How to tell if your cat needs to see a vet

The West Australian
New research has found half of Australian cat owners don’t take their pet for regular vet check-ups.
Camera IconNew research has found half of Australian cat owners don’t take their pet for regular vet check-ups.

While no one likes taking their beloved to the vet, new research has found half of Australian cat owners admitted they avoid taking their pet for regular check-ups.

A recent survey by pet food company Royal Canin found one-in-two Australian cats does not undergo regular routine health checks, with owners instead waiting until an issue or emergency arises.

The study showed almost a quarter of cat owners said visiting the vet was a stressful experience, with 8 per cent blaming simply getting their furry friend into its carrier in the first place, and 66 per cent saying they would visit the vet more often if it was easier to do so.

Then there’s the fact that cats are more likely than dogs to mask the symptoms of pain or illness — which Royal Canin veterinarian Dr Chantelle McGowan warns can lead to potentially serious health issues going undetected.

“Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness and many pet owners do not spot the signs that something could be wrong, and this leads to health issues being undiagnosed and untreated for long periods of time,” Dr McGowan says.

Perth Cat Hospital’s Dr Martine Van Boeijen, a veterinarian who specialises in feline medicine, agrees that cats tend to show more subtle symptoms than their canine counterparts.

“Signs of illness may include a slight change in behaviour or sleeping patterns, increased hiding behaviours and changes in their appetite or their toileting habits,” she says. “Some unwell cats may start toileting outside of their litter box.”

Even common issues such as dental disease can often go unnoticed, even when the animal is in significant pain. “Most cats with dental disease will still continue to eat well, leaving their owners unaware that their cat is suffering,” she says.

“Arthritis is another cause of chronic pain that can be easily missed by even the most observant cat owners.

“Other common conditions that cats may hide the symptoms of include chronic pancreatitis, heart disease, and urinary tract problems such as cystitis and kidney disease.”

Dr Van Boeijen says all cats need regular veterinary checks to help ensure they’re happy and healthy.

“The frequency of the feline health check will depend on the cat’s age and if they have any underlying health concerns, however, the general recommendation is at least annually for cats up to seven years of age, and at least twice yearly for cats over seven years of age,” she says. “The health check will include a full physical examination by your vet in addition to some routine laboratory tests such as blood and urine testing, and blood pressure assessment for older cats.

“Each healthcare plan should be tailored to each individual cat’s own circumstances.”

Some of the warning signs your cat may be unwell

-“Cats with dental disease may make unusual head or jaw movements while eating, or they may flick their food about, and they can start to become fussy with certain foods or textures of food,” Dr Van Boeijen says.

-“Signs such as abnormal litter box behaviour, repeated vomiting, fatigue, change in appetite, weight loss, frequent hairballs and behavioural changes can all be signs that there may be an underlying health issue in your cat that needs treatment by a veterinarian,” Dr McGowan says.

“Cats with joint pain may show a decreased ability to jump up or down from a height, show reluctance to play with their toys, sleep more and be reluctant to walk up and down stairs,” Dr Van Boeijen says. “They may also develop some matting on their coat as they cannot groom themselves properly.”

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