5 Things I Wish Every Cat Owner Would Know (part 2)

As promised last time ( https://bit.ly/2lvR22t ), here are another 5 topics you should be aware of and pay attention to when caring for your cat(s).

6. Follow discharge instructions

Discharge instructions are made to be followed. This is one of those times where you get to learn from someone else’s challenges. That can save you and your cat from some serious trouble.

We know that wearing a plastic cone for 2 weeks is no fun. We know that being stuck in a crate for 4 to 8 weeks is boring. If there were an easier way to do things, we would tell you!

So please follow discharge instructions – all of them – all the time.

7. Get pet insurance

Pet insurance can make all of the difference in your cat’s life. If you cannot afford thousands of dollars in emergency or medical care, please consider getting pet insurance. And do your homework, as there are some really bad companies and really good companies out there.

8. Know thy enemy

Anesthesia is not the enemy.

Surgery is not the enemy.

Your pet’s condition is the enemy.

We are here to help you choose the best weapon to fight the enemy.

9. Know that prevention is a critical part of pet medicine

Every year, countless cats die because they did not receive basic, effective, affordable preventive care. Yearly exams are crucial to ensure your cat is and remains healthy and happy. Vaccinations should always be kept up to date, even for indoor cats. You never know when one might escape, get lost, or get hospitalized.

That thought applies to heartworm, flea and tick prevention as well. Your cat may not go outside, but you or your other pets who do can bring parasites inside your home. And obviously mosquitoes, who can carry parasites, can fly inside your house and bite an indoor cat.

Keep your kitties protected.

10. Don’t inadvertently starve your cat

When you realize it’s time for your cat to lose weight, be sure to create a feeding plan with your veterinarian. So many make the mistake of unknowingly restricting cats too much by cutting the amount of food down significantly.

This is very dangerous in cats. It can lead to deadly liver complications called hepatic lipidosis. We would rather have you trust your family vet, and feed a diet that was made specifically for weight loss.

These 5 additional tips can truly make a big difference in your cat’s life.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

5 Things I Wish Every Cat Owner Would Know (part 1)

Most cat owners are prepared to do whatever it takes to help their cat. Sadly, too many also rely on misconceptions and erroneous advice that can be misleading at best, and dangerous at worst. Every cat owner should be aware of the following issues:

1. Recognize pain and suffering

Most cats are extraordinarily stoic. It can be extremely difficult, but it is very important to recognize when cats are suffering.

If they are limping, they hurt.

If they are vomiting, something is wrong.

If they skip one or several meals, there is a reason.

If they have difficulty breathing, they may, in fact, be suffocating, and it’s terrifying for them. Seek help immediately.

Procrastination is heartbreaking for us.

2. Denial about weight can be deadly

If you describe your cat with words such as “solid,” “big boned” or “fluffy,” chances are your cat is overweight or obese. We know they love their treats, and that you love giving them, but too much weight is not healthy. Free feeding (i.e., not measuring the daily amount of food) is a recipe for chubbiness.

It takes years off of feline lives, it makes anesthesia riskier, and it makes recovery from surgery more difficult. Love your cats in ways that make them healthy and happy: hugs, petting, playing, snuggling, brushing, and interaction are all calorie-free forms of love and attention your cat craves!

3. Know whom to trust

As the saying goes, “You are what you eat,” so choosing the correct pet food is a big deal. Please talk to your vet when picking food. Feeding the wrong food to your cat can lead to obesity, bladder stones, urinary blockage and a poor hair coat.

In addition, given the regular pet food recalls, choosing a reputable brand is very important. The composition of pet food should be based on scientific research, not slick marketing.

4. Never assume

We cannot examine or treat your cat over the phone. We sometimes need to run lab work to find out what is going on with your cat. Yes, that cost is going to be in addition to the exam fee, but these tests are best for the health of your cat.

These diagnostic tests are our “X-ray glasses” to understand your cat’s condition. Without them, we might be blind.

This is really no different than in human medicine.

