Entries in Cats (11)


Protein Linked to Alzheimer's Found in Wild Cats in Japan

HANS-ULRICH OSTERWALDER/Getty Images(TOKYO) -- Could cats hold the latest clue in figuring out the cause behind Alzheimer's?

Japanese researchers say they've discovered a possible link to the disease in cats.  Scientists who studied the carcasses of wild leopard cats on the island of Tsushima say they discovered an unusual protein in their brains, similar to those in human Alzheimer's patients.

Cats have been known to develop dementia, but this is the first time researchers have found deposits of the protein linked directly to the disease.

Scientists hope to conduct a similar study on house cats.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dogs, Cats May Help Kids Avoid Respiratory Illnesses

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Having dogs or cats during infancy may actually protect children from respiratory illnesses during the first year of life, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics suggests.

Finnish researchers followed 397 children from the time their mothers were pregnant through age 1.  They found that those who were exposed to dogs at home had fewer respiratory illnesses or symptoms compared with children who didn't have dogs.  Children with dogs also had less-frequent ear infections and needed antibiotics less often than children never exposed to dogs.

Cats offered similar protective benefits, but to a lesser degree.

The findings, wrote the authors, suggest that early contact with dogs or cats may ramp up infants' immune systems.

"We speculate that animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system, leading to more composed immunologic response and shorter duration of infections," they wrote.

The amount of time a dog spends inside the home also has an impact on children's respiratory health.  Children who live in houses where dogs are inside less than six hours a day are at lowest risk for respiratory problems.  The authors believe it could be because dogs that are inside track less dirt.  More exposure to dirt leads to more exposure to different types of bacteria, which can help strengthen the immune system.

Other studies also suggest that pets can lower children's risk of certain illnesses.  Research out of the University of California, San Francisco published in June found that dust in homes where there are dogs may protect children against respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of potentially severe cold-like illnesses.

But the Finnish study didn't include parents with allergies to dogs or cats.  Parents with these allergies are more likely to have children with the same allergies, and having pets around very young children who are allergic may be unsafe.

"If an infant has an allergic predisposition, their reaction will be more pronounced than an older child's," said Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital, meaning that if an allergic infant is exposed to a dog or cat, it can potentially be dangerous.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fospice Program Provides Homes for Elderly, Terminally Ill Pets

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It may be hard for an animal lover to imagine, but many elderly and terminally ill dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners just when they need their people the most.

And that's where the ASPCA of New York City's "Fospice" volunteers step in.  These volunteers open their hearts and their homes to animals at the end of their lives.  The animals chosen for the Fospice program are not adoptable, and are instead placed in homes that are part foster, part hospice.

"It's a very special call, and not everybody is up for it or can do it.  But we've never had anybody drop out of the program once they've gotten in," said Diane Wilkerson, director of volunteer programs.

The program grew out of a need to place animals that weren't easily adopted out.

"We started to get this subset of elderly dogs and cats.  Sometimes it was animals that had a terminal illness," said Wilkerson.  "They weren't suffering, they could still move along, but it brought back their ability to be adopted.  So we got to thinking about how we could help these animals out and decided to hybrid hospice and foster."

While the baby animals tend to get adopted quickly, the same isn't true for older pets.

"They love to be around people, they're still eating their food, but they're at the end of their lifespan and not just suitable for adoption," said Dr. Jennifer Lander, director of Medicine at the ASPCA of New York City.  "People aren't coming in and saying I'd like a 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, they're coming in looking for puppies or younger animals."

There's a wide range in the health of the dogs and cats in the program.  Many are simply old; others have a more serious condition.

"In years past, when an animal was diagnosed with cancer or organ failure, it was sort of a death sentence but it doesn't mean that it's a death sentence on that day," said Lander.  "It's a matter of watching and managing and doing what you can do while balancing quality of life."

The shelter provides full support for the Fospice parents, including all medical care and even sheltering the animal if the family needs to go away.

