Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baldness from flea products: What to do when meds make your cats sick

Eamon the cat has a bald spot the size of a quarter due to a flea product
Eamon displays his bald spot (with a quarter for size reference).
Last week, in an effort to fight back against the fleas I was sure were eating poor Eamon alive, I put Revolution drops on his back. This product is designed to kill all sorts of nasty critters, including fleas, mites and all sorts of worms, and I'd used it on our outdoor cats in the past with no problems at all. I read the directions about this drug, and while it mentioned a few side effects that had been reported in cats, I felt comfortable providing it for a healthy cat like Eamon.

I've discovered that there's a big difference between reading about side effects and dealing with possible side effects in your own cat. One of these situations is academic, and the other can be quite expensive.

A few days after the application, Eamon started avoiding his food. It's not unusual for him to be a touch picky, but when his symptoms escalated into full-blown anorexia, I started to get worried. When he stopped coming to the kitchen at all during meal times, I was terrified. Around this time, I also noticed that he had a little heart-shaped bald spot, right where I had placed the flea meds.

Off to the veterinarian we went, and Eamon had some intensive bloodwork and fluid therapies. He spent a day in the clinic, and he seemed to brighten and wake up a little when he had some fluids under his skin and some anti-nausea medications in his system. I opted to take him home, just to nurse him there and see how well he did.

I do a lot of medical writing for my "day job," so when I got home, I immediately logged onto the computer to see how often these types of reactions happen in cats on Revolution. I must say, I was pretty impressed. It looks like Pfizer did a significant amount of clinical testing before this product was released, and only one kitten died in that testing (and that kitten had an unclear medical history). The product's website, as well as the information included with the medication itself, states that less than 1 percent of animals had digestive upset when they were given Revolution. That's a pretty low number.

However, when I did a random search of "Revolution" combined with either "vomiting" or "nausea," I got multiple questions written by frantic cat owners. This seems to suggest that nausea might be a little more common in the random cat population than it was in the testing population. I should say that this isn't a scientific study and I am in NO WAY SUGGESTING that there is some coverup here. But I do think there are some things pet owners can do to help.

Most, if not all, pet medication boxes include phone numbers consumers can use to report adverse reactions their pets experience when they take these medications. It's important to actually follow through and call when these things happen.

I called Pfizer this morning, for example, and they asked me many questions about Eamon's age, weight, health, test results and diet. All of this information is logged into a central database, and I would assume, it helps the company ensure that the products they provide are truly safe. If pet owners provide feedback, perhaps formulas can be tweaked or information can be revised or veterinarians can be educated on warnings and treatments. The feedback we provide is vital.

In the interim, Eamon is doing much better. He's on a bland diet and antinausea medications, and I'm hoping his hair will grow back in time. When a month passes and he needs new flea medication, however, I think we'll use a different product.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Does acupuncture really help cats?

Beorn the cat in a carrier
Beorn on his way to therapy.
An acupuncture session at my veterinary clinic costs about $50, and the staff usually asks clients to commit to three sessions, if not more. That's pretty far from chump change, and I'll admit that I was more than a little skeptical. I've read studies that suggest that acupuncture works in cats, and I know more than one human who's had the treatment with great results, but that little voice of doubt remains. I can't just ask Beorn if he feels better when the therapy is done, after all, and there are no blood tests or chemical profiles I can run at home to make sure he benefits from the expense. All I have are my eyes, and sometimes, looks can be a little deceiving.

A few weeks after his run-in with the car, Beorn is eating well, running at top speed, hopping on top of the hot tub with ease, and scaling a 3-foot fence with two short hops. His tail remains pretty limp, however, and I've seen him pee on that tail on more than one occasion. I'm not sure why he can't move that tail, and he doesn't seem painful, but he can't lift it. I had hoped acupuncture would help, but after one session, I saw no improvement at all.

Today, he went in for his second session and when my husband brought him back home, Beorn marched over to the fence at the back of the property, lifted that tail high up in the air, and peed more than I think I've ever seen him pee in his entire life. I have no idea what's going on here, as he's still holding that tail down when he walks, but it was pretty amazing to see him lift on up with ease as he used to do in order to pee. It's also a bit disturbing to think that perhaps he isn't peeing as much as he should, because he can't lift that tail as often as he'd like.

Session No. 3 is scheduled for next week. In each session, the doctor targets a slightly different place for the needles, and I think she focused on the bladder this week. Given what happened with this session, perhaps this session really did make a difference. I'll definitely have to share this little story, and see what our doctor has to say. Perhaps this is the evidence I can use to silence that voice of doubt once and for all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cat ear infections and muti-pet households

Eamon in a much too small cat bed
Eamon in a bed that's MUCH too small.
Since Beorn was hit by a car a few weeks ago, I've been spending most of my pet-related energy on helping him to heal and recover. He's made some great strides in the past few days (more on that soon!), but some of my other animals are now starting to demand a bit of my attention. Eamon, in particular, seems to be having a little trouble.

Eamon is an old and demanding cat who isn't afraid to express how he feels. Unfortunately, I'm not so great at understanding what in the hell he's talking about much of the time, and often it takes me a few days to really figure out what's going on with him. Over the weekend, he starting crying and yelling for no reason at all, for example, and on Monday I finally figured out that he was yelling about his left ear.

A cat ear is shaped a bit like the letter "L," and most cats really can't clean in there with any accuracy. They can scrape the tip of the ear with their paws, but they can't really dig in there and clean out the goo. Most of the time, this doesn't matter too much. Other times, however, this can be a problem. In Eamon's case, that ear was full of a black, waxy substance and his balance seemed a little off as a result. He couldn't begin to clean this out on his own.

