Maxwell Chronicles (Part II)

Maxwell living his very best life ever

Living with a Maxwell here at the adorable house of misfits has been a whirlwind of emotions and overall trial and error on things to best help Maxwell thrive. After hearing from various veterinary professionals and pet parents alike on what Maxwell’s official diagnosis was I finally decided to end the debate and scheduled Maxwell to see the neurology department at Akron (Ohio) MedVet.

Being someone in the veterinary field who handles curbside appointments daily I can tell you that it was a very humbling experience and reminded me to be patient and compassionate and reminded myself that despite not being allowed to go inside with Maxwell the staff, technicians and doctor’s treated him with kindness, compassion and respect (and they absolutely did! I cannot thank Akron MedVet enough!).

On the “other side” of the appointment for a change; Curbside appointments

The neurologist stated that (among other things) Maxwell has multiple limb deformities along with kyphosis of the thoracic limb region with potential hemivertebra but she reminded me that with the “right family ANY pet can thrive!” and she is absolutely right.

I am unsure why I so badly wanted an official title for what was up with Maxwell, maybe it was because I felt if “it” had a name then I would know better what to expect maybe — but much with life there is no true preparation and we just all have to “roll with the tide” whatever or where ever that may take us!

Examples of the different “types” of back issues dogs can experience

  • Kyphosis is a type of spinal deformity similar to scoliosis the difference is that scoliosis is a lateral (side to side) curvature of the spine whereas kyphosis is a posterior (up and down) curvature of the spine, specifically in the upper, or cervical, portion of the spine.
  • This curvature can cause nerve damage, which is the reason behind many, if not all, of the symptoms presented. 

  • In older dogs, the condition can be caused by trauma (like a spinal fracture) or wear-and-tear on the spine (which could lead to arthritis or osteoporosis). 
  • In younger dogs (less than 1 year old), the condition is most likely congenital, meaning it was inherited by the individual at birth, as was the case for Olivia, so this is the type of kyphosis of focus throughout this website. 
  • If you suspect your dog’s kyphosis was inherited, it is important to get in contact with his/her breeder (if possible) to let them know. They will want to make sure to not keep breeding your dog’s biological mother/father so as to stop these defective genes from passing on to any more offspring

Some of the signs/symptoms MAY include:

  • Atrophy (loss of muscle tone in affected areas)
  • Loss of sensation
  • Incontinence (loss of control over bladder/bowel )
  • pain
  • wobbliness
  • weakness in the back legs
  • walking differently
  • signs of muscle wastage in the back legs
  • an abnormally shaped back

Regions of the spine
Example of hemivertebra (left) and a normal vertebra (right)
09/2021 XRady of Maxwells Spine (lateral view)

Is the future scary? Absolutely it is! But I would feel the future as scary regardless if Maxwell was in our life or not! I am unsure what the future holds for Maxwell but I know one thing for sure: He is going to live a safe, happy & loving life with myself and the rest of the adorable house of misfits!

“Four-On-The-Floor” Rule!

One of the “rules” that I heard upon adopting Bifford was “four-on-the-floor” and all I could think is “what the he!! does that even mean!?” But it makes sense when handling a cerebellar hypoplasia animal and one of the various ways you can ensure their safety!

Cat’s usually have no issues with landing on their feet when they jump down onto the floor but CH pet parents know that this is usually not the case with cerebellar hypoplasia animals.

The rule of thumb “four-on-the-floor” is an effective and friendly reminder to new pet parents, friends & family members to place a CH pet gently onto the ground while properly ensuring all four of their paws are planted firmly on the ground before letting go of them.

Note: This does NOT promise that they will not fall/stumble over but will help ensure they do not fall/stagger from a distance!

Most pet parents (or humans in general!) know that generally cats can jump from a distance onto the ground and land successfully on their feet without issue. This is NOT the case with cerebellar hypoplasia animals and if someone was to let a CH pet jump from a distance this could result in injury to your special baby (or injury to you attempting to catch a falling pet, get caught by a claw etc.!)

“Four-on-the-floor” is a safe, effective and cute way to remember that CH pets need a little assistance when being placed on the floor!

So remember to “PLANT THOSE PAWS” on the ground!