"We consult with the foster parents like they're the owners or adopters and they get literature with a lot of information.  They get websites to refer to so they really understand the animal's medical condition, and they have a support network so when they have questions or problems we can answer," Lander said.

People who are interested in a Fospice-type program should call their local animal shelter and ask if there's a subset of the foster program -- very common in shelters around the country -- that deals specifically with elderly and terminally ill animals.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Warning Signs of Arthritis in Pets

Janie Airey/Lifesize/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Millions of Americans are living with the pain of osteoarthritis, and so are millions of pets.

According to veterinarians, it's one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in their field, and unlike their human counterparts, animals must suffer in silence.

Since pets can't express that they're in pain, vets say there are certain warning signs owners should watch out for, ranging from physical signals to behavioral changes.  And while the joint damage caused by osteoarthritis can't be reversed, the pain can be treated.  But early diagnosis is critical.

"Arthritis is easier to diagnose in dogs," said Duncan Lascelles, professor of surgery and pain management at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.  "We ask them to perform certain activities, like going for walks or jumping in the car to go for a ride.  We go and do activities together, so if we're observant, we can see alterations in the animals' ability to perform them."

Dogs may not want to walk as far, or may appear to tire easily, he said.  They may also hesitate before jumping or walking.

"Dogs may also be slow to rise on their back legs, or may limp, or they may bunny-hop instead of using their normal stride," said Marty Becker, a veterinarian in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and a columnist for

Cats don't move around as much and are lower to the ground, but there are certain cues that they may be in pain.

"They may be less likely to jump on window ledges or onto furniture, or people may start moving furniture to help the cat and not realize the cat is actually in pain," said Lascelles.

Cats may also not use the litter box if it's too high and may stop grooming themselves, Becker said.

Arthritis isn't common only in dogs and cats.  Rabbits and horses often suffer from the condition, and Lascelles explained that food-producing animals are known to suffer from it as well, but don't survive long enough to experience the disease's negative effects.

Pets in pain may also act differently than they normally do.

"People become irritable and short-tempered when they're in pain, and the same thing happens to pets," said Lascelles.

The pain may cause pets to snap, growl or exhibit other aggressive behavior, even toward their owners.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cat’s New Knee an Ortho-PET-ic Innovation

Comstock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) -- A photogenic 20-pound orange tabby was resting comfortably in an intensive care unit on Saturday following pioneering replacement of a cancer-weakened knee by veterinary surgeons at North Carolina State University whose work could advance the field of human prosthetics.

Veterinarians were monitoring the recuperation of Cyrano, a 10-year-old cat, “and if things continue to go well, he could go home in the next few days,” said university spokesperson Tracey Peake. The School of Veterinary Medicine has been providing periodic updates on a blog.

Cyrano got a new lease on life thanks to top-tier veterinary care. He underwent life-saving chemotherapy and radiation for bone cancer at Colorado State University in 2010. However, while the thousands of dollars of treatments put Cyrano in remission, the combined ravages of his disease and treatment side effects left him with bone deterioration in his back leg and knee, causing pain and restricting his movements.

On Thursday, a 10-member surgical team led by Dr. Denis Marcellin-Little, an orthopedic surgeon at NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, N.C., spent hours giving Cyrano a customized implant designed and created during six months of collaborative work among U.S. and German veterinarians and engineers. They fashioned the implant, about the size of a tube of lip balm, from cobalt chromium and plastic.

Marcellin-Little has described the implant as being “as good as the implants used in human knee replacements.”

The high-tech operation allowed Cyrano to escape amputation, the goal sought by his owner, Sandy Lerner, a founder of Cisco Systems, and owner of a farm in northern Virginia. Marcellin-Little and his fellow implant developers hope Cyrano’s surgery will help make the procedure more available and affordable for other pets.

Marcellin and engineering professor Ola Harryson couldn’t put a figure on the total cost of Cyrano’s experimental surgery, because 14 people and several companies donated time and materials for the research. However, Lerner paid $20,000 of the total cost, Peake said.

