Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

Feeding the older, skinny cat can be a challenge. Older cats do not digest food as efficiently as younger ones and can require more calories. Due to disease and natural aging processes, the older cat often suffers from a reduced appetite. Reduced appetite means that less food is eaten. Less food eaten means the cat will lose weight and muscle mass.

Reduced appetite in the older, skinny cat can be due to:

  • Chronic kidney disease which can cause nausea
  • Pain due to dental disease or arthritis
  • Decreased odor and taste sensitivity (part of the aging process).

How can you get your older, skinny cat to eat better?


  • Offer a palatable food with the appropriate nutrients
  • Feed her in a way that mimics a cat’s natural behavior
  • Use appetite stimulants if necessary

 

palatable, nutritious food


“Senior” Diets

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State, Colorado State, and University of California, Davis found that the only difference between commercially available “senior”diets and the adult diets was that there was higher fiber in the senior diets. So find an adult food your cat likes – preferably one that has been evaluated in a feeding trial.

A therapeutic diet may be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat has kidney disease or another medical condition.

 

“Aging Cats Prefer Warm Food”

Ryan Eyre and colleagues investigated the effect of temperature on how much older cats eat. Thirty-two cats between 8 and 14 years of age participated in a “two bowl” study of a chunks and gravy food at different temperatures.  The food was refrigerated or heated as needed to 43° F , 70 °F and 98 °F.

In a series of trials, each cat was presented with one bowl of colder food and a second bowl of warmer food. The amount of food consumed by the cats was recorded. The researchers also measured 1) thickness of the gravy at the different temperatures and 2) the volatile compounds released when the food was heated.

What they found:

  • There was no change in gravy thickness with temperature, so the texture of the food remained the same.
  • Heating increased the release of volatile compounds associated with a “meaty” flavor
  • Heating decreased the amount of volatile compounds that give rise to scents like orange peel

The cats preferred the warmer food in each of the pairs tested. They overwhelmingly preferred the food heated to 98 °F.

Other reasons cats may like warmed food:

  • The warmest food had a temperature similar to the prey a wild cat would eat – so maybe a little bit of instinct is at work here.
  • Heat is thought to activate taste receptors. Cats are thought to have about 470 taste buds and have taste receptors that detect salt, sour, bitter, and umami (meaty). So, heating food may also make it more palatable to cats by making it taste more “meaty”.

Heat your cat’s food before serving it – make sure to test before feeding. It should be “baby bottle” warm

Feeding your older, skinny cat: mimic natural feeding behavior


  • Feed small meals frequently
  • Use food puzzles to engage the cat in foraging behavior
  • Put food out in different locations
  • Consider elevated feeding stations for arthritic cats
Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

Reduce inter-cat stress in multi-cat households

medical intervention – appetite stimulants


  • Mirtazapine: Tetracyclic antidepressant that stimulates appetite in cats.  Mirtazapine comes in pills and a transdermal ointment called mirataz. Mirataz is FDA-approved for cats.
  • Capromorelin stimulates the production of Ghrelin, a hormone your stomach produces and releases. It signals your brain when your stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. Capromorelin (Elura) comes in an oral liquid for once daily administration. It was developed to manage weight loss in cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Make sure your old cat eats – fasting longer than 2-3 consecutive days can result in hepatitis lipidosis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly 

Keeping your older, skinny cat well-fed is essential to maintaining a good quality of life for him or her.

Warm canned food

Feed small meals frequently

Talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant if necessary.

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A cat’s first experience with grooming is when she is born. In the first 3 weeks of life, her mother cleaned her nose to tail many times a day, stimulating the kitten to void her bowels and urinate. When the kitten reached 4 weeks old, she started grooming herself, and also grooming her litter mates and mother.

why do cats groom?


Cats are mammals. Mammals have fur to maintain their high body temperature. The fur traps air next to the mammal’s body, providing an isolating layer to regulate his temperature.

It is important to keep the fur coat clean, after all a matted or pelted coat cannot trap as much air as a clean coat, where air surrounds each individual hair.  Oil from the skin can combine with shed fur and dirt to form mats.  Grooming helps distribute the oils of the skin throughout the fur so that mats are not likely to form.

Grooming not only helps keep your cat warm when cold and cool through the evaporation of saliva when hot, it also has a social function.  A cat will not only groom himself, he also may participate in allogrooming. Allogrooming refers to animals of the same species grooming each other.

Grooming Your Cat – allogrooming


Some studies show that allogrooming occurs most among cats that are related, that are of the same social group. It is an affiliative behavior.

But there is also evidence that allogrooming is not restricted to family groups. It also a way for cats to redirect potential aggression and avoid physical conflict. Cats, being solitary hunters, prefer to avoid fighting. Fighting can result in injury, making a cat unable to hunt and feed himself.

