February is a month full of observances. . .Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and Presidents’ Day, to name a few. The animal world also marks World Spay Day, National Cat Health Month and Pet Dental Health Month. How do you know when your cat is hurting and should see a vet? And how important is dental health to its overall health? I put these questions to Dr. Kimberly Jessup, who is a veterinarian for cats at Franklin County Animal Hospital in Rocky Mount.
What types of illnesses do you see most often in cats?
Upper respiratory infections, inflammation or infection of the urinary tract, gastrointestinal upset of various types, allergic diseases affecting the skin, periodontal disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.
How do you know when to see a vet or when you can handle the situation on your own?
It depends on the symptom you’re seeing. A male cat straining to urinate, for example, is always an emergency. Even though this might not seem to be urgent, it can be quickly life-threatening. The seriousness of vomiting varies – if it’s sudden in onset, accompanied by lethargy, or associated with ingestion of an object or substance, the cat needs to be seen (by a vet). Because cats instinctively hide symptoms of illness so as not to appear vulnerable, I recommend calling your veterinarian when you observe any new symptom. Watch for subtle changes in patterns and habits in older kitties. Also, mention any occasional symptoms or irregularities at your cat’s annual or semiannual exam.
How important is a cat’s dental health?
A cat’s dental health plays a big role in their overall health and quality of life. Dental disease can cause problems eating, cause pain, and may prevent them from grooming. Severe chronic dental disease can even lead to cancers in the mouth. Imagine trying to eat with multiple abscessed teeth. Because cats don’t want to “advertise” their illness, they simply take shorter meals, turn their heads to try to avoid contact with painful teeth, allow food to fall from their mouths, or attempt to swallow food with less dental manipulation. Many owners feel guilty when I show them advanced dental disease in their cat’s mouth because they had no idea there was a problem. This is one reason for regular physical exams for your cat.
How do you clean a cat’s teeth?
Some cats will allow regular tooth brushing. This is most likely to happen if you start when they’re young. Start slow and reward compliance. Use toothpaste formulated for cats, as human toothpaste is not meant to be swallowed and will cause vomiting. There are some good products for oral hygiene that do not involve brushing. One of my favorites is Virbac’s Oral Hygiene Chews for cats. Also, there are water additives that can help prevent plaque and tartar build up. Your cat’s veterinarian will advise you when it’s necessary to have a cleaning done under anesthesia. Dental radiographs should be taken at that time to help detect areas of disease that may not be obvious above the gum line.
What type of diet do you recommend for cats?
In the last several years, pate style canned food is what I most commonly recommend. This is an easy way to increase water intake, which is helpful in urinary tract diseases. It also is lower in carbohydrates than dry food, helping reduce the risks of obesity and diabetes. Home-made diets can be ideal, but must be meticulously formulated to meet a cat’s nutritional needs. Veterinary nutritionists can provide recipes. This is the most expensive and labor-intensive route, but likely to become more popular with more discriminating cat owners.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
Environmental enrichment is an important consideration for our indoor cats. Various toys, including food games encourage mental and physical exercise. Cat trees and perches in windows where they can view birds and other wildlife are great (problems can result if they see outdoor cats, though). Engaging them in active play is a great way to bond with them and increase their emotional and physical health. Consider the stresses in your cat’s environment and get advice from your veterinarian on ways to alleviate them. You may also find great resources online.
***Dr. Jessup graduated from LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge in1995. She worked at a feline exclusive practice in New Orleans-The Cat Practice. In1999 she moved to Roanoke and worked for Veterinarians to Cats for the next 17 years. She now provides veterinary services to cats at Franklin County Animal Hospital in Rocky Mount.
Dr. Jessup describes her cat, Snowball, who she found when she was four, as having a huge influence in her life. He lived to be around twenty years old and is the seat of her passion for cats. She loves hearing the heart-warming stories of my clients and their furry babies, and enjoys seeing children deeply in love with their kitty friend!
Her latest endeavor is implementing a new initiative in veterinary medicine called “Fear Free”. Its aim is to reduce the fear, anxiety, and stress that animals can experience in the hospital setting. It means the process of the physical exam is a bit unusual, with much of the process being determined by the cat, and treats in abundance!
****The Well-Trained Dog & Pet Care can take care of your cat (dog, turtle, chickens, and other pets) while you’re away from home for business or pleasure. We serve Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem, and Vinton. Contact us at (540) 353-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. We are licensed, bonded, and insured and won the Gold Award last year for Best In-Home Pet Sitting Service as voted on by readers of The Roanoker Magazine.