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Stefano Fontana

Easter Lilies (and other lilies) are Toxic to Cats!

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The Holidays are upon us again and many people partake in the tradition of giving an Easter Lily plant.   If there is a cat in the house, please do not do so as this may have fatal consequences.  

All parts of the Lily plant are toxic to plants – this includes Lilium sp. and Hemerocallis sp. – Easter, Tiger, Asiatic and Daylilies.   

Ingesting any part of the plant or touching the flowers and grooming the pollen off of their fur can lead to acute kidney failure – less than one leaf chewed upon, flower ingested, walking through or brushing against the pollen and licking it off the fur.  

If you suspect your cat may have come in such contact take them to your veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately as time is of the essence in saving their kidney function and thus their lives.  

Signs that they may have ingested part of the lily can include:

– vomiting, inappetance, increased water intake, increased urination, lethargy, hiding

– once the kidneys shut down completely your cat may no longer urinate

Time is critical in treating lily ingestion/exposure.  If early enough you veterinarian may induce vomiting to remove any remaining lily substance from the stomach.  Then administer activated charcoal by mouth to try to absorb the toxins in the GI tract thus limiting them entering the bloodstream.  Your cat will also need IV fluid therapy, usually for 48 hours, to ensure the kidneys are flushed out and hydrated to preserve their function.  

If treated early enough the prognosis for a full recovery is good.  

Try incorporating a Cat-Friendly Flower into your Holiday Tradition instead.  For more information visit the ASPCA toxic plant website to find out what is and is not safe for your pets and what issues exposure may cause if toxic.…

Sweet Relief – Is Your Cat in Pain?

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Most of you will have heard the saying “cats are masters of disguise” – it is true.  As a species they are not just hunters but also hunted – that means that displaying any signs of weakness (including pain) in the wild will dramatically decrease their chances of survival. 

Meet the Atlantic Cat Hospital’s very own Duck – our Office Manager and Head Receptionist.  Duck came to the cat hospital as a young cat with a fractured pelvis in 2009.  She recovered from her injuries and did well maintained on glucosamine supplements.  Duck has always enjoyed a game of chase/toss but these were usually limited in duration and frequency.  After a week on pain medication (gabapentin) she really has her “game on” – is far more involved, insistent and interactive with everoyne at the cat hospital, demanding more play time throughout the day versus the odd session.(photo coming soon…)

When Yoda came to me he had a number of ‘bad teeth’ in his mouth.  There were no outward signs that anything was amiss.  Prior to his dental surgery he was a happy cat and engaged in short periods of play each day, including his favourite “fetch the crinkle ball”.  Following dental surgery and removal of the problem teeth his play periods have increased dramatically in both frequency and duration.  It is obvious that while he was ‘happy’ before, he is much happier now that those issues and the associated discomfort have been dealt with. (photo coming soon…)

There are several categories of pain:  Acute, Chronic and Persistant. 

Acute is immediate or sudden onset of pain usually associated with an injury, surgery, etc

Chronic is longterm pain that is often associated with arthritis, dental disease, etc. 

Persistant may relate to an ongoing illness (such as cancer) that must be treated palliatively. 

If acute pain is unmanaged it can become ‘chronic’ pain which can involve another set of challenges in treatment affecting the choice of pain medication or combinations of medication (mulit-modal) chosen to treat.    Multi-modal therapy will target different areas of the pain pathway to enhance relief. 

Common pain medications used include: buprenorphine, gabapentin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories.  Additional classes of pain medication may be used for in hospital patients.

Your veterinarian will discuss with you to determine the best options for your cat if needed. 

For more information visit:

Cat Handling 101

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There are some very important tips when it comes to approaching and handling cats, especially one that is new to you, who is unfamiliar with you. 


Several observations for cats in the clinic:  in the exam room you will find that I position your cat to face you at the start of the exam.  This decreases their level of intimidation and does aid in relaxation.  It helps for the kitty to be able to see their human(s) during the process.  We will have your friend on a towel on top of the exam table.  This allows us to turn your cat (magic carpet ride) without having to pick him/her up physically, thus reducing stress.  I approach and go slowly through my examination as cats are not ones to appreciate being rushed. 

We have Feliway plugin diffusers placed in the exam rooms.  These devices deliver a synthetic calming pheromone which helps decrease your cat’s stress during their visit. 