5. Spay or neuter your cat

Spaying a female before the first heat cycle dramatically reduces the risk of breast cancer. Spaying also totally prevents pyometra, a deadly uterine infection.

Neutering prevents testicular cancer and spraying.

Beyond those medical reasons, spayed or neutered pets are less likely to run away and get hit by a car or get into a fight. They also have a lower incidence of behavior problems.

We will go over 5 more tips next time.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

3 costly mistakes made by pet lovers

I am very fortunate to work with motivated pet lovers when I perform surgery on their pets. Yet I am always surprised when they make the 3 following mistakes.

1. Allowing their pet to gain weight

Allowing your pet to be overweight increases their chances of getting certain diseases: diabetes, heart disease, urinary issues, tumors, orthopedic problems (such as ACL tears) and arthritis, to name a few.

It gets worse: obesity decreases your pets’ quality of life and shortens their lifespan.

Studies showed that maintaining a healthy weight can extend dogs’ lives for 2 years! The same concept likely applies to cats.

2. Giving your pet “freedom”

Every year, I fix a number of broken bones that could have been totally avoided. If more dogs were on a leash and fewer cats were allowed to go outside in the name of “freedom”, there would be much fewer broken bones.

Dogs and cats will never win the battle against a moving vehicle. The damage can be extensive, even life-threatening. Not using a leash may also increase the risk of your pet getting into a fight with unfriendly four-legged neighbors or even wildlife.

Use a leash – save a life (and money).

3. No pet insurance

Surprisingly, pet insurance is still a fairly new concept for some pet owners. Pet insurance can help with unforeseen emergencies or surgeries.

Similar to health insurance for humans, it will help offset some of the cost of pet ownership. It may give you much needed assistance in the event of an emergency or costly but necessary surgery.

Now… not all pet insurance companies are created equal. Some are good, some are really bad… So do your research to find the company and plan that’s right for you and your pet.

On that note, I’ve heard many pet owners say “I’ve paid for pet insurance for years, and I never used it, so I stopped paying for it.”

Ironically, we typically have this discussion when they need my surgical services (Murphy’s Law)… ie when it’s too late!

With all due respect, this is not the right way to think about pet insurance. Would you ever say “I’ve paid for fire insurance for years, and I never used it, so I stopped paying for it. Man, I wish my house had burned down so I could make my investment work for me!”

Of course you’d never say that!

It’s the same for pet insurance.

It’s not an investment.

When you buy pet insurance, you are buying peace of mind.

You are buying the certainty that if and when your pet needs surgery or some other treatment, you will be able to help your pet without putting your personal financial situation at risk (one big caveat: as with any insurance, there are exclusions!).

So consider getting pet insurance, have peace of mind, and hope you never need it.

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Major needs brain surgery!

Major, a cute 3 month old German shepherd, suffered severe injuries after he was attacked by a much bigger dog.


He was rushed to the local emergency clinic, where he was treated for his injuries. He had a large amount of swelling on the top of his head, which raised suspicion that he may have significant injuries to his skull.

X-rays confirmed that Major had multiple fractures in his skull. He also seemed to be blind, so brain trauma was suspected.

The emergency doctor called me to see if I would be willing to perform surgery to put this puppy back together. I told him that because of the amount of swelling and trauma, surgery would have to wait a few days for the swelling to decrease. I did not feel that I could successfully do surgery without causing additional injury with that much swelling.

A few days went by, Major was a much happier camper. It was unclear whether he could see, but he still reacted like a puppy when you walked up to his cage.

X-rays were repeated 5 days after the injury. They revealed that the swelling around the skull fracture had gone down, even though he still had a large lump on the top of his head. At that point, we decided to go ahead with surgery to repair the fracture.

Major was placed under general anesthesia and prepped for surgery. Anesthesia for brain surgery is risky. In order to decrease swelling of the brain itself, the anesthesia nurse had to keep his CO2 as low as reasonable throughout surgery.

After the skin incision, we confirmed that the massive swelling was a giant blood clot. I decided not to share those pictures… they are a bit too graphic…

After we cleaned out the giant blood clot, the fractures became visible. Of all the broken pieces, two main ones needed to be repaired. The tiny pieces had to be sacrificed.

