In order to provide the most effective health care advice and treatment for your cat, your vet will need to know quite a bit about your cat, both in terms of background information and about how things may have changed recently. If you have been able to build up a good long-term relationship with a practice, they may already have much of the background information recorded.
A consultation will generally be booked to last ten or 15 minutes, so the time available to impart the necessary information is limited. An awareness of the sort of information that your vet needs to know can help to make that process much more effective.
- Cats can have very different backgrounds, and it will help your vet to know something about his origins – have you owned the cat since he was a kitten, and if so, did he come from a rescue centre, private home or breeder? Many cats are taken on from rescue organizations and even their age may be uncertain. It is possible that a female cat that you have recently rehomed may be pregnant rather than just becoming overweight! A cat that has had a very chequered history and perhaps lived a semi-feral existence for some of his life will be more likely to carry viruses that can cause diseases such as immunodefi ciency (FIV) or leukaemia (FeLV) than ones that have had a more sheltered life. However, kittens that have come from a breeding cattery situation may also be more likely to carry certain infectious diseases, such as respiratory or bowel infections.
- It’s also going to be useful for your vet to be aware of your cat’s current lifestyle, and particularly whether he goes outside or is restricted to living indoors, perhaps with an outdoor run. Not only will this make a signifi cant difference to the likelihood of your cat suffering from an infectious disease, it will also change the risk of him suffering certain types of injury. So whereas outdoor cats that suddenly become lame very commonly turn out to be suffering from a bite wound from a territorial scrap with another cat, this is much less likely in a cat that lives indoors, particularly if he is on his own, and other causes such as a musculoskeletal injury become much more likely.
- Preventative healthcare can play a very important role in keeping a cat healthy, so your vet will need to know if the annual vaccination boosters have been kept up-to-date and whether regular preventative parasite control is being carried out, particularly for cats that venture regularly outdoors. Vaccinations will greatly reduce the risk of several infectious diseases including cat ‘fl u and feline leukaemia, whereas the regular use of one of the veterinary flea and worm preparations will stop worm infestations and also lower the chances of the cat developing skin problems secondarily to an infestation with external parasites, particularly fleas.
- Owners become very attuned to their cat’s normal behaviour patterns. Every cat is an individual, and the line between abnormal and just ‘quirky’ behaviour can often be somewhat fuzzy, but a change in a cat’s usual pattern of behaviour can be highly significant. Many a time an owner will say: “I can’t put my fi nger on what is wrong, but I know he’s just not right,” and more often than not they are proven to be correct. Any clues you can give your vet about how your cat’s behaviour may have changed may help to pinpoint the cause of a problem.
- A whole range of diseases can relate to what a cat eats, both in terms of food that is fed by you, and other things that you suspect your cat may be eating. Be prepared to give your vet a comprehensive summary of what you feed your cat, including the brand and variety of any manufactured diets. Try and include food that is being fed at other households in the area, or perhaps even non-food substances, such as chewing on houseplants. This information will be particularly relevant if your cat is suffering from some sort of digestive upset, or worse, suspected poisoning. However, many other diseases can be infl uenced by either an excess or a deficiency of particular nutrients in the diet.
- As well as the nature of the food that your cat is eating, your vet will want to know about the quantity. This can sometimes be diffi cult to ascertain in a multi-cat household, but a loss of appetite is often the fi rst sign of a whole range of diseases. It may also be important to know if there is any indication that the food is not being digested properly, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, and that may also be diffi cult to pin down in a cat that spends a lot of his time outdoors. Other diseases may cause an increase in appetite, such as diabetes in its early stages and an overactive thyroid gland, which is extremely common in middle-aged and older cats. Owners often wrongly assume that a cat must be well if he has a good appetite.
- Some of the cats who eat a lot will also surprisingly lose weight because they are not absorbing their food properly, or burning it up too quickly. As well as diabetes and hyperthyroidism, some types of cancer will also cause these signs. We must not forget that obesity is also a very common problem in pet cats that can predispose them to a range of secondary illnesses. For all these reasons, the monitoring of a cat’s weight through his life is extremely important, and although normal cats may have quite markedly different weights, unexplained changes in body weight should always be brought to the attention of your vet.
- Cats’ drinking habits are often quite furtive. Some cats will only drink outdoors, and even indoor cats will often refuse to drink from a water bowl and prefer to drink from a tap, or some other water source around the home. This can make estimating a cat’s water intake very diffi cult, so watch out for changes in their pattern of drinking. An increase in thirst can be the first sign for some very common feline diseases, including diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney failure. Early diagnosis can make a great difference to the outcome of these conditions, so do let your vet know if you notice any change in your cat’s drinking habits.
- Any known allergies to medicines should be clearly marked on your cat’s record, but it can sometimes be missed. So if your cat is going to be prescribed any drugs, it is always safest to mention any previous reactions that your cat may have suffered.
- After all the questioning is over, it’s time to examine your cat. There’s just one more thing your vet is going to want to know: does your cat like vets? There’s little worse than going to fi sh a cat out of a carrier and receiving a sharp scratch, or even worse a penetrating bite, and for an owner then to say: “Oooh yes, he always does that at the vets!” The story of how your cat caught the vet might seem amusing, but cat bites can easily turn septic and even lead to loss of a finger!