Category Archives: Cats

Arthritis in dogs and cats. Things you should know.

  • Arthritis is very common in older pets.
  • It is a painful condition.
  • The signs are not always easy to spot as dogs and cats are genetically programmed to hide pain.

Arthritis is caused by aging and wear and tear of joints, degenerative joint conditions, injuries. When we talk about arthritis in pets we usually are talking about osteoarthritis.

Signs to look out for in dogs

  • Difficulty rising after rest
  • Lying down or resting more than usual
  • Stiffness after exercise
  • Very slow particularly at start of a walk
  • Limping
  • Difficulty climbing stairs or getting into the car

Cats get arthritis too. Because cats are small and agile they are better able to cover up the signs. Because you know your cat best you are well placed to spot this condition

  • Reluctance to jump up or down from furniture/ through the cat flap
  • Watch for a cat that is sleeping more and is stiffening up
  • Look out for scruffy matted coat.
  • Changes in behaviour – often cats with arthritis are less tolerant around people.

What you can do at home to help

  • Maintain activity – try to continue with gentle exercise in dogs- just don’t over do it.
  • Make food, litter trays, beds etc. easily accessible to dogs and cats.
  • Get the best most comfy bed you can afford.
  • Avoid slippy floors for dogs, and keep them from going upstairs.
  • Control their weight.

What your vet can do to help

  • x-rays can be used for diagnosis.
  • Arthritis is a painful condition – so your vet may want to prescribe medications that relieve inflammation in the joints and relieve pain.
  • Joint supplements can be helpful.
  • Special diets are useful.
  • Sometimes surgery can be helpful – dogs can have hip replacements, they are expensive and they require a specialist but they can be done!

Costs for arthrititis medications vary widely – however for an average dog weighing 20kg medication would probably cost about €25 per month, perhaps another 10 -12 euro on supplements and maybe special diets. Add to this the cost of check ups and blood tests.

In our clinic if we have a patient with severe arthritis we would try a wide range of treatments to help them.

Ideally for an arthritic patient we would treat with a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (relieves pain and inflammation in stiff and sore joints). We would also use a joint supplement Arthri-aid which helps to nourish the fluid in the joint. We would feed the dog on Hills Science Plan j/d – a prescription diet which is helpful in dogs with arthritis. We would examine the patient  twice per year and do blood tests to help assess liver and kidney function. Sometimes we will recommend swimming, hydrotherapy or surgery.

Heavier animals cost more to treat as they need more medications (medications are given by weight.) Also you could expect to visit the vet twice per year for check ups.

There is a wide variation in the severity of the condition. For worse cases more careful management is needed. You the pet owner are the best person to assess your pet as you are with them every day. Your vet will help you with a diagnoses and a treatment plan if you are concerned about arthritis in your pet.

Looking after your older cat


Cats  are living longer and longer these days…..

There is a combination of factors involved, mostly better nutrition, vaccination and neutering and better care from their owners.

We would consider cats older than 7 to be senior and cats over 12 to be in the geriatric category. This is a complete generalisation of course – a cat doesn’t suddenly become old on its 7th birthday. The oldest cats I have treated were 23 and 24.

Common problems in older cats include

  • arthritis
  • kidney disease
  • hyperthyroidism (over active thyroid glands)
  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer
  • weight loss
  • dental problems


Arthritis is a very common painful condition in older cats which is very often missed. The reason owners (and vets) fail to recognize arthritis is the changes can be very subtle. Cats are small and agile and can cover up mobility issues caused by arthritis. They tend not to limp like dogs.

To spot arthritis in your cat look out for

  • Hesitance or reluctance to jump
  • Sleeping more and stiffening up particularly after rest
  • Poor coat quality (they may be grooming less)
  • Change in daily routine

If you have she may have arthritis – you can talk to your vet at her next health check about treatment options

At home you can make the following changes…

  • Maintain activity and play – gentle exercise is best.
  • Make food, water and litter tray access easy.
  • Control weight
  • Help your cat to groom
  • Provide deep comfy bedding in a warm easy to reach place
  • Make sure cat flaps etc are easy to access and can be pushed open easily

Kidney disease

Early detection is key. Watch out for decreased appetite and increase drinking or urinating. Routine blood tests at your vets will allow us to pick up signs before you notice any changes in behaviour – this enables us to begin treatment early and reduce associated problems such as high blood pressure. High blood pressure in cats with kidney disease is common and can result in sudden onset blindness. If this occurs emergency treatment is necessary to save sight.