I cleaned out that ear with a solution (I use Epi-Otic, which they SAY smells like apples and I think smells like nail polish), and I swabbed out the goo I could see with a cotton ball. Today, I did another treatment with the same stuff, and I followed that up with a treatment of Revolution. This stuff kills fleas, which could cause an allergic reaction and ear debris, but it also kills ear mites. If that black goo is caused by little critters in Eamon's ears, they should go away with this treatment.

The moral of this story? Living in a multiple-pet household is really hard. Living in a household with multiple senior pets is really hard. All of these creatures have delicate systems, and they all need quite a bit of help to keep on going, day in and day out. Being the human to this pack means budgeting both time and money to their well-being, and one little slip of focus could mean a health problem for the pet that is neglected.

I've been reading Cragislist and other animal forums lately, and I've seen quite a few messages from people who want to pull together households like mine, with multiple animals who all get along and who all help one another to stay healthy. It all sounds so idyllic, until one falls ill and the vet visits are needed. In general, it's best to keep pet numbers as small as possible. Really. Keeping up with all of their needs really can be too much to bear at times, and it's certainly not a situation I'll ever put myself in again in the future.

For now, I have to go heat up beds for the outdoor cats, walk the dog, make an acupuncture appointment for Beorn and clean Eamon's ears again.

Oh, and sleep. I need to do that, too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Limp tails in cats

cat sprained tail
This is about as high as poor Beorn's tail goes these days.
It's been about a week since Beorn turned up with mysterious injuries, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened to him. This limp, strange tail may be providing me with some clues.

Originally, my husband and I believed that Beorn had been tapped by the car, but we were still a little unsure about where he had been hit, or whether he had really been hit at all, as we could never find any dirt or gravel in his fur and my husband never felt the sickening bump-bump a driver notices when taking down a 10-pound cat.

But, now I am wondering if Beorn had his tail held high and was walking away from the car as it approached. If this had happened, he could have bent or broken that tail, and this could be responsible for all of the symptoms I've seen in the last week.

Tails are an extension of the spinal cord, and they contain a significant number of nerve bundles that supply the legs, the bladder and the bowels. Right after the accident, Beorn had some incontinence issues and he tended to stumble and stagger on his back legs. We didn't notice the tail issue, as we were focused on his legs, but I also never saw him lift that tail up. Now, much of the staggering is gone and he does have full bladder control, but he still can't lift the tail up. He can swing it, he can curl it around his feet, he can sort of shift it to the side, but he can't lift that tail. He also can't jump, which makes sense as he can't get his tail out of the way in order to propel himself up off the ground.

From the articles I've read (including this one and this one), tail fractures are usually quite serious and they require a significant amount of medical intervention. Tail sprains, on the other hand, seem to be a bit more mild in nature, and those do tend to heal up with time and rest.

We head back to the vet tomorrow morning for another checkup, and I'm hoping we'll hear good news.

In the interim, I've been giving Beorn plenty of attention and he has access to his beloved Snuggle Safe Pet Bed Microwave Heating Pad all day long (and I've been heating that thing up multiple times per day). Each day, he seems a little more jolly and a little more like himself. Yesterday, he even felt comfortable enough to stretch out on his back in the warm sunshine. If he continues to improve like this, we might have a fully healed cat when the summertime rolls around.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cats on buprenorphine

Broken cat door from a cat on buprenorphine
Proof of the damage a pissed-off cat can do.
Cats in pain are notoriously hard to medicate. They tend to metabolize drugs really slowly, and as a result, even small doses of drugs can build up to toxic levels in cats in just a few hours. As a result, there are very few options when it comes to treating cat pain, and when I took Beorn to the hospital last week for his hit-by-car incident, I learned that one go-to pain med for cats was recently taken off the list of approved cat pain meds. As a result, we had only one pain med we could give broken Beorn, and he didn't take to it very well.

This medication, buprenorphine, is an opiate drug that's supposed to kill the pain sensation in cats. There are dozens and dozens of websites that describe how wonderfully well cats do on this pain drug.

I think I will be writing one of the only accounts of a cat that did not like his buprenorphine experience.

When Beorn was on this drug, he became incredibly nauseated. He'd smack his lips, over and over again, and when I felt beneath his chin, I could feel drool just pooling there. Trying to get him to eat was impossible, as he would gag and retch at the mere sight of food. My husband and I ended up force-feeding him with spoons and a significant amount of willpower, and while Beorn kept that food down, he adamantly refused to eat on his own.

Additionally, Beorn seemed a little out of his head. He would sway on his feet, like he was listening to far-away music, and he would let out these weird, strangled cries. He'd smash himself into tight spaces and then seem unable to get out. He couldn't walk. He also didn't seem to know who we were. The one time we let him out of his house to stretch his legs, he headed for the space beneath the deck, as though he were looking for a quiet place to die.

Watching a cat go through this is pretty terrible, as it's really hard to tell if the cat is experiencing some sort of horrible reaction to the medication or some horrible reaction to the initial injury. I couldn't tell if he had pain or a brain lesion or internal bleeding or a bad trip. In the end, I decided to cut off the meds and see how he did.

The next day, this was a completely different cat. He can eat on his own (and he's really hungry), he craves attention, he can walk and he wants to be with his cat friends. He even broke down the cat door (see the missing orange arm in the photo above?) so he could get out of his house and back to his real life. He's not out of the woods, but the drugs were certainly 75 percent of the problem I saw last week.

Experts usually label the reaction Beorn had as "dysphoria," which is typically defined as restlessness, anxiety or dissatisfaction. Anyone who sees these symptoms in a cat on pain meds should call their veterinarians to discuss the matter. It's easy to think, as I did, that the cat is on the short road to death. It could be that the cat is just on a bad trip.