Cats Aren’t Small Dogs: Avoid Common Medical Pitfalls for Your Feline Companion

Cats Aren’t Small Dogs: Avoid Common Medical Pitfalls for Your Feline Companion

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) estimates that one quarter of all U.S. households own a pet cat, amounting to almost 60 million cats, compared with 75 million dogs. 

Unfortunately, cats lose not only in popularity, but also in terms of medical care. The AVMA reports that dogs average more veterinary visits per year (i.e., 2.4 to 1.3), and a higher average veterinary expenditure per year (i.e., $253 to $98). Dogs are more likely to cut their paw or tear a nail and require an extra trip to the veterinary office, but they still make more routine veterinary visits, whereas many owners forgo annual wellness visits for their cats, often because they appear to be healthy. However, there are many reasons why regular veterinary visits are important for your cat. 

Annual physical exams can save cats’ lives

Life with dogs may sometimes seem like a roller-coaster ride, whereas life with cats is often blissfully consistent, making it easy to forget that your cat should visit her vet. But, many illnesses in cats progress slowly with only subtle changes, which means annual physical veterinary exams are vital. For example, your cat may be slowly losing weight, but her weight loss is not noticeable until she’s lost a significant amount. Every veterinary exam includes a weight measurement that is compared to the cat’s weight at her last visit, so our team will immediately note any changes. 

An annual physical also involves checking your cat from her head to the tip of her tail and will include: 

  • Her teeth, to ensure they are in good shape; because cats seldom have bad breath, dental disease may go undetected
  • Her heart, lungs, and abdomen, for any abnormalities or pain
  • Her back and joints, to ensure she has no arthritis or other pain

Chronic illnesses in cats

These serious chronic diseases that affect cats can be managed successfully if they are detected early at a wellness exam:

  • Kidney disease — An estimated 1% to 3% of the feline population will develop chronic kidney disease, which is hard to detect early, because cats show no clinical signs until the disease has progressed into the late stages. However, diagnosis can be made through routine blood work and urinalysis, and your cat may live longer with medication and other treatments.
  • Thyroid disease — Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, is commonly seen in middle-aged and older cats. Signs include weight loss, and increased appetite, excitability, drinking, and urination, and, if left untreated, severe cardiovascular side effects, including heart failure. If found early, hyperthyroidism also can be treated successfully with daily medication.
  • Heart disease — Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or thickening of the heart wall, is the most common heart disease in cats, and is typically seen in middle-aged cats and specific breeds, including:
    • Persians
    • Sphynx
    • Norwegian forest cats
    • Bengals
    • Turkish van cats
    • Maine coon cats
    • Ragdolls
    • American and British shorthairs

Cats typically show no obvious heart disease signs, but the disease can be diagnosed during a regular veterinary checkup. 

Cats can be sneaky when sick

A hungry cat can be hard to ignore, but a sick cat is easy to miss because she can hide it so well. Dogs often seek human help when they are sick or injured, but cats who are not feeling well usually shun human company, and their owners may take days to realize the cat isn’t napping in her normal spots. Cats instinctively know they can become prey, especially when ill, and they tend to hide their illness for as long as possible in small, dark, enclosed spaces where they feel safe. This also makes detecting your cat’s illness difficult, and another reason why routine checkups are critical for early detection and successful outcomes.

Cats make wonderful pets, but understanding their need for regular veterinary attention to help ensure a long, healthy life is important. If your feline friend is overdue for her checkup, call one of our three conveniently located clinics and schedule an appointment. All our veterinarians are crazy about cats.

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