Category: Cats

Fractured Jaw in a Cat

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It is not uncommon for a cat to break its jaw due to a traumatic incident; usually falling from a height or being hit by a car. The lower jaw (the mandible) usually fractures right in the middle of the chin which is very painful and renders the pet unable to use its jaw to eat. Fortunately for most cats, they heal very well when the jaw is wired back together. Now if only they can remember not to run across the street again……

This area contains graphic pictures of an actual jaw repair performed at the hospital. It may not be suitable for some children (and some adults also!).

Symptoms and Diagnosis

In almost all cases of jaw fracture the diagnosis is obvious. The pet is drooling, the jaw hangs down, and it is unable to eat. There are frequently other signs of trauma present somewhere on the body.

Palpation of the jaw (under anesthesia) reveals the extent of the problem. The location of this fracture is called the symphysis of the mandible.


The two halves of the lower jaw (the mandible) are wired back together with stainless steel wire. The wire is kept in place for approximately one month, then the cat is anesthetized again and the wire removed. Most cats begin eating within 1-2 days of the repair, and only rarely do we have to place a feeding tube in so they can ingest adequate calories. If there are no other problems almost all cats heal completely.

A special stainless steel wire is placed around the lower jaw. To be anchored properly, and to stay in place until healing is complete, the wire must pass through the underside of the jaw.

The surgeon then aligns the 2 fractured pieces and gently tightens the wire. When finished the wire passes under the tongue but over the lower jaw.

The ends of the wire pass out through the skin under the jaw. The wire is pushed up against the skin so it does not interfere or snag on things.

This radiograph gives an inside view of the wire.

The roof of the mouth (the hard palate) is bruised because this cat was hit by a car. Fortunately the hard palate was not fractured, so no further treatment was needed.

The tongue was severely bruised also. This is the type of lesion, that when added to the fractured jaw, can prevent a cat from eating. Luckily the bruised tongue healed within a few days and this cat started eating soon. If not, we would have put a feeding tube in.

Jaw fractures can be quite painful, so it is common for us to use pain medication.

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Feeding Tubes

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In comparison to people, feeding tubes in animals are not routinely used in terminal cases to prolong life. They are used to help an animal get over a temporary problem and return to good health.

Most species of animal can go many days without eating. This is not true for cats, especially when they are sick. Several days of not eating (anorexia) can have serious consequences in cats and lead to failure of important organs like the liver.

In addition to cats we use feeding tubes in our practice for turtles and tortoises that are not eating.

Causes of Lack of appetite

Internal organ diseases like hepatic lipidosis, infections, FeLV, and fevers, along with anatomical problems like a broken jaw can all prevent a cat from taking in adequate nutrition. In addition, all of these diseases increase caloric needs for healing to occur, so a lack of appetite in a diseased cat is an important problem to address.

The yellow discoloration to this cats gums is called icterus, more commonly know as jaundice. In this specific case the icterus is caused by liver disease because this cat has hepatic lipidosis. Feeding tubes are commonly used in these cats because they have stopped eating.

Short Term Treatment Options

Several options are available to give adequate nutrition to cats that are not eating. Many times they begin eating after we rehydrate them with intravenous fluids, especially if they have kidney disease. Sometimes we also need to assist feed them with special foods that are easy to administer and digest. Some cats will even start eating after we give them valium intravenously. Cats that have sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) might begin eating after we control their blood sugar level with insulin. Cats that are in pain from serious injury like a broken jaw might start eating when we give them pain medication.

This liquid diet called Clinicare is often used to provide both fluid and nutrition on a short term basis. It can be given orally or through a tube.

Another food used to provide short term nutrition is called A/D. It is also used for long term nutritional support in some cases. It can also be given orally by just putting it in your pets mouth. It can also be given through a tube when some water is added to it.

Medium Term Treatment Options

A nasogastric tube is an option that sometimes works well for several days. This tube is passed through the nostrils and into the esophagus. It is taped and sutured in place. It has the advantage of easy placement and maintenance. The main problem is that the small diameter of the tube that is used only allows a liquid diet (CliniCare). To give an adequate amount of calories on a long term basis with this liquid diet would mean giving a volume of liquid that is far too much for the digestive system to handle, and the cat will usually vomit.

Another medium term treatment option is tube feeding. In this technique we fill a syringe with A/D and attach a small rubber feeding tube to the end. We gently pass this tube into your pets esophagus and give it the full amount of food that is in the tube. It has the advantage of using a food source (A/D) that is more solid than a liquid diet (CliniCare), so your pet receives more of its needed calories. It also has the advantage of minimal discomfort since no tube is left in for long periods of time. Some cats will begin eating on their own after only 1 or 2 feedings with this technique.

Long Term Treatment Options

  • PEG Tube

    A very effective solution to long term feeding is a PEG tube. PEG stands for Percutaneous EndoGastric. It consists of a tube that passes from the inside of the stomach, through the abdominal body wall to the outside. It allows the long term use of food that will give adequate nutrition. Its first disadvantage is difficult placement. It is usually put in with a special instrument like an endoscope, or is placed surgically during an exploratory surgery of the abdomen. Both methods require general anesthesia. In addition, a further disadvantage is the potential for infection in the abdomen at the site the tube passes out of the stomach.

    In this picture you can visualize the PEG tube that is exiting from the stomach after an exploratory surgery.

  • Esophagotomy Tube

    In terms of ease of placement, cost, and effectiveness, one of the best options for long term feeding is an esophagotomy tube. It does not require specialized equipment or exploratory surgery, and can usually be placed with sedation only. Serious complications are rare, and usually consist of regurgitation of food if too much is given too rapidly, especially in the first few days of feeding. This problem tends to go away by itself.

    The esophagotomy tube passes from the left side of the neck into the far end of the esophagus. The tube is measured to ensure that the proper length is passed, and that the tube does not go into the stomach. This picture shows the measurement of the tube.

    This is the appearance of the tube immediately after insertion and suturing to the skin.


    When it is bandaged only the tip where you will insert the food is visible.

    An x-ray reveals the path of the tube. The arrows on top outline the tube that is outside of the neck and under the bandage and along the back. The arrows on the bottom are the feeding tube as it passes inside the esophagus from left to right. As planned, it goes partway down the esophagus and does not enter the stomach. The white structure just below and to the right of the tube in the esophagus is the heart. The tube never touches the heart because it stays in the esophagus.

    Here is another view. Click on it for larger size.


Feeding Technique

A food that is routinely fed through a feeding tube for long term maintenance is called A/D. We have a handout that gives you detailed information on this food. We will let you know how much to give and if we want any supplements added. You usually need to add a little water to it to so that it can flow through the feeding tube.

If a PEG tube has been put in then the food you administer goes directly into the stomach. When food is given through the esophagotomy tube it partially fills the esophagus temporarily until it flows into the stomach. In both cases give the feeding mixture slowly and usually at room temperature or slightly warmed.

You will be feeding several times per day throughout the day. After the feeding you need to flush the tube with a small amount of warm water. If it becomes clogged in spite of flushing, place a small amount of cola or papaya juice in the tube until it dissolves the clotted food.

One of our nurses will give you detailed instruction in how to use one of these tubes before your pet leaves the hospital. If you have any difficulty with this tube we are here to help you, so please let us know if you need assistance after you return home. We would like to check your pet and the tube on a weekly basis until it is removed.

The amount of time the feeding tube stays in varies from weeks to months. Only when your pet is eating well and putting on weight will we remove it. An added advantage to the esophagotomy tube over the PEG tube is the ease of removal. On occasion the PEG tube can cause an intestinal blockage when removed because the tip of the tub remains in the stomach after removal and must pass through the intestines to be eliminated.

The overwhelming majority of cats respond positively to long term tube feeding. If your pet consistently vomits then we will put it on some medication to minimize this usually temporary problem.

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Feline Radiographs (X-rays)

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The first series of radiographs are before we had our digital radiography. If you click on some of them they will increase in size.

Cat that was shot in the neck with a pellet



Wires in a fractured mandible (lower jaw)


Foreign body in the stomach


Bone plate for fractured radius


This cat has fluid in the thorax. Compare it to the  normal chest rad below



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Abdominal Hernia

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Pets that roam outdoors are prone to numerous traumatic injuries. Fighting with other animals, and getting hit by a car, are some of the more common ones. This page shows a surgical procedure to correct an abdominal hernia in a cat named Sundance that was hit by a car.

In this case the hernia was caused by a blow to the abdomen by the car. The blow was strong enough to tear a large hole in the abdominal muscles that surround the abdomen. The small intestine went through this hole and was trapped between the muscle and the underside of the skin. This needs to be corrected because the blood supply to the intestines can be compromised while entrapped in this abnormal location. This will cause a segment of the intestines to die with subsequent loss of life as a possible outcome.

