How to tell if your cat is sick

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Hi! My name is Doctor Uri Burstyn. I’m a veterinarian in Vancouver BC and I’d like to welcome you to my series of practical skills for pet owners. I’m here with Clawdia today to talk to you about something that’s very important. How can you tell if your cat’s doing okay?This might sound like a weird question to ask but in reality less than 50 percent of catswho live in North America get to see a vet in a given year andthe main reason for that is because people who own catsjust look at their cat and say ‘hey my cat looks okay, doesn’t need to go to the vet’which is not an unreasonable thing to say. Unfortunately, it’s not the right thing to say either. I mean, there’s many many health conditions that cats get and I call them basically ‘old person diseases’that indoor cats get in particular that are not at all obvious. And the thing aboutchronic health issuesis that earlier you diagnose them,the more effective the treatment is, the cheaper the treatment is, and the better the quality of life for the patient. And cats, unlike dogs, do not tell you when they’re not feeling well. If you think about their evolutionary biology, dogs are pack animals. When they get sick, they act sick and their pack mates take care of them. They’ll whine,they’ll put on a big dramatic act and, of course,we – their pack – will bring them food, will bring them health care, will give them lots of love, will take care of them. Cats do live socially but they’re solitary hunters. Evolutionarily they’re used to not relying on anyone else for help. Which is one of the reasons I love them, is ‘cause they’re just independent little killing machines that choose to share their life with us. But as a result of that, when they’re ill they don’t show it. They try to hide it because they’re kind of middle of the food chain. If a cat looks weak or sick some predator will take it out, like a coyote or. . . They’re not top of the food chain animals. They’re mid food chain predators andthey have to really hide it when they’re sick. And they also don’t expect any help from other cats. Not surprising to anyone who’s lived with a cat. You don’t expect any help from them – anything useful at least. So they don’t overtly show signs of illness. And often people come to me with a really sick cat and they’ll be really dumbfounded when I tell them‘hey, your cat’s really in pain’ and they’ll be like‘she’s not whining or anything’ and then you can see them kind of catch themselves ‘cause, you know. . . Have you ever seen a cat whine?andI mean certainly cats can vocalize – they can be quite vocal and annoying – but it rarely has anything to do with pain or discomfort. They’re more likely to do that when they’re hungry or bored or just want to communicate with you. Clawdia here’s a big talkerand she’s certainly very comfortable. So, how can you tell if your cat’s in pain,feeling sick, not doing well when they don’t tell you themselves?Well, this is a difficult question to answer. Vets struggle with this all the time. There’s all sorts of pain scores and behavioural scores developed out there for cats,none of which work very well because cats are pretty hard to read. So I’m gonna tell you just a few things you can look for at homethat’ll help youlook at your cat and say ‘hey are you doing alright?’. SoOne of the really easy and obvious ones is inappropriate elimination. If your cat always uses the litter box,which most cats do, and then all of a sudden starts peeing or pooping on the floor,something’s wrong. They’re not being contrary. They’re not being mean. They’re being sick. Owners sometimes tell me that ‘hey, my cat literally just sat down in the middle of the floor, made eye contact with me and pooped’. Well, that’s them trying to tell you something. So if your cat starts eliminating inappropriately when they’ve always used the litter box before, take them to the vet. There’s a reason for it. Chances are the vet can fix it. That is a really obvious way of them telling you something’s wrong. Of course, their way of communicating is maybe not very palatable to us!But hey, that’s the way they communicate. So that’s the really obvious stuff. Your cat poops or pees somewhere inappropriate? Well, take them to the vet – something can be done for it. Less obvious things butunfortunately more common are. . . Well, there’s a couple things. Hiding. Now, cats hide when they’re ill. Outdoor cats will just crawl under a porch and try to diewhen they get really sick. Indoor cats will hang out under the couch or in the closet or somewherethey don’t normally hang out and they’ll hang out there a lot. And this can be hard to gauge, you know,unless you’re really tracking your cat’s movements. You might not notice that the cat’s hiding more,particularly if they’re an outdoor cat and you don’t see them all the time. And, you know, cats have their own habits so it’s important not to over-interpret this. But increased hiding issomething you will notice in a cat who’s not feeling well, particularly they throw a fever or they’re really feeling rotten. They’ll just be away. They’ll put themselves away somewhere dark and quiet and basically wait till they get better or die. It’s their natural response to illness and, of course, we as humans