Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Mast cell tumors are common in dogs and somewhat common in cats. In dogs, mast cell tumors are usually lumps on or under the skin. Mast cell tumors in cats can affect the skin or the internal organs.
Mast cells are a normal part of the immune system. They are most often found in the skin, digestive tract, and other areas that are exposed to substances from the environment. Mast cells are full of granules that contain histamine and other chemicals that are released as part of allergic and inflammatory responses. You’ve seen mast cells in action yourself: the itchy lump you get after a mosquito bite is caused by mast cells in the skin releasing histamine and other substances. Mast cell tumors are cancerous growths made up of mast cells.
Signs in Dogs
Mast cell tumors are most common in older dogs but occur in dogs of all ages. Dogs of any breed can develop mast cell tumors. Breeds at higher risk than others include retrievers, shar-peis, and brachycephalic (flat-faced) breeds like boxers, pugs, and Boston terriers.
In dogs, mast cell tumors can look similar to other conditions. Some look and feel just like benign fatty lumps. Mast cell tumors in dogs vary in appearance and behavior. A mast cell tumor might be a smooth, round, raised skin lump; a red, itchy lump; or a soft lump under the skin. Some are solitary growths, and some are clusters of lumps or small bumps. Some grow very slowly, with no apparent change for months; others grow quickly. Mast cell tumors sometimes get bigger (or pinker or itchier) and then return to their normal appearance. This change happens when they release histamine. More serious effects of histamine release include decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool, and collapse.[1,2]
Signs in Cats
Most cats with mast cell tumors are older, although an atypical form is most common in young cats. Siamese may be more likely than other cat breeds to have mast cell tumors.
In cats, the signs of mast cell tumors depend on their location (skin or internal organs) and the tumor subtype, which determines how aggressive they are. As in dogs, mast cell tumors in cats can mimic other conditions and do not all look and behave the same way. Mast cell tumors in the skin can be smooth, round growths or flat red patches, and they might grow quickly or very slowly. Mast cell tumors inside the body most often affect the spleen or digestive tract and can cause decreased activity, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and other general signs of illness.[1,3]
Most mast cell tumors of the skin can be diagnosed during a veterinary appointment with a needle aspirate, in which a small sample of cells is removed with a needle and syringe and examined under a microscope. Because putting a needle in a mast cell tumor can cause histamine release, veterinarians often give an antihistamine when they aspirate a mast cell tumor.
A needle aspirate can show that a patient has a mast cell tumor, but it doesn’t give enough information to know the prognosis. Some mast cell tumors are single lumps that don’t spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. Others are more invasive and have a high risk of spreading through the body. Currently the only way to know the grade or type of a mast cell tumor, and hence the prognosis, is by surgically removing all or part of the tumor and sending this biopsy sample to a laboratory for analysis.
Patients with high-grade or aggressive mast cell tumors, including cats with mast cell tumors in internal organs, benefit from further tests to find out whether the cancer has spread or is causing other problems. This workup can include blood and urine tests, lymph node aspiration, imaging (such as ultrasound or computed tomography), and bone marrow analysis. Whether to do these tests before or after biopsy depends on the patient and the tumor.
Surgical removal is recommended for most mast cell tumors and might be the only treatment (other than antihistamines) needed for low-grade mast cell tumors of the skin. Cancerous mast cells extend past the edges of the visible lump, so a wide area of normal-appearing skin around the tumor must be removed. The biopsy report indicates whether all of the tumor was removed during the procedure.
Chemotherapy, other medications, and radiation therapy are available for patients with aggressive tumors, cancer in internal organs, tumors in areas where wide removal isn’t possible, or tumors that aren’t completely removed during surgery. Your veterinarian is likely to recommend referral to an oncologist if your pet might need these types of treatment.
The prognosis is good for patients with mast cell tumors that haven’t spread and are completely removed with surgery, radiation therapy, or both. These patients sometimes develop another mast cell tumor later, so all new lumps warrant a visit to the veterinarian. For patients with other types of mast cell tumor, the prognosis depends on tumor grade, location, and response to treatment.