This page has graphic surgery pictures. At the end of this page are autopsy (correctly called necropsy in animals) pictures that are also graphic in nature.

Diagnosis with Radiography

Our physical exam gave us an indication there was a hernia when we palpated the abdomen. To help us confirm the diagnosis we took a radiograph. Radiographs are taken for numerous reasons on every pet that is hit by a car. These pets can have trauma to the chest, broken ribs, herniation of abdominal contents into the chest, and ruptured internal organs like the urinary bladder. The radiograph helps us determine if any of these problems exist. In this case, the radiograph helped verify that Sundance had an abdominal hernia. He also had a fractured pelvis which would heal on its own if he was confined and rested for one month.

In addition to an abdominal hernia, which you will learn more about soon, animals that are hit by cars also can get a diaphragmatic hernia. In this hernia, the abdominal organs like liver or stomach have literally torn through the diaphragm (muscle of respiration) and are sitting in the chest. Needless to say, these are serious injuries. We will show you pictures of this at the end of this page. Lets look at how we make a diagnosis of a diaphragmatic hernia with radiographs.

 The arrows are pointing to a normal diaphragm. The lungs are the dark areas. Use them for comparison to the abnormal radiograph that follows.

This is the radiograph appearance of a cat with a diaphragmatic hernia. Several abnormalities are apparent:

The windpipe is pushed upwards to the top of the chest

The lungs are not black throughout the whole chest

The diaphgram is not visualized at the bottom

The heart seems huge because the liver and stomach are pushing up against it from below

A different case with a diaphragmatic hernia. It just looks like a big and round heart, but it has a diaphragmatic hernia like above.

This dog has 2 fractured ribs at the arrows. Can you see them?

This view of the same chest might help a little. The fractures could easily be missed in the above view, verifying how important it is to take 2 views.

This is a radiograph of cat with a fractured pelvis that is more severe than the one Sundance has. Do you see the fracture on both sides?


Sundance was presented to us with a history of being gone for 5 days and lethargy. Most cats that are hit by a car are in a state of shock and can die if not treated with intravenous fluids. Sundance is lucky he survived being hit by a car without any shock therapy.

Our exam revealed a swollen and bruised area just under the skin in the right inguinal area, which made us suspicious of a hernia. Bruising is very common in such small animals that have been hit by a car, so it does not necessarily mean there is an abdominal hernia.


Any pet that has been traumatized so severely that it has a hernia has an added anesthetic risk. We take special precautions to minimize this risk.


We keep a close tab on important physiologic parameters for all of our surgeries. Monitors like this give us an early warning of an impending problem.


Once our surgeon has scrubbed up and is in a sterile gown, gloves, and mask, the surgery begins

In most hernias we make an incision directly over the hernia and proceed to make the repair. In this case, the hernia area had extensive swelling due to the fact that it had been present for several days before we saw Sundance. Also, the herniated area was near the area where we routinely make an incision to enter the abdomen for an ovariohysterectomy (spay). In this case it was decided to make an incision directly in the center of the body like a spay surgery, and repair the hernia through this incision.

The following section contains graphic surgical pictures of the actual hernia repair we performed on Sundance.

Lets get our orientation before we show surgery pictures. Our patient is on her back, with her head towards the top, and the abdomen clipped of hair. Our patient is already under anesthesia.

The white arrow shows the area of the hernia on the inside of the right rear leg. This is called the inguinal area. It is difficult to visualize the swelling from this view.

This second arrow in the middle of the body shows the location of our incision into the abdomen

The incision directly in the middle of the body was much longer than our typical spay incision. You can see our surgeon starting the incision.

We dissect through the tissue under the skin (called the subcutaneous tissue) until we encounter the rectus sheath, an area where the abdominal muscles come together. This area is very tough, and is used to hold the abdominal muscles together when we suture our patient back together.

The rectus sheath can be seen here as the large white glistening area between Dr. P’s finger. A horizontal incision is made directly through this layer in order to enter the abdomen and find the hernia.

The tear in the abdominal muscles was 4 inches long. It can be visualized here as the horizontal opening towards the bottom of this picture, just under Dr. P’s finger. A large segment of the small intestines was found caught in this hole, and was gently removed just prior to this picture.

Intestines do not belong in this area, and are easily damaged when trapped in an opening this size, especially for 5 days in this case. In this picture Dr. P is carefully checking them to make sure their blood supply in intact.

Here is a different case showing the bruising and compromised blood supply that can occur when the intestines are trapped

Intestines are not the only organ that can be bruised during abdominal trauma or a hernia. The kidney on the left has been traumatized as evidenced by the severe bruising when compare to the other kidney.

A special suture is used to sew the herniated muscle opening shut. It will provide the strength needed to hold the muscle together until healing is complete. Eventually the suture will dissolve.

You can view the partial closure of the opening in this picture as Dr. P sutures the muscle from right to left in the picture.

The muscle closure is now complete. The hernia was so large that additional sutures were placed over this layer for added strength.

The intestines were not the only abdominal organ trapped in the hole in the muscle. The omentum is tissue that naturally resides in the abdomen. When an abdominal organ is traumatized, as the intestines were in Sundance’s case, the omentum migrates to this area and covers the injured tissue to help in the repair process.

In this picture our surgeon is trimming off a piece of omental tissue that is discolored at the tip

It is important to check all the abdominal organs for injury. After the unhealthy omental tissue seen above was trimmed, Dr. P methodically went through all the abdominal organs and checked for injury.

Here he has exposed the urinary bladder and is looking for any signs of problem

Sundance had no other abdominal organ trauma, so his rectus sheath and skin were sutured back together.

Here is the 7 inch incision in his abdomen after it has been sutured closed. These sutures will be removed in 7-10 days.

At this point in the procedure Sundance was given a pain injection and monitored carefully by our nursing team. He went home the next day and eventually made a full recovery. He was lucky this time, and certainly used up more than one of his nine lives!

Necropsy Photos

To give you a better understanding of anatomy we have some photos taken at necropsy of a diaphragmatic hernia on a pet that did not make it.


This thin, fan shaped, and very strong muscle is the diaphragm. The front side of this muscle is facing the abdomen. On the right side of this muscle is the thorax (chest). You can see the reddish colored liver at the bottom of the picture.

This one has been torn at the bottom

This liver has gone through a torn diaphragm and is now in the thorax. The vertical white line on the left is where the diaphragm was. To the left of this white line is the abdomen, where the liver normal resides. To the right of this line is the thorax, which now contains the liver, when it should not.

When you pull the liver away you can see the heart and lungs

When abdominal organs are in the thorax they take up space and prevent the lungs from expanding. The lungs might also be bruised, called pulmonary contusion.

The darker areas of these lung lobes have pulmonary contusion

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Stomatitis (Lymphocytic/plasmacytic)

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This disease goes by several names. Some of them are faucitis and infectious stomatits. The primary symptom noticed by most people is a cat that is no longer eating well (anorexia). In some cases, there will be weight loss, drooling, a poor haircoat, halitosis (bad breath), bloody oral discharge, or a pet that seems ill in general.

Some cats are also painful around the mouth, and resist being petted there, and might even cry out in pain. We have even seen cats with severely inflamed mouths that have no symptoms at all. The problem was discovered during a routine exam. This is rare, and this cat will probably show symptoms in the near future.

Symptoms of this disease might come and go, but as time goes on the symptoms become more apparent and consistent. This again stresses the need for routine physical exams on all pets to catch problems while they are still treatable or curable.


A diagnosis is made by one of our veterinarians when you bring in your pet for an exam. During the oral part of the exam our doctor will notice inflammation of the gums and tissue in the oral cavity.

This is an example of the seriously inflamed mouth that occurs in this disease. This cat is under anesthesia and we are preparing to biopsy the roof of the mouth prior to treatment. This cat is so painful we can only do this exam under anesthesia. You can see the anesthetic breathing tube at the bottom left of the picture.

There are a multitude of other diseases the mimic lymphocytic/plasamcytic gingivitis:

After our oral exam we do a basic diagnostic workup. This includes a blood panelviral teststhyroid levels, and dental radiographs.

Dental radiography can be an important part of the diagnosis and the treatment


The roots in this first radiograph are normal


The circle shows the problem with the roots of this tooth. There is loss of bone around the tooth.

A definitive (positive) diagnosis is made by taking a biopsy of the tissue and sending it to a veterinary pathologist. This step is important because other diseases, especially cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, can mimic this one.


  • Kidney failure causing uremia
  • Foreign bodies from plant material
  • Viruses
  • Allergic responses

It is usually caused by a specific reaction in the immune system (called immune-mediated), similar to, but not exactly like, allergies. This abnormal response is secondary to even a small amount of plaque on the teeth. For some reason a cats immune system over reacts to this plaque and the inflammation starts. This emphasizes the need for early and thorough dental care.

