On a recent Sunday evening, New Yorker Oscar Q. was watching his three dogs play when he noticed something unusual about his five-year-old Shih Tzu, Buddy: The dog’s left eye was dangling from its socket.
Oscar immediately took Buddy to the Animal Medical Center, who referred him to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH) the following day. At AAH, Buddy was assessed by Drs. Kristen Frank and Anna Podgorska, and on Tuesday, Dr. Maren Krafchik removed his eye.
Displacement of the eyeball out of the eye socket is a condition known as proptosis, and it often occurs after fighting with a larger dog or following trauma to the face or head.
“I wanted to save his eye, but as long as he’s alive, that’s what's more important to me,” said Oscar, adding that Buddy often plays with other dogs, but such a thing had never happened to him before.
Eye proptosis is not unusual in brachycephalic dog breeds—those with bulging eyes, short snouts and shallow eye sockets—like Shih Tzus, Pekingese, Pugs, Lhasa Apsos and Boston Terriers. For these breeds, even mild restraint or play can result in eye proptosis. Dog breeds with long noses and deep-set eyes are less likely to experience proptosis.
Because proptosis occurs most commonly after trauma, there are no real preventative measures pet owners can take. “Owners of brachycephalic breeds should be aware that their pet is predisposed to this condition and seek medical attention immediately in the event of proptos,” said Dr. Frank. “In certain cases, [eye removal] can be avoided with prompt medical and surgical intervention by a veterinarian.”
As of August 31, 35 eye removal surgeries have been performed at AAH this year for a variety of reasons, including infections and deformities of the eye, diseases of the eye, and trauma like Buddy’s.
On the bright side, eye removal is usually tolerated well by dogs and cats, and Oscar says Buddy is recovering well. “We treat our dogs like kids,” he said. “And Buddy is adored by everyone.”
Toby, an eight-year-old male tabby, had never had any medical issues until he suddenly became blocked, or unable to urinate, one day last month.
“He was going to his litter box constantly,” said Carlos B. of the Bronx, who adopted Toby as a kitten. “Back and forth, back and forth—and his personality seemed to change.”
So Carlos and his girlfriend, Julie, brought Toby to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), where he was diagnosed with Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS), or urinary blockage, by Dr. Maren Krafchik.
Most cats affected by FUS are in the one- to eight-year range, like Toby. Common symptoms include:
Straining to urinate
Frequent small urinations
Blood in the urine
Inappropriate urination (somewhere other than the litter box)
Straining without urination (urinary obstruction)
Crying, restlessness, or hiding because of discomfort
Loss of appetite
“Urinary blockage is a life-threatening emergency,” says Dr. Krafchik. “Potassium levels (as well as kidney toxins) rise in the bloodstream and can cause death in a cat.”
A urinary catheter was placed to unblock Toby’s urethra and allow urine to drain from Toby’s bladder, and he received intravenous fluids and pain medication. The urinary catheter was removed a few days later, and Toby was sent home. Unfortunately, this condition can reoccur, and Toby returned to the Hospital three weeks later with another urinary obstruction. “He went back to his old symptoms,” Carlos said.
Given Toby’s history of chronic straining and urinary problems, ASPCA veterinarians recommended a Perineal Urethrostomy (PU). This is a surgical procedure in which the external penis/urethral tissue is incised and sutured open in order to permanently widen the urethral opening. This surgery, commonly performed at AAH, helps decrease the chance of future bladder obstruction.
“Male cats are susceptible to developing obstructions of the urethra because their urethral diameter is so small,” says Dr. Krafchik.
As of earlier this month, AAH has performed catheterization procedures for urinary blockage on 163 cats, and 37 PU surgeries—an average of almost one procedure per day in 2015.
“Many people think their pets are misbehaving by urinating outside of the litter box,” says Dr. Krafchik. “The reality is that there can be an underlying reason for the behavior such as bladder inflammation, crystals, stones, or less likely, infection.”
Carlos reports that since Toby’s PU procedure, he is back to his old self. “He is really happy, very friendly, and playful, which we missed so much,” Carlos says. “He's eating and his bodily functions are back to normal.”
Kristin K. knew something was wrong early one recent Monday when her 11-year-old adopted tabby, Sonny, skipped breakfast and lay on the floor.
“He’s the self-appointed sheriff in our household, always policing the other two cats,” Kristin says. “And he’s normally very active in the morning and runs to his food bowl. So I had a bad feeling.”
Kristin immediately took Sonny to the ASPCA Animal Hospital, where he was examined by veterinarian Dr. Mary St. Martin.
“His symptoms were subtle, but he had a tense abdomen and a fever,” recalls Dr. St. Martin, who diagnosed Sonny with acute pancreatitis based on his blood work and an ultrasound that revealed changes in and around his pancreas.
Pancreatitis is commonly treated by veterinarians at the ASPCA, with supportive care such as intravenous fluids, pain medication and anti-nausea medications to control vomiting.
After three nights and four days of treatment at the Hospital, Sonny went home, where Kristin reports “the self-appointed sheriff is back at work.”
As it does in humans, the pancreas, a V-shaped organ located near the stomach and the small intestine, produces insulin, which helps metabolize sugar in the body and is necessary for the digestion of nutrients by producing enzymes which promote the digestion and absorption of fats.