A blood pressure check for a cat requires specialised equipment and we usually prefer to keep them in veterinary hospital for an hour or two to allow them to settle down.

Specialised kidney diets can make a huge difference to cats with kidney disease. Ther are also medications we can give to help. Regular blood testing helps to monitor this condition.


Very common in older cats. Watch out for

  • excessive eating, drinking and urination with weight loss
  • scruffy coat or appearance
  • change in temperment – often become hyperactive

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and blood testing. Initially treatment involves medicine, however removing the thyroid glands can result in a permanent cure.

Heart Disease

Hyperthrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common type of heart disease in cats. This can be caused by overactive thyroid glands – see above. If this is the case treating the thyroid disease can resolve the problem. In other cases chest x-rays may be helpful and medication will be required to treat this. Cats with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy risk blood clots – which can result in hindlimb paralysis. Urgent treatment is required in these cases.


Common in older cats – particularly those infected with FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or FeLV (feline leukaemia virus). Watch out for  weight loss,lumps or bumps on skin or any unusual swellings. Cats with white ears are prone to getting tumours on the tips of the ears. Sunblock can help prevent this.

Dental disease

Common in older cats. Watch out for increased salivation, cats that appear interested in food but don’t eat. Cats that drop their food. Check for bad breath and sore gums or lots of plaque on teeth.

Brushing cats teeth is usually not too easy so we general descale teeth with an ultrasonic scaler, followed by high speed polish. If there are any rotting or sore teeth they are removed – the transformation in an animal that had been suffering from tooth ache is unbelievable!

New Kitten


The first step to take when you get a new kitten is to allow a few days for it to adjust to its new surroundings and also for you to become acquainted with your new kitten’s health status. After a few days, you should bring your kitten to your chosen Veterinary clinic to be checked by the vet. At this stage you will be advised on all aspects of your kitten’s welfare and health care. This is the most important stage of your kitten’s life as the way you start your health care is the way you should plan to continue. Below are brief descriptions of the essentials that you need to be aware of when beginning with a new kitten. Further information can be found on our separate fact sheets or simply asking any one of our staff, after all that is what we are here for.

1. Vaccinations: Your kitten’s vaccination series begins at 9 weeks of age and finishes at 12 weeks of age with its adult shots. During this time your kitten should be kept away from public places. Your kitten is vaccinated against Cat Flu and Enteritis; two potentially fatal diseases. There is also vaccine for Feline Leukaemia available. Annual boosters are given thereafter to maintain your cat’s immunity.

2. Worming: Most kittens have Roundworms. These worms are harmful to children and can cause blindness. We recommend that you treat kittens every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age and every 3 months thereafter to eliminate the threat of roundworms.

3. Feeding: This is very important to get right from the very start. Once weaned from the mother, milk should be discouraged and water encouraged. There is a huge range on foodstuffs available both tinned and dry, of variable quality. We strongly advocate the feeding of dry foods over tinned food. Do not feed cats anything other than cat food as cats have specific dietary requirements. There are some very good dry foods available on the market, that are easy to feed, less expensive and messy and very good for your cats teeth and bowel. The quality of the food that you choose is very important and will determine your kitten’s overall development.

4. Neutering: Unless you plan to breed from your cat, we recommend that you have your cat neutered from 5 months of age. Many new born kittens have to be put down as good homes cannot be found for them. Neutering your female cat will reduce the incidence of mammary cancer, eliminate womb infections, false and unwanted pregnancies. Neutering your male cat helps to reduce the kitten numbers. It also reduces them wandering, fighting, spraying, and inevitably transmission of disease.

Hand Rearing Kittens


Raising an orphaned kitten can be a rewarding experience. However, kittens are very fragile, and raising them can be difficult, time consuming, and it is not always successful.

What kittens need to be hand reared?

Normal kittens have their environmental and nutritional requirements met by their mother. However, a number of different situations may lead to kittens requiring extra care, e.g. death of the queen (female cat), rejection of the kittens by the queen, ill health in the queen, or the production of too large a litter for the queen to care for.

