Month: August 2018

Furballs in cats

Most cat owners will have seen their cat produce a furball at some time. Although this can appear rather distressing it is a normal event for a significant number of cats so it’s nothing to get unduly concerned about.

Wild cats need different coat densities according to the seasons of the year. In the summer they need a light coat while in the colder months it needs to be thicker and more insulating. As the new coat grows the old coat is lost by moulting. Most pet cats have the luxury of central heating and constant all year round temperatures and this has resulted in almost continuous moulting.

The cat’s instinct is to care for its coat by grooming. Cats have a tongue like a rasp and when they groom loose hair is dislodged and swallowed. In most cats the hair passes through the digestive tract in small amounts and causes no problems. In others, the hair remains in the stomach and gradually accumulates to form a furball. Long-haired cats can be problem. They are much more prone to developing tangles and knots in their fur which tend to tug and put the cat off being groomed. A long-haired kitten may look very cute but the coat will need a lot of time and attention.

The furball (or trichobezoar as it is officially called) rarely causes any problems. As it grows it will eventually be eliminated from the stomach. Sometimes this will mean it travels down the gut and is expelled with the faeces. Often the furball is vomited up it mixed with food or stomach contents but, in many cases, it appears as a clump of soggy hair.

Sometimes attempts to vomit furballs are initially unsuccessful, and only fluid or partially digested food is produced. Affected cats tend to keep vomiting until the furball is finally produced and once the furball has been eliminated the cat usually immediately bounces back to normal.

In very severe cases furballs can cause an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. Fortunately this complication is very rare, because if it does occur the furball has to be surgically removed. A common misconception is that furballs cause coughing. Some confusion may be derived from the fact that a coughing cat looks very similar to a retching cat.

Although furballs are frequently observed in normal cats, they can be associated with ill health. Irritable skin or psychological disorders can cause a cat to overgroom and take in excessive quantities of hair. In cats with a disease of the gastrointestinal tract which causes an obstruction or a motility problem hairballs may cause frequent blockages.

You should come to recognise what is normal for your cat and if there is any change in the pattern of furball production, or it is associated with weight loss, diarrhoea or a picky appetite, you must consult your vet for advice.

Laxatives lubricate furballs and allow them to progress along the digestive tract. Flavoured petroleum-based laxative gels are favoured for furball treatment and prevention and they tend to be easier to administer. The required dosage will vary according to the individual cat. Some need treatment every few days while others need help only at times of heavy moulting. If your cat still appears to have a problem eliminating a furball, your vet may prescribe drugs which enhance gut motility. Persistent or frequently recurring furballs are likely to need further investigation.

A number of steps can be taken to help prevent furballs. One of the most important is frequent grooming which significantly decreases the amount of loose hair your cat will swallow. If you introduce grooming as part of a kitten’s daily routine it tends to accept the process. Many older cats love being groomed but others will put you in your place if you dare to impose this strange ritual on them.

A popular grooming tool, particularly for shorthaired cats, is a rubber brush. It is soft enough not to cause any discomfort (in fact, it’s a bit like using a massage mitt) but it can shift almost frightening amounts of loose hair. It’s not only great for the cat but it works wonders for removing cat hair from carpets and furniture as well.

There is a range of dry foods which are designed to help reduce the formation of furballs in the gut. These foods contain a high level of a particular type of vegetable fibre which helps to “sweep” the fur along the intestines in the right direction.

Fleas – an itchy business

Fleas are the most common parasite in cats and every cat is likely to be infected at some stage in its life. However, with the advent of modern products it is possible to prevent fleas from becoming a problem in your household. Your veterinary practice can give you advice on how to use these products effectively, so you can stop these nasty little insects making a meal of your cat and you!

Fleas are small, reddish-brown insects who lead a complex life away from your pet. Only the adult fleas live on your cat and drink its blood; the early stages live free in the environment, i.e. your home. For every flea that you see running through your pet’s fur, there may be hundreds of young fleas waiting to jump aboard a passing pet – or if you are unlucky – onto you.

Adult fleas lay eggs in the pet’s fur. Each female flea can produce dozens of eggs every day. They are pearly white in colour and about the size of a grain of salt. The eggs do not stick to the fur and soon fall off onto the floor.

After a few days, the eggs hatch into maggot-like larvae which hide in your carpets, cracks in the floor or in your cat’s bedding. They feed on dust and the droppings of adult fleas, which mostly consist of undigested blood.

After a time, the larva spins a cocoon in which it develops into an adult flea. They may stay in this resting stage for several months but finally the adult flea breaks out of its cocoon and crawls out of its hiding place to look for food. If it cannot find a cat or a dog it will hop on to any warm-blooded animal that passes by, including humans.

Centrally heated homes provide ideal conditions for a flea to grow from an egg into an adult. The minimum time for the cycle is two and a half to three weeks, but young fleas can live for over a year before reaching maturity and getting back on your pet. Most adult fleas live for 2-3 months feeding – the females feed on blood from biting your pet.

Fleas are the most common cause of skin disease in cats. Flea spit contains chemicals which stop blood clotting until the flea has finished feeding and these chemicals may cause an allergic reaction in your pet. Most animals are not affected by this allergy, but those which are suffer severe itching. Affected animals lick or rub themselves, wearing away their fur and making their skin red and sore. Sometimes a crusty rash will develop.