Trials & Tribulations of BART

“Bart!” a video created by our friends over at Meow as Fluff! Check them out Meow as Fluff Site

Bart came to my house the late summer/early fall of 2017 from a local veterinary clinic where a friend worked who called me in a panic one afternoon alerting me to “two small sick kittens that were dumped off at the clinic” — a small, yet affectionate calico (we later named Taloola) and a terrified, mousey black kitten (who later became Bart) both were riddled with fleas and both had a RAGING upper respiratory infection that caused their eyes to be crusted shut with thick greenish yellow discharge as well as sneezing/audible breathing and the occasion booger bubble.

My friend informed me that the smaller black kitten seemed to have suffered the most damage — coming to them with a broken back leg (they suspect something attempted to eat him judging by the puncture wounds matching up with the now healing break), a hernia and his left eye had ruptured totally – no doubt due to the ongoing, untreated upper respiratory they both were suffering.

My friend prepared me for the worst when it came to the little black kitten – she informed me that he was not nice or affectionate and anyone that adopted him would have to understand and agree that he would just simply “live” out his days within the home and may never actually warm up to people. The veterinary clinic agreed to continue medical care/vaccinations and eventually “fixing” them both just as long as I agreed to foster them temporarily.

Reluctantly I agreed. Something in my gut was pulling me towards that sick, meek little black kitten that cowered beyond belief anytime anyone remotely came near him.

Luckily I went with my gut because it paid off in the end (mainly for Bart as he is now living his absolute best and happiest life!).

The veterinarian at this clinic did not believe Bart’s eye had ruptured yet (when indeed, it had) so they attempted to have me continue to place eye ointment on an eye that no longer was there (it was losing pressure quickly and seeped constantly) as well as a menagerie of antibiotics to help combat the gnarly URI he had (Taloola at this point had healed up nicely without any issue or chronic complications & now lives with her forever home not far from where we live!) all without any improvement or success.

When it came time to neuter Bart I brought him back to the veterinary clinic he had originally been dumped off at (the clinic that had agreed to assume all veterinary/medical care for BOTH Bart & Taloola) only to be informed that his bloodwork was showing his white blood cell count was well over 30,000 (a normal, healthy cats white blood cell count is roughly 4,900 to 20,00 depending on the cat’s age etc.) which indicated he had an infection “somewhere” and they were unable to neuter him.

Frustrated. I told them I could pinpoint where the infection was- his left ruptured eyeball. It needed to come out or that infection would continue to drain and he would never improve and his respiratory symptoms would continue without fail.

This particular veterinarian (who again, may I stress agreed upon me fostering these kittens to assume all veterinary/medical care for them) looked over the scared, miserable looking kitten only to reply to my infection discovery with, “we feel that since this kitten is simply a stray, it is financially irresponsible for us to remove that eyeball and with his bloodwork indicating an infection we also do not feel it best to neuter him either…”

Friends believe me when I tell you that as he was explaining that since this was “no one’s cat” and simply a “stray” that his clinic refused to care for the clearly obvious issue — something they had agreed they would do upon my acceptance to foster these two kittens — I saw RED.

At that point I had decided that this sad, sorry looking little black kitten was going to be MY KITTEN. It did not matter to me that he did not want to play or be affectionate. It did not matter to me that he hid most of the time and the only time I was able to corral him out from under the bed was when my husband and I played “defense” with a yard stick and a broom handle and gently coaxed him out from his hiding spot while the other prepared to grab him — all that mattered was that he was now SOMEONES’S CAT and would never have to worry again about where his next meal came from or if he would receive quality medical care or the fact he could no longer be written off as “simply a stray”. Bart was now MY cat and my newest addition to the ragtag band of misfits I had at home to love and care for.

[Needless to say Bart NEVER, EVER went back to the above mentioned veterinary clinic]

Eventually, EVENTUALLY Bart was able to get neutered (his hernia repaired while they neutered him) and his left eye removed (or the tattered remains of his left eye) and after a long, long road (with said veterinarian who removed his left eye “accidentally” leaving in his eye socket a piece of gauze and suture material so that eventually had to be corrected) he is now a happy, healthy, sweet, affectionate, ornery kitten who put his rough and rocky start to life behind him only to see better, loving and snack filled days ahead of him.

Bart was a “broken” black kitten with no type of personality or affection thus he was simply written off as just another stray, another hopeless and worthless cause but all he needed was for someone to be HIS advocate. For someone to not give up on him and to be soft spoken, compassionate, patient and kind with him. In time (and thousands of snackies later…) Bart realized that my husband and I were “OK people” and truly cared for his health and well-being. Bart then began to come up for cuddle time- with zero regards to personal space he would climb on top of your chest while you were in bed and sandwich his sweet little face against yours as he purred the most audible, soothing, sweet and satisfying purr one has ever heard before.