When the queen is only temporarily ill, the kittens may only need to be hand fed for a few days, while in other situations the kittens may need to be fed by hand until they are weaned. In the case of a very large litter where the kittens are gaining some milk from their mother, they will only need supplemental feeding.

What are the basic considerations when hand rearing kittens?

There are several basic functions to be addressed when hand rearing kittens. These include the provision of a suitable clean, warm environment, a suitable feeding regimen, attention to urination and defecation (emptying of the bowels), and attention to general health. The major problems encountered when trying to hand rear kittens are chilling, dehydration and starvation (resulting in hypoglycaemia due to low blood sugar levels). These three conditions are interrelated and close observation is necessary if they are to be noticed, and if occurring, for prompt action to be taken in time. Kittens are very fragile, hence they can become ill and die very quickly.

How should I keep the kittens warm?

Warmth is a primary essential for the new-born. A kitten cannot react to cold by shivering and cannot control its own body temperature. In nature, warmth is obtained by direct body contact with the mother and conserved by the enclosed kittening bed. A new-born wet kitten loses heat very rapidly, hence it is important that they are dried quickly. Kittens can be kept warm by lying them in contact with a warm, well-covered hot water bottle, and heat can be conserved by covering them with a blanket. Great care must be taken not to inflict contact burns by having the bottle too hot. Acceptable alternatives are veterinary heating pads, and infra-red lamps. The disadvantages of the lamps are that many cats dislike the open bed required for their use, and they may over heat both mother and kittens, so lessen close nursing contact.

The temperature in the kitten box should initially be maintained at around 30°C but the box should be large enough for the kittens to move away from the heat if they become too hot. If the litter is large, the temperature can be reduced since by huddling together the kittens generate extra heat. The temperature can be gradually reduced by the end of the first month.

What makes a good nest for the kittens?

The easiest way to provide a clean, safe and warm nest is to take a cardboard box, line it with a synthetic fur “Vet Bed”, use either hot water bottles or a heating pad for warmth, and placing it away from drafts. “Vet Bed” can be easily cleaned, is warm and comfortable. If this is not available terry nappies or old towels can be used. Some people use plastic plant propagators as incubators, however, care should be taken to ensure the temperature within them is adequate.

I have heard that kittens cannot urinate or pass motions without assistance, is this true?

It is necessary to stimulate kittens’ of less than two weeks old to urinate and defecate. The voiding reflex is normally initiated by the queen licking the kitten’s ano-genital region. The “foster mother” must therefore imitate this by gently massaging the kitten’s ano-genital area with moist cotton wool ball. This should be done after each feed, and each kitten must pass urine and faeces at least once every day.

From two to three weeks of age the reflex should be triggered while the kitten is placed on the litter try. Leaving a small amount of soiled litter within the tray will serve as a reminder to the kittens of where to perform.

What signs might indicate that the kittens are unwell?

Normal kittens should eat or sleep for 90% of the time for the first 2 weeks of their lives. If they cry excessively, or fail to suckle, they are usually ill or receiving insufficient milk. Since kittens can die very quickly, they (and their mother, if still present) should be examined by a veterinary surgeon as soon as possible to ensure nothing serious is going wrong.

How much milk replacer should I be feeding the kittens?

When the milk supply is inadequate, supplemental feeding is recommended. Where the kittens have been orphaned or the queen is unable to feed them, they will need total replacement feeding. There are several commercial formulae available which are designed specifically for kittens. They should be made up and used as per instructions, but at a reduced volume if the kittens are still gaining some milk from their mother (give perhaps 1/2 to 1/3 of the volume). The amount on the label are usually given “as per 24 hours”. The quantities should therefore be divided into a number of feeds. Kittens less than 2 weeks of age should be fed every 3-4 hours, while kittens of 2-4 weeks of age can usually be fed every 6-8 hours. The milk should be warmed to 35-37.8°C (95-100°F) before feeding (~ the same temperature as the skin of the human forearm).

How do I get the milk into the kittens?

