Goodnewsforpets is pleased to feature our good friend and feline veterinary specialist Dr. Susan Little, DVM. Dr. Little has been in the feline practice for over 10 years and is a proud part-owner of two feline specialty practices in Ottawa, Canada. Her main interests are in cattery medicine, feline reproduction and the management of stray and feral cat populations. She is on the Health Committee of the Cat Fanciers’ Association, a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, an active board member and past president of the Winn Feline Foundation.
You are a prominent book author, lecturer and president of the Winn Feline Foundation. Can you tell us how you decided to specialize in feline health?
I always knew I wanted to be a cat vet! There was never any other job I considered. Although I didn’t grow up with cats as a child, as soon as I was in university, I started owning and showing Siamese cats and fell in love. I also knew I wanted to concentrate on one species, and feline medicine is very challenging, so it was perfect for me.
You have a lot of cats of your own. Why do you think cats make great pets?
Sadly, we only have 2 cats in my home now. We lost two special senior cats in the last year. My family will always have cats as we all like them, we appreciate their individual and interesting personalities, and we find them entertaining and engaging. I think it’s a misconception to say they are an easier pet to keep than dogs, because many people don’t realize how intelligent cats are and how necessary it is to offer them an interactive and interesting home " especially indoors where it is safer.
In terms of feline health, what do you think is the number one thing cat owners should be concerned about with their first time cat?
I have come to believe that many of the problems, both medical and behavioral, we see in cats are related to sterile, stressful indoor environments. We have done a good thing by promoting the indoor lifestyle to decrease the risk of injury and death, but we have not done a great job at telling people what an indoor cat needs. It’s more than just food, water, and litter. They need a stimulating environment and interactions with their owners, and they need us to recognize stressors and reduce them.
Helping animals, and in your case cats, can be very rewarding and often challenging. Can you share one of your most rewarding cases?
One case I shall never forget involved an elderly Italian man and the family cat, Mindy. Mindy belonged to Mr. C’s wife and Mr. C had never particularly paid attention to Mindy. Then Mrs. C became ill and died, and Mr. C was left alone with Mindy, who was a senior cat herself. Now Mr. C’s entire life was focused on his beloved wife’s cat that suddenly became very important to him. Mindy had many senior cat health problems, and Mr. C wasn’t well himself, so for almost one year, I made house calls two to four times a month to help Mr. C care for Mindy. In the course of our visits, he told me about his long and interesting life, both in Italy and in Canada. I soon realized that Mr. C got as much out of our afternoon chats as he did out of the veterinary care for Mindy. That’s why vets are called “the other family doctor.”
What do you think is the most common preventable disease amongst cats?
The common disease that saddens me the most " because it is preventable in the majority of cases " is diabetes. Middle-aged overweight male cats are at highest risk. Unfortunately, our society attaches happy feelings to fat cats, but the truth is that we put them at risk of serious diseases, the most common of which is diabetes. The most important thing we can do is to be aware of nutritional requirements when cats are young, and prevent obesity from occurring. It’s easier to prevent than to treat!
You seem to have a special interest in feline reproduction. What are your interests and/or concerns for feline reproduction?
Initially my interests came from the pedigreed cat fancy because breeders had a difficult time getting help with feline reproduction problems. It is easier for dog breeders to find a vet with some reproduction expertise than for cat breeders. Feline reproduction is unique and fascinating, and is one of the important reasons why we have a problem with overpopulation of stray cats in North America. Now my interests are more focused on preventing feline reproduction and helping to fund researchers looking for simple, effective and less expensive ways to curb feline reproduction on a large scale.
Can you tell us more about the Winn Feline Foundation and how it began?
The Winn Feline Foundation was born in 1968 and was named after the Cat Fanciers’ Association attorney, Robert Winn. The original founders recognized that very little research was being conducted into feline diseases at that time. As feline medicine has grown into its own, so has Winn, paw-in-paw. To date, we have funded over $3 million in feline research and helped provide advances in disease prevention and treatment that are used every day by practicing veterinarians.
Are there some research projects you are particularly excited about?
I am particularly interested in projects that address the needs and diseases associated with indoor lifestyles. We rightly encourage owners to keep cats indoors for many valid reasons, but it has created another set of problems " such as behavior problems, obesity, and stress-induced disorders such as idiopathic cystitis. Helping cat owners provide a healthy indoor environment for cats to prevent as many of these diseases as possible is badly needed.
How can people donate to Winn?
Winn accepts donations in a variety of ways " by regular mail, via our online e-commerce system, via Facebook Causes and Network for Good, and at specific events where we have our exhibit. Donations can be made to our general fund to be used for the most pressing projects each year, or they can be stipulated toward a certain type of disease. All the information on making donations can be found on our website at: www.winnfelinehealth.org/Pages/MakeDonation.html.