Q: Climate change seems to be causing more hurricanes, flooding and wildfires than we had years ago. If something like that happens here and we're told to evacuate, what should I do about my cats?
A: Take them with you. The Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act (PETS Act) became law in 2006, ensuring that pets and service animals are sheltered and cared for during disasters.
Start today to plan for a disaster such as the kind you mention or even an earthquake, train derailment with chemical spill or radiation leak.
Use your cellphone to photograph each of your cats, their microchip certificates and their medical records, including vaccination dates and medications. Make sure to update this information regularly. If your cats aren't microchipped, your veterinarian can provide this lifetime identification.
Pack a tote bag or plastic storage box with everything your cats will need during a two-week evacuation. Include a list of several locations that can house your cats, from pet-friendly evacuation shelters and motels to boarding kennels and animal hospitals.
Remember to pack each cat's collar and identification tag, food, treats, drinking water, bowls, medications, litter, litter pans and hand sanitizer. Include your cats' favorite toys and a bottle of Feliway spray, the pheromone that helps cats relax and feel secure. Rotate perishables so they'll be fresh if an emergency strikes.
Be sure each cat has a carrier with your contact information taped to the outside. Line the bottom with a thick towel, and leave the carriers open in your home so your cats feel safe napping in them.
With luck, you'll never have to evacuate. But if you do, a little planning now will help the process go more smoothly.
Q: Misty, my small mixed-breed dog, has a heart murmur. Fortunately, she shows no clinical signs, and her veterinarian said she doesn't need heart medicine yet. Please explain heart murmurs.
A: A heart murmur is an extra sound your veterinarian hears through the stethoscope as Misty's heart beats. Normally, the heart produces two sounds per heartbeat: lub-dub. The extra sound, which can be soft or loud, may be a swish, squeak, whoop or even sound like machinery.
Murmurs can be harmless, or they could indicate heart disease with disturbed blood flow within the heart. The harmless variety, called a physiologic murmur, occurs without any abnormality of the heart or blood vessels.
The most common heart condition is chronic valve disease, which is most prevalent in dogs under 45 pounds, like Misty. The cause is unknown, although it is probably inherited in some breeds.
Chronic valve disease usually becomes apparent when the dog is middle-aged or older. Males are more often affected than females.
Dogs with chronic valve disease might have no clinical signs, or they might experience coughing, rapid breathing, pale gums, exercise intolerance or collapse.
In chronic valve disease, one or more of the four valves that regulate blood flow through the heart become thickened. Usually affected is the mitral valve, which separates the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart, which pumps blood throughout the body.
The valve and the cords holding it in place thicken so much that the valve can't close completely when the heart contracts. This allows blood to flow backward into the previous chamber, creating the murmur.
At some point, your veterinarian may recommend an echocardiogram and chest radiographs, sometimes called X-rays. An echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, shows not only whether a valve is thickened and leaky, but also how effectively the heart is pumping blood. A radiograph reveals whether the disease has progressed to heart enlargement or congestive heart failure.
If Misty is overweight, help her lose the excess weight. When needed, medication and dietary modification will help her feel better and prolong her life.
Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at