There are clues for determining if your cat is ill, but you have to look for them.
Studies have shown that dog owners on average take their pets to the veterinarian twice as often as cat owners. As a result, cats are more likely to be diagnosed with illnesses that are at advanced stages. Foremost among the numerous reasons why cats seem get the short shrift when it comes to vet visitations is that dogs are more involved with the daily lives of their owners.
Dogs are usually walked at least once a day. They are taken out to do their “business” and they like playing and crave attention. Thus, dog owners quickly notice a change in their pet’s behaviour because they so closely interact with them. Research shows that the majority of pet owners who own both a dog and a cat feel more bonded to their dogs. Cats are usually viewed as independent and somewhat aloof.
Check the litter box
Dogs are also much more food oriented so that loss of appetite gets the owner’s attention. Cats’ eating habits can fluctuate. Some days they’ll eat quickly, some days they will snack and some days they’ll leave the bowl half full. Cats are stoic animals and only let you know they are not well when they are in dire pain. Felines don’t have a wide range of facial expressions and often go off on their own. This independence is what many cat owners admire but it’s also what frequently delays detection of illnesses.
One early indication of a cat’s ill health can often be found in the litter box. With daily cleaning an owner should have a reasonable estimate of the usual amount of waste. If the litter suddenly becomes very wet, or has many or large clumps of urine (if you use clumping litter) then your cat may have diabetes, If there is little wetness or few signs of urine, then your cat may have a urinary tract infection or struvite crystals. The stools can let you know if your cat has diarrhea by their loose, unformed consistency or constipation by the lack of stools.
Any of these signs should be watched for no more than a couple of days. Denial of a possible illness usually leads to a much sicker cat and often a trip to the emergency hospital. It is much better to make an appointment with your regular vet quickly and then cancel if your cat gets back to normal.
Of course, monitoring the litter box is more problematic for multi-cat households but even here you should have an idea of the average amount of waste you clean each day. If there is a change in the consistency, appearance or quantity of the stools or urine, then you will have to watch unobtrusively to see which cat has the problem.
Because changes in behaviour in a cat are more subtle than a dog’s, they may go undetected or ignored. There are, nevertheless, some signals that you should be on the lookout for. If your cat normally likes to be petted (or at least tolerates being petted) but won’t let you pet him at all, that may be a sign that the cat is not feeling well. A cat shaking his head as if trying to clear it, could signal an ear infection, allergy or even a dental problem.
Grooming is an instinctive behavior for felines; ceasing to groom is usually a sign of illness. Although you may not immediately notice that your cat doesn’t groom himself, you should notice if the coat becomes dull, dirty or greasy looking, or simply does not look the way it usually does. Also, if your chatty cat turns quiet or if your usually quiet cat becomes vocal, these changes in behavior could be signs that something is amiss.
Watch eating patterns
Since cats are regarded as finicky eaters it is sometimes difficult to judge a change in appetite. However, a significant change such as not eating what you know is a favourite food or conversely eating voraciously should be monitored for a couple of days to see if the change persists. If it does, then a trip to the vet is warranted.
Because urban cats are usually confined to the indoors, their chances of becoming ill from environmental sources is greatly diminished. Dog owners know that the outdoors exposes their pet to numerous opportunities for infection or disease and, therefore, are more attentive to possible health problems.
However, just because a cat is not as demanding or high-maintenance as a dog, that shouldn’t preclude him from receiving equal love and attention. Especially as your cat ages, regular visits to your vet will help to detect many health issues before they become serious or before they become too advanced to cure.
Animal lover Robert Urano operated a pet food store in Winnipeg for many years.