Cats and Claws

Cats are born with the instinct to claw. It is an innate behavior that cannot and should not be stopped. When someone has bonded with a cat, they usually put up with a certain amount of furniture destruction before resorting to drastic measures like declawing the cat or getting rid of it. Understanding why cats scratch will hopefully prevent future furniture damage as well as homeless cats.

 Why scratch

Scratching affords a cat the opportunity to stretch shoulder and foreleg muscles as well as keeping the claws themselves healthy by peeling away the dead outer layer. The scent pads on a cat’s paw leave invisible scent cues which helps mark a cat’s territory, warning other cats away from one cat’s real estate. Cats also scratch when under stress.

Alternate options

Knowing that your cat needs to scratch, give him an alternate option to your living room sofa or your favorite armchair. Carefully observing your cat will give you a clue as to his scratch preferences: carpet vs sisal or wood, vertical vs horizontal. So, with this knowledge, you can choose a scratching object to your cat’s liking. Location is also vital since cats like to have their scratchings out in the open. Place the scratching post in a high traffic area or near important cat territories like windows, nap places or food stations. Above all do not repair tattered scratch objects. If his marks disappear, your cat might lose interest in the scratch object.

 Discouraging scratching

It is important to discourage a cat from scratching certain objects early on. Using a double-sided ssticky tape works well on upholstery since cats dislike surfaces that stick to their paws. Strong scents like citrus deodorants or Vicks VapoRub will also keep a cat away from forbidden objects, even temporarily wrapping chair arms and table legs will help train a cat to stay away from those objects if you’re not around.


 Start by placing your “legal” scratching objects next to the “illegal” targets so you can redirect your cats claws when necessary. Interrupt forbidden scratching with a loud noise then redirect your cat’s attention to the “legal” target either with a laser pointer or by dragging a lure over the “legal” target’s surface. Always praise your cat when he does the right thing. Once your cat is trained to use the correcet scratching object, you can move it to a more convenient place, a few inches at a time.

Spending a little time training your cat will give both of you a lifetime of happiness.

Cushing’s Disease Challenges


Cushing’s disease is a hormonal disease resulting from a benign tumor in the pituitary gland, and causing the disproportionate release of the hormone adrenocorticotropin or ACTH. This hormone fuels an increase in the quantity of cortisol hormones that are released into the bloodstream from the adrenal glands. This excess of these cortisol hormones leads to the typical Cushing’s disease clinical signs which include a long, shaggy, curly hair coat that doesn’t shed during the warm weather months, weight loss coupled with abnormal fat deposits over parts of the body, increased drinking and urinating, increased susceptibility to infections, and chronic laminitis. Some theorize that the clinical signs of Cushing’s disease are due to the pressure by the tumor on the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that produces hormones that controls the release of hormones by the pituitary gland. Affected horses are usually between the ages of 19 and 21 years. Ponies seem to be more susceptible than larger horses, and some studies would indicate that mares are more susceptible than gelding or stallions.


Horse with Cushing's DiseaseVeterinarians will often suspect Cushing’s disease just by the outward clinical signs, although a variety of blood tests can be used to confirm the diagnosis. The most common test is measurement of ACTH levels in the blood, ACTH levels in horses with Cushing’s disease having been reported to be approximately six times higher than those measured in normal horses. This test does require very careful handling of the blood samples. On the other hand, the most reliable test in the diagnosis of Cushing’s disease is the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test or LDD test. In this test, first the horse’s resting cortisol levels in the blood are measured, and then a dose of corticosteroid medication call dexamethasone is administered. In a normal horse, the dexamethasone suppresses the normal release of cortisol, which results in a lowered or “suppressed” resting cortisol measurement. However, in a horse with Cushing’s disease, the resting cortisol levels will remain normal since the normal feedback mechanisms that control the release of cortisol will not respond to the administered dexamethasone.

Since laminitis is a potential complication of dexamethasone administration, many veterinarians are reluctant to perform the LDD test on a horse that is already experiencing symptoms of laminitis lest it worsens the condition. In these cases blood tests can be used to help confirm the diagnosis.


Good basic care is the main element of a treatment plan for a horse with Cushing’s disease. This means clipping the hair coat during the hot weather months and making sure it does not becomes matted. Since Horses with Cushing’s disease are prone to dental problems due to their propensity to infections, regular dental care is very important. Laminitis being one of the chief complications of Cushing’s disease, special attention to foot care is necessary to minimize any chance of this problem occurring. A proper diet is also a requisite for keeping a horse suffering from Cushing’s disease as healthy as possible. Some recommend feeding hay with less that 10% total sugar plus starch

For now, there are two medications that can help treat the symptoms of Cushing’s disease: pergolide mesylate and cyproheptadine, the latter being less effective than pergolide.  In some cases, pergolide and cyproheptadine have been used in combination for maximum effectiveness, especially in horses that have developed a resistance to pergolide over a period of 2 to 3 years.


