Category Archives: Health

Saying Goodbye: When is it Time?

My Tater Tot

One of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through was saying goodbye to my beloved cat, Tater. Actually, when I think back, the hardest part was before we said goodbye. It was caring for her during her last few months and not knowing how much time was left, or if I was going to be able to make the right decision before she suffered too much.

We’re asked by cat owners all the time to tell them when the time is “right” and how they’ll know. There’s no good answer, although over the years, the closest we’ve come to that is something along the lines of “When your cat doesn’t enjoy their favorite things any more, that’s when it’s time.” It’s not a specific answer, but it’s the best we can come up with, because every cat–and every owner–is different.

First off, and this should really go without saying, if you suspect your time is limited, SPOIL YOUR CAT! Really, really spoil them, go above and beyond your normal level of spoiling. Tater’s last two years were probably the happiest of her life;  she got canned food on-demand, slept in a heated cat bed right next to my side of the bed (so she could sleep with me or in her precious heated bed–I got to be a little bit jealous of the amount of time she spent in that bed!), and got brushed, pet, and loved at every opportunity. When she got a bit wobbly on her feet, we moved a litterbox close to her bed so she didn’t have to travel too far if she wasn’t up for it.

Make sure, as your cat is aging and you’re noticing changes in her routine, that you are communicating these changes with your veterinarian. We have an arsenal of medications and treatments available that can improve your cat’s comfort and quality of life as they age. Acupuncture, pain medications, and nausea medications, to name a few, can help improve a cat’s quality of life immensely by managing their symptoms.

As your cat ages, it’s normal to think–to worry, even–about the end of his or her life. When you know the time is approaching, it’s good to be mindful of your cat’s daily activities so that you’ll notice any changes as they occur. How is her appetite? Is she responding to you? Is she interested in her surroundings? Is she vocalising frequently? In response to things, or at random? Is she hanging out in her usual spots, or is she unable to get to them? Is she hiding? Is she using her litterbox, or soiling her bedding? The answers to these questions can help you assess your cat’s quality of life to some extent. When the answers start to tip more towards the negative, it’s likely that your cat’s quality of life has diminished to a point where euthanasia should be considered.

When you feel that the time to say goodbye is approaching, you’ll want to discuss options with your veterinarian. Many veterinarians offer a home euthanasia service, which is an especially good alternative for cats who become very stressed during veterinary visits. Whether you decide to have a doctor come to your home or to bring your pet in to the office, you can expect the visit to involve the same routine:

1. Sedation: Most doctors will give sedation, either into a muscle or into a vein, to help your pet relax and alleviate anxiety prior to the injection of euthanasia solution. This usually takes a few minutes to kick in, and also gives you some very peaceful time with your pet.

2. IV injection or the euthanasia solution: The doctor will make sure you’re ready and that you’ve said your goodbyes before giving the second injection, which is an overdose of barbiturates. Once this injection has been given, your pet’s heart will stop within seconds. They will not close their eyes when they’re gone, and they might have some involuntary lung movements after their heart stops. Veterinarians and technicians will usually warn you in advance about these things to prevent you from being upset by them.

3. You’ll need to make a decision about how you would like your pet’s remains handled. Do you have a backyard you’d like to bury them in? Or are you considering cremation? Most veterinary offices offer group cremation, in which your pet will be cremated with other pets and you will not receive their ashes, or private cremation, in which your pet is cremated privately and you receive an urn containing their ashes and a certificate. People choose all three options regularly. Some people also choose to have their pets interred at pet memorial parks. If possible, it is best to consider your options in advance so you’re not faced with that difficult decision while actively grieving.

After your pet is gone, and even before, you will grieve. You might feel overwhelmed by sadness all the time, or it might hit you at odd moments. The resources listed below are available to anyone in need of support after the loss of a pet:

ASPCA National Pet Loss Hotline
Toll-Free: (877) GRIEF-10 or (877) 474-3310
ASPCA Pet Loss Resources

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Support
Toll-Free (866) 266-8635

Iams Pet Loss Support Hotline
888-332-7738 / M-F 9am-5pm
Iams Pet Loss Resources

Losing a pet is never easy, but the knowledge that you made their last days as comfortable as possible and alleviated as much suffering as possible can help ease the transition somewhat.








We have a new mobile app!

We are excited to announce that The Cat Doctor now has a mobile application available in both the Google Play Store and the iTunes Stores.