Like many diseases, there are numerous factors working together.  These factors  include viruses, bacteria, genetics, stress, nutrition, and hormone diseases.

It is sometimes associated with the Feline Leukemia virus (FeLV), and more commonly associated with the Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV). We can easily test for these diseases with our in-hospital laboratory. Fortunately, due to vaccines, we rarely see FeLV any more.

More specifically, it is the inflammation in the gums, not an infection, that causes this problem. The inflammation is caused by plasma cells and lymphoctyes (hence the name in the title of this page) that infiltrate the gums. It is the immune system that gets this whole process going. Why, we do not know.

It is at this point, called a neck lesion in the cat, that gets the process started. The slight redness and inflammation  does not seem like much at this point in time, which is why most people ignore the problem at this stage.

This problem rapidly progresses unless the teeth are professionally cleaned and routine dental hygiene is instituted at home. Now the stage is set for the severe inflammation seen in the first picture on this page.


This problem is one of the most frustrating diseases for veterinarians and owners, not to mention the poor cats that have this problem. Some cats respond to treatment, others do not. Some cats are effectively treated with a specific modaltily, while other cats treated with that same type of treament might not respond at all. Prevention is particularly important in this disease due to the difficulty in controlling it once it occurs.

Plaque control is paramount in treatment. This means your cat’s teeth need to be professionally cleaned as the plaque builds up. In our hospital we perform non-anesthetic dentals (also called NAD) to start the process of dental hygiene long before the gums become significantly inflamed like the two prior pictures. For most cats cleaning the teeth this way every 6 months can prevent the problem.

In between these cleanings the teeth need to be brushed. This is difficult to near impossible to accomplish once the gums become inflamed. It emphasizes the importance of preventing this problem with good dental hygiene before any symptoms appear.

Our dental page has comprehensive information on how we professional clean pets’ teeth.

You will read about and hear of numerous treatments for this problem. In most cases they only give temporary relief, if that, and cats continue to suffer. The most consistent and effective treatment for this problem is removal of the teeth. Unfortunately people commonly wait too long thinking medical therapy will cure the problem.

There are several different therapies, that have been used by themselves or in combination, to treat this disease. The medical therapies eventually do not work well, and removal of the teeth is needed in almost every case.

1. Laser Surgery

In very select cases our laser machine has been used to help cats with this serious problem. The results are not always beneficial. It removes the inflamed tissue and makes the mouth much less painful. Sometimes several treatments are performed in order to gently remove just the layers of tissue that are inflamed. After tooth removal the laser can sometimes be beneficial to help with the gums that are still inflamed.

Click here to learn more about our laser in general and to see how it is used in many surgeries.

2. Antibiotics

Antibiotics can give immediate relief until the best course of action is decided. For most people we choose liquid antibiotics due to their ease of administration in cats, not to mention cats whose mouths are in pain. To help ease administration only a small amount of antibiotic is needed. One of our technicians will demonstrate the proper method of administration.

We chose antibiotics that are safe and specific for the type of bacteria that are adding to the problem. They are given for one to two weeks initially, and are refilled as needed. They will be used periodically during the course of this disease as the problem flares up in the future. We will sometimes vary them for greater effectiveness. Unfortunately, they do not effect a cure, and only help us bide time. Their long term use can also cause resistance.

3. Cortisone

Prior to our new and more effective treatment modalities, cortisone, in the form of DepoMedrol injections, was used to control the inflammation. It was helpful because it helped decrease the inflammation for up to a month, and when used with antibiotics, helped these cats feel better and start eating again.

It never cured the problem, and eventually required higher doses to achieve its desired effect. In many cases, it no longer worked at all. Even though cats are very tolerant of cortisone compared to people, high and prolonged levels cortisone can cause  problems, so this form of therapy is no longer recommended.

4. Homeopathy

Anecdotal evidence suggests some cats do well with homeopathic remedies, although this is far from being proven or a standard treatment for this disease. This treatment modality is used in select cases by one of our doctors. You can learn more about it by following this link on homeopathy.

5. Tooth Removal

Even though it seems extreme, in most cases we recommend removing all of the teeth. It might be more effective when used earlier in the course of the disease, which is why we frown upon long term use of oral antibiotics and DepoMedrol. These medications are delaying the inevitable, add to the cost, and increase chances of side effects to the medication. Removing all of the teeth cures the problem in the majority of cases. Those that are not cured show a significant improvement, making the surgery well worth it.  Your cat does not need teeth to eat, even hard food.

 Removing these teeth is a tedious process due to the number of teeth involved, the small size of these teeth, and the inflammation around the teeth.

Long Term Care

Every ill pet benefits from proper nutrition and husbandry. There are some specific Prescription Diet foods that are fed to keep your pets weight up and give it the strength to fight this problem.  We also use Standard Process vitamin supplementation successfully. Ask your doctor if one of them is appropriate for your situation.

In a chronic disease like Lymphoplasmocytic gingivitis it can be frustrating to give proper medication and care on a long term basis. It is important to understand that this disease is not cured with medical therapy alone, it is only controlled. It is important that you make your pet’s care a high priority and give medication as prescribed. It is also important to bring your cat in for an exam at least every 6 months, and even more often in some situations.

Always let us know if you are having difficulty giving medication or following our recommendations. We have extensive experience in diseases of animals, and can help you with your unique situation. Never hesitate to call us with questions, or bring your pet in for an exam if you think it is having a problem or are unsure of what to do because we are all part of your pet’s health care team

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Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV)

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The Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, also known as FIV, was discovered in California in 1986. It is transmitted from cat to cat primarily by bites and scratches, as the virus is shed in the saliva. Intimate contact through grooming, sharing food etc., does not spread the virus. This disease is found worldwide. Prevalence varies from 2.5% up to 47%, and depends on the country.

FIV is closely associated with FeLV– you should learn about both diseases if you have a cat.

FIV preferentially infects white blood cells which are an essential part of a cat’s immune system. The virus disables or destroys the white blood cells, and leaves its host susceptible to infections. Once a cat is infected with FIV it is infected for life and can transmit the virus if it bites another cat.

The prevalence of this disease has decreased significantly since it was first diagnosed. This is due to increased awareness and testing.

Even though this virus acts similar to the AIDS virus in people, humans are not infected with FIV.


FIV is caused by a retrovirus called the lentivirus. It is similar to the retrovirus that causes FeLV in cats, and causes similar symptoms, particularly supression of the immune system. It is also similar to the human AIDS virus, and is sometimes referred to as cat AIDS. There is no evidence that people can get AIDS from a cat that has FIV.

Only a small percent of cats in the U.S. are infected with this virus. One of the most prevalent methods of transmission is bite wounds in fighting cats, especially roaming males. Kittens can possibly pick up the virus in the uterus and while nursing, although most infections are in adult cats.

This virus is easily killed by routine detergents and disinfectants.


FIV has three clinical stages. The initial acute stage occurs approximately four to six weeks after infection. It may manifest as, but is not limited to, a fever, swollen lymph nodes, a low white cell count or any combination of the above. Most cats survive this phase without treatment. The second phase is a period of relative normalcy lasting months to years. The third stage of the infection results from a progressive destruction of the white blood cells and dysfunction of the immune system.


A variety of clinical syndromes may develop, waxing and waning for years or months until the cat succumbs. The most frequent finding is a chronic oral infection of the gums, cheeks or tongue. This infection is known as stomatitis.

When a cat is presented with gums that look like this it might have this virus and should be tested to know for certain.

Sometimes dental disease causes the gums to be inflamed. In this case, this is Grade II periodontal disease.

Cats may also acquire upper respiratory, eye, ear, or skin infections. Some cats may also show vague signs such as lethargy, fever, diarrhea, poor haircoat,weight loss or inappetance and a certain percentage may develop cancer. Diseases of internal organs like the liverkidneys, brain, lung, GI tract, and eyes are also associated with FIV due to its immunosuppressive nature.


We diagnose FIV the same way we diagnose every disease, using a thorough approach.

The approach to testing for FIV is similar to that of FeLV, and follows the recommendations of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and Academy of Feline Medicine advisory Panel. Their testing recommendations are as follows:

  • The FIV status of every cat should be known
  • Yearly testing should be performed on every cat that goes outdoors or has exposure to an FIV positive cat
  • Every sick cat should be tested, regardles of previous test results
  • Every cat should be tested prior to entering a new household, whether or not they have other cats
  • When test results are negative but a recent exposure is possible (ex.-a cat that fights and has wounds). These cats should be tested at least 60 days after the last potential exposure to allow time for the cat’s immune system to develop antibodies and show up as a positive test.

