Cats and Holistic Décor!

By Dr. Becker and comment by Diane Weinmann

Himalayan salt lamps are very popular these days. They’re used in homes to help beautify and refresh the indoor air and provide an attractive, soothing light. They come in a range of calming colors and interesting shapes. Unfortunately, these lovely lamps may pose an attractive nuisance in homes with pets, especially cats. Kitties, as we know, can jump or climb onto tabletops, dressers, nightstands, kitchen and bathroom counters, bookshelves … you get the idea.

Anywhere you might place a salt lamp around your home is probably accessible to your cat, and apparently there are kitties who enjoy licking the lamps. I have absolutely no idea how widespread this problem might be. Some cats seem to completely ignore the salt lamps in their homes, while others find them irresistible.

I have salt lamps everywhere in my house but my kitty has been in heaven for the past 2 years so I am not concerned.  I had them when he was in the home and he never seemed interested in them.  Thank goodness!   I know he will be coming back to me so I am glad to know this information and I will redecorate when that happens.

Salt Toxicity in Cats

The problem if your pet licks a salt lamp is that too much salt is toxic to cats (and dogs). In fact, the use of salt to induce vomiting in pets is no longer the standard of care and is absolutely not a recommended approach for either pet parents or veterinarians. Symptoms of salt poisoning include:

✓ Vomiting ✓ Walking drunk ✓ Tremors
Diarrhea ✓ Abnormal fluid accumulation in the body ✓ Seizures
✓ Lack of appetite ✓ Excessive thirst or urination ✓ Coma
✓ Lethargy ✓ Potential kidney damage ✓ Death

Treatment for salt poisoning in pets includes administration of intravenous (IV) fluids, electrolyte monitoring, treatment for dehydration and brain swelling and supportive care.1

Besides salt lamps, other sources of salt around the house include table salt, rock salt (used in de-icers), seawater, homemade play dough, paint balls and enemas containing sodium phosphate. If you suspect your cat has been poisoned by salt, call your veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.

5 More Surprising Cat Toxins

  1. Topical Pain Medications Containing Flurbiprofen

Flurbiprofen is a human non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) applied to the skin to relieve muscle, joint or other pain. Cats are extremely sensitive to NSAIDs, and reports of five kitties who became ill after their owners applied the medications to their neck or feet prompted an FDA safety alert on these products.2

The medications the five cats ingested contained flurbiprofen and a variety of other active ingredients. Two cats in one family developed kidney failure but recovered with veterinary care. Three cats in another household weren’t so lucky. Two of the three developed symptoms that included lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, bloody stools, anemia and dilute urine. Sadly, all three ultimately died despite veterinary care.

Veterinarians performed necropsies on all three kitties and found evidence of NSAID toxicity. Since the pet owners applied the medicated cream or lotion to their own bodies and not directly to their cats, it’s reasonable to assume one of three likely scenarios occurred:

  • The owners applied their medications and then handled their cats without washing their hands
  • The kitties licked the medication off their owners’ skin
  • The cats rubbed up against their owners, transferring the medication to their fur, and then ingested it during grooming.
  1. Flea/Tick Spot-on Products for Dogs

Never, ever use a canine flea/tick product on your cat. Depending on the ingredients in the product, just a drop has the potential to kill a cat within hours. A few years ago, a newspaper in the Pittsburgh area told the heartbreaking story of four family cats who died over a four-week period because their owners treated them with spot-on products intended for dogs.3

In one tragic case, the owners noticed fleas on both their cats, so they applied “just a drop” of a topical spot-on flea treatment on each kitty. Within hours both cats were very sick and one was having convulsions. The owners immediately took both kitties to a veterinary clinic, but neither survived. In this case, the owners knew the flea treatment was intended for dogs, but figured a small amount would be safe for cats.

  1. Glow Sticks and Glow Jewelry

For reasons known only to them, many kitties enjoying gnawing on glow sticks and glow jewelry. So many, in fact that these items routinely appear on yearly top 10 cat toxin lists. The liquid inside glow sticks has a foul taste and may cause your cat to salivate excessively. More importantly, they also contain dibutyl phthalate, a chemical that can leak out and burn your cat’s fur and tongue. The plastic casing also poses a choking hazard.

