They hide and wait until you’re about to doze off and then pounce on your feet, snug under a blanket. They stalk the rubber band that just fell to the floor, or the dust bunny that’s hardly visible under the sofa. Cats are sneaky – in life, and when it comes to health matters.
Many health issues present with very subtle and sometimes confusing clinical signs. That’s why all cats benefit from an annual exam, and for senior cats, bi-annual exams are recommended. During the exam, a detailed history can be very beneficial. Information regarding appetite, thirst, litter box habits, weight, and activity level can often be used to investigate other issues.
A big issue for cat owners is when their cat is not using the litter box. Most commonly, the cat is urinating outside of the box. There are many causes for this problem with the most likely being a urinary tract infection, which can be confirmed by specific tests. Many cats don’t have an infection at all, but an inflammatory problem with their urinary bladder. This inflammatory condition manifests with symptoms similar to an infection, but is very different when it comes to treatment and long-term prevention.
Your cat might also be urinating outside of the litter box due to metabolic reasons such as kidney disease or diabetes. A careful history including appetite, thirst, and urine production is important. Because these diseases often progress slowly, a cat owner may not have noticed a decrease in her cat’s appetite, or that she had been filling the water bowl more frequently, or cleaning the litter box more often. Early detection is beneficial because by the time a cat is having urinary accidents, these diseases can be quite advanced. Various treatment options are available for all levels of severity of these diseases.
Lastly, there are many behavioral reasons for cats urinating inappropriately, like new cat litter, new furniture, and even a new Baby. These cats may display their discontent by urinating on the furniture or in the baby’s room. Behavioral modification including medications for anxiety may be indicated.
Another important component of a physical exam is the cat’s weight. Many times cat owners are aware of weight gain in their cat, but it’s weight loss that can be more difficult to notice. This is particularly difficult to catch when the cat seems to be eating very well, but losing weight. Hyperthyroid disease in the older cat is quite common. These cats are often eating well and are very active – maybe even too active. Some of these cats may have had some minor gastrointestinal upset that was justified as trying to pass a hairball. A simple blood test can confirm this disease, which has many treatment options.
Remember, cats are very active and agile animals. A decrease in activity level or the ability to move like they use to should not be accepted as just a part of aging. Cats do suffer from arthritis. A subtle sign may be a poorly groomed hair coat or not jumping up on a favorite chair. Although we are limited in traditional medical options to treat arthritis in cats, acupuncture, laser treatment and some prescription diets can help keep these cats comfortable.
Veterinarians are known for saying that cats aren’t just small dogs. They are unique creatures with their own set of needs and issues. It’s important to recognize their individuality and address concerns accordingly to enhance their health and happiness.