In urban cat colonies and in multi-cat households, the abundance of resources make it possible for many cats to live close to each other, with abbreviated, overlapping territories.  More cats closer together increases the likelihood of  aggressive encounters.  Allogrooming gives cats a way to redirect the aggression with a few quick licks to the head, soothing a would-be combatant and avoiding a fight.

I have two male cats, Gus and Marley, who are not fond of each other but co-exist. I was surprised the other day to find Gus grooming Marley’s head. Had Marley appeared aggressive to Gus? Marley is bigger than Gus – was Gus trying to calm Marley down to avoid a  fight?

Grooming your cat: a social interaction


Cats often groom their people, licking them with their barbed tongues. How can we reciprocate? Consider grooming your cat.  Grooming your cat can be soothing, making her feel calm and secure. And, it can help reduce hairballs and mats, by removing excess hair and distributing oils over the cat’s coat.

tips for grooming your cat


  • Make sessions short.

    grooming comb with rounded tines
    Note the rounded tines on this “greyhound” comb. There is a “coarse” and “fine” side.
  • Only groom part of your cat’s coat at a time – say, one side.
  • Consider using a comb with rounded tines – it is often more effective than a brush.
  • Comb at an angle, in the direction of the hair.
  • Don’t pull knotted or matted hair out – this hurts! Tease mats apart gently with your fingers if possible, then comb the area, starting with a “coarse” comb and working up to a “fine” comb.
  • Groom frequently, say every few days.

My cat won’t let me groom her


Treat Holder
Soft food, spread on the Lickimat, can be eaten by the cat during grooming.

Desensitize your cat to being groomed. Try distracting her with tasty treats – a “Likimat” can keep her engaged with a soothing behavior (licking) while you groom.

If your cat is clicker trained, try the following steps:

  • Establish a cue for grooming, for example, show your cat the grooming comb and let her rub against it.
  • Touch your cat with the comb, click and treat. Work up to brief combings – make sure to reward.
  • Gradually increase the time of combings, making sure to reward kitty.
  • WATCH her body language to know when to take a break.

Oil, dirt and shed hair can clump together to form larger mats that feel like Brillo pads. These mats are best taken care of by a professional groomer. Cats’ skin is delicate and can tear easily, requiring a trip to the vet for wound repair.  Above all, resist the temptation to use scissors. Even small mats are best removed by hand or with a clipper.

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Kittens a kndergarten session

It’s fun to watch a litter of kittens chasing and pouncing on each other. Are you thinking of  bringing some of that cuteness and energy to live at your house?

Kittens that have been handled in a positive way by a variety of people during their sensitive period (2-7 weeks) are tolerant of people and usually make good pets.  However, socialization continues past the 7 week mark.

Kittens older than 7 weeks in a wild cat colony would be spending time with their litter mates, mother, other female cats (babysitters) and maybe some indulgent males. They will be learning the body language of older cats and how to communicate with them.

When we adopt a kitten at 8-10 weeks, we interrupt the socialization process. There is some evidence that kittens who stay with their mothers and siblings until 12 weeks of age are more friendly with other cats and humans.

Rescue organizations already struggling to maintain facilities will incur more costs keeping kittens later. Is there a way to continue socializing kittens once they have joined their adopting household?

Resident Animals


Socializing kittens can continue if kittens join a household with well-socialized older cats and other pets, e.g. dogs. A word of caution here: It can be risky to introduce small kittens to adult cats and dogs.a kitten meets a well-behaved dog

Kittens practice fighting postures such as the arch and sidestep when they play with littermates.  As kittens reach 12 weeks or so, the arch and sidestep are seen less frequently – possibly the kittens are starting to identify these postures as aggressive, as part of a cat fight.  An older cat who has little experience with kittens, may interpret this activity as aggressive and react defensively, possibly injuring the kitten.

If you are in this situation, slow, gradual introduction is best until you know how the cats or dog are going to behave.

  • A barrier between the kitten(s) and older cat(s) or dog for the early visitations is a must. 
  • A helper is also essential.

Cats: You may want to consider using carriers or harness and leash when you reach supervised visitations (IF the cats are COMFORTABLE in their carriers and are COMFORTABLE with harness/leash).

Dogs: When you reach supervised visitations, make sure your dog has a comfortable harness to wear, is leash-trained, and is reliable with “down”, “stay”, “leave it” and a pay attention cue. If he gets too excited, you must be able to lead him out of the visitation area.

socializing kittens: making good memories


Kitten kindergarten is a program aimed at socializing kittens 8-12 weeks old. Kitten kindergarten tries to continue the socialization that began earlier during the sensitive period by offering exposure to a variety of humans and well-behaved adult cats and dogs. We hope to leave our kittens with some good memories that they can draw on later in life when confronted with human and animal visitors to their household.

Kitten kindergartens – Where? 

  • in the spring
  • veterinary clinics 
  • rescue organizations
  • typically runs weekly for 4 weeks

Who can come?

