Praising The Annual Checkup

As a veterinarian, one of the most common things I hear people say is that they do not need to bring their cat to the vet because their cat does not go outside. The American Veterinary Medical Association published a report listing some shocking, related statistics — among cat owners, nearly 45% say they do not take their cat or cats to a veterinarian annually.

It’s a sad statistic, because annual examinations provide an extremely valuable opportunity to perform a full physical examination, which can be crucial in detecting disease processes before a patient shows signs of illness, especially in cats. These are the most common silent or hidden illnesses in cats that can often be detected early with the help of a trusted veterinarian.



Hyperthyroidism, the most common hormone imbalance in cats, is a disease of the thyroid gland in which a benign growth in the gland produces too much thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone is responsible for setting the body’s metabolic rate. When there is too much of this hormone, the body’s metabolism significantly increases, which can result in a variety of symptoms, including weight loss (despite a normal to excellent appetite), muscle deterioration, heart disease and high blood pressure. Untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart failure, sudden blindness or sudden death. Fortunately, hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Most cats respond very well to treatment and can continue to live with a very good quality of life. Treatment options include oral medication, prescription diets, radiotherapy and surgery.



Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive, irreversible loss of kidney function. CKD is the most common kidney disease of cats and affects almost 3% of the general feline population. Though CKD can affect cats of any age, it is most common in older animals. Studies have reported that 30% of cats over the age of 15 years have CKD. Cats suffering from it will often display signs of increased thirst and/or urination, weight loss, high blood pressure and muscle deterioration. Kidney function can be easily evaluated with a blood test and a urinalysis. CKD cannot be cured; however, there are many treatment options that can be utilized by your veterinarian to slow down the disease process, including prescription diets and medications. Many cats can be treated successfully and can look forward to months or often years of quality of life.



Diabetes is a metabolic disease that results in high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. Most cats suffer from type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes. Symptoms may include weight loss, increased thirst, frequent urination and increased hunger. Left untreated, diabetes can result in death. Diabetes is commonly detected by testing for high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood and/or urine. Insulin injections are needed to treat most diabetic cats, but there is the potential for the diabetes to actually resolve or go into remission. Once a cat enters remission, the disease can often be controlled with a proper therapeutic diet — and the cat can enjoy a great quality of life.



Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common acquired heart disease in cats. One study found that the prevalence of the disease in cats could be as high as 30%. HCM is a disease of the heart muscle in which the muscular walls of the heart become too thick (or hypertrophied). This thickening results in the heart having to work too hard to pump blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Veterinarians often detect signs of HCM early by listening to a cat’s chest during a physical examination. An increased heart rate, heart murmur or extra heart sounds may be noted as the diseases advances. HCM is usually definitively diagnosed by an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram). There is currently no cure for HCM, but once diagnosed, most cats can be properly monitored at home and by a veterinarian for signs of heart failure — at which point medication can be initiated to help support the heart and the patient.

Cats are natural predators and have evolved to hide pain and illness. Even the most experienced owner may miss signs that indicate that their cat is sick. By working with a trusted and skilled veterinarian, many diseases can be detected early on physical examination, which can result in a longer and happier life for your feline friend.

Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.

Ticks And Lyme Disease: Keeping Pets Safe And Healthy

The longer days and mild conditions of spring make long walks and outdoor exploration a favourite activity for many pet owners, especially in areas like Southwestern Ontario, which has lots of forests, trails and parks.

Dr. Gwen Jeun is no stranger to the perks of living in this part of the province. She’s a veterinarian at Emeryville Animal Hospital in Windsor-Essex County. On her days off, she frequents Point Pelee National Park to hike its many trails and witness spring birding season. Ganatchio Trail in Windsor is one of her favourite walking routes, with views of the Detroit River and Lake St. Clair.

With a veterinary career spanning 20 years, Dr. Jeun has experience in many areas of animal health, but she finds one area of special interest: ticks and Lyme disease. All the beauty aside, living in this picturesque part of Ontario can pose some threats to pets — it’s among the identified risk areas for Lyme disease in the province.

“Ticks and Lyme disease have been on the rise in recent years because of milder winters and heavily wooded areas surrounding the county,” says Dr. Jeun. “As a result, I have to make sure I’m constantly educating my clients on the topic. My goal is to promote more proactive prevention methods.”

Ticks become active when temperatures reach 4°C, so early preventive measures for pets are important. The hardest part about treating ticks and Lyme disease is that bites aren’t always visible, which makes regular check-ups with your veterinarian important.

“Animals can’t speak, but they will tell you everything you need to know through a physical exam,” says Dr. Jeun.

Whether you’re headed to a national park, conservation area or just playing in your backyard, experience the outdoors with your pet with peace of mind — make an appointment with your veterinarian to talk about parasite prevention. And remember, when you’re out and about, your vet is just a phone call away

Dr. Jeun has these tips to help pet owners prevent, identify and treat ticks and Lyme disease:



  • Preventive medicines, including a monthly chewable or topical skin solution, can keep ticks and fleas at bay.
  • Don’t feed deer. They can carry ticks that transmit Lyme disease.
  • Remove items from your yard that may act as a home for ticks, such as debris, brush, weeds and leaves.
  • Stay on marked paths and keep pets leashed when walking through wooded areas.



