Cats make great pets for city dwellers; most indoor cats are content to live in small spaces, passing the day asleep on a bed or couch, waking for meals and litter box use. They don’t need to be walked outside and they are a great source of love and companionship. Chicago offers many rescue groups and shelters that can help you select and adopt a life-long friend. PAWS and the Anti-Cruelty Society are two such organizations.
Many indoor cats, however, find confined living stressful and act out in ways that are undesirable to their owners. Two of the most common unwelcome behaviors are eliminating out of the litter box and scratching furniture and rugs.
This article outlines some of the ways to make your indoor cat’s existence happy. Because behavior problems can be rooted in medical causes, be sure to contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about your cat.
Think Inside the Box
Excellent litter box hygiene is essential for curtailing inappropriate urination and defecation. Cats are fastidious, so may choose to avoid using an unkempt box. Eliminating out of the box is not a spiteful behavior; it may be, in the cat’s mind, the best alternative. Removing waste daily is recommended.
Make sure you have enough litter boxes for the number of cats in your home. Veterinarians recommend the number of litter boxes equals the number of cats plus one (e.g., two cats demand three boxes).
Lastly, choosing a litter that is acceptable to your pet can be achieved by trial and error. Most cats prefer a low dust, unscented clumping litter.
Cats are natural scratchers; scent-marking glands in their paws announce to the world that a particularly well-upholstered couch or loveseat belongs to them. Their owners, however, may take exception.
There are some interventions that may be helpful to curb this habit. A scratching post, which can be placed either near or distant from a couch, may be an effective alternative. Strategically deposited catnip may lure your cat toward the desired spot. Regular clipping of your cat’s claws may also deter scratching. Additionally, clear tape applied at the arms of a couch is offensive to cats and can turn them off from scratching your furniture.
Outdoor cats climb trees to get away from predators, chase birds and other small prey, and get some alone time. Indoor cats need a similar escape. A homemade or purchased cat tree is a great way to offer your indoor cat the vertical escape she needs. This multi-level structure with comfortable places to sleep and play is one of the remedies for reducing stress and undesirable behavior in a small city dwelling.
Food, shelter, litter boxes, and love can change the life of an unwanted animal. Consider adding a cat to your home. You may be rewarded with unconditional friendship and love.
Dr. Barrie Yallof
I recently came across the most amazing carrier for producing a calm cat. It’s called the Van Ness Calm Carrier. It has a sliding drawer design that allows cats in the carrier to be very easily taken out, avoids the more forceful removal from the carrier, and allows for quicker and safer unloading. I was amazed by this simple and genius idea and surprised that this carrier wasn’t more widely used.
For many cats, the only time they leave their homes and see the carrier is when they are going to the vet. They associate the carrier and the departure with being at the vet, and they begin to feel heightened stress and anxiety even before they arrive. Once we see many of these cats, it can be very difficult to handle them, and just getting them out of the carrier can be a challenge.
As a hospital that utilizes Fear Free® practices on a daily basis, we at Medical District Veterinary Clinic do our best to lessen anxiety and stress for our patients before, during, and after their visits to the vet. While the carrier choice seems simple, this important step can make a huge difference in creating a calm cat.
Below are tips to help lessen anxiety and stress for your cats when they visit with us:
- The best carriers are hard sided carriers that can be easily taken apart. In a carrier in which the top can be easily removed, more stressful and fearful cats can even be examined while they remain in the bottom half of the carrier where they are more comfortable.
- Make the carrier comfortable and enjoyable for your cat. Ideally your cat will enter the carrier on their own, and even spend time there to rest and play. To help your cat see the carrier as a happy and positive place, fill it with treats, toys, and familiar bedding that they enjoy.
- A product called Feliway® emits a synthetic feline pheromone that helps create a calming environment and reduces stress. It comes as a plug-in diffuser, spray, and wipe. Use of these products in the carrier prior to transport can be very beneficial to limit the anticipated stress and anxiety of going to the vet. We use these products all the time and see positive changes in our patients.
- Consider asking your veterinarian for a prescription medication you could administer before your cat’s visit to the clinic to serve as a mild sedative and help reduce stress and anxiety. Common medications used include gabapentin and trazodone.
