Animal Doctor: Maintaining a very old cat’s quality of life

Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat, Fanni, is almost 21 years old. She has had no health problems throughout her life. However, she now has a tumor around one of her nipples, and it is increasing in size. It also bleeds occasionally, and the skin around it looks raw.

She also has an ulcer on her back that doesn’t heal. She does not act as though she is in pain. She still jumps up on the bed and climbs stairs, albeit slowly.

When do I decide it’s time to put her down? Her appetite is good, her excretory functions are regular and consistent and she purrs and interacts with me. She sleeps a lot and frequently sits with her eyes closed but is not sleeping.

The tumors have been around for several years, but only within the past six months have they changed in size.

J.D., Wheaton

DF: Have a visiting veterinarian examine your old cat, and express your reservations about surgery. This is your call, but I would support a decision against surgery, considering the advanced age of your cat.

Comfort and quality of life are paramount, as is good nutrition, including high-quality protein that is easily digestible (such as Gerber’s chicken and turkey baby food). These might help improve your cat’s overall condition, along with a few drops of fish oil in her food, which will also help alleviate arthritis and kidney problems and might help fight certain cancers.

A veterinarian can treat the ulcer and evaluate the tumor. It is possible the cancer has already spread to the lungs and other internal organs. The vet will advise you on what to look for as her condition worsens or other age-related health problems develop.

The stress of surgery on older animals, even with modern anesthetics and the best pre- and post-operative care, often delays the recovery.

GROUCHY Chihuahua

Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently acquired a female Chihuahua from Canine Castaways. She is 5 years old. She can be very timid, but she gets quite vocal and aggravated when my husband gives me something or touches me. She doesn’t snap but she looks as though she will. She has not nipped him, but she will not go with him unless I give the okay. Other times, she will sit with him and play.

How can I lessen her aggression with him? When going for walks, she will go only if I am with them. We have had Chihuahuas before, but they have always treated us equally. We would like her to be a two-person dog.

M.W., Naples, Fla.

DF: As long as your husband doesn’t feel rejected (some spouses actually become jealous in such situations), half the problem is solved.

Acceptance of your dog’s immediate bonding and preference toward you is a first step. She could have been teased or abused by a male, and it will take time for her to trust your husband.

Have your husband take her for walks along with you, using a harness rather than a neck collar, and, after a few days, send them off without you going along. Have him take over grooming, passing him the brush as you are grooming the dog.

Ditto with the food bowl: Bend down with it in your hand, call the dog over to you and then give the bowl to your husband to put down. This way, she should learn to trust him.

When your husband gives you something or touches you, and your dog acts protectively or seems jealous, you can teach her self-restraint by putting her on the floor and getting her to sit and stay. Then reward her for good behavior. A dog-training clicker to make a distracting sound is an alternative, as is a squeaky toy to redirect her attention.

STONE PREVENTION

Dear Dr. Fox:

My male Persian, a rescue cat, was neutered when he was more than 2 years old. He has had oxalate stones removed twice in the past two years. He was thoroughly examined by a veterinarian internist-specialist.

My cat’s vet did both surgeries. What seems to be working to keep the stones away so far is a daily dose (0.5 cc) of liquid hydrochlorothiazide. I use a syringe and squirt it into his mouth.

His dry food is Royal Canin Feline Nutrition PRO Persian 30, which is formulated to help with his urinary tract. He likes it. He drinks plenty of water but is a bit finicky about moist food. I’ve offered him Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d, minced turkey in gravy, chicken paté and homegrown grass (he likes that), but he prefers his kibble. He’s an indoor cat. He loves being groomed several times a day. I monitor his litter boxes and clean them several times a day.

The prescription is keeping the bladder stone problem in check. I hope this can help others with this awful problem.

A.G., Norfolk

DG: Cats and dogs develop calcium oxalate crystals, or sand, and larger calculi, or stones, in their lower urinary tract for a variety of reasons. The acidification of manufactured pet foods — to help lower the incidence of struvite crystals — is believed to be one factor.

Not drinking enough water, being given only dry food and too much sodium in the diet can also play a role in this all-too-common malady.

Hydrochlorothiazide is a diuretic, making the recipient produce more urine. This essentially keeps the urinary tract regularly flushed, preventing the accumulation of oxalate crystals that might grow into larger stones or calculi.

A moist diet and ensuring that the cat drinks plenty of water (even seasoned with salt-free chicken gravy or a little milk) or getting the cat used to 5 to 10 cc of water given orally in a syringe if the cat does not drink much are the best preventive measures.

I do not advise giving cats more salt to get them to drink more. Starting kittens out on a moist, home-prepared or raw food diet will do much to stop urinary tract problems from developing.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2011 United Feature Syndicate

 
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