Our in-house test kit that checks for the FeLV also checks for the FIV virus. It is a screening test for antibodies to the virus. If it comes back positive then a confirmation test called the Western Blot test is needed to verify the diagnosis. On occasion false positives can occur, so this verification test is important.

Kittens up to 12 weeks of age, that have circulating FIV antibodies from nursing their mothers, might also test positive. They will return to a negative state several months later, so they should be retested at 60 day intervals to make sure.

A cat that tests negative, but is exposed to an FIV positive cat, should be retested in 8 weeks.

A cat that tests positive might be a carrier, and not show any symptoms of this disease for many years, if at all.

If the test comes back negative there is minimal chance a cat has FIV. Since it takes 2-3 months (at least) for antibodies to show up in the bloodstream once a cat gets infected by a bite wound, theoretically it is possible that this is going on when a cat is tested negative. Also, in the later stages of the disease, when cats are actually showing severe symptoms, the test can be negative. This is because the immune system is so depleted at this point that it can not make adequate antibodies to fight the disease, hence there are no antibodies circulating in the bloodstream for the test to detect.

The 2 blue dots indicate a positive FIV test on our in-house test.

This same cat was postive on its Western Blot test to confirm that is has FIV. Notice the age of this cat on the top line of the form.

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test can be helpful because it tests for viral DNA, and is not dependent on antibodies from the immunes system, which can vary. In spite of this, there can be false positives and negatives, so more information and standardization among laboratories is needed before this test will be used routinely.


There is no medication that will kill this virus. Treatment is aimed at keeping the immune system as strong as possible and utilizing medication as needed. Fortunately, the disease progresses slowly, and cats can remain healthy for several years after being positively diagnoses. FIV positive cats that are not showing any of the associated signs of illness should be examined every 6 months at least. Routine blood panels, worm checks, and urine samples should also be performed every 6 months.

Treatment of FIV revolves around the organ or organs that are most affected. This means we routinely will use antibiotics and immune simulators. Your doctor will let you know if this applies to your cat. Gum and mouth infections are treated by keeping the teeth clean and the use of oral antibiotics. As with any disease, good nutrition, routine preventive medical care, along with plenty of TLC, are mandatory for a good quality of life. There is no evidence that shows treating cats that are positive for the FIV test, but are not yet showing symptoms, is of any benefit on the health or longevity of these cats.

Since this disease suppresses the immune system in a manner similar to FeLV, therapy is similar. You can find this therapy in the FeLV page. The same caveats apply to both diseases in the use of these medications. Treatment times for both FIV and FeLV cats tends to be longer than cats that don’t have these viruses. In addition, the use of human AIDS medications have potential to help, but they have greater side effects and are considered experimental. also, their cost precludes their use in most budgets.

These cats are also susceptible to food borne bacterial and parasitic diseases due to their immunosuppression, so do not feed them raw or unpasteurized foods.

All FIV positive cats should be kept indoors to prevent transmission to other cats.


This virus will not survive long in the environment. Still, keeping your cats environment clean, and routinely using bleach to disinfect feeding bowls etc., makes sense.

Only introduce new kittens into your household if they are healthy, free of internal or external parasites, and are current on their vaccines. The best method of preventing FIV (this also applies to the FeLV) is to prevent exposure in the first place. FIV control is aimed at preventing exposure. It is best to keep cats indoors, neuter male cats to reduce fighting and avoid introducing stray cats into a household without prior FIV testing. Also, one should segregate FIV positive cats from uninfected cats.

A vaccine was developed years ago, but it was rarely used. A major disadvantage to the vaccine is the fact that a cat that gets the vaccine will test positive on routine FIV testing for at least one year.

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Feline Urinary Tract Disease

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Urinary bladder infections (UTI- Urinary Tract Infections or cystitis) are common in cats, especially females. As we learn more about this disease we realize many factors are involved when a cat gets a cystitis. This page will talk about some of them and how we handle this vexing problem.

This problem can progess, and it can become serious, especially in male cats. It this occurs it is sometimes called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. It is sometimes also called by its previous name, Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS). It is a disease of the urinary tract that is sometimes related to the buildup of crystals, leading to inflammation of the lining of the urinary bladder and urethra. In many cases there is no crystal buildup, so dietary changes will be unhelpful.

We have a page on bladder stones that should be read in conjunction with this page.

Graphic pictures are also present on this page as we demonstrate one of the treatments for this problem- you will be notfied when they are appearing.

A significant percentage of cats will have a UTI in their lifetime. Sometimes there are no external symptoms, but we know they have it because we find bacteria when we culture their urine. If a cat has diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, or chronic renal failure, it has an 85% chance of getting  a UTI in its lifetime.


Bacteria are the cause of UTI.  A urine culture and sensitivity, obtained by cystocentesis (directly from the bladder), will let us know which bacteria are involved. By far, the most common one is E. Coli. Others include Staphylocossus and Proteus. Staph species can produce urease, which will change the pH of the urine and needs to be addressed.

The different species of bacteria are unique in how they cause this problem. Here are some of the ways they are unique:

  • How well they adhese to the urinary bladder wall with pili or fimbriae
  • If they secrete a toxin
  • If they are already resistant to an antibiotic  from this resistance being passed on from prior generations of bacteria
  • If they are resistant to an antibiotic from a recent exposure
  • If biofilms are present in the bladder

Predisposing factors

There are a multitude of factors, many of which we cannot control, and are a part of this problem:

  • The immune system of the pet in general
  • Stress in multi cat households
  • The local immune system of the lining of the urinary bladder
  • How concentrated the urine is while it resides in the bladder before urination
  • The length of the urethra
  • The strength of the urethral sphincter in preventing bacteria from going up the vulva or penis into the blader
  • How complete a pet empties its bladder (voiding)
  • Anatomical defects
  • If bladder or kidney stones are present
  • It a diabetic cat has glucose in the urine (Glucosuria)
  • Obesity and cleanliness around the external genitalia
  • Reproductive probems

Obviously, there are many factors, which is why this problem can be difficult to treat and recurrence is common.


In some cases there are no symptoms, and the problem is found during routine diagnostic testing. Routine symptoms include:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in urine
  • Urinating frequently and in small amounts
  • Crying when urinating
  • Urinating outside the litter box


Diagnosis is done with a physical exam, blood panel, urine sample, and urine culture. In some cases a radiograph and ultrasound are also used.


Antibiotics are routinely prescribed to treat this problem. The best way to decide which one to use is with a culture and sensitivity. Antibiotic resistance is becoming more and more common, so this culture and sensitivity report is important to pick the correct one. Some bacteria are resistant to several different antibiotics. If left untreated the infection can spread from the urinary bladder to the kidneys and cause serious problems.


S- the bacteria is sensitive to the antibiotic

R- the bacteria is resistant to the antibiotic

In this report, the bacteria called Escherichia Coli., is only sensitive to two antibiotics.


Access to fresh water

The proper use of a Hill’s Prescription diet to alter the urine and make it hard for bacteria to colonize

Routine urine samples and cultures to see if the problem is recurring.


Sometime crystal formation is a part of ths syndrome. The crystals that form in the bladder and urethra are caused by many factors, many of which are poorly understood. They include diet, urinary tract infections, and others we are not aware of. Fortunately, the dietary factors and infections can be controlled and even prevented. In a significant number of cases no cause can be determined. The name of the disease in this case is called idiopathic FLUTD. Idiopathic means that a cause cannot be identified at this time.

Two of the more common minerals that cause these crystals are struvite and calcium oxalate. Struvite is a combination of 3 minerals; magnesium, ammonium, and phosphorous. We tend to encounter this mineral combination in young adult cats. They are usually treated with diets to decrease the pH of the urine.

Calcium oxalate is the other common mineral. It tends to occur more in older cats. They are usually treated with surgical removal when found in the urinary bladder.


One of the predisposing factors in FLUTD is the magnesium (ash) content of the diet. It used to be thought that diets low in magnesium are particularly helpful in preventing the struvite crystal problem. This is not true in most cases, it is the change in urine pH from alkaline to acidic that prevents struvite crystals. In spite of this, many cat foods have restricted magnesium. Unfortunately, this diet can predispose to calcium oxalate crystals. After many years of treating cats with this low ash food we are starting to see an increase in calcium oxalate crystals for this reason. This is another example of how subtle changes in physiology, that make sense at first glance and are used successfully for many years, can have untold manifestations later.

