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HAIR, HAIR, EVERYWHERE -- FROM A CAT

Q: Is there a way to control a cat's shedding?

A: For indoor pets, shedding may be a year-round event with peaks in hair loss occurring at certain times of the year. Long-haired cats don't shed a higher number of hairs, although it may seem like it. It's just that each hair is longer than those of our short-haired friends.

The best thing to control shedding hair is to brush your cat with an appropriate grooming tool daily. A good quality diet will help control some of the nonessential shedding that occurs when cats have inadequate nutrition. Your veterinarian can assist you in picking a brand that provides the best value where digestibility, quality of ingredients and overall health benefits are considered. There are several topical spray-on coat conditioners available through pet stores that claim to decrease shedding. I've never seen any documented evidence that they work, but they may be worth a try. Be sure the product is safe for use in cats. Anything placed on the cat ends up in the cat eventually, because of its grooming habits.

D. Jeff Pollard, DVM

Cats susceptible to heartworm, too

Q: I have heard of heartworm disease happening in dogs, but can it really occur in cats? Should I be giving my cat heartworm preventative as I do for my dog?

A: Heartworm infection does occur in cats. The latest studies show that wherever heartworm disease occurs in dogs, it can also occur in cats, albeit at much lower rates. That means, for example, cats in Western New York are being infected with heartworms but at a lower incidence than cats in Florida. Cats with heartworm disease are often asymptomatic but can exhibit signs, such as vomiting, coughing and difficulty breathing. Heartworm infection can even cause blindness, seizures and sudden death. If your cat exhibits any of these signs, he needs to see a veterinarian. There are tests available to determine if your cat is infected with heartworms. As with dogs, a monthly preventative is available for cats and is recommended in regions where heartworm disease is common.

Timm Otterson, DVM

A concern in pregnancy?

Q: I recently found out that I am pregnant. My mother said I could get "toxo" from my cat and put my unborn baby at risk. Should I give my cat away? Is there a test for toxoplasmosis?

A: At the risk of coming between a mother and her daughter, I think you can keep the cat safely. Half of all cats and 40 percent of people have toxoplasma cysts in their bodies. Yet the risk of infection from your cat is unlikely. Infected cats only shed the disease for less than three weeks in their lives. The cyst is shed in the cat feces and needs to develop for more than 24 hours before it can cause an infection. Simple ways to protect yourself and your baby include having someone else clean the litter box every day and/or using rubber gloves and litter box liners. Always wash your hands after changing the litter, gardening and handling meat. Do not eat undercooked meat, unwashed vegetables or unpasteurized dairy products. Keep cats indoors and do not let them hunt. The most common source of human toxoplasmosis is undercooked meat, dirty hands and dirty vegetables. There are no reliable tests for your cat that would pinpoint shedding of toxoplasma cysts; even fecal floats are not reliable. Your doctor can advise you about a blood test to evaluate your exposure.

William James Brown, DVM

Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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