Friday, July 15, 2011

Looking for Trouble

Cats are notorious for hiding the symptoms of illness until they're just about dead; it's a self-preservation thing in the wild. But it can be trouble if you're trying to keep your cat healthy, as problems addressed earlier are much easier (and cheaper!) to cure.

So it's especially important that we interact closely with our cats, monitoring them for any signs of health trouble. Here are some good places to check when loving on your kitty:

  • Breath - If you're keeping kitty's teeth clean, she shouldn't have fishy breath, even when she eats fish. If her breath is stinky, she may have periodontal disease that can lead to problems with her heart, liver, and kidneys if left untreated. The cause could also be an abscess, sore, or even a tumor in the mouth. Cats with kidney disease may even develop an ammonia smell in their breath. So if you have to hold your nose when kitty exhales, make a trip to the vet...and start a daily dental health program. (Read my post on proper oral care here.)

  • Eyes - Your cat's eyes are normally clear and wide open. If an upper respiratory infection is plaguing her, they may be runny. Upper respiratory disturbances are also symptomatic of the first stage of the "wet" form of FIP. And in cats that are really not feeling well, you'll see that "third eyelid" emerging from the inner corner of their eyes. It's a membrane that helps protect the eyes. When my first cat was in his final hours, he looked half asleep and his third eyelid was plainly visible. White or light-colored cats may get a yeast infection that causes a brown discharge from the eyes that looks like tear stains. This can be prevented with a dietary supplement.

  • Ears - Most cats are meticulous groomers and keep their ears clean. If you see any spots in their ears, or if there appears to be debris in them, your cat may need a little help. Use a large cotton ball (not a swab) and a special ear cleaner designed for cats to flush out any foreign matter that may be lurking there. If you find spots in there that look like dried blood, your cat may have ear mites, and will need a special ear mite remedy. If you let things like this progress, they could result in your cat losing his hearing! (Read my post on ear problems here.)

  • Skin - Unless your cat is a hairless breed like the Sphynx, her coat should be supple, sleek and glossy. Regular grooming distributes oils from the skin out onto every hair shaft to moisturize it and provide a little waterproofing. If your cat's not feeling well, she may not be grooming normally and may need a little help from you. Long-haired breeds need daily brushing to reduce hairballs and keep the coat in good condition. If you see any patches of baldness, especially around the head and neck or the base of the tail and rear legs, it could indicate flea dermatitis. Get kitty on a good flea prevention program (several options are available), and use a soothing product to treat the dermatitis. I once had a cat who used to lick all the hair off his tummy in times of stress; if yours does something similar, a calming product may help. Dandruff in the coat could mean that kitty needs more essential fatty acids in the diet, which can be given in a coat-enhancing supplement. (Read my post on proper grooming here.)

  • The Ribs - Our indoor kitties tend to spend more time lounging around than they would in the wild, so obesity can easily result. Reaching down to hug your cat from above, you should be able to feel his ribs on either side. If you can't, it's time for a diet and exercise regime. Watch the amount of food you're feeding, and avoid "free feeding" of dry food without controlling the amount given daily. Increase your cat's activity level by playing with him every day for a few minutes. Provide places for him to climb, explore and scratch. (Did you know that scratching things is how cats exercise their front legs?) Use environmental enrichment toys where you hide dry food or treats inside to make kitty work for them while stimulating his natural curiosity and playfulness. And if diet and exercise don't work well enough, there are actually diet aids for cats!

  • The Litter Box - Yes, it's nasty to pay attention to what you're scooping, but if you find that your kitty's stools are softer than normal and it's not due to something you've fed her (like too much dairy or fats), there could be a health problem. Loose stools could indicate pancreatitis, or even FIP. No stools at all may indicate mere constipation or an intestinal blockage. If kitty's peeing or pooping somewhere other than the litter box, she's trying to tell you that something's wrong. It could be a health problem, something lacking in her environment, or a change in the normal regime that's got her stressed. Get her checked out by the vet and correct any dietary transgressions by feeding her a high-quality food or a raw diet fed with your vet's guidance. And if it's an environmental issue, you may even want to invest in a consultation with a pet behaviorist or animal communicator to determine the cause and get it corrected. (Read my posts on consultations with a "pet psychic" here, here, and here.)

  • The Floor - Hairballs are a fact of life for cats, who must comb their hair with their tongues. If you're finding an unusual amount of them and it's not spring or fall shedding season, help your cat by providing a hairball remedy. Several of these are available, and they're usually flavored so kitty will happily lick them off your finger or his food dish. If yours won't, there are also hairball treats available. Other cats overgroom due to stress and could benefit from a calming remedy or soothing music. Sometimes, cats will vomit right after eating. This could be a sign of renal failure, or just that his dish is too low and you need to elevate it. If the post-meal vomiting continues after your vet has given him a clean bill of health, try raising the dish about 4" off the floor. (Read my post on renal failure symptoms & treatments here.)
Interacting throughout the day with your cat is good for you both! It forces you to take a break from your stressful day, stimulates your endorphins and your cat's intellect, and cements the bond between you. Interacting with purpose adds another dimension to the whole equation and will ensure that your cat has the longest and healthiest life possible.


You'll find several pages of products to maintain your cat's oral health, ears, coat, and digestive system in the Health Time section of Visit there now and see what you're missing!

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