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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 14-year-old cat whose gums became swollen, they bled and she had difficulty eating and grooming herself. My vet suggested a dental cleaning, and when they put her under, they discovered that her teeth were in perfect condition. She was then put on antibiotics and steriod injections. The condition kept flaring up and the vet suggested removal of all her molars, which I agreed to.

This has still not stopped the problem. She was put on steriod injections every 6 weeks, but after a while the injections only lasted 3-4 weeks. We then tried steriod tablets, a quarter to half a tablet a day when needed. Yet again, after a few months these became ineffective. She went in last week to have x-rays to see if the problem was in her gums or jaw bone. The tests came back clear. She has been tested for every disease relating to the immune system and nothing shows up. Can you suggest some new avenues for me to explore?

~ Akua

Siouxsie: Since your vet has tested for every disease we can think of, Akua, we think you should investigate the possibility of an allergy or environmental sensitivity.

Thomas: Cats can be extraordinarily sensitive to chemicals in their environment or in their food. This can cause any number of symptoms from skin itching and swelling to diarrhea and many others that can’t be explained by a disease process.

Dahlia: Although gum swelling and bleeding are not listed among the commonest symptoms of allergies, we still think it could be a possible indication of environmental stress.

Siouxsie: Your cat’s situation is one of those where we feel that a referral to a holistic veterinarian may be a great help. It seems to us you’ve taken pretty much every route your conventional veterinarian has to offer you, and perhaps going an alternate route will result in healing or better management of your cat’s condition.

Thomas: We must point out that we mean no disrespect to Western vet medicine, by the way! Mama relies on our conventional veterinarian to keep us healthy and diagnose and treat any conditions that may arise, and we’d never advise anyone to stop taking their cat to a regular vet.

Dahlia: But sometimes you run out of options. And trust us, when vets don’t know what else to do, they get frustrated too! They don’t like to see animals hurting and feel as though they can’t help the pain to stop.

Siouxsie: Anyway, Akua, you may want to find a holistic veterinarian in your area. You can do so by talking to friends who have used holistic vets or by consulting the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association‘s practitioner directory. If you live in the US or Canada, this directory is pretty complete; if you live elsewhere, there are probably equivalent organizations with similar listings.

Thomas: Once you locate a holistic vet in your area, you may be able to use review sites like Yelp or VetRatingz to find out more about clients’ experiences.

Dahlia: Of course, ultimately it’s going to come down to your (and your cat’s) preferences when selecting a vet.

Siouxsie: In the meantime, try to think of anything in your cat’s environment or diet that changed before her symptoms started. Did you have a carpet replaced? Change laundry detergents? Buy a different cat food or litter?

Thomas: If not, it may be that her system just got fed up with a whole bunch of small irritants. We’d recommend making your house as chemical-free as possible by eliminating things like plug-in air fresheners, heavily scented detergents, fabric softeners and kitty litter, and — of course — if anyone smokes in your house, this would be a great time to tell them they have to go outside!

Dahlia: Buy your cat the highest-quality food you can afford. The less grain, the better, because grains have a tendency to irritate cats’ digestive systems; we are, after all, obligate carnivores, and our bodies aren’t designed to be able to digest grains all that well.

Siouxsie: We would recommend that you undertake a search for a holistic vet pretty soon. Long-term steroid use, particularly at high doses, can have pretty serious health consequences for cats, including weakening the immune system and potentially causing diabetes, liver disease, and other endocrine system disorders.

Thomas: Akua, we hope that if you do decide to pursue holistic care in addition to your regular vet care, that your cat finds some comfort and relief soon so she can enjoy the rest of her life.

Dahlia: Please let us know how things turn out.