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Published June 08, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Tragedy after cat grooming

Dear Dr. Fox: In response to a recent letter asking guidance about removing clumped and matted fur on a cat, you suggested various methods, as it’s a difficult problem and often requires shaving. I had an experience with this problem two years ago that still upsets me.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: In response to a recent letter asking guidance about removing clumped and matted fur on a cat, you suggested various methods, as it’s a difficult problem and often requires shaving. I had an experience with this problem two years ago that still upsets me.

I was caring for my son’s Himalayan cat while he was out of the country. When I arrived, the cat had quite a few large mats, and my son said it was OK to take her to the vet to be groomed. The vet’s office wanted to bathe her first. She had been groomed before, but I was surprised to see the process myself. The groomer did some preliminary grooming, and it didn’t look pleasant.

Within an hour and a half, I received a phone call from the vet saying the cat must have had a heart attack. She died! I can hardly believe that such a thing could happen.

After reading your response to the other grooming question, I think that the groomer hurt her terribly. Would grooming put her into shock and cause a fatal attack? The cat was 8 years old and in good physical condition.

I’m still having trouble understanding this, and I feel so terrible about it. Why would an animal care provider subject a little animal to such treatment? I realize that the cat should be groomed at home regularly, but when you seek help to resolve this matting problem, you don’t expect your pet to die. – G.L., Naples, Fla.

Dear G.L.: I am sorry for the shocking experience you had with your son’s poor cat. All involved at the clinic must have been devastated.

Healthy cats can put up with considerable stress and physical discomfort associated with being groomed and carefully clipped to rid them of irritating and incapacitating clumps of matted fur. But cats with a pre-existing cardiac condition such as a congenital heart defect or enlarged and weak heart (cardiomyopathy) can have complications. This is why normally safe and routine procedures such as spaying and teeth cleaning performed under general anesthesia can prove fatal.

Prior to such procedures, a physical examination is normally done to evaluate and reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and other surgical complications. This is not usually done before grooming. Since the cat had been groomed before with no complications, an unexpected tragedy occurred. If she was frightened and struggled to free herself from being physically restrained, she could have gone into shock, which, in more sensitive and experienced hands, can be avoided.

Dear Dr. Fox: Murphy is a 10-month-old kitten that I rescued from a shelter. I took him to my vet’s office as soon as I got him. He was checked out and everything seemed fine. At 6 months, he was altered. He eats and plays fine, but I noticed that he had rapid breathing.

I took him back to the vet to have it checked out. She took an X-ray of his chest and found that his heart is enlarged. She recommended that I take him to a cardiologist, which I did. The cardiologist did an echocardiogram. The vet diagnosed Murphy with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. He says Murphy will live only six months to a year. He put him on furosemide (12.5 mg daily).

Is there anything I can do for him? If you looked at him, you would say he is a very healthy kitten. His gray fur is so shiny. Is there any special food or vitamin that I can give him that will help? I want to keep him healthy as long as possible. – M.F., Monroe Township, N.J.

Dear M.F.: This heart disease is rare in a cat so young, and I would suggest a congenital disorder possibly aggravated by poor nutrition early in life caused it. Benazepril is one prescription drug that may be of benefit. Discuss this with your veterinarian, along with consideration of potentially beneficial supplements such as the amino acid taurine, coenzyme Q10, fish oil and magnesium. With good nutrition and a stress-free environment – which would preclude boarding your cat if you go on vacation – he should enjoy a relatively normal life. His heart may even compensate to some degree and his life expectancy be extended considerably. Above all, keep him on a grain-free diet, eating raw or lightly cooked, home-prepared food. For details and links, visit my website, www.twobitdog.com/drfox/. The leaner he stays, the better!

Pet warnings

As we mulch, spray and plant around our properties, we must be mindful about our pets, whom we may be putting at risk. Please avoid using insecticides and herbicides (weed killers) like Roundup, which can cause developmental defects, cancer and other health problems. Being omnivorous and more curious than cats, dogs must be kept away from cocoa mulch, which can cause seizures and death if eaten. Dog owners should also avoid snail and mole poison baits, which can be fatal for puppies and small dogs. If you enjoy being out in an escape-proof yard with your cat, be sure there are no flowers of the lily family, which are poisonous to cats. A good alternative is to grow your own catnip!

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.