Allergies appear most often in summer when the flea population is greatest. Skin problems may continue long after the flea which caused it has gone but they should eventually disappear if you treat your pet to remove fleas and continue treatment to stop the fleas returning. In the short term your vet may prescribe drugs to stop the itchiness.

Immature fleas pick up infection from the environment and may carry the eggs of an immature form of tapeworm. If the flea is accidentally swallowed by an animal whilst grooming, the tapeworm can develop inside the cat’s gut. Once inside your pet, the tapeworm continues to grow and may reach as much as 60 cm long. If you have seen fleas on your pet you should treat your pet with a product to remove tapeworms as well as getting on top of flea control.

  • Take a sheet of good quality white paper and wet one side by running it under the tap.
  • Place the sheet on a flat surface, e.g. a worktop, with the wet surface uppermost.
  • Sit your cat against the edge of the paper.
  • Rub or brush the small of your pet’s back so that scurf and flea droppings fall onto the wet paper.
  • Look for ‘coal dust’ which, after 30-60 seconds, goes reddish brown. (This is the dried blood in the flea droppings.)

Sometimes there are no obvious signs of fleas and your vet might suggest testing your pet’s skin to see if it is allergic to flea spit.

Treating the areas where your pet spends most of its time is also important – particularly the places it lies down to sleep. Washing your pet’s bedding in hot water will destroy the young fleas (but not the eggs) and vacuuming your carpets also helps keep the numbers down.

Some products kill the flea itself and some prevent immature fleas from developing and reinfecting your pet in the future. Your vet can advise you on which product, or combination of products, to use. You must continue to treat your pet and your home all year round, even if you do not see fleas.

All the cats and dogs (because most fleas on dogs are cat fleas), in a household should be treated even if only one animal appears to be affected by flea bites. If you do not continue treatment, the affected animal may be reinfected with fleas carried by other animals in your home or by fleas it picks up outside.

Fleas can be a real menace in centrally heated homes, particularly if you have more than one pet. Regular treatment with the products recommended by your vet should keep fleas under control all year round. Use your diary or calendar to note down when the next flea treatment is due – do not rely on your memory.

Flea control

Fleas are the most common parasite in household pets and every cat is likely to be infected at some stage in its life. Fortunately, with the advent of modern products it is possible to prevent fleas from becoming a problem in your home. Your veterinary practice can give you advice on which flea control products to use, and how.

Fleas can be a real menace in centrally heated homes, particularly if you have more than one pet. They are the most common cause of skin disease in cats (causing allergies as well as irritation) and may also carry other diseases. Unfortunately, fleas are not too particular and will happily bite you and your family if they cant find a convenient pet!

To ensure your home is free from fleas you must control them on your pets and in the environment. There are many products available to kill adult fleas on pets. These products work in different ways – some are more effective, work faster or longer than others. There are many ways of applying the products and you should be able to choose something that you find convenient and simple to use. Prices of products may vary but the most convenient and effective are usually more expensive. If your pet is allergic to fleas it is very important to prevent any flea bites, so you should use a product which kills fleas rapidly.

Products for controlling fleas act in 1 of 3 ways:

  1. Chemicals which are toxic to the adult flea: These products are usually applied to the animal’s coat and poison any flea that passes through. Some chemicals can also be applied to the house so that fleas can be killed whilst they are away from the pet.
  2. Hormones which make the adult female fleas sterile: These are hormones that can enter your pet’s blood stream and, whilst they have no effect on the pet, when a female flea bites and drinks the blood the hormone effectively sterilises her so that any eggs she lays will not hatch. This can be a good way to prevent fleas from coming back but since adult fleas are not killed you may need to use another product in the meantime to remove them from your pet.
  3. Chemicals which prevent development of immature fleas: These can be applied to the environment and act as a growth regulator preventing the immature fleas developing into adults.

Some products kill adult fleas and are available as a pump or spot-on treatment that is applied to your pet’s coat (topical). In some cases these can be used on animals as young as two days old.

Other products contain a chemical that prevents the flea eggs from hatching. These can be given to the cat as a liquid once a month or by injection every six months (systemic). However it is important to remember that these treatments do not kill adult fleas.

There are also products that can be used to treat the environment. Sprays contain substances that prevent development of the flea’s hard coat and these stop larvae developing into adults.

Chemicals which mimic juvenile hormones such as methoprene and pyriproxifen also prevent flea larvae developing into adults. A single application of these sprays to the environment can last for six months to a year, depending on the product used. These products also kill flea eggs.

Fleas can breed and cause problems all year round in centrally heated homes. Regular treatment with the products recommended by your vet should keep fleas under control. The interval between treatments will depend on your particular circumstances and the products that you use. In most cases you will need to treat your pet’s coat at least every 3 months (and with some products as often as once a week). Some products are given monthly by mouth. The key to success of whichever product you choose is to use it regularly according to the manufacturer’s guide.

Collars containing insecticides to control fleas are not very effective. Very quickly they only affect fleas very close to the collar and by the time a flea gets there it may already have bitten your pet elsewhere. In addition the collars themselves can cause an allergic reaction in some pets. Ultrasonic flea collars probably do not work.