Bart has no idea that he is part of the “handicat” duo I affectionately rave about to anyone who will listen, in fact Bart is no different than my other cats living at home with us – he eats and drinks without issue, he runs and plays and has “question marks” (where his tail curls up into what looks like a question mark — this is how my husband and I know he is going to be the most playful/ornery) and I really believe he has NO clue that he should have two eyes instead of simply one (due to the severe URI he had suffered that caused his left eye to rupture but also left severe scar tissue covering his right eyeball. The veterinarian he see’s now and LOVES believes that Bart can see a little bit though how clearly he can see is up for debate).

Bart is part of the inspiration for “Bifford for President” because for as many adversities as Bifford has endured in his life Bart has battled just as many (if not more) and he is only four years old (Bifford is ten years old) and despite (at the time) not being “anyone’s cat” and “just a stray” he was still entitled to the SAME quality of care and standards of a cat who was not a stray and had a home. Bart is a living being worthy of good quality care and a good quality life. Between both of my “handicats” I had work to do as far as education & advocacy went (sadly enough most of my work focuses on veterinary clinics/staff that seem misinformed or upholding the stigma that surrounds these sweet babies).

Bart is the reason. Bart is MY reason why I stress to families to give that scared, sad kitten/cat a chance! If I would have looked at Bart that very first time and made a snap judgement then I would not have taken him home most likely. I had early on admitted to my husband that Bart was most likely going to be our “cellar dweller” – not wanting to be near us, not being affectionate or a “normal kitten” I had made it up in my mind that if he was okay not wanting our attention and spending his days hiding under furniture at least he was safe, indoors and getting regular meals and a nice warm bed in addition to regular, gold standard veterinary care.

Bart had proved me wrong and continued to inspire me to advocate and rally for these babies – the “broken” or the “scared”.

So I ask you to keep “fighting the good fight” when it comes to specially-abled animals! Be their voice! Speak up and speak out against any atrocities or ill informed stigma that envelope these sweet, special babies… you might be surprised to find your next animal “soulmate” waiting for you!

Pet Insurance & CH Pets

We have received lots of messages pertaining to cerebellar hypoplasia pets & pet insurance and unfortunately we have not been able to find a pet insurance that would cover “CH” pets! Below is listed a chart courtesy of DVM360 that shows the top pet insurance companies and breaks down the “dirty details” of each insurance company.

Upon speaking to one of the pet insurance companies “Figo Pet Insurance” I kindly asked them to specify their “pre-existing policy” and how this pertains to cerebellar hypoplasia pets.

“Cerebellar hypoplasia will be considered a pre-existing condition even though the pet is born with it unless it happens to not show signs or symptoms until after the pet has a policy. The earliest you can insure a pet is 8 weeks old and we have a 14 day waiting period for illnesses. In order for the cerebellar hypoplasia to be covered, there would need to not be any signs or symptoms until the pet was at least 10 weeks old…”

I then asked Figo Pet insurance about “accidents or illnesses” [Figo Pet Insurance states that you can still get pet insurance for a CH pet BUT any illnesses/injuries that could be related to CH would NOT be covered by pet insurance] so I asked them to clarify that.


“We base all coverage off of the medical records your veterinarian provides. With CH the coverage will heavily depend on if your veterinarian feels the accident or illness is related to the CH. For example, if your vet states “CH caused pet to fall over and break tooth” it would be considered due to a pre-existing condition. If your vet states that there is a broken tooth and does not consider it due to the pre-existing CH then it could be covered
We could also offer coverage for other accidents or illnesses that your vet deems unrelated to the CH like urinary issues, allergies, diabetes, or cancers…”

So the jury is still out on pet insurance! In our opinion we feel that the pet insurance companies will try to connect any injury/illness to CH (thus the pet insurance not covering the bill for!) so personally we feel it is not worth having your CH baby on pet insurance but always stress to do your homework! If you are looking into insurance for your CH pet contact them directly and ask questions pertaining strictly to cerebellar hypoplasia!

We recommend looking into Care Credit (www.carecredit.com) which is sort of like a credit card that you can only use at the veterinarian’s office (or you can personally use it also! I recently used my care credit at the dentist office!)

