COMMON AILMENTS (page 1) - Health Care

Cats may have nine lives but they are, like humans and other creatures, occasionally out of sorts and sometimes downright ill. The study of feline diseases and their treatment by medicine and surgery are important areas of veterinary science, and much research is currently being done – recently a virus (FIV) has been identified as producing a feline immune deficiency syndrome, which is similar in some respects to the Aids virus affecting humans but not transmittable to humans. No matter how skilled your veterinarian may be, it is the cat owner’s responsibility to have some working knowledge of the common feline ailments. The owner is normally the first to spot that all is not well with an animal, and must know then to seek professional attention and how to assist the patient’s return to health.

This section describes the symptoms of the commoner diseases of cats, and explains what you should do about them and what treatment is available from the vet. Simple, useful first-aid techniques are included, but the emphasis is on seeking veterinary help for all but the mildest and briefest of conditions.

The mouth
Symptoms associated with mouth problems are salivating (slavering), pawing at the mouth, exaggerated chewing motions, and tentative chewing as if dealing with a hot potato.

The mouth should be inspected from time to time to see that all is in order. If tartar, a brown, cement-like substance, accumulates to any extent, it does not produce holes in the teeth; instead it damages the gum edges, less bacteria in to infect the teeth sockets and thus loosens the teeth. (There is always some gum inflammation with tartar). To prevent the build-up of tartar, brush your cat’s teeth once a week with a soft toothbrush or cotton wool dipped in salt water, and take it to the vet one a year for descaling treatment.

Check that there are no foreign bodies stuck between the teeth. Piece of bone often become wedged between the teeth and against the roof of the mouth. Fishbone pieces sometimes lodge between two adjacent molars at the back of the mouth. You can probably flick a foreign body out with a teaspoon handle or similar instrument. If there is no foreign body, look for smooth, red, ulcerated areas on the tongue. These can be caused by licking an irritant substance, but are more commonly caused by the virus of Ulcerative glossitis, a member of the Feline Influenza group. Ulcers of this type are associated with profuse slavering, unwillingness to eat, and dullness. Get veterinary help, since a course of antibiotic injections may be needed to prevent secondary infection.

Make sure that none of your cat’s teeth are loose or diseased by touching each tooth gently with your finger or a pencil. If any teeth wobble, or the cat gives a sign of pain, take it to the vet. Don’t give aspirin to relieve toothache because it is poisonous to cats.

Don’t worry if many teeth have to be removed from an elderly cat. Food such as minced cooked liver, fish, and cereals with milk are easily taken, even by toothless cats. Having no teeth at all is better than having septic gums and rotten teeth that create misery.

The eyes
Signs that all is not well with a cat’s eyes are when they are sore, runny, or watery, or when there is a blue or white film over the eye. The protrusion of a white skin (the “haw”, “third eyelid”, or nictitating membrane) over some or most of one or both eyes from the inner corner is another common eye symptom.

Protruding “third eyelids” always indicate some form of illness.

If the eye is obviously sore and inflamed, if the eyeball has a blue or white area on it, or if the lids are swollen, then it is probably either infected or wounded, or irritated by foreign matter such as grass seeds. Such eye conditions always need professional attention because, if they are left untreated, the eye may be progressively damaged, resulting eventually in loss of sight.

Bluish or whitish films that appear on the normally transparent front of the eye (cornea) are not cataracts. The latter are opacities of the lens behind the pupil and also produce a blue or white effect, but deeper in the eye. In dim light, when the pupil is dilated, more of the opaque lens will show and the cataract will apparently enlarge. The opposite happens in bright light.

Some old cats may seem to have bluish lenses, but these are not necessarily cataracts. Many are caused by changes (similar to those that occur in middle-aged humans) in the refractive properties of the lenses, which remain clear and transparent. Such cats are not going blind.

The partial covering of the eye by the “third eyelid” is a common and curious phenomenon. It is not a sign that the cat is going blind, and often happens in otherwise apparently healthy cats. It can be a result of weight loss, when the eye sinks back as the fat padding within the eye socket is reduced. It may be an early symptom of Feline Influenza. It it occurs, keep a careful watch on the creature and, should other symptoms develop, see the vet. If this condition persists without other signs, try giving more food and five 50 micro-grams of vitamin B12 daily in the food, or as a tablet.