The chemicals used to kill fleas are produced in all sorts of formulations. You will usually be able to find a product to suit your needs. If you are really unable to treat your pet by yourself you may need to get someone to help you hold your pet. This may be a friend or a professional (dog groomer, or veterinary nurse).

Some products can be given by mouth as tablets or by injection and you may find it easier to treat your pet in this way.

Only the adult forms of the flea live on your pet. The immature forms (larvae) are tiny maggot-like creatures that live in carpets and your pet’s bedding. If you are going to tackle fleas you must address this pool of developing parasites that are ready to leap back onto your pet as soon as you remove the resident adult fleas.

It is important to treat the areas where your pet spends most of its time – particularly the places where it sleeps. Washing your pet’s bedding in hot water will destroy the young fleas (but not the eggs) and vacuuming your carpets also helps keep the numbers down.

Vacuum bags should be disposed of to prevent collected immature flea stages continuing to develop in the house. Cleaning carpets with a steam cleaner should kill some of the larval fleas, and also remove the bits of organic matter that accumulate in carpets that the larvae feed on.

Anything that is heavily infested, such as pet bedding, should be disposed of. However in most cases you will need to use a chemical to kill the immature fleas as well as the adults.

Insecticide spray treatments can be used on carpets to reduce numbers of fleas. Some products target the adult flea whilst others are growth regulators that prevent eggs from hatching and the larval fleas from turning into adults that can re-infect your pet.

You must never apply a product designed for use in the environment directly to an animal. However there are some products that you can apply to your pet that will also have an effect on fleas where your pet spends a lot of time.

Your vet can advise you on which product, or combination of products, to use. You must continue to treat your pet and your home all year round, even if you do not see fleas.

Unless you remove all the immature fleas from your house they will keep getting back on your your pet. There are a number of ways of preventing your pet being re-infested with fleas.

Long acting products can be used to kill all the flea stages in the house. In order to do this effectively the whole house must be treated which is expensive and difficult as immature fleas often live in hard to reach places.

Many people find that they prefer to use something that prevents the immature forms from developing into adult fleas. If you can break the flea lifecycle and adults are not produced they will not be able to reproduce. There are number of products that will do this but they must be given to all dogs and cats in the household. These products do not affect adult fleas. Alternatively a long acting treatment that kills adults on the infested animal can be used on all animals in the household which will prevent egg laying and thereby break the cycle.

Most products are very safe if used strictly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Always follow these simple rules:

  • Read the instructions carefully before using the product.
  • Never treat a cat with a product designed for use in a dog (unless instructed by your vet). Cats are particularly susceptible to developing toxic reactions to flea control products containing traditional insecticides.
  • Never treat an animal directly with a product designed for use in the environment.
  • Do not apply the product more often than recommended by the manufacturer.
  • If treating a young animal ensure the product is safe for that age.
  • Do not combine products (unless instructed to do so by your vet).
  • Where possible treat animals in a well-ventilated area and after treating the house air well before accessing again.

Some animals can also be sensitive to other chemicals in the flea control product.

Feeding your kitten

The adage ‘You are what you eat’ applies to cats as well as people – however more is not necessarily better. Over-feeding and over-supplementation with unnecessary nutrients and minerals can have serious consequences. If you are getting your first kitten make sure you ask your vet for advice on feeding them.

No, it is important that kittens have a diet specially designed for growing cats. These animals have requirements which are different from adult cats, and most reputable manufacturers now make ‘growth’ or ‘junior’ foods which supply the young cat with all the essential nutrients required for normal growth and bone development.

In general, it is safer to stick to reputable brands (ask for advice at your veterinary hospital), as these are manufactured to strict quality control guidelines. Prepared mixed feeds available through other outlets, such as agricultural feed merchants, may not have the same quality control procedures applied. These may be cheaper than other commercial brands of cat food but they can have disadvantages. Some of these feeds have been shown to lack some essential diet components and may deteriorate if stored.

It is very dangerous to over-feed growing cats. This can result in severe and permanent damage to bones and joints. Steady, controlled growth should always be the aim. An over-fed young cat may remain obese, with bone and joint problems for the rest of its life.

No, cats differ from dogs and many other animals in being completely dependent on meat. A vegetarian diet would make your young cat very ill. A kitten needs a high protein diet with components that are only found in animal tissue. Veterinary advice should be sought to ensure that all nutritional requirements are being met as a haphazard approach is likely to cause problems.

If you are feeding a correctly balanced diet, it is quite unnecessary to supplement – the cat receives no benefit.

Veterinary staff can weigh and condition score your cat to ensure that body development is progressing normally. You can request this every 2 months or so. A fast growth rate should be avoided and young cats should be allowed to develop slowly if they are to avoid bone and joint problems later in life.

Most reputable cat feeds come with detailed charts showing the amount to feed. However, these recommendations are only guidelines – individual cats may require more or (quite commonly) a little less than that stated. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

If the breeder of your kitten gives you anything to supplement your kitten’s diet see your veterinary surgeon and take the product along with you. You can discuss with your vet the current diet being fed and whether any supplements are required. Most breeders are well informed about dietary matters but some persist in following their own particular beliefs, which may not be scientifically validated.