In most cases, Cushing’s disease is a fairly benign condition with a few problems that can be easily managed. Nevertheless, when laminitis becomes a major component of the disease, it can then become life threatening being an extremely painful condition that can be difficult to control. When a horse has Cushing’s disease, the laminitis that accompanies it is often resistant to treatment and can easily spiral out of control.

The high levels of circulating cortisol in the horse’s system can also lead to complications since it causes the horse to be susceptible to infections. In particular, skin infections that are exacerbated by the long hair coat and excessive sweating that accompanies Cushing’s disease may require extra attention as well as any infections in the periodontal tissues that can lead to dental problems, including tooth loss and even sinus issues.

Memorial Day

For the most part, we know what Memorial Day stands for: a day to remember the men and women who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Originating after the Civil War to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers, by the 20th century, it had been extended to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

We would, however, like to take the time to remember the four-legged soldiers who also gave their lives in the service of this country:

“Down jungle tracks through shot and shell, ears pricked high, keen sense of smell, our tracker dogs with care and poise alert to ambush, foreign noise, never whimper, whine nor bark. Their service honoured with this plaque. No medals pinned on hairy chest: they stayed behind. They were the best.”


Allergies in Horses

Anyone with allergies knows how frustrating allergies can be, and how frustrating it may have been to find out exactly what you are allergic to. It is no less frustrating for horses and their owners; frustrating for the owners who are desperately seeking cause and remedy; frustrating for the horses who can find little relief from runny eyes, welts or itching.

Any dictionary will explain to you that an allergy is a strong abnormal reaction by the immune system to a normally harmless substance or substances located in the environment. These “allergens” can be introduced into the body by inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, the reaction often manifested by itchy eyes, runny nose, wheezing, skin rash, or diarrhea. When first exposed to the allergen, the leukocytes or white blood cells produce antibodies to prepare the body’s immune system for its next encounter with the particular allergen in question. At this point, you don’t see any outward signs. The resulting antibodies attach themselves to what is known as a “mast” cell which is simply a large granular cell commonly present in connective tissue, capable of producing heparin, histamine, and serotonin. These mast cells are found in the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal tract, as well as the skin.

 Once the next exposure occurs, allergens will react with the antibodies releasing the chemicals that produce the allergic reaction. These symptoms can show up in other ways depending on the part of body affected, but are almost always in the form of an inflammation of some kind. In horses, the most typical manifestation is either a skin irritation like hives, welts, urticaria or a respiratory problem comparable to asthma in humans. Other allergic reaction symptoms include tearing eyes, runny nose, or digestive upset. Contact dermatitis is a result of exposure to foreign substances such as pesticides, heavy metals, dyes, topical medications, soaps, shampoos, blankets, wool, and poison ivy or poison oak. Atopy, or the tendency to be “hyperallergic” and SSRD (Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis), which is a medical condition caused by hypersensitivity to insect bites, particularly midges, are also triggers for allergy-related symptoms.

 What are commonly called “protein bumps”, which resemble large BBs underneath the skin, are caused by an allergic reaction to a certain protein, usually a protein introduced by an insect bite. Scabby itchy outbreaks on the skin are the signs of another allergic reaction which causes the horse to rub the spot often enough to remove hair thus creating a sore or sores. A culture of the sores can assess whether it is an allergic reaction or a bacterial infection, in which case a treatment with antibiotics can alleviate the condition.

 Inhaled allergens are more likely to cause hives, teary eyes, runny nose, and coughing. These symptoms are often alleviated by replacing hay with a compete feed formulated to replace hay, thus decreasing the amount of dust and pollen from hay or submerging the hay in water before feeding. Wetting down stall bedding or completely changing the kind of bedding, and arranging for all the pasture time as possible, are the additional management choices available.

Attempting to determine the exact cause of an allergic reaction can be simultaneously frustrating and expensive, and usually ends up being an application of the “Trial and Error” test. In the matter of a food allergy, the sole reliable way of pinpointing which food is causing the allergy is an elimination diet. The difficult therein lies in the fact that finding a diet containing none of the suspect allergens and yet meeting a horse’s nutrition criteria is virtually impossible. One option is to place the horse on a hay only diet for a couple of weeks to see if the symptoms disappear. In the event the symptoms do not disappear, then it would be safe to conclude that the allergy is not food-related. Should the symptoms disappear, reintroduce each separate food one at a time until one triggers an allergic reaction.