  1. Detergent Pods

Most detergents and soaps contain ionic and anionic surfactants. When ingested in small amounts, these chemicals can cause GI upset in a pet, such as excessive drooling, vomiting or diarrhea. Fortunately, it’s unlikely your cat would have the opportunity or desire to ingest a large amount of bottled detergent.

Of more concern are those little brightly colored laundry detergent pods that smell good and look like candy or some other type of yummy treat to a small child or a pet. It’s conceivable that a pet might eat enough pods to cause an obstruction in the GI tract, but the greater danger of laundry and also dish detergent pods is actually the potential for a pet to bite into them and inhale the detergent.

The reason pods are more dangerous for pets than simply licking a bit of spilled detergent off the floor or their fur is the product formulation. The detergent in the pods is both highly concentrated and under pressure. If your kitty bites down on the pod, it can cause the liquid to be forcefully expelled and easily aspirated or swallowed, often in large amounts.

So even if you are using natural detergents in pods, there are still substantial risks. Detergent is foamy, and when an animal ingests it and then vomits, the foam can be pulled into the lungs. In a worst-case scenario, the detergent coats the airways and hampers oxygen exchange in the lungs, which causes suffocation.

  1. Plants, Specifically Oleanders This Time of Year

Many pet parents don’t realize how deadly the oleander plant can be if ingested by humans, dogs, cats, birds, horses, cows and other animals. The plant only grows in certain regions of the U.S. and isn’t especially attractive to animals, which is probably why many people are unaware of the danger it poses.

The common oleander is the prevalent species in the U.S., and is found primarily in warm regions of the south and southwest, California and Hawaii. Every part of the oleander plant, including the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, fruit, sap and nectar, contains naturally-occurring cardiac glycosides, which are toxins that directly affect the electrolyte balance within the heart muscle.

Even water in which oleander leaves are floating contains these toxins. The roots and stems of the plant contain the highest amount of cardiac glycosides, followed by the leaves and flowers. The most toxic oleanders are thought to be the plants with red flowers. Oleandrin is the most widely recognized of as many as 30 different cardiac glycosides found in oleanders. Oleandrin acts similarly to the human and veterinary drug digoxin, which is used in the treatment of a variety of heart conditions.


Personally I had no idea all these items could be potential problems for cat households!  Please take precautions to keep your furry loved one safe!


Hair Balls and Cats

By W. Jean Dodds, DVM Hemopet / NutriScan


Pet caregivers seem to have become accustomed to thinking that hairballs are the status quo for cats. It is true that many cats spend several hours per day grooming themselves and that can lead to a build-up of indigestible keratin (the insoluble protein in hair). Veterinarians may only become concerned when the situation is a clinically significant issue or emergency marked by lethargy, unproductive retching and inappetence, which can indicate a potential hair blockage in the small intestine. Other veterinarians are not only concerned about the acute emergency, but also are worried that frequent hairball vomiting is an indicator of chronic small bowel disease.

The frequency number is a matter of debate about when we, as veterinarians, should be more proactive in pursuing a more definitive diagnosis. Some experts say hairball vomiting every week or two is perfectly within normal range. However, Dr. Gary Norsworthy, a feline medicine expert, says that frequency of vomiting is way too often. In fact, he puts greater restrictions on it: not more often than every two months or more, in otherwise healthy shorthaired cats; or, cats that are not fastidious groomers. I agree.

Landmark Study

In 2014, Dr. Norsworthy released what I consider one of the landmark veterinary studies of current time. Landmark is an impressive word but he took cat vomiting – which is still widely accepted as a normal biological function – and proved that it is not.

His journey to discovery is one for the history books. Veterinarians were all convinced that cat vomiting was due to a stomach issue. So, Dr. Norsworthy was employing endoscopy – the technique of inserting a tube with a camera into the esophagus and stomach for observation – but the results were clinically insignificant. Then he would lump everything as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and prescribe corticosteroids, anti-vomiting medications, a special diet and hairball lubricants. But, none of these treatment options had much impact on fixing the issues.  Eventually, Dr. Norsworthy and his team opted for ultrasound to view the stomach and the small intestine. (Endoscopy cannot enter the small intestine.)