The first step in keeping your cat healthy is establishing an appropriate diet. You may be bombarded with information in the first few days of owning a kitten. Let your vet help you select an appropriate diet for the needs of your pet.

  • Feed a food from a reputable manufacturer that is appropriate for your cat’s age.
  • Do not give any form of vitamin or mineral supplement to your cat except under specific veterinary advice.
  • Avoid over-feeding young and growing cats.

Feeding your cat

The modern domestic ‘moggie’ is descended from wild cats that hunted for their living in the desert regions of North Africa and the Middle East. Although most pet cats are now fed entirely on tinned or packaged food, their nutritional requirements are exactly the same as their ancestors’ centuries ago. So to stay healthy, a domestic cat must receive a balanced diet containing all the nutrients that would be found in the natural diet of a hunting cat.

Cats differ from dogs and many other animals in being completely dependent on meat. Dogs can survive happily on an almost vegetarian diet that would make your cat very ill. A cat needs a high protein diet with components that are only found in animal tissue.

Two of the building blocks of proteins, the amino acids taurine and arginine, are rarely found in plant material. Your cat cannot manufacture its own taurine or arginine and has to get them from animal tissue. Your cat also needs vitamin A and a compound called arachidonic acid that can only be found in meat.

Your cat also needs a balance of other nutrients. Many of these are found in tissues forming part of the natural diet, like bone and skin, so a diet of lean steak will not give your cat everything it needs. Most of these ingredients are either present in, or added to, commercially prepared cat foods.

Animal fat is important both as an energy source and because it contains essential vitamins like vitamin A. Fat also gives flavour and texture to the food. The carbohydrates used for energy by humans and other animals are less important for cats because they use proteins for the same purpose. Indeed, a diet containing too much carbohydrate is likely to give a cat an upset stomach.

It is a myth that cats need to be given milk. Milk is certainly a good source of calcium for building bones but calcium is usually found in sufficient quantities in commercially prepared pet foods. As kittens are weaned they lose the ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in cow’s milk. Too much milk may therefore give an adult cat diarrhoea.

Water is the best thing for your cat to drink. As the cat is still, at heart, a desert animal it can survive on less water than many other animals. But it does need a regular supply of clean fresh water, particularly if it is being fed dried food. Canned food is three-quarters water so cats fed on a moist diet may not be seen drinking.

Anyone who has ever looked after a cat will know that they are very particular about their food. They all have individual preferences about which types of food they enjoy – cats often seem to enjoy a varied diet but will starve themselves rather than eat a food they do not like. Ill health or anxiety can also put a cat off its food.

It may be possible to persuade a cat to eat by warming up the food to about 35°C, the temperature of freshly killed live prey (another option is to feed a powerful smelling and tasty food such as tinned fish or oxtail soup). Uneaten moist or canned food should be removed after about 20 minutes as stale food smells will reduce a cat’s appetite even further.

If your cat turns its nose up at an unfamiliar food there may be a good reason, cats appear to know instinctively when a food is lacking in essential nutrients.

Generally cats are able to regulate the amount of food they eat and it is uncommon for them to become too fat (obese). However, if large quantities of tasty food are always available they may start to overeat and older, neutered cats that spend most of their time indoors are most susceptible. Weigh your cat regularly to make sure it is not gaining or losing weight and adjust the amount of food accordingly.

To weigh your cat:

  1. Get onto the scales yourself and record your weight
  2. Pick up your cat and record the weight of both of you
  3. Finally deduct your weight from the second reading to find how much your cat weighs.
  4. Alternatively cats can be weighed in a carrying basket, but remember to allow for the weight of the basket when calculating its weight

If your cat needs to lose weight your vet will be able to recommend a special low calorie diet but do not attempt to put your cat on a ‘crash diet’ as this could be very damaging to its health.

There are several stages during your cat’s life when its food needs are greatly different from normal. These include:


A pregnant cat will need much larger amounts of food to support its unborn kittens. During the final stages of pregnancy the queen (mother cat) may need double her normal quantity of food. However the pressure of the growing kittens in her belly may restrict her ability to eat large meals. Feed your cat more frequently or get a high energy diet especially formulated for pregnant cats. Your vet will be able to advise you on this. When your queen is producing milk for her kittens (lactation) her nutritional requirements may increase even further.


During their first few months kittens will grow exceptionally fast. This puts a big strain on the mother cat and the kittens should be weaned on to solid food as soon as possible. Try giving some solid food at three weeks and gradually giving more until they eat only solid food at about eight weeks old. The first food should be soft and easily digestible so dry food should be soaked in water or kitten milk. A kitten’s stomach is small so it cannot eat large volumes in one go.

A kitten should be fed about five times a day at eight weeks and the frequency of meals can be gradually reduced to two a day when it reaches six months old. Your vet may recommend putting your kitten on a specially formulated high energy diet to guarantee that it gets the right balance of nutrients needed for growth.

Old age

As a cat becomes less active with age it may use up less energy, but be careful about reducing its food intake too much. Older cats are also less efficient at digesting their food so they may need to eat relatively more food to absorb all the nutrients they need. There are conveniently prepared special diets available for the older cat that can be obtained from your vet.

