One of the things which International Cat Care talks about a great deal is how difficult it is to spot when cats are in pain or ill. Cats are absolutely brilliant at hiding signs that they are unwell. They have evolved not to show weakness, as even though they are predators, they are also small enough to be prey as well, so they have to be careful to be safe. They don’t live or work in collaboration with other cats, so each cat must look after itself – showing weakness is not a great idea in this situation, and cats are masters at disguising that they are not feeling well.
For owners, this self-defence mechanism is not actually very helpful as it makes spotting problems in their cat early rather difficult, often resulting in a delay in seeking help. So owners need to be detectives and spot subtle changes in their cats. This could be changes in weight, feeding habits, activity or sleeping levels, or changes to the level or type of interaction the cat likes, or perhaps a change in the cat’s ‘mood’. Owners also need to be confident to believe their feelings and question that something might not be right – the cat may not be outwardly limping or crying as a dog may do (cats are very unlikely to do this), but the small signs need to be interpreted as ‘loud’ by owners to help their cats – owners need to be advocates for their cats.
Be confident in conveying what you have noticed
Owners need to make use of their vet’s expertise and have the confidence to explain these changes to their vet however small they may seem. Vets know that signs of problems in cats can be very subtle and many of the signs of disease are actually very similar – appetite changes, changes in drinking or eating habits, changes in litter tray habits, cats being lethargic or withdrawn, or changes in movement or activity. These are common signs of quite a few problems for cats and your vet will be able to take your ‘clues’ and try and help. Your vet will appreciate that you are so aware of these things and, as with any problem, human or feline, catching it early can make all the difference to successful treatment.
Preventing problems and knowing what to look for when
One of International Cat Care’s new projects is called CatCareforLife and it looks at different life stages of the cat, the things you might notice at different ages, what problems are more likely to occur at which life stage, what your vet is likely to ask you about and what you should be asking your vet about.
There are six life stages altogether:
- Kitten (0 – 6 months)
- Junior (7 months – 2 years)
- Adult (3 years – 6 years)
- Mature (7 years – 10 years)
- Senior (11 years – 14 years)
- Super Senior (15+ years)
These have been worked out looking at how fast cats grow and mature physically and behaviourally, how long they live on average and veterinary input into what problems or diseases are likely to occur and when. There is a lot to do in terms of preventive care at the kitten stage (vaccination, neutering, behaviour and training, parasite control) and then we tend to forget that time is passing because the cat has reached adult size and shape at the age of about 12 to 18 months. Cats too can look extremely youthful for a long time and don’t often go grey or change their ability to move very drastically – it can be subtle but we may not notice if it comes on slowly. Once they reach the senior and super senior stage, once again more things may become apparent and there may be more than one problem happening at once, and keeping your cat free from pain or discomfort may require a bit more work. The trick is not to focus on either end of the cat’s life, but to remain vigilant throughout.
We have produced a poster which also compares the age of your cat with the human age equivalent. It can be difficult to imagine what, for example, it means to be a 10-year-old cat – most of us underestimate our cat’s age, forgetting how quickly time goes past! We may notice changes when they are very old and start to lose weight, but this is often at the super senior stage. What we want is to give our cats good care to get them to that super senior age of 15 years and more. Once you realise that your 10-year-old cat is actually 56 in human years it makes sense that it may need a regular check-up with your vet and may need some help with dental problems. It should also help you to know what subtle signs of problems associated with your cat’s life stage to watch out for. Your vet may ask to take a blood pressure reading to check all is well and it certainly makes you think a little differently about health and preventing problems.
We are used to being told about human ‘Wellman’ and ‘Wellwoman’ schemes, vaccination or screening tests for people and understanding the things we should be looking for or measuring as we get older. The same goes for cats – the CatCareforLife website goes through each stage and helps owners to understand what to look out for and also when their vet should be thinking of, for example, asking for a urine sample to spot signs of problems such as kidney disease, a disease not uncommon in older cats. It is easy to do and can make a huge difference to cats.
What can you do?
- Find yourself a cat friendly vet – there are now Cat Friendly Clinics around the world which are accredited by International Cat Care’s veterinary division and which try to make a cat’s visit less stressful. If you don’t have a Cat Friendly Clinic nearby, ask if a vet in the clinic is interested in cats and find one to work with you to keep your cat healthy.
- Work positively with your vet to prolong your cat’s health and wellbeing.
- Learn about your cat’s equivalent age and what things to look out for, what can be done to prevent disease and treat it as early as possible. Remember to move to the next stage as your cat gets older!
- Look at our cat handling videos to see how you can get your cat used to going in a cat basket and travelling in the car to make visits less stressful.
- Be a great cat detective – notice what is ‘normal’ and take action when you see that things are changing.