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Claws and Paws: New test may be able to help diagnose your cat with kidney disease

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New test may be able to help diagnose your cat with kidney disease.

By Steve Dale

Q: I’ve had three cats in my life that have died at an older age of complications due to kidney disease. This is the fourth cat now I’ve had diagnosed with kidney disease with some new test, and she’s only 7 years old. Why do so many cats die of kidney disease? – B. S. C., Tacoma, WA

A: “We don’t know why so many older cats develop chronic kidney disease (CKD), but we’re trying to find out,” says Dr. Vicki Thayer, executive director of the nonprofit Winn Feline Foundation, which funds cat health studies. “The good news is that an early diagnosis may add to your cat’s lifespan, as well as to enhance quality of life.”

A new test, which is presumably the test you mention, can provide an earlier diagnosis of kidney than veterinarians ever could; the test is called Symmetric dimethylarginine or SDMA. The test is offered with the IDEXX regular blood chemistry panel.

Before SDMA, and likely with your previous cats, by the time kidney disease was discovered, 75 percent of kidney function was likely gone. Using SDMA testing, kidney disease is typically diagnosed far earlier, while the loss of function doesn’t yet affect quality of life.

SDMA is a game changer; up to 85 percent of older cats are potentially afflicted with CKD. Still there is no magic cure for CKD. “We fund studies to better understand kidney disease in cats, and ultimately to find a treatment,” Thayer says. “Recently, we supported research for stem cell therapy.

There seems to be some moderate benefit – but we need further studies.” Learn more at www.winnfelinefoundation.org.

Q: I recently rescued a 3-year-old Yorkshire/Shitzu-mix, and the dog has issues when I leave him. He’s fine in the crate, but not when I leave him behind a gate in the kitchen because he keeps barking. Also, he’s afraid of men. How can I help him? – L. D., Las Vegas

A: Congratulations on rescuing the pup.

Not all dogs with separation anxiety should be crated. Some dogs panic when home alone, and in desperate attempts to escape, injure themselves. And the anxiety actually worsens.

While some dogs with separation anxiety panic in the crate, others seem to appreciate the confinement, and apparently feel more secure. If your dog is content in the crate, why not just keep him there when you’re not at home? Perhaps, crating your dog is your hang-up, and not your dogs’.

More information on separation anxiety, and also crate training, is available in “Decoding Your Dog,” authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, edited by myself, Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27).

As for your dog’s fear of men, your best bet is to enlist professional help to appropriately assess your dog. A veterinary behaviorist or certified dog behavior consultant will be able to help.

Q: We took in a stray mixed-breed dog. Cody is adjusting well to our home – except for our dozen cats. He’s an active dog and only wants to play. Unfortunately, some of the cats hate dogs and attack him. He interprets this as play and won’t leave them alone. Why can’t they all just get along? – K.G., Frankfort, KY

A: Clearly, you’re an animal lover and mean well. I’ll bet many of your cats are also rescued, but I wonder if some of them had previous nasty experiences with dogs. More likely, Cody – in cat language – is merely coming on too strong. His efforts to play are being perceived as rude and perhaps even threatening.

Leash Cody when you’re home so you can pull him away from the cats if necessary. What’s most important is that you teach him not to chase the cats and, even better, to ignore them. With one or two cats, it’s an easier task than with 12. Another handy hint may be to teach your dog to target (touch his nose to your hand). It’s a great tool for redirecting his attention. For example, if Cody spots any of the cats while you are present and he seems about to attempt to jump or chase, have Cody target at you.

Eventually he may also learn to speak cat. If the cats allow, touching his nose to a cat’s nose is like shaking hands in cat language.
Of course, it sounds easy in a column. For real-life help, you might want to contact a professional dog trainer.
Make sure your cats have plenty of escape routes, particularly up high. Examples include the window ledges, bookcases, on top of furniture, etc. It’s important to show the cats how they can easily escape so they know that Cody won’t trap them. Cats need to feel safe, as well as to feel that they’re in control.

A positive and upbeat dog training class would work wonders in helping you communicate with Cody. Face it: It’s the cats’ house and they merely allow you, Cody and any other family members to live there.

Q: Can dogs learn by watching TV? – C. S., Cyberspace

A: Learn what? I’m unsure what you’re expecting your dog to learn by watching TV, how to invest in the stock market or how to retrieve a tennis ball, but either way the answer is “no.”

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.” He’s also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)