Masters at hiding their illnesses
The sad truth is that we don’t see our feline patients as routinely as we do our canine patients. Cats are masters at hiding their illnesses and if we aren’t able to examine them annually, it can result in undiagnosed illnesses or cats that are only brought to us when they are really sick. Have we seen your cat in the last year?
Here are some statistics from the American Association of Feline Practitioners:
– In the United States, there are 86 Million owned cats and 78 Million owned dogs
– Almost twice as many cats than dogs never visit the veterinarian
– Of the cats that do visit the veterinarian, they average 26% fewer visits than dogs
– 41% of cat owners visit the veterinarian only for vaccinations
This information isn’t new. Historically, our feline friends don’t make it to their veterinarian as much as their canine counterparts. I’ve even heard proud proclamations of, “My cat is 15 and she’s never had to go to the veterinarian.”
We often promote the benefits of the annual examination and those benefits extend to cats just as much as dogs. Here is a blog post, written by our very own Dr. Stephen Fronefield that goes into the benefits of the physical examination.
The Feline Physical Examination
The physical examination is a critical part of your cat’s veterinary visit. What happens when we look your pet over? During the exam, we use all of our senses to evaluate your cat’s status. We look, listen, smell and touch to hunt for abnormalities.
Before we put our hands on your cat, we watch their demeanor, posture and how they move and act. Then we obtain a temperature, pulse rate and respiratory rate. Just like in people, an elevated temperature can be an indication of infection or inflammation. Alterations in heart rate and respiratory rate can be an indicator of cardiovascular or respiratory disease but can also clue us into other disease processes including thyroid disease or metabolic diseases.
We check the capillary refill time by looking at the rate at which the gum color returns to pink after we blanch it with finger pressure. This can help us evaluate cardiac function among other conditions. We move from here to check the mouth, including teeth, gums, tongue, pharynx and tonsils. Periodontal disease, tooth fractures, gingivitis and oral masses are the most common abnormalities found here. Halitosis (bad breath) is often a clue that we will find problems in the mouth, but kidney disease will also cause bad breath.
In checking the eyes, we are looking for lens changes, like cataracts or nuclear sclerosis (graying to center of the lenses). The iris, cornea and sclera are evaluated for abnormalities, as are the eyelids and skin around the eyes. We commonly find lid margin tumors and infections in our older patients. Dry eye is a common underlying condition in our older dogs that will lead to eye infections.
Next, the ears are checked inside and out for inflammation, discharge, odor, and masses. Ear infections are often secondary to allergies in both dogs and cats. The skin is the largest organ of the body and we take our time feeling the skin and coat for problems. Poor coat quality can indicate a medical or nutritional problem that needs to be addressed. Changes in the skin thickness (both thickening and thinning) can be a clue to an underlying disease condition. We will look for external parasites (fleas and ticks), greasy or dry skin, and various lesions that will direct our diagnostic and treatment decisions. We continue with the skin and feel for masses and check the lymph nodes.
Moving on in our exam we palpate (squeeze and feel) the abdomen. This is done to check for organ size, shape and location. In some pets we can easily feel their organs, in others, resistant to our squeezes or just too big to feel, we don’t gain as much information. An animal’s weight, muscle mass, and skeleton are evaluated by palpation, manipulation and observing the pet for signs of discomfort that will help us pinpoint areas of concern. Although we check actions, reactions, and muscle symmetry to gauge neurologic status a complete neurologic exam is performed if we suspect a neurologic disorder.
Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope (known as asculting) rounds out our examination process. We feel the pulse while listening to the heart to check for synchronicity of heartbeat and pulse. We are listening to the heart for murmurs and arrhythmias. Lung sounds are checked for symmetry and clarity. Abnormal findings during ascultation will typically lead to additional diagnostic testing, usually radiographs (x-rays). Now this might seem like a big list of things to check, but we can typically perform a comprehensive physical examination in a few minutes.
In addition to the physical examination, each visit comes with an historical evaluation to help ensure the highest quality of life for your pet.
We consult and can give dietary recommendations, life stage recommendations (such as vaccinations, supplementations and enrichment), and dental recommendations to name a few. All of these are part of the annual comprehensive physical examination that we provide for your feline friend.
Next blog post: Cats – The Carrier , learn how to make the carrier a more friendly place for your kitty.