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.

Chewing The Fat Onchewing The Fat On Pet Nutrition

Nutrition is one of the most important, and often confusing, parts of pet ownership. There are currently a large variety of commercial diets available for both dogs and cats. Statistically, pet owners spend more on food than on veterinary care and other services combined. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, Americans spent $21.6 billion on pet food in 2013. Despite the often overwhelming variety of pet diets, they tend to fall into five main categories.


Veterinary prescription diets are processed diets that are scientifically developed to address specific medical conditions. These diets are developed by veterinary nutritionists and undergo rigorous medical and nutritional studies. Prescription diets are only available through your veterinary office. These diets address a variety of medical concerns including diabetes, kidney disease, allergic skin disease, gastrointestinal disorders and even epilepsy. Your veterinary team can help guide you to find the best diet to address your pet’s individual medical concerns.


Commercial processed diets are the traditional kibble and canned food that can be found in pet stores, online retailers and even your local grocer’s. This category boasts the largest variety of diets on the market. To ensure you are selecting a nutritious and wellbalanced diet, look for the AAFCO seal. AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials and is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food ingredients and sets standards for nutritional adequacy. This ensures that the pet food manufacturer is providing a nutritionally complete and balanced diet.


Some pet owners prefer to make their own food for their pets to ensure the quality of ingredients. Homecooked diets can be a great resource, especially for picky eaters. However, it is very important to ensure that homecooked diets provide all the nutrients needed to maintain health. There are a variety of vitamin supplements, specific recipes and even pet nutritional consults available to ensure that a diet is well balanced. Your veterinarian can help you with these resources to ensure your homecooked diet is appropriate and nutritious


Grain-free diets are a fairly new diet option available for dogs and cats. These diets claim to contain no grains (corn and oats are most common grains used in pet foods), and often contain potatoes and tapioca, which have a lower nutritive value than grains. There have been no scientific studies indicating that grain-free diets are superior or healthier for dogs and cats. In addition, grains are not a common cause of food allergies, and there is no increased risk of developing diabetes in cats or dogs being fed a diet containing grains.


Raw, BARF (which stands for Bones And Raw Food, and more recently Biologically Approved Raw Food), frozen and freezedried diets are composed of raw ingredients. These commercial diets are often marketed as complete; however, many raw diets do not contain a balanced and complete nutritional composition. This can be problematic, especially when fed to growing puppies and kittens. Studies have also found high levels of bacterial contamination in raw foods. One found that 80% of raw food diets tested positive for Salmonella, which is a strain of bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal disease. In addition, 30% of stool sample from dogs that are fed these diets were positive for Salmonella. Contaminated stools can pose a significant health risk for children, immunocompromised people and elderly family members.

When selecting a diet for your pet, it is very important to work with your veterinarian. They have advanced training in nutrition and preventive care and can help select the best diet based on age, breed and underlying medical concerns.


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


Getting a new puppy or kitten can be a very exciting and memorable time. Along with the joys of adding a new member to the family comes a responsibility to ensure a healthy life for your pet, for which your veterinarian is a key resource. The first appointment with your veterinarian can be very overwhelming, but there are some key topics to consider prior to your first checkup. Here are the five most important things you can do for your new pet’s health.
Just like babies, puppies and kittens are born with a naïve immune system and are unable to fight many common infectious diseases on their own. Vaccines help prime the immune system to ensure protection from these potentially deadly diseases. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) guidelines, all puppies and kittens should be vaccinated for their core vaccines every three to four weeks between the ages of six and 16 weeks. The core vaccine for puppies is called DHPP, a combination vaccine that protects against four common infectious diseases (distemper, hepatitis, parvo and parainfluenza virus). The core vaccine for kittens is called FVRCP, which protects against three common infectious diseases (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calcivirus and panleukopenia). In addition to these core vaccines, all pets should receive their rabies vaccination at approximately 16 weeks of age.
Outside of these core vaccines, there are a variety of non-core options that may be recommended based on your new pet’s location and lifestyle. These include leptospirosis and bordetella vaccines for dogs and feline leukemia vaccine for cats. There is a lot of information available out there regarding vaccines (and a lot of misinformation, too) — make your veterinarian your top source for vaccination advice
It is very common for young puppies and kittens to contract internal parasites. They may become infected with parasites at birth (passed from their mother through the placenta or milk) or become infected through contact with infected feces or other infected animals. Some common internal parasites include roundworms, hookworms, coccidia and giardia. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends fecal examinations and/or prophylactic deworming at least four times during the first year of life. Left untreated, internal parasites can cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues and can potentially be passed to humans. Speak with your veterinarian to determine the best deworming protocol for your new pet.
Choosing a monthly flea, tick and heartworm preventative is an essential part to caring for your new puppy or kitten. Fleas and ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. These parasites can cause skin irritation at the site of the bite; however, they can also transmit various diseases. Fleas can transmit tapeworm, whereas ticks can transmit a variety of potentially life-threatening diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Heartworm is a blood parasite that is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitos. Once infected, heartworms can grow up to 14 inches long and will reside in the heart. Left untreated, heartworm infection can lead to heart failure and even death. According to the CAPC, recent prevalence data suggests that dogs and cats are susceptible to heartworm in all 50 states (which means they are likely so in all of Canada, too). Based on your geographical location and lifestyle, your veterinarian can help determine the best combination preventative to help protect your pet from these potentially deadly critters.
Puppies and kittens require a very specific diet to help them grow and stay healthy. According to AAHA, a goodquality puppy or kitten diet should be high in fat, calories and good-quality protein to support growth. The diet should also have correct calcium to phosphorous ratios to aid bone growth and skeletal development. Your veterinarian — and not the product claims on food labels in the pet aisle of your grocery store — is one of your best resources to help you choose the best diet and an appropriate feeding guide for your new pet.
5. SPAYING AND NEUTERING Spaying and neutering is the best method to prevent unwanted pregnancies and keep your pet healthy throughout his or her life. Spaying your female puppy or kitten can prevent various medical conditions, including mammary (breast) cancer and pyometra, a potentially life-threatening infection of the uterus. Neutering your male puppy or kitten can prevent unwanted sexual behaviours, as well as medical conditions such as prostate and testicular cancer. The AAHA supports neutering cats and dogs as young as eight weeks of age.
Consult with your veterinarian to make the best recommendations for preventive care based on a detailed assessment of your pet and regular checkups. Working together for your pet’s health will ensure your new puppy or kitten will be a happy part of your family for years to come.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.

