Cats don’t often show obvious signs of pain (at least not obvious to people). Because cats don’t speak human, we have to learn to speak cat—that is, read their behavior cues and body language—to know when they’re hurting and need help.
September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, so this article highlights 2 tools used to evaluate pain in cats. Cat owners and veterinarians can use the Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index (FMPI) to identify signs of joint pain in cats. The Feline Grimace Scale uses changes in cats’ facial expressions to help veterinarians assess the need for pain relief in hospitalized cats.
If you think your cat is in pain, contact your veterinarian. Never give a cat any pain medication unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it. Many over-the-counter and prescription pain medications for humans and dogs are dangerous for cats.
Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index
Arthritis is very common in senior cats and can also affect young cats. Other joint and tendon disorders also cause chronic (long-term) pain in cats. These conditions are notoriously difficult to diagnose in cats by physical examination alone; cats don’t tend to cooperate during orthopedic exams. However, chronic pain causes changes in behavior and mobility that we can observe and track over time.
Researchers at NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine developed the FMPI to help cat owners and veterinarians diagnose and monitor chronic pain caused by joint disorders. This tool has been clinically validated, meaning that it’s accurate and reliable.
The FMPI is a questionnaire for cat owners. In the questionnaire, owners rank their cat’s ability to perform normal activities like these:
Each item is scored, and the total score indicates the cat’s level of impairment. After a cat starts treatment, the FMPI can be used to evaluate whether the cat’s pain is decreasing over time.
You can find more information about the FMPI at its website: https://painfreecats.org/.
Feline Grimace Scale
Grimace scales are used to assess pain in a number of animal species. These scales evaluate changes in facial expression caused by tension in specific facial muscles in response to pain.
Researchers at the University of Montreal developed the Feline Grimace Scale to help veterinarians detect acute (short-term) medical, surgical, or dental pain in cats in the hospital. This scale, like the FMPI, has been clinically validated.
The Feline Grimace Scale includes 5 facial action units that reflect levels of pain:
Each facial action unit is scored, and the total score indicates the cat’s level of pain. A score above a certain point suggests that a cat needs pain medication. The scale is also used to monitor response to pain medication.
More information, including illustrations of the different facial expressions, is available at the Feline Grimace Scale website: https://www.felinegrimacescale.com/.
Photo by Yerlin Matu
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Giving medication to cats is not always as simple as giving it to dogs. Unfortunately, this means that cats might not receive all of their medication, and some might not get any medication at all. If you have trouble giving your cat pills, tell your veterinarian. Together you can find a way for your cat to get the treatment she needs.
Try It in Food
If the medication can be given with food (check with your veterinarian), try hiding the first dose in something tasty to see if your cat is willing to take it this way. Use a small amount of food that your cat loves or a soft cat treat. Offer the bite of food containing the medication when your cat is hungry; don’t just leave a pill in the middle of a bowl of food.
Using food to administer medication can cause food aversion and reduced food intake in some cats, says the American Association of Feline Practitioners. If your cat doesn’t readily eat the first dose in food, don’t keep trying this method. Never force food into your cat’s mouth. Some medications are bitter and most cats won’t eat pills on their own, so be prepared to try something else.
Give It by Hand
For many cats, manual administration is the quickest and surest way to give pills. This technique is easier to show than to describe. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has an excellent video series demonstrating how to give a pill to a cat with your fingers or with a pill gun. (A pill gun is a tube with a soft tip and a plunger that lets you place pills onto your cat’s tongue without putting your fingers in the mouth.) The videos are at this link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzf8tGKj10zzg6Unhw4QZrqcvJZ1amkax
Here are some tips:
Try a Different Form of Medication
It can be very difficult to give a tablet to a cat who doesn’t want it. Some medications come in liquid form. Here is the Cornell video series showing how to give liquid medication to a cat: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzf8tGKj10zxJYert-yKU0B3cUpkH5Y0Z
Compounding pharmacies can make some medications into flavored liquids, chewable soft treats, and other forms that cats might accept more easily. A few medications can be made into ointments that are applied to the skin (usually inside the ear), although this delivery method doesn’t work for all medications. Talk to your veterinarian if you’d like to pursue these other options.