Spoon feeding is slow and requires great practice. Each spoonful must be gently poured into the kitten’s mouth. The kitten’s head must not be elevated since new-born kittens do not have a well developed gag reflex, and the lungs can easily be filled with milk.

Syringe feeding may be considered in an emergency, but can be potentially lethal. The problem arises when the plunger sticks and then gives way suddenly, squirting a large volume of milk into the kitten’s mouth, risking drowning.

Dropper feeding is similar to spoon feeding, but a little quicker and cleaner.

Baby bottles can be bought which are specially designed for kittens. The size of the hole in the nipple is critical. If when the bottle is turned upside down the milk drips from the nipple, the hole is too large, and you risk drowning the kitten. If when the bottle is turned upside down the milk only comes out after considerable squeezing of the bottle, the hole is too small, and its use may result in the kitten becoming discouraged and refusing to nurse. The correct size hole allows the milk to drip from the nipple with minimal squeezing of the bottle. As nipples are used the holes tend to enlarge, so new ones must be introduced. Kittens tend to become fixated upon one particular nipple, so when changing from an old one to a new one they may show reluctance to feed. As the kittens grow the size of the hole in the nipple can be gradually enlarged.

Do I need to sterilise all the utensils I use when preparing the milk for the kittens?

Orphaned kittens are very prone to infections so they must always be kept clean, and utensils used for preparing or administering the milk must be sterile.

Should kittens be regularly weighed?

It is advisable to monitor the kittens’ growth rates by weighing them at least twice weekly. They should double their birth weight in the first 7-10 days, then continue to gain weight steadily.

When should the kittens be weaned onto solid food?

Weaning should begin at 3-4 weeks of age. Initially the kittens should be offered milk replacer diluted 1:1 with water, in a flat saucer. They can be encouraged to lap by dabbing their noses with the warmed milk mixture. Once lapping is achieved it is possible to mix a little kitten food into the milk. This is continued until the kittens are taking just solid food. They can be fed either wet or dry diets, but it is best to feed only diets designed especially for kittens. Dog food and human baby foods should not be fed.

When do a kitten’s eyes usually open?

At birth the kittens’ eyes are closed; they usually open within 1-2 weeks. If the closed eyelids become swollen or matted with pus the kitten should be taken to a veterinary surgeon for immediate treatment.

Feline Immunodefiency Virus (FIV) Infection


Has my cat got feline AIDS?

Being FIV positive is not the same as having feline AIDS. AIDS describes the terminal stages of disease which may not occur for many years. FIV positive means that your cat has been infected by the virus.

Are my family at risk?

NO, though HIV in man belongs to a similar group there is no risk of cross infection.

Are other cats in the household likely to be infected?

Other cats in your household may already be infected. Generally, however, spread between cats through social contact is very poor so the majority of your cats may well be FIV negative.

Are other cats in the household at risk?

Risks to other cats in the household is low unless the cat that is infected is a fighter. The virus does not survive long in the environment so disinfection is not of great value. It is advisable that the positive cat is fed from a separate food bowl as saliva can have large amounts of virus in it.

How do cats get FIV?

FIV is transmitted primarily by biting, cats which are known fighters particularly those with a history of cat bite abscesses have a higher risk of being FIV positive. Kittens can also be infected at birth probably through virus that is present in the queen’s milk. Around a quarter to a third of kittens born to an infected queen are likely to be infected themselves. Normal social interactions such as grooming, have a very low risk of transmitting FIV.

How is FIV diagnosed?

FIV is diagnosed on a blood test. If this test is positive it is likely that your cat is infected by the virus. False positive and negative results do occur for a variety of reasons. Kittens under 4 months of age that test positive should be retested when they are six months old.

Will my cat recover?

As far as we know, once a cat is infected with the virus it will remain infected for the rest of its life, though it is not clear if all infected cats will become ill.

What type of disease does FIV cause?

FIV causes disease because it destroys the cat’s immune system so it becomes unable to respond to other infections in the normal way. This means that cats with many types of disease can be FIV positive, such cats are characterised by chronic or recurrent infections that fail to respond to treatment in the normal way. Common clinical signs of FIV infection include:-

  • Inflammation of the gums/mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Fever
  • Inflammation of the membrane around the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea

A lot of these signs are very non-specific and many diseases can have a similar clinical picture.