Urine pH

It has been found that the the higher the pH (the more alkaline) the greater is the tendency for struvite crystals to form. High quality cats foods help keep the pH in the acidic range, helping to prevent struvite crystals from building up. Unfortunately, this acidic (low pH) urine now predisposes cats to calcium oxalate crystals. As a matter of fact, we are starting to see these crystals more commonly than struvite. They also tend to form with excess use of cortisone. It is important to know the pH of the urine to determine the best way to prevent buildup of crystals. For an accurate determination, the pH of your cat’s urine needs to be measured immediately when removed from the bladder. Getting a urine sample at home, and checking the pH later is not an accurate indicator of the true pH of the urine.


Urinary tract infections might predispose cats to getting this disease, although it is difficult to prove this. Even though it is rare to culture bacteria from the urine in these cats, they do respond to antibiotics. Yet many of these cats get better without antibiotics. Viruses are implicated as a cause of this disease also.

This is typical of a urine culture from these cats. After 48 hours of trying to grow a bacteria from the urine sample there was no growth. The MIC stand for Minimum Inhibitory Concentration-this is the amount of antibiotic needed to kill this bacteria, if a bacteria had been culture out. Cysto is an abbreviation for cystocentensis, the manner in which we obtain the urine from the urinary bladder.


Urine pH

Cats with the non obstructed form of this disease will typically be straining to urinate (stranguria), have blood in the urine (hematuria), or producing small amounts of frequent urine (pollakiuria). These symptoms can be subtle and easily missed, especially in cats that urinate outside. It is easy to confuse these symptoms with a cat that is constipated. In the male cat this problem can progress to the obstructed form of the disease, which is a medical emergency.

Other symptoms might include poor appetite, uncomfortable or in pain when petted or picked up, or lethargy.

Obstructed Form

When the quantity of crystals progresses to the point that a plug is formed then a cat becomes obstructed. This amorphous plug is not the same thing as a bladder stone. In many cats the plug that forms is made up of struvite crystals.

Cats without crystals in their urine can also get the obstructed form of the disease. This form of the disease is seen almost exclusively in male cats due to the substantially smaller diameter of their urethra. There will be repeated trips to the litter pan with straining, and crying in pain upon attempting to urinate. Again, these symptoms can be confused with constipation. Sometimes a few drops of bloody urine are produced, although many cats cannot urinate at all.

As the problem progresses these cats start vomiting, become depressed and dehydrated, and stop eating. as the problem progresses over several more hours the kidneys are unable to function and dangerously high levels of phosphorous and potassium build up in the blood stream. If not corrected, the affected cat will die from a buildup of toxins or cardiac arrest due to the high potassium.

Since all these symptoms are variable and can be quite subtle, the important point to remember is to observe your cats urinary habits on a daily basis and have your pet checked if there is any change to these habits. The symptoms of FLUTD can mimic other diseases, so an accurate diagnosis is imperative.


A thorough history and physical exam go a long way towards making this diagnosis. Urine samplesblood samples, and even x-rays are used in some cases to verify the diagnosis and eliminate other diseases that can cause similar symptoms. Urine samples can be hard to obtain because these cats urinate as soon as urine fills the bladder due to the inflammation caused by the crystals. The FeLV andFIV status of all cats should be known, so these tests might be included also.

This is a picture of a cat’s abdomen. It is laying on its right side and its head is towards the left. The large, round and whitish area towards the right is the urinary bladder (B) that is distended because it cannot urinate. Compare it to the normal sized bladder below.

The normal sized bladder (B) in this cat is much smaller. In addition you can see the Large Intestines (L.I.) and the kidney (K). The small intestines (S.I.) are all the round and whitish objects at the bottom of the abdomen below the large intestines.


The arrow in this radiograph points to a white  area in the urethra. This is a calcified urethral plug, and makes passing a catheter difficult.

Urine samples can be useful. This one shows that there is blood in the urine an no bacteria are noted. This is typical of FLUTD.


Unobstructed Form

Many cats will get better without any therapy at all, usually within 7 days.

For years these cats were treated with a food that acidified the urine. This food has been the gold standard for treating cats with this problem, and has helped many cats get over this disease. This acidification can be harmful though, especially in a cat with kidney disease. It can also predispose at cat to getting calcium oxalate bladder stones.

The use of antibiotics in general is not recommended because bacteria are rarely cultured in the urine in younger cats. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics in these young cats can cause the appearance of resistant bacteria. Older cats will get a urinary tract infection due to bacteria . This infection might be related to several disease syndromes, especially sugar diabetesfeline hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease.

Other medicines include cortisone to decrease inflammation and tranquilizers and antispasmodics to minimize muscle spams of the bladder and urethra. None of these medications have been definitely proven to limit the course of the disease. In addition, they all have the potential to cause side effects. Their use might be indicated as long as they do not cause more harm then good.

Oftentimes we give fluids to help flush out the urinary tract and maintain a proper state of hydration. This is a great way to help these cats, especially since there is negligible chance of problems, and we are treating them in a natural way without the use of drugs.

For cats with struvite crystals Hills c/d Multicare is the food to feed.

Obstructed Form

If not detected early and observed carefully, the unobstructed disease can rapidly progress to a full obstruction of the urinary tract, especially in males. This causes acute renal failure, and will lead to death if left untreated. We run a blood sample on these patients to determine the degree of kidney damage. Luckily, if we treat them in time the high kidney values return to normal, and the kidneys recover.


This blood sample shows severe kidney damage on a cat that cannot urinate properly because it is obstructed. The BUN and creatinine in this cat are extremely high.


After treatment the numbers started going in the right direction. This cat need to stay on IV fluids until these numbers are back to normal.

Some cats have had the problem so long that their electrolytes are seriously impaired. One of the most important ones in this disease is potassium. If it is elevated significantly enough it will cause a heart problem. We can get an idea of this problem during our initial exam.


 If the potassium is high enough the heart rate will be slow, and we can detect a slow heart rate with the stethoscope to give us an idea of an impending potassium problem


This cat has many problem because it has been unable to urinate for several days. The high potassium is underlined. This level is not so high that it will cause a heart problem, and it is correctible with the IV fluids and normal urination.

Obstructed  cats need emergency intravenous (IV) fluids and a urinary catheter placed in the urethra. The fluids are to help flush the waste products out of the bloodstream, and the catheter is to allow the cat to urinate again and remove those waste products.


Cats with this problem will be on IV fluids for several days to hopefully return the kidneys to normal function. They are put on a special IV pump monitored by our staff.

These pets also need anesthesia for us to be able to pass the urinary catheter into the urethra and start the flow of urine again.

The following graphic pictures show such treatment.

An intravenous catheter is placed in the cephalic vein located in the front leg. It is thoroughly wrapped and will be a crucial part of the treatment. These fluids will minimize the anesthetic risk to kidneys that are already severely compromised and will also allow the flushing of the crystals out of the bladder. These fluids will re-hydrate a dehydrated cat, and also flush out excess potassium which can cause serious problems and even death.

We use this vein because it is accessible and more comfortable than other areas

When the fluids are running and the patient is properly sedated we flush out the mucous plug. It is sometimes at the tip of the penis, sometimes it is somewhere along the urethra.


This large mucous plug is at the tip

In most cases, a sterile small gauge IV catheter or lacrimal canula is used to gently flush out the crystals that are lodged in the urethra. This part of the procedure can take the most time because the flushing has to be gentle, yet the crystals can be almost solid in nature.


A special gentle and flexible catheter is place in the urethra once we flush out the mucous plug


When the plug is completely flushed out of the urethra the urine (usually bloody)  will immediately flow from the distended bladder


To make sure the bladder is empty will pull any remaining urine out with a syringe


After we remove the bloody urine we usually flush the bladder to remove crystals and mucous that can cause future urethral plugs.

The urinary catheter will be hooked up to a collection bag to monitor urine output. Keeping the catheter in the urethra will let the distended bladder rest so the injured muscles can return to normal function faster.


This collection system lets us quantify how much urine is being produced

When all the plumbing is flowing as it should be our patient is taken off anesthesia and brought a cage in our special cat ward to be closely monitored.

After making sure his body temperature is OK Emily is transporting our patient from surgery to his private room


To say our patient is much more comfortable now that his kidneys are able to function again, and his bladder has been decompressed, is an understatement

Most cats respond rapidly to treatment and can have their urinary catheters removed 24-48 hours later. They will remain in the hospital and be closely monitored for urinary output. On occasion they can re-block and need to have their urinary catheter replaced.

Cats that have had their bladders distended significantly before they were unblocked can have a difficult time urinating after they are unblocked. Urination is painful and the muscles that contract the bladder do not function well initially. The cats will be put on medication to minimize straining and our nursing staff will gently express the urine from their bladders when it starts to build up. If they don’t eat well we will assist feedthem. Most of these cats do well and go home in a few days. Sometimes we need owners to express the bladders at home also.