You can find more ideas in these articles:
Giving your cat medication. American Association of Feline Practitioners. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://catfriendly.com/cat-care-at-home/giving-cat-medication/
Giving your cat oral medications. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/hospitals/pharmacy/consumer-clinical-care-guidelines-animals/giving-your-cat-oral-medications
Medicating your cat. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/docs/default-source/ryan/ryan-behavior-medicine/medicating-your-cat-(pdf).pdf
Photo by Paul Hanaoka
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
If your pet’s eye is red, have it checked by a veterinarian without delay. Eye redness is a nonspecific symptom. It’s nearly always impossible to tell whether a red eye is minor or serious without ophthalmic tests at a veterinary clinic. These are some of the conditions that cause red eyes in dogs and cats.
Conjunctivitis, called pinkeye in people, is inflammation of the tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the whites of the eyes. Causes of conjunctivitis in pets include environmental irritants, allergies, skin disease, dry eye, and (especially in cats) viral or bacterial infections. Some of the conditions that cause conjunctivitis also affect the eyelids and the cornea, the clear front part of the eye.
Corneal ulcers are defects on the surface of the cornea. In dogs and cats they can be caused by things poking the eye (like turned-in eyelashes, a foreign object under the eyelid, or being swatted in the face by a cat), infections, dry eye, disorders of corneal cells, and chronic eye exposure in flat-faced animals with shallow eye sockets. Corneal ulcers and scratches are painful. Some ulcers are shallow and heal fairly quickly with treatment. Others are deep and can perforate all the way through to the interior of the eye. Diagnosis requires applying an ophthalmic stain to highlight the corneal defect.
Trauma to the outer surface of the eye causes redness of the white part of the eye, similar to the redness caused by conjunctivitis. Blunt trauma to the head can cause bleeding inside the eye, which looks like dark red discoloration behind the cornea. Bleeding disorders and other conditions can also cause blood accumulation inside the eye.
Uveitis is inflammation of the interior of the eye. Uveitis doesn’t happen on its own; it’s a sign of another problem. Some of the diseases that cause uveitis affect the whole body: infections, tick-borne diseases, immune-mediated disorders, cancer, and so forth. Uveitis is also caused by eye disorders like cataracts. Uveitis is a painful condition that can lead to glaucoma. Diagnosis involves examination of the eye, measurement of eye pressure, and tests to find the underlying cause.
Glaucoma is a disease characterized by increased pressure within the eye. The condition is inherited in some dog breeds and is also caused by uveitis, lens luxation (lens slipping out of place), and cancer of the eye. Glaucoma is painful and leads to blindness. Sudden-onset glaucoma is a medical emergency if vision is to be saved.
Cherry eye is the common term for prolapse of the gland of the nictitating membrane, a pink membrane (sometimes with a dark edge) at the inner corner of the eye. A tear gland within this membrane can swell and protrude past the edge. The prolapsed gland looks like a round pink or red mass at the inside corner of the eye. This is the one type of “red eye” that doesn’t require an immediate visit to the veterinarian—unless other symptoms, like squinting or eye discharge, are also present. However, a prolapsed tear gland can cause eye irritation, and tumors in this area look similar, so it should still be checked out. Prolapsed tear glands are treated surgically.
Photo by Céline Harrand
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Most wild mushrooms aren’t dangerous, but some are fatal if eaten. Keep your pets safe by removing wild mushrooms from their environment.
Because it’s not easy to know if a wild mushroom is poisonous, treat any wild mushroom ingestion as a medical emergency. If your dog or cat eats wild mushrooms, call an emergency animal clinic, your veterinary clinic, or a pet poison hotline right away. Don’t wait until your pet gets sick before you call. Some of the most toxic mushrooms don’t cause symptoms until hours after they’re swallowed.
