Animal Doctor: Owner must play detective to solve mystery of cat’s respiratory problem

October 3, 2013

Dear Dr. Fox:

My cat started making coughing and sneezing sounds in December 2011. Initially, the vet treated her with medication for respiratory problems, but the coughing and sneezing continued sporadically.

In July 2012, I took her to the Garden State Veterinary Specialists hospital, where an internal medicine specialist saw her. This doctor had my cat get three X-rays, and it appeared that her lungs were a bit cloudy, as though there were a respiratory problem. The doctor prescribed a short term of prednisone at a very low dosage. This seemed to help. Some time later, my cat started making the noises again.

Last October, another vet saw her and followed up with an X-ray; prednisone was again prescribed. Once again, this worked. In late December, my cat’s vet put her on Clavamox. For six weeks, there were no coughing or sneezing episodes, but they started again in early February.

Now my cat is on clindamycin, in the event of an infection. The vet also included low-dosage prednisolone for the possibility of inflammation. Neither helped.

She was given an ultrasound of her heart, and that doctor did not see any abnormalities. Between that specialist and the regular vet, it was decided that she was showing symptoms of lung worm. She was put on Pure C for 10 days. It did not work, and a lab test of her feces showed no parasites.

I took my cat to see the first specialist this week. It seems that the only recourse now is shoving a camera into both her throat and lungs to see what might be hovering there. With my permission, the specialist would do a “wash” of the lungs if nothing appears, or a biopsy if something is found. Help!

Your expertise is needed here. I am terribly concerned for my 9.8-pound, almost 13-year-old cat. She seems perfectly normal in every way: She’s still playful, eats and drinks normal amounts and gets her beauty sleep. And, being a native Californian, she loves to sunbathe on the back of furniture wherever the sun is shining.

T.M., Sacramento, Calif.

DF: As you might have gathered from my newspaper columns and Web site, I take a radically conservative approach to many feline health problems, because cats can suffer from terrible stress when subjected to various diagnostic procedures.

Cats have sensitive respiratory systems, and various virus infections take their toll. I advocate rhinotracheitis and calicivirus vaccinations. But your cat, otherwise behaving normally, might be having a normal lung reaction to some inflammatory agent — the buildup of fluid leading to bouts of wheezing and coughing. Consider a possible food allergy or an allergy to inhaled volatile synthetic fragrances. Do some detective work, and gradually put her on a raw-food or home-prepared diet.

Cats can get lung worms when they eat birds and other animals that have eaten infective snails. This is another reason to keep cats indoors and not allow them out.

Dog is in a tailspin

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our 3-year-old bulldog has a serious problem. He has a kink in his tail, which makes it necessary to clean him after he does his business.

It’s not a problem for him or for us, but he has developed a hot spot at the base of his tail, on top, so he can’t stand to be touched. Our vet has prescribed cleaning the spot twice a day with diluted Nolvasan, applying Vetericyn on the area two times daily and giving him cephalexin every 12 hours and Previcox once daily, as needed for discomfort.

Someone also suggested removing his tail. It sounds like a terrible thing to do. He is in so much pain.

M.G., Ridgefield, Conn.

DG: Your poor dog is suffering from the consequences of generations of selective breeding for these kinds of deformities.

Bulldogs do need high maintenance for skin-fold dermatitis, chronic respiratory distress and eye problems associated with ectropion, all of which should be eliminated by breeding longer-muzzled, smaller-headed bulldogs with fewer wrinkles.

A healing application of dermatological aloe vera ointment might help. You can also try a mixture of essential oils applied two to three times daily at the ratio of five drops each of frankincense, myrrh and helichrysum in 100 drops of olive oil.

The ultimate cure might well be corrective surgery. Imagine the discomfort and psychological effects of his feeling pain every time he tries to wag his tail.

Rat or not, it’s a pet

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a pet rat that I took to the vet because she seemed to breathe noisily. She was fine otherwise — healthy appetite, drinks plenty of water, playful and no discharge from the eyes or nose.

The vet decided to keep her for three days and quoted me a price of $250. When I went to pick her up, it was $450. Needless to say, I was upset. I talked to them twice a day when she was there, and they never said the price was going to be so much.

They gave her antibiotics and breathing ointments twice a day. She is home now and is still a noisy breather, but is fine otherwise. I think they should have let me know about the new charges.

M.S., High Ridge, Mo.

DF: It is quite beside the point that you could have replaced your pet rat many times over for the $450 that was charged for veterinary care. There was no significant improvement!There is a segment of the veterinary profession that puts business and profits before appropriate, ethical and cost-conscious animal care.

You should file a complaint, along with an itemized bill, to the state board of veterinary examiners and the Better Business Bureau. Did the attending veterinarian ask about or examine what food and bedding material you provided? Moldy food pellets could be a factor. More likely, irritating volatile oils from cedar shavings or dust and mold spores in bedding or cage litter material causes loud breathing. I presume your rat’s enclosure is kept clean and is adequately ventilated.

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.

2013 United Feature Syndicate

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