At Tiger Barn Cattery we monitor all our cats on a daily basis. Knowing your cat is the key to everything. It's noticing the changes from their 'normal' to abnormal. At the cattery it's way easier to get to know the regulars. It's much harder for us to notice changes with all the new kitties because we have no baseline 'normal' to start from.
In your own home, it's a little easier to spot changes during the winter. When the cat lives outside during the summer, you aren't going to see faeces or changes in urine because they aren't using their litter box. The most common indications that something is wrong are changes in eating habits, activity and coat quality.
When left to their own devices, cats in the cattery will spend 80% of their time asleep, resting or snoozing, with the rest eating, playing, poohing and cleaning themselves.
At home they have a wider range of things to do, such as hunting, patrolling and surveying their kingdoms and this lifestyle makes it easier for you to spot changes.
Your cat might live to 15 or 20 and not have a thing go wrong and then come down with dementia. Or your cat might be sickly from day one and never really become well. It's the same for us. I suppose the trick is to spot how your companion animal is feeling and help them out when it's needed. This is an extensive list of problems to notice - and it isn't complete - but it's a pretty comprehensive guide to get you to pick up the phone and get to a vet.
Cats are odd creatures when it comes to food. In the cattery the highlight of any day is food times. Everyone knows it's food time because we try to keep the pattern the same for every day. The reactions from our guests range from clawing at the gate with excitement to a languorous stretch and a contented smile. At home, dining is a much more habitual process, so easy to spot changes. Backgrounds of cats play a part in how they eat. Rescue cats often have 'food issues'. If there was a level of food scarcity when they were young or they had to fight for it, meal times can be frenetic … they can be growlers, wolfers or gromph-monsters. There are cats who will gorge, then throw it up making it unpalatable for other animals to scavenge. There are grazers, pickers and night eaters, but essentially a sudden lack of appetite is more noticeable - Sometimes kitty might just be feeling a bit icky, going off a particular brand or they've been dining out on raw voles and beetles, but in conjunction with other symptoms, it's worth checking out.
The major advantage that we have at the cattery is that we can always see the contents of the litter box. During the summer, you might not see any results for weeks if they prefer to go outside. However, if they are always eating the same food, the same amount at the same time there will be a 'normal' consistency, smell and colour so look out for changes. We know cats hate being laughed at, but they're ok being watched on the toilet … Straining is a bad sign, particularly when trying to pee. We saved a cat's life here last year because we spotted he had a urinary tract blockage. You have to be really quick with this as the toxins in the urine get absorbed and toxaemia sets in within a day or so. Diarrhea is a very obvious change from the cat's 'normal' and will result in dehydration if nothing else. One other thing that experience has taught us in the cattery is that by using clay litter we can easily see the consistency of urine. With younger cats it's generally 'normal', but as the cat ages it thickens and, when renal problems are beginning, it almost sets like concrete.
Cats' lifestyles range from living under hedges, covered in twigs and goosegrass to soaking up the sunshine from a radiator hammock. Their fur can be long or short, dense or smooth but again you need to spot any changes. Many cats in the cattery treat their stay as a luxury spa. Some can give themselves a total makeover in a week and of course we regularly brush anyone who wants it. At home you're looking for a change in grooming, not as much time spent, an unkempt look, greasier pile or matts forming. Amongst other things this could mean a depression, an injury or arthritis … at the other end of the spectrum, there's over-grooming - When a cat can't stop licking a particular spot. We see cats who suddenly develop the habit of removing the fur at the base of their tails or turn up with bald bellies. There's numerous reasons for these changes from particular mites, to fleas causing skin irritation, or indicating something below the skin is causing your cat concern. Or it could be a psychological reaction with no physical cause.