Pet poison hotlines (fees might apply):
ASPCA Animal Poison Control: 888-426-4435
Pet Poison Helpline: 855-764-7661
Photos of toxic mushrooms in North Carolina:
NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: mushrooms
Symptoms of mushroom poisoning depend on the type of mushroom and the amount eaten. Toxic mushrooms can be categorized by the type of problem they cause: liver and kidney failure, central nervous system effects, muscarinic reactions, hallucinations, or gastrointestinal irritation.
Liver and Kidney Failure
The mushrooms responsible for the most deaths are in the Amanita, Galerina, and Lepiota genera. Examples are Amanita phalloides (death cap), Amanita bisporigera (destroying angel), and Galerina autumnalis (autumn skullcap).
The toxic compounds in these mushrooms are amatoxins, phallotoxins, or virotoxins. These toxins damage cells of the liver, kidneys, and intestines. The symptoms progress through stages:
Central Nervous System Effects
Mushrooms containing the compounds ibotenic acid and muscimol affect the central nervous system. The mushrooms most often involved in this type of poisoning are Amanita muscaria (fly agaric) and Amanita pantherina. Symptoms usually begin 30 minutes to 2 hours after ingestion (possibly earlier in cats) and include the following:
Muscarine is a substance that affects a specific metabolic pathway in cells of the body. Ingestion of muscarine-containing mushrooms—usually Clitocybe and Inocybe species—causes clinical signs related to part of the nervous system that regulates routine (not conscious) body functions. Symptoms appear a few minutes to a couple of hours after ingestion:
Hallucinogenic mushrooms include those in the genera Psilocybe, Conocybe, Panaeolus, Copelandia, Pluteus, and Gymnopilus. The toxic components are psilocybin and psilocin, which are similar to the drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Symptoms usually begin within an hour or two after ingestion:
Many mushrooms cause gastrointestinal (digestive tract) problems. The exact toxin in most of these mushrooms is not known. Some of the mushroom genera that cause this type of problem are Chlorophyllum (which often forms fairy rings on lawns), Omphalotus, and Scleroderma. Symptoms usually begin soon after ingestion and improve on their own within a few hours. Most symptoms are mild:
Diagnosing mushroom poisoning is difficult unless the animal is seen eating the mushroom or vomits up pieces of mushroom. Known access to wild mushrooms, compatible symptoms, and physical examination findings can put mushroom poisoning on the list of possibilities. Blood and urine tests are used to assess organ function in dogs with symptoms.
Treatment depends on the symptoms and type of mushroom (if known). Animals exposed to the most toxic mushrooms need early and aggressive treatment to survive. Unfortunately, early treatment isn’t possible if the ingestion was not witnessed and symptoms don’t begin until several hours later.
No antidote is available for mushroom poisoning. The best way to manage the risk is to prevent pets from eating wild mushrooms.
1. Hovda LR. Unfriendly fungi: five groups of mushrooms toxic to pets. DVM 360. Published October 20, 2015. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/unfriendly-fungi-five-types-mushrooms-toxic-pets
2. Brownie CF. Poisonous mushrooms. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated August 2014. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/toxicology/poisonous-mushrooms
3. Cope RB. Toxicology brief: mushroom poisoning in dogs. DVM 360. Published February 1, 2007. Accessed July 23, 2020. https://www.dvm360.com/view/toxicology-brief-mushroom-poisoning-dogs
Photo of Galerina species by Bernard Spragg
If you’ve been sheltering at home during the pandemic, your pets have gotten used to having you around all the time. Puppies and kittens adopted during lockdown might have never been home without people. Take these steps to prevent separation anxiety in your pets when you start spending more time away.
Gradually Change the Schedule
Dogs and cats feel most secure when their environment is predictable. If meal and walk times will be changing, start the new schedule in advance to give them time to adjust. You might also need to gradually alter the timing, frequency, and duration of play times (but make sure they still get plenty of exercise).
