Answering Your Questions at AVMA Convention: Megacolon, Cushing's, Cat Behavior


SAN DIEGO, CA — These questions were answered by experts attending the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association Aug. 3-7 at the San Diego Convention Center.

Q: My cat, Wanda Jean, began throwing up after eating, and she clearly didn’t feel well. An x-ray showed her colon was filled with feces and she had an enlarged bladder. We put her on a prescription diet after her short stay with the vet. For two weeks she seemed better, then the cycle of vomiting resumed. The veterinarian said the next step was major surgery to remove the front and back ends of the cat’s colon, which would restore full function. That doesn’t sound right to me. Throughout all this, Wanda Jean hasn’t lost weight. Still, I know she can’t be a happy cat. Does surgery really seem like the next step? — T.B., Henderson, NV

A: “Indeed, I understand your concerns and would myself likely consider a far more conservative approach,” says Dr. Richard Ford, emeritus professor of medicine at the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University, Raleigh. “This is a relatively young cat, so I’d look further into the colon to see what it looks like (with an endoscope). But before surgery, consider another perspective — a referral to an internal medicine specialist. Depending on what’s going on here, (a prescription) diet might well control the problem.” However, if your cat has been diagnosed with megacolon (and the colon consistently doesn’t empty), ultimately surgery might in fact be the right option to restore quality of life to your cat.
Q: Our dog, Maggie, has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease (or hyperadrenocorticism, the overproduction of the hormone cortisol). The medication, Vetoryl, caused her to have loose stools and vomiting, and she stopped eating. Our veterinarian allowed her to stay off the drug, but now wants to start again. Is there a milder medication for this disease? And do we really need to treat this disease? — E.S., via Cyberspace

A: Dr. Mark Russak, Starkville, MS-based president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says that for starters, Cushing’s disease does require treatment.

There are two types of Cushing’s disease that are treated differently. The most common form is caused by overproduction of a hormone by the pituitary gland in the brain, which in turn controls the amount of cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. This is called pituitary-dependent Cushing’s. A small percentage of dogs with Cushing’s disease have a tumor of one of the adrenal glands, which is called adrenal-dependent Cushing’s.

Russak adds that for the most common form of Cushings, Vetoryl is the drug of choice with generally the least side-effects. Often a dog’s system can become adjusted to taking the drug. Do make sure the drug is taken with a meal. If the dog still suffers in the second go-around, then your veterinarian will consider another option.

Cushing’s disease causes increased appetite, panting, high blood pressure and hair loss (usually evenly distributed on both sides of the body). The condition may also result in calcified lumps in the skin, susceptibility to skin infections and diabetes, weakening of the heart and skeletal muscles, nervous system disease and other symptoms. Some owners report accidents due to increased water consumption. You don’t want to avoid treatment.


Q: We adopted our cat from a shelter. She sleeps during the day, but is up all night chewing cords and drapery while we sleep. Besides the expense of repair, we’re worried that one day she’ll kill herself. Spraying (the cords themselves) doesn’t work, and there are too many cords to cover. Do you have ideas on how to deal with this situation? — K.O., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Ilona Rodan, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, prescribes three interactive play sessions daily, with one just before bedtime. “Follow that (last play session of the day) with a bedtime snack,” she suggests.

Since your cat sleeps all day, she will be active at night, Rodan notes. Find ways to engage the cat during the day, even if you’re not home. You could leave treats or kibble in food puzzles and food-dispensing toys, available most places where cat toys are sold. Hide these around the house so your cat can “hunt” for them. Also rotate your cat’s toys so there’s always something new to investigate.

Since your cat likes to chew, ask your veterinarian for a sample of Canine T.D. This is extra large kibble for dogs. If your cat likes it, offer her a piece every couple of days. Another idea is C.E.T. chews (shaped like logs), which can be stuffed inside small Kong toys, and also have dental benefits. Many cats enjoy nibbling on cat grasses.

While Rodan understands that you have many electrical cords around the house, consider organizing them (a better idea for you, too) so you don’t need to buy as many cord protectors. There are cord protectors which will easily fit two or three cords inside. You’re right, by the way, that a cat could be electrocuted while chewing on cords.


Q: My 17-year-old cat has started pooping outside the litter box. The veterinarian says the cat just doesn’t care anymore. He has three litter boxes but still goes on the carpet whenever he feels like it. Any advice? — C.W., Clinton, IA

A: If your cat sometimes seems forgetful or confused, feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people) is a possibility. Particularly when caught early, there are a number of products which might help. Research presented at this conference suggests the nutritional supplement adenosylmethionine or SAMe (under the brand name Novifit) may help cats. We already know it may rejuvenate dogs.

New York City-based certified cat behavior consultant Beth Adelman says she’s not convinced there’s no physical explanation for the cat’s behavior, such as GI issue. Also, arthritis is often missed in cats.

Adelman says three litter boxes is right assuming there are no stairs to climb to reach them, and the boxes are in different rooms of the house. The boxes should have very low sides. Adelman suggests storage boxes, cafeteria trays, even cookie sheets with edges because they’re so easy for older cats to step into.