Cats are mysterious creatures. They are beautiful, smart, independent and capable of hiding symptoms until their sickness is severe. As a veterinarian I will also add the adjectives challenging and dangerous. When I enter an exam room, the most clever cats will sit quietly backed up against the wall on the table. When I reach out to touch them, they break out their kitty Kung-Fu and become a mass of teeth, claws and (sometimes) urine. That interaction is always a fun experience. The other common response is an immediate hiss when they see me. Those guys at least let me know we’re going to go a few rounds. Very rarely does a cat bound towards me gleefully. So with those personalities, why do I want to help you help them? Because I love cats!
Cats have some very common conditions that require quick attention when you notice the signs. Three of the most frequent problems include Feline Urologic Syndrome, Feline Leukemia Virus and linear foreign bodies. Stick with me. You won’t need a veterinary degree to get through this article! Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS) is a condition where a cat’s bladder lining gets very irritated from a sandy sludge that develops inside the bladder. Sometimes there is a concurrent bacterial infection, but not always. Early signs are frequent trips to the litter box, licking around the area from where they urinate, and blood in the urine. Cats will often urinate in odd places like sinks or bathtubs. I think they are smart enough to let you know something is wrong.
This condition becomes an emergency when the cat cannot pass urine. The sludge forms a plug and serves as a cork. The owner will then notice the cat is straining in the litterbox. Some people will report the cat looks constipated. If this goes without treatment, the cat might also vomit and become dehydrated. Prolonged blockage of the bladder leads to death. Treatment for FUS may include a diet change, increased water intake (and/or filtered water), antibiotics and even hospitalization if a blockage is suspected. The sooner an owner detects the problem, the quicker the cat will recover.
Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are nasty diseases indeed. Although some cats can “convert” the viruses, many who become infected carry the virus forever and can become very sick. Both viruses are contagious, and Feline Leukemia is especially so. It is spread by saliva, bites, and grooming, so even cats eating out of the food bowl with an infected cat can become infected. FIV is a little harder to catch. It is spread through bites and sexual contact. Outside, unneutered male cats are the most likely to catch this virus.
Because these viruses suppress the immune system like AIDS does in humans, the symptoms can be variable. Cats may have fevers, pale gums, diarrhea, coughing, jaundice, or even tumors. Cats can live for years with these viruses in the right conditions, but once they become sick they are very hard to return to good health. The best defense is prevention by getting proper vaccinations and controlling your cat’s environment so he is not exposed to potentially infected cats.
The final condition is very common and can be hard to diagnose. A linear foreign body is usually a string, piece of yarn, fishing line, or some similar material. In the “olden” days, we saw cats who had eaten the tape out of music cassettes, but only we old dodgers even know what cassette tapes are anymore. Cats love to chase and chew on objects, and they seem particularly attracted to stringy objects. They eat them, and the object makes its way into the stomach and heads into the intestines. The string can cling to the sides of the intestines and cause them to “bunch up” like an accordion. The string can also cut into the intestines. This process can cause vomiting, fever from secondary infection, lack of appetite, and diarrhea or the lack of stool at all. When the cat has reached this point, surgery is indicated. Sometimes we even find the string wrapped around the base of the tongue. The best idea again is prevention by removing any string-like objects from your cat’s environment. As you can imagine, Christmas is a particularly dangerous time for cats with all the tinsel, ribbons and bows.
These days I do acupuncture on dogs and cats for a variety of conditions. How do I put needles in cats, you ask? Well you’ll just have to come by and watch the magic for yourself! Until then, keep a good eye on your kitty because as in everything in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The sooner a problem is identified, the quicker and more likely the patient will make a full recovery.