Make Departures No Big Deal
A standard recommendation for pets with separation anxiety is to stay calm when you leave and when you return. It’s fine to say hi when you walk in the door, but excited greetings and prolonged goodbyes can be counterproductive. You don’t want to focus too much of their attention on the fact that you are going or coming.
Start With Short Departures
Have everyone leave the house for a few minutes to see how your dog reacts. Some signs of separation anxiety are barking, whining, scratching at the door, urinating or defecating in the house, and chewing the door frame or other objects. A video camera (if you have one) can pick up signs like pacing, panting, and lip licking. If all goes well, gradually increase the length of time you’re gone.
If your dog seems anxious, progress very slowly and use positive reinforcement like treats when you leave. Simply picking up the keys or touching the doorknob is enough to trigger anxiety in some dogs. Dogs that already have separation anxiety might need a veterinary consult.
Use Toys and Treats
Giving your pets toys or treats when you leave can serve 2 purposes: distraction and counterconditioning. A time-consuming toy like a food puzzle gives them something to think about other than the fact that you’re gone. Never leave your pets with toys they can swallow whole, chew apart, shred, mangle, break, or choke on, though.
Counterconditioning means giving an animal a positive stimulus, like a yummy treat, at the same time as an unwanted event, like you leaving. Counterconditioning can help animals form positive associations with things they don’t like but have to put up with.
Confine Pets Safely
If your dogs can’t safely have the run of the house while you’re away, accustom them to a crate or an appropriate room in advance. Make the space a familiar, comfortable environment for them, using positive reinforcement as needed.
Destruction and house soiling aren’t signs that your dog resents you or wants your attention. These could be signs of anxiety, boredom, lack of exercise, or (with house soiling) just needing to be taken out more often. Punishing animals after the fact increases their anxiety and does nothing to keep the behavior from happening again. Look for the cause of the problem instead.
Doggie Daycare? It Depends
Dog daycares and kennels might or might not be open in your area. Follow your local public health precautions. Dogs and cats don’t seem able to transmit COVID-19 to humans, and the risk of them becoming infected appears to be low. To be safe, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends limiting contact between pets and people who are not part of the household. If any people or animals in your home are sick, don’t send your dog to daycare. And don’t put face coverings over pets’ noses or wipe them down with household disinfectants.
For More Information
COVID-19: 7 steps to help your pet prepare for your return to work. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published June 12, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/covid-19-7-steps-help-your-pet-prepare-your-return-work
McConnell P. Preventing separation anxiety in the time of COVID. The Other End of the Leash. Published April 27, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/preventing-separation-anxiety-in-the-time-of-covid
Photo by Eric Ward
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Make plans now to keep your pets safe over the July 4 weekend. Large fireworks shows might be canceled this year, but fireworks stores across the state line are open and home fireworks pose risks for pets.
Fireworks in neighborhoods are traumatic for many animals. The loud bangs are random and sporadic, so they’re hard to predict. For pets at home, neighborhood fireworks are louder than big fireworks shows because they’re closer. And fireworks set off by individuals tend to continue for several hours, often over a few days, instead of being limited to the duration of a fireworks show.
Animals startled by loud noises can bolt unexpectedly. Take these steps to keep your pets from getting lost and increase the chance of finding them if they run off:
Noise phobia, or irrational fear of certain noises, is common in dogs and is often triggered by fireworks. Noise phobia goes further than just disliking loud sounds. Animals with noise phobia have reactions that range from hiding under the bed to destroying parts of the house. Some symptoms, like seeking attention, are subtle. This anxiety condition often gets worse with time and can seriously affect an animal’s safety and welfare.
If you think your pet might have noise phobia, call your veterinarian. Your pet might need a combination of short-term treatment (like antianxiety medication) that you can use right away and long-term behavior modification measures. The sooner you address noise phobia, the better it will be for your pet.