As a general rule cats with struvite crystals should be fed Prescription Diet S/D for 30 days to help dissolve crystals that remain in the urinary bladder.

Surgical Treatment

Some cats re-block continually in spite of prevention measures. Also, some cats are so severely blocked the first time that it is impossible to flush the crystals out of the urethra and place a urinary catheter to allow the flow of urine again. These cats need a surgery called a perineal urethrostomy, which in essence is a partial amputation of the penis. The penis is amputated far enough back to the point that the urethral opening is larger and there is minimal chance that a plug can accumulate and cause a blockage.


Feeding Hill’s Feline C/D Multicare (there is even a stress version if you cat is under stress like what is found in a multi cat household).

Keeping your cat active and in good health goes a long way to preventing this problem, especially if it is obese. Keeping the litter pan clean and giving your cat access to fresh water at all times will also be helpful in prevention. The most important thing you can do is to make sure your cat is drinking adequately. The diuretic effect of adequate hydration goes a long way towards preventing this disease. If need be, give your cat supplemental water with a syringe or feed a canned food.

Cats in general maintain an acidic urine. a normal response to eating is to produce an alkaline urine initially. Medically this is called post-prandial alkalosis. If struvite crystals are implicated, this alkalosis will add to the problem. To minimize post-prandial alkalosis keep food out at all times (called ad libitum feeding).

Feeding the proper food, especially if crystals are implicated as a cause, is also an important preventive measure.

Cats that have had an episode of FLUTD should be examined by one of our doctors and have a urinalysis performed at least every 6 months.

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Hyperthyroidism (thyrotoxicosis) is a common hormone disease of older cats (it’s rare in dogs) that we have diagnosed with increased frequency in recent years. It is almost always caused by a benign tumor of the thyroid gland that increases the amount of thyroxine (the hormone secreted by the thyroid gland) into the bloodstream. This increase in thyroxine causes an increase in the overall metabolism of the body, leading to problems for several internal organs. Even though this disease can be diagnosed in young cats, most cats that get this problem are older. Cats 8 years of age or older should be screened for this problem when routine blood panels are run during a Wellness Exam.

Cats that have Feline Hyperthyroidism commonly have other problems that need careful attention if the thyroid problem is to be treated successfully. The excess thyroxine can cause these other problems, or make them worse if they already exist. Some of these other common problems are kidney disease,heart diseasedental diseasesugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) and high blood pressure (hypertension) leading to blindness.

Just to show how unique each species is, dogs usually get hypothyroidism, the opposite problem with the thyroid gland.


The thyroid is a small and paired gland located at the neck.  It is found on each side of the trachea (windpipe). If enlarged it can sometimes be palpated. We routinely check for this enlargement during our Wellness Exam.

This picture shows the right thyroid of a dog. Note its location adjacent to the trachea (windpipe) above it.


The thyroid gland utilized Iodine in food to produce thyroxine (also known as T-4 or levo-thyroxine), a hormone involved with the bodies metabolic rate. T-4 secreted by the thyroid gland gets converted to T-3 in the liver.  It is now called  triiodothyronine (T-3), which is the active form. When T-3 circulates through the bloodstream if affects the metabolism of every cell in the body.


The benign nodules that appear on the thyroid gland in this disease secrete excess of amounts of T3 and T4. In most cases both glands are enlarged. These hormones are not under the control of TSH (thyrotropin) secretion.


It is caused by a benign tumor (called an adenoma) of the thyroid gland in almost all cases. This tumor produces excess amounts of thyroid hormone, which circulates through be bloodstream and affects the metabolism of many internal organs. In rare cases a malignant tumor called a carcinoma is the cause.

Why these tumors occur is unknown. Several suspected but unproven implications are:

Cats kept indoors only

Cat litter

Exposure to herbicides



The symptoms that occur depend on which internal system or systems are most influenced by the increase in thyroxine circulating throughout the bloodstream. The more common ones are:

  • Weight loss
  • Excess appetite (polyphagia)
  • Decreased appetite (anorexia)
  • Nervousness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vomiting (emesis)
  • Diarrhea
  • Excess drinking and urinating (polyuria and polydipsia)
  • Poor hair coat
  • High heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Labored breathing (dyspnea)
  • Mild fever

It is easy to overlook some of these symptoms, especially if they are subtle. Some people even think of these symptoms as a normal part of the aging process of cats. If left untreated hyperthyroidism can cause heart failure.


The symptoms of this disease mimic other common diseases in cats. These include kidney diseasediabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), cancer, and liver disease.


This problem occurs almost exclusively in middle aged and older cats. There is no know breed or sex disposition. Siamese and Himalayan cats are at decreased risk.


Cats with this problem will exhibit some of the symptoms noted above.

Physical Exam

During a physical exam some cats will appear thin, have racing heart rates, and even heart murmurs (click here if you would like to hear what a murmur sounds like). Sometimes we hear a specific type of heart beat called a gallop rhythm. Some cats even have thickened nails.

In some cats we can feel an enlarged thyroid gland. You might notice our doctors palpating your cat’s neck and throat during an exam to check for this enlargement. Some cats can have an enlarged thyroid gland that cannot be palpated because it has slipped from its normal position at the throat and repositioned itself further down the chest.

Diagnostic Tests

An important tool in the diagnosis of Feline Hyperthyroidism is a blood panel. We can sometimes detect the effects of the excess thyroid hormone on the internal organs by running a routine blood panel. This panel might show an elevation in the red and white blood cells. It is not uncommon to find elevated liver enzyme tests in cats that have hyperthyroidism. If the liver problem is secondary only to hyperthyroidism, it will usually resolve when we treat the hyperthyroidism.

Included in the blood panel is a specific thyroid test called a T4. Frequently this is all we need to make the diagnosis. Since thyroxine levels fluctuate, we occasionally need more sophisticated tests to make an accurate diagnosis.

A cat can have a normal thyroid test yet still have hyperthyroidism. This is because the thyroid hormone level fluctuates throughout the day or it might be early in the course of the disease. Also, these older cats can have other problems, which can suppress the production of the thyroid hormone. In these cats we will run a free T4 test. Lets look at a typical blood panel for a cat that has hyperthyroidism.

The arrows at the top point to the elevated liver enzymes tests in this cat. Note the arrow on the bottom pointing to the very elevated thyroid level. It is 18.3, the highest it should be is 5.2.


After 2 weeks of treatment the thyroid level (arrow at top) and liver enzyme levels (lower arrows) have shown a significant improvement


One of the most precise tests to diagnose hyperthyroidism is a scan of the thyroid gland. Not only is this test accurate in diagnosing the problem, it will also let us know if some of the abnormal thyroid tissue has repositioned itself further down the chest. An additional benefit is its ability to detect a malignant cancer of the gland in the rare occasion that this occurs.

This is the scan of a normal cat. Both lobes of the thyroid gland are visible.


This cat has Feline Hyperthyroidism. It is the more common benign version, and is present in only one lobe of the gland.


There are four primary methods of treating this disease. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and depends on your unique situation. One of our doctors will discuss which option is best used in your case.

Prescription Diet Y/D

This food from Hills limits the amount of iodine to between 0.17 ppm to 0.3 ppm (ppm is parts per million, which is obviously very little). All other cat foods have 1.5 ppm to 99 ppm of Iodine in them. It has been found that this reduction in iodine prevents the diseased thyroid gland from producing excess thyroxine. T4 levels stay normal and thus there are no symptoms. This food is made for older cats also that might have other diseases like kidney disease because it has limited phosphorous for the kidneys with extra omega -3 and omega-6 fatty acids. If your cat eats this food well this is all you need to treat the disease.

We recommend all cats that are currently on Tapazole (Methimazole) give this a try. Before changing your cat over we follow a specific protocol:

Gradually introduce the food over 7 days by mixing it in with the regular food.

Reduce the dose of Tapazole by 50% over this 7 days.

If your cat is eating the Y/D well exclusively at the end of the second week then stop Tapazole completely.

Bring your cat in for an exam and a blood panel with T4 level 4 weeks after starting Y/D. An exam is needed to check weight, listen to the heart with a stethoscope for murmurs, determine heart rate and blood pressure to make sure these problems that are common with Feline Hyperthyroidism are not present on just the Y/D food. In addition to checking the T4 level the blood panel checks for other problems common in older cats, especially the kidneys.

You cannot feed any other food, especially tuna, while your cat is on Y/D. Almost all foods contain excess amounts of Iodine, including some flavored chews, pills, and vitamins.

Radioactive Iodine

An excellend treatment that cures the disease completely in 98% of the cases involves the use of radioactive Iodine to selectively destroy only the part of the thyroid gland that has a problem. It has the advantage of a very high success rate and does not require anesthesia. It will also destroy the diseased thyroid tissue that has moved towards the chest. The disadvantage is the fact that your cat must be boarded at the treatment facility after treatment to minimize radiation exposure to others.. This treatment is done at a special center in Tustin, and is available only upon referral by one of our doctors. The center that performs the scan to make the diagnosis is the same place that will institute this treatment.