1. Blackwood L, Murphy S, Buracco P, et al. European consensus document on mast cell tumours in dogs and cats. Vet Comp Oncol. 2012;10(3):e1-e29. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5829.2012.00341.x
2. Couto CG. Mast cell tumors: to cut or not to cut. Paper presented at: 2018 Michigan Veterinary Conference; January 26-28, 2018; Lansing, Michigan. Accessed February 14, 2020. https://www.michvma.org/resources/Documents/MVC/2018%20Proceedings/couto_04.pdf
3. Henry C, Herrera C. Mast cell tumors in cats: clinical update and possible new treatment avenues. J Feline Med Surg. 2013;15(1):41-47.
Photo by JC Gellidon
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Tooth resorption is a potentially painful dental problem that is common in adult cats and occasionally affects dogs. The condition gets worse over time and can involve many teeth or only a single tooth root. Animals with tooth resorption and mouth pain might not have any obvious symptoms.
Tooth resorption is the process of tooth breakdown and reabsorption by the body. Tooth root resorption is normal in baby teeth. Think of how a baby tooth looks after it falls out: it has a jagged edge instead of long roots. Its roots were resorbed as the permanent tooth moved into its place. If its roots had not been resorbed, the baby tooth would stay in the mouth instead of falling out to make room for the permanent tooth.
For reasons that are still unclear, many cats experience abnormal resorption of adult teeth. Resorption of adult teeth can affect only the roots or both the roots and the crown (the visible part of the tooth above the gumline). Resorption is not the same as cavities, which are rare in cats and dogs.
Tooth resorption in adult teeth usually begins with the loss of a small amount of the hard outer tooth surface at or below the gumline. Resorption progresses until it reaches the soft pulp at the center of the tooth. Another type of tooth resorption begins in the pulp and works its way outward. The process involves bone remodeling along with tooth destruction, and in the final stage the root mostly disappears and is replaced with bone.
Inflammation plays a part in tooth resorption, although whether inflammation causes resorption or resorption causes inflammation is not known. In any case, many cats with tooth resorption also have gingivitis or more severe inflammation in the mouth. Whether tooth resorption is painful depends on the degree of inflammation, location of the resorbed area (above or below the gumline), stage of resorption, and presence of other problems like infection.
Tooth resorption is very often a hidden condition that isn’t found until a cat is under anesthesia for a dental procedure and has dental radiographs (x-ray images) taken. Cats and dogs can have mouth pain with very subtle or no symptoms of discomfort. Gingivitis is sometimes a sign of underlying tooth resorption.
Animals with tooth resorption might have these symptoms:
Tooth resorption is diagnosed with dental imaging (radiographs or computed tomography) and a full oral examination that includes probing around all sides of the teeth. These procedures require general anesthesia or at least deep sedation. Examination of a cooperative awake patient can reveal resorption that affects the crown, but it won’t show resorption of tooth roots.
Currently the only effective treatment for tooth resorption is extraction of the affected teeth. If the tooth roots have already been replaced by bone, only the crown of the tooth might need to be removed. Decisions about whether to extract, when to extract, and how much tooth to extract are based on how the teeth look on radiographs and whether the condition is likely to be painful. Medical treatments like antibiotics and steroids don’t stop tooth resorption.
Tooth resorption can’t be prevented because the cause isn’t known. The best way to catch the problem is with regular dental care, including an oral examination and radiographs under anesthesia as recommended by a veterinarian.
1. AVDC nomenclature: tooth resorption. American Veterinary Dental College website. https://avdc.org/avdc-nomenclature/. Accessed January 31, 2020.
2. Reiter AM. Tooth resorption in small animals. Merck Veterinary Manual website. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/dentistry/tooth-resorption-in-small-animals. Updated May 2014. Accessed January 31, 2020.
3. Smith MM. Tooth resorption in cats: don’t think you know; know you know! In: VMX 2020 Proceedings: Small Animal & Exotics, Book 1. Orlando, FL: North American Veterinary Community; 2020.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The anal sacs, or anal glands, are a pair of small sacs located under the skin on each side of the anus of dogs and cats. These sacs contain smelly material that is normally squeezed out when an animal passes stool. If your dog is scooting his bottom across the floor, he might have an impacted (clogged) anal sac.
Anal Sac Anatomy
Anal sacs lie between the anal sphincter muscles, the circular muscles that close the anus. Each sac has a small duct that leads to an opening in the skin next to the anus. Anal sac material is liquid or pasty in consistency, ranges in color from cream to brown, and has a characteristic fishy odor.
