By Ashley Watson
Twenty years ago, Dr. Denise Kessler opened Affectionately Cats in Williston, Vermont because she saw a need for specialized care for cat owners. Today, this feline-only clinic remains the only veterinary hospital in the area with boarding facilities. In addition to a relaxing, dog-free environment, the clinic features spacious exam rooms, custom-designed boarding suites, a playroom for running and climbing, and a highly qualified and caring staff.
Combined, Dr. Kessler, Dr. Alison Knox and Dr. Elizabeth Berger, have 70 plus years of veterinary experience. Even during our three-hour interview, as she examined 6 cats, we had a chance to see Dr. Kessler in action and get a sense of her vast knowledge and excellent bedside manner. The amazing staff and specialized facility are only a few reasons we chose Affectionately Cats as the Vetri-Science® Clinic of the Month.
Advanced Boarding Suites
One of the most attractive features of Affectionately Cats is the state-of-the-art condos used for their boarding facilities. Each condo is a vertical space with three to five levels to give the cat room to climb and perch. “Cats need vertical space to exercise,” Dr. Kessler explains, but there are also horizontal condos for cats with less mobility.
She then points out that all of the condos have negative airflow because it helps prevent illness. “If you board multiple cats in one space, they will all have upper respiratory diseases,” she tells us. Negative airflow systems are designed to ensure that contaminated air cannot escape from the negative pressure room to other parts of the building. In addition to this protection, all cats receive medical supervision and are required to have a preliminary exam before boarding.
Later in the visit, Dr. Kessler discusses L-Lysine and how it works to prevent a herpes outbreak: “Lysine is an amino acid that requires arginine in order to be metabolized. Herpes has to have arginine in order to replicate, so by giving a cat a certain amount of lysine, which is innocuous, you set up a competition and remove the arginine.”
Because feline herpes is common, and boarding and travel stress can trigger an outbreak, every single boarding patient receives 250 to 500mg a day of L-Lysine. In addition to supplements, Dr. Kessler strongly recommends a proper diet for overall health.
Dr. Kessler emphasizes feline nutrition for overall health. She points out that recommending wet food over dry food is only a recent trend in veterinary care, and a strict wet food diet is one way to promote urinary tract health. “The number one vet emergency is blocked cats,” according to Dr. Kessler. A “blocked” cat has too much mucus or crystals in the urine, and this is especially painful for male cats due to a much smaller urethra. But the one common denominator in all of these patients is a dry food diet. Up until 2007, Dr. Kessler was still recommending dry food for cats, but now she recommends wet food to all of her clients.
This switch was prompted after a former employee brought in a diabetic cat for treatment. While looking for new research through an international veterinary network, Dr. Kessler found a group of vets in Australia who claimed to have no diabetic felines in their practice. “I thought they were quacks,” she jokes, but upon further investigation, she learned that they put all their diabetic patients on a specific brand of wet food, which has the lowest amount of carbohydrates compared to other foods. It was simply a low carb diet that was behind the success of the Australian vets.
“Cats are carnivores. We’ve fed them like they are omnivores,” Dr. Kessler explains, “In the wild, they eat animals, and ninety to ninety-five percent of an animal’s body is made of water.” And as we’ve discussed in a previous blog post, cats do not have much of a thirst drive. In addition to providing moisture, Dr. Kessler says that when you feed a carnivore a carbohydrate, for which the animal doesn’t have the enzymes to digest properly, it causes weight gain. “Fat and carbs go to fat, and you have essentially forced obesity on the animal by feeding it carbs,” she explains, “but feeding cats dry food is what we were taught in vet school.”
Furthermore, when the pancreas is overwhelmed with carbohydrates, it will stop working, unless you put the cat on a high protein and very low carb diet. This allows the pancreas to rest, and ninety percent of the time, the diabetic cat will go into remission. Dr. Kessler then tells us that wet food is the reason her diabetic patients are healthy. “We don’t have any diabetics in our practice any more, except for our house cat (pictured above), who has some other kind of damage to his pancreas,” and with that dramatic change in her patients’ health, Dr. Kessler wondered if she could get similar results for her IBD cats, or cats with urinary tract disease.
The only downside to switching her patients to wet food is a decrease in the revenue of the practice, both in dry food sales and the significant decrease in vet visits for issues caused or exacerbated by dry food. Unless the cats really like the new wet food, you have to transition them slowly to prevent secondary liver disease caused by not eating properly. Dr. Kessler recommends about eight nuggets a day if the cat won’t transition without some dry food.
We watched Dr. Kessler examine six cats in a row, who were brought in for boarding by the same client; they needed exams per the clinic’s boarding policy. We were amazed with the efficiency and comprehensive care she and the vet tech gave each cat. Dr. Kessler explained everything to the cats’ owner in an easy-to-understand language, and she let the client know why any procedures were necessary.
Each clinic we visit sheds more light on the realities of practicing veterinary medicine. By focusing on one species, Dr. Kessler has been able to recognize patterns and behaviors specific to cats and improve the overall health of her patients. Through her dedication to feline health and her passion for her field, one can see how commitment and years of experience truly pays off. As we say at Vetri-Science®, the proof is in the patient.