  • kittens 8-12 weeks of age
  • kittens older than 12 weeks may not be as accepting of interaction with other cats
  • the information and training still applies to older cats
  • if your cat is older, it may be worth seeing if you can attend virtually or without a cat.

Pre-Requisites for kindergarten

  • at least one FVRCP vaccine 5-7 days prior to the first class
  • dewormed
  • a negative FeLV/FIV test

The syllabus in kitten kindergarten can vary depending on who is offering the course, whether it is a veterinary clinic or rescue group. It typically will address cat handling, cat care (grooming, nail trims), and basic training, including harness and carrier training.

The goal of kitten kindergarten is not just socializing kittens – owner education is a big part of this program. Make sure to take advantage of the expertise of the class moderators and ask questions!

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Kittens at Kndergarten
Kittens at “kitten kindergarten” session

What makes A good pet cat?


We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born about 2 months later, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Many of these wild kittens will end up at the shelter; some may be adoptable.

How do I know if a cat will be a good pet cat?


Nature and nurture are parts of the puzzle that determine how a cat will behave towards people.

Nature:

Nurture:

The science of epigenetics studies modifications to our DNA that don’t change the DNA sequence. The epigenome refers to chemical compounds that are attached to your DNA. Exposure to pollutants, what you eat and stress are some things that can result in certain compounds attaching to your DNA and turning particular genes on or off. These changes can remain as cells divide and may pass from generation to generation.

Nurture : The “Sensitive Period” in kittens


Kittens learn most efficiently when they are 2-7 weeks old.  This time is called  the “sensitive period”, when rapid growth of neural cells makes learning easier. The learning that happens during the “sensitive period” prepares a kitten for the social and physical environment she is born into. A cat who will be a good pet cat needs to be exposed to humans and where humans live during her “sensitive period”.

Human contact


Kittens who are handled kindly and gently by a variety of humans during the “sensitive period” quickly learn to accept people and enjoy being with them. The positively socialized kitten  generalizes what he learns about individual people to people in general.

Rough, insensitive handling during the “sensitive period” can make a kitten aggressive and fearful of people for life.

Exposure to Human households


Kittens exposed to the environment in human homes during the “sensitive period” adapt quickly to electronic devices and appliances, other animals, and living indoors. For example, they learn that the noise of the vacuum cleaner, although unpleasant, is not life threatening.

Diet


Kittens are more willing to try new foods at this time, although they follow their mother’s lead (if she is there) in choosing what to eat. Good nutrition helps a kitten’s brain and body develop – malnutrition early in life has been linked to epigenetic changes.

 

the end of the “sensitive period”


At 7 weeks, this “golden time” of learning closes – the fear reaction becomes established in the kitten. She will become more cautious and careful from now on. Caution and wariness are crucial to her development in the wild as a solitary hunter. She will continue to learn and develop socially but will not be as open to new experiences.

socialization after the “sensitive period”


By the time the sensitive period ends, kittens have been weaned and are eating solid food. In a wild cat colony, they will continue to play with other kittens and interact with adults. The kitten will learn how hard he can bite when playing- his litter mates will bite back! This is when he will learn the body language of adult cats, how to approach other cats, and improve his hunting skills by observing other cats.

thinking of adopting a kitten?


  • Think about adopting 2 – they can keep each other occupied and cats that grow up together often form strong bonds and a social group.
  • If possible, adopt kittens who are at least 12 weeks of age. These kittens will have spent some time with their mothers and litter mates, learning how hard they can bite when playing. They should also recognize some basic social signals given by adult cats (important if you are bringing them into a multi-cat home).
  • Above all – try to adopt kittens that were handled gently and kindly by people during their “sensitive period”. They are familiar with humans and enjoy being with them. Ask the adoption center about the kittens’ experiences when they were 2-7 weeks old!

 

If you opt to introduce kittens to older cats, SUPERVISE AT ALL TIMES. Make sure your older cats are vaccinated for upper respiratory diseases and feline leukemia (if they go outdoors). Gradual introduction is still recommended. A pair of kittens may still be your best bet in this situation and give you time to introduce all the cats at their own pace.

 

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dental xrays of a cat
A cat’s dental x-rays. Top row: upper jaw. Bottom row:lower jaw. Courtesy of CatTails Feline Health Center

We humans typically have our teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year. An annual professional cleaning is also essential to your cat’s health. But what about home dental care – what about brushing your cat’s teeth? And how do you go about doing it?

What’s in your cat’s mouth


Cats have 30 teeth. These teeth are designed

  • to hold on to prey
  • to slash and tear like steak knives.

What’s up front: Canines and incisors


The large “fang” teeth help hold on to a prey animal and “anchor” the jaws to deliver the “killing bite”. The smaller teeth between the fangs (the incisors) help hold prey but your cat also uses them while grooming – you may see your cat stop and “chew” with those front teeth to remove things from her fur or break up fur that is clumped together due to dirt and oil.