The collaboration has implications for artificial limbs to help “people who have lost limbs to disease, accidents, or combat,” said Dave Green, the top spokesman for NCSU’s veterinary school.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Seven Secrets to Keep Your Pet Trim

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Humans aren't the only ones waging a fight against fat.  Man's best four-legged friends are waging the obesity battle too.

According to the latest veterinary surveys, more than half our nation's dogs and cats are overweight.  That means 94 million pets are at risk today for developing crippling arthritis, debilitating diabetes, catastrophic kidney and heart disease, high blood pressure and many forms of cancer.

How can you slim down your supersize pets, keep them fit and reduce their risk of developing many serious diseases? Ernie Ward, veterinarian, author and the founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, offers these seven tips to help your pet lose the paunch:

1. Calculate Calories - If you don't know how many calories your pet needs each day, you don't know how much to feed it. And don't think you can trust the bag; feeding guides are formulated for adult, unspayed or unneutered active dogs and cats. That means if you have an older, spayed or neutered indoor lap potato you'll probably be feeding 20 percent to 30 percent too much if you follow the food's instructions. Instead, ask your veterinarian to calculate the proper number of calories your pet needs each day.

Another good starting point is to use this formula: Divide your pet's weight by 2.2. Multiply this figure times 30. Add 70 and you've got a good idea of how many calories you should be feeding a typical inactive, indoor spayed or neutered pet. Of course, each pet's metabolism is different, so be sure to consult your veterinarian before starting a diet.

2. Measure Meals - A pet owner's single greatest tool in the fight against excess weight is a measuring cup. Too many pet owners simply fill the bowl or guesstimate how much they're feeding. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention has done studies to show that giving as few as 10 extra kibbles of food per day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year for indoor cats and small dogs. After you calculate how many calories your pet needs, determine how much food you should provide for each meal - and measure it.

3. Tactical Treating - If you're going to give your pets extra goodies, make them count. Too many pet treats are calorie grenades laden with sugar and fat blowing up our pet's waistlines. Choose low-calorie, no-sugar goodies that provide a health benefit. Try single ingredient treats such as sweet potatoes or functional treats that provide a bonus, such as helping to keep teeth clean or promote mobility. Whatever treats you give, be sure to count those additional calories.  Many pet owners feed the proper amount of food but sabotage their efforts by adding one or two snacks throughout the day. As few as 30 extra calories per day means your pet gains more than 3 pounds in a year. Better yet, dogs don't do division. Break treats into small pieces and divvy them up whenever your pet earns it. Be cautious of guilt-treating - the practice of giving your pet a treat because you feel guilty leaving it home alone. Instead, use treats only as a reward for good behavior. Pets need to learn to earn extra goodies.

4. Vital Veggies - As an alternative to highly processed store-bought treats, try offering baby carrots, green beans, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, sliced apples and bananas or ice cubes. These naturally nutritious tasty tidbits are a healthy option for many dogs. For cats, try a flake of salmon or tuna when you're feeling generous.

5. Hustle for Health - When it comes to living a long, pain and disease-free life, research proves our most powerful partner is daily exercise. Speaking of partners, anyone with a dog has a built-in, no-excuse exercise buddy. For dogs, as few as 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking is all it takes to boost immune function, improve cardiovascular health and reduce many behavioral problems. For cats, try playing with a laser pointer, remote-controlled toy or ball of paper for 5 to 15 minutes each day. Do yourself and your dog a favor and commit to daily walks, rain or shine.

6. Smart Supplements - When it comes to keeping fit and trim, a couple of supplements may help.  Almost every dog, cat and person can benefit from taking a daily omega-3 fatty acid supplement. These powerful fish oils pack a potent anti-oxidant punch that has been proved to help prevent numerous diseases. In addition, they may help ease achy joints and perhaps encourage weight loss. L-carnitine has been shown to aid weight loss and promote lean muscle mass. Ask your veterinarian if either (or both) of these supplements make sense for your pet's condition.

