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 cleanin