To apply ophthalmic ointment, hold the nozzle parallel with the eye and squeeze the ointment onto the surface of the eyeball

The vet has a number of ways of dealing with the varieties of eye disease. He can use local anaesthetic drops to numb the eye for the removal of irritant objects, and can apply drugs not just by ointment and drops but also by injection under the conjunctiva, the pink membrane round the eye. He can also examine deep into the eye with the ophthalmoscope, and can identify infecting bacteria by taking swabs of the cat’s tears. Eye conditions such as squints, blocked tear ducts, and cataractous lenses can be dealt with by surgery.

The nose
The main problems associated with the cat’s nose are running, watery nostrils, snuffling, and sneezing. The appearance of symptoms like those of the common cold in humans generally means an outbreak of Feline Influenza, which needs veterinary attention. After recovery from “Cat Flu”, many cats remain snuffly and catarrhal for months, or even years.

If your cat has snuffles, bathe the delicate nose tip with warm water, soften and remove caked mucus, and anoint a little petroleum jelly into the nose.

The ears
Ear problems can be suspected if your cat starts shaking its head, scratching its ear, or tilting its head to one side, which is sometime associated with loss of balance and a staggering gait. (In rare cases, the latter symptoms can be due to diseases of the brain in which the ear itself is not involved). Other symptoms include the sudden “ballooning” of an ear flap, the presence of tiny while “insects” moving slowly around inside the ear, and a bad-smelling, chocolate-coloured or purulent discharge.

Apply drops into the ear, fold the outer ear over, and massage gently for a moment.

If ear trouble flares up suddenly, pour liberal quantities of mineral oil (paraffin oil) warmed to body head into the affected ear. Do it in the garage rather than the lounge so that Puss does not fleck excess oil all over your chintz curtains.

Head-tilting and loss of balance may indicate middle-ear disease. This is an inflammation of the middle ear, which lies behind the ear-drum. Infection usually enters this area via a channel (the Eustachian tube) that runs from the throat, so it often follows throat and respiratory infections. It needs immediate veterinary treatment, since the modern drugs used by the vet can read the inflammation in the middle ear and in almost all cases prevent permanent damage to the balancing organs and the spread of the infection to the brain.

The sudden ballooning of the ear flap of a cat is due to bleeding within the flap and the formation of a big blood blister, or haematoma, usually caused by the cat scratching its own ear vigorously, but sometimes caused by a blow or bite from another animal. It annoys the cat because the ear feels strangely heavy, and it will shake its head to try to dislodge the “weight”; but it is not painful like an abscess unless secondarily infected, which is uncommon. The condition is identical to that seen in human boxers who are repeatedly cuffed around the ears. Left untreated, the blood inside the haematoma clots and shrinks into a gnarled scar, causing the ear to crumple and resemble a cauliflower.

The vet can avoid Puss taking on the appearance of a prize-fighter by giving a general anaesthetic, draining off the blood, usually through an incision, and then stitching the ear in a special way that may involve attaching steel buttons for a week or so. It is not a serious condition and the success rate following surgery is very high. Nevertheless, the cause of the original scratching (mites, canker, or whatever), must be treated to avoid a recurrence.

Repeating scratching of the ears requires investigation.

If your cat is simply an ear-flicker and the ears seem dry but contain the “insects” – actually otodectic mange mites-referred to already, give some ear mange drops (available from the pet shop). Any discharge means that the cat has canker and may need antibiotic treatment by the vet.

The chest
Cats can suffer from bronchitis, pneumonia, pleurisy, and other chest conditions. Common signs of chest ailments are coughing, gasping, and laboured breathing.

Coughing and sneezing – all the miserable signs of a head cold – may be symptoms of Feline Influenza, which is also caused by a virus. It may be mild or severe, and is sometimes fatal. In such cases, the damage may be done by secondary bacterial infections of the lung. It is not a cold, wet-weather disease particularly; many major outbreaks occur in summer and it is often found in epidemic form in catteries during the hot holiday months. Protect your cat against Feline Influenza by ensuring that is it vaccinated and boosted regularly. Incidently, there is no connection between human and cat forms of flu.