What’s Behind the Fangs: Premolars and Molars


Cats typically prey on mice, sometimes squirrels and rabbits. You will see the cat tilt his head as he chews on his prey. The premolars and lower molars help slash and tear up the mouse or squirrel into pieces the cat can swallow.  Unlike human molar teeth, these pointy teeth do not have flat surfaces for grinding and chewing food.

Home Dental Care: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


Regular brushing reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth and helps remove plaque, the bacteria-laden film that forms on the teeth and hardens to tartar in 72 hours. Cats, like humans, are also susceptible to the bacteria in plaque that migrate into blood vessels after infecting the gingiva or gums. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can effect major organ systems such as the heart and kidneys.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: what you need


  • Pet specific toothpaste: The VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) recommends the PetSmile brand,that works by dissolving the bio-film that forms on your cat’s teeth with hydrogen peroxide.  Virbac CET enzymatic toothpaste contains lactoperoxidase, and is designed to boost a naturally occurring anti-bacterial process in the saliva. These toothpastes do not contain fluoride and can be swallowed.
  • Toothbrush: There are a number of pet toothbrushes available. You may need some trial and error to find the one that works for your cat.

Although there are videos on the Internet showing cats having their teeth brushed with electric human toothbrushes, most cats will prefer a manual toothbrush. Human toothbrushes are designed for much larger teeth.

Toothbrushes for cats
What you need to brush a cat’s teeth: left to right: a cat specific toothbrush, a pet toothbrush, toothpaste, gauze squares

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Where to brush


Premolars on cat's upper jawPlaque and tartar tend to accumulate on the buccal (facing the lips) side of the cat’s upper premolars. Focus on these surfaces.

Your cat’s tongue has backward-facing barbs on it to help remove tissue from prey by licking.  We don’t often see tartar on the inside surfaces of cats’ teeth during a professional, anesthetized cleaning. The barbs on the tongue may act like a brush, reducing tartar buildup.

Four Steps to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


  1. Accustom your cat to having his head handled. Rub his chin with one hand and gently hold his head with your other hand. Your thumb will be on his cheekbone, your second and third fingers betwBrushing the Upper premolarseen his ears and your 4th and 5th fingers on his opposite cheekbone. Hold briefly, then reward him with a treat.
  2. Once your cat is comfortable with you handling his head, introduce him to the toothpaste. Let him lick this off your finger.
  3. The next step is to rub some toothpaste on his upper premolars with your finger while you hold his head and lift his upper lip. Make sure to reward him.
  4. Introduce the toothbrush. Focus on those upper premolars. Press lightly as if you are “coloring” a picture. Use a back and forth motion. Finish up with a reward!

My Cat Won’t Use a Toothbrush


If you can get through steps 1-3, your cat will still get some benefit. A recent study by Watanabe and colleagues found simply applying the Virbac toothpaste to the teeth reduced plaque, although not as much as brushing did.

Another way to clean teeth without a toothbrush uses gauze squares. The toothpaste is applied to the gauze and the teeth and gums are rubbed lightly with these “toothpasted” squares. There are also purpose-made cleaning wipes for dogs and cats.

Dr. Melissa Guillory, a former feline vet turned dentist, has a few tips for brushing your cat’s teeth:

  • Brushing seems to work best when instituted at a young age.
  • It’s nice to get the lingual (tongue) surfaces [of the teeth] but buccal (cheek) surfaces are most important – that’s where the most plaque and calculus accumulate.
  • Use a pet specific toothpaste (fluoride can cause GI upset)
  • It only takes 72 hours for calculus to form so daily brushing or every other day is best 🙂

 

A yearly professional dental cleaning under anesthesia with x-rays is essential to your cat’s health.  Between cleanings, keep brushing your cat’s teeth to maintain her dental health.

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Cat using food puzzleWhy slide a block aside to uncover food when there is food freely available in a bowl nearby? Psychologists call the behavior “contrafreeloading” – it refers to animals (and people) preferring to work for food when there is freely available food.

This behavior sounds counter-intuitive – after all, you would expect an animal to choose the option that requires the least effort. But psychologists and behaviorists propose that contrafreeloading is a manifestation of the SEEKING system – one of the seven basic emotional systems proposed by Jaak Panksepp, the father of “affective neuroscience”.  Affective neuroscience studies how the brain produces emotional responses.

The SEEKING system is thought to be the strongest of the primary emotional systems. It’s what gets animals out looking for food, looking for a mate, looking for other resources.

When the SEEKING system is activated

  • the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure.
  • It is the rewarding feeling you get when you are looking for something and find it.
  • Once you’ve found the object of your desire, the brain shuts off the dopamine and other emotions are activated.

So the action of SEEKING can be more enjoyable than finding what you’re looking for. Think about those travel advertisements that tell you that “getting there is half the fun”!

