by Dr. Jean Hofve & Jackson Galaxy

Library of Congress ISSN #1550-0764

In this issue:

1. News Bites

  • New Little Big Cat website is up and running
  • November is Diabetes Month
  • Salmonella outbreaks from dry pet food
  • Suit filed against microchip makers

2. BPA and Pet Food

3. Heartworm Resistance?

4. Holiday Safety Reminder

1. News Bites

New Little Big Cat website is up and running! It’s completely redesigned to make it easier to access all sections; there is (finally!) a Search function; you can now comment on articles, and updates are available by RSS feed. We’re still working on getting the final pieces transferred, fine-tuning the navigation, and updating the links, but we think you’ll like it!

November is Diabetes Month for humans, but it’s important to be aware of diabetes in pets as well. In dogs, diabetes is primarily a genetic issue; but in cats, it’s almost always diet-related. High-carbohydrate dry food causes dehydration, obesity, and diabetes in cats.

Salmonella outbreaks from dry pet food have been occurring since the summer. The Procter & Gamble Company (makers of Iams and Eukanuba), among others,  voluntarily recalled several lots of dry cat food. Merrick Pet Care recalled a number of dog treats due to Salmonella contamination. Dry pet food has been blamed for at least 79 cases of illness due to Salmonella contamination. Yet veterinarians and the FDA continue to rail against homemade and raw diets–which have a much better safety record!

Suit filed against microchip maker. Microchips and cancer–it sounds like an urban legend. But one consumer has filed a lawsuit claiming that a microchip caused cancer to develop in her cat. It should be noted that any trauma or any injection can cause cancer in cats; though it’s far more often due to certain vaccines (in particular, killed vaccines for rabies, feline leukemia, and FIV). Internet rumors to the contrary, microchips are relatively safe. There have been many more lost pets returned to their homes thanks to microchips than the few individuals that have had a negative reaction. In fact, my own cat was one of them–he developed a horrendous abscess from a microchip. Nevertheless, I still microchip all of my pets, and I recommend that you do the same!


2. Heartworm Resistance?

Experts fear that heartworms are becoming resistant to current heartworm prevention protocols. There have been a number of cases of heartworm diagnosed in dogs that were taking heartworm preventative medication.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, reports of resistance appear to be coming from cases of heartworm infection involving dogs in the south-central United States. But authorities were quick to blame pet guardians and not the drugs: “…because it is clear that the vast majority of heartworm-positive dogs result from failure of compliance rather than product resistance, veterinarians should continue to recommend the use of year-round heartworm preventives as the best way to prevent infections.”

Let’s look at the logic here…we know that antibiotic resistance is due to inappropriate over-use of antibiotics. Giving too many antibiotics, too often, will trigger bacteria to develop resistance, making those antibiotics ineffective. You would think that the more heartworms are exposed to heartworm drugs, the higher the chance of resistance. But you’d be wrong–at least, according to the “experts.”

Because now that there’s evidence that heartworms are indeed developing actual resistance–presumably due to over-use of preventatives–the experts’ advice is to use more preventatives, more often! Seriously!

In most of the U.S. and Canada, heartworm is entirely seasonal. Heartworms are harbored, matured, and transmitted by mosquitoes; when there are no mosquitoes, there is no heartworm. But the American Heartworm Council and the Companion Animal Parasite Council nevertheless recommend that heartworm preventatives be given to every dog and every cat, everywhere, year-round. They constantly lament that only half of U.S. dogs are being given these drugs “correctly.”

And that doesn’t even include cats–for which they also recommend year-round prevention regardless of location. Cats can get heartworms, and they are quite dangerous in the cat’s tiny heart. There is also evidence that heartworm disease in cats is more commonly seen as a respiratory syndrome that may be misdiagnosed as asthma.

But year-round preventatives for every animal only makes sense if the real purpose is to sell lots and lots of heartworm products.

Here’s a map showing the zones and dates in the U.S. when heartworm is most transmissible.

As you can see, only the far southern reaches of Texas and Florida have year-round heartworms. Within 150 miles of the Gulf Coast, there’s only a short off-season (which can vary with weather), so for animals in that area, year-round prevention makes sense. But for dogs in North Dakota, Colorado, or Ontario, there’s absolutely no point in giving heartworm preventatives in January!