I usually have a staff member ‘restraining’ your friend.  We have a pattern or routine we follow for my examinations with specific techniques for holding and positioning – following that routine ensures that I am not likely to overlook anything during the physical examination. 

Often when owners are nervous they may pet their cat more ‘enthusiastically’ than normal.  This can lead to the kitty becoming overstimulated and lashing out (see the link above) so keep all of your contact ‘soft’ and ‘quiet’ when your cat is in a stressful situation, like the exam room. 


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Separation anxiety is a commonly recognized problem in dogs, but far less so in our feline companions.  Working in a cat-only practice I have come across a number of patients who do have this issue, including our late clinic cat, Danny, when he stayed at Sandy’s home.  

The most common complaint from owners is excessive vocaliztion when they leave their home.  Their cat may also cling to them when they are home, getting upset if their owner is out of their sight.  Some clients feel that their cats will eliminate outside the litterpan because of this. 

If your cat has become more vocal there may be a medical reason and you should take him/her in to your veterinarian for an exam and evaluation.  Hyperthyroidism, hypertension, decreased sensory input (hearing and vision loss), dementia and pain are all potential causes of increased vocalization. 


While separation anxiety may lead to inappropriate elimination  it is important to ensure there is not a medical issue such as urinary tract infections, crystals in the urine, arthritis and constipation.  Then there is Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC) which is a stress driven inflammation in the bladder that can lead to spasms that cause them to urinate outside the pan.   

If excessive vocalization and ‘clinging’ are not ‘new’ behaviours then you may be dealing with separation anxiety.  It is quite possible to have both a medical condition and separation anxiety coexisting.  Their anxiety may be driven by the underlying medical condition so having your cat examined by your veterinarian to get a ‘baseline’ is important.

Treatment of separation anxiety is directed at trying to encourage your cat to become more independent through environmental enrichment.  Each cat will be different as to the things that may interest or entice them.   

Food puzzels or dispensing toys can help those who are food motivated.  Putting these in locations that are away from you may encourage the cat to venture further from your side even into other rooms in the home.  You may have to start with the toy at your feet and over time, start placing it further away working up to putting it in a separate room.  

The “No Bowl” system can be helpful for those food motivated cats as can other food puzzles.  Visit:

Clicker training may be beneficial for food motivated cats:

Other interactive toys may be beneficial in this regard.   For cats who like to chase laser pointers and do not get too worked up about it, you can purchase a ceiling mounted laser pointer with a remote control that you can program to go off and entertain your friend.  There are many interactive toys available for cats.

There are numerous computer apps now available for cats that may help to distract and entertain them.  A simple “google” search for apps for cats will bring any number of options to your fingertip, some of which are free

There are calming supplements or diets that you can utilize to help reduce anxiety – Zylkene is a milk protein based supplement you can add to their food and Royal Canin makes a “Calm” diet and Hill’s “c/d stress” diet with the supplement incorporated into it.  

Feliway pheromone sprays and diffusers may help  – these are calming pheromone products that help decrease stress in cats:

I have some patients who have responded well to a variety of anxiety issues with Thundershirts:

Some patients may need medication to help overcome their separation anxiety but medication should always be combined with environmental enrichment and behaviour modification as described above. 

Cerebellar Hypoplasia (CH) – Cats who “Walk The Walk”

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CH is a non-painful, developmental condition that affects cats to varying degrees.  I am featuring 2 such cats here. 

Brad, an adorable kitten who is severely affected with CH.  He is looking for a home, but it will have to be a special home where he can get the care and attention that he needs. 

See a photo of Brad, and hopefully we’ll have video soon,  on our facebook page at:

Wil – an adult rescue who graced my life from 2008 – 2013.  He was moderately affected with CH.  He was one of the most loving and quirky felines I have ever known.  It is his paw that is in my hand in our “Partners for Life” image.  He is the wanna be’ flame point siamese-type cat in many of the images on this webpage.  Holding hands/paws, greeting me at the door and leaping up to be picked up and hugging were his favorite past times. 

CH is a developmental defect in the cerebellum of the brain, the area responsible for balance and coordination among other things.  The most common cause of this condition is exposure to ‘panleukopenia’ virus during developement in utero or in the early neonatal period.  Development of the core, FVRCP vaccine that we recommend for all cats, greatly decreased the incidence of panleukopenia but cases still occur.  If you have a pregnant cat consult your veterinarian before proceeding with vaccines.  

