Thursday, August 19, 2010

When a Cat Is Sick

They say cats hide illnesses well.  Unless you notice physical evidence of illness-diarrhea in the box; a lack of eating or drinking; vomiting-you may not know that your cat is ill.  You'd have to look at the face on a regular basis in order to see if the eyes are runny or glazed over.  You'd have to stare at the cat's chest daily to see if the respiratory rate has changed or if the cat seems to be in breathing difficulty.  You'd have to listen intently to hear if it sneezes and how often.  You'd have to watch it walk to see if it's having pain or having difficulty.  You'd have to question why it keeps hiding under things when usually it doesn't or if five hours under the bed is different from the usual three hours under the bed the cat normally spends.  The best thing an owner can do is to get to know your cat and know when it is well, sick, sad, happy, even what it wants and when (playtime, petting, food.) Keep a list of abnormalities-urinating out of the box; diarrhea in the box; vomiting and what is in it (grass, string, hair?), and if it isn't eating as much or at all, etc.  That is what we have had to do since Myrna's illness and the occasional illness of one of the other seven cats.  That is the only way to track issues and possible causes.  It is also helpful information for the vet to know if the cat did go to the vet. 

With seven cats they often get illnesses but what they are and the seriousness depends on the cause.  When researching illnesses online, often one finds only the most severe causes and outcomes at websites and often the website says the cause is a life threatening disease.  But cats' illnesses are often quite normal.  Cats get sick just like humans do and just as we do, may be cured in a day or two. It depends on what it is. 

Vomiting?  What is causing it could be anything-a bad hairball that won't come out for days; it ate too much; the weather is too hot; it has a cold; it has a slightly upset stomach that will cure itself in a day or two; it throws up what it ate because it ate string or a toy or grass or something it shouldn't have and that something is causing a slight blockage or is coming up with the vomit. Vomit is normal for cats. It's the frequency and the amount that may indicate an illness. Vomit followed by lethargy, with or without a fever is not normal. Breathing difficulties are not normal. Coughing up a hairball and sounding as if they are choking is normal (as long as there is nothing that they are actually choking on.)  Is it with food? Is it with hair or grass or an object it ate and shouldn't have?  All normal as long as there is no blood, no choking, and it eventually decreases not only the amount being vomited but the frequency (within a couple of hours for example but not a couple of days.)  Also, after vomiting, does the cat get up and run along? Or is it lethargic? Is it lethargic for a few minutes and then recovers or does it hide and sleep for awhile?  Is there a fever? Severe lethargy and/or a fever are signs of severe illness that should be treated by a doctor.  The cat may need fluids and antibiotics for example and will recover quickly.  Diarrhea? Again, frequency and amount, formed, soft, or runny.  Is it accompanied by vomit?  Are there objects in it? All a bit normal. It's the frequency and amount that may signal a visit to the vet for anti-diarrhea meds for example.  Is the cat tired a lot suddenly? Is it drinking, eating, using the litter box? Then it may be the weather, a change in its own routine, or it's bored.  Keep an eye on it but if it seems too quiet, take it to the vet.

When you do take a cat to the vet, getting a CBC/Chem panel (a blood test that tests kidney and liver functions, sugar levels, etc.) is a must because it is one of the best diagnostic tools available.  It shows the body's ability to function and to fight disease.  Even if the cat isn't really sick, a CBC/chem panel will tell you what is normal for that particular cat vs. the test results later on when the cat is sick.  It will show you if there are any questionable levels (elevated on the high end of normal or just over normal for glucose for example which could mean that a problem is beginning or needs monitoring.) [For example, one cat of ours has elevated thyroid levels which may indicate an illness and which we will continue to monitor.] X-rays are warranted if something is suspected of being blocked or broken, or to see the chest and heart (but only the heart outline and size.)  If abnormalities are discovered, further testing is needed  (like the cardiac ultrasound) to determine the extent of an illness.

Good websites with good information are:   Cornell University  Michigan State   Cat Channel  Purina

There are thousands of websites with decent information.  I often read two or three sites to see if each website gives me the same information or more.  If you have questions about your cat's health, its best to call a place like MSU or your vet.  Never email a vet at a website with an emergency issue such as "my cat is bleeding, what should I do?"   It may be days before they answer that email on their website.

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