The function of anal sacs is not entirely clear but might have to do with scent marking and communication.
Symptoms of Anal Sac Problems
Dogs and cats with anal sac disorders have symptoms of anal discomfort (these are more common in dogs):
Other problems, like parasites, fleas, and orthopedic pain, can cause some of the same symptoms.
Types of Anal Sac Disorders
The most common anal sac problem by far is impaction, in which an anal sac can’t empty on its own and material remains in the sac. Scooting the bottom on the floor and licking the anal area are typical symptoms. Impaction happens more often in small dogs than in large dogs or cats. The causes of impaction are not fully known. Many dogs go through their entire lives without ever having impacted anal sacs; others experience it regularly. Allergies, skin disease, and changes in stool consistency might make a dog more likely to have clogged anal sacs.
Impacted anal sacs can become inflamed, a condition called anal sacculitis. Anal sacculitis causes painful, swollen sacs and often redness of the skin around the anus.
Infected anal sacs can form abscesses. An anal sac abscess first appears as a painful swelling beside the anal opening. It may rupture through a skin wound that drains pus or blood next to the anus.
Anal gland tumors are less common than impaction, inflammation, or infection. They can cause swelling, bleeding, or discomfort in the anal area.
Veterinarians usually manage an impacted anal sac by gently expressing the material out of the sac. This process can be uncomfortable for the patient, especially if the material is too thick or dry to be easily removed. Some patients benefit from anal sac flushes or warm compresses applied to the anal area. Anal sac inflammation and infection are typically treated with antibiotics and pain relievers. The anal sacs can be surgically removed in patients with anal sac cancer or as a last resort for patients with other anal sac problems. (Surgical removal is not generally recommended for patients with simple anal sac impaction because of the possibility of complications after surgery.)
What You Should Do
If your dog or cat doesn’t have any symptoms of anal sac trouble and your veterinarian hasn’t found a problem, you don’t need to do anything in particular. There’s no need to change your pet’s diet or have the anal sacs expressed if they’re working normally. But be aware of the signs of anal sac impaction so you can have this uncomfortable problem taken care of before it becomes more painful for your pet.
Photo by Sheri Hooley
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Acupuncture, the technique of stimulating points on the body by inserting tiny needles through the skin, is being used more frequently to treat animals. Most scientific studies of acupuncture have been conducted in humans. However, the existing evidence in animals led the American Animal Hospital Association and American Association of Feline Practitioners to endorse acupuncture as a treatment option for chronic pain.
Anna Ponce, DVM, and I recently sat down to chat about acupuncture in pets. Dr Ponce provides acupuncture services for dogs and cats and has completed the coursework and examination requirements for certification in veterinary acupuncture. (Interview has been edited for length and flow.)
LAW: How did you decide to start doing acupuncture?
AP: My biggest push to learn acupuncture was having geriatric cats come in with arthritis. Some of them have kidney disease, and there is just no good long-term arthritis medication for these cats. Acupuncture is one of the modalities that has been mentioned, so I decided to explore that avenue and see what I could do to help arthritic cats. And that really opened my eyes to so much more that can be done with acupuncture.
What conditions do you think acupuncture helps the most?
It can really help with any condition: heart disease, kidney disease, coughing, behavioral issues, anxiety. But I think what we know it most commonly for is arthritis.
Which patients do you recommend it for, and how does it help them?
For example, this morning I recommended it for a dog that has arthritis in her knees, elbows, back, and hips. She’s had x-rays, so we know arthritis is there. It took a long time to get her on the right combination of drugs to be comfortable, but she still has off days and I absolutely think she would benefit from acupuncture.
Acupuncture has local effects like decreasing inflammation and pain, and it also helps get the body back in balance. Chronic issues are obviously going to take more time. Acupuncture is not going to make these issues disappear. It doesn’t miraculously make degenerative joint disease return to normal, but it definitely helps the pain and inflammation. [It helps the body release] serotonin, endogenous opioids, and beta endorphins. In my opinion, there’s not a pet that can’t benefit from acupuncture, even if it’s as a preventive measure.
When would you not recommend it?
I wouldn’t not recommend it for just about any patient, but the biggest consideration is whether the patient will tolerate acupuncture. Some dogs and cats fall asleep, they snore, they love their acupuncture, they look forward to it, they’re very relaxed. And then some patients are just not going to tolerate having needles placed in them.