Meet “Bart”

September 2017 — In foster home

August 2017 — First Rescued

Bart– February 2018 

Bart was abandoned at a local veterinary clinic after a good samaritan rescued him and his sibling (the calico pictured above) who both had horribly brutal upper respiratory infections (eyes caked shut, severe nasal discharge, congestion) — Bart’s sister slowly improved but Bart did not. Bart came to the clinic with a broken back leg (the veterinarian suspected something had tried to catch Bart as prey), a hernia and his left eye had ruptured most likely due to having feline herpesvirus.

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) is an infectious disease caused by the feline herpesvirus type-1. Typical symptoms of FVR involve the nose, throat and eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, inflammation of the tissues that line the eyelids and surround the eyes, discharge from the eyes and nose. The herpesvirus can also cause keratitis, or swelling/infection of the cornea that leads to corneal ulcers. Rare cases include the rupture of the cornea, which unfortunately happened due to the herpesvirus in Bart’s situation.

Bart came to our home and was absolutely terrified. He bordered on the “feral” in which he spent the first month at our home cowering under our bed refusing to come out and hated being handled and held by anyone. It was assumed that Bart would be a “cellar dweller” but at least he had a roof over his head and food in his tiny belly.

By December, 2017 Bart had his left eye (what was left of it) removed, his hernia repaired as well as neutered. Upon waking up from surgery he purred for the very first time– a milestone that made his new parents gush with pride (and possibly a few happy tears!). By spring of 2017 Bart realized he needed to make up for lost time while he was sick as a baby and became an ornery, rambunctious kitten!

Bart still has vision issues (he suffered a corneal ulcer on his right eye as well, luckily it did not rupture and he has some limited vision in it) as well as a habitual “booger nose” and suffers from the occasional flare-ups caused by the herpesvirus but today is a happy, functioning, handsome man!

Bart would have sadly been overlooked in a shelter setting (or even more devastating– euthanized) because of his “special needs” coupled with the fact that he is a black cat to which statistically sit in shelters longer than any other type of cat. By giving this handsome fella a chance the world was able to see what a spunky, resilient kitten he is! Despite almost becoming someone’s snack while in the wild he has made a complete turn around and rules the house! Bart is a typical cat who cuddles, plays and gets into mischief!

Do you have a cat that suffers from herpesvirus? How do you accommodate your home for your special baby?

The Unique in Disabled.

When I said it out loud it makes complete sense that I take a shine to the “broken” animals — the dejected, the forgotten because I am also fighting a silent battle in my own life to help educate and advocate for not only specially abled animals but also for myself…. an epileptic.

It is a very surreal and scary moment to be 22 years old sitting in a crowded college lecture hall on a sleepy Monday morning taking notes one moment and the next moment “come to” surrounded by a group of police, EMT etc., asking me if I knew where I was at, who the president was and what year it was. I was frustrated. Scared. Upset. My brain knew EXACTLY what I wanted to say but I was struggling to get my brain and my mouth to fall in line together but something was shorting out and I could not seem to push any words out to the chaos of people surrounding me as they placed me into an ambulance.

I was 22 when I had my first grand mal seizure. They never figured out WHY I started having seizures (my brother had juvenile epilepsy whereas I did not, but apparently gifted myself with idiopathic epilepsy as an adult) but since that initial diagnosis I have been robbed (twice) while having a seizure (the one instance they stole my jacket and shoes in the middle of winter on my college campus so I had the honor of walking barefoot to their campus police department), I have been grilled about what drugs I was taking that caused me to have a seizure (since a 22 year old covered in tattoos cannot POSSIBLY be drug free), I have been discriminated against at workplaces — asked if it was contagious, asked if they had a vaccine so their kids did not catch “epilepsy”, let go from jobs after being honest and open with them about my epilepsy and once even coined as a “liability” by a former employer despite working there several months with no issue until they had found out I had seizures. I have been poked, prodded, babysat like a child, mountains of medical bills, hospital stays and then the very real concern of SUDEP — sudden unexpected death of person with epilepsy. Which means one day I may have a seizure and never wake up. Statistically speaking every year more than 1 in 1,000 people with epilepsy die of SUDEP (according to epilepsy.com) SUDEP gets epileptics who do not have their seizures controlled but in my case it is “idiopathic” which means they do not know what causes my seizures so any treatment they recommend is more or less a “crap shoot” in hopes it sticks.

One of my many overnight EEG sessions. The perks of having strangers watch you sleep all night while hooked up to monitors and machines in a strange bed/environment (and you cannot have your phone or watch TV or any other normal activities before bed).