There is a wide range of commercially prepared foods to suit your cat’s needs. However, be cautious if you see an unfamiliar brand in the shops, especially if it is one of the cheaper foods. As in all things quality comes at a price, and a cheaper brand will often contain inferior ingredients.

The well known brands are usually formulated to give your cat everything it needs and have been tested to prove that they will be enjoyed by most cats. Your vet or veterinary nurse will be able to give you impartial and well-informed advice on feeding your pets.

Complementary therapies

Some forms of alternative or complementary medicine such as osteopathy and physiotherapy are widely used in veterinary medicine alongside conventional treatment. However, owners of dogs and other small animals are increasingly looking at other alternative therapies such as acupuncture, herbal medicine and homeopathy to help with a wide variety of common complaints.

Acupuncture is an ancient system of healing, likely to have originated in Tibet or India but developed extensively by the Chinese. It is one of the oldest therapies in the world and is essentially the stimulation of specific points on the surface of the body, either by using needles, laser or local pressure (acupressure).

The Chinese recognise that these points have a direct relationship to some of the main internal organs and with the muscles, nerves and skeleton. These points lie on specific energy channels called meridians which link all the points associated with a particular organ together. Stimulation of the points results in physiological changes which can help resolve illness, relieve symptoms and change body energy, allowing it to flow more freely, in effect re-balancing the body. Acupuncture is also used to diagnose and prevent disease, as well as treat symptoms.

Conditions in small animals that respond well to acupuncture include back and neck pain (including disc prolapse), muscle spasm, arthritis (DJD), lameness issues, injuries in general, nerve paralysis and nerve injuries, urinary incontinence, weakened immune system, lick granuloma as well as support for all the major organs of the body.

In the UK, only vets can perform acupuncture treatment on animals as the use of needles is an invasive procedure which, by law, only a vet is permitted to perform. If anyone other than a vet gives an animal acupuncture treatment they are committing a criminal act. Vets who perform acupuncture are properly trained and, ideally, should be members of the Association of British Veterinary Acupuncture (ABVA).

Useful website:

  • Association of British Veterinary Acupuncturists –

Herbal medicine is essentially the art of using plants to heal. It is not a new form of therapy; in fact it is an ancient system of healing which is undergoing somewhat of a revival in the light of modern analytical methods and new-found knowledge and understanding of exactly how plants work.

Practical knowledge of herbal remedies was once ingrained in folklore and backed up by scant evidence of efficacy, but now many plant based medicines can be prescribed backed up by a sound knowledge of plant chemistry and botanical therapeutics, which can explain how plants are able to interact with the body allowing it to heal. We now know that plants are complex mixtures of compounds which support and augment each other in helping to resolve a particular health problem.

Herbal medicine has a worldwide presence, not only as represented by the use of healing plants in Western culture, but as being an integral part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine and combined with acupuncture as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM. In recognition of the growing importance of this type of treatment, herbal medicine is more often referred to by a much more appropriate term – phytotherapy.

Herbal remedies for domestic animals are widely available commercially and sold as nutritional or food supplements. However, an increasing number of vets are undertaking training, and using herbal remedies within their practices. So, for more complex health issues, or where a customised or individual prescription is needed, owners are urged to seek qualified veterinary advice.

Useful websites:

Homeopathy is a form of natural medicine that has been in regular use worldwide for over 200 years. Based on a principle that was discovered by the Greeks, and developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the late 18th century, it is based on the principle of “like cures like”.

Using infinitely diluted medicines it seeks to address the patient as a whole on a constitutional, historical or pathological basis. By carefully matching the presenting signs and symptoms to a remedy, homeopathy aims to gently ease or cure signs of illness by working energetically through the body’s own healing mechanisms.

Currently the mechanism by which homeopathy works is not understood, although ongoing research suggests that it is linked with quantum physics and the ability of water molecules to remember or store energetic vibrational imprints.

Homeopathy can be used for a wide range of conditions in small animals, including arthritis and lameness, skin problems such eczema, dermatitis and allergies, recurrent ear infections, epilepsy, behavioural problems, digestive problems such as diarrhoea and colitis, liver, bladder and kidney disease as well as chronic conditions affecting many other areas of the body.

In the UK, vets who practice homeopathy are registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and must retain their professional membership of this body in order to practice. Ideally, they should also be registered with the Faculty of Homeopathy and have undergone suitable training. It is illegal for anyone to treat animals homeopathically if they are not a qualified vet.

Useful websites:

This evidence-based discipline is used to deal with the assessment and treatment of a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders. It can also be applied to the rehabilitation of animals after surgery or injury as well as in a preventive role.

Physiotherapy can help animals suffering from a wide range of conditions, including back pain, sprains and strains, injuries, gait abnormalities, reduced performance and a number of other conditions, such as changes in behaviour that can be linked with these problems. It can be used to improve the biomechanics of the musculoskeletal system and in rehabilitation after surgery.

Techniques employed using manual therapies include manipulation, massage and mobilization, as well as machine based treatments such as laser therapy, ultrasound, pulse magnets, H-wave, shockwave, spa treatment and hydrotherapy.

In the UK, a veterinary physiotherapist will have undergone several years of training with a recognised school of physiotherapy to become a ‘chartered physiotherapist’. Animal physiotherapists must see practice with veterinary practices and become a member of either the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), or the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists (NAVP), to be able to treat animals.

