I missed it. I always do. You'd think something would pop up on my computer screen to remind me, or that someone on one of my email lists would mention it. But no, I totally missed that February was National Cat Health month. Since that's also the month for Westminster, the odds are I wouldn't have written much about cats anyway, but still, I could have mentioned it. So, I'm making March my own Cat Health month.
Typically, dogs receive better health care than cats. Cat owners are much less likely to make annual appointments with their veterinarian. I don't think that's lack of caring. I think cat owners love their cats as much as dog owners love their dogs. I think it's because cats aren't, generally, as in your face as dogs. While it's always hard to tell if an animal has a problem, cats are even better than dogs at hiding the fact that they don't feel well. There are exceptions, but usually, a sick dog is easier to spot than a sick cat.
An under-the-weather cat may sleep more, but since even a healthy cat sleeps between 16 and 20 hours a day, it can be hard to tell if a cat is sleeping more. A sick cat may hide but depending on the cat that may be something it does anyway.
So, what should you look for if you suspect your cat is ill? Start by doing just that. Look. Your cat's eyes should be clear and free of matter. If your cat is squinting, or rubbing his face, or there's gunk (a scientific term) around or in his eyes, it's time to see your vet. A running nose is not normal, so again, make that call to the vet.
Your cat's ears should be clean. If you notice any discharge or your cat is constantly scratching, it's check-up time. Your cat's fur should be clean and shiny. A dull coat, or excessive shedding could mean there's a problem.
Is your cat eating and drinking normally? Cats have a reputation for being finicky, but even finicky cats eat and drink. How many meals has your cat skipped? Is he even ignoring smelly, fishy food? Is he pawing at his mouth? Cats don't get cavities, but they can get abscesses. Left untreated, that abscess can send bacteria throughout the body and be life threatening. Is he drinking normally, or at an extreme? If his water intake has increased dramatically, or he's not drinking at all, make that veterinary appointment.
Another place to look is at your cat's litter box. Output can be as important as intake. If your cat has diarrhea or there's excessive urination, call your vet. Sometimes, cats with kidney or urinary tract infections go outside the litter box. If your normally well-trained cat is now going outside the litter box, that may be why. If a cat experiences pain while urinating, it may associate that pain with the litter box, and therefore avoid it.
Of course, sometimes, cats have litter box issues for other reasons. If the household routine has changed, or another pet has been added to the family that can affect behavior. Sometimes, if there are not enough litter boxes, a dominant cat will prevent the other cat, or cats, from using the litter box. That's why the rule for multiple cat households is one box for each cat, plus an extra. I'd recommend the veterinary visit first, though, to rule out infection. It's always better to treat problems early before they can cause even more problems.
A cat that goes outdoors runs a greater risk of health problems than one that is indoors only. An un-neutered male who's allowed to roam is likely to get into fights, and those bite wounds can quickly turn septic. Females run the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. If your cat does go outdoors, spay and neuter to help minimize problems. Talk to your veterinarian about what else you can do to protect your cat. At the top of the list should be a rabies shot. In the city, cats are more likely than dogs to run into rabid animals because cats are nocturnal hunters, which can mean exposure to rabid bats, for instance, and there's no leash law to keep a cat tethered to its human.
Don't take chances with your cat's health. Schedule regular veterinary appointments to help protect him.
Pawprint: Thanks Julie Smith of Hartfield for your letter to the editor. It was like a newspaper hug.