I guess as I reflect on my recent birthday that in all of the stigma that has surrounded my epilepsy…my life that it does not come as a shock that I want to push to better educate & advocate for specially-abled animals! The misunderstood, the forgotten — those that people look at with a pang of sympathy that we are all capable of love, empathy, compassion, understanding and patience (whether its pets or people!). I have been through so much since being diagnosed with epilepsy and learned so much but I learn the most daily by my “land of misfit toys” because they are resilient, always have such a cheery outlook and despite falling down they keep getting back up.

I need to keep getting back up. And continue to work to educate the world that having a disability is not a death sentence! It is not just for the tears or sympathy or attention — it boils down to education and advocacy. So just remember that whether you are talking to, working with etc., a person or pet (whether their disability is apparent or not) to always give them love, kindness & patience.

Life is Mysterious

I would like to believe that I am not so cynical to not believe in signs from above but this one, this one was so blatantly obvious that one could not help but NOT ignore it.

I lost my best friend, my light of my life, my “reason” on Monday 01/25/2021 and to say that I was handling it poorly was an understatement. I was on “autopilot”, masking my utter sadness and heartbreak behind a false smile and felt so incomplete that I felt would be permanent and just simply “who I was” from now on.

Until Monday 03/08/2021.

I heard commotion in my veterinary clinic I work for with my name coming up several times (which peaked my interest) as I saw a small crowd circling something … something tiny. I as made my way into the small group of women I saw him… meet Maxwell Walker (Maxwell after The Beatle’s song “Maxwell Silver Hammer”) an eight week old pug puppy (though the doctors suspect he may be younger) who is a “swimmer puppy”.

Swimmer Puppy Syndrome is a developmental deformity that results in a puppy having a flattened thorax/chest. They may have mobility issues that with physical therapy can be (for the most part) corrected it just takes a lot of patience and humility.

Meet Max:

Max will never replace Maggie ever and in fact he may be nothing like Maggie which I accept and understand also (I used to often joke that I wasn’t a “pug person” but I was an avid “Maggie person”) but I can only hope that somewhere tucked deep inside that tiny little pug puppy is a quality or two that Maggie had for so long – that patience, that calmness and most of all affection.

I know it will take time for Max to grow on me (frankly he’s creeping into my ❤️) and it will take even more time to work on getting him to use his back legs and be more mobile (without my assistance).

If you’ve been wondering why the site and our social media platforms went on a short, short sabbatical it’s because of this little dude. We’re working with him constantly as far as physical therapy, hydrotherapy, puzzles and exercise regularly (in addition to trying to potty train) as well as care for the other part of the crew has managed to occupy the rest of my day (happily of course!).

Please be patient with us as we work to find a happy medium between Maxwell and the rest of the day’s agendas — I promise we will return with gusto! Stay tuned folks!

Meow as Fluff – Bart!

A very special THANK YOU to our friends over at Meow as Fluff for showing off another beloved favorite in our adorable house of misfits — Bart! You can check our pal Caitlin and the rest of the Meow as Fluff family by going here.

When Suzi Langer’s friend, who was working at a veterinary hospital near her home in Youngstown, Ohio, told her about Taloola and Bart, a pair of sick kittens who had recently arrived at the clinic, she and her husband Michael volunteered to foster them. “A good Samaritan found these two kittens alone with severe upper respiratory infections — a female calico and a domestic short-haired black male, about 12 weeks old,” remembers Suzi. Sadly, Bart’s upper respiratory infection was so severe and had gone untreated for so long, his left eye had ruptured and his right eye had suffered severe corneal scarring, leaving him only able to see light and shapes.

The black kitten also had a broken back leg, most likely due to being attacked by another animal before he was rescued, and he had a hernia that required treatment. While a lot of people might have been reluctant to foster a cat with so many different medical issues, Suzi and Michael had three special needs pets at the time — including a Rat Terrier with epilepsy, a deaf Pug with bladder cancer, and a cat with cerebellar hypoplasia — so they welcomed Bart and his sister Taloola into their home in July 2017. “Bart was — at best — leery of people,” says Suzi, so after he was neutered and had his hernia repaired and his ruptured eye removed, she and her husband gave the skittish black cat plenty of time and space to adjust to his new environment. “For the first few months Bart was a ghost in our home — his presence lingered but you never saw him.”