You would not want to put a needle through infected skin. You wouldn’t want to put a needle in a tumor because it would increase blood supply to that area. Certain points are contraindicated in pregnant dogs to avoid inducing labor. And you would not do electroacupuncture [delivery of electrical current through acupuncture needles] in a dog with seizures. But other than that it’s very safe. There’s really not a patient that I would say should not get it. It’s a matter of whether they tolerate it, which I feel most of them do.
How do cats handle it?
I have one cat patient who is very good for his acupuncture. He tells me when he’s had enough needles, so he dictates how many needles he gets. When he starts to meow a little bit and get a little twitchy, we’ve reached our limit, and then he walks into his carrier, lies down, and rests there [with the needles inserted]. Another cat that I treated really enjoyed it and just lay there the entire time, comfortable.
Can you describe a typical acupuncture session?
We use very tiny sterile needles that go in acupuncture points throughout the body. The needles are even smaller than insulin needles. I do a traditional Chinese exam along with my Western exam, make my traditional Chinese diagnosis, and pick acupuncture points based on that. A session might include 5 to 40 needles, depending on what I’m treating; it’s normally 10 to 20 needles. The time patients sit with the needles inserted could be anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes.
Placement of the needles is based on meridians through which qi (chi), or energy, flows and where acupuncture points are located. The strongest points tend to be on the limbs, but those can also be more tender points for dogs and cats. So we often use more points on the back because they’re easier to access and they tend to not be quite as sensitive as the points on the limbs. When a needle’s inserted it causes a de-qi response, essentially a tingling or warming sensation, and sometimes a muscle twitch.
I also use different modalities. Dry needling is insertion of the tiny needles. In electroacupuncture, we hook up electrodes to get higher stimulation. In aquapuncture, we inject vitamin B12 under the skin at acupuncture points to get a longer effect.
How do you integrate acupuncture with Western medicine?
I believe that they complement one another. I think that acupuncture can benefit the patient in ways that Western medicine can’t, especially with end-of-life comfort and pain relief. I definitely wouldn’t throw out Western diagnostics. Bloodwork and x-rays are very important and can help tailor your acupuncture treatment. I think the best type of medicine is an integrative approach, having them work together.
Would you describe your acupuncture training?
You have to be a licensed veterinarian to practice acupuncture [in animals], but you do not have to have a certification in acupuncture to practice it. Being certified shows that you have gone through the training and that you know what you’re doing.
I took a 6-month course through the Chi Institute [of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine] in Florida. The course is 150 credit hours in 5 sessions: 2 online lecture sessions and 3 on-site sessions including lectures and a hands-on lab. After you complete the sessions you take a 200-question written exam and a practical exam. The final requirements for certification are a 30-hour internship with a certified veterinary acupuncturist and submission of a case study of a patient that you have followed for at least 3 months. I’ve done all of the coursework and the test. Once my internship hours are finished and my case study has been approved, I’ll get my certification.
1. Epstein ME, Rodan I, Griffenhagen G, et al. 2015 AAHA/AAFP pain management guidelines for dogs and cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2015;17(3):251-272.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It’s tempting to share some of the Thanksgiving feast with our pets. Not all human food is safe for dogs and cats, though. The best way to avoid a holiday trip to the emergency clinic is to give pets their usual food and keep table food out of their reach. If you (or your guests) do want to give your pets a little bit of holiday food, though, here are some suggestions that are fine for most dogs and cats.
Keep in mind a few rules of thumb. Don’t give them anything that’s dangerous to dogs and cats: fatty food, bones, raw meat, raw eggs, raisins, grapes, currants, onions, garlic, leeks, raw yeast dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and the sugar substitute xylitol. For more, see the posts on Thanksgiving safety for pets and human foods that are toxic to pets.
Unseasoned single-ingredient foods are safer than multiple-ingredient dishes because they’re less likely to contain hidden dangers like onion. Moderation is key; too much of any food can upset a pet’s stomach. And remember that these suggestions don’t apply to pets with food allergies or digestive problems.