With great care, in order not to damage the brain, holes were drilled in the skull and the fractured pieces. Suture (rather than metal wire) was used to secure the fragments in place. Over time, the suture material will be absorbed by the body.


After surgery, the swelling was dramatically less (see the before and after pictures below).


Before Surgery

After Surgery

Major recovered smoothly after surgery, and surprisingly he was able to go home the very next day!

After one month, skull X-rays looked good enough that it was time to allow Major to progressively increase his activity (see the before and after X-rays below).

Before Surgery


After Surgery

The end result is shown in this video shared by Major’s owner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5B8AUyW5JE

The video is only 24 seconds, but it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face!

Major’s owner final report was:

“Major is doing great. His vision is so so. I think he is totally blind in his right eye. His left eye is not 100 percent but he manages to get around great.
Our back yard is fenced in, so he loves being outside playing with his best friend, our cat.
I’m hoping to start him back in obedience school next.
Thank you for saving our puppy.”


Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified

Harper the Greyhound needs reconstructive surgery of… the lip

Harper, a 7 year old greyhound, had a fleshy mass the size of a silver dollar inside her right upper lip.

Her family vet did a “debulking” surgery to try and remove as much of the mass as possible without removing the lip itself. The tissue removed from Harper’s mouth was sent to the lab for biopsy. The biopsy revealed a mast cell tumor, which is unusual in the mouth.

Mast cells are normal white blood cells we all have. They play a role in the body’s response to allergies and inflammation. Sometimes, they become cancerous, most commonly in the skin.

Occasionally, they can affect other body parts, such as the spleen, the liver or the intestine… or the mouth as in Harper’s case.

Complete removal of the mass is the ideal treatment. When we try to get “clean edges” in surgery, we call it getting “clean margins”.

More aggressive tumors or “dirty margins” (i.e. when the tumor was not completely removed) sometimes require additional treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Unfortunately for Harper, due to the size and location of her mass, clear margins were not obtained with her first surgery. That’s when I was called in to perform a more invasive surgery, which would require reconstructive surgery.

To ensure clean margins were achieved this time around, I needed to remove a big chunk of Harper’s lip.

This left us with a hole I had to get creative to close.

I used what is called a skin flap. Using skin from the cheek, and by pulling it into the surgical area, I was able to reconstruct Harper’s upper lip (the pictures are a bit too graphic for this humble blog). There was some considerable pressure along the incision postop, which was a concern for healing. There was a chance the stitches would not hold up…

Harper recovered smoothly from anesthesia. She went home with instructions to keep her quiet and to prevent her from chewing on anything, including toys. The incision had to be protected at all time with a plastic cone (E collar).

About a week later, the biopsy was read as a mast cell tumor – no surprise there. The great news was that we were able to “get it all”, i.e. we had clean margins.

Three weeks later, Harper showed good healing, but I was concerned that the incision looked so crusty. Rather than aggravating the incision by removing the stitches and the scabs, we decided to leave the sutures in for an additional week.

Harper was able to open and close her mouth without any issues, which was a huge relief. Her family vet was able to take a picture while she was yawning at the clinic!

That showed us that Harper could fully open her mouth. It turn, it meant that she could play with chew toys and balls in the future.

One week later (1 month after surgery), the incision looked immensely better. The stitches were removed. And Harper could resume her normal activity.

Harper’s mouth will be checked by her family vet during regular check-ups. She is still doing great 6 months after surgery.

Her owner GK wrote:

“Hello Dr. Zeltzman,

We wanted to share with you how happy we are with the outcome from Harper’s surgery.

She looks absolutely fantastic, with her scar only being approximately 1/2 inch long.

The healing process was a little rough in the beginning but with all the excellent instructions we were given we knew what to expect.

But overall it seemed to be a quick process and Harper is as good as new and back to her silly greyhound antics.

Thank you for taking such excellent care of our girl.”


Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified