Q: I have heard and read recently that cats with heart disease can be cured with a vitamin called taurine. I understand that this has been lacking in the diets of most cats. I have two cats who are healthy and eat well. I feed them canned foods with some dry food. They have never been sick and have only needed vaccinations. Should I add taurine to their diet? How can I tell if they have heart disease? Should I be concerned?
A: In the past year, taurine has become recognized as a valuable supplement in the treatment of cats with a particular form of heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy. Most of the initial study was conducted at the veterinary school at UC Davis. For cats, taurine is an essential amino acid, which is a "building block" for proteins and has been known to be involved in the proper development of the retina. Taurine has long been added to cat foods, but recently the minimum required level was increased in recognition of the effect on this heart-muscle disease. All major manufacturers have raised the level of taurine in their foods to meet the new requirement. Subsequently, we may see less of this particular form of heart disease.
Supplementing your cats is not necessary if they are eating a good-quality diet. You should have your cats examined by your veterinarian if you suspect any problems dealing with exercise weakness, shortness of breath, listlessness or persistent coughing. Heart problems are diagnosed on examination, radiographs and EKG and may require special diagnostic studies if abnormalities are suspected. This form of heart disease can affect any breed or age of cat. Discuss your cats' diet with your vet.
Q: I have a female Yorkshire terrier who sometimes has milk coming out of her nipples, though she is not pregnant. I was told that there is a pill you can give your dog for this, but I asked my vet and he does not know of anything about it. I would like to know what you think about this matter.
A: I am assuming that your Yorky is not spayed and is not on medications. Often, female dogs will go through an estrus cycle without being bred, yet exhibit signs of pregnancy such as milk production or adopting a toy. This is called a false pregnancy or pseudocyesis and is from a hormonal mix-up from the ovaries. Occasionally, uterine infections may develop, in which case surgery is required to remove the uterus and ovaries.
There is medication available to prevent or delay the normal heat cycle in dogs, but it must be given before the cycle starts. Ovaban R and Megace R are two of the more common medications used. However, these will not stop or prevent a false pregnancy. If you are not planning on using your Yorky as a breeding dog, you should consider having her spayed. I recommend that you discuss this again with your vet.