CATCH CAT ILLNESS EARLY BY WATCHING FOR YOUR PET'S CUES
Cats are good at hiding signs of illness, and even better at hiding when they're ill. That's why we cat owners need to know our cats well, so we can notice the subtle changes that may mean something deadly is brewing.
Learn to know what's normal for your cat, and what routines he likes to follow. Pay attention to both physical changes, such as a gain or loss in weight, and behavioral ones, especially in these areas:
-- Changes in eating habits, especially loss of appetite: Be aware of how much your cat eats and make a mental note of any changes. More than a day without eating is reason for concern. In a multi-cat household of free feeders, you may have a hard time figuring who's eating what. Make a conscious effort to see each of your cats at the food dish daily, and if you give them canned rations once a day, feed them separately.
-- Changes in litter-box habits: Many times, a "behavior" problem is really a health problem, and avoiding the litter box or using it more often than normal is one of the classic symptoms. A cat with an undiagnosed urinary-tract infection or diabetes, for example, may break his normal patterns of litter-box use. He's not "bad" -- he's sick!
-- Changes in drinking habits: Cats drink more in the summer than in the winter, but even taking that into consideration, you should be aware of changes in your cat's drinking habits -- too much or too little.
-- Changes in grooming: If you notice your cat looking ill-kempt, he likely has a problem, especially if he's normally fastidious. Grooming is one of the most important parts of a cat's routine, and the cat who isn't taking care of his coat isn't well.
-- Changes in voice: You know what's normal for your cat -- how often he pipes up and how he sounds when he does. If your cat is noisier than usual or more quiet or the sounds he makes are different, something is going on.
Wellness examinations (once or even twice a year) are especially important for cats, but cats are statistically less likely than dogs to see a veterinarian at all. That makes keeping an eye on a cat's physical and behavioral variances even more important.
Taking your cat in for what veterinarians call an "ADR" or "Ain't Doing Right" visit may seem unnecessary, but any veterinarian and many a cat lover will tell you about cats whose lives were saved (or about the money that was saved) because their owners turned their observations into a veterinary visit and caught something before it got worse.
Cats can be mysterious creatures, but they typically share clues to their secrets. Careful owner observation and some veterinary sleuthing has solved many feline mysteries. Take the time to be a feline health detective, and you and your cat will both be better off!
'Fear-free' vet visits
can ease cats' anxiety
Q: Do you have any tips for getting cats to the vet? I can't tell you who dreads appointments more, him or me. --via Facebook
A: There's a movement in veterinary medicine toward lower-stress care for cats (check out Catfriendlypractice.catvets.com and CATalystcouncil.org), or more broadly, toward "fear-free practices" for all pets, which is my own effort. Together, these projects aim to make veterinary visits far less stressful for both owners and pets.
By the time you read this, I'll have given a major address on "fear-free practices" to veterinarians at one of the big annual conferences, the CVC. I'm now working with veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists, architects who design veterinary hospitals, veterinary technicians and even massage therapists to change the way pets experience veterinary medicine. You'll see these changes in the months and years to come, I promise you!
In the meantime, here are a few tips you can try to make things easier:
-- Invest in a good carrier. I recommend a hard-plastic, solid carrier with doors on the top and front, and that breaks apart to create a bottom level "bed" your cat can stay in at the vet's exam room. Don't hide the carrier in the garage or basement: Keeping it out where your cat can see it prevents the panic some cats get when they see the carrier.
-- Use pheromones to help relax your cat. Feliway mimics the substance mother cats secrete, and it helps cats and kittens relax. Spray it on a towel you put in the carrier, and spritz another towel to go over the carrier.
-- Keep the carrier covered with a towel, and avoid placing it near other cats in their carriers or allowing dogs to sniff it.
Talk to your veterinarian about any other tips that may help your cat specifically. Going to the veterinarian can be easier with your veterinarian's help, and it's going to get easier still! -- Dr. Marty Becker
Dog parks continue
to grow in popularity
-- The concept of a public park dedicated for use by off-leash dogs and their owners is a relatively new one, but it has been popular from the start. The nonprofit Trust for Public Land notes that in 2010 there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities, and that the growth in the number of dog parks has been 10 times greater than the number of parks dedicated to general use. An article in USA Today noted that the trend is not surprising, given that more households today have dogs than have children.
-- Rattlesnakes working for the good of humankind? Yes, say researchers from the University of Maryland. That's because a single snake is responsible for removing 2,500 to 3,500 potentially disease-carrying ticks a year, along with the small mammals that are the snake's prey. So, thank a snake ... but not too closely.
-- Norm Lopez, a friendly cat with a catchy name and his own Facebook page, has attracted fans around the world after a well-meaning passerby picked up the portly pet and took him to the animal shelter in the mistaken belief that he was pregnant and in distress. There, the shelter director recognized him from his Facebook page, and Norm was soon back home. After a burst of media fame, he's back to welcoming guests from his home base near the State Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., but he now has a microchip and is the face of a fundraiser for the city's shelter. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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.