Pet Connection

Check in With a Checkup

CATS ARE SHORT-CHANGED WHEN IT COMES TO ROUTINE 'HEALTH MAINTENANCE'

Veterinarians have long recognized something very sad about how cats are treated: Compared to dogs, cats aren't given much medical care at all.

And that's just not right.

We know more about the care and treatment of cats than ever, and as veterinarians, we want to share what we know and what we can do for the good of cats everywhere. That means preventive care before a cat gets sick -- proactive care and advice that keeps a cat healthy. And when cats do get sick, we veterinarians not only want to address little health problems before they become big health problems -- and sometimes become untreatable -- but we also want to help treat those problems in ways that are less painful to our patients.

The word is getting out, but too slowly for my taste. As great as you may be in your role of pet "parent" at home, there's no substitute for your cat's regular wellness checks with the vet.

When you consider these visits, think of your cat for a second as a trusty, well-loved car. You see that car every day -- and you know how it looks and how it sounds. But do you really understand what goes on under the hood? Your cat's veterinarian is responsible for checking your cat's internal systems and making sure he's "running right."

Long years studying every aspect of animal health and learning the ropes of feline medicine make your cat's veterinarian the pro at not only diagnosing health issues and troubles, but also at anticipating them. Veterinarians know what problems can be common at what ages.

For most young, healthy cats, an annual checkup after kittenhood should be enough. Your cat's veterinarian may order basic lab tests to provide baseline information on what's normal for your pet at the time your pet is spayed or neutered and then again in middle age for an early comparison.

At every visit, your cat should get a nose-to-toes examination and an objective assessment of his general health and body condition.

As your cat enters middle-age, your veterinarian may recommend bringing him twice a year for routine exams -- I certainly do. These semi-annual exams -- and the diagnosics that go with them -- can actually save you money and your pet pain, spotting problems early and slowing or even stopping some age-related issues for a good long while.

When you factor in any increased risk of health problems, frequent wellness checks become the No. 1 tool available to you for keeping your feline companion in good health and for saving you money in the long run.

To return to the car repair theme: You can pay me now or you can pay me later. Routine health maintenance always saves. Sadly, if you ignore preventive care for your cat the way so many people do, it's your cat who will have the most suffering when it comes to paying.

Special bonus video: Vetstreet dog-trainer Mikkel Becker shows how to greet your dog appropriately to eliminate behavior problems when you are in and out you home. (http://soc.li/qp8MlLB)

Q&A

Some cats may be

easier on allergies

Q: I recently heard that there are cat breeds that are OK for allergy sufferers. What are they? -- via email

A: No cat or breed of cat can ever be said to be "OK for allergy sufferers." While there are some individual cats (studies suggest lighter-colored females) and certain breeds (some Siberian and Rex cats) that mild to moderate allergy sufferers may be able to tolerate better, for those with severe allergies, the risk is probably not worth it.

Allergies to cats are so prevalent and so often severe that they've been suggested as one of the factors in the increased diagnoses of asthma, especially since more cats than ever before spend their lives inside. It's not cat fur that causes the problem -- which is why lightly furred or hairless cats aren't the "cure" -- but an ingredient in cat saliva that gets deposited on fur when the animal grooms, then spreads with flakes of skin and secretions commonly called "dander."

Some tips to help allergy sufferers:

-- Keep animals clean. A weekly water bath (no soap needed) for cats has been shown to reduce levels of dander and may make living with a cat workable. It's best if a non-allergic member of the family handles the pet-grooming chores.

-- Keep animals out of sleeping areas at all times. While it's hard to give up the hot-water-bottle pleasures of sleeping with a pet on the bed, your body needs a break from the stress of fighting off allergens.

-- Limit exposure to other allergens. Keeping all your allergies under control can help your body handle the exposure to a pet.

-- Most important, work with an allergist who's willing to work with you. The one whose advice starts and ends with "your cat needs a new home" probably isn't the one to choose.

A good specialist can put together a treatment plan that -- along with a commitment to environmental management -- may make living with a cat possible for all but the worst allergy sufferers. -- Gina Spadafori

Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.

THE BUZZ

Pet-supply trade show

a big draw in Florida

-- Global Pet Expo runs this week in Orlando, Fla., filling the massive convention center with nearly 900 exhibitors from all over the world, and featuring more than 2,400 booths with hundreds of thousands of products. The annual trade show packs all nearby hotels with buyers for large chains and small mom-and-pop pet stores, along with dozens of media representatives looking to see what will be the most talked-about merchandise for Americans' pampered pets.

-- Veterinarians see fat cats every day -- it's estimated that more than half of all pets are over their ideal weight -- but sometimes the news that a cat is fat comes as a surprise to the owner. When seen from above, a cat should have a waist -- an indentation between the ribs and hips, the shape of a modestly proportioned hourglass. A bulge between ribs and hips, however, is bad news on any cat -- the equivalent of a potbelly on a person. Cats at ideal weight have ribs that can be felt below a slight fat covering. A cat's abdomen should never hang down, making even male cats look pregnant.

-- The flea found on most dogs and cats is called the "cat flea" because the man who discovered it found it on a cat. It could just as easily have been found on a dog. There is a "dog flea," first described after removal from a dog, but the species is rare and has been found infrequently on dogs in North America over the past 20 years.

-- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.

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