Don’t gamble with your cat’s health. While it is important to treat cat diseases as soon as you recognize the symptoms, it’s best to leave the diagnosis and treatment to a veterinarian. This section will help you determine whether your cat may be sick. If you have any doubt about your cat’s health, call the veterinarian immediately.
A Healthy Cat
Somehow cats have gotten the reputation of hiding all the time or being constantly skittish. While most cats will run and hide at the first sign of danger, that’s simply because they are afraid. As soon as they become secure in their surroundings, they have less reason to be scared. Rather than hiding, cats are much more likely to:
- Act curious, attentive, alert
- Sniff things, including the air
- Have a good appetite and show interest in food (remember, kittens are always hungry)
- Enjoy being around other cats and people and show interest in family activities
- Use the litter box faithfully
- Groom themselves several times a day
- Walk and jump with balance and coordination
- Scratch the scratching post several times a day
- Occasionally run and pounce on imaginary things
Signs of Illness
Even healthy cats occasionally get sick. There are some common symptoms of illness that warrant immediate attention from the veterinarian.
Call the vet if your cat:
- Urinates outside the litter box
- Has blood in his urine
- Frequently misses meals or exhibits a change in appetite
- Is constantly thirsty
- Shows unprovoked aggression or sudden change in mood
- Acts lethargic or withdrawn
- Has labored or irregular breathing
- Sneezes, wheezes, or coughs
- Has white gums
- Has pus around eyes or nose
- Overgrooms or is losing hair
- Stops grooming
- Trembles, shakes, or seems feverish
- Vomits or has diarrhea (if a kitten); has chronic vomiting or diarrhea (if an adult)
- Frequently cries or whimpers
- Has constant body odor
- Has lumps, swelling, or open sores
- Obsessively scratches at ears
- Licks around the anus (veterinarian can check to see if anal glands are impacted)
- Walks with his head tilted to one side
Finding a Good Veterinarian
Most people hate going to the doctor. Cats aren’t any different. The first step toward making veterinarian visits go well is finding a good doctor.
Ask around or look in the yellow pages for veterinarians who describe themselves as “alternative,” “holistic,” or “old-fashioned.” When you call, ask about the vet’s position on declawing. Quite often, veterinarians who refuse to declaw are more in tune with and concerned about your cat’s needs. This probably will rule out a lot of veterinarians, but don’t get discouraged. (www.declaw.com contains a list of veterinarians who refuse to declaw.)
Find out whether the vet is knowledgeable about natural or home remedies, not just antibiotics, antidepressants, tranquilizers, or steroids.
Also ask what he or she charges for checkups as well as specific procedures. Prices for the same procedures can vary by more than 100 percent.
When you call a veterinarian you’re considering, see how patient and receptive he or she is to your concerns. If the people in the office seem uninterested or authoritarian, find another veterinarian.
Tips for Trips to the Veterinarian
Making the trip to the doctor can be traumatic for cats. For most cats, this is the only time they leave the house. Even if only taken to the veterinarian once a year, the cat will remember the experience. Many hold grudges. But there are ways to lessen the amount of resentment your cat may keep:
- Leave a cat carrier open and accessible in the house to help your cat get used to it being around. Put a towel or pillow in it. This way, your cat will associate the carrier more with taking a nap than with a trip to the doctor.
- If you’re going to a twenty-four-hour emergency clinic, call first so they can be prepared.
- Make a list of symptoms you’ve noticed and questions to ask the veterinarian. Include questions about recommended medications, as well as their cost and potential side effects.
- To make the trip more relaxing, put a stocking filled with dried catnip or dried lavender into his carrier case.
- If he resists, put him in the case, hind end first, as quickly as possible. If he walks into the carrier by himself, praise him for being so good.
- Give him a food treat every time he enters the carrier whether you had to help or not.
- If you are crunched for time and he’s refusing to get into the carrier, put a towel over him and shove him (gently!) into the case, leaving the towel with him. As soon as he’s in and the door is shut, say “Good boy!” and give him a treat.
- Some veterinarians make house calls. If you have a number of cats, the time and hassle you can save might make up for the extra cost of having the doctor make the trip.
At the Doctor’s Office
Once you’ve been taken to the exam room, let your cat out of his carrier to explore the room. Talk to him sweetly, pet him, and play with him. Give him a treat.
Stay with your cat unless the veterinarian strictly forbids your presence, or your cat is putting up a fight. Veterinarians often don’t want you in the room when drawing blood, inserting microchips or during other procedures where they must be quick, yet firm, in handling your cat. Your being in the room makes your cat feel safer and it also helps you to have an understanding of what the veterinarian is doing for your cat.
Tell the veterinarian about concerns you might have regarding the cat’s eating, drinking, and litter box habits. Also mention whether your cat is having trouble walking or breathing, or has stopped grooming himself.
While your cat is being examined, talk to him and comfort him. Tell him he’s being good. In the meantime, watch as the veterinarian checks the cat’s ears, teeth, and respiratory and heart rhythms.
Don’t allow the use of an injected anesthesia for routine procedures such as ear or dental cleanings or drawing blood. If sedation is really necessary, ask your veterinarian for safer alternatives to injections. There have been many instances where the dog or cat never woke up form a “routine teeth cleaning.”
Whenever a medication or operation is recommended, ask why it is necessary, what the potential side effects or complications could be, and what your other options are. Because the cost of long-term treatment or illness can become a burden, don’t be ashamed to ask about the price of these treatments.
Ask your veterinarian not to hold your cat by the scruff of his neck unless absolutely necessary. If you’re not happy with how your cat is treated or handled, look for another vet.
If you have a choice, bring your cat home after treatment instead of letting him stay overnight. Being away from home is stressful for cats.
When your cat is back in his carrier, give him another treat and praise him.
Most cats don’t fight the veterinarian. If your cat becomes a nightmare at the vet’s, it could be that the veterinarian isn’t the right one for your cat.
If your veterinarian recommends an expensive or drastic procedure, shop around for a second opinion.
When You Get Home
Doctor visits usually will wear your cat out for the rest of the day, especially if he gets vaccines. Don’t expect him to be too chipper. Allow him outside for a short walk unless his condition prohibits that. Fix a wet meal when he comes back into the house. He’ll be tired and soon will be ready for a very long nap.
Handle your cat gently for the first twenty-four hours after any shot. If he shows signs of pain or fever after a shot, call the veterinarian immediately.
- Cat carrier case
- Towel for carrier
- Stocking with catnip or lavender
- Cat treats for carrier case and veterinarian’s office