It’s National Vet Tech Week Vet techs are a vital part of every veterinary practice and the third week of October is dedicated to honoring them. We’d like to do a shout out to Georgia Barbush a registered vet tech from California who guest posts for us monthly. She and her husband, Mike, are also the owners of Peach Industries. Their Kitty Lounger cat hammocks and other eco-friendly pet products can be found at peachindustries.com Georgia and Mike with their cat, Linus, and dog, Remy. Georgia shares Part Two in her series on monthly at home physical exams for cats.
Monthly Physical Exams – Take an Active Role in Your Cat’s Health – Part Two
This month we are going to talk about how to assess your cat’s general appearance, temperament, hydration, and weight. Many health conditions can affect several of these characteristics at once. For example, hyperthyroidism can cause increased appetite, weight loss, hyperactivity or aggression, and greasy fur. Diabetes mellitus presents with similar signs, but cats tend to be lethargic instead of hyperactive and may also urinate inappropriately. Both of these conditions are common in cats and treatable, but both are also potentially fatal if left untreated. Your cat relies on you to recognize signs that veterinary care may be needed.
It can be hard to recognize subtle or gradual changes when you see your cat every day, but these changes can be significant reflections of your cat’s health. Take a moment to really look over your cat. It may be helpful to refer to photographs over a period of time. Has your cat’s coat changed? Is he carrying weight differently? Do the right and left sides of the body appear symmetrical?
Some behavioral changes result from changes in a cat’s environment, schedule, or other day to day factors, but behavior is also affected by your cat’s health. Examples of behavioral changes that can signify an underlying health condition include:
· Increased sensitivity
· Grumpiness or irritability
· Inappropriate elimination
· Increased vocalization
· Apparent confusion
· Changes in grooming habits
· Changes in appetite
· Changes in thirst
While some of these altered behaviors may not seem health related on the surface, they can be the result of pain, hormonal imbalances, or organ dysfunction. When behavioral changes arise, always consult with your veterinarian first to identify or rule out any medical causes.
Hydration: There are a couple of ways to check your cat’s hydration status.
First you will want to look at the skin over the shoulders. Take a small fold of skin between your fingers and gently pull it up so it forms a tent. Then let it go and watch what happens. It should spring right back. If the skin stays in a tent shape for a couple of seconds, your cat may be dehydrated. This test is easy to do, but it is not always accurate. Thin cats tend to appear more dehydrated than they actually are and obese cats tend to appear less dehydrated. Fortunately we have other ways to confirm the results of the “tent test.”
Your cat’s gums can also tell you about her hydration status. Gently lift your cat’s upper lip and use one finger to feel the gums. A well hydrated cat will have smooth, moist gums. Dry, tacky gums are a sign of dehydration. Next, press gently on the gums and then take your finger away. The area you pressed will initially appear pale or white and then it will return to a healthy pink color. This is called capillary refill time and it should only take 1 to 2 seconds. If it takes longer than that your cat may be dehydrated. If it takes less than one second or more than 3 seconds, contact your veterinarian right away.
Weight and BCS
A change in weight is often one of the first clues that an animal is not well, especially with our stoic felines. Maintaining a healthy weight is also extremely important for your cat’s overall health and longevity. It is easy to overlook gradual changes in your cat’s weight, so it is very important to weigh him at least once a month and keep a record for comparison over time.
In addition to weight, you also want to consider body condition. Look at your cat from above while she is standing. She should have a clear waistline. Ribs may be slightly visible depending on breed and coat, but they should not be obviously jutting out. When you feel the sides of your cat’s chest you should be able to feel the individual ribs with a very light padding of muscle over them; they should not be hidden under a layer of fat. Another spot you’ll want to check is the area at the base of tail. Obese animals will often develop a fat deposit in this area that will appear as small roll at the tail base. Health problems can arise from both obesity and emaciation, so it is very important to help your pet maintain a healthy weight.
Stay tuned for Part Three: Skin/fur, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.