By following these guidelines, you can make the experience of going to the vet much more enjoyable for feline patients—and for owners and veterinary staff as well.
—Amber Slaughter, DVM
It’s the fifth month of a global pandemic, and you have finally decided to bring your super not-sick cat into the clinic for what will only be a regular annual exam, because nothing will ever happen to her and she is perfect and actually named after a minor character in a science fiction mini-series from the ’70s whose reference you will always be surprised is picked up by your vet who tends to type and talk in run-on sentences.
So all is going well.
You are sure of it.
You are waiting a tiny bit too long and you start to remember how your last sick cat once came to the vet and you had to wait 15 minutes extra and then got bad news. But then I come to your car and say that everything looks good [exhale], the annual blood work is normal on Meow Lamba [exhale], but …
BUT BUT BUT!!!!!! [heart sinks because this is not how the day was supposed to go and–what will it be?]
… but your sweet little cat has a very mild but notable heart murmur. You then hear nothing but a funeral march played on Moog synthesizers because Meow Lamba would want it that way.
As I say “heart murmur,” I see everyone’s face do one of two things: Eyes dilate and widen, mouth slowly goes agape and you are about to fall apart, or the muscles form the physical equivalent of “OK, Doc, be straight with me: how many months do I have left with her?”
I have to intervene immediately and dilute the words a bit, allowing you to fall back to earth and be able to talk out the rest.
And so: heart murmurs. Why do we often say not to worry, and then sometimes tell you to worry? Why do we send you to the cardiologist immediately sometimes, and more often tell you to monitor? Why did your last vet say you can never do a dental on her, and now I am telling you we can?
Let me help you. As with everything, each doctor has her own protocol, but I will give you some basics to consider. Each individual case may be different.
What is a murmur?
Lub Dub-Lub Dub-Lub Dub is the sound of the valves of the heart taking turns to close and effectively push blood through the heart. It’s not the only thing doing so, but gets most of the credit. Occasionally there will be some form of pathology to the valves causing them not to shut properly. Like a rattling screen door that doesn’t fit in the frame after years of humid summers and dry winters, the valves sometimes become misshapen or inflamed, causing the beautiful tell-tale lub-dub of the heart to sound more like lub-a-swish-dub-lub-a-swish-dub.
I liken it to someone turning up the reverb on a snare drum, but this analogy nails it for about none of my patients. So don’t worry when that means nothing to you.
To avoid making this into a veterinary textbook, I am not going to go into the pathophysiology of every reason a cat could get a heart murmur, but there are many: from congenital disorders (cats are born that way), to innocent ones caused by nothing at all, to underlying diseases (hyperthyroidism, etc.), to metabolic status (anemia, dehydration, high pressures, etc.).
The important thing to remember is that a heart murmur can be the result of something very serious, but in itself is not an emergency or an actual indication that a cat’s heart is progressing toward failure. I say this to a lot of clients, but my last cat (who was not named after a minor science fiction character) lived to be about a billion years old and had a Grade 3 heart murmur for all of those years with no clinical signs or progression.
This is not the same for every cat, though.
And then here is my first question: Is this a new murmur, or this is an old murmur that was either very hard to hear or the circumstance today (like being sick) is making the murmur sound more noticeable? Being dehydrated, sometimes being sedated or under anesthesia, being calmer or more excited can make a hard-to-hear murmur easier to hear.
If this is genuinely a new murmur, my next question is to understand if there are clinical signs of heart disease going on at home. These include coughing, wheezing, congestion, fluid from the nose, exercise intolerance, lethargy, or any type of respiratory noise. Now generally what happens is that when you hear about the murmur, you start to remember every single sneeze, wheeze, and cough that the cat (which was previously doing fine, with no issues) has had over the past year. It’s not that I discount the amended history, but heart disease is not the primary rule-out for any of the above clinical signs, so I take reports of these issues in context.
And if these things are not going on and the cat is still doing fine, then comes the choice of what to do. The most aggressive thing is to take x-rays to look at the size of the heart, to assess if the murmur is associated with other issues. Then sometimes, regardless, we discuss going to see a cardiologist where an ultrasound of the heart can evaluate those valves very specifically and make sure there is nothing going on.