Dogs, mice, rats, birds, monkeys and even humans have been found to engage in “contrafreeloading”.

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


A recent study by Mikel Delgado and colleagues enrolled 20 domestic cats to observe this behavior. They investigated the behavior of cats eating from a food puzzle versus eating food from a tray.  Cats eating from a food puzzle have to manipulate the puzzle to get the food out.

The cats were first trained to the puzzle by having increasing amounts of their food in the puzzle and decreasing freely available food on a tray.

  • At first, only 25% of their food was in the puzzle.
  • Once they started to eat some food from the puzzle, the amount in the puzzle was increased to 50%, then to 75%.
  • Three cats refused to eat any food from the puzzle and were dismissed from the study.
  • Cats were exposed to the equipment for 4-12 days before testing.

Cats underwent 2-4 trials a day, no less than 2 hours apart. The puzzle and the food tray were placed next to each other, and were the same distance from the cat. The cat’s daily food ration was divided equally between trials. In each trial, the food was divided up equally between the puzzle and the food bowl.

Cats are freeloaders!


Half of the cats ate less than 10% of their food from the puzzle. All of the cats ate most of their food from the tray – no cats were strong “contrafreeloaders”. Eight cats were definitely “freeloaders” – the rest seemed willing to do some contrafreeloading. Although a number of cats approached and sniffed the puzzle first, all the cats ate from the tray first. 

Cats seem to be one of the few species that does not seem to be inclined to work for their food in a captive environment. But cats have been known to STOP EATING to hunt prey – that certainly involves working for food!

why are cats freeloaders?


Cats eating from a food puzzle are engaging in “foraging” behavior.

Cats are solitary predators

  • They must conserve their energy for the energy burst needed when hunting
  • They are not above scavenging a free meal
  • Maybe it makes sense to a cat to eat some of the “free food” first before putting energy into foraging?

Is hunting more “fun”?

  • Is the SEEKING system stronger for cats when they hunt compared to when they forage? 
  • Do their brains release more dopamine when they are stalking, pouncing and chasing?
  • Do their brains release less dopamine when they are foraging?

cats eating from a food puzzle


Does this mean you should not bother offering your cat food puzzles for enrichment? No – food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

training your cat to use a food puzzle


  1. Start by offering 25% of the meal in the food puzzle and 75%  in a bowl or tray. 
  2. When your cat is eating some of the food in the puzzle, increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 50% and decrease the amount in the bowl to 50%.
  3. Increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 75%; decrease the amount in the bowl to 25%
  4. When your cat is eating most of his meal in the puzzle, offer him the puzzle only.

A demonstration can help your cat learn. Cats are able to mimic the actions of humans and they are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies.

selecting a food puzzle


Cats using a puzzle feeder
Two cats using the Catit Food Tree.

 

There are many food puzzles you can make or purchase. Start your cat with a “beginner” puzzle and see what he likes to do. My ex-feral cat, Gus, easily mastered the Catit “Food Tree” but it was almost a year or so before he was willing to try a flat panel puzzle where he had to move pieces to uncover the food.

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

You may want to make some puzzles first to find out your cat’s preferences before purchasing one. Visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com!

 

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If you search for “monoclonal antibodies”, most of the search results are about COVID-19 and its variants. But did you know that monoclonal antibodies form the basis of the newest treatment for arthritis in cats? This new treatment is called Solensia.  Solensia is a monthly injection for arthritic cats that won FDA approval this  month. It should be available through your veterinarian later this year.

arthritis in cats: a tale of biotech and a chinese hamster


what are monoclonal antibodies?


  • Monoclonal: refers to a cell or organism that comes from a single individual or cell.
  • Antibodies are proteins in the blood that our immune system produces to counteract a foreign substance such as a bacteria or virus (think COVID-19).

antibodies and the immune system


Immune cells in our bodies called B-lymphocytes mount a response to a foreign substance or antigen (e.g. a virus), binding to it and deactivating it. The presence of the antigen and immune cells called T cells activate the B-cells. The B cells then propagate and release antibodies that are able to bind to and deactivate the specific antigen that stimulated their formation!

Monoclonal antibodies are derived from clones or copies of activated B cells. They can be harvested and grown in the laboratory and used to fight infections caused by the antigen they were developed to target.

Where do monoclonal antibodies come from?


  • Blood cells from convalescing patients: Due to the large numbers of convalescing COVID patients, there was a ready source of blood cells containing B-cells with antibodies to COVD 19 that could be used to make monoclonal antibodies to treat newly infected patients.
  • Transgenic mice: Mice that have been genetically altered to carry human antibody genes instead of mouse antibody genes are the usual source for monoclonal antibodies. These mice can be injected with a specific antigen and produce fully human antibodies that can be used by human patients to combat that antigen.  Being human antibodies, they are less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.