This application will allow you to schedule appointments, order medication refills, get emergency contact information, and dial our office directly! It also features a fun pet postcard section which has templates for you to share photos of your pet with friends, family, and us!


You can download the app today in both the Google Play Store and the iTunes store. Put some Cat Doctor in your phone!





Popular Houseplants Toxic to Cats, Part 1

Groovycat has Spring fever! If only that bamboo plant were on HIS side of the window.

Yesterday was the official first day of Spring! If you have Spring fever like I do, you’re probably planning some gardening activities and taking advantage of some of the gorgeous decorative plants that bloom this time of year. Just remember that not all plants are safe for your kitties!

The ASPCA has a comprehensive list of plants that are toxic to animals on their website, but we’re going to pick some of the more popular houseplants (since our population of cats in Philadelphia is nearly 100% indoors)  and post photos and information over the next few weeks. If your cat has ingested a plant on this list (or one you’re unsure of), please contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA’s 24-hour emergency poison hotline directly at 1-888-426-4435.


Photo by allloe on Flickr

A very common houseplant and herbal remedy for skin irritation, Aloe (scientific name Aloe Vera) can cause vomiting, depression, diarrhea, anorexia, and tremors.




Photo by picturesinmylife_yls on Flickr

Keep lilies away from your cat! Every Spring, we see at least one case where a cat ingests lilies–these cases often have very sad endings. Lilies are very common in bouquets and in Easter flower arrangements, so keep an eye out! While they come in many varieties and colors, most lilies have six petals and prominent stamens. The symptoms associated with ingestion of lilies are vomiting, inappetence, lethargy, kidney failure, and death.


Photo by kilic03 on Flickr

Caladium, sometimes known as elephant ear, is a great houseplant because it thrives in low-light situations and grows well in pots. It is an irritant to cats, however, so if your kitty likes to gnaw on plants, keep this one out of her reach. Symptoms include oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.

Do you have houseplants you’re curious about, or plants you’d like us to profile? Let us know! Also, due to the large amount of SPAM we’ve been getting on our blog, please register if you’d like to post comments, or just comment through our Facebook page! We will post another several plants before the end of the week.


February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

Cats have 30 teeth (12 incisors, 10 premolars, 4 canines, and 4 molars)

Why is dental care important?

Dental disease can be very painful for a kitty to endure, but that is not the only reason it is important to address periodontal disease in a timely manner. When your cat’s mouth is inflamed, bacteria from his oral cavity can become systemic, invading other organs such as his heart, liver,  and kidneys. Over time, this can cause damage to the major organ systems and the cat’s immune system. Because cats tend to mask illness, oral exams are necessary to determine the health of your cat’s mouth. If your cat has periodontal disease, a dental cleaning and potential extractions will be necessary to restore her oral health.

Periodontal disease

The extent of dental disease won't be fully evident until all the teeth are cleaned and films taken

Feline periodontal disease occurs when plaque accumulates on tooth enamel, causing inflammation of the gingival tissue. Cats might not exhibit any symptoms, though some will paw at their mouths, refuse food, have bad breath, or stop grooming. If your cat shows any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately. A dental cleaning and extraction of any effected teeth will be necessary to restore your kitty’s oral health.

What is a resorptive lesion?

A dental film showing resorptive lesions eating away tooth enamel

Resorptive lesions are areas in which the tooth enamel is eaten away by a type of cells called odondoclasts. The areas where the enamel has eroded fill in with painful red lesions.  These lesions can occur on the tooth root or crown, and if left untreated can eventually destroy the entire tooth. If the lesions occur on the root below the gumline, they can often only be detected on radiographs. We do not know the exact cause of resorptive lesions, but we do know that they are very prevalent, occurring in over 60% of cats over six years of age.  Resorptive lesions are extremely painful; cats will react to a dental probe touching them even when under general anesthesia. Extraction is the treatment of choice for resorptive lesions.

What is involved in a dental procedure?

Jeffy showing off his pearly whites

Dental care in cats involves scaling and polishing, as well as extraction of any teeth that are unhealthy. The gold standard for veterinary dental care involves radiographs to determine the health of the teeth below the gumline, though not all facilities have dental radiographs at their disposal. Because we can’t simply ask a cat to sit still while we use the ultrasonic scaler to clean her teeth, this is all done under general anesthesia. (To see what is involved in a dental procedure here at The Cat Doctor, please visit our Dentistry page!) After the dental cleaning, an at-home regimen will be recommended to prevent future dental issues.