Time and again, the stomach looked fairly normal but the small intestine was always inflamed. Eureka! Biopsy then confirmed that the walls of the small intestine were indeed thickened and that it was the cause of chronic cat vomiting.

Study Results:

  • 100 cats – Sample size
  • 1 cat – normal biopsy findings
  • 49 cats – diagnosed with chronic enteritis (usually IBD)
  • 46 cats – diagnosed with small cell lymphoma (cancer); which can be caused by untreated or undiagnosed chronic enteritis
  • 3 cats – mast cell disease
  • 1 cat – adenocarcinoma

You are probably wondering how an inflamed small intestine causes vomiting, if vomitus originates in the stomach. The explanation is that the whole gastrointestinal system is “backed up” because of hypomotility, which means that hair and food move through the bowel at subnormal speed. When more hair or food is ingested, the full bowel results in reflux vomiting.

Preventative Tips

Our goal should be to prevent the onset of IBD, because otherwise there is no cure and the current non-specific treatment measures are less than effective or desirable.

I also emphatically stress that cat caregivers need to be even more prevention vigilant as compared to dog caregivers. Why? Because cats are more finicky and become set in their ways, so you need to acclimate them to these tips at the earliest age possible. If you adopt a senior cat, please keep trying.

Food Special prescription foods for hairballs, sensitivities and urinary tract infections exist. However, they are generally cereal-based kibble and possibly have ingredients that are not only questionable, but also can inflame the bowel. This is the opposite of what we want to achieve. But, workarounds are available.

Food rotation is a key component with cats. Many cats will lock onto one type of protein because of repeatedly being fed it. We should not permit this. So, rotation from the beginning helps cats get used to the taste and consistency of many proteins. In fact, I would rotate the diet every few days or at least weekly.

The bigger problem is that we should not assault the bowel with foods that cause inflammation. So, we need to figure out which foods are causing the sensitivity or intolerance in an individual cat. Veterinarians often suggest food elimination diets, but it is difficult to ascertain which foods are causing the inflammation with this method, it takes too long (weeks), and compliance by the client or cat is difficult to maintain.  I suggest instead performing the NutriScan Food Sensitivity & Intolerance Test that I and the team at Hemopet developed. It takes out the guesswork. Once we do this, we have identified specific proteins that a cat will want to and can safely eat.

Kibble is by nature contradictory to a cat’s needs since it only contains about 10% moisture. Cats never drink enough water because they are descended from the African Wildcat. Observations have demonstrated that the African Wildcat only derives 10% of his moisture needs from freshwater sources and 90% from prey. Even though cats started the domestication process over 10,000 years ago, their primary purpose was to curb rodent populations so they continued to receive moisture through prey. So, I clearly want all cats on a moisture-rich diet that could be canned, dehydrated and moistened, or raw. At Hemopet, we feed Saucy, the feral cat that stays around our clinic canned food.

Grooming I would not be surprised if ingested hair also contributes to IBD. However, we cannot stop the hair ingestion. The best solution is investing in several of the right brushes and combs for cats. Definitely do your research about the type of hair and talk to grooming experts. Then, set aside a few minutes a day to brush your cat thoroughly or as much as you can. Many cats need to become acclimated to it but be unwavering in your commitment. In fact, some cats begin to love it so much not only for the feeling but also for the devoted affection.

Omega-3 Supplements   Omega-3 fatty acids can help improve the condition of your cat’s skin and fur, as well as the ability of his digestive system to manage the hair and debris he swallows while grooming himself. The source of omega-3’s is generally from fish, so you need to make sure your cat does not have a sensitivity to the type of fish or its oils.