A bite of cooked skinless, boneless turkey meat is safe for most dogs and cats. Keep portion size in mind; a 10-lb dog or cat does not need the same amount of turkey that a person would eat. Take these precautions:
Defatted turkey or chicken broth
Pan drippings and gravy are too high in fat for dogs and cats. But a spoonful or two of defatted broth is usually fine for dogs. Don’t give broth to your cat unless you can be absolutely sure it wasn’t made with onions, leeks, shallots, or garlic; try tuna juice instead.
Vegetables and fruits
Dogs like vegetables more than you might think. Avoid grapes, raisins, currants, veggies cooked with fat or butter, and vegetable casseroles (that green bean casserole with the crispy onions on top? no). Stick with plain veggies and fruits, either raw or cooked without seasoning. My own dogs highly recommend all of these:
A small piece of bread, cornbread, or biscuit is generally safe for dogs and cats. Keep unbaked dough out of their reach; raw yeast dough can cause ethanol poisoning. Watch for added fats and seasonings (no onion focaccia or garlic bread). A bite of plain bread is safer than dressing or stuffing, which is likely to contain fat, onion, and possibly raisins or currants. Also avoid store-bought baked goods that might contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
For pets eating prescription or limited-ingredient diets
The best approach for pets with medical needs or food allergies is to close them in a room away from the kitchen and dining area. Guests might not realize that these pets have dietary restrictions. If your pet is eating a special diet and you’d like to give treats, ask your veterinarian for safe options. Some prescription diet manufacturers have developed treats that are compatible with their diets.
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s rate of metabolism. The most common thyroid disease in cats is hyperthyroidism, or abnormally high thyroid hormone production. Hyperthyroidism has serious health effects for cats. This disease is rare in dogs.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is usually caused by a benign thyroid gland tumor that produces excess thyroid hormone. Malignant thyroid gland tumors are much less common but do occur in some cats.
Hyperthyroidism has become more common in cats over the last few decades. The disease now affects up to 10% of cats over 10 years old. The reasons for the increase in hyperthyroidism are unclear but might include genetics, substances in the environment, or dietary factors.
Thyroid hormones affect many body systems, so the signs can vary from cat to cat. However, some signs are fairly common in cats with hyperthyroidism. Weight loss in a cat with a good appetite is a classic sign of hyperthyroidism.
Cats with hyperthyroidism often have other disorders at the same time. Some of the most common are heart disease, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. The symptoms of these other conditions can overlap the symptoms of thyroid disease.
Signs of hyperthyroidism include the following:
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed with a blood test for thyroid hormone level. Because thyroid disease is common in cats, many feline blood panels include a thyroid test. Your veterinarian might recommend routinely screening middle-aged and senior cats for hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and other common diseases. Blood tests can detect some of these disorders before a cat has any symptoms. Your veterinarian is also likely to suggest thyroid testing if your cat is losing weight or has any other signs of hyperthyroidism.
In most cats, a test for a single type of thyroid hormone (thyroxine, or T4) is enough to diagnose hyperthyroidism. Sometimes additional thyroid hormone tests are needed for diagnosis.
Cats with suspected hyperthyroidism should have other blood tests and urinalysis to screen for conditions like kidney disease. Cats with thyroid disease also benefit from regular blood pressure monitoring. Your veterinarian might recommend imaging studies like radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) to further assess the internal organs.
The goals of treatment are to return the cat’s thyroid function to normal, keep adverse effects of treatment to a minimum, and avoid lowering the thyroid hormone levels below the normal range (a condition called hypothyroidism). Untreated hyperthyroidism causes significant illness and can be life threatening.
Four treatment methods are currently available:
Radioactive iodine and surgery can potentially cure the disease. Medication and diet therapy must be continued for the rest of the cat’s life. Each of these treatment methods has benefits, adverse effects, and costs that must be taken into account for each individual cat. The cat’s overall health and other medical conditions also affect the choice of treatment. Discuss the options with your veterinarian so you can make an informed decision that works for your cat and your family.
Cats being treated for hyperthyroidism need regular monitoring to assess thyroid hormone levels and check for evidence of other diseases. The type and frequency of monitoring depend on the treatment method and the cat’s condition. Kidney disease is fairly common in cats with hyperthyroidism and sometimes doesn’t show up on laboratory tests until the thyroid function is under control, so kidney function is routinely checked in cats being treated for thyroid disease.
