Common Ailments Often Go Unnoticed
Cats are particularly good at hiding signs of pain. To make matters worse, some common feline health conditions are also some of the most painful. It’s crucial to note a change in a cat’s behavior to help determine that something may be wrong.
Timely recognition and veterinary intervention is extremely important in any of these painful conditions.
1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)
FLUTD affects a cat’s bladder and sometimes the urethra. This is an all-encompassing term used to describe bacterial urinary tract infections, bladder crystals and stones, and a very common syndrome called “idiopathic cystitis.” This disease is very serious and very painful to cats.
Cause: The cause of idiopathic cystitis is unknown, although recent data suggests that some cats are born predisposed to this disease. The bladder lining becomes thick and inflamed which causes painful spasms and sometimes bloody urine. Anxiety is also believed to be a cause. Cats can experience anxiety due to a change in litter boxes or type of litter, a new home, a change in routine, or a loss of an owner or companion.
Signs: Frequent urination or straining, urinating outside the litter box, frequent licking of the genital area, prolonged squatting whether inside or outside the litter box, vocalizing/crying while urinating, urinating a small amount, and blood in the urine.
Treatment: Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat, checking to see if the bladder has become thickened or distended, or if any bladder stones can be detected. The most important diagnostic tests are a urinalysis and an x-ray of the bladder. Treatment recommendations include pain medication, a switch from dry to canned food, and a reduction in anxiety and stress in the household. In addition, stick to a steady routine at home, and create a quiet, spacious area for your cat to relax and reduce anxiety. TLC can also help decrease anxiety.
Smooth cartilage covers and protects the bones that form a cat’s joints. When this breaks down, painful wear and tear can occur, leading to arthritis. It commonly affects the cat’s elbow joints or spine; however, other joints, including multiple joints, may be affected. While younger cats can be affected, it is most commonly diagnosed in middle-aged to older cats. Your cat feels constant pain in his joints, making it difficult to move.
Cause: Just like in people, cat arthritis is a painful degenerative disease that causes inflammation in the joints. While most often associated with age, cats can also develop arthritis as a result of an injury or an autoimmune disorder. Arthritis can strike a cat of any breed.
Signs: Stiffness, limited movement, trouble getting up, lying down, walking, climbing, jumping, difficulty getting into a litter box standing up while eliminating, constipation, eliminating outside the litter box, muscle loss, joint swelling and a grating sound in a joint.
Treatment: Diagnosis of arthritis in cats is often made by historical observation of signs by the pet owner, a thorough physical examination by your veterinarian and radiographs. Other tests may be recommended prior to treatment of your pet. Treatment may include gabapentin, oral or injectable supplements, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Treatment of arthritis of cats must be done under strict veterinary supervision. Cats do not tolerate NSAIDS, aspirin and other human preparations well and they are frequently toxic. Topical preparations should also be avoided for the same reason.
3. Oral Disorders
It’s difficult for an owner to examine a cat’s teeth. An annual oral exam by your veterinarian is imperative to maintaining your cat’s good health. Unfortunately, many painful oral disorders go undetected if an examination is not conducted. Some of these painful disorders include oral ulcers, stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth and gums) and odontoclastic resorptive lesions (deteriorated teeth that need extracting).
Cause: Ulcers are usually caused by an upper respiratory virus. Stomatitis is caused by a hypersensitive immune response to bacteria and plaque on the surface of your cat’s teeth. Feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORLs) are a dental abnormality similar to cavities in which erosions develop at the base of a tooth. It is seen frequently in cats.
Signs: Unfortunately, cats do not always show signs of oral disorders, which is why an annual exam is beneficial. Symptoms to look for include chronic bad breath, excessive drooling, teeth grinding, bright red gums and difficulty swallowing. Loss of appetite may occur, depending on the severity of the disorder.
Treatment: A thorough dental cleaning—above and below the gums—with routine at-home brushing is recommended for treatment of mild stomatitis. Moderate to severe stomatitis requires teeth extractions. When it comes to FORLs, all affected teeth must be extracted. Medication will be prescribed to help control the amount of pain and inflammation your cat is experiencing. A change in diet may be necessary until your cat’s oral health improves.
4. Corneal Ulcers
If your cat is squinting repetitively, has irritated-looking eyes, or is tearing excessively, there is a chance your cat has a corneal ulcer. A corneal ulcer occurs when layers of the cornea are damaged; these ulcers are classified as either superficial or deep. This condition is very painful for cats to endure.
Cause: A corneal ulcer can be caused for numerous reasons: An upper respiratory infection; a scratch; foreign body embedded in the eye; a deficiency in tear production; disease or paralysis of the facial nerve.
Signs: Watery eyes; squinting; pawing at the eyes; eye discharge; red, irritated eyes; sensitivity to light; a filmy layer over the eye; a tendency to keep an eye closed longer than normal.
Treatment: Following an eye examination, your veterinarian may run a few tests to rule out corneal ulcers or erosion, conjunctivitis and viral infections. Surgery may be required to remove deep ulcers. Antibiotics and medications may be prescribed to stimulate tear production, and to treat inflammation and pain.
5. Thrombosis of the Femoral Arteries
Femoral artery thrombosis in cats is the formation of a blood clot in the heart that is pumped through the aorta and out into the circulatory system. The clot then travels to blood vessels that supply the cat’s rear legs, preventing blood flow. Lack of blood supply to muscles of the rear legs causes pain, weakness and sometimes complete paralysis. This very painful condition is often the first sign of serious heart disease in cats.
Cause: Thrombosis is usually due to advanced heart disease. It can occur in any cat or any breed or age, although advanced heart disease is more commonly seen in cats aged eight years or older.
Signs: The most obvious sign of thrombosis is difficulty walking, sometimes dragging the hind legs, cold rear paw pads and increased vocalization.
Treatment: Your veterinarian may use medication to try to dissolve the blood clot. Blood thinners may be used to help prevent clots from forming. Unfortunately, cats diagnosed with this condition are at high risk for developing complications of heart disease and additional thrombosis.