After walks, do a full-body check of your pet and yourself for ticks, and pay extra attention to the areas around the head, neck and paws of your pet. A tick feels like a small bump on the skin.

If your pet has been infected, he/she may show signs of sickness, including joint pain, fatigue and loss of appetite.



Remove ticks promptly to prevent the spread of disease. Learn how to properly remove ticks.

If you suspect your pet has been infected, call your veterinarian immediately. If possible, keep your pet hydrated and fed, but don’t administer any medication.


Reprinted with permission from the OVMA — Learn how to identify and remove ticks from the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation at

The Backyard Hazards Series Are You In The Loop On Ringworm

The Backyard Hazards series of articles focuses on the diseases that you or your pet may be at risk of contracting, right in your own backyard.

Don’t let the name fool you: this condition is not caused by a worm at all. Ringworm is a fungal infection that gets its name from the red, itchy ring-like rash that it causes. Also known as dermatophytosis, this fungus can be transmitted from pets to humans. In fact, humans can also acquire an infection without the help of animals — in this case, it’s better known as athlete’s foot.


Fungi known as dermatophytes are to blame for this condition. Those infected (both people and animals) can display the following symptoms:

  • Red circular rash;
  • Itchiness;
  • Scaly and crusty skin; and
  • Broken, brittle hair and hair loss in affected areas.


Ringworm can be easily transmitted among animals and people when direct contact with infected skin or hair occurs. It is also possible to contract ringworm by touching contaminated blankets and other objects that an infected animal has been using. In pets, signs can begin to show at one to four weeks from infection. It can take up to two weeks for you to show signs of being infected with ringworm from your pet.



Ringworm can be treated in both animals and people with oral and topical antifungals, including shampoos and creams prescribed by your veterinarian and family doctor.

It is important to ensure you are eliminating as many of the fungal spores in the environment, as well, by cleaning areas your pet frequents often and washing their laundry to prevent re-infection.

Ringworm can be eliminated in the environment with the use of household cleaners, such as bleach at a dilution of one part bleach to 10 parts water. It is important to remember that a one-time cleaning will not suffice. Thorough cleaning needs to be maintained until you and your pet are both free of the infection, as spores can continue to be shed in the environment while the infection is active.



If you bring a new animal into your home that may have ringworm, it is important to keep them isolated from the other animals in your home until they have been cleared of the infection by your veterinarian.

To keep yourself protected, consider the following:


  • Wash your hands after you handle your pet;
  • Consider wearing gloves and long-sleeved shirts and pants when handling your pet;
  • Vacuum regularly to get rid of dander and hair that may be infected;
  • Wash and disinfect pets’ bedding and toys frequently to cut down on the fungal load in their environment;
  • If you are immune compromised, have another member of your family handle your infected pet.


If you suspect your pet may have ringworm, your best bet is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment. It is also wise to have all of the animals in your home examined to ensure they are free of the fungal infection due to its ease of transmission.


Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at

Delayed Weaning Reduces Behavioural Problems In Cats

The cat is the most popular companion animal, and people are increasingly interested in its wellbeing. One of the topics under international debate is the weaning age, i.e., the age at which kittens are separated from their mother and siblings and brought to a new home. In Finland, the recommended minimum age of weaning is 12 weeks, but in many other countries, such as the United States, weaning of kittens as young as eight weeks is common.

It has previously been thought that the critical period of socialisation in cats ends by eight weeks of age, after which social experiences have little impact on behaviour.

“We found that positive changes in the cat’s behaviour can occur after the currently recommended age of weaning, 12 weeks. I’m a cat lover myself, and this study supports my own previous experiences on the importance of the weaning age on the wellbeing of cats. I think raising the recommended age of weaning would be the animal welfare act of the year,” says doctoral student Milla Ahola.

While the detrimental effects of early weaning have been studied in some other animal species, no studies on the topic have been conducted on cats, despite suspicions of its connection to feline behavioural problems.

“We found an easy way to improve cat welfare: we propose that the recommended age of weaning be increased by two weeks. The number of cats in the world is immense, and behavioural problems are very common. This could have a significant positive impact on the wellbeing of both cats and their owners on a global scale,” says Professor Hannes Lohi.

The study used the results from the health and behaviour survey Professor Lohi’s group had previously conducted on nearly 6,000 cats, currently the most extensive cat behaviour database in the world. According to the survey, many behavioural problems are more common than expected. More than 80% of cats were reported as exhibiting mild behavioural problems, while serious behavioural problems were reported for 25% of all cats. Feline behavioural problems can include shyness, stereotypic wool sucking, excessive grooming and aggression.