Various therapies have been used to help dogs with noise phobia. Some work better than others. A survey published in May 2020 asked dog owners how they managed their dogs’ fireworks fears and how well various techniques worked. The most effective measures, indicated by at least 69% of owners, were counterconditioning (giving the dog something desirable when the noise occurred), prescription antianxiety medication, and relaxation training. Pressure vests and desensitization using fireworks recordings were less effective. Pheromones, nutraceuticals, and herbal remedies worked for the fewest dogs.
Fireworks contain hazardous substances like fuel, oxidizers (for combustion), and heavy metals. If swallowed, these chemicals can cause vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver disease, or kidney disease. Lit fireworks and smoke are obviously a risk to animals’ eyes and skin. Keep your pets completely away from new and used fireworks:
1. Riemer S. Effectiveness of treatments for firework fears in dogs. J Vet Behav. 2020;37:61-70.
2. Fireworks. Pet Poison Helpline. Accessed June 19, 2020. https://www.petpoisonhelpline.com/poison/fireworks/
Photo by Andy Thrasher
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a serious disease caused by a coronavirus infection in cats. The disease is usually fatal, although a new antiviral drug under investigation has had promising results in some cats.
Cats very commonly carry a strain of feline coronavirus that lives in cells of the intestines. This virus, feline enteric coronavirus, does not cause disease in most cats. In some cats, though, the virus mutates into a disease-causing strain that invades a type of white blood cell and spreads through the body. This strain is FIP virus (FIPV). The disease it causes, FIP, results from the body’s immune response to the infection.
Feline enteric coronavirus spreads easily among cats housed together, especially in shelters and catteries. This virus is shed in the feces, and cats can be infected if they share litter boxes or have close contact with infected cats. Cats with no symptoms can spread the virus to other cats. Cats are often exposed to feline enteric coronavirus as young kittens.
Why feline enteric coronavirus mutates into FIPV in some cats is not fully known. Virus genetics and individual cat factors (genetics, immune function, and possibly environment) are likely to be involved. Most cats that develop FIP are kittens or young adults. Cats housed in groups, male cats, purebred cats, and cats that have not been spayed or neutered are at higher risk than others for FIP.[1,2]
The mutated virus strain, FIPV, does not appear to spread directly from cat to cat. Feline enteric coronavirus and FIPV are not known to infect humans.
Most cats exposed to feline enteric coronavirus do not become ill. Some cats have an episode of diarrhea or vomiting, which is usually mild.
Because FIPV spreads throughout the body, FIP affects many body systems and can cause a wide range of symptoms. The clinical signs are not specific; they can be caused by diseases other than FIP.
Typical FIP signs are caused by fluid accumulation in the abdomen and chest, by inflammatory changes in various parts of the body (such as kidneys, nervous system, liver, heart, or eyes), or both. The symptoms depend on the body system affected and can change over time in the same cat. These are some of the possible symptoms of FIP:
Diagnosing FIP is not straightforward and can’t currently be done with a simple blood test. Because so many cats have been exposed to feline enteric coronavirus, a positive antibody test (indicating virus exposure) doesn’t mean that a sick cat has FIP. The diagnosis is usually based on a combination of clinical signs, results of baseline blood and urine tests, and analysis of abdominal fluid and samples taken from affected organs.
Until recently, the prognosis for cats with FIP was uniformly bleak. Conventional treatments, including various antiviral medications and drugs to manage the immune response, have had variable success at prolonging cats’ survival times. Cats are usually treated with supportive measures to maximize their comfort for as long as possible.
A new antiviral drug, GS-441524, successfully treated some cats with FIP in a study published in 2019. This drug is closely related to remdesivir, which was originally developed as a treatment for Ebola virus infection and is now being studied as a potential treatment for coronavirus disease 2019. GS-441524 may prove to be effective for some cases of FIP, but it is not currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Preventing FIP is difficult because feline enteric coronavirus spreads so easily among cats and because the factors that cause it to mutate to FIPV aren’t known. A vaccine for FIP has been marketed, but it is not very effective and is not currently recommended for use in cats. Practicing good husbandry in high-density environments like shelters and keeping individual cats in good health might reduce the risk.