While it’s not always easy to pinpoint the cause, pancreatitis in cats and dogs can be triggered by certain infections or diseases, metabolic disorders, medications and abdominal surgery or trauma. In cats, pancreatitis is often associated with inflammatory liver or intestinal disease, also known as triaditis. In dogs, acute pancreatitis can be caused by dietary indiscretions. Obese and overweight pets, and those fed diets high in fat, are also at risk.
Sonny had never before suffered from pancreatitis but displayed the classic symptoms, including dehydration and decreased appetite. Dogs more commonly develop vomiting and abdominal pain. Both dogs and cats can also develop jaundice associated with pancreatitis.
There are also possible associations between pancreatitis (especially chronic pancreatitis) and diabetes. Sonny’s blood sugar was high and he is being monitored for the possible development of diabetes, which could require treatment with insulin injections.
“It isn't easy to prevent pancreatitis, but diet changes and keeping pets at ideal body weight may help,” says Dr. St. Martin.
Madonna, a three-year-old pit bull mix with a sweet disposition, arrived at the ASPCA last May, part of a group of eight dogs rescued by the New York City Police Department (NYPD). All of the dogs were in extreme stages of neglect and were suffering from skin and ear infections, intestinal parasites, dental disease and other illnesses, but only Madonna tested positive for heartworm.
Heartworm is a serious disease: The spaghetti-like worms, which can grow up to a foot in length, live in the hearts, lungs and associated blood vessels of infected animals. They are carried in a microscopic form (known as microfilaria) by mosquitoes that transmit the worms when they bite other animals. They can circulate in the bloodstream, mature, multiply and can eventually obstruct the flow of blood to the heart and lungs. If not treated, heartworm can be fatal.
While dogs are the most common hosts for this parasite, they can also be found in other species, including cats, ferrets, foxes, even wolves and horses. Dogs can live for years without symptoms after infection, but the heartworms’ long-term effects in an untreated dog may cause lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries. Cats may develop chronic respiratory disease and, unfortunately, the first signs in infected cats can be sudden collapse or death.
Fortunately, the ASPCA caught Madonna’s case early. She was successfully treated for her infection and subsequently tested for both adult heartworms and microfilaria. Today she is in a happy home and takes a monthly preventive medication.
Heartworm treatment in dogs is a multiple-step, three-to-four month process that involves injections and oral medication to kill the heartworms, as well as prolonged periods of exercise restriction. Since it is very challenging to treat cats for heartworm disease, it is essential to prevent the disease in the first place.
“The best way to avoid heartworm disease is to give your dog heartworm preventive, a once-a-month oral or topical prescription medication,” says Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York City. Prevention comes in several formulations and your veterinarian can advise you as to the best choice for your pet. Heartworm preventives commonly also treat a variety of other internal and external parasites.
Puppies should start on preventives no later than eight weeks of age without a test, but should be tested in six month intervals after the first dose and then yearly after that.
Heartworm infection is harder to detect in cats, because they are less likely to host adult heartworms. Cats should be tested before being put on medication and re-tested as vets deems appropriate to monitor exposure and risk.
Heartworm symptoms in dogs include persistent coughing, fatigue after exercise, decreased appetite, decreased desire to exercise, and weight loss. Heartworm in cats can cause wheezing and respiratory symptoms, as well as vomiting, loss of appetite and weight loss.
April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. Visit our Pet Care section to learn more about heartworm in dogs and in cats.
When Richard C. noticed that his cat, Misha, was drooling and wincing when she tried to eat, he immediately knew something was wrong. He took the green-eyed, orange tabby to the ASPCA Animal Hospital (AAH), where she was diagnosed with lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, a severe inflammation of the mouth that can also affect the gums. The chronic, rapidly-progressive condition was making it nearly impossible for Misha to eat.
During Misha’s two-hour procedure, Dr. Maren Krafchik extracted 12 teeth, including molars, incisors, baby teeth, and a fractured front canine tooth before closing the gaps in Misha’s gum tissue with dissolvable stitches. Three teeth remain.
“Cats are highly sensitive and prone to inflammatory reactions,” said Dr. Krafchik, noting that Misha’s condition was not uncommon. But she added that treatment with medications alone will not solve the problem; dental work is needed to relieve animals like Misha from inflammation and pain.
One of the most common maladies seen by AAH staff is dental disease. In 2014, our team performed nearly 850 dental procedures on dogs and cats, ranging from simple cleaning and extractions to treatment for advanced periodontal disease.
“Leaving a sick mouth untreated presents major risks,” says Dr. Janice Fenichel, one of 10 veterinarians at AAH who routinely perform dental procedures. Health risks of untreated dental issues in pets include jaw fractures due to bone destruction and damage to organs caused by chronic bacterial infection in the mouth. Kidneys in particular are often injured by untreated oral disease.
“Many pets have multiple diseased teeth,” says Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of AAH. “Pets with dental disease are often in severe pain—imagine having not just one toothache, but many.”
ASPCA veterinarians frequently find inflamed gums in cats. In 75 percent of adult cats, dental problems require extractions. Fractured teeth and periodontal disease are the most common dental problems in dogs seen at AAH.
She stresses dentals “are not about cosmetics,” but rather, “keeping important teeth in your pet’s mouth and keeping your pet comfortable.”
“So often, clients express fear that if their pet loses all of his teeth, ‘How will he manage?’” she adds. “The truth is, after a much-needed dental, they’re eating a lot more comfortably than when they had a mouthful of awful teeth.”
That’s certainly true for Misha, who these days doesn’t let her almost-empty mouth stand in the way of a good meal.
For more information, check out our “Ten Steps to Dental Health” for cats and for dogs.