Over time, Bart eventually started to trust his foster parents, but in November 2017, Suzi learned the veterinary clinic would no longer be providing him with free medical care, claiming he was a financial risk. “I knew what that meant,” says Suzi. “He was a not nice, not really cute, extremely shy black cat with vision issues. In their eyes he was the least desirable cat to anyone and thus not worthy of proper medical attention.”

Suzi knew Bart needed an advocate who would make sure he received the care and treatment he deserved, so she and her husband adopted him! Shortly after adopting Bart, Suzi, who works at a vet’s office, had her employer remove a piece of gauze that had been accidentally left behind by the previous vet when he had his left eye removed. “They reopened his eye to remove the offending material and flush it out,” explains Suzi, “and ever since then Bart has not had any issues with sneezing or constant discharge.”

Nearly four years later, Bart is in good health, and while he’s unable to see very well, he’s an extremely active cat! In fact, this handsome one-eyed cat loves racing around his home, but because of his vision issues, Suzi and Michael try not to change the layout of their house. “Every so often when Bart is rushing about he will run into things,” says Suzi, “and we make it a courteous point to not rearrange the furniture.”

While Bart is much healthier today than he was when he first arrived at Suzi and Michael’s home, the biggest change has been in his personality. Initially, Bart, who had a difficult life on the streets before he was rescued, was easily frightened and incredibly shy, but over the past few years, he has blossomed in his forever home. “We gave Bart his space and slowly but surely he began to trust us,” says Suzi, “and now he is the most cuddly, sweet, affectionate and ornery little boy — and we wouldn’t have it any other way!”

By sharing Bart’s story, Suzi hopes other people will consider fostering and adopting cats who are often overlooked for a variety of factors, including age, appearance, temperament, and health issues. Even though they might take a little more time and energy, Suzi believes special cats like Bart are definitely worth the extra effort! “If we would have given up on Bart early on we would have never been introduced to his bubbly amazing personality that came later on with his confidence after finally feeling better,” explains Suzi.

When Suzi and her husband offered to foster Bart more than four years ago, they only planned to care for him until he was healthy enough to find a forever home. However, after just a matter of months, they knew Bart was meant to spend his life with them, and now Suzi and Michael can’t imagine their family without this special boy. “Bart has evened our home out in such a beautiful and poetic way,” says Suzi. “He is affectionate, adventurous, clown-like and never passes up the opportunity to ‘give up the belly,’ which is his way of showing his love and affection to us!”

Five “Silent Killers” of Cats

Dr. Justine A. Lee, DVM, www.pethealthnetwork.com

5

When it comes to caring for your cat, I have a few simple recommendations:

  • Maintain a safe environment (keep him indoors)
  • Feed a high quality food (e.g., a meat-based protein)
  • Think about preventive care (e.g., an annual physical examination, laboratory tests, and the appropriate vaccines)
  • Provide lots of affection and exercise

By following these basic tips, you can help keep your four-legged, feline friends healthy–potentially for decades! But as cat guardians, you should also be aware of five “silent” killers in cats. By knowing what the most common silent killers are, you can know what clinical signs to look for. With most of these diseases, the sooner the clinical signs are recognized, the sooner we veterinarians can treat.

1. Chronic kidney disease
One of the top silent killers of cats is chronic kidney disease (CKD) (This is sometimes called chronic renal failure or chronic kidney injury). These terms are all semantically the same, and basically mean that 75% of both the kidneys are ineffective and not working. Clinical signs of CRD include:

  • Excessive drinking
  • Excessive urinating
  • Larger clumps in the litter box
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath (due to toxins building up in the blood and causing ulcers in the mouth, esophagus, and stomach)
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding

Thankfully, with appropriate management, cats can live with CKD for years (unlike dogs where CKD usually progresses more rapidly). Chronic management may include a low-protein diet, frequent blood work, increasing water intake (e.g., with a water fountain or by feeding a grueled canned food), medications and even fluids under the skin (which many pet guardians do at home, once properly trained).



Tri-colored cat looking up

2. Hyperthyroidism
Hyperthyroidism is an endocrine disease where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. This is seen in middle-aged to geriatric cats, and can result in very similar clinical signs to chronic kidney disease including:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased water consumption/urination
  • Vomiting/diarrhea
  • Weight loss

However, as hyperthyroidism increases the metabolism of cats, it causes one defining sign: a ravenous appetite despite weight loss. It can also result in:

  • A racing heart rate
  • Severe hypertension (resulting in acute blood loss, neurologic signs, or even a clot or stroke)
  • Secondary organ injury (e.g., a heart murmur or changes to the kidney)

Thankfully, treatment for hyperthyroidism is very effective and includes either a medication (called methimazole, surgical removal of the thyroid glands (less commonly done), a special prescription diet called y/d® Feline Thyroid Health), or I131 radioiodine therapy. With hyperthyroidism, the sooner you treat it, the less potential side effects or organ damage will occur in your cat.