In the cattery most cats are ready for play. Although not every cat loves catnip toys, we always give them new toys to play with when they arrive. If you pay a lot attention to your cat, it's much easier to tell if there's a change at home. Even though cats laze about when they're older, if he's normally running from one place to another but now he only walks, try getting him to play with a feather on a string or a laser point on the floor. Even older cats should enjoy it. Sudden changes in your cat's activity might indicate an injury, lethargy, or depression.
It's difficult for us to monitor changes in attitude in the cattery because it's a place of safety, a cave of warmth and comfort. Obviously, if a normally placid cat becomes suddenly angry or starts peeing outside their litter tray, we assume that the cat has been perturbed by some change in his home environment - A new cat in the neighbourhood, a new addition such as a dog or baby in the house, or moving home. If your cat is 'normally' sitting on your lap when you sit down or watching you cook or playing with the tap water, that's his 'normal'. If you notice him being nervous or huddling in corners, there's a good chance that there's an underlying emotional or physical injury.
When we injure a leg or more often a foot, the pain shows on our face with every step … A cat (and probably every other mammal) keeps going until it can no longer walk. A cat's survival instinct will hide pain without showing any facial expression so look for a change in stride length, or a limping gait. A change in how a cat walks could be the result of an injury or in older cats the onset of arthritis.
A lot of symptoms are slow to appear and it's easy to overlook specific conditions and not notice anything out of the ordinary until the condition has sufficiently progressed. Identifying the problems early will go a long way to find treatments that are more effective.
If a cat sneezes in the cattery, we really monitor that cat closely, but the reality is that cats have extremely delicate respiratory systems and will sneeze at environmental changes as often as we have hot dinners. Pollen, dust, any kind of particle and they're off. However, unusual breathing and feline asthma are the two real symptoms when you need to alert the vet. Noisy breathing, open mouthed breathing or snoring are all worth checking out as abnormal behaviour.
Dental care is part and parcel of standard veterinary healthcare. All vets should be checking your cats mouth, teeth and gums on every visit. If your cat has bad breath, drops a lot of food while eating or drools when purring you should look at his mouth area. If you're worried push back your cats cheek and check for redness and inflammation around the gums. Look for missing teeth or grey teeth, maybe there is an abcess or lumps - Cats do have teeth removed quite often, especially when heading for double figures with a lifetime of a soft food diets behind them.
I already touched on this in the previous general section of what to look for - Urinary tract infection affects a small number of cats annually. It increases probability with gender and age, with male cats being most susceptible. We find the girls more inclined towards kidney problems, although this condition is universal, especially with age. The symptoms are varied, but strong smelling urine, excessive water intake, not enough urine excreted are the easiest to spot - These conditions are easily managed and best caught at the early stages.
By the time your cat gets to middle age, he'll have started to take it easy and slip into blissful inactivity after every meal. If your cat puts on a significant amount of weight, he will do it slowly. If he does, then it's a lot more difficult for him to lose it … Does all this sound familiar? It does to me! And you shouldn't need a vet to tell you it's a calorie intake vs exercise equation. If you think your old girl might just be big boned or you hadn't noticed that your ginger barrel can't use the cat flap any more, your vet will tell you during their well-being check up or annual booster examination whether they are overweight or not. Whatever diet your vet suggests you purchase to deal with the problem, it's cheaper to buy the largest bags online. Fat cats who come into the cattery are fed Royal Canin Satiety if required. There's Royal Canin Light 40, Obesity Management, Sensible 33 and even Pure Feline #2 Slimness to choose from.
As in humans, arthritis can't be cured, only alleviated. Inflamed joints causes the cat pain, so they move less or their gait changes. Although arthritis isn't rare in cats, it's quite rare that we can spot it in the cattery. Handling them helps with diagnosis: they can nip if you touch, stroke or brush a tender area and they can be wary when being picked up or cuddled. At home look for slow cautious movements and some stiffness when moving or walking.
You probably don't need to be told to call a vet in these circumstances, but it bears listing because there's bound to be someone who will ask google before picking up the phone ...