Certain breeds of cats are more prone to issues, including the tragic and lovable Maine coons, Ragdolls, British shorthairs, Sphynxes, Norwegian forest cats, and Siamese. With these breeds, I generally err on the side of caution, but generally a happy healthy domestic short-haired cat that has a mild murmur and nothing else I will monitor and watch. I think it’s good to come back in a few months to recheck the murmur to make sure it is not progressing.
We do dentals and other anesthetic procedures all the time on cats with murmurs. It’s not that we don’t have to worry about it; it’s that we do. We take many precautions and monitor closely for any issues that are occurring during anesthesia. I think that sometimes cats with mild heart murmurs suffer much more from things like severe dental disease that goes unchecked because of the fear of putting them under anesthesia.
To be clear, you want to avoid anesthesia if possible, but it is not something that has to be avoided at all costs. Sometimes, again, going to a cardiologist before is recommended (and the safest things you can do).
I should say that despite my assurance that a heart murmur doesn’t always mean the worst, it can be. I don’t want anyone who is still reading this to think that I think that heart murmurs are a scam. There are animals that acquire heart murmurs and it is an early indication of heart disease that is serious. What you need to remember, though, is that there is a subtlety to it that is not so simple. Part of why annual exams on your cats are so important is so we can catch things like first-time heart murmurs and make sure that we are preventing any possible disease before it gets bad.
Shop local, love your cats, watch ’70s Canadian sci-fi,
Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic
We have now been living with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, for four months (officially) here in Illinois. Chicago and much of Illinois have moved into Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois response plan, and summer is in full swing.
It has been a strange and distressing time for us and for our pets.
My dog Emmie fits in perfectly with social distancing, due to her long-standing leash aggression and dislike of other dogs! (We’ve been working on those issues for a long time, but maybe not as seriously as we should have.) On the downside, the pandemic also means that we probably won’t be taking Emmie to any of her favorite spots, like the dog beach, for a while.
Current COVID Recommendations
Here are some current facts and recommendations from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) about COVID in cats and dogs. Remember, though, that there is still a lot we don’t know.
- Routine testing of animals is not recommended by most regulating and professional groups, including the AVMA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the USDA.
- Testing can be done when an animal appears to be showing clinical signs and has had prolonged close contact with a person that is COVID positive or in a facility that is high-risk (nursing home, etc.).
- There is no evidence that animals play a significant role in spreading COVID to people. This disease is overwhelmingly transmitted person-to-person, but it is always recommended to wash your hands after interacting with animals.
- In rare instances, there is evidence that people can transmit COVD to animals, and in those cases, fever, lethargy, and respiratory signs have been noted. Most animals responded well to supportive care.
- If you are positive for COVID, you should minimize contact with your pets as much as possible.
Consider Your Pet’s Stressors
While disease prevention and management for us and our pets is important, it’s also important to think about how the many changes in routine are affecting the lives of our pets. You might think having their owners working at home would be the best thing that ever happened to our pets, but that’s not necessarily the case. Here are some points to consider:
- Even though most animals may be glad you’re home more, it’s still a major change in their routines, which can be very stressful. Try creating a new routine that gives your pet some time away from you. For example, take a walk or drive on your own or participate in a safe social distancing visit outside so your pets are still used to you being away at times.
- Be sure that your pets have a space, even if small, that is their own. No one should be allowed to bother them when they are in that crate, on that certain dog bed, or in “their” room.
- Try not to reinforce attention-seeking behaviors. Even negative attention is attention. Instead try to redirect and focus your pet on another activity if you need them out of your space while you’re working or if they are doing something, you’d rather they not do.
Play It Safe
Finally, how to we manage socialization with other dogs? The city of Chicago has not yet reopened their dog parks. Even after the parks reopen, we recommend minimizing their use as much as possible.
Lots of dogs present means more people around, which can make it harder to social distance. Although there is no evidence that COVID can be transmitted dog-to-dog or dog-to-person, the less contact with other family units the better.
Just a few weeks ago, I witnessed a dog fight in a local park where dogs were off leash playing. Luckily, no animal or person was significantly injured, but the owners had to physically separate the dogs, which meant close contact—and they were not all wearing masks when this happened, because it happened so suddenly.