Hairball Remedy Granted, not all hairballs can be stopped but, again, we want to decrease their frequency. When they do occur, many veterinarians suggest a petroleum-based hairball remedy. If you think about it, petroleum beds come from fossil fuels (e.g. dead dinosaurs) and is a little counterintuitive. Petroleum-free and all-natural options are available. They are usually made with slippery elm, papaya or marshmallow. Dab it on the tip of your cat’s nose. Your kitty will lick the jelly and swallow it. This allows the hair to pass more easily through the GI tract.

Fiber Fiber helps keep things moving. With cats, you can try pumpkin, wheatgrass, coconut fiber or psyllium seed husk powder.


Gastroesophageal Reflux in Cats



Did you know that cats can get gastroesophageal reflux just like us humans? I had a sneaky suspicion that one of my cat clients had it so I decided to look further into if this type of ailment plagued cats too. Here is what I found:

Gastroesophageal reflux is fairly common in cats, and may occur at any age, although younger cats are at greater risk. Technically it is the uncontrollable reverse flow of gastric or intestinal fluids into the tube connecting the throat and the stomach (esophagus) and is medically referred to as gastroesophageal reflux. This may be due to a brief relaxation of the muscular opening at the base of the esophagus (referred to as the sphincter), as well as chronic vomiting.

Gastric stomach acids, pepsin, bile salts, and other components of the gastrointestinal juices cause damage to the protective mucus lining the esophagus. This can result in inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis). Just like in us humans! Amazing!

Symptoms and Types

According to vets, gastroesophageal reflux can cause esophagitis with varying amounts of damage. Mild esophagitis is limited to a mild inflammation of the esophageal lining, while more severe ulcerative esophagitis causes damage to the deeper layers of the esophagus.

Your cat’s behavioral history can reveal symptoms such as spitting up (regurgitation) of food, evidence of pain (mewling or howling, for example) while swallowing, lack of appetite, and weight loss. A physical exam will often not reveal any concrete findings. Severe esophagitis may include symptoms of fever and extreme salivation.


Gastroesophageal reflux may occur when an anesthetic is administered, causing the opening between the stomach and the esophagus (gastroesophageal sphincter) to relax. Improper positioning of the patient during anesthesia, as well as a failure to fast the animal properly prior to anesthesia can also result in gastroesophageal reflux.

An associated condition is congenital hiatal hernia, which is suspected of heightening the risk for gastroesophageal reflux. Young cats are at greater risk of developing this condition as well because their gastroesophageal sphincters are still developing. Long-term or chronic vomiting is another risk factor.


The best means vets have of getting a diagnosis is generally an esophagoscopy, which is an examination that uses an internal camera to view the lining of the esophagus. This is the most effective way to determine if changes in the mucus of the esophagus are consistent with esophagitis due to gastroesophageal reflux. The examination may also reveal an irregular surface in the mucus lining, or active bleeding in the esophagus.

Alternative diagnoses include ingestion of a caustic agent, a foreign body or tumor in the esophagus, a hernia in the upper portion of the stomach (hiatal hernia), or disease of the throat or mouth.


The good news is that most treatments can be done at home. Your veterinarian may advise you to withhold food for one to two days, thereafter following a dietary regimen of low-fat, low-protein meals given in small, frequent feedings. Dietary fat and protein should be limited, as fat decreases the strength of the muscle between the stomach and esophagus, while protein stimulates the secretion of gastric acid.

Medications are an additional option. Drugs known as gastrointestinal pro-kinetic agents improve the movement of stomach contents through the intestines and also strengthen the gastroesophageal sphincter. Regardless of whether medications are given, a change in diet is advisable.

Do NOT provide your cat Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). It is considered unsafe for use in cats due to a cat’s sensitivity to salicylates. Likewise – NO Tums! It is never wise to give your cat medicines intended for human consumption!

Living and Management

After initial treatment and alteration of diet, it is advisable to continue monitoring for gastroesophageal reflux. Watch for signs of discomfort. A continued low-fat, low-protein diet will prevent future incidences, and high-fat foods should be avoided, as they may worsen gastroesophageal reflux.

If your cat does not respond to initial medical treatments, a follow-up esophagoscopy may be advised.


High-fat foods can worsen acid reflux. The best prevention is a healthy diet that is low in fatty foods.