August 22nd is National Take (or Bring) Your Cat to the Vet Day! I’m sure cats across the world are saying, most emphatically, “NOPE!” but please bear with me. Part of responsible pet ownership or guardianship involves ensuring your pet is healthy, up to date on shots, and given appropriate medical care, and that any health or behavior-related questions or concerns are addressed.
Side-eye alert. Garrus is never thrilled about going to the vet but he certainly appreciates being able to eat normally now that his stomatitis is under control.
Why is regular veterinary care so important? Here are a few reasons to remember:
- Cats age faster than humans. A one-year-old cat is the equivalent of 15 in human years and a two-year-old is 24. After that, cats age 4 “cat years” for every calendar year. So much can happen in one year, so that is why an annual checkup at the vet is crucial.
- Cats hide illness and pain. Many cats are true stoics and don’t let on that they’re sick. By taking your cat to a vet at least once a year, any problem that may crop up can be treated early.
- Fat cat. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, over 50% of cats are overweight or obese. This extra weight can put cats at risk for diabetes, arthritis, heart, respiratory, and kidney disease, and more.
- Something’s up. If your cat’s eating patterns or litter box usage suddenly changes, that can indicate a health issue. Note changes in weight, activity level, sleeping patterns, socialness, mood, etc. and share any concerns you have with your vet.
- Preventative care. Having a baseline and an up-to-date medical history can help avoid medical emergencies and allow vets to detect and treat health conditions earlier rather than later.
Mau lets everyone know his name once we put him in the carrier. He does NOT like traveling in the car but he too needed to go to the vet to address his dental disease.
Last week was a rather hectic. I was out of town for several days, and during that time Austin Pets Alive! contacted me to schedule Mau’s dental surgery. Aaron dropped him off on Thursday evening and we picked him up the following day. All things considered, Mau’s surgery went well. Due to the severity of his dental disease and multiple abscesses, all of his teeth were extracted. Now we have a toothless cat!
When we brought Mau home, we gave him some peace and quiet by putting him in Aaron’s office for a few hours so that he could get his bearings. He walked a little unsteadily and seemed subdued, which was totally understandable, so we kept an eye on him. At the same time, he was not interested in having lap time or a snuggle.
Mau insisted on claiming the cat tree cubby as his R&R spot and being a hidey cat. Charlie seemed to be thrown off by Mau being so close to “his” spot on the platform above the cubby.
Mau seems to be recovering well after his surgery (or weird alien abduction, as it must have felt like to him). We’re continuing to give him wet food but no longer with antibiotics or other foul-tasting meds, which makes him a happy boy. We think that the antibiotics caused diarrhea, so we are giving him probiotics (Fortiflora) mixed into his food to counter that. Although he’s supposed to be on wet food for the immediate future, he still beelines toward kibbles and tries to eat them whenever possible. We separate Mau from Charlie and Garrus at feeding times or else everyone attempts to eat all other food except their own!
Mau appears to be feeling better and hides less in the cubby. Now we can all adore his handsome face!
This morning Aaron and I took Garrus to the vet’s office for his annual wellness exam and vaccines. We also wanted to get his nails trimmed (we have not had success yet doing that at home), check his weight, and investigate why he (1) abruptly switched himself from kitten kibbles to wet cat food and (2) lately he has become unusually finicky, seemingly nervous, and occasionally won’t eat the wet food we offer him. We suspected that he had lost weight and that his teeth were behind the recent behavioral and dietary changes, as he had dental issues before.
Getting him into the carrier was the first obstacle. He immediately suspected something was up so he hid behind furniture. Eventually we were able to coax him out and I picked him up, but he soon panicked and became a swirling mass of claws. He raked my shirt, tearing several holes in it, and scratched my chest, arm, and hand. Okay, my mistake, I should have grabbed and secured his front and hind legs so he would feel safer and couldn’t scratch. We ultimately used the towel burrito method, upon which he gave up and let us put him in the carrier. (He protested with one mournful cry-meow and a few sad squeaky chimpanzee meows after that.)
At the vet’s office, Garrus behaved quite well. Dr R and a tech put a towel over his head and placed him on his side in order to trim his nails. (Both remarked that his fur was “bunny soft”.) He didn’t protest or wiggle when his vaccines were administered or Dr. R examined him. He had indeed lost half a pound of weight since he had last been seen. She quickly determined the issue underlying his recent eating behavior: his gums and teeth were severely inflamed due to stomatitis. We first learned that he had this issue soon after we began fostering him in August 2017, and his dental pain then necessitated emergency dental surgery with five teeth resected. Dr R recommended resecting the rest of his teeth, with the exception of his canines. She also noted that his heart murmur may indicate heart disease, which would complicate anesthesia. We needed to determine with an echocardiogram if he had heart disease before we could do anything with his mouth.
Rather than bringing him back tomorrow for the ultrasound and again on Tuesday for surgery (Tuesday is set aside for surgeries), we opted to do it all in one shot. We scheduled an appointment for next Tuesday for an echocardiogram to check out what’s going on with his heart followed by dental surgery.
Dr R also explained the possible treatment plans for Garrus if he does indeed have heart disease. The usual treatment for stomatitis involves steroid therapy and antibiotics, but steroids could push his heart. None of us want Garrus to go into congestive heart failure or suffer complications because of heart disease or dental surgery. I am naturally worried about my Gentleman Cat but am hopeful that we can find successful methods of improving his quality of life and health.