A code of professional conduct for animal physiotherapists has been agreed between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, and they are bound by the Veterinary Act. However, non-chartered physiotherapists, i.e. people that have no formal training, are still allowed to use the title ‘physiotherapist’, so be sure to check the qualifications of any therapist you intend to use.

Useful websites:

  • Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy –
  • National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists –
  • Institute of Registered Veterinary and Animal Physiotherapists –
  • Chartered Society of Physiotherapy –

Osteopathy is an established science and system of healing using manual techniques, in order to remove tension and restriction and encourage structural and physiological harmony. Treatment is aimed at improving mobility and reducing inflammation using gentle, manual osteopathic techniques on the musculoskeletal system, i.e. joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Osteopathy is useful for a number of problems, including loss of mobility, joint, neck and back pain, muscle stiffness and to help recovery from injuries. Veterinary osteopaths are trained to recognise and treat many causes of pain with their hands, using a variety of different techniques, including soft massage, stretches, and various joint movements.

By law, an osteopath will need to get permission from your vet to undertake any treatment, and you should always consult your vet before having your animal treated. It is an offence for anyone to treat your pet without referral from a vet first. Many insurance companies will cover osteopathic treatment but only if the animal has been referred by a vet.

Always make sure that the osteopath you are going to use is a qualified therapist and has the appropriate insurance to allow them to practice.

Useful website:

Chiropractic is a healthcare discipline using manual techniques that emphasise diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, in particular the spine. It focuses specifically on the biomechanical dysfunction of the skeleton, muscles, tendons and ligaments and its effects on the nervous system and general well-being of the whole body.

Chiropractic is useful for treating chronic musculoskeletal disorders, e.g. lameness, tension and stiffness, and pain in general; it is also used in a preventive role to maintain fitness and soundness, and to enhance general well-being.

Currently, it is only possible for vets and human chiropractors to become qualified veterinary chiropractors. You should always check that a practitioner has recognised qualifications before you allow them to treat your animal.

Useful websites:

Cat flaps

Fed up with playing doorman to your cat, without a tip? A cat flap could be the solution, allowing your cat free or restricted access to the outside world.

A cat flap can be fitted to just about any door, wall or window. Wooden doors, walls and glass each need different types of cat flap, so make sure you choose the right one. Cat flaps are normally used to allow your cat access to the house but an alternative is to fit one to a shed or outbuilding, so that your cat can shelter somewhere dry.

Glass doors or windows

Fitting cat flaps to glass doors or windows can be tricky and you should get a qualified glazier to do the job. If you have single glazed glass doors the glazier should be able to cut a circular hole for a cat flap. However all doors in modern buildings have to be fitted with safety glass. It is possible to fit cat flaps in double-glazed doors and safety glass but the holes need to be cut when the glass is being made. Replacing all the glass in your door may be expensive, so see if it is possible to replace just the lower door panel with a piece of glass with a hole for the cat flap. Alternatively, since windows do not have to have safety glass, think about fitting a flap in a kitchen window, if your cat can easily obtain access to it.

Wooden or metal doors

If the cat flap is going to be positioned in a door, measure the thickness of the door and choose a suitable cat flap. A tunnel or inner liner will make a neater finish in a wider door and usually tunnel extensions are available. Plastic cat flaps can be used in metal doors, but aluminium types are available and usually preferable.

A cat flap should not be fitted to a fire door as the fire retardant properties will be seriously altered. Measure the height from the floor to the belly of your cat, usually 100-150mm (4-6 inches), and this is the height you should fit the cat flap.

Brick walls

Consult a builder if you want to fit a cat flap in a wall, and choose a cat flap suitable for the thickness of the wall. The cat flap may need a tunnel, or another method, to connect the front and back parts.

For security purposes, a cat flap should be fitted on the side of a door away from the handle, so that a burglar cannot put their hand through and reach the lock or key. A self-locking cat flap which can only be operated by your cat can help keep would-be feline, or human intruders out.

Young cats usually learn to use their cat flaps very quickly. Older cats may find them confusing at first and need some training to use them.

When you first fit the cat flap, prop the flap permanently open and entice your cat to go through. Placing a bowl of favoured food on the other side may do the trick! Once your cat is happy to go through the open hole, prop the flap slightly less open. Gradually lower the flap a bit at a time until eventually your cat is starting to push the flap just a little to get at her treat.

Use plenty of praise as she begins to work the device on her own. If your cat is litter trained moving her litter tray outside the cat flap may make her go through once she is desperate. Sometimes a catnip spray may help to attract your cat to the other side of the cat flap.

If other cats come into your house through the cat flap your own cat may start to feel insecure in her own home. If your cat starts spraying urine inside the house after you have fitted a cat flap, this might be the cause.

There are several types of cat flap that can only be opened by an electronic or magnetic key which your cat wears on her collar. The flap automatically unlocks when it recognises your cat approaching (even if this happens at speed). This will keep out all cats not wearing the magnetic key collars, but you could be unlucky and find that the invading cat has a similar collar of their own.

To keep out all other cats get a flap worked by a programmable key collar that uses an electronic ‘password’.

