Debunking myths about cats

By May 13, 2011

Myth: Indoor-only cats cannot get heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease in dogs and cats occurs when a heartworm-infected mosquito bites the pet, injecting heartworm larvae into the blood stream. These larvae ultimately grow into adult worms that live in the heart and large blood vessels of the lungs. This leads to heartworm disease, which causes symptoms such as coughing, weakness, weight loss, or difficulty breathing. Heartworm disease is difficult to diagnose and treat in cats.

Many cat owners believe that their indoor-only cats cannot develop heartworm disease. However, mosquitoes can easily fly inside in the time it takes to open and close the front door, which puts inside cats at risk. In fact, one study showed that 28 percent of cats diagnosed with heartworm disease lived strictly indoors.

Heartworm disease is much easier to prevent than to treat. All cats, even those that never go outside, should receive monthly heartworm preventatives. Most heartworm control medications for cats also control fleas, which indoor-only cats may also be exposed to. Appropriate parasite control can provide longer and healthier lives for cats.

MYTH: It is normal for an old cat to lose weight.

While it may be common for older cats to lose weight (as is the case for older dogs and older humans), weight loss is typically not normal and does not happen just because he’s getting older. Instead, as cats age, they are more likely to have internal disease that leads to weight loss.

There are several diseases in older cats that can cause them to lose weight. The most common of these diseases are chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer (of the intestines or other organs). The first three conditions can be diagnosed by a veterinarian with a physical exam and routine laboratory testing; the latter two require more specialized diagnostic testing (such as an abdominal ultrasound). Laboratory testing will also help diagnose other, less-common causes of weight loss.

These diseases often create symptoms other than weight loss — altered appetite, water intake, and urination are common. However, weight loss may be the earliest or only symptom of disease, and appropriate treatment may be delayed if this symptom is overlooked. Yearly physical exams provide a record of a cat’s weight over time to help determine when weight loss is a concern. This record is especially important when weight loss is subtle and may not be apparent by outward appearance.

MYTH: Cats clean their wounds by licking them because their mouths are so clean.

The American Veterinary Dental Society estimates that 70 percent of cats show signs of oral disease by three years of age. This oral disease is caused by bacteria that produce plaque, which leads to tartar formation, gingivitis, gum loss, and bone loss.

The bacteria in a cat’s mouth is also the reason that cat bites are so dangerous to people. Without appropriate treatment, cat bite wounds can become dangerously infected. People that are bitten by cats should immediately wash the wound and consult with a physician to see if emergency treatment is recommended.

Cats typically lick their wounds because they are fastidious groomers that do not like any debris to accumulate on the coat or skin — not because the saliva has healing properties. In fact, if a cat is allowed to lick a wound, it could result in delayed healing and further infection. All cat wounds be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine whether antibiotics, an Elizabethan collar to prevent licking, or other measures are necessary.

— Keith Rode is a veterinarian at Woodland Veterinary Hospital and a graduate of UC Davis. For more information, call (530) 666-2461.

Special to The Enterprise

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