, Cats!), and since 1984 has advocated the necessity of an outstanding facility and staff dedicated to practicing the highest quality of cats only care and medicine at CHAT.

She is a Past-President of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association. In 1997, Dr. Brunt was named one of Baltimore’s “Top Vets” and featured on the cover of Baltimore Magazine, and in 1998 she served as Chair of the Host Committee for the AVMA Annual Convention in Baltimore (attended by a record 8,000 veterinary professionals and supporters), receiving several awards and accolades. A national advisor on feline medicine, she is also an active supporter of local, state, and national feline organizations, especially of the new generation of veterinary professionals.

Building on her clinical cat commitments and organizational passions, she serves as the Executive Director of CATalyst Council, a not-for-profit coalition of organizations and individuals committed to changing the way society cares for cats, “Promoting the Power of Purr…” across veterinary, sheltering, and public/civic communities. She owns a wayward standard poodle named Luka and three hilarious, keyboard-keen cats- Paddy, Freddie and CAT Stanley!

Cat Hospital at Towson
6701 York Road
Baltimore, MD 21212

Phone: (410) 377-7900

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Overgrooming – or, My Cat is Licking Itself Bald!

May 9, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

Almost every day I examine a cat that has areas of hair loss. Sometimes people think that their cat’s hair is falling out. Sometimes people see the cat licking itself or find clumps of hair on the floor. What causes hair loss in cats?

The most common cause is allergies. Cat allergies usually cause itchy skin. Allergic cats can also sneeze or wheeze or have ear infections or diarrhea as well. Cats lick at their itchy skin and because of their raspy tongues are able to break off their fur. This leaves a little stubble on the skin, and often the skin itself is a little pinker than normal. Some cats are “closet lickers” and only overgroom when no one is around.

What can cats be allergic to? The same types of things that bother us – pollens, dust mites, and foods. In particular, cats react to flea bites. When fleas bite, they inject their saliva to keep the blood from clotting. The cat becomes allergic to the saliva and just one bite can make the cat itch to the point of licking or plucking their fur. Many times we can’t even find the fleas because the cat licks so much it swallows the flea (which can transmit tapeworms, another topic).

What do we do to treat allergies in cats? Ideally we allergy test and use desensitizing injections or oral drops. Sometimes we use antihistamines, fatty acid supplements, or hypoallergenic foods. We will almost always use a broad spectrum flea and mite product as well. In severe cases, we will need to use injectable or oral steroids. We now have another medication called cyclosporine, which can also help control itching and overgrooming with fewer potential side effects. There are some anti-anxiety medications that reduce itching as well. In years past we used to think that stress caused overgrooming, but now we know that most of the time the stress is aggravating the allergic disease and making the overgrooming worse.

Other things that can cause hair loss in cats are Demodex mites, fungal infections, and occasionally hormonal problems or cancers. So if your cat’s coat has lost its normal luster or has patches of hair loss it is time for your cat to see your veterinarian!

Dr Tammy Sadek

Dr Tammy Sadek is board certified in Feline Practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Dr Sadek graduated at the top of her veterinary class at the University Of Minnesota College Of Veterinary Medicine. She has practiced feline medicine and surgery for over 25 years. Dr Sadek is the owner and founder of two cat hospitals in the Grand Rapids, MI area, the Kentwood Cat Clinic and the Cat Clinic North.

In addition to her cat hospitals, Dr Sadek hosts a website dedicated to helping cat owners prevent and correct litter box issues along with other behavioral issues with their pets.

Dr Sadek is the author of several chapters in the book Feline Internal Medicine Secrets. Her professional interests include senior cat care, internal medicine, feline behavior, and dermatology.

Dr Sadek is currently owned by 5 cats. In addition to caring for all her feline friends, Dr Sadek enjoys traveling, jewelry making, reading fantasy and science fiction, and gardening. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two soon to fledge children.

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How to Properly Restrain a Cat

May 5, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

I was describing “respectful” feline handling to a group of people.  The most common question was, “What?! You are not suppose to scruff cats? That’s how their mother’s disciplined them when they were kittens”

Great place to start.  Mother cats do carry their kitten by the scruff.  They do not discipline them in this manner.

With some cats, this restraining manner can have the opposite desired effect.  There are other more respectful methods and scruffing should be a last resort.  Having your body weight dangled does not make good common sense.

Most of us do not need to restrain their cats at home. Occasionally it is necessary for medical care or nail trimming.  Towels are an excellent method of restraining.  When we use this at the clinic we call it a “purrito.”

There were also questions about how to “punish” a cat for “bad” behavior. Cats on a whole respond better to leaning with positive reinforcement.  Yelling and punishment teach your cat nothing and may be counter productive.

Most of the “bad” cat behaviors that occur at home are normal for cats. Unfortunately the cat’s human companions are not always appreciative of these behaviors.

One of the most important aspects of working with your cat is for you to go outside your human box and think like a cat.  Not easy, but not impossible.  You will be amazed at how more enriched your life and relationship with your cat will become.


Dr Marcus Brown

Dr. Brown, founder of the NOVA Cat Clinic and co-founder of the NOVA Cat Clinic, received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1986 from the University of Illinois. Currently the medical director for Alley Cat Allies and is an active supporter in local, state and national feline organizations such as: American Veterinary Dental Society, American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association and American Animal Hospital Association. Dr. Brown also contributed the creation of the Association of Feline Practitioners’ 2009 Wellness Guidelines for Feline Practitioners.

Dr. Brown enjoys continuing education and regularly attends seminars and conferences across the country focusing on the advancement in feline veterinary care. Dr. Brown also utilizes on-line discussion groups and veterinary networks to assist the clinic in maintaining the highest level of care and providing the newest treatments available in feline medicine.

NOVA Cat Clinic
923 N. Kenmore St.
Arlington VA 22201

Phone: 703-525-1955
Fax: 703-525-1957

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