I get it, though. Some dogs need the socialization, and at some point, our pets and our own mental health are important to consider. Some dogs would go bonkers without a good play session.
If possible, try to find a small group of dogs and people that you know and stick to a private area, like a friend’s backyard. But if you must go to a public area, try to go at non-peak hours, wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose, social distance, carry hand sanitizer with you, and be sure to wash your hands after interacting with your pets.
Stay safe everyone!
–-Dr. Alyssa Kritzman
Throughout this time of quarantine, I have been spending more time outside, as I am sure many of you have, too. Besides the overabundance of cicadas in my neighborhood, currently there seems to be a plethora of mosquitoes looking for a blood meal. Just as we love summer in Chicago, so do mosquitoes. Summer is the time for peak transmission of heartworm disease across the U.S. Heartworm disease is considered endemic in Illinois, and according to the American Heartworm Association, clinics in the Chicago area see an average of 25+ cases per year.
As I sit outside, I think how lucky I am because mosquitoes don’t seem to like me; my wife is not so lucky. Then I wonder if my dog, Oskee, is getting bit as much as we are? And is he getting infected with heartworms?
The importance of prevention makes so much sense once you have a little knowledge about the disease process and how monthly preventive medication works. As described in this short video, the monthly preventive does NOT prevent exposure, but kills off any immature baby heartworms already present in your dog. If the preventives are not given every 30 days, the immature heartworms can mature to juvenile worms before the next dose, thus resulting in heartworm disease.
If you miss a dose or are late giving a dose, give the dose as soon as you remember. While uncommon, an infection may develop within your dog from a single missed dose. Multiple missed doses, especially during peak transmission months, puts your dog at high risk of infection.
The heartworm test performed at annual wellness visits screens for adult heartworms. It takes 6 to 7 months after infection for the heartworms to mature into the life stage detected by the heartworm test. Therefore, if you miss a dose, start up prevention as soon as possible. Then have your dog tested within the next year to be sure that infection did not occur during the unprotected period.
For less than $10/month your pet can be protected. While there is a treatment for heartworm disease, it is more expensive and more painful than monthly prevention. The average cost of treatment for a medium-sized dog is $1,500 vs. $10/month for prevention.
If your dog is not currently on prevention or you need a refill, give us a call today. If you have questions about the different preventive medications on the market, please reach out as we would be happy to discuss your questions and concerns.
—Dr. Drew Sullivan
Care for Yourself So You Can Care for Your Pet
Like many of you, I never expected to experience the pandemic we are currently facing. Social distancing, quarantine, virtual gatherings, and isolation have become part of our daily lives due to COVID-19.
Adjusting to this new normal has been challenging for many people. Pets can often sense an owner’s stress and anxiety, which in turn the pets can absorb. Signs of stress in pets can be very subtle, and these behaviors can mimic pets’ normal behavior, so identifying stress can be difficult for owners.
Indicators of stress in dogs include pacing and shaking, whining and barking, trembling, changes in eyes and ears, shedding, panting, changes in bodily functions, hiding, and acting more withdrawn. While cats can exhibit the signs above, they also commonly overgroom (which can lead to sores on the skin) and fail to use the litter box. Cats in particular, are prone to developing urinary symptoms when they are stressed, so it is important that owners keep a close eye on their cat’s litter box habits. It is clear that our mental health impacts our pets, which is one more reason to be mindful of self-care.
In honor of Mental Health Month, here are some strategies to help deal with COVID-related stress:
- Separate what is in your control from what is not. Focus on the things you can do, such as washing your hands, drinking water, and limiting your news consumption (including social media).
- Get outside in nature; fresh air and exercise is beneficial for not only mental health but physical health.
- Challenge yourself to stay in the present. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Try to focus on the positive things happening in your life.
- Stay connected to the people in your life. Reach out to trusted friends and family members when you need support.
- Use meditation and relaxation exercises to promote a sense of calm.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
Enjoy Time with Pets
While many people have transitioned to working from home, pets are enjoying the extra time they get to spend with their owners. You can still enjoy the outdoors with your pets in a safe way by finding quieter and less populated areas. The time outdoors and exercise helps reduce stress and anxiety and is also an opportunity for your dog to have fun and burn off some of their energy.