7. Cut Down the Carbs - Most pet dogs and cats don't need a high-carbohydrate diet. Yet that's exactly what most of us feed our pets. Many diets contain 60 percent or more carbohydrates when you analyze the food label. Look for low or no-grain options with a protein source as the first ingredient.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Stress Busters for Anxious Pets

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We know that stress can affect the health of humans, but how about for our pets? Pet expert Dr. Marty Becker says pets can be stressed by car rides, visits to the vet or grooming.

Dr. Becker appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday to show his favorite products to help soothe your beloved family pet.

1.  Feliway Electric Diffuser and Adaptil:
Available for both dogs and cats, this scent mimics pheromones, the chemical naturally produced by animal moms to soothe their babies.  The diffuser is great when you leave your pet alone and the spritz is perfect to spray in a pet carrier for long trips. Dr. Becker puts this on his hands when he treats pets to give them a sense of calm during their visits.

2.  Through a Dog's Ear: If you think your dog doesn't care about your music playlist, think again.  Dr. Becker finds that animals are easily excited by rock music. This set of three CDs has been clinically proven to reduce anxiety in high-stress areas like the kennel or veterinarian's office.

3.  Calming Cap:
This calming cap, almost like a human sleep mask, reduces all visual noise for your pet.  The fabric is see-through and dims the room, making it calm and dark.  It's easy to put on and slips right under your dog's leash.

4. Thundershirt: This thundershirt was originally developed to help pets with thunderstorm phobias. It's proven to lessen the anxiety that leads to destructive doggy behavior.  Like a gentle embrace, the vest hugs the pet in all the right spots.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Empty Nest Syndrome Affects Pets, Too

Janie Airey/Lifesize/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As kids across the country head back to school and away to college this week, most Americans are sensitive to the fact that some parents may experience a form of “empty nest syndrome”: a range of symptoms and behaviorisms associated with separation anxiety. So, that explains the scratches on the back door and the shredded throw pillows in the living room, right?

Well, not exactly.

That damage is a product of someone in your household experiencing empty nest syndrome, but it’s definitely not your mom.

What people may not initially realize is that household pets are also extremely susceptible to separation anxiety.

“Your dog probably knows the difference between the shoes you wear to work and the shoes you wear to take him for a walk,” says Dr. Debra Horwitz, a board certified veterinary behaviorist. “They’re very observant and they use those kinds of cues to determine what’s going to happen in their day. So, when everyone is home all summer and then, boom, they’re not anymore, that change in routine can be anxiety provoking for certain individuals and trigger a distress response, when the dog is home alone and separated from the ones that he or she is most attached to.”

In fact, animals may even be more shaken by a child’s sudden departure than parents because they have no way of being explicitly notified.

“Just because you know there’s going to be a change and you’re ready for it, doesn’t mean your pet does,” explains Dr. Horwitz. “The end of summer vacation often means that we can no longer sleep in or take leisurely morning walks with our pets. We have to get up, get ready and go straight to work instead. We don’t like those changes either, but we know they’re coming and we’re prepared for them.”

Pets, for their part, will exhibit this anxiety through a range of behavioral signs, including panting, pacing, whining, barking and destruction. In severe cases, Horwitz says, pets may experience a loss of appetite, even when their people are home.

However, the severity of the distress response really depends on the flexibility of the individual pet.

Depending on the flexibility of the pet, veterinary behaviorists recommend several behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions that can help him or her cope with the situation.

It is best to take preventative measures, before the actual change occurs. So, if you can, professionals recommend starting to wake up a bit earlier, packing a back pack or scheduling brief departures of about an hour, in the closing weeks of summer. These changes can help ease your pet into the upcoming transition.

Otherwise, it often helps to wake up a little early and either conduct a play session or take your dog for a morning walk, before you leave for work. This way, the dog is mentally stimulated and will spend more time resting when you are gone. Additionally, it is important to make departures low-key and matter of fact, rather than prolonging the act of actually walking out the door.

