Cats so often miss out.

There are over 2100 cats in our practice that we didn’t see at all last year. Some will be perfectly healthy and had no need to come. Many have a range of health problems that just aren’t recognised at home. We know this because when cats are brought to us with a cat fight wound or after an accident we often discover one or more other disease problems that never seemed important enough to trigger a vet visit. Yet once they are aware of the problem and its significance the owners want it sorted.

So why do cats so often miss out?

Cats are really good at masking illness. They also spend quite a lot of the day just lying about, so illness is easy to miss. They aren’t taken for walks so changes in their energy levels or the way they move aren’t so obvious as in dogs. And they are often more fussy with their food so a cat off its food doesn’t create the same concerns as a dog not eating.

Here are 9 important signs of illness in cats to look out for.

  1. Changes in grooming behaviour. Cats spend a lot of time grooming, and much of it may be in private. This is when they are more likely to tear their hair out. If you notice that your cat is grooming a lot more, has wet patches on its fur, or areas of thin coat with a harsh feel, or scabs on the skin these can be signs of fleas, allergies to fleas, food, pollen or housemite dust, sometimes skin infections, or stress. When humans are stressed we often do overgrooming behaviours like nail-biting. Cats chew at their fur.

  2. Changes in toileting behaviour. Most cats are very private when it comes to toileting, and unless your cat uses a litter tray inside chances are you won’t have a clue about how your cat is peeing and pooing. This means that if you suspect anything unusual about your cat’s toilet behaviour there probably really is something wrong. Don’t wait to be sure. Give us a call.

  3. Changes in social interaction. Cats have an undeserved reputation as solitary creatures – ‘he who walks alone’. But cats are social animals and if your cat seems more withdrawn and less interactive with you than normal then suspect that it is unwell. Anything from a cat bite infection to an internal disorder could be the problem.

  4. Changes in eating. A cat’s appetite is usually more sensitive than a dog’s to fever so that is often our first suspicion when a cat goes off its food. Poor appetite can also be a sign of anything from pancreatitis or grumbling liver disease to a tooth root infection. If cats start eating more we get suspicious of overactive thyroid glands, sugar diabetes and some bowel problems.

  5. Changes in drinking. Most cats drink very little, and they often turn their noses up at the fresh clean water we put out for them in a bowl in favour of drinking from potplant bases, shower trays and puddles. This does mean that cats can start drinking a lot more before it becomes obvious. Increased drinking should always trigger a visit to the vet. It is a sign seen in many illnesses including kidney disease, sugar diabetes, and overactive thyroid, and bowel disease.

  6. Change in weight. We weigh your cat every time it comes to Halifax so we have weight records going through years of a pet’s life. It is clear that many cats follow a natural cycle of putting on a little more weight in winter and then losing it over summer. But if you suspect weight change out of the ordinary it pays to get your cat checked. Weight loss is the most common concern and is the presenting sign for dozens of disease problems in cats. Weight gain is more commonly associated with diet or lifestyle changes than disease in the cat. The extra weight is linked, as in people, with a range of health problems, particularly osteoarthritis, type II diabetes, periodontal disease and some cancers.

  7. Change in mobility. Subtle changes in mobility that would be obvious to when taking a dog for a walk are often missed in cats. Even though osteoarthritis seems to be more common in cats than dogs far fewer cats get treatment. Watch how your cat gets up on the sofa or the bed. Is it still springing up freely, or does it pull itself up, or avoid jumping up on a kitchen stool it used to manage with ease? Healthy 14 year old cats can usually still jump up onto a kitchen bench. If forelimb arthritis is a problem cats will often be obviously careful about how they get down from furniture or down steps. A vet visit can get this sorted.

  8. Change in sleep behaviour. We see restless sleep in several situations. Cats with an overactive thyroid may prowl the house crying in a distressed (and annoying!) way both day and night. Geriatric cats with a form of dementia we call ‘Catzheimers’ will do the same, but often more at night. Cats with bladder problems can be very restless before making their way to the cat door or litter tray. And of course any pain interferes with sound sleep. On the other hand cats that are unwell for a range of reasons will spend much more time sleeping and often withdrawn.

  9. Bad breath. I saved the most common sign for last. This is the most common sign associated with periodontal disease. Although often called gum disease it is really a progressive disease of the tooth attachment in the tooth socket and results in tooth loss. This is disease is easily overlooked because it is often difficult to examine your cat’s mouth properly, and cats usually keep eating well in spite of shocking oral health.