For your cats, you can find new ways to play with them at home. There are many different types of cat toys available (online shopping is a great way to find some exciting new toys), or you can find some items around the house for the cat to play with. It’s incredible how something as simple as a cotton ball or piece of paper can keep them entertained for hours. This is also a good way to bond with your cat, which is beneficial for mental health.
By taking care of yourself, you will be better able to care for others, including your pets. Although these are uncertain times, we’re in this together!
—Amber Slaughter, DVM
Due to the extended stay-at-home order, starting Monday, April 13, Medical District Veterinary Clinic will offer telemedicine appointments to continue to support our clients.
Please review the following information before you schedule an appointment:
- All telemedicine appointments are for established patients who have been seen within the past 12 months. These patients have a current Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship (VCPR), making telemedicine a legally acceptable form of care
- Telemedicine appointments can be scheduled for non-emergency sick patients. For example: skin issues, ear infections, lameness, management of chronic conditions, diarrhea, and behavior issues. These appointments will be a convenience for clients, will allow doctors to service more of our clients, and will decrease person-to-person contact.
- Telemedicine appointments can be scheduled:
- If the patient is sick and the client is also sick/quarantined/has been exposed to illness
- If the pet is ill and the client cannot come into the clinic for other reasons
- If the pet’s illness is not emergent but should be discussed with a doctor
- Telemedicine appointments will be available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, between 8 am and 12 pm. (This may change based on demand.)
- The cost of telemedicine appointments is $30.
- If during the telemedicine appointment, the doctor deems that the pet should be physically seen, the $30 telemedicine fee will still apply. The exam fee for the in-clinic appointment will be discounted to $40 (from $62) if the in-clinic appointment is scheduled and seen within 72 hours of the telemedicine appointment.
Because I am a human being living in the third-largest city in the United States, the coronavirus is on my mind. It’s scary, and we all are dealing with our newly realized pandemic anxiety in different ways. Turning to our pets for comfort is natural and nice, but with that also comes a possible increased focus on their every move and well-being.
Some of you have the luxury of being able to self-quarantine with your loved ones, and we all thank you. Some of us still need to be out in the real world saving people, and we all thank you too. This blog post, however, isn’t to inform you about anything related to COVID-19 and human health. For that you can look here. This blog is meant to address your animals’ health during this time.
I know that some of you are worried about your animals getting infected. Though we don’t know everything about this virus, veterinary experts say it is highly unlikely to infect or sicken pets.
What I want to discuss is the quality-of-life needs for your pets, particularly dogs, which depend on social interactions with other dogs and people to relieve boredom and anxiety. All the basic points are applicable to cats too, though the cats that go outside and meet people and other cats are rare.
We are all home (hopefully) now. As much as social interactions need to be at a minimum to help flatten the infectious curve, being outside is not unsafe. Walking your dog is not something you should avoid. In fact, strolling through the streets offers a great opportunity for quiet and reflection. What you need to be careful about, though, is stopping to talk to others and going to dog parks or places where humans congregate. Which in turn means that your dog’s social needs may go unmet.
So how can your dog’s and cat’s cabin fever be remedied?
- Attention. Because you are managing your two children who are home from CPS, trying to keep up on how many celebrities are positive, and Google-deep-diving whether coronavirus can be transmitted through ESP, you may not think that spending 10 minutes here and there playing tug-o-war with your dog is a priority. But don’t underestimate the stress dogs can pick up on. Even a small amount of attention can help them through this.
- Respect boundaries. Though most of your cats and dogs love having you around, it also the case that the sudden increase of bodies home at all times can be a stressor for your 18-year-old cat that is used to the quiet and freedom to sit on the couch alone during your work day and actually enjoy some alone time. I’ve heard from numerous people over recent weeks that they think that their dog and cat may not actually miss them as much as they assumed when they were at work every day. If your animals separate from your space to be alone, it may not mean something is wrong; you just may be annoying. Let them be and make sure there are places for them to retreat to without the clatter of your new bread-making hobby and experimentation with rave-reggae dominating your shared environment.