Big cat on couch

3. Diabetes mellitus
Another costly, silent killer that affects cats is diabetes mellitus (DM). As many of our cats are often overweight to obese, they are at a greater risk for DM. With diabetes, the pancreas fails to secrete adequate amounts of insulin (Type I DM) or there is resistance to insulin (Type II DM). Insulin is a natural hormone that drives sugar (i.e., blood glucose) into the cells. As a result of the cells starving for glucose, the body makes more and more glucose, causing hyperglycemia (i.e., a high blood sugar) and many of the clinical signs seen with DM. Common clinical signs for DM are similar to those of Chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism and include:

  • Excessive urination and thirst
  • Larger clumps in the litter box
  • An overweight or obese body condition with muscle wasting (especially over the spine or back) or weight loss
  • A decreased or ravenous appetite
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal breath (e.g., acetone breath)
  • Walking abnormally (e.g., lower to the ground)

Treatment for DM can be costly, as it requires twice-a-day insulin injections that you have to give under the skin. It also requires changes in diet (to a high protein, low carbohydrate diet), frequent blood glucose monitoring, and frequent veterinary visits. With supportive care and chronic management, cats can do reasonably well; however, once diabetic complications develop (e.g., diabetic ketoacidosis, hyperosmolar, hyperglycemic syndrome), DM can be life threatening. 



Ragdoll with flowers

4. Cardiac disease
Heart disease is very frustrating for both cat owners and veterinarians. That’s because, while dogs almost always have a loud heart murmur (i.e., one we can hear with our stethoscope) indicative of heart disease, cats often don’t have a heart murmur present. In fact, it’s estimated that 50% of cats with heart disease have no auscultable heart murmur. Clinical signs of heart disease include:

  • A heart murmur
  • An abnormal heart rhythm (e.g., an abnormal beat and rhythm)
  • A racing heart rate
  • Collapse
  • Passing out (e.g., syncope)
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blue-tinged gums
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Acute, sudden paralysis (e.g., typically of the hind limbs)
  • Cold, painful hind limbs
  • Sudden pain
  • Sudden lameness
  • Sudden death

Once cardiac disease is diagnosed (typically based on physical exam, chest radiographs, Cardiopet® proBNP Test, and an ultrasound of the heart called an “echocardiogram”), treatment may include emergency care for oxygen therapy, diuretics, blood pressure support, and heart medications. Long-term prognosis is poor, as the heart medication does not cure the heart disease; it prevents cardiac disease from getting worse. The exception is when cardiac disease is caused by hyperthyroidism, which often gets better once the hyperthyroidism is treated!



Bengal laying down

5. Cancer
As dogs and cats live longer, we as veterinarians are seeing more cases of cancer. The most common type of cancer in cats is gastrointestinal cancer, often due to lymphosarcoma. Clinical signs of cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Not eating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abdominal distension or bloating
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Fever
  • Generalized malaise

Once diagnosed, the prognosis for cancer is poor. For this reason, the sooner you notice clinical signs, the sooner diagnosis and treatment may be initiated.
Note that there are other common emergencies that can cause death in cats, including trauma, urinary obstructions, poisonings, and more. When in doubt, to keep your cat safe, follow these 5 simple tips:

  1. Keep your cat indoors to prevent any trauma (e.g., being hit by a car, attacked by a dog, accidentally poisoned, etc.)
  2. Make sure to keep your cat’s weight down – this can help prevent costly problems due to obesity such as diabetes down the line.
  3. Make sure to schedule your annual visit with your veterinarian. This is especially important as we can pick up on physical abnormalities sooner. Note that even if your cat is indoors, she still needs an annual exam; you may be able to skip some of the vaccines (and schedule them to every third year instead) but don’t skip on the exam!
  4. Keep the litter box clean. While this sounds simple, frequent and daily cleaning of the box is a must. Not only will this alert you to life-threatening emergencies like feline urethral obstructions, but it’ll make you aware if your cat is urinating more or less than usual — and help you pick up medical problems sooner!
  5. Seek veterinary attention as soon as you notice any clinical signs – not months after your cat has been urinating and drinking excessively!

