By Kevin Roeser, DVM
1.) Try as I might, I cannot seem to keep my cat inside. What concerns should I be aware of if he is spending time outdoors?
Veterinarians often find it challenging to recommend whether a cat be confined to a “safe” indoor lifestyle or permitted to stretch its legs outdoors. Cats that are allowed the freedom to explore their outside environment have much to gain in terms of mental enrichment, physical exercise, and expression of natural behaviors, but this decision is not one to be taken lightly.
Cats that are allowed free range outdoors are exposed to many more potential dangers than their indoor counterparts. Cats in the wild establish and defend large territories and when these boundaries collide in an urban setting, violent inter-cat altercations often occur. Interactions with other wildlife species (raccoons, coyotes, opossums) and the large, two- or four-wheeled metal beasts frequently encountered in most neighborhoods may also result in significant injury or death. Naturally curious as a species, outdoor cats can come into contact with toxic or hazardous materials in the ever-expanding jungle of garages, garden sheds, and alleyways. Finally, in addition to worrying about the health of your own cat, it is critical to remember that cats are themselves predators; from an ecological standpoint, domestic cats are an introduced species and pose a risk to native bird, rodent, and rabbit populations.
Infectious diseases are also seen more commonly in outdoor cats than in their metaphorically bubble-wrapped compatriots. Intestinal parasite infections can stem from exposure to the infected fecal material of other animals (e.g. roundworms, hookworms, various protozoa) or from the ingestion of larvae contained within fleas or the muscle tissue of prey items (tapeworms). These organisms can cause symptoms ranging from mild diarrhea to anemia and weight loss, and certain species can also infect their human companions. Mosquito-transmitted heartworm disease in cats has not received the same recognition as the canine condition because testing is difficult and infections tend to be less severe strictly in terms of the numbers of worms involved; that said, heartworm disease in cats can result in severe respiratory disease and even sudden death. Infestations with fleas, mites, and even fungal organisms often result from run-ins with local wildlife, ticks can be found in some surprisingly urban areas, and if you have yet to experience your own version of the Alien films, search the web for Cuterebriasis. Fortunately, your veterinarian can provide you with a plan to help prevent the most common parasitic concerns.
Though mentioned last, viral diseases resulting from direct cat-to-cat exposure via blood, saliva, and other excretions are far from the least important. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) infection is associated with serious disease, with affected cats experiencing anemia, blood and lymphoid cancer, and often death. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a retrovirus that is similar in its effects to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). All cats should be tested before being added to an existing household, and outdoor cats should be tested annually or following known cat-related injuries (i.e. bites scratches, abscesses). Your veterinarian can make specific recommendations regarding vaccinations for your outdoor cat—in general, FIV vaccines are not recommended, but FeLV immunization may be indicated, especially in kittens and young cats.
As an aside, do not feel that indoor cats are doomed to a life of boredom. Set aside dedicated daily “play” time using healthy treats and interactive toys (you would be amazed by the number of cats who will “fetch”), feed your cat using a foraging toy or in several small bowls hidden around the house, and provide a variety of outlets for scratching, hiding, and surveying their kingdom.
All in all, few decisions in life come without pros and cons, and the choice to allow your feline friend outdoors is no exception. Before you let your feline friend run free this summer, please be sure to have them altered, vaccinated, tested for viral diseases and parasites, and micro-chipped. Contact your veterinarian to discuss appropriate parasite prevention and be aware of and prepared to deal with the potential hazards discussed above.
2.) I have noticed puddles of urine in areas where my elderly Labrador sleeps. She seems normal otherwise and doesn’t have any other accidents in our home. Can dogs become incontinent, and if so, what can be done about it?
Urinary incontinence is not an uncommon issue in middle-aged to older spayed female dogs, with a reported occurrence rate of nearly 20%. Incontinence is often seen as a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that it is important to rule-out other diseases that could cause similar symptoms before initiating therapy. Testing should be performed to rule out diseases that would cause your pet to drink or urinate larger volumes than normal (e.g. kidney dysfunction, diabetes mellitus, adrenal gland disease), as well as to eliminate concerns for primary urinary tract diseases like infections, bladder stones, or tumors. Classical urinary incontinence involves a urethral sphincter (the muscle that keeps the neck of the bladder “closed” to prevent urine dribbling) that is not functioning appropriately.
Medication options for urinary incontinence fall into two main groups, alpha-adrenergic agonists and synthetic hormone therapy. Alpha-adrenergic agonists (phenylpropanolamine, a.k.a “PPA” or Proinâ) directly stimulate the urethral sphincter muscles to contract more efficiently to prevent urine leakage. Synthetic estrogen compounds (diethylstilbestrol, a.k.a “DES”, as well as Incuranä or estriol) are used to replace hormones lost following a spay procedure. Estrogens enhance urethral sphincter contraction by promoting the production of receptors that trigger muscle activity. Rare cases will require a combination of both medications to provide full control of symptoms, and unique cases may even benefit from surgical intervention. Both classes of medications are typically well tolerated, but your veterinarian will discuss potential side effects and recommend appropriate monitoring for each patient. Safe handling procedures and human risks will also be important topics to clarify with your pet’s doctor.
Kevin Roeser, DVM, practices veterinary medicine at St. Francis Animal & Bird Hospital. Additional information regarding a number of commonly encountered diseases and other helpful topics can be found at www.stfrancisanimalandbird.com.