One of the many pearls of wisdom I learned from my anatomy professor in vet school was that cats are not small dogs. It sounds obvious, yet veterinary medicine has often tried to fill the gaps in our knowledge of feline medicine by extrapolating from what we know about dogs. Not surprisingly, that hardly ever works. Cats are different, at times even mysterious… and that’s what makes them so special. Listed below are a few aspects of feline medicine to which the doctors and staff at North Hills Animal Hospital & Resort pay particular attention:
Signs of Illness.
Cats are adept at hiding an illness until it becomes serious. Subtle changes in weight, hair coat, facial expression, appetite and thirst can be the initial, and easily-missed, symptoms of illness. This is one of the reasons an annual examination is so important for your cat.
Cats can get cavities, but it is not from eating too much sugar. Instead, their mouths sometimes take too many minerals away from the teeth, and the teeth slowly dissolve. The medical term for this painful condition is feline odontoclastic resorptive lesion, or FORL. Dogs can do the same, but don’t suffer from resorptive lesions as frequently as cats do. Oral health, including teeth brushing and dental cleanings when needed, is just as important for your cat as it is for your dog.
Exposure to Insects.
We frequently see cats with bald patches on their bellies or legs, and/or with scratches around their faces. We search carefully for fleas on each such cat, and inquire about whether the cat’s owners have noticed any fleas on their pet. In most instances, neither we nor the owners see fleas. And in that case, the most common thing we end up doing is… treating for fleas! Cats are a quandary in this regard: even one flea bite can trigger an allergic skin reaction, but cats are so good at grooming that fleas themselves are rarely found. Another veterinary school pearl of wisdom: in central North Carolina, an itchy cat has fleas unless one can prove otherwise. Sadly, this is true for both indoor and outdoor cats. Indoor cats are protected from many dangers, but are still susceptible to bites from mosquitos and fleas. Our current favorite preventative for cats (and the one I apply to my indoor cat) is Revolution. This monthly topical product can help protect your cat from heartworm disease and fleas, as well as certain mites and intestinal parasites.
Urinary Tract Issues.
Cats can show a variety of symptoms that are consistent with urinary tract infection: straining to urinate, vocalizing, blood in urine, going outside the litterbox, and even urinary tract blockage are not uncommon. But in cats less than 8 years of age, infection is rarely present. Instead these cats are displaying an inflammation of the lower urinary tract that occurs for reasons we do not yet fully understand. The terms used to describe this condition are feline cystitis and feline lower urinary tract disorder. We do know certain risk factors for this inflammation, such as youth, weight gain, dehydration and stress. Young overweight male cats are at particular risk, because the inflammation can cause a life-threatening blockage that must be treated as soon as possible.
Cats simply do not tolerate many of the medicines we use in dogs or that are formulated for people. And certain medications, such as Tylenol, can be lethal. It is critical to keep all medications out of reach from your cat.
Maintaining a healthy weight is of course a vital component of health for all mammals. In cats, being overweight can lead to the urinary tract issues described above, arthritis, and diabetes. One of the interesting things about cats is that they frequently lose weight when we switch them from dry food to canned food. It seems counter-intuitive, yet often works.
Cats are partially-domesticated carnivores. Their behavior can be fascinating, mysterious, maddening… and sometimes all three at once. Your cat may not always show it, but she (or he) will benefit greatly from human interaction and a cat tree or other structure that allows your cat to attain an elevation off the floor. Cats also appreciate having a safe place from which they can escape stressors such as other pets, children, guests or loud noises. If your cat spends a fair amount of time under furniture, she is trying to tell you she does not feel safe. This is where a cat tree or other elevated perch, particularly if it is located in a quiet room, can come in handy. Cats also love to play with toys that allow them to act out their predatory nature; however, toys with long strings or ribbons can be fatal if swallowed. The “circle” toys that allow a cat to swat at a ball in an enclosed tube are a fun, safe option for your cat.
Cats are so fascinating that I could go on for several more pages if allowed. We are always happy to work with you to keep your cat happy, healthy and safe!