For More Information
Feline Hyperthyroidism (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/feline-diseases/hyperthyroidism/
Hyperthyroidism in Cats (Cornell Feline Health Center): https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hyperthyroidism-cats
1. Carney HC, Ward CR, Bailey SJ, et al. 2016 AAFP guidelines for the management of feline hyperthyroidism. J Feline Med Surg. 2016;18(5):400-416.
Photo by Dave Francis
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
In cats and dogs, chronic (long-term) pain causes subtle behavior changes that can be mistaken for normal effects of aging. Pain can also cause unwanted behaviors like house soiling. Don’t assume that changes in behavior, activity, or mood result from aging, anxiety, or human emotions like resentment or anger. Your pet could be in pain instead.
Arthritis is one of the most common causes of chronic pain in older animals but can go undetected, especially in animals like cats that are biologically programmed to hide their pain. Signs of acute pain (caused by injury) are easier to spot. Whatever the cause of your pet’s pain, recognizing the signs is the first step to helping your pet feel better.
If you think your pet may be in pain, consult a veterinarian. Never treat an animal’s pain with over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, or other remedies without checking with your veterinarian first. Many over-the-counter pain remedies, like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve), are toxic or even fatal to dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can suggest safer and more effective measures for your pet.
Signs of Pain in Cats
Signs of Pain in Dogs
15 Signs of Pain in Dogs (PDF, American Animal Hospital Association): https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/pain-management/painmgmt_15signs.pdf
How Do I Know if My Cat Is in Pain? (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/feline-diseases/signs-symptoms/know-cat-pain/
How to Tell if Your Dog Is in Pain (PDF, American Animal Hospital Association): https://www.aaha.org/globalassets/02-guidelines/pain-management/painmanagement_dogs_web.pdf
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Seizures can be upsetting to watch but are usually over quickly. A pet that has had a seizure for the first time should see a veterinarian. Seizures that last longer than 5 minutes or that happen in clusters (2 or more seizures in a day) are medical emergencies.
What Is a Seizure?
Seizures are involuntary movements caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain. How a seizure looks depends on the type of seizure.
Is It a Seizure?
Some other conditions can look like seizures. Heart disease can cause fainting spells that look very similar to seizures. Other nervous system disorders, orthopedic problems, pain responses, trembling, and even extreme itching can mimic seizures.
If your pet has an episode of unusual movement or behavior, you don’t have to decide whether it was a seizure. Take your pet to a veterinarian and be prepared to describe the episode in as much detail as possible. A video can be very helpful. The veterinarian will ask how long the episode lasted, what your pet did (paddling the legs, urinating, etc), and whether your pet had access to toxins or medications before the episode. Your veterinarian will also need to know if your pet has had seizures before and if so, your pet’s age at the first seizure.
A true seizure is followed by a period of disorientation or other unusual behavior. Watch for this phase and tell your veterinarian if you see it. True seizures also begin with an aura phase (nervousness, seeking attention), but pet owners don’t often witness this phase.
Causes of Seizures
The many possible causes of seizures can be classified as things outside the brain (problems elsewhere in the body that affect brain function), things inside the brain (structural problems with the brain itself), or epilepsy.
Primary epilepsy is the most common diagnosis in dogs that start having seizures between the ages of about 6 months and 6 years. It is genetic in some breeds but can happen in dogs of any breed. Primary epilepsy is uncommon in cats. Dogs with primary epilepsy seem normal between seizures. Not being normal between seizures could be a sign that the seizure is caused by something else.
Veterinarians perform diagnostic tests to look for the cause of the seizure and rule out other conditions that mimic seizures. Primary epilepsy is diagnosed by not finding another cause for the seizure. Your veterinarian might recommend referring your pet to a veterinary neurologist.
What to Do if Your Pet Has a Seizure
Treatment depends on the cause of the seizure. Dogs with epilepsy generally have repeat seizures, and the choice of medication depends on the frequency and severity of the seizures. Epilepsy is a lifelong condition that can be managed but can’t be cured, so dogs with epilepsy usually need medication for life. Whatever the cause of the seizure, work in partnership with your veterinarian to develop your pet’s treatment plan. Anticonvulsant medication has specific dosage requirements, so don’t change the dose or timing of your pet’s medication without consulting your veterinarian.
