TLC and good nutrition could boost FIV-positive cat's health

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Q: I've gone back and forth about the prospect of fostering Mojo, an FIV-positive cat from a shelter. After reading about it, I've learned how common FIV is among male stray cats in the Philippines. Unlike in some other countries, animal welfare facilities here lack space, funding, staff and volunteers. I decided to fund a modest-sized cattery for FIV cats, but somehow, this didn't seem like enough. Mojo is still on my mind. I never thought of myself as a cat person, but I felt I had to help him.

During Mojo's first evening at the vet's office, he was diagnosed with a blocked ventricular valve, diabetes and a chronic eye infection. Once he settled into my home, he quickly began to engage with his surroundings, and has become very affectionate. I have three dogs, and I'd like to see if everyone can live in relative peace. Any suggestions? -- M.O., Philippines

A: "It's true that FIV (the feline immunodeficiency virus) is very common among male feral cats," confirms legendary veterinarian Dr. Niels Pedersen, distinguished Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Epidemiology at the Center for Companion Animal Health, University of California-Davis.

Of course, Pedersen has no way to know the extent of Mojo's health issues. Diabetes can be treated with regular insulin injections. Many diabetic cats are overweight, and with weight loss, exercise and a quality low carbohydrate diet, remission is possible. The heart problem might be a serious issue. Eye problems are common in FIV cats. Still, with consistent good nutrition and living indoors, Pedersen says even some "iffy health" in FIV cats can improve. Many times, these cats die quite elderly of problems associated with old age -- not FIV. However, regular proactive veterinary care is vital.

While Pedersen applauds your efforts to save cats by building a cattery, the real problem lies in the overwhelming problem of street cats in many countries.

"These street cats have been associated with people for eons," he notes.

Pedersen says your FIV-positive cat can't infect another species. Unless Mojo has had an awful experience with dogs, or your dogs are accustomed to chasing cats, your pets should all get along. Just remember, the more careful and gradual the introduction, the better.

I'm not sure if Feliway is available in the Philippines. If it is, plug a Feliway duffuser into the room where you're keeping Mojo, away from the dogs when you can't supervise. This product is a copy of a calming pheromone found on cats' cheek pads (cats deposit pheromones when they rub their cheek pads on your leg or a table leg). Also, take a clean towel and rub Mojo's cheek pads. Now rub that towel on your dogs to transfer the scent. You could also spray a touch of vanilla or lavender on the dogs and Mojo so they share a common scent.

When first introducing Mojo to your dogs, leash the dogs, and take no chances. What you don't want is a dog to chase Mojo; even in fun, Mojo won't find this amusing. Offer your cat some escape routes using vertical space which your dogs can't get to, such as a high book shelf or window ledge.

It's amazing how smitten you became with Mojo - and what a wonderful thing you've done!

Q: My daughter owns a Chesapeake Bay Retriever and a Jack Russell Terrier. Recently, while watching the retriever when my daughter was away, he vomited up some nylon stockings! He later passed a sock. He's also so thin that I can feel his ribs. My daughter says this is from all the exercise he gets. When I told her about the vomiting, she said the dog is always eating these things. Making matters worse, my granddaughter leaves her clothes on the bedroom floor, hence the dog has access to socks and other items. Apart from closing doors, do you have other ideas? -- P.W., Cyberspace

A: "A veterinarian needs to see this dog, and sooner rather than later," implores Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin. "The dog needs to have a complete physical evaluation, ruling out everything from anemia to parasites. Is this dog able to normally digest food? There are many questions to be answered."

If the dog checks out physically, there is a condition called pica, which your dog might have. Pica is a drive to eat inedible items, and may have become a habit when this dog was a puppy, exasperated by boredom, or a compulsive behavior.

Rubin adds, "Indeed, your sense of the seriousness of this problem is on target, no matter what the cause. While this dog has apparently been lucky so far, eating a nylon stocking or a sock could cause a potentially life-threatening obstruction." If your veterinarian thinks this is a behavioral problem, a referral to a veterinary behaviorist might save your dog's life.

Q: I feed a male feral cat; he's not tame, but I can pet him. He has a chronic gum infection, which I took him to the veterinarian for when he stopped eating any food, wet or dry. The veterinarian gave him a $30 antibiotic shot and a steroid shot, saying nothing more could be done, other than regular visits for this treatment. Do you have any other ideas? -- J.J., Bangor, PA

A: Dr. Kate Knutson, incoming president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says this cat may have stomatitis. This is a condition where the white blood cells enter the gum tissue and cause an extremely painful reaction. Since other possibilities include the feline immunodeficiency virus, bartonella (cat scratch disease) and the calici virus, a diagnosis is important.

"If this cat is diagnosed with severe stomatitis, the gold standard treatment is extracting all the teeth," she says. "Be sure to find a veterinarian who can do full mouth X-rays to insure that all the teeth are removed. In most cases, the excruciating pain quickly disappears all together. Though some cats do continue to have occasional pain; it's still much better than it was."

Knutson, of Bloomington, MN, says this cat has been in such awful pain that he might even show affection after surgery.

"I can assure you this cat has not been hunting for some time, so you're not taking away his ability to do so. Continue feeding him, or better yet, take him indoors. Clearly, you and the cat have bonded to one another."

Maybe we can all learn a lesson in altruism from you.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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