1. Levy JK, Hutsell S. Overview of feline infectious peritonitis. Merck Veterinary Manual. Updated January 2014. Accessed May 6, 2020. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/generalized-conditions/feline-infectious-peritonitis/overview-of-feline-infectious-peritonitis
2. Felten S, Hartmann K. Diagnosis of feline infectious peritonitis: a review of the current literature. Viruses. 2019;11(11):1068. doi:10.3390/v11111068
3. Pedersen NC, Perron M, Bannasch M, et al. Efficacy and safety of the nucleoside analog GS-441524 for treatment of cats with naturally occurring feline infectious peritonitis. J Feline Med Surg. 2019;21(4):271‐281. doi:10.1177/1098612X19825701
4. Scherk MA, Ford RB, Gaskell RM, et al. 2013 AAFP Feline Vaccination Advisory Panel Report. J Feline Med Surg. 2013;15(9):785‐808. Published corrections appear in J Feline Med Surg. 2013;15(11):NP2 and J Feline Med Surg. 2014;16(1):66. doi:10.1177/1098612X13500429
Photo by Timothy Warrington
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
New information about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to emerge as the pandemic progresses. The information in this article is current on the date of posting (April 1, 2020). For the most recent updates, see the resources linked at the end of the article.
Can pets get sick with COVID-19?
This question is still being investigated. A vast number of pets have lived with people with COVID-19 without getting sick, so the risk of human-to-animal transmission is probably extremely low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not had any reports of animals in the United States getting sick with COVID-19.
There have been rare reports of pets in other countries having positive tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. (A positive test for a virus doesn’t necessarily mean the virus will cause illness in that animal. It also doesn’t show whether the animal can pass the virus to another animal.) These animals each lived with a person with confirmed COVID-19 and were almost certainly exposed by the infected person. Two dogs in Hong Kong had positive tests for SARS-CoV-2 but had no symptoms (they didn’t actually get sick with COVID-19). One cat in Belgium reportedly had a positive test and symptoms, but because of missing or questionable evidence about this cat, the World Organisation for Animal Health has not confirmed this as an infection.
Can pets spread COVID-19 to people?
Multiple infectious disease experts and international health organizations say there is currently no evidence that dogs and cats can spread the COVID-19 virus to people.
There is no need to avoid, neglect, or surrender pets out of fear of COVID-19. (This has reportedly been happening in some places.)
Pets and people live in close contact and can share other diseases, so health organizations recommend washing your hands after handling animals and practicing good hygiene in general.
Can pet hair or accessories (leashes, food bowls, etc) transmit the COVID-19 virus to people?
According to the most recent data and guidance, transmission through pet accessories is theoretically possible but hasn’t been shown to actually happen. SARS-CoV-2 mainly spreads from person to person. Touching an object that has virus particles on it and then touching your face could possibly transmit the virus, but this route is not considered a major source of infection.
If the virus can be transmitted through pet hair or accessories at all, transmission is probably more likely with smooth, solid objects like food bowls than with porous or fibrous objects like hair. Coronaviruses can stay on surfaces for hours or days, according to the World Health Organization. The virus particles might or might not be able to infect a person during that whole time, depending on the environmental conditions.
Although it seems unlikely that the virus would be transmitted by a leash, food bowl, or pet hair, it’s always a good idea to clean pet accessories regularly and wash your hands after handling an animal.
If someone in my household has COVID-19, how should I protect my pets?
The CDC recommends that people who have COVID-19 stay separated from pets. CDC guidance states that people with COVID-19 should “avoid direct contact with pets, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, sleeping in the same location, and sharing food.” This guidance does not apply to service animals, who can stay with their handlers.
If possible, someone who does not have COVID-19 should take over the pet care. People with COVID-19 who have to continue caring for their pets (including service animals) should wash their hands before and after handling their pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association adds that people with COVID-19 should wear a face mask around their animals and shouldn’t share food, dishes, or bedding with them.
