2012-04-27 / Columnists

The Veterinary Corner

How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Sick?
Commentary By Jay Rogoff And Susan Whittred, DVM

Cats are masters of disguise. It is not uncommon for a client to bring in a very sick kitty who seemed absolutely fine yesterday. That’s because cats can hide disease even from the best of us. But don’t despair, there are things that you can do at home to assess the health of your cat.

1) Monitor Kitty’s Eating and Drinking Habits

Is your cat eating more or less than usual? Many of us have multiple cats or feed free choice so it can be difficult to tell who is eating and who isn’t.One of the things that you can do to make it easier is to measure how much food you put in that never-ending bowl and see how much your cat(s) are actually eating. If you have multiple cats, try observing to make sure that each one is eating (break out the treats or the canned food). Many people think that if their fabulous feline is eating well that this is a sign of good health. Unfortunately, sometimes a voracious appetite can be indicative of diseases such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism. If your cat seems to have an unusually large appetite, make sure his/her weight correlates. If your cat is eating well but losing weight then something is wrong. If your cat is approaching the food bowl wanting to eat, but doesn’t take a bite or has trouble chewing, maybe there’s a problem in their oral cavity (anyone who has ever had a toothache knows what that feels like!) Many cats suffer from chronic stomatitis which is an overreaction by the immune system to the bacteria on the teeth – this condition makes it very painful to eat or groom themselves.

Cats don’t drink as much as dogs and if they are getting canned food, some of their moisture comes from diet. Cats drink about ½ ounce per pound of body weight – less if they’re eating wet food and maybe more if they’re eating only dry. If you are always filling up the water bowl you should be concerned about the possibility of diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. If your cat isn’t getting enough hydration, try the circulating water fountains to entice your cat to drink. (You can check your cat’s hydration status by lifting the skin over the scapula (shoulders) and see if it stays up. If the skin doesn’t immediately return to the body, your cat may be dehydrated.)

2) Monitor Kitty’s Urination and Defecation

Have you noticed more urine in the litter box, or not enough? Normal cats probably urinate between two and four times per day and the clumps should be small to moderate depending upon the size of the cat. If you’re finding unusually large clumps in the litter box, then your cat could be diabetic or have renal (kidney) disease. If you’re finding lots of little tiny clumps (sometimes blood tinged) it could be indicative of a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, idiopathic cystitis or worse, partial blockage. If you’re finding no urine, then either your cat has chosen another place to go (which can signal illness) or your cat may be blocked (which is an emergency!).

Are you finding normal stool in the litter box? Most cats defecate once or twice daily. Is the stool of normal consistency? If you’re finding diarrhea then your cat may be ill. Many diseases can result in diarrhea including but not limited to parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus. If your cat is not going frequently enough, your cat may be constipated, which can be a sign of renal disease or megacolon among other diseases. 3) Monitor Kitty’s Behavior

Apart from eating, drinking, urinating and defecating, any change in behavior should be an alert that there may be a problem. Inappropriate urination and defecation can be indicative of an illness. But other types of behavior changes can also indicate disease.

Is your cat hiding more?

Because cats are masters of disguise, they would rather hide illness from you. When it gets to the point that they can’t function normally in front of you, they may retreat under the bed. This is because in the wild, if they show weakness, they may become prey. This instinct is still intact even in our domesticated cats. If your cat is hiding, something may be wrong. On the other hand, if your kitty has become more vocal or more active, that can also be a symptom of hyperthyroidism and other illnesses.

4) Inspect Kitty’s Coat

Is your kitty’s coat shiny and smooth? Are there any bald spots? Is he/she itchy? Any changes in your cat’s coat may indicate changes in your cat’s health. Bald spots can be a sign of parasites, fungal infection or allergies. Itchiness (pruritis) can be indicative of fleas, food allergies or environmental allergies (atopy). Is your cat’s coat clumpy with dandruff? This could mean your cat isn’t cleaning him/herself and could point to systemic illness or a problem with a painful oral cavity.

Brushing your cat is a great way to check your cat yourself for any lumps or bumps that weren’t there before. If your cat doesn’t like to be brushed, then petting them everywhere is another way that you can feel if everything is in order.

5) Inspect Kitty’s Eyes

Are your cat’s eyes bright and shiny and free of discharge? Squinting, discoloration, or discharge can signify many diseases from a primary ocular problem to systemic illness.

These are just a few of the ways that you can be proactive in your cat’s health. Along with your veterinarian, you are an integral part in your cat’s health and finding things sooner rather than later will help your kitty live a longer, healthier and happy life.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at The Animal Hospital of the Rockaways, 718-474-0500, stop in at 114-10 Beach Channel Drive or contact us via our website www.animalhospital oftherockaways.com. We are always happy to discuss any situation with you.

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