If you want to have control over your cat’s movements in and out of your home choose a locking cat flap which restricts access. The four-way locking system uses ‘out only’, ‘in only’, ‘open’ and ‘locked’ settings. If you like your cat to come in at night, but don’t want to wait up, then the ‘in only’ setting will allow you to get to bed on time. There are also simple locking cat flaps which allow you to determine what side of the flap your cats stays.

The flap is so light that it is unlikely to hurt a cat’s tail, back or paws even when they fly through at great speed! For exceptionally acrobatic cats think about getting a flexible, rather than solid flap.

Cat bite abscesses

If you notice small lumps or swellings when stroking or brushing your cat do not be unduly alarmed. There are many possible causes: growths, cancers, infections, allergic reactions to flea bites or foreign bodies such as thorns or airgun pellets. Occasionally your cat may pick up ticks that swell up as they feed on cat’s blood and can easily be mistaken for a skin lump. However, the most likely cause of a lump in your cat is an abscess.

Abscesses are more common in cats than other domestic animals and are usually the result of fighting. Cats have powerful jaws and a variety of unpleasant bacteria live in their mouths that can be injected deep below the skin surface by biting. The bacteria cause an infection that eventually develops into an abscess, a mass of pus walled up inside scar tissue. Cats also use their claws to fight but abscesses caused by scratches are much less common because the wounds are not as deep.

Signs of infection may be present before any swellings develop. Your cat will be listless, go off its food and its nose may become dry. Your cat may resent being handled and a normally docile cat may hiss and scratch when you try to pick it up. If your cat has been bitten on a leg it will probably limp. These signs last for about 3 days before the swelling appears.

Abscesses are most often found on the face, neck and tail although any part of the body can be bitten during a fight. The swellings are painful when touched and the skin surface will feel hot. The swelling often gets bigger for 3-5 days and then may burst, discharging a smelly yellow/green fluid (pus).

It is much more common to see abscesses in tomcats than in neutered male or female cats. Tomcats often fight with one another over territory or sexual favours. However, any cat can be involved in a fight. Shortly after moving house your cat may be more likely to get into fights with resident cats until it has established its own territory.

It is important to take your cat to your vet if you find any sort of lump. It is also worth checking your cat for bite marks if you suspect it has been in a fight. The telltale signs of a fight are a torn or bleeding ear, marks around the eyes and missing lumps of fur. Also look out for limping, lethargy and other signs of infection. If your cat has been bitten there may be a tiny area of matted fur around the bite wounds. Unfortunately wounds are often difficult to spot and the skin surface may heal fast, leaving infection still there beneath the surface.

If you find a bite wound on your cat it should be bathed with a salt solution (1 tablespoon of salt in a pint of water) and the wound watched closely for signs of swelling over the next few days. Sometimes the first indication that your cat has an abscess is when the swelling bursts, releasing foul smelling, creamy white or green pus. If the abscess doesn’t burst naturally your vet will lance it, flush out the remaining pus and then wash it with an antiseptic solution.

Your cat will probably be put on a course of antibiotics lasting between three and seven days. There are many different types of antibiotic that kill different types of bacteria. Your vet will use his experience to select the right antibiotic for the job. If the wound is still infected after a few days tests may be necessary to find which particular bacteria are present and help your vet choose an alternative antibiotic.

Unless your cat is kept permanently indoors there is always a chance of it getting into a fight. But having an intact tomcat neutered will significantly reduce the risk. Cats with certain diseases such as Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) have weaker defences against infection and are likely to have more severe problems if they do get bitten. Other diseases can also be spread when cats get together to fight, so always make sure that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date.

Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma

Oral squamous cell carcinoma is a nasty disease in cats. Frequently, these cancers are not identified until the lesion has progressed significantly with associated oral pain and halitosis due to bacterial infection.

Oral squamous cell carcinoma is a cancer that arises from the cells lining the mouth and throat including the gums, tongue, cheeks and tonsils. This cancer has an ability to grow invasively into the surrounding tissues and the visible part of the tumour is all too often just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Most cats with this disease are middle-aged (average 11-12 years), although it has been described in cats from 2-18 years old.

Presenting complaints commonly include deformity of the face, loose teeth (which may result in difficulty eating), weight loss and halitosis. Other, more subtle signs include mouth pain and dribbling.

You should be aware that it is important to get all mouth problems checked out as there are many other conditions that can affect the oral cavity and resemble squamous cell carcinoma, such as eosinophilic granuloma complex, and mouth ulcers.

When examining your cat your vet may see a mass or a sore in your cat’s mouth or throat. Biopsy provides the best means of diagnosis of oral cancers. In older cats with dribbling or other evidence of mouth pain, your vet should always consider the possibility of oral squamous cell carcinoma as a cause. Sometimes oral squamous cell carcinoma is misdiagnosed as a dental complaint.

Early diagnosis is the cornerstone of successful therapy. Undoubtedly, many cases are presented to their veterinary surgeon at a time when the disease has already progressed too far. Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma rarely spreads to the lymph nodes or through the blood stream. Despite this, following diagnosis or on suspicion of a diagnosis, it is important that the lymph nodes and the lungs are assessed to check that there is no evidence of cancer spread.