can identify that, take them to the vet and make them feel better. So hiding’s one. Increased aggression. I think I’ve talked about that in one of my other videos. But if a cat gets kind of snappy and kind of untouchable and kind of “mean”,they’re probably not mean, but they’re probably in chronic pain. You know chronic pain, like having a toothache,sore joints from arthritis, a bellyache, a sore back,really infected hair mats. All of that can cause a cat to get pretty cranky because they’re in pain all the time and their response to painis to get cranky and bitey and kind of untouchable. So if your cat really seems aggressive or seems kind of untouchable, take him to the vet. Maybe there’s a source of pain there that can be addressed. So: hiding,aggression. The really obvious one that a lot people pick up on is anorexia. Cats will often stop eating in many of the old cat diseases like hypertension, kidney disease – manifests as poor appetite. So cats will stop eating. Again, they’ll hide, they won’t visit the food bowls often. It can be a little bit hard to pick up if you have multiple animals,but certainly anorexia is a very common feature of most common cat illnesses and it’s really worth looking out for. Vomiting is a really common sign of many old cat diseases. Now a lot of people tell me ‘well, my cat’s been vomiting her whole life’. And if it’s once or twice a year, it’s probably normal, nothing to worry about. But if your cat’s been vomiting once a week for its whole life, well, guess what?There’s a problem. That problem might be something not very bad. It might be something like chronic food intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease. But even something as subtle as that can convert to cancer later in life. So, if your cat’s vomiting all the time,that is not normal. That can be changed; that can be helped when you figure out why they’re vomiting and treat it. So, it might sound obvious,but many people accept even multiple times a week vomits from their cat as normal. And it’s common, but it is not normal. So, please don’t ignore vomiting in your cat. So we’ve talked about a couple things: hiding, aggression, vomiting, anorexia. All of these things – pretty darn commonbut often not that obvious. So, even though I said thatcats will not vocalize or whine or tell you they’re sick, there is an exception to that. Sometimes they will yowl, which is like a really loud protracted annoying meowthat I’m not going to demonstrate for youeven though I’m kind of tempted to. But they will yowl when they’re uncomfortable and this can be a sign of pain. It can be a sign of constipation. It could also be a behavioral sign. It could be a sign thatsomething’s going a little funny in their head. Unfortunately cats will also yowl when they’re on heat, they’ll yowl when there’s other cats outside that are making a big fuss. So it’s kind of a nonspecific sign, but certainly if your cat starts to vocalize loudly and insistentlysomething is substantially different and needs to be paid attention to. Limping is another sign and this is kind of true for cats and dogs. People will notice bring in an animal that’s limping. They’ll be asking me ‘hey Doc, is she in pain?’ and I don’t know how to answer that. Of course they’re in pain. I mean, why else would you limp if you’re not in pain? Of course, there are certain other reasons like neurologic palsy,but clearly you don’t limp unless there’s something that is wrong with you. So, if your pet’s limping, you know, there’s something wrong with it. Take that seriously because, you know,they’re not gonna limp just for fun. Certainly animals aren’t capable of pretending of they’re limping. Well, I shouldn’t say that. Some dogs can be quite clever about that. But generally speaking, if your pet starts limping when they haven’t limped before,chances are something’s wrong. So that’s just a few of the signs you can look for. Most of them are pretty subtle. But just a few of the signs you can look for in which your cat will tell you that something isn’t quite okay. So, please don’t forget to check in with your cat once in a while and don’t expect anything super obvious. But I find that the astute aware ownercan often identify illness in their cat pretty early on and let us help them. And just cuz we we’re talking about identifying subtle signs of illnessI just want to do one more plug for proper veterinary care. Every animal deserves a health check at least once a year. As they age, so over the age of ten or eleven with cats,they deserve a health check twice a year because things can go sideways in between there. And, you know, doing regular blood and urine testing particularly on cats this age really helps us pick upthose old person diseases that they get. You know, often we’ll check their blood pressure during health checks. Just little things like that will often allow us to identify cats who are sick much earlier than they would have been noticed at homeand then we can start helping them and really improve their quality of life,save the owners a lot of money, and then kind of make life better for everybody. So I hope you find this useful, andthank you very much for taking the time to learn about how to look after your cat. Thank you very much for watching. 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