Hard as it may be to believe, this is  a subject of debate within the veterinary community. There was even a “pro and con” article published in a prominent journal last year (“Ask the Expert: Year-Round Heartworm Prevention: Two Viewpoints,” by By Dwight Bowman and James Lok, published in NAVC Clinician’s Brief, 2009/04/01). Dr. Lok lays out the case for appropriate seasonal control, and concludes, “Besides incurring unnecessary costs for the client, indiscriminate application of broad-spectrum medications can engender further confusion about the primary imperative for these medications—heartworm prevention—and when they are most crucial—during the season of heartworm transmission.” The argument presented by Dr. Bowman in favor of year-round heartworm medication focused on just two points: (1) the speculation that “scenarios can arise where transmission may occur in cooler climates in the ‘off season;’ and (2) the completely unrelated issue of prevention of internal parasites by additional drugs added to the heartworm preventative. In other words, where heartworm is seasonal, there is no good reason to give year-round heartworm drugs.

So the next time your veterinarian pushes heartworm prevention for your pet, ask if they know that heartworm is seasonal, and that resistance is developing. You want to make sure your pet gets any medication that’s truly necessary to prevent disease–but no more than that!

3. BPA in Pet Food

BPA (bis-phenol A) is a chemical used in plastics, including most water bottles, and the liners of aluminum and steel cans. Studies have linked this estrogen-mimicking chemical with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other abnormalities in rats and humans; and it is thought to be a factor in the epidemic of hyperthyroidism in cats.

Recent testing found low levels of BPA in some pet foods; lower than some human products. However, because our cats and many dogs are themselves small, even low levels may have harmful effects.

According to Susan Thixton at the wonderful blog, Truth About Pet Food, the Safer Packaging survey gave Hain Celestial (Health Valley, Earth’s Best, and Westbrae Natural), ConAgra (Chef Boyardee, Hunt’s and Healthy Choice), and H.J. Heinz the best scores for lowest BPA, with each receiving an A grade. General Mills received a B+ and Nestle received a B “for transparency, testing of substitute packaging and a commitment to eliminate BPA from packaging within 1-3 years.” Nestle – maker of Purina Pet Food – said they are committed to remove BPA from packaging in 1-3 years, even though if you call them and ask them (as Susan and I have both done), they will tell you their pet foods are BPA-free. Either they are way ahead of schedule, or they are lying. Independent testing found low levels of BPA in 2 samples of Friskies canned cat food despite Purina’s statements; you make the call.

BPA — yet another reason to consider making your pets’ food at home! (Click here for our starter recipe!)

3. Holiday Safety Reminder

The holidays can be a stressful and even dangerous time for small furry critters like our cats. Normal routines are upset, visitors come and go, and tempting smells may be coming from the kitchen!

The Christmas tree is the first item of great interest on your cat’s Santa list. Many cats find it irresistibly tempting to climb. First, make sure your tree is in a sturdy stand. Test it to make sure it’s tip-proof.

Keep glass ornaments to a minimum (if you must use them at all), and place them higher on the tree, with unbreakable ornaments lower down. Round ornaments may tempt a dog who likes balls. A broken glass ornament is a minefield for tender little kitty feet. If a pet eats all or part of a glass ornament, immediately feed cotton balls or bread soaked in milk or cream; the soft mushy texture will gather up all the sharp pieces and safely expel them.

Most tree stands have a water container—this is another hazard. Aromatic compounds from the tree itself and the chemicals often added to the water are highly toxic to pets; make sure the container is wrapped and taped or otherwise made inaccessible to your four-footed friends, who will often try to drink from this novel water source.

Christmas lights and wires on the tree and around the home are an invitation to chew for both cats and dogs. For wires that are easily accessible to curious teeth (especially young animals), run them through inexpensive foam pipe insulators that you can find at any home improvement or hardware store.

Metal tinsel is rare these days, but mylar can also pose a swallowing hazard. Its sharp edges can cause serious damage to a pet’s intestines. Consider a beaded garland instead. Also, when unwrapping presents, make sure all ribbon and string is rounded up and safely disposed.

Parties and visitors increase the risk of a cat slipping out through an open door; make sure all your pets are microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags. It’s wise to provide a “base camp” for your cat that includes food, water, bed, scratching post, and litterbox, in a room that’s less likely to be disturbed. No decorations in that room, please, especially lit candles! (Of course, unattended burning candles are a serious hazard any time of year!)

Please, take it easy on the treats. Too many fatty treats like turkey skin or ham can cause serious tummy upset; in dogs especially, these can trigger life-threatening pancreatitis. Ask dinner guests to refrain from feeding “under the table”—or even better, keep pets safely confined during the festivities. Chocolate, onions, grapes, and currants can cause serious harm to both dogs and cats.

A little extra care and attention will make this holiday season a safe and happy one for the whole family!

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