Arthritis in cats: using monoclonal antibodies


Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a protein that is key to the development and survival of nerve cells or neurons, particularly sensory neurons that transmit pain, temperature, and touch sensations.

When NGF binds to pain receptors inside the sensory neuron, a series of events is triggered that ultimately sends a “pain” signal to the brain.

Instead of binding to a structure on a virus, monoclonal antibodies can be developed to recognize and attach to NGF, preventing NGF from binding to the pain receptors on the sensory neruron, blocking the pain signal.

Motion is Medicine

A reduction in pain means our arthritic cats will be more likely to move around more. Increased mobility will strengthen the cat’s muscles, so they can better support and assist the deteriorating joints.  Increased activity and reduced pain result in a better quality of life.

Biotech Magic

The active ingredient in Solensia is frunevetmab, a monoclonal antibody that targets NGF. The antibodies are sourced from Chinese hamster ovary cells. Like the mice that have human antibodies instead of mouse antibodies, the hamster cells are “felinised”using recombinant biotechnology. Sections of the hamster antibodies are replaced with their feline counterparts. “Felinization” ensures that the cat’s immune system will not reject the monoclonal antibodies but allow them to function as part of the cat’s immune system.

Of cats and hamsters: no hamsters harmed


Frunevetmab is sourced from the cells of Chinese hamster ovaries. In fact, cells from an individual Chinese hamster, harvested back in the 1950s, produced the cell line which dominates biotechnology today. These cells are easy to propagate and maintain in the lab, providing a ready source of monoclonal antibodies.

multimodal therapy for arthritis in cats


Solensia is a pain medication and does not directly aid in preserving the synovial tissues. Most likely, Solensia will be part of a multimodal treatment that will include drugs and supplements like Adequan or glucosamine that are thought to help maintain synovial tissues in addition to weight loss and exercise.

Unlike other arthritis pain treatments such as NSAID’s, monoclonal antibodies are eliminated in the same way other proteins are, with minimal effect on the kidneys and liver, a concern for our cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Treatment using Solensia will consist of monthly injections under the skin. Most cat owners can become proficient in giving subcutaneous injections and treatment can be done in the safety and comfort of the cat’s home.

Thanks to a Chinese hamster years ago and advances in biotechnology, our cats may be able to spend their “ golden years” without pain from osteoarthritis!

 

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cat in carrier with removable topMany of us (cat owners) dread taking our cat to the vet. There is the ordeal of the carrier and car trip; once there, your cat seems miserable. However, regular veterinary care is the key to a happy and longer life for your cat. Can medication before your cat’s vet visit help?

Not every cat needs medication at the vet.  Some cats are fine just having some familiar things with them.  Familiarity can help reduce situational anxiety – the anxiety you experience when you are in a strange place. Things we can do to increase familiarity for your cat at the vet visit include:

  • Training her to be comfortable in her carrier
  • Choosing a carrier with a removable top to allow examination in her carrier
  • Getting her used to the car and taking her on some drives that don’t end up at the vet
  • Bringing your cat’s favorite treats
  • Spraying the carrier with pheromones (Feliway) before the visit

For some cats, this may not be enough. Your usually nice kitty becomes a raging demon or just freezes like a rock and doesn’t move – both reactions can be the result of anxiety and fear.

I recently took my youngest cat in a for a rabies vaccine and to have a tooth evaluated. Gus accepted handling and food but had a whopping heart rate of 230 beats per minute! He was anxious even though I was there with him.

We would like our cats to associate good things with going to the vet but they may not be feeling well when they are there or they anticipate getting poked with a needle for vaccinations or blood tests.  So, when the carrier comes out, your cat may associate it with negative emotions and understandably becomes anxious.

Anxiety actually has a function in our lives – worrying about something in the bushes pouncing on you probably saved a lot of cavemen and feral cats; anxiety can improve your physical and mental performance. But anxiety at the vet clinic does not benefit your cat and can actually make things worse. An unpleasant visit can become an unpleasant memory.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit


Have you ever had elevated blood pressure at a doctor visit?  Anxiety before medical appointments is common for people as well as cats.  Because cats don’t speak human language, we can’t reassure them and let them know exactly what is happening. It is worth considering medication before your cat’s vet visit to help reduce his anxiety.

Gabapentin and trazodone are two medications commonly used to reduce the stress of the vet visit.  These medications must be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Gabapentin


  • Developed as an anti-convulsant
  • Has anti-anxiety properties – reduces the release of excitatory neurotransmitters
  • Is a pain reliever

Gabapentin is commonly used in the veterinary practice to reduce anxiety in cats.  There have been a few studies evaluating fear and stress in cats having taken gabapentin – these studies found a reduced CSS (cat stress score) after administration of gabapentin.