Sadly, at this time the prognosis for affected cats is usually poor regardless of treatment. Multiple different treatments have been explored including radical surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hyperthermia (heat treatment), cryotherapy (freezing), anti-inflammatory therapy and combinations of the above.

Consistently, studies indicate an average life expectancy of only 1 to 3 months. In some cases, the cancer arises in a site that is amenable to surgical excision; these are usually small cancers in the cheek or the mandible.

A small proportion of cases do respond well to radiotherapy with about 1 in 10 of these cases living for a year or more. Side effects from radiotherapy are few. While skin and gum irritation is described, this happens extremely infrequently using the treatment strategy that most UK oncologists favour.

Paradoxically, the greatest problems arise in the patients who demonstrate an excellent response to therapy. If a large proportion of a cancer is killed by the radiation, this can leave a hole in the mouth which may harbour infections or may allow food and water access to the nasal cavity.

Radiotherapy for your cat

Pets today are healthier and, in general, living longer than ever before. However the increasing numbers of ageing pets mean that they are at increasing risk of developing cancer later in life. Radiotherapy aims to give a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells (doing maximum damage) whilst minimising the dose to the rest of the body.

Radiotherapy uses radiation (like a powerful type of X-rays) to damage and destroy cancer cells. The radiation can be administered in a number of ways but when it contacts cells it causes permanent damage. Most commonly radiation is delivered from an external source for a short period of time on a regular basis (external beam therapy). Radiation delivered in high doses can do damage very rapidly so a short exposure to the radiation beam will damage the cells which die off over the next few days.

The aim with radiotherapy is to give a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells (doing maximum damage) whilst minimising the dose to the rest of the body.

It is quite expensive to have radiotherapy and you will probably have to travel to a specialist centre to get treatment so your vet will not recommend the procedure unless they think it is likely to help in the treatment of your pet.

Cancers can be treated using surgery, drugs (chemotherapy), radiotherapy or often a combination of these. Each type of cancer is best treated in a particular way and if your vet has recommended one form of treatment it is likely that this is the best option for your pet. However, if you are concerned about the treatment then discuss your worries with your vet.

Radiotherapy is usually given as a course of treatments. It is very important that all treatments in the course are given at the right time so make sure before agreeing to treatment that you can take your pet for every session. The damage to cancer cells caused by radiotherapy builds up over time so each treatment kills off cells missed by the previous one. The time between each treatment in the course allows the normal healthy tissues to recover and grow. So the course maximises the damage to cancer cells whilst reducing the risk of side effects.

Many owners are worried by the idea of radiotherapy for their pet because they have heard of the side-effects suffered by human cancer patients. In people the aim of cancer treatment is to kill all cancer cells and cure disease doses of radiotherapy are therefore high and side-effects such as vomiting and hairloss are relatively common.

Although it does sometimes cure cancer, the aim of cancer treatment in pets is to prolong a good quality of life (rather than necessarily trying to cure the cancer). This means that treatment sessions are designed to have the maximum beneficial effect without causing severe side effects. Your pet should remain well throughout the course of treatment.

If your pet is having external beam radiotherapy the radiation does not stay in their body so they are able to come home between treatments. However, it is very important that the treatment is delivered at regular intervals and so if the treatment interval is short (e.g. alternate days) your vet may recommend that they stay in hospital so that you do not have to keep travelling back and forward.

It is essential that your pet remains still throughout the whole treatment as this must be directed at a very specific area of the body. Severe damage can be caused if the radiation beam strikes the wrong tissue during the procedure.

Modern anaesthetics are very safe and your pet will probably recover more rapidly from an anaesthetic than any form of sedation. As radiotherapy is usually performed at specialist centres it is likely that your pet’s anaesthetic will be monitored by a vet with a special interest in anaesthesia and the anaesthetic will be very safe. You will usually be able to take your pet home as soon as they have recovered from the anaesthetic unless they are receiving further treatment.

As your pet will be having an anaesthetic your vet will ask you not to feed your pet the evening before the day of the treatment. Occasionally drugs are given before treatment to increase the effect of the radiation on cancer cells – if your vet gives you specific instructions make sure you follow them carefully.

There is a small risk associated with repeated anaesthetics, but your pet’s health will be closely monitored and modern anaesthetics are very safe.

Radiotherapy is a very powerful treatment and the aim is to give a dose that will destroy most of the cancer cells whilst allowing the normal tissue to recover between treatments. Some cells are very sensitive to the effects of radiation so when treatment is planned your vet will try to avoid particularly sensitive areas (such as the eye).

After treatment the area of skin around the tumour may become red or sore looking. Your vet will prescribe tablets if they are concerned about your pet, but if you are worried make sure you voice your concerns at your next visit. Long term problems are usually changes at the site of the treatment such as bald patches or white hair regrowing (where it should be coloured).

If your pet has had an anaesthetic they should be fully recovered by the time you get home. Offer a light meal at tea time but do not be alarmed if your pet does not want to eat until the following day. Often a course of radiotherapy is given after a cancer has been removed – if your pet has stitches keep a close eye on these as the radiation treatment may delay healing and the wound could open up.

If your pet is receiving medication for other conditions check with your vet that you should continue these throughout the radiotherapy course.