When it comes to your cat’s health, make sure you’re aware of these common silent killers. The sooner you notice the signs, the sooner we can run blood work and diagnose the medical problem. The sooner we diagnose the problem, the sooner we can treat it!

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian — they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Veterinary Cannabis & Legalities

DISCLAIMER: Veterinary cannabis is still a very fresh and constantly changing/developing aspect of veterinary medicine. If you ever have questions/concerns, or want to discuss the potential of adding CBD/cannabis to your pet’s medicine protocol and/or treatment plan we always stress to have an open and honest dialog with your veterinarian/specialist! We do not support nor condone veterinary cannabis but simply answering a question that a “President” Bifford supporter e-mailed us earlier in the week. We remove all responsibility for any effects (both positive & negative) that your pet may endure by trying veterinary cannabis!

Cannabis has important interactions with pharmaceutical drugs! If not managed carefully and properly, those interactions have the potential to be dangerous! Working together YOU and YOUR veterinarian can ensure that all medications & supplements work synergistically to reduce side effects and improve overall outcome while meeting your goals for your pet.

Your veterinarian should recommend periodic examination and laboratory evaluation (of both blood & urine) of your pet to ensure that all aspects of the treatment plan are supporting the positive goals that you and your veterinarian have established. We STRESS to have diagnostics accomplished PRIOR to starting veterinary cannabis as CBD has been noted to increase some liver enzymes, and at this time we do not know the significance of these changes. Regular monitoring and diagnostics are also an important part of caring for your pet!

Be aware that the “trial & error” period can take time and may need periodic changes and re-evaluation.

  1. As veterinarians, they are NOT authorized to prescribe any Schedule 1 drugs — including marijuana (products that contain more than 0.3% THC) or other types of cannabis. Since the DEA authorized cannabis as a scheduled 1 drug NO veterinarian can prescribe these products. Pet parents nee to choose a quality product and MUST have accurate information about the amount of THC and other cannabinoids it contains.
  2. With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there is a clear distinction between marijuana (containing >0.3% THC) and hemp (containing <0.3% THC) types of cannabis & veterinarians may have more flexibility when working with hemp-based products. However, there still remain state-specific and even clinic-specific restrictions that the veterinary health care team and you as the pet parent must navigate together.
  3. Cannabis products derived from either hemp or marijuana (in certain states) may be legally obtained by a pet parent in accordance with their state and local laws.
  4. Once purchased, a cannabis product may be administered to an animal by a pet parent — that is YOUR right to decide as your pet’s guardian.
  5. Once you, as the pet parent, have decided to investigate the use of cannabis in your pet, you can then start the conversation with your veterinary health care team to seek guidance and education on product safety as well as administration and monitoring plans.

Starting The Conversation

  1. Make sure to mention the use of cannabis products when asked about your pet’s medical history and/or supplements. This may be something that you mention to the receptionist when first making the appointment or to the staff when checking in. Knowing if cannabis is being used at home helps the veterinarian make important decisions about other medications, supplements & treatment plans.
  2. Ask to work with a veterinarian/veterinary health care team that is “cannabis-knowledgeable”. Not every veterinarian is trained in cannabis topics or is comfortable providing guidance about the use of cannabis in your pet. To make sure that you’re working with the right veterinarian — just ask!
  3. If you already started your pet on a cannabis product prior to your clinic appointment, keep a journal that tracks trends such as appetite, sleep habits & energy levels. This journal can be extremely useful in identifying subtle trends, both positive & negative, associated with the use of cannabis in your pet.

What To Bring To The Appointment

  1. The cannabis product with as much original packaging as possible! The package label can provide essential information about product source and manufacturing, active & inactive ingredients and concentration or strength of the product. Since cannabis laws vary from state to state, make sure to ask your veterinary clinic if you should bring pictures of the packaging instead of the ACTUAL packaging material!
  2. A list of ALL medications & supplements currently being administered to your pet. The list should include all herbal supplements, over-the-counter medications and any special diets. DON’T FORGET about flea/tick & heartworm prevention!
  3. A list of goals for cannabis use. Take some time prior to the appointment to think about why you want to utilize cannabis in your pet- what are your short and long term goals for your pet that you hope to accomplish using cannabis?
  4. Journal — consider bringing pictures and/or videos in addition to your written journal to help explain symptoms observed at home that may not be evident during the appointment.

Want more information on this subject? Visit www.cannabismd.com