The typical dose is 100 mg given 1.5 – 2 hours prior to the vet visit. Frequently, a dose is also given the night before. Doses can vary for individual cats – some cats may do well with a 50 mg dose while others may need 150 mg.

Gabapentin is available in capsules, liquid and small tablets.

  • Capsules: The capsule is opened and the powder is mixed in a small amount of tuna fish or canned cat food. Gabapentin is bitter and some cats may not eat it in food. The capsules may also be given using a pet piller or a squeeze up treat.
  • Liquid: The liquid may result in foaming at the mouth.
  • Tablets: Gabapentin can also be compounded into small, flavored tablets – these can be given in pill treats.

Your cat may be a little sleepy or wobbly after taking gabapentin. You may want to watch kitty near the stairs or jumping up on things!

Gabapentin is a pain reliever for cats – reducing pain may be one of the ways it helps reduce anxiety and fear

 

Trazodone


  • Antidepressant that is commonly prescribed for insomnia and depression in humans
  • One of its side effects is drowsiness

There have been a few studies looking at cats receiving trazodone. One study in particular found that the CSS (cat stress score) was the same in the treated group as the group receiving the placebo. So, trazodone appears to be more of a sedative (makes you sleepy) than an anti-anxiety drug.

Typical dose is 50 mg given by mouth 90 minutes before the stressful event.

  • Can result in lower blood pressure in cats
  • There is a risk of serotonin syndrome if used with other anti-depressant medication such as fluoxetine (Reconcile).
  • Available as a tablet or can be compounded into a liquid or capsule form.

 

There is increased interest in identifying medications to reduce stress and anxiety in cats at veterinary visits. We should expect to see more medications becoming available in the near future.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit can be part of a low-stress veterinary visit.  However, it will be most effective  when combined with training to reduce situational anxiety and low-stress handling techniques.

As for Gus, I will make sure to give him some gabapentin before vet visits.

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Giving your cat a pill can be a challenge for many cat owners. Often, the pills are bitter or seem too big. The veterinary staff demonstrates the technique but when you get home, you end up with a cat under the bed and the pill on the floor!

I had medicated cats before I became a veterinary technician, using a plunger style pet piller. In tech school, I adopted a 3 yr old Birman cat, Marley, who needed a daily dose of medication for anxiety. It was a daily struggle giving that little blue pill, which could end up in his mouth, but I often found it under the bed or in the hallway on the floor.  Marley would see the pet piller in my hand and run.

Giving your cat a pill – daily medications


So, I cringed when my cat Athena was found to be hypothyroid after radioactive iodine treatment. She needed thyroid pills twice a day. She is a cat who could be difficult to handle alone. However Athena liked the soft treats the pill was hidden in, and life was good, for a time….

After a while she tired of the pill treats and we were back to the drawing board. I turned to some low stress techniques –  I first offer Athena a treat, then the treat-coated pill, and follow with a few more treats.  When I adopted Zelda and Gus, who will eat anything that is not locked up, I finally trained all the cats to sit in a circle and stay, while Athena takes her medication. Then all the cats get treats!

I still have to “pill” Athena occasionally – she does not like having something slid down her throat and quickly goes back to eating the pill by herself. 

cat whispering – pill training


Giving your cat a pill for a chronic condition can be different than medicating her when she does not feel well. Say she is diagnosed with pancreatitis or an upper respiratory infection. Either one of these can reduce appetite and then your cat is not interested in treats. This is when having done some “pill training” comes in handy.

If you are doing a treat time every day or a treat time a few times a week, mix it up a bit and give some treats using “pilling” techniques.

A Pet Piller to give medication
A pet piller with a hard treat.

Treats by Pet Piller

  • Start by offering your cat the pet piller with a lickable treat on it.
  • Then try offering hard treats using the piller
  • Get your cat accustomed to having you behind him while giving treats.
  • When your cat needs medication and he is not well enough to take it in treats, the pet piller will be familiar.

 

Giving your cat a pill – think outside the box


Sometimes, you need to think outside the box when giving your cat a pill. A few months ago, my youngest cat, Gus, got loose with his harness and leash on when we were hiking. After 2 hours, we found him – his harness and leash were gone, and he was painful when walking. An MRI of his spine showed lots of inflammation but fortunately, no nerve damage. He was so painful that he would growl when he changed positions. His appetite was down and taking a pain medication in a treat was not an option.

I considered using the pet piller since he is familiar with it but then decided to try a technique I had recently seen at a conference on senior cat care. This technique uses one of the popular “squeeze up” treats for cats that come in tubes (Delectables, Churu).

Cut the end of the tube so that you can squeeze the paste up for the cat to lick.

Put the tablet or capsule in the opening.

Squeeze the tube and the tablet goes up into the cat’s mouth with the paste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

giving your cat a pill – practice makes purrfect!