This poor little kitten shows the typical face of a Feline Influenza patient.

Laboured breathing without “cold” symptoms may be a sign of pleurisy or of heart disease in older cats.

Keep a cat with chest trouble warm and dry. Do not let it exert itself, and give it nutritious food, either finely minced or on liquid form. The odd drop of brandy or whisky can be spooned in. Keep the nostrils unblocked as far as possible by sponging the nose and greasing it with a little petroleum jelly. In mild cases where the cat continues to eat, and its breathing is not to distressed, a quarter of a teaspoonful of Benylin syrup (obtainable from the chemist) may be given every two or three hours as a cough mixture.

More serious cases will be treated by the vet using antibiotics, drugs to loosen mucus in the lungs and, where the heart is involved, special cardiac medicines. Where fluid accumulates in the chest in pleurisy cases, the vet may tap this off under sedation. Very many cats with dicky hearts can live happy, long lives once their problem has been diagnosed and maintenance treatment prescribed.

The stomach and intestines
Sign of stomach or intestinal disorders are vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and blood in the droppings. There are numerous causes for any of these symptoms and sometimes more than one symptom will be observed at the same time. Here the most common causes have been dealt with and no attempt has been made to describe all the diseases that involve the abdominal organs.

Vomiting may be simple and transient, die to a mild infection of the stomach (gastritis) or the presence of a furball. However, if its is severe, persistent, or accompanied by the major signs, it can indicated the presence of serious conditions such as Feline Infectious Enteritis, tumours, or obstruction of the intestine.

Diarrhea, may be mild, when it is probably caused by feeding too much liver or by a bowel infection, or it may be serious, as in some cases of Feline Infection Enteritis.

Constipation may be a result of age and faulty diet, or an indication of an obstruction. Blood in the stools may be caused by the scratching of the intestinal lining by gobbled bone splinters, or be a side-effect of an acute attack of food-poisoning.

Use your common sense and, if any of these symptoms persist for more than a few hours or are accompanied by profound malaise and weakness on the part of the cat, you need skilled help. In mild cases, or until the vet arrives, remember that water and salt loss through vomiting or diarrhea can have serious consequences. To combat dehydration and weakness, spoon small quantities of glucose and water, seasoned to your taste with table salt, into the cat as frequently as possible. Where vomiting is the prime symptom, do not giving the liquid replacement. Half a teaspoonful of Maalox or baby gripe water can be given, but don’t give milk or brandy.

Where diarrhea is the main symptom, concentrate on fluid administration. It is safe to introduce about a third of a cupful of strong, sweetened coffee cooled to body temperature via the rectum through a human enema syringe. It must be done slowly and gently. A teaspoonful of Kaopectate mixture can be given by mouth, but do not administer human kaolin and morphine diarrhea mixtures.

In the early stages of constipation you can try spooning two or three teaspoonful of paraffin oil (liquid paraffin) into the cat. The tiny, ready-to-use, disposable enemas available at the chemist are excellent and very effective. Use a half to one tube as directed for humans on the accompanying is a chronic problem, add bulk to the diet in some form (see Nursing Care).

Severe or persistent cases of constipation will need veterinary attention. The vet can examine the alimentary tract with his fingers, by X-ray, possibly by barium meals, by gastroscope, and sometimes by exploratory operation.

Feline Infectious Enteritis, one of the major virus diseases of cats, does not only attack the intestines; it also attacks the liver and white cells of the blood. It can be fatal in a matter of hours and the symptoms are variable. Diarrhea is not always present.

Although the vet cannot kill the virus, he may use antibiotics against secondary bacterial infection. He will certainly be concerned to protect the cat from dehydrating through fluid loss, and this may mean giving transfusions of saline under the skin. The best cure for Feline Infectious Enteritis, a terrible scourge, is prevention. Have your cat vaccinated and boosted regularly.

COMMON AILMENTS (page 2) - Health Care