No one is recommending that pets wear face masks, in case you were wondering. Face masks could actually harm animals by hindering their breathing.
How should I prepare for pet care in case I get sick with COVID-19?
Plan ahead, just as you prepare for natural disasters like hurricanes. Identify someone who can take care of your pets if you’re unable to. Make sure you have a couple of weeks’ worth of pet food and medications. Check your supply of monthly heartworm and flea preventives and contact your veterinarian if you need a refill. If your pet has medical needs, be ready to provide a list of instructions for another caregiver. Consider preparing a letter for your veterinarian authorizing your backup caregiver to approve treatments.
If my pet needs to see a veterinarian, what should I do?
Contact your veterinarian to find out if your pet should go the clinic. Depending on local guidance, the clinic might be postponing non-urgent procedures to help reduce community spread of COVID-19. Some clinics might be able to treat established patients through telemedicine (virtual visits).
Under North Carolina’s current stay-at-home order, veterinary clinics are considered essential businesses. Your pets can still get the care they need. If your pet needs to be seen at the clinic, you will probably be asked to stay outside the building while your pet is taken inside to help keep you and the clinic staff safe.
If I am (or might be) sick with COVID-19 and my pet needs to see a veterinarian, what should I do?
Call the clinic. Your clinic might not have sufficient personal protective equipment for staff to use when handling animals from a household with COVID-19. Your veterinarian might be able to treat your pet via telemedicine or refer you to a clinic with available protective equipment. If your veterinarian confirms that your pet should come to the clinic, have someone else (ideally not living in your household) transport your pet to the clinic.
For more information and updates:
Image: colorized scanning electron micrograph of cell infected with SARS-CoV. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH; https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihgov/49680300342/.
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Indoor cats need mental stimulation and physical activity to stay happy and healthy. Playing games with your cat and providing cat-appropriate toys can make life better—and more fun—for both of you.
When and How Long to Play
Always let your cat choose whether and when to play. Cats might nip when they’re overexcited or want to stop interacting, so watch your cat’s body language (for example, pinning the ears back or twitching the tail) and be ready to end the session before things go too far.
When you’re petting your cat, remove your hand every minute or so and watch her reaction. If she ignores you or walks away, it’s time to stop. If she rubs her head against your hand, she probably wants more head or face petting. Some cats are overstimulated by being touched for very long on the lower back near the tail and prefer to be petted on the front half of the body.
The ideal length of a play session probably depends on the individual cat. The results of a 2014 cat owner survey showed a possible link between the length of play sessions and cat problem behaviors: owners who played with their cats for at least 5 minutes at a time reported fewer problem behaviors than those who played for 1 minute at a time. However, the survey didn’t show whether longer play resulted in fewer problem behaviors or whether owners just didn’t engage as much with cats who had behavior issues.
To choose toys and games for your cat, start by thinking like a cat. Cats are born hunters, and even cats living the good life indoors need to be able to act on their natural instincts. Cats play by acting out predator behaviors:
The toys you provide should allow your cat to perform all of the instinctive predator behaviors. Cats tend to like moving objects they can stalk, which is why your feet might be a target. Try a variety of toys that mimic the movements of prey animals like rodents and birds. These can include toy mice, balls, toys dangling from the end of a wand, or toys pulled on a string. Of course, don’t leave strings or toys your cat can swallow within your cat’s reach when you’re not there to supervise.
Cats can become frustrated if they can’t catch what they’re chasing. If you use a laser pointer, hide a treat for your cat to find after stalking the moving light. (And don’t point the light into your cat’s face.) Balls inside circular tracks might not be attractive to some cats because they can’t capture, hold, or bite them.
Cats get bored with their toys, so don’t leave the same toys out every day. Rotate your cat’s toys to keep her mind stimulated.
You don’t have to buy a lot of cat toys to play with your cat. Paper bags, boxes, crumpled paper balls, and socks all make great toys. Think about engaging all of your cat’s senses with objects that look, smell, taste, sound, and feel different from each other.