Why wait until your cat is sick to come up with a strategy for giving your cat a pill? Do some “pill training” – set aside some time to accustom your cat to different ways of taking “pills” (disguised treats).  When the time comes to give that pill, your cat will be familiar with the pet piller or squeeze-up treat and you will have had some practice with pilling.

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A cat receives an injection of polysulfonated glycosaminoglycans.

It is thought that almost 40% of all cats have clinical signs of arthritis and 90% of cats over age 12 have damage to the joints that you can see on x-rays. Cats are such masters at hiding pain that we are now thinking that arthritis is there earlier, pain is happening and we may not be able to see it on x-rays yet.

What if we could be proactive and start some kind of treatment before our cats even seem painful? Could we slow the deterioration of the joints? What arthritis supplements for cats are available and do they work?

The motivation behind writing this post was to help my youngest cat,  5 year old Gus, who showed some indications of spinal arthritis in his x-rays. Should I begin a supplement with him? I was astounded by the sheer numbers of arthritis supplements for cats on the market and the astounding claims they made.

arthritis supplements for cats – do they work?


Arthritis supplements for cats on the market now range from supplements used by humans to homeopathic remedies. Clinical trials are rare to non-existent on many of these products. This post addresses the more common products and ones that have had some double-blinded clinical studies done.

  • glucosamine/chondroitin,
  • omega fatty acids/ green lipped mussel extract
  • polysulfated glycosaminoglycans

Glucosamine/chondroitin


Glucosamine occurs naturally in cartilage, the flexible connective tissue found throughout the body – for example, in the external ears and the surfaces of joints. The supplement can be made synthetically in the lab or harvested from the shells of shellfish.

Some human studies have shown oral glucosamine may help with pain relief and slowing of joint degeneration in people suffering from osteoarthritis. However, in general, the results from these studies are not conclusive.

Dasuquin is a commercially available formulation of glucosamine/chondroitin for cats. It is a dietary supplement in a capsule that is sprinkled on food. The product has been evaluated for safety.

A recent double-blinded study of Dasuquin enrolled 59 cats with Degenerative Joint Disease.

  • All 59 cats were given a placebo for 2 weeks.
  • Then 29 cats received the supplement for 6 weeks while another 30 continued to receive the placebo.
  • The cats were evaluated by using an at-home accelerometer (like a kitty “fit bit”), owner observations and vet exams through out the study.
  • The study showed a strong placebo effect – 78% of the cats were more active while on the placebo.
  • Cats on the supplement did not show any statistically significant improvement over cats on the placebo.

However, the study did raise some questions:

  • The “kitty fit-bits” showed that the least active cats at the start of the study became more active on the supplement. Were these cat more painful to begin with?
  • The placebo was given in the first two weeks of the study when owner enthusiasm would have understandably been highest and owners would have been looking for improvement.

More research is needed – perhaps a different study design?

Omega Fatty acids (fish oils)


Supplementation with fish oils has shown some benefit for arthritic cats. A double-blinded study showed that cats supplemented with fish oil for 10 weeks were more active, going up and down the stairs more, jumping higher, not walking as stiffly and were more interactive with their people. This study used owner evaluation to assess the cats’ improvement.

Fish oil can be given as a dietary supplement (Welactin) or fed as a therapeutic diet, such as  Hill’s j/d.

Side effects of fatty acid supplementation include GI upset and reduced blood clotting. There is some controversy over how much fish oil is enough. Additionally, fish oil can add quite a bit of calories to your cat’s diet and could result in weight gain, taxing your cat’s joints further.

Merial’s Antinol for Cats supplement is based on fatty acids from green-lipped mussel extract. There are a number of case studies where the supplement has been given to cats with good results for cardiac and dermatological issues, in addition to joint and mobility problems.

Polysulfated Glycosaminoglycans (PSGAGs)


This product is available under the brand name Adequan.  It is the veterinary version of Arteparon, used in humans.

  • Decreases the breakdown in cartilage. The PSGAG’s allows the cartilage to hold more water, making it resistant to degradation.
  • Adequan has been extensively studied in dogs and horses for over 20 years and is FDA-approved for these species
  • Available by prescription.
  • Given by subcutaneous injection in cats with generally good results.

The jury is still out on most of the arthritis supplements for cats. Given at the manufacturer’s recommended dose, these products are safe and may be effective. Considering the individual nature of pain, some cats may respond favorably while others do not. Once again supplements are basically unapproved drugs so there is not the rigorous evaluation that accompanies FDA approval.

Your vet is your best resource on arthritis supplements for cats. He or she will be able to recommend a supplement or diet that is appropriate for your cat and is compatible with other medications or medical conditions your cat may have. In particular, combining supplements should be done with care – glucosamine, fatty acids and Adequan all effect how your cat’s blood clots.

So, what will I do for Gus?


My vets recommended the Adequan injection, citing the robustness of the canine studies and the fact that it is an injection – there is a greater confidence that the cat will get the supplement. We are not depending on him to eat something.

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