“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”



Whiskers are really useful to your cat. They are highly specialized, sensitive structures which provide a continual source of tactile information about the environment. The scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae (derived from the Latin word vibrare meaning vibrate...I knew my high school Latin classes would come in handy someday).

It has been a long held notion that a cat's whisker length is the same as her body width providing a sort of built-in ruler to judge whether she can fit through an opening. It is true that whiskers give cats information about the closeness of objects. However, there is no real correlation between whisker length and the cat's width. The whiskers of fat cats do not grow to match their waistline.

Whiskers are attached to highly specialized nerves which can sense the most delicate touch or shift in air circulation. Cats are predators and whiskers help them gather information about the motion and location of their prey. This ability is most useful during the freeze phase of the hunting sequence which just precedes the pounce. During the freeze a cat fully focuses her attention on the prey and the timing of her pouce. She needs to know about the closeness and movement of objects in the immediate environment in order to be successful in catching her dinner.

Cats are also a prey species. These super-hunters are also hunted by larger animals. While she concentrates on her hunt she is at risk of being caught. As she is using her eyes, nose and ears to collect information about the rodent she has stalked, she also needs to be aware of her own safety. Having whiskers to collect information about changes in her environment without having to change her gaze is of great benefit.

But, here is my favorite part about these touch sensors: cats have very poor near vision. They have a hard time seeing things which are right under their noses because they are unable to focus i their eyes in this range. Now think about whiskers. Notice that in addition to the big, beautiful, laterally directed vibrissae there are many short whiskers nearer the tip of their nose that extend forward. These become the sensory organs cats use to locate objects that are too close for the cat to see! Have you ever noticed that when you drop a treat right in front of your kitty's face she doesn't see it right away? Watch her sniff and then start some subtle head bobbing toward the treat before she finds it. She is locating it with the help of touch from those short whiskers. Cats' eyes are better designed to focus on things at a distance. Now toss the treat a few feet away from her and see how fast she finds it.

Cats are so awesome!

Photo credit: NagyDodo | Thinkstock.com

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Canine Influenza has been isolated as the cause of an outbreak of severe upper respiratory infections in the Chicago area. The H3N8 strain of the virus was first recognized in 2004 in populations of racing greyhounds and until 2015 was the only strain of canine influenza found in the United States.  However, a 2015 outbreak of canine influenza in Chicago was traced to the H3N2 strain. To date canine influenza has been found in 30 states from Florida to Colorado to Iowa to Massachusetts. Cases of Canine Influenza (CI) have been isolated in two states which border Minnesota: Iowa and Wisconsin.

CI virus (CIV) is highly contagious and spreads primarily through respiratory secretions during coughing or sneezing. Other routes of transmission include contaminated clothing, surfaces, bedding and food dishes. Because CIV is a new virus, our current dog population has no immunity to it meaning that virtually all exposed dogs will become infected. Of those exposed, eighty (80%) percent of exposed dogs will become ill with the virus. The virus spreads more quickly in groups of dogs that are in close contact.  Just as with a child in school or daycare, anytime individuals are in close contact they tend to share each other’s infections. So it is with CIV and outbreaks are always possible in boarding facilities, daycare, dog shows and grooming shops.

The good news is that majority of sick dogs develop a mild form of the disease. Common symptoms are a soft, moist cough lasting 10-30 days, sneezing, low grade fever, reduced appetite, sneezing and mild discharge from the eyes and nose. Good supportive care is usually all that is required until the virus runs its course.

A small number of infected dogs will develop the more severe form of the disease. These patients have high fevers, a deep often productive cough, thick discharge from the eyes and nose and a more dangerous secondary bacterial infection causing pneumonia. Treatment requires intravenous fluids, broad spectrum antibiotic support, hospitalization, nutritional support and sometimes oxygen therapy.

A vaccine has been developed against the H3N8 strain of CIV and it is not known whether the H3N8 vaccine provides any protection against the H3N2 strain. Routine use of this vaccine is recommended in areas in which the virus has become endemic, but it may not completely prevent infection, but appear to reduce the severity and duration of the illness, as well as the length of time when an infected dog may shed the virus in its respiratory secretions and the amount of virus shed – making them less contagious to other dogs. Veterinarians in the Chicago area are refining their preventative health care vaccination recommendations due to the recent outbreaks in that region. As of the date of this writing, Minnesota has not reported its first case of CIV. Will it come to our area? Probably, and if it does Animal Wellness Center will let our pet owners know how best to protect their furry babies.

At this time, Animal Wellness Center has the H3N8 vaccine available. We do not currently consider it to be a core vaccine (a vaccine which all patients need to receive). We recommend its use for all of our patients traveling into CIV endemic areas or being housed in facilities with other dogs which may have come from endemic areas.  If you have any concerns or questions about your pet please contact your veterinarian. 