Photo by Anne Dudek
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Cats need to scratch objects. Scratching is normal for cats, and even declawed cats engage in this instinctive behavior. You can’t train your cat not to scratch, and it wouldn’t be humane to try. But there are ways to direct your cat’s scratching so she’ll scratch more where you want her to and less where you don’t.
Why Cats Scratch
Understanding why cats scratch helps us figure out how to convince them to use a scratching post and not the sofa.
Cats have a physical need to scratch. Scratching grooms the nails, flexes the claw-retracting apparatus, and stretches the muscles.
Scratching is also a communication method for cats. Cats are territorial, and scratching is one way they mark their territory. When cats scratch, they leave visual signs (scratch marks) and scents (from glands in their paws) as signals for other animals.
Anxiety—for example, from conflict with other pets—can increase a cat’s marking behaviors. If your cat is clawing the furniture more than usual, stress is a possible reason. Punishing a cat for scratching could certainly increase his anxiety level.
Giving Cats Things to Scratch
Cats have individual preferences for scratching surfaces. The right type of scratching post is whatever type your cat likes best. You might need to try several before finding your cat’s favorite. Here are some general tips:
To encourage your cat to use the scratching post, try these ideas:
Keeping Cats From Scratching Other Things
Living With a Clawed Cat (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/cat-care-at-home/living-clawed-cat/
Scratching (The Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative): https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/basicneeds/scratching
Photo by Jonas Vincent
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
A recent study of 114 recipes for homemade diets for cats found that all of the diets were nutritionally inadequate in some way. Most of the recipes, which were either posted online or published in books, were deficient in at least 1 nutrient. Some recipes included ingredients (like onions and garlic) that are toxic to cats. Other studies have found similar problems in recipes for home-cooked diets for dogs.[2-4]
Some pet owners choose to make their own dog or cat food because of a pet with food allergies, a desire to feed natural products, a distrust of commercial pet food, or another reason. Preparing dog and cat food at home is time-consuming and expensive, and owners who undertake it generally just want to take good care of their pets. Dogs and cats rarely require home-prepared diets, but if you decide to make your pet’s food yourself, check the resources for safe recipes at the end of this article.
Potential Problems With Homemade Pet Food
Recipes for home-prepared dog and cat diets are often not nutritionally complete and balanced. Deficiencies in nutrients like iron, taurine, and calcium can lead to anemia, heart disease, and bone disease. Because many recipes are deficient in the same nutrients, rotating among different diets and ingredients won’t necessarily balance the diet.
Home-prepared diets must be supplemented with the right mix of vitamins and minerals. General-purpose multivitamins for dogs or cats are usually not sufficient for pets eating homemade diets. Some vitamin supplements are made for pets eating fortified commercial diets, not those eating homemade diets with lower vitamin and mineral levels.
Oversupplementation is also a possible problem. Too much vitamin D, for example, can damage the kidneys. The choice and amount of nutrients to include in a supplement depend on the ingredients of the chosen diet.
Some homemade diet recipes include potentially unsafe ingredients. Others are based on misconceptions about dog and cat nutrition. Dogs and cats don’t need to eat raw meat, which poses a risk of bacterial contamination for the pet eating it and also for people in the household.[5,6] Bones in the food can damage the digestive tract unless they are ground up. Many recipes (and commercial diets) promote the mistaken idea that there is something wrong with feeding grain to dogs. In fact, grain-free diets might be linked to heart disease in dogs.
Where to Find Recipes
The safest homemade diets for dogs and cats are formulated by board-certified veterinary nutritionists. These specialist veterinarians have extensive training in animal nutrition. Veterinary nutritionists develop recipes for healthy animals and can also customize diets for animals with diseases or specific nutritional needs.
If you use a recipe from a veterinary nutritionist, be sure to follow the recipe and feeding instructions exactly. Ingredient substitutions can change the nutritional balance of the diet.
1. Wilson SA, Villaverde C, Fascetti AJ, Larsen JA. Evaluation of the nutritional adequacy of recipes for home-prepared maintenance diets for cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2019;254(10):1172-1179.
2. Heinze CR, Gomez FC, Freeman LM. Assessment of commercial diets and recipes for home-prepared diets recommended for dogs with cancer. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2012;241(11):1453-1460.
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Laurie Anne Walden, DVM