“Sometimes it also helps to leave a food-enhanced toy,” suggests Horwitz.

For dogs, this can take the form of a toy with a bit of peanut butter smeared on it. For cats, it is often helpful to hide treats throughout the house with varying degrees of discovery difficulty.

And for severe cases, there are two approved medications—Reconcile and Clomicalm—proven to be effective for the treatment of animals with separation anxiety, when combined with other behavioral modifications.

“These animals are not being spiteful or mad,” explains Horwitz. “They are anxious and they are really worried. And all the destructive things they might do are based on this stress and anxiety. It is our job to address that as quickly and humanely as we can.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Does Parasite Cause Rats to Love Cats?

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(STANFORD, Calif.) -- While the smell of cat urine is normally a turn-off for rats, a group of Stanford University researchers found a certain group of rats was actually attracted to that same odor.

Cat urine is naturally a warning to rats to stay away from an area where their natural predators may be lurking. But study rats infected by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii ("toxo" for short) didn't show that fear and, instead, parts of their brains associated with sexual arousal were activated.

"Normally, we would expect toxoplasma to knock out the normal fear function in the brain, but in these rats the parasite also tapped into the sexual arousal pathway, which is strange," said Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University and a co-author of the study.

The belief is that the mind-manipulating parasite acts that way in order to ensure its reproduction. Toxo can only reproduce in the guts of cats, so if an infected rat wanders into cat territory, then there's a possibility the cat will eat the rat and toxo can multiply.

"The parasite does actually alter the brain of its host," said Patrick House, a doctoral student who is also a co-author of the study. "The fact that a parasite can get into an organism, target its brain, stay there without killing the host and alter the circuitry of the brain -- we've seen this is insects and fungi, but it's the first time we've seen it in a mammalian host."

Toxoplasma affects a rat's amygdala, the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety.

"It atrophies some of the neurons along the pathway associated with fear," said Sapolsky. "What we don't understand is how it affects the fear response and then accesses the sexual arousal circuitry."

Toxo does infect humans. Humans contract the parasite by consuming contaminated food or water or by coming into contact with cat feces.

"It doesn't make people sick at all. It just infects them and the body holds it off, and it becomes a latent infection," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

But occasionally, Schaffner added, people who are immunocompromised can become ill. Pregnant women who are infected can also pass toxo along in the womb, which can cause serious complications, including still birth and neurological problems.

Previous research has linked to the parasite to schizophrenia and depression, but little is known about how it causes changes in human behavior. Some experts, including Schaffner, are skeptical that toxoplasmosis has a link to mental illness at all.

But while Sapolsky believes there could be an association between human behavior and infection with toxoplasma, that relationship needs additional study before making any firm conclusions.

His future research, he said, will once again focus on rats. He hopes to learn more about how this mysterious parasite affects rats and whether it plays tricks on the human mind, as well.

"One of the more interesting questions," he said, "is: How many cases are there of parasites manipulating human behavior?"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Pet Obesity on the Rise

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Have you taken a good look at your pet dog or cat lately?  Is it getting harder to feel your pet's ribs? Is it getting thick around the middle?  Is it's stomach starting to sag?  The problem could be they're overweight.    

New research shows more than 85 million dogs and cats are overweight, that's half of all canines and felines in the country. Why? Mostly from overeating and lack of exercise.  

The Association for Pet Obesity prevention recommends monitoring your pet's calories. Suggestions on food labels may be too much for your animal, so check with your vet for the proper amount. Measure quantities. Don't just fill the bowl. Try two or three small high-protein, low-carbohydrate  meals. Choose sugar-free or low-calorie treats. Make sure they exercise daily. Dogs should get 20-30 minutes of brisk walking or playing. For cats shorter 5-15 minute activities such as chasing  toys or a laser pointer.       

Just as in humans, obesity in pets can lead to serious health issues, such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and cancer.  Your pet needs your help battling the bulge.  Research shows pets who eat less during their lifetime live significantly longer.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio