The Twice-A-Year Feline Wellness Plan
"Cats are better at hiding illness than dogs," says Dr. Gary D. Norsworthy, a feline specialist in San Antonio. Twice-yearly exams help diagnose and treat problems before they become life threatening.
Owners understand cats need special care, but worry that stress during exams impacts Tabby's quality of life. "Some cats seem hardwired to be afraid," says Dr. Margret L. Casal, assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania.
Explaining the benefits of twice-yearly wellness exams while providing tips to calm feline fears, is key to helping pet owners manage their cats' health. National Pet Wellness Month sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association and Fort Dodge Animal Health supports veterinarians in their efforts to educate and communicate with pet owners. "Clients become very loyal when you listen and help them get the best from their pets," says Dr. Casal.
Explain Health Benefits. "Renal insufficiency, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism are the big three in aging cats," says Dr. Susan Little, a feline specialist and President of the Winn Feline Foundation. And, heart disease and upper respiratory illnesses can strike without warning. Wellness exams offer the opportunity to catch disease and illness before symptoms even appear, which can significantly impact a cat's health and longevity.
- Heart Health: "Most cats show EKG changes or a murmur two to three years before they go into heart failure," says Dr. Norsworthy.
- Kidney Help: Routine blood tests that catch early renal insufficiency allow treatment to extend the cat's kidney function for an extra two to three years.
- Thyroid Tests: The thyroid may enlarge years before hyperthyroid disease presents. "With proper thyroid palpation technique, these cats can be discovered even before their thyroid tests are abnormal," says Dr. Norsworthy.
- Respiratory Protection: URIs and other illnesses can be prevented with vaccinations. Risk assessments conducted during wellness exams consider multiple factors to ensure vaccine recommendations are based on an individual cat's health status, lifestyle and age.
Empower Owners. "Cats are notorious for hiding diseases," says Dr. Norsworthy. Teach owners to watch for:
- Altered activity such as lethargy or hyperactivity
- Increased or decreased food or water consumption
- Bathroom accidents or increased frequency of litter box cleaning
- Changes in behavior or personality: hiding, resting in new places, conflicts between pets, not grooming
Relieve Tabby's Tension. Stress makes cats hard to handle and alters test results. Experts suggest:
- "Make carriers part of the furniture so cats associate them with good things," says Dr. Casal. Put a bed inside. Feed Tabby next to the carrier.
- Stage short car rides with treats to acclimate cats and reduce travel stress.
- Choose a cats-only practice, or one with separate cat and dog waiting rooms.
- Be prompt for appointments so Tabby doesn't wait.
- Examine Tabby on the floor. "Cats get shooed off tables," says Dr. Little. "It makes a huge difference to be on the cat's own level."
This article was contributed by Amy D. Shojai, www.shojai.com, author of 21 pet care books.