After we brought him home from the vet’s office, Garrus settled down to a well-deserved nap.
In Part One, I discussed an array of tactics and things to consider when working with a feline fussy eater. Want more information? As I’ve worked with my three cats with their very different dietary needs and preferences, I’ve consulted a number of sources. These include:
- I’ve read up on the subject. I found informative picky eater articles from PetMD, Catster, and Petful, for example.
- I’ve discussed this issue with my fellow cat lady friends, Tracey and Christine, and learned what they’ve done with their demanding fur babies. Having cat guru friends is very helpful when you have questions or come across a challenge.
- I’ve spoken with serious cat-owning associates at Petco and PetSmart when comparing different brands and analyzing nutrition information. I ask them what has worked for them with their cats to assess their personal opinion about various products.
- I’ve had multiple conversations with Dr R and several techs about nutrition, food varieties, and how to ensure dental health. Whether you have kittens, adult cats, senior cats, or cats with allergies, dental issues, or other special needs, it’s a very good idea to have an open dialogue with your vet and keeping him or her in the loop with what’s going on with your fur people.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions! As a pet owner, it’s your responsibility to do what’s right by and for your pet. If you’re unsure about what is best nutritionally, consult with those who do know so you can make informed decisions.
“AHEM. When will my staff bring me sustenance? Pets and lap time will appease me only so much, you know!” Boudicca takes meal times very seriously.
Photo courtesy of Imgflip
Seriously, memes aside, cheeseburgers are NOT for kitties!
In the last month, Garrus has made his preference for wet food quite clear and does not eat his kitten kibble much. I spoke to Dr R about it and she assured me that cats are very texture-oriented and some prefer the texture of wet food to dry food. Since he still needs to gain weight and I was worried that he was actually losing weight trying to hold out for wet food, Dr R encouraged me to give him small portions of wet food and increase it accordingly if that was all he was eating.
Yesterday Aaron gave him his dinner and tried an experiment by sprinkling some kitten kibbles on top of the wet food. Garrus ate them—hooray! Both Boudicca and Garrus need the extra calories so I replicated Aaron’s experiment and added kibbles on top of their breakfasts this morning. I was pleased to see that my cats, who had been so patient as I prepared their meal even though they were so hungry, ate everything I gave them! Charlie, in this typical squeaky fashion, was delighted when I offered him a few morsels of wet food on a spoon. (Since he is at a healthy weight, he gets a very small amount of wet food as a treat. As he is not a fussy eater and remains a very busy guy, Charlie has no problem eating most or all of his dry food every day.)
“Is it dinner time yet?” Garrus is polite and patient but most persistent when he is hungry and waiting for me to give him wet food.
Having a cat with exacting and/or mercurial eating preferences can be a challenge for any pet owner. Here are a few tips:
- Understand how cats choose what food they like. Texture, odor, and taste are hugely important to cats. For example, Boudicca does not like chicken or turkey-flavored wet food but loves seafood varieties. She is also particular about the texture: she likes Friskies Paté but not the Shreds or Flaked or the generic brand we bought from the grocery store. Some cats will prefer one brand over the other based on taste, texture, smell, mouth feel, or other factors. Temperature and even presentation can make a difference. Case in point, while I can spread out the food I serve for Garrus, the same tactic will not work for Queen B. I have to spoon her food into a pile and “fluff” it for her. If after she’s eaten half of it and it’s smooshed down onto the plate, she will stop eating but if I resculpt it into a fluffed pile, she will finish what I’ve given her.
- More protein, less carbohydrates. Cats are carnivores and they need at least 40% protein to maintain a healthy weight and muscle composition. Carefully read the nutrition label on the dry and wet food you’re offering your cat. Is it comprised of more carbohydrates and fillers or is protein-heavy?
- Food allergies. Cats can develop food allergies. An elimination diet may help identify any allergies. Make sure you discuss this with your vet first for more information and address concerns before you try an elimination diet.
- Dental issues. If a cat is experiencing dental pain, it is understandable that his or her appetite might decrease. Crunchy kibbles may further irritate inflamed gums or bad teeth. If you suspect that your cat is having a dental problem, consult your vet!
- Rotation. If you want to switch to a new cat food, do so slowly. Sudden changes can cause upset tummies, diarrhea, appetite loss, and other issues. Here’s a handy breakdown to utilize:
- 75% current food, 25% new food for a few days. Is your cat eating well? All good? Move on to the next step.
- 50% current food, 50% new food for another few days. Keep an eye on your cat’s behavior. Eating normally? No indication of GI troubles? You may pass go.
- 75% new food, 25% current food. This may take a week or, for more fastidious cats, 10 days to two weeks.
- Make your cat hungry. I know that sounds cruel but some cats do better when they are not free-fed.
- Food o’clock. Begin offering your cat two established meals a day. (See #5.)
- Playtime. Play and exercise can stimulate a cat’s appetite.
- High quality. Again, check the ingredients and nutrition content of the cat food you’re buying. Don’t feed your cat junk.
- Canned vs dry food. Boudicca ate dry food only most of her life but now eats both wet and dry food. Garrus had eaten only wet food at the shelter due to his dental issues before we transitioned him to kibble. Now his preference for wet food reasserted itself and we’re giving him that because he needs extra calories. Some owners hate canned food while others detest dry food, so there is a lot of information from both camps biased toward one or the other. My advice? Talk to your vet, ask questions, and carefully evaluate the information sources you come across.
Stay tuned for Part Two!