These cats have ataxia (poor balance), hypermetria (exagerated step), body swaying, wide based stance, spasticity, intention tremors (if they focus on something their head moves) and some also have nystagmus (eyes move rapidly back and forth) and a head tilt.  This becomes evident when the kitten starts to walk.

If the cat has CH but no other developmental defects then symptoms do not progress.

These cats are not in pain they are just uncoordinated.  They can live a long and healthy, happy life in the right home.  Consider opening your heart and home to one today!

Cats – Masters of Sleep Disruption!

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Hey Doc, Why does my cat wake me up at 3 or 4 AM?

This is a very common question from cat owners. 

The answer is really quite simple – it’s what cats were designed to do.  By nature they are a crepuscular animal and no, that doesn’t have to do with their muscles 😉     This means they are most active during twilight or the transition time between night and day and day and night.   Cats are not the only animals with that claim to fame – deer and rabbits also join them in that title.  

Humans on the other hand are diurnal in nature (most of us anyway) – being most active during daylight hours.  

So we humans have taken an animal who is most active at dawn and dusk, brought them into live in our homes and then expect them to assume our diurnal pattern of activity.  Is it any wonder that some of them do not conform? 

But don’t despair that you will never be able to sleep through the night again without having your friend walk across your face or drop their favourite toy by your head at 3 AM.  

It is possible to discourage this behaviour, but it is really hard to do because you will have to control your natural reaction, which is just that – don’t react.  

If you interact with your cat, whether it is to tell them to go away, to throw something across the room to distract them or heaven forbid you get up and feed them, you have just rewarded that behaviour you despise and encouraged them to do it again… and again… and again with ever increasing persistence.  

So from the time you bring a new feline friend into your home there are several key things to remember:

Intense play before bedtime can help to wear them out – even if only for a few minutes.

Do not react if they wake you up at night. Do not talk to them, play with them, feed them or swear at them.  As hard as it is, try to pretend you are still asleep.  If your cat is very determined then you may have to close him/her out of your room.  This may lead to them banging on the door, putting their paw under the door and rattling it back and forth, yowling at the door, scratching at the door, etc.  If you want to break the cycle or pattern you will have to ignore this and it can take time.  Weeks even.  But if you are able to persevere, evenutally, your feline friend will learn that their human is no fun at that time of night and will leave you alone.


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Most of us are aware that high blood pressure is “not a good thing” although we may not be informed as to the specifics of what it can lead to.  Humans are not the only species to suffer from high blood pressure (hypertension) for varying reasons, your cat can too.

There are a number of diseases that can lead to it which is called “secondary hypertension”, the more common being:

Chronic Kidney Disease (Chronic Renal Failure, CRF)


Heart Disease


certain medications

Some patients do not have an ‘underlying’ cause, these ones are said to have ‘primary hypertension’.  

Anyone can experience a ‘spike’ in their blood pressure if extremely stressed.  It is chronic elevated levels that lead to more long term damage.

“But Doc, my cat is incredibly chill, there’s no way she has high blood pressure…”

Outward appearances can be deceiving and just because an individual always appears calm, cat or human, does not mean that their blood pressure is normal.  Stress is not the only thing that causes it to become elevated. 

In cats, as in humans, high blood pressure can be a silent killer…..

Most commonly, chronic high blood pressure can damage the heart itself, the kidneys and the eyes.  Heart and kidney damage may not be as outwardly apparent, at least in the early stages, but retinal detachement is sudden and catastrophic.  Your cat goes from being visual to suddenly blind – either partially or completely. You never want to see this happen.

It is a good idea to perform annual blood pressure checks on any older patient or one with any of the other issues listed above.  Ideally we would check blood pressure on all of our patients but this does add another layer of expense to visits.

When it comes to cats, everything that I may suggest as their healthcare provider comes with the provision that “the cat agrees with it” … There is no point in my prescribing a medication to decrease blood pressure that will take 4 people chasing and holding down the cat to administer it once or twice daily.  That will be far more detrimental to long term health and happiness for all.   So everything, as always, is a balancing act.   

For our Case Study I would like for you to meet Yoda…..


Yoda recently came to live with me and just prior to that had a heart murmur identified for the first time.  I had noticed Yoda has a resorptive lesion on one tooth – a hole in the tooth indicating that dental surgery is needed. 

When I got him home I brought home my stethascope and listened, no murmur…. Okay they can come and go in some patients and many murmurs, most in fact in cats, do not reflect an actual ‘issue’ but are considered “innocent”. 