Is there any treatment?

Secondary infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics etc. but no specific treatment for the virus is available.

Should I have my cat euthanised?

Like HIV, cats with FIV have a long period where they appear healthy and show no clinical signs. This period can last for two to five years or perhaps even longer during which your cat can have a normal, happy life.

How can I help my cat?

You can help your cat by ensuring it has a healthy life style and good quality food together with regular worming and yearly booster vaccination. Any infections should be treated promptly and aggressively. The healthier a cat is the longer the asymptomatic period tends to be. Keeping your cat indoors is also a good idea as it reduces the likelihood of your cat picking up infections from other cats as well as reducing the spreading of the virus from your cat to other cats.

How do you stop cats becoming infected?

As most cats become infected from bite wounds during fighting, the risk of infection can be minimised by making sure your cat is neutered and, where possible, kept in at night as this is the most common time for cat fights.

One cat in my household is FIV positive and the others are not, what should I do?

Where there are healthy cats at home, there are two options:-

1. Rehome the FIV positive cat to a house with no other cats.
2. As the risk of infection spreading to your other cats by social contact is low, many people choose to keep the FIV positive cat. In this case, the positive cat should have a separate feeding bowl from the other cats and food should not be left down for all cats to share.

Chronic renal failure (CRF) in the Cat


There are many different diseases that can affect the kidneys in the cat. Chronic renal failure (CRF) is the end point of a number of different disease processes. All animals have a large amount of reserve kidney function hence signs of renal failure are not usually seen until more than 75% of the kidney’s functional capacity have been lost. Even at this point, changes may be very subtle with few if any outward signs, the kidney disease only being apparent on blood testing. As CRF is primarily a degenerative disease, it is most common in old cats. It has been estimated that around 16% of cats over 15 years of age have significant renal dysfunction. By the time a cat is showing signs of CRF, the underlying cause is often of little importance the disease having advanced beyond the point at which treatment of the cause is likely to be possible or helpful.

What are the signs of CRF?

In the early stages, signs of CRF are very non-specific and can be difficult to distinguish from the general signs of ageing. Unlike dogs in whom an increase thirst and increased urination is common, this is only reported in 30-40% of cats. The most common signs are dullness, anorexia and weight loss. Bad breath can be a useful indication of renal disease, however, it is also associated with dental disease which is very prevalent in older cats. Cats with kidney disease will often have a poor hair coat and a stiff gait. Some cats may vomit due to the build up of waste products within the blood stream. Occasionally, cats will present with sudden onset blindness associated with bleeding into the eye or retinal detachment as a result of high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension is commonly associated with CRF.

Although the loss of the kidney’s functional ability is a slow and gradual process, some cats seem to present with a very sudden onset of signs. It is likely that these cats have been coping (compensating) by an increase in fluid throughput enabling them to excrete their waste products over a larger volume as they are no longer able to concentrate their urine adequately. Eventually a threshold is reached when they are no longer able to compensate and clinical signs appear suddenly. The deterioration may be triggered by a relatively minor event such as a short period of starvation or vomiting causing mild dehydration with which the diseased kidneys are unable to cope.

How is it diagnosed?

Renal failure is usually diagnosed on blood biochemistry tests that show an increase in substances that should normally be excreted by the kidneys in the urine. Urea and creatinine are the most common substances that are measured. An inadequate blood supply means the kidneys cannot fulfil their functions and toxins build up in the circulation.
Acute renal failure occurs when there is a sudden, severe insult to the kidneys. This can be caused by toxins e.g. antifreeze poisoning or severely reduced blood flow to the kidneys. Urea and creatinine levels will increase rapidly. Emergency treatment is needed to save the cat’s life.

What other tests may need to be done to improve management?

Besides the excretion of waste, the kidneys have a number of other important functions. Kidney disease in an individual is unique, as the disease will have affected the different kidney functions to varying degrees. It is important, therefore, to gain as much information in all of these areas so that management can be optimised. This may require further blood tests, urinalysis, radiographs, ultrasound or even biopsy of the kidney.
Major roles of the kidney:

  • Excretion of waste products
  • Regulation of water balance
  • Regulation of blood acidity
  • Regulation of electrolytes
  • Production of hormones – renin (involved in water balance and blood pressure regulation) and erythropoietin (causes the bone marrow to produce red cells)
  • Activation of vitamin D (involved in calcium regulation)

Management of chronic renal failure

Management will vary with the precise problems of an individual cat, the ease with which the patient can be medicated and financial considerations. Possible treatments that may be necessary include :-

  • Rehydration
  • Correction of blood acidity
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Management of nausea and vomiting
  • Treatment of hypertension
  • Treatment of anaemia
  • Potassium supplementation
  • Antibacterial (antibiotic) therapy

In cats that present with severe disease, prompt and aggressive treatment may be necessary to stabilise their kidney function. In the longer term, much can be achieved with dietary management. A number of tinned and dry diets are available, specifically designed to help in the management of cats with chronic renal failure.

Dietary therapy for CRF

The major aim of dietary therapy is to normalise blood phosphate levels, phosphate restricted diets have been shown to increase the survival time in a group of cats from around 250 days to 633 days. Specialised diets also have reduced protein which will lower blood urea levels one of the major toxins making the cat feel unwell. Dietary potassium levels are increased, as low blood potassium is a common complication of CRF in cats.

How and when to start dietary therapy

  • Above everything else it is important to get a cat with CRF to eat something. Breakdown of body protein (starvation) has a number of detrimental effects and should be avoided at all costs. Many cats obtain the majority of their fluid form their food and will become dehydrated if they do not eat worsening pre-renal failure
  • A new diet should not be introduced in a very sick cat as the cat is likely to associate the new diet with feeling unwell and quickly refuse to eat it.
  • Acceptance of a new diet can be improved by making the feeding environment and food presentation as attractive as possible. Force feeding should be avoided as it increases food aversion. In some circumstances the introduction of a new diet can be aided by the short term use of appetite stimulants.
  • Some cats will not accept any change of feeding in which case other measures need to be taken to try and control phosphate levels.
  • There is no good evidence to support a particular starting time for dietary therapy, this can be as soon as kidney disease is identified, at a set point of urea and creatinine increases or when hyperphosphataemia develops.

Management of Hypertension

Hypertension can be a serious complication for cats with CRF and drugs may be required to normalise the pressure.

Management of Anaemia

Anaemia occurs as the result of a variety of processes including gastrointestinal bleeding, effects on the red cells by the uraemic toxins and bone marrow failure due to the lack of erythropoietin production by the kidneys. Some cases will respond to dietary and anti-ulcer treatments, others will require direct intervention. This may be in the form of blood transfusions or attempts to stimulate the bone marrow. Anabolic steroids have long been used for this purpose (they also have some appetite stimulatory activity), but they are relatively ineffective. Erythropoietin therapy is highly effective but is quite expensive and can be associated with long term problems as the erythropoietin used is from man and not cats.

Cat Vaccinations


All cats should be vaccinated against cat flu and infectious enteritis, a vaccine is now also available to prevent feline leukaemia.

Initially all cats require two vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart and thereafter a yearly booster. Kittens can start their vaccination course at nine weeks of age.

Cat Flu – This is a very common respiratory viral infection. It is easily passed from cat to cat through the air. The predominant signs are “flu like” symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, blocked nose, watery eyes and loss of appetite and can quickly lead to an acute pneumonia and death if not treated from an early stage. Recovering cats can become carriers of the virus, being able to pass the disease on to other cats.

Infectious Enteritis – This is a disease that is similar to Parvovirus in dogs affecting the intestines causing vomiting and bloody diarrhoea. This is a serious condition that is often fatal despite treatment.

Feline Leukaemia (FeLV) – This is a cancer causing virus which has recently become more widespread among the cat population. It is easily transmitted via saliva (bites and grooming) or any close contact. Successful treatment of this disease depends on the extent of the infection. Symptoms are variable depending on the organ affected and may include immunosuppresion, anaemia, enteritis or cancer. Diagnosis is determined by a simple blood test.

Feline Aids (FIV) – This is a recent problem that causes a similar condition to those seen in humans with HIV. It cannot be transmitted to humans. Unfortunately there is no vaccine available but many cases occur in cats that are infected with the leukaemia virus. A simple blood test is available for diagnosis of this condition.