The Meat of the Matter

Nutrition is one of the most important and most frequently discussed aspects of veterinary medicine. A balanced and nutritious diet is essential to help our feline companions enjoy a long and healthy life. Cats have evolved to become obligate carnivores, which means their nutritional needs are met by eating a diet that consists primarily of animal-based proteins. In the wild, this would include birds, mice and other small rodents. Domesticated cats have developed their own unique physiological and anatomical adaptions to assist with consuming a strictly carnivorous diet. Healthy indoor cats should be fed a diet higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than other animals. Cats depend primarily on protein for energy. During growth, kittens will need more protein
than adults; as adults, cats need more than twice the adult dog or human protein requirements. Nutritional needs will change in relation to certain disease processes in cats. There are a variety of veterinary diets that are developed and formulated to address the highly specific nutritional needs of certain
feline diseases. These are the four most common diseases in cats in which a special diet may be indicated:

DIABETES – Diabetic cats most commonly suffer from non-insulin-dependent diabetes, meaning their pancreas still produces insulin, which helps break down sugars to provide energy for the body. However, the pancreas tends to not produce enough insulin to meet their body’s needs. In cats, if their metabolism is corrected before permanent damage to the pancreas occurs, there is a potential that the diabetes may be reversed. Diet is essential in this
process. Diabetic cats should be fed a lowcarbohydrate, low-fibre diet that is also high in protein. Studies have found that cats fed these diets were more likely to revert to a non-insulin-dependent state compared to cats fed a moderate carbohydrate, high-fibre diet. There is a variety of specific dry and canned veterinary therapeutic diets available on the market for diabetic cats that meet their unique nutritional needs.

OBESITY – Up to 50% of cats in developed countries between five and 10 years of age are either overweight or obese. Obesity can be often attributed to the loss of natural activities, including play, stalking and hunting. In addition, many cats are free fed diets high in carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to overeating and an excess of consumed calories. Current evidence suggests that feeding diets with more than 40% protein (on an energy basis) is important to facilitate weight loss and maintain a lean body mass. Feeding a high-protein, low-fat diet in combination with increased activity and play is essential to achieve weight loss in overweight and obese cats.

CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE – Cats with mid- to end-stage kidney disease should be fed a protein-restrictive diet that is also low in phosphorous. As important as protein is to feline health, it can be very hard on diseased kidney function. Canned diets are preferred for cats suffering from kidney disease, as they are higher in water content in comparison to dry diets. The higher water composition aids in keeping the body hydrated and flushing kidney toxins
out of the body through urine. In addition, supplementing kidney diets with omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and aid kidney function. There are numerous veterinary therapeutic diets available in a variety of flavours to help preserve and support kidney function.

FOOD ALLERGIES/SENSITIVITIES – Many cats suffer from food allergies and/or sensitivities. Cats may present with skin disease (skin infections, itching, scabbing) or chronic gastrointestinal issues (vomiting, soft stools, diarrhea). Many cats have allergies and sensitivities to common protein sources, including chicken, fish and beef. Providing a novel protein diet, meaning a diet consisting of a protein source that the cat has never had, can help correct this. The immune system usually does not recognize these protein sources and thus does not cause overreaction, which can result in skin and gastrointestinal symptoms. Common novel protein sources include venison, duck, rabbit and even kangaroo. There are many diets available commercially
for cats of all ages and health states. Consult your veterinarian, who can help you choose the most optimal diet for your feline friend to ensure a healthy and happy life.

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