“The age of weaning has an impact on the cat’s later behaviour. Cats weaned under the age of eight weeks displayed more aggression and stereotypic behaviour. Cats weaned in adulthood had fewer such problems than other cats. Cats weaned at 14 weeks of age had fewer behavioural problems than cats weaned earlier,” explains Ahola.

Studies on other animal species have produced similar results. For example, among rodents, monkeys and minks, early separation from the mother leads to a higher prevalence of stereotypic behaviour and aggression. A similar phenomenon has been found in humans

“These behavioural changes are also linked. We found that increased aggression correlated with increased stereotypic behaviour. The impacts of early weaning seem to manifest specifically as aggression and stereotypic behaviour, which suggests changes in the neurotransmitters of the basal ganglia,” states Professor Lohi.


Why Do We Deworm Our Pets?

Deworming might seem to be a small part of taking care of your pet but it plays a big role in keeping your pets, and your family, healthy. Dogs and cats can be exposed to worms in the obvious way, like eating feces from other infected animals. They can also get worms from eating worm eggs or larvae in dirt, on grass, toys or sticks they put in their mouths, or when licking their feet and coats. Dogs and cats that hunt are exposed when they eat rodents and other wildlife. Pets can even be infected by worm larvae that crawl through their skin.

Once pets have worms, they can pass those worms in their feces. Some worm eggs need time to develop in the environment before they can infect people or other animals. This is one of the reasons there are such strong recommendations for cleaning up after your pet, both at home and in public spaces. The risk of some parasites (like roundworms and hookworms) is pretty much eliminated if pet feces are picked up and disposed of right away.

Other parasites can infect people and pets more quickly. Wash your hands well after cleaning up after your pet and before eating. Dogs and cats can also pass worms to their babies, either before they are born or when the puppies and kittens nurse. This is why your veterinarian recommends frequent deworming for puppies and kittens.

Deworming remains important throughout a pet’s life. Since parasites exist outside and inside our homes, animals of any age can be exposed. Most pets with worms don’t show any signs of being infected so you can’t just wait until you see worms to act. Your veterinarian can make a recommendation for how often your pet should be dewormed based on risk.

Pets and families at low risk include strictly indoor pets in single-pet families with healthy adult pet parents. Parasite risks increase when there are more pets in a home, the pets spend more time outdoors and with other animals and when there are children, elderly people and immunocompromised people in the home. Pets at low risk may only be dewormed once a year. Pets at high risk may be treated monthly for some or all of the year.

Deworming is an essential part of your pet’s healthcare that keeps both your pet and family healthy. Talk to your veterinary healthcare team today to determine the deworming schedule that is best for you and your pets. — Canadian Animal Health Institute.

Ball Or Stuffed Toy — Do Dogs Know What They’re Smelling?

Dogs’ excellent sense of smell is well known, whether it is in the context of searching for people or for contraband substances. However, the question of how dogs understand what they perceive with their sense of smell has largely been unexplored. In a study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Department for General Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (Institute of Psychology) at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena, investigated this question and found evidence that dogs create a “mental representation” of the target when they track a scent trail. In other words, they have an expectation of what they will find at the end of a trail.

In total, study director Dr. Juliane Bräuer and her staff tested 48 dogs, 25 of whom had training with the police or a search and rescue team and 23 of whom were family dogs without special training. The tests were carried out with the financial support of the Swiss Albert Heim Foundation in the Dog Studies group of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The dogs first underwent a pre-test, in which two toys were identified for each dog that he or she liked to retrieve. In the test itself, each dog underwent four trials in which he or she followed a scent trail that was drawn with one of the two toys. At the end of the trail, the dogs found either the toy with which the track had been laid (the normal condition) or the dog found the other toy (the surprise condition). Half of the dogs in the first round were given the normal condition, and the other half were given the surprise condition. The behaviour of the dogs was filmed during all test runs.

“From my experience in other studies, I had assumed that the surprise would be measurable, in that the dogs would behave differently in the surprise condition than they would in the normal condition,” Dr. Bräuer explains regarding her study approach. “In fact, quite a few dogs showed interesting behaviour, especially in the first round of the surprise condition, which we called ‘hesitation:’ although they had obviously noticed the toy, they continued to search via smell, probably for the toy that had been used to lay the scent trail.”

However, this “surprise effect” disappeared in the subsequent test runs. This could be because the dogs, no matter which toy they found, were rewarded by playing games, or because the room still smelled of the toys from the previous test runs, despite having been cleaned.

According to Dr. Bräuer’s assessment, the results of the first round of testing are nevertheless an indication that dogs have a mental representation of the target object when tracking a scent, which means that they have a concrete expectation of the target. “The comparison between working dogs and family dogs was also interesting,” adds Dr. Bräuer. Although the police and rescue dogs were expected to and did indeed retrieve the objects faster than the family dogs in the first round, within four rounds the two groups retrieved the toys equally quickly. Further studies should help to clarify the exact connection between smell perception, search behaviour and cognition. –