I packed Yoda up and took him to the clinic with me for a full work up – exam, blood pressure, bloodwork and xrays.  Now Yoda, like many cats, Hates, Hates, Hates, traveling in the car.  So it was not surprising that after my long drive into the clinic his heart rate was elevated, I could hear his heart murmur and his blood pressure was high.  Beyond the “white coat” zone.  

An underlying heart condition can lead to a heart murmur and hypertension, but high blood pressure can also lead to a heart murmur.  

His tests revealed normal bloodwork so no underlying renal disease, hyperthyroidism or diabetes to be causing issues. 

Before starting him on medication I rechecked his blood pressure at home.  While his heart rate at home is normal and I cannot hear his murmur at those times, his blood pressure remained high.

I started Yoda on amlodipine to decrease his blood pressure and scheduled him for a heart ultrasound once his high blood pressure was under control.  Fortunately for me and for Yoda, he loves “pill pockets”, a soft treat that I am able to put his pill in for easy administration. I am happy to report that his heart ultrasound was normal so his high blood pressure falls into the ‘primary’ category.  Daily medication for him is all that is needed. 

If your cat has hypertension and it is due to another underlying issue, treatment of that issue may help, especially with hyperthyroidism.  

Ticks and New Treatment Option – May is Lyme’s Awareness Month

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I am going to sound like a broken record, but am posting again about Ticks and tick control in our feline friends as the season is upon us again.  

Ticks survive the winter months in a number of ways and once the temperatures warm up above 4 degrees celsius they will become active and seek a host. 

While most cats will remove ticks through grooming before they attach that is not always the case and we see some patients with a tick, several ticks or numerous ones present.  Up until now, there was no effective, safe veterinary topical treatment option for our feline friends in Canada.  Over the counter topical treatments carry risk as there are numerous reports of adverse reactions in cats to these treatments. 

We are very excited to announce that at the end of the month there will be availability of BRAVECTO Flea and Tick Control in Canada, the only veterinary topical product licensed for use in cats in Canada.  

There are more options for the treatment and prevention on dogs – discuss with your veterinarian which product may be most appropriate for any canine family members.

Visit the following sites for more information about ticks, their control, limiting risk and Lyme’s disease.  You may need to copy and paste in your browser window….

Ticks are present year-round in Nova Scotia, officials say

If Love Could Have Saved You… you would have lived forever…..

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Yesterday we said goodbye to a very dear member of the Atlantic Cat Hospital Team, Bennie.  It was sudden and unexpected which makes it all that much harder to accept.

Bennie came to the hospital  many years ago in desparate need and terrible physical shape.  Through endless hours, kindness, love and compassion, Gina nursed him back to health and they formed an inseparable bond.  This happened before “my watch” but the result was there for all to see every day.

Bennie was a special boy, an exquistively sensitive soul, who’s eyes could melt your heart.

This is such a hard post to write.  There is so much more that I should say, but honestly can’t.  A day does not bring enough distance.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to do him justice. 

As Rhonda, our office manager, has so aptly reminded us, Dr. Seuss says it best, “… don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened….”

See the Worm Squirm

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Many owners are under the false impression that if their pet does not go outside they are not at risk.  I often hear, “…. I haven’t seen anything in the litterpan…” but that does not mean your pet does not have intestinal worms.  

The eggs of the roundworm and hookworm are microscopic and can be tracked in from outside. Houseflies and other insects can also carry the eggs inside where your pet may be exposed. The tapeworm proglottid is far more visible when it first emerges, but will eventually dry up to resemble a grain of rice or sesame seed.  As your cat grooms themself they may ingest the eggs/proglottids and the lifecycle of the intestinal worm can continue.

The recommendations for deworming can vary depending on where you live and the level of risk.  South of the border, the Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends deworming monthly on a year round basis.  Here, in Canada the risk is not as great through the winter due to our cold temperatures, but annual deworming is still recommended with the frequency dependent on risk: indoor versus outdoor, hunting, flea exposure, etc can increase the number of times/year.  

Kittens should be dewormed starting at 2 weeks of age and every 2 weeks thereafter until they are at least 12 weeks old. Kittens get worms from their moms both in utero and through nursing. 

There are a number of good products available in Canada.  Our own clinic currently carries a topical as well as ‘flavour coated’ tablet that will eliminate roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms.  For very young kittens we have an oral liquid.  Fortunately, we are at low risk of heartworm in this area, but that could change dependent on the number of warm nights we have in the summer.