February is National Cat Health Month and our Centre vet Jo wanted to share a few helpful tips on what to look out for to check that our feline friends stay fit and well.
Remember, the approach to checking your cat is a logical one. It starts at the nose and works backwards to the tail.
Look out for discharge, sneezing or breathing changes to make sure you cat’s nose is as healthy as possible. Cats can develop these symptoms for a number of reasons from viral or bacterial infections to blockage in the nasal passageways. You’d be surprised what they can sniff up there!
Have a look at your cat’s eyes and watch out for discharge, redness or blinking. These can all be signs of infection, pain or serious issues like scratches on the eye. Cat flu can present with eye inflammation or green eye discharge so it’s important to watch out for these signs. Your cat has third eyelids – these are there to help protect the eyes. If they are raised it can be a sign that your pet is unwell or dehydrated. With any eye problem it is best to get your cat checked by a vet as soon as possible.
If it is safe to do so have a look in your cat’s mouth. Cats have 30 teeth when they are adults – ranging from their tiny incisors at the front of their mouth to their biting molar teeth at the back. Your cat’s gum colour should be a salmon pink colour (unless pigmented) and when you press on the gum the colour should return within 2 seconds once released. Careful if you try this – some cats might not like it! Some cats have teeth removed if they are rotten or have tartar build up and so it’s important to help your cat’s dental hygiene from an early age if possible by feeding just dry food. Monitor your cat for signs of pain when eating, a reduced appetite, smelly breath or weight loss which can all be signs of dental disease.
Cats have ear canals just like us but sometimes these can become infected, inflamed or even trap foreign bodies such as grass seeds within them. Signs of ear problems can include your cat shaking their head, their ears looking red or smelling different. Inner ear problems might cause your cat to have a head tilt or lose their balance. A vet can check your cat and their ears with an otoscope for these problems.
Cats can develop changes to their breathing for lots of reasons. Anywhere from their nostrils down to their air sacs within their lungs can become blocked with mucus or inflamed causing wheezing, coughing or sneezing. Cats don’t cope well with breathing problems and require emergency treatment with your vet. Try to remain calm as you transport them to your vets where they should be able to provide some oxygen to help your cat relax whilst they examine for the underlying cause.
Changes in your cat’s heart rate, rhythm and sounds might develop with changes to their heart structure, function or blood pressure throughout their body. Sometimes heart rates can increase, especially in older cats due to underlying thyroid issues. Your vet will check your cat’s heart as part of their full clinical exam. If there is a problem they can perform an ultrasound scan, an ECG or even take your cat’s blood pressure.
Your cat’s abdomen contains lots of vital organs to help with digestion, blood storage and fluid balance. Cats can get stomach upsets just like us and may show signs of vomiting, diarrhoea, reduced appetite or stomach pain. If you see these signs then feeding a bland diet such as white fish might help, but if symptoms become severe or persist for over 24 hours, get your vet to check over your cat as soon as possible.
Cats are also prone to cystitis and the commonest cause is stress. If your cat is urinating frequently, it’s best to speak to your vet. Sometimes pheromones/natural remedies can help but your cat may need anti-inflammatories to help reduce the pain and irritation. It is important to monitor that your cat is still passing some urine if they are straining, especially in male cats. If they become blocked, their bladder gets full and causes back pressure on their kidneys. This is an emergency so seek urgent veterinary care.
As your cat becomes older there is a higher risk of kidney disease. Signs can include drinking and urinating more, a reduced appetite, vomiting or weight loss. Speak to your vet about blood and urine tests which can be checked.
Most cats are covered in fur but sometimes their coat may become dull, scurfy, greasy or even fall out. There are lots of reasons that this can happen and lots of treatments to help including topical sprays or creams or tablets.
One of the commonest reasons for skin irritation in cats is fleas so monthly preventative treatment is essential. Some cats are even allergic to flea saliva which leads to a condition called FAD (Flea Allergy Dermatitis). This can cause painful sores on the skin and may need antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to clear up. Skin problems can be frustrating for cats as well as their owners so if you notice any problems with your cat, see your vet as soon as possible.
Cats have retractable claws but older cats sometimes lose the ability to draw them back as they age. Whatever your cat’s age it is important to monitor their claws and ensure they are not overgrowing and causing sores on their pads. Cat scratch posts can help to wear them down, although most cats seem to prefer the best rug or sofa!
As always, if you have any concerns at all about your pet’s health then you should contact your vet immediately.