For more ideas for toys and enrichment for indoor cats, check these resources:
1. Delgado M. Do cats have petting preferences? Yes! Cats and Squirrels website. December 29, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2020. http://catsandsquirrels.com/pettingprefs/
2. Strickler BL, Shull EA. An owner survey of toys, activities, and behavior problems in indoor cats. J Vet Behav. 2014;9:207-214.
3. Playing with your cat. International Cat Care. July 30, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2020. https://icatcare.org/advice/playing-with-your-cat/
Photo by Kim Davies
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Coronaviruses cause disease in many animal species. Most coronaviruses affect either the respiratory tract or the digestive system. Some coronaviruses cause no symptoms or only mild illnesses like the common cold. Others cause serious disease.
New information continues to emerge about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). At this time (early March 2020), there is no evidence that this virus can spread between humans and companion animals like dogs and cats.
For updated information about COVID-19, see these resources:
Coronaviruses got their name from spike proteins that cover the surface of the virus particles and look like a crown (corona in Latin) on electron microscopy images. Coronavirus spike proteins bind to receptors on the host animal’s cells and allow the virus particles to fuse with the cells. Spike proteins and the receptors they target vary according to the type of coronavirus.
Because animal species don’t all have the same molecular receptors and different coronaviruses have different surface proteins, coronaviruses tend to be species specific. A coronavirus that causes disease in cows, for example, doesn’t normally cause disease in cats. This is also why your dogs don’t catch your cold even if you sneeze in their faces.
Some coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted between animals and humans. Coronaviruses jump to a new host species through genetic mutation. Mutation changes the virus proteins and creates a genetically different coronavirus that can infect a different host. Jumping to a new species might also be easier if the molecular receptors in the new host species are similar to those of the original host species.
Coronavirus infections in livestock and companion animals can be severe. However, until 2002, coronaviruses usually caused only mild disease in people with fully functioning immune systems. In 2002, an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) occurred in China, and in 2012, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) emerged. Both of these outbreaks were caused by coronaviruses thought to have begun as bat viruses. Bats and people don’t have much contact, so the viruses that caused SARS and MERS spread to people through intermediate hosts: civets for SARS and camels for MERS. COVID-19 is the third coronavirus disease to cause serious outcomes in humans.
Animal Diseases Caused by Coronaviruses
Diseases caused by coronaviruses have been identified in many mammal and bird species. Some examples of coronaviruses that cause serious disease in livestock are transmissible gastroenteritis virus and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus in piglets, infectious bronchitis virus in chickens, and bovine coronavirus in cows.
The coronaviruses of most concern in cats and dogs are feline coronavirus, canine coronavirus, and canine respiratory coronavirus. Feline coronavirus usually causes such mild symptoms they aren’t noticed at all. In some cats, though, infection leads to feline infectious peritonitis, a devastating disease that is nearly always fatal. (Feline infectious peritonitis will be covered in more detail in another article.) Canine coronavirus is passed through the feces and causes vomiting and diarrhea, especially in groups of dogs in kennels and animal shelters. Infection usually carries a low risk of death, but a more severe strain of canine coronavirus can be fatal to dogs. Canine respiratory coronavirus is one of the causes of canine infectious respiratory disease (kennel cough).
The emergence of SARS and MERS in humans prompted more research into coronaviruses, so new therapies for coronavirus diseases may be available in the future.
1. Cui J, Li F, Shi ZL. Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2019;17(3):181-192.
2. Coronaviruses. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Updated March 2, 2020. Accessed March 5, 2020. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/coronaviruses
3. Fehr AR, Perlman S. Coronaviruses: an overview of their replication and pathogenesis. Methods Mol Biol. 2015;1282:1-23.
4. Decaro N, Buonavoglia C. Canine coronavirus: not only an enteric pathogen. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2011;41(6):1121-1132.
Image source: https://phil.cdc.gov/Details.aspx?pid=15523
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.