For more information go to Cornell University http://mediarelations.cornell.edu/2015/04/12/midwest-canine-influenza-outbreak-caused-by-new-strain-of-virus/  or the American Veterinary Medical Association http://atwork.avma.org/2015/04/13/chicago-canine-influenza-outbreak-traced-h3n2-strain/

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What's better than curling up with a good book and a purring cat?  Many cat owners want to know why their cat purrs and what it means. 

We tend to associate purring with happiness and contentment. That makes sense because it is during those lovely moments of cuddling that our cats are most apt to start this rumbling communication. Whether she is curled up or lying stretched out in the sun with her eyes half closed and kneading with her front feet she is the picture of kitty bliss. But the significance of purring is more complicated. There are a number of reasons domestic felines engage in this behavior.

Mother cats often purr as their kittens nurse as well as during their grooming. Kittens spontaneously begin to purr at two days of age as they nurse. This suggests it is a mutual bonding behavior and is used to elicit care giving behaviors from the queen.

Often our feline patients will purr during their examination. Imagine what that sounds like through the stethoscope! It is unlikely they are engaging in purring because trips to the veterinarian are so relaxing for them. These cats are usually somewhat nervous after their car ride and in this context the purr is a self-soothing tool. They are using the vibration created during purring to calm themselves down.

Cats also purr when they are injured or very ill. The frequency of the sound created during purring varies between 25-150 Htz. This is the same frequency used by the tissues of various body systems during recovery. This leads feline experts to believe that it is also used as a means of self-healing. 

With so many positive effects don't you wish we could all learn this technique? Maybe this is one of the skills that have helped cats earn a reputation for having nine lives.

Photo credit:  Luca Coccia  | Thinkstock.com
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We are proud to announce that the Animal Wellness Center’s Gold Status as a Cat Friendly Practice has been renewed. The AWC was one of the first hospitals in the Twin Cities to achieve Gold Status in 2011 as the Cat Friendly Practice Program was launched by the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP)! Currently, we are one of 209 Gold Status Clinics in the United States.

The AAFP launched the Cat Friendly Practice Certification Program to provide a framework for creating a positive practice environment for cats. This includes both medical care dedicated to the needs of cats as well as knowledgeable staff members who understand feline friendly handling and nursing care. The goal is to improve the treatment, handling and overall healthcare of cats.

As a Cat Friendly Practice, we are committed to continuing to learn ways to make your cat’s visit more pleasant. We also have adapted an environment that is less stressful to cats and meets the unique needs of cats.   Here are some of the guidelines we are following as a practice to help with the needs of our feline patients:

  • Feline-only exam rooms. We have exam rooms available that are to be used for only our feline patients. This reduces the potential odor from canine patients, which can be stressful for our kitties.
  • Use of Feliway and cat-sacs. We utilize multiple techniques to help reduce the stress of our kitties, including Feliway (which is a natural pheromone used to reduce stress) and cat-sacs, which allow our fearful patients to hide during an exam.
  • Anesthesia. Our feline patients are treated as individuals and each anesthetic protocol is designed to fit their medical needs.
  • Handling techniques. Our skilled technicians are trained to handle our feline patients with techniques that reduce their stress.
The AWC is proud to maintain and promote the high standard of care our feline patients receive. We are dedicated to continue our support of the Cat Friendly Practice program as it continues to positively impact the care and wellbeing of cats. For more information on the Cat Friendly Practice Program and how it can benefit your cat, visit www.catvets.com/cfp/cat-owners.

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Dear Boarding and Daycare Clients,

A happy and relaxed boarding client....Ruby!

Animal Wellness Center is committed to making your pet's experience with us carefree, educational and fun. We are happy to announce a number of changes which will help us to do just that.

The first change you will notice is that guest drop offs and pick ups will take place at the front desk of the hospital entrance during hospital hours. This will ease the safe and orderly movement of your pet to and from the play and resting areas in daycare and boarding.

Second, no matter how much we all love to play, we also look forward to taking a break and relaxing and our guests are just the same. We recognize and honor their needs for a break in the action to wind down, rehydrate and recharge for the next inning. So for those of you who love to use the webcams to watch your buddy's activities, keep in mind occasionally you'll catch him napping!

Our goal at AWC is to tailor your best friend's experience to her preferences for play time and companionship. To help us discover what those are and to make sure the daycare environment is right for her, we will be utilizing on-going personality and behavioral assessments for all of our guests. These evaluations are a very useful tool in configuring play groups and activities. They will also provide pet owners with helpful information and insights into their pet's psychological and behavioral well-being.

The other change you will notice is plenty of new faces. We will be increasing the staff to guest ratio. Smaller play groups, more individual interaction and increased attention to the emotional needs of our guests means we need to add more staff. Rest assured our new caregivers will all have the same commitment to your best friend's health and happiness you have come to expect.

Let us know if you have any questions. Thank you for the opportunity to care for your pet(s)!

The Staff of Animal Wellness Center

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