What can I do at home to prevent dental disease?

Brushing your cat’s teeth is the best way to maintain a healthy mouth, but not all cats will tolerate this. We find that very few cat owners (veterinary professionals included!) actually brush their cats’ teeth. Fortunately, there are other ways to keep  Fluffy’s mouth healthy. There are a number of foods that have been formulated to promote oral health and approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council. ( Despite the long-held theory to the contrary, feeding regular kibble does not seem to have any effect on oral health versus feeding a canned diet.) There are also approved water additives and treats if you cannot feed a dental-specific diet. Above all else, it is important to have your cat’s mouth examined regularly to catch any dental disease early.

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

The American Veterinary Medical Association sponsors a Pet Dental Health Month every February, during which they work to educate pet owners about oral care in all types of pets. They’re currently running a photo contest on their Facebook Event page–check it out! They also have a podcast detailing the importance of pet dental care. Veterinarians around the country participate in this month-long event by offering discounts on dental care and working to educate their clients about preventative care.


Scratching Posts and Pedicures

Groovy cat needs a nail trim!

Scratching is a natural behavior in cats. Not only is it a way for your kitty to stretch and keep their claws healthy, but scratching is also a marking behavior that allows a cat to stake a claim on a territory. In today’s post, we will discuss how to redirect your kitty’s natural scratching behavior to appropriate places and how to perform a feline pedicure!

Cats like to stretch out when they scratch, so most prefer tall scratching posts

Scratching posts and pads

If you want to protect your furniture and carpets from kitty nails, you’ll want to give your cat plenty of places she’s allowed to scratch. Most cats enjoy tall scratching surfaces, such as cat trees, because they can stretch out while scratching. Kitties have different substrate preferences, so you might have to do a little experimenting to figure out what your cat’s preferred fabric type is.  The cheap corrugated cardboard scratchers are surprisingly popular with kitties, despite not offering any height for stretching.

In order to direct your cat’s scratching behavior to the proper places, you’ll want to entice her.  If your kitty has begun scratching a specific piece of furniture, you’ll want to start by placing the  scratching post or pad near the spot she’s been scratching. You can also entice her with catnip, which will make the post, tree, or scratch pad more appealing. Once she has decided that her new tree or post is the best place to scratch, you can gradually move it away from the

Sadie is crazy for catnip!

furniture to the place it will stay. Make sure to refresh the catnip scent periodically to keep your kitty interested!

Nail trim time!

Trimming your cat’s nails can seem daunting, but once you get the hang of it (and familiarize your kitty with the routine), it is something that can easily be done at home.  The first step is to familiarize your cat with having her paws handled. Cats generally don’t like having their feet touched, so this could take some time. Make sure to provide some type of positive reinforcement, such as treats, canned food, or petting, and keep the sessions brief at first. As your cat becomes more comfortable with having her paws handled, gently squeeze and manipulate her toes. Once this is tolerated, you can begin learning to trim her nails!

Applying gentle pressure just above the toenail will extend the nail

Sit your kitty on your lap or somewhere else where she’s comfortable. If you think you might require help, don’t be afraid to ask a friend to cuddle your cat while you trim her nails! Gently grasp your cat’s paw in your hand and apply slight pressure to the joint just above her nail–this will extend the nail out so that the entire surface is visible.

Cut the nail slightly below the end of the quick to avoid causing pain or bleeding


Once the nail is visible, look for the quick. This is a pink area that extends from the nail bed downward. You’ll want to trim the nail a few millimeters below the quick to avoid causing your kitty any pain or bleeding.

If your cat gets anxious or restless during the process, stop. You want to make the experience as pleasant as possible for all parties involved. Make sure to include treats and cuddles into the routine to keep the experience as positive as possible. If you can only trim a nail or two a day, that is fine! Most kitties will require nail trims every three to four weeks, though growing kittens usually need them more frequently.

Nail Caps

Sadie showing off her hot pink Soft Paws

Marketed under the names Soft Paws and Soft Claws, nail caps are a great way to prevent your cat from causing damage when she scratches. They come in a variety of colors, and application is simple. To apply a nail cap, simply trim your cat’s nails as usual, then load the cap with a drop of glue and slide it over the nail. They last three to four weeks for most kitties, and they’re fashionable too!

While many cats can learn to tolerate nail trimming, we appreciate that some cats are difficult to handle. Most groomers and veterinary offices will perform a nail trim for a low fee, and will even patiently walk you through the process if you want to learn how.