Before your pet is treated with radioactive iodine we will test its kidney function with Tapazole to determine if kidney function will be adequate after the radioactive iodine destroys the abnormal thyroid tissue. Please see our Kidney page to learn more about this.

Tapazole (Methimazole)

A relatively common treatment is the use of a drug called Tapazole. It is inexpensive and easy to give to most cats. Disadvantages are the fact that it never cures the problem, so a cat will need to be on it long term, and occasional cats get side effects to the drug. Fortunately these side effects are not commonly seen. For those cats that are hard to pill or have side effects to Tapazole we recommend Y/D or Radioactive Iodine treatment as described above.

It is used in cats that have chronic renal failure, a common problem as cats age. In these cats the excess thyroxine circulating can actually be an advantage to the kidneys because it increases the blood flow to the kidneys. This makes them more efficient at removing waste products. If we completely destroy the excess thyroid tissue with radiation or surgery, a kidney problem that was under control can now become serious. In these situations we administer a dose of Tapazole that decreases the excess thyroxine enough to make your pet feel a little better, but not so much that it will exacerbate a kidney problem that is being masked. It is a compromise in therapy because it is an attempt to balance two problems that are occurring simultaneously.

Side effects to Tapazole include facial swelling, vomiting (emesis), lack of appetite (anorexia) and depression. They can be minimized or eliminated with proper pill giving technique (the pill is bitter) or with an adjustment in dose. We will monitor thyroid levels for several weeks after instituting this therapy to arrive at the correct dose for each cat. Every 6 months we will check the thyroid level to verify we are giving the proper dose of Tapazole.

There is a topical version of Tapazole that can be formulated by one of our pharmacies. It helps minimize the inconvenience of giving an oral medication to a cat every 12 hours. The oral version is preferred, but if you cannot give your cat oral medication this is a good option. It is not as precise as the pill, and it is hard to know just how much is being absorbed through the skin. Cats on this treatment modality need to have their T 4 tests monitored more closely to make sure it is working.

There is another medication used to treat hyperthyroidism called propylthoiuracil (PTU). It has more side effects than Tapazole, so it is not commonly used.


Surgery (thyroidectomy) is also used to treat this condition, and can be very effective. It has the advantage of a rapid and successful cure rate. Its disadvantages are the need for anesthesia and its inability to remove diseased thyroid tissue that is in the thorax. Complications could include improper calcium metabolism, hypothyroidism (too low a thyroid level), and paralysis of the throat muscles.

Tapazole is commonly used prior to surgery to minimize the symptoms associated with this disease and make the cat a better surgical candidate.

External Beam Radiation

This is for non-functional tumors. It is not commonly used.

Percutaneous Radiofrequency Ablation

Another treatment modality that is not commonly used.


If left untreated there are significant complications that can develop. Blindness can occur due to retinal detachment from high blood pressure. Long term kidney damage and non-stop diarrhea might also be consequences, along with heart failure and death.

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Intestine Tumor in a Cat

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Tumors are common in cats, especially as they get older. This page describes how we treated an intestinal tumor in an 11 year old cat named Ruby. The format in this page will be different than our other disease pages. In this one we will present it as a case study, and show the diagnostic process that allowed us to make this diagnosis.

We will follow the parameters of the diagnostic process in this case, the same process we use in every diagnosis me make. If you are not familiar with this process click here  for a quick review, then come back to this page and continue the case study. You need to have an understanding of the diagnostic process in order to appreciate the thought process involved in making Ruby’s diagnosis.

This page has graphic surgical pictures.


Our patient is an 11 year old spayed female domestic short haired cat named Ruby.

Interpretation of signalment:

Domestic short haired cats have no breed predilection, so this information does not narrow down the list of possible diseases at this point. Since Ruby is spayed there is negligible chance of a reproductive problem like pregnancy or an infected uterus, called a pyometra.

Her age is very important because it brings to mind some of the following diseases:


Ruby has been lethargic and not eating for 2 days. She seems painful when picked up and has been vomiting a yellow fluid. Other important parameters like bowel movements, breathing, and urination are normal.

Interpretation of history:

This information is helpful because now we start getting a feel for the extent of Ruby’s problem. It is unusual in that she is vomiting and has not eaten in 2 days, yet her bowel movements and urination are normal. A pet that has these symptoms is almost always dehydrated and would not be having normal bowel movements and urination. This discrepancy in the history is not uncommon in many cases.

Because of the new information we obtained in Ruby’s history, we need to add infection, intestinal foreign body, abscess, liver diseaseFeLVFIVFIPkidney diseasehyperthyroidism, and even poisoning to her potential disease list.

Physical Exam

  • Temperature- 104.3 degrees F
  • Weight 12.75 #
  • Eyes- normal
  • Ears- normal
  • Oral Cavity- normal
  • External Lymph Nodes- normal
  • 8-10% dehydrated
  • Heart- normal
  • Lungs- normal
  • Abdomen- 4 cm x 4 cm mass palpable in the mid abdomen
  • Muscles and Bones- normal
  • Skin- normal
  • Interpretation of exam findings:Our exam findings give us important information. Ruby has a fever (normal cats are usually less than 103 degrees F). She is dehydrated, as was expected from her history. We make a determination of her state of hydration by looking at the color of her gums, checking if her eyes appear sunken, and noting how elastic her skin is when we pull it up and let it go. The fact that she has a mass in her abdomen is one of our most important findings so far.Based on the information we have at this point we can now generate a list of Ruby’s problems:
    • anorexia (not eating)
    • Lethargy
    • Emesis (vomiting)
    • Pyrexia (fever)
    • Dehydration
    • Abdominal mass

Differential Diagnosis

This is one of the most important parts of our diagnostic process. It is a list of the most likely diseases that are causing Ruby’s problem. Based on this list we will perform specific diagnostic tests to narrow the list down to the most likely disease processes occurring. We will also institute treatment based on her problem list and the differential diagnosis. We always initiate symptomatic treatment before our test reports return. This decreases our patients’ discomfort as soon as possible, and allows us to treat the problem earlier which is always an advantage in healing.

  • Infection
  • Intestinal tumor
  • Lymph node cancer
  • Feline viral disease
  • Kidney Disease
  • Liver Disease
  • Splenic disease
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Intestinal inflammation/abscess
  • Intestinal foreign body
  • Stomach disease
  • Constipation
  • Intussusception- A disease where the intestines literally telescope into each other. This obstructs the flow of food through the intestines, and can lead to death of a section of the intestine.

Diagnostic Tests

By running diagnostic tests we rule in or rule out the diseases in our differential diagnosis list above. In Ruby’s case we initially ran a blood panel and took an x-ray.

Blood Panel

The blood panel revealed an elevation in her white blood cells. Tests of the liver, kidney, pancreas, red blood cells, protein, and viruses were all normal.


radiograph was taken of Ruby’s abdomen. The stomach, kidneys, large intestines, and bladder all appeared normal. The liver was slightly enlarged (called hepatomegaly). There was a large soft tissue mass effect in the center of the abdomen.

Here is a normal cat abdomen radiograph- compare it to Ruby’s below. The normal organs are identified:

L- Liver
S- Stomach
K- Kidney
LI- Large intestine
SP- Spleen
SI- Small intestine
BL- Urinary bladder
The white arrow points to sutures from a spay surgery

Here is Ruby’s radiograph. The large white section in the lower center is the problem area. This is where the small intestines (SI) are in the above radiograph. Can you see the liver, stomach, and kidneys?

A tiny needle was inserted into the mass in her abdomen and some cells were removed for analysis by a pathologist. This test is called an aspirate, and the analysis of these cells is called cytology.

Interpretation of diagnostic tests

The normal blood panel, except for the elevated white blood cell count, minimizes the chance of liver, kidney, and feline viral diseases. The x-ray eliminates constipation as a cause to Ruby’s problems. The report from the cells taken from the abdomen indicates there is infected or dying tissue in the abdomen. This is a serious finding and necessitates immediate action.

Based on these test we can now refine our differential diagnosis:

  • Ruptured intestines
  • Intestinal abscess
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Intestinal foreign body
  • Lymph node cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Spleen mass
  • Intussusception
  • Liver mass
  • Kidney mass
  • Lymph node mass

A determination had to be made as to the appropriate course of action for Ruby’s condition. This is based on her age, cost, convalescence, and prognosis. These important points are discussed with Ruby’s owner prior to any further treatment. The main decision for her owner at this point is to perform ultrasound versus surgery. Each has its advantages and disadvantages:

Ultrasound advantages

No anesthesia is required and Ruby does not have to undergo the trauma of surgery in her abdomen. Ultrasound is very accurate, the results of the ultrasound are immediate, and biopsies can be obtained accurately. With the ultrasound an expert can literally visualize the internal structures of an organ and make a determination on whether or not it looks healthy.