- Toys. Please don’t run to the store and get a bunch of toys right now, but make the existing toys in your house nice and clean and available. Make toys out of your old clothes or use a discarded water bottle, toilet paper rolls (especially you hoarders), etc. If you Google DIY dog toys, you’ll see a lot of ideas. But be careful you don’t use anything toxic or things that your dogs can swallow. I like this page: https://www.wisebread.com/10-diy-dog-toys-you-can-make-for-pennies
- Train/Teach your dog new tricks. Don’t give up on your sometimes jerk of a dog who stubbornly will not generally or ever listen to you. Don’t as it’s literally and figuratively never too late to try to teach your old dog new tricks. Maybe this is the time you spend teaching her to sit, shake, solve geometry puzzles, speak Turkish, etc. There are tons of trainers who are helping to do things remotely. I plan to have my dog braiding my hair by the summer.
- Go outside. Go outside. Go outside. It may seem contrary to our brains’ frenetic power to actually go in our yard (if you have one) and sit down, but leave your house, walk outside, even though you may need to cross the street to avoid people. You can check Twitter on your front steps with your dog as well as in your living room.
- Divide and comfort. Not all households with multiple animals live in harmony. We have an upstairs cat and downstairs cat. Both are annoyed at the upstairs and downstairs dog. Maybe your herd is split up in different ways. Just like playing tug-o-war with your dogs for 10 minutes could go a long way in fulfilling her needs, try to spend some alone time with each of your animals for a bit. Go upstairs and have a 10-minute pet-fest with your shy cat that hates your power hungry younger cat that generally hogs all the attention.
We all hope this passes soon, though that seems doubtful right now. Read books, play farm hustle, calm yourself, distance. Goodbye.
—Brett Grossman, DVM
Dear Clients and Patients:
I’m writing to let you know that we are here to help you through this tough time.
While this COVID-19 pandemic disrupts our normal lives, we want to provide you with reassurance that Medical District Veterinary Clinic is available to help when your pet has needs. At the same time, as members of the medical community, we have an obligation to help protect the health and safety of our community.
We as veterinarians have taken an oath not only to protect the health and welfare of animals, but also to promote public health. Currently, we are in a public health crisis, and we want to encourage all our clients to do their part and stay home whenever possible.
Due to this crisis, we are working with limited staff and practicing social distancing wherever possible. We have made the following changes to our procedures so that we can meet our clients’ needs while adhering to guidelines for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
- We are seeing urgent appointments only.
- All owners will be asked to wait in their car during appointments. Doctors will communicate exam findings over the phone and discuss diagnostics.
- Payment will be collected over the phone, and the pet will be returned to the car after procedures are completed.
- Puppy and kitten vaccines: We feel these vaccines are very important to the health and safety of these patients and should be continued on recommended normal schedule.
- Adult pet vaccines: Although vaccines are very important, some vaccinations could be postponed 1 to 2 months, especially for dogs with limited social interaction. If your pet is due for vaccinations, please call us to discuss scheduling options.
- Medication pick-up: Curbside service is now available. The owner will be asked to pay over the phone, and medications will be brought to the car.
Thank you for your understanding as we navigate this difficult time. We hope to resume normal operation in early May and will keep you updated as the situation evolves.
If you need additional resources please refer to our Pet FAQ’s.
Drew Sullivan, DVM
The situation is very fluid. Please check this post or our Facebook page for updates.
Last updated March 17.
With recent developments in COVID-19, Medical District Veterinary Clinic is implementing reduced service in order to keep our staff, clients, and community safe. (Remember, your pets are not at risk from COVID-19, but having people bringing their pets to a public place increases the risks for people.)
We will continue to see SICK patients only; wellness and routine procedures will be postponed.
If your pet is due for a crucial vaccine, such as rabies, and your pet goes to daycare or boarding, please contact us to find out if an exception can be made.
If you have a fever, cough, sore throat, or possible exposure to COVID-19, please do not come to the clinic. Arrange for someone else to bring your sick pet to see us.
Stay safe! We all need to work together—but at least 6 feet apart—to implement these public health measures.
Thank you for your understanding and cooperation! We have the best clients in Chicago! ♥