Here is a typical ultrasound picture on a different case. It is looking at the liver and gall bladder. By looking at the liver closely an experienced doctor can determine if the cells in the liver are abnormal. If they are abnormal the ultrasound is used to guide a special biopsy needle right to the problem area.

Our ultrasound doctor is giving us a demonstration of how the biopsy is obtained.

Only a small amount of tissue is obtained with this method. When analyzed microscopically by a pathologist a significant amount of information can be obtained.

Ultrasound disadvantages

Surgery might be inevitable, so why delay. No treatment can be given with ultrasound, it is for diagnostic purposes only. Delaying prolongs the time it takes to ultimately correct Ruby’s problem and adds additional costs to the bill if we do proceed with a laparotomy.

Exploratory surgery advantages

An exploratory surgery in Ruby’s abdomen is called a laparotomy. It has the advantage of giving us an immediate diagnosis and gives us an opportunity to treat the condition (if the problem is not too far gone). Also, the surgeon can literally see the internal organs in their natural color instead of grey images on an ultrasound screen.

Exploratory surgery disadvantages

It is a an invasive procedure that has risks, including the anesthetic risk. Even though the surgeon can palpate internal organs, he can not look at their internal architecture like the ultrasound does. Also, there is  post operative discomfort and convalescence when a surgery is performed. With modern anesthetics and pain medication we can do almost any surgery in an older pet and not have any problems.

In Ruby’s case a decision was made to perform a laparotomy. We were fairly certain of our diagnosis and the need for surgery, so why prolong the inevitable.


Treatment was initiated as soon as Ruby was admitted to the hospital This treatment consisted of intravenous fluids to correct her dehydration and lethargy. She was also given intravenous antibiotics and fed a special food. Her temperature was also closely monitored. Here is a picture of part of her medical record on the day of surgery:

Status BAR means she was bright, alert, and responsive Weight- 12 # 11 ozTemperature- 103 degrees F Appetite- NPO means “nothing per os”. This is a Latin abbreviation for no food given in anticipation of surgery. Urine- NormalBowel movement- noneOur nurses noted that she had vomited during the night and she was scheduled for a laparotomy surgery sometime today. Her treatment consisted of lactated ringers solution. She was given 250 milliliters intravenously every 12 hours. Baytril, her antibiotic, was given at 1.3 milliliters intravenously every 12 hours.


The following area contains graphic pictures of an actual surgical procedure performed at the hospital.

Ruby was anesthetized and brought into surgery when she was anesthetically stable. A 7 inch incision was made in her abdomen and her internal organs were assessed.

We suspected Ruby’s problem was with her intestines, so we immediately assessed them. The diseased area was found and brought out through the incision in her abdomen. Not only were the small intestines swollen and discolored, there was a ruptured area of infection and dead tissue. The oval mass in the picture below is a tumor in the small intestines. There is an opening in the center where it is dead and has ruptured into the abdomen.

This section had to be removed without damaging the rest of the intestines. This is a delicate procedure because the intestines have a tremendous blood supply that can easily be injured during surgery. Special clamps (seen in the picture above) are used to separate the diseased tissue from the normal intestines. Once they are in place the blood supply to the diseased part of the intestine is cut off.

In this picture the larger black arrow on the top points to the diseased intestine, while the smaller 4 arrows in the center point to metal clips that have cut off the blood supply to the disease intestine.

After cutting its blood supply the diseased tissue is removed by cutting between the 2 clamps. The clamp on the right (arrow) is on the diseased portion of the small intestine. The clamp on the left (arrow) is a very gentle clamp that keeps any intestinal fluid from spilling out of the cut end of the normal intestine. We are using the scalpel blade to make the actual cut between the 2 hemostats.

The opening of one end of the normal intestines is now visible towards the right immediately after it has been cut. The center of this opening is lined with pink tissue called the mucosa, the white area around it is called the submucosa. The submucosa is thicker than normal, indicating that there might be additional disease in this section and further intestine might need to be removed.

The tedious process of suturing the cut ends of the intestines (called an anastamosis) begins. These sutures are critical if there is to be healing and to prevent leakage of intestinal contents into the abdomen when this pet eats. The first suture is shown being placed as the process is begun.

Part way through the suturing you can see the intestines coming together nicely. The bleeding is a good sign because it is a general indication of healthy small intestine.

When all of the sutures are placed a small amount of sterile saline solution is injected into the anastamosis site to check for leakage.

This is a good overall view of the anastamosted section of intestine (see arrow). You can see how this section of small intestine is more inflamed than the normal section below it.

With the intestinal problem corrected we explore the rest of the abdomen for any other problems. Nature works in complex ways, and just because we found a problem in one area does not mean all the other abdominal organs (including more intestine) are disease free. This picture shows a normal spleen in the top left along with normal intestines on the bottom.

The diseased tissue had ruptured which means there is an infection in the abdomen (this is called peritonitis). To alleviate this infection we flush the abdomen with copious amounts of warm saline solution. This picture shows our suction apparatus removing some of the fluid that was flushed into the abdomen.

Here is Ruby just after surgery. She is a little groggy from the ordeal, but her pain medication has been administered so she is comfortable. She will be monitored closely and given some broth 12 hours after surgery. Within 24 hours after surgery she will be nibbling soft food.

Final Diagnosis

Ruby had a tumor in her small intestine called a Mast Cell Tumor. Compared to most abdominal tumors we diagnose it is a relatively rare form of tumor, and it is seen only in the cat. There is the possibility that it might spread to intestinal lymph nodes or even liver later in its course. It is difficult to say what will happen in the long term, so her prognosis is guarded.

In addition to the surgery we put Ruby on medication to minimize side effects from the tumor. Mast cell tumors have the potential to release a compound called histamine. This can cause a type of allergic reaction and even cause ulcers in the stomach lining. Ruby is on medication to counteract this problem.

Ruby returned to have her stitches removed 2 weeks after the surgery.

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Ear Mites

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A common problem in cats is ear mites, especially in young cats. These mites can cause significant discomfort, fortunately most cats rapidly respond to treatment. Those that do not should be investigated for underlying problems.


Ear mites are caused by a parasite. The most common one we encounter in cats is Otodectes. It is spread by contact, and is especially prevalent in outdoor cats.


The primary symptoms of ear mites are scratching at the ears, shaking of the head, and a dark discharge. These symptoms mimic other ear diseases, so an accurate diagnosis is imperative.

This is typical of the discharge present in a cat with ear mites.


It is important to make a correct diagnosis early in the course of the disease because it can significantly affect the final outcome. The primary method of diagnosis for this disease is a microscopic check of the discharge for mites. We look for mites or mite eggs, either one gives us a positive diagnosis.

This discharge taken from the ear of an affected cat is classic for this disease. Sometimes there is so much discharge it literally flies out of the ear as a cat shakes its head. Many people have had the lovely experience of wearing (or even tasting) this discharge as a cat flings its ears vigorously.


Gentle ear cleaning goes a long way towards correcting this problem. These ears are very sensitive, and the ear drum (tympanic membrane) might even be damaged. Cleaning the ears of pets that might have this problem should not be attempted at home until after we have initiated therapy. We have a page devoted to ear cleaning due to its importance.

After the ears are gently cleaned by one of our nurses a topical medication is instilled. This medication contains anti-inflammatories to soothe inflamed ears, antibiotics to minimize secondary bacterial infection, and an anti-paracidicital to kill the mites. Daily cleaning of the ears and application of medication is continued until the problem is resolved, usually 7-10 days.

In some cats we use an injectable medication called Ivermectin. This drug is especially useful in cats with ears that are too sensitive to clean, or in cats that it is unlikely that you will be able to clean the ears at home on a daily basis. Ivermectin is very effective and is used commonly, although a very small percentage of cats can have a reaction to this drug and develop central nervous system signs.

The flea control product by Pfizer called “Revolution” will also kill ear mites. We recommend it as the best overall product for cats for flea and parasite control. We offer special pricing on all our dog and cat flea products that is less expensive than those advertise on TV and web site like PetMeds.

There effective ear medication for ear mites is dosed only once.


The best method of prevention is to eliminate exposure to affected cats. Check your cats ears several times weekly and clean them as often as needed. Always clean the ear very gently to prevent trauma to a diseased ear drum. Using the flea control product Revolution by Pfizer is the best way to go to control ear mites and general parasites, including fleas.

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