Category: cat

Your Cat Keeps Secrets: Subtle Signs of Illness in Cats

Cats are notoriously enigmatic creatures.  Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland , your cat keeps secrets.  She may not show pain or other signs that she is sick. That’s why subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt veterinary attention.

Your cat keeps secrets

Cats retain many of their species’ undomesticated behavioral characteristics.  In the wild, all but the largest cats are both predator and prey.   It’s important for animals that are being hunted as prey to hide their weaknesses.  Consequently, cats have become masters of misdirection.

Veterinary professionals struggle to define the signs of pain in cats consistenly.  A validated method to score pain, for instance, is useful in assessing recovery from painful procedures or illness.  Cats’ tendency to mask their pain and demonstrate only very subtle behavioral changes makes reliable detection and grading of pain difficult at best.

A large survey of feline medical specialists evaluated 91 signs of pain.  Participants answered questions about the reliability of these indicators of pain to accurately detect real pain in cats.  The participants narrowed these signs down to only 22.  You can find the full list in the article, which is available as a free full text in PubMed. 1

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Signs of illness in cats require prompt attention

Because cats hide pain and other evidence of ill health, any unusual signs you observe are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  As a cat owner, you should take any and all behavioral changes in your cat seriously.  Here are some easily overlooked clinical signs along with their potential significance.  This is not meant to be an inclusive list, so be sure to ask your veterinarian about any unusual signs in your cat.

  1. Eating less/not eating:  Cats need to eat regular meals.  Cats that stop eating, especially if they’re fat, can develop liver disease.  If you haven’t been able to get your cat to eat for 24 hours, talk to your veterinarian.  Decreased appetite in cats may be a sign of gastrointestinal disease, but may also be a sign of generalized disease and poor health.
  2. Eating more: If your cat suddenly develops a voracious appetite, he may have an endocrine disease such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.  You should be especially concerned if your cat eats more but does not gain, or even loses, weight.
  3. Increased urination:  Although you might not directly observe your cat using the litterbox more frequently, chances are you will notice increased litter clumping or odor in the box.  You may find yourself changing the litter more frequently.  This can be a sign of diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or other problem.
  4. Decreased urination: Especially with a male cat, decreased urination could be a sign of developing urinary blockage.  If your cat stops urinating, this is a medical emergency.  Your cat may exhibit signs of pain or distress when attempting to urinate.
  5. Urination outside the litter box:  Urinary pain may cause your cat to avoid the litterbox.  The joint pain of arthritis may also be associated with inappropriate urination outside the box.  If it’s painful to enter the box, your cat will be reluctant to use it.  If your cat has consistently used the litter box but begins to have accidents in the house, consult your veterinarian.
  6. Increased activity level:  If your laid-back and lazy cat turns into a dynamo in constant motion, you should be suspicious of an underlying problem.  Hyperthyroidism is common in cats and can cause increased activity.
  7. Decreased activity level:  A noticeable decrease in your cat’s activity may also be a sign that your cat needs a check-up.  Arthritis can lead to decreased activity as can systemic disease.
  8. Change in vocalization:  If you notice that your cat is calling out more, or less, or has a change in her voice, it’s time for a check-up.  Changes in the frequency and intensity of vocalization may be a sign of pain or underlying disease.  Changes in tone can be due to respiratory problems, polyps, hyperthryoidism, or other illness.
  9. Ear scratching or head shaking may be a sign of infection or ear mites.
  10. Changes in coat quality: If your cat is not grooming herself, it may be because of pain or illness.  Arthritis may make grooming more difficult for cats.  Disease can sap energy and lead to decreased grooming.  Any time you notice a change in your cat’s coat, you should suspect a problem.
  11. Weight loss or loss of muscle:  If you cat is getting thinner or if you notice that the muscles feel smaller, this may be a sign of a number of systemic diseases including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, renal disease, gastrointestinal disease, and others.  These signs may develop so gradually that you may not notice the change over time.

A case study

My favorite cat, Boogey, was not doing well.  His parents hadn’t noticed anything specific, but he wasn’t as energetic as usual and just looked a little scruffy to them. He was free fed, but his owners didn’t note an increase or decrease in the amount he was eating.  He may or may not have been using his litterbox more.

Although his signs were mild and non-specific, his parents decided to have him checked out.  Sure enough, bloodwork showed that he had developed diabetes.  Once he was treated with insulin, his parents observed marked improvement in his coat condition, but also in his body condition.  They hadn’t noticed that he was gradually losing muscle tone.  Even though his diet was restricted, he was able to put on weight once his disease was treated.

Boogey’s story demonstrates that a cat can be seriously ill but show only mild signs.  He had a good outcome, but if his parents hadn’t taken him in to see the veterinarian, the story might have ended in tragedy.  Subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt medical attention.

1 Merola, I. and Mills, D., Behavioural Signs of Pain in Cats, an Expert Consensus, PLoS One, 2016, 11(2).

Photo credit: Unsplash

Why Is My Cat Sneering at Me? It’s Not Personal, It’s Flehmen

Why is my cat sneering at me?  Have you ever asked yourself this question?  Does your cat sometimes make a funny face that resembles a sneer or a grimace when smelling an object? It’s not personal.

The Flehmen response

If your cat appears to sneer, or grimace, with panting or open-mouth breathing, he may be exhibiting the Flehmen response.  The Flehmen response is a natural way for animals, including cats, horses, camels, and llamas to temporarily improve their sense of smell.

When an animal bares its teeth and curls its upper lip, it opens up two small ducts in the roof of the mouth. These ducts, called nasopalatine ducts, connect with a special olfactory (smell) organ in the nose.  This is called the vomeronasal organ.  This organ has different sensory cells than the ones found in either the nose or taste-buds.  The effect of using the organ is probably something between smelling and tasting.

Invoking the Flehmen response

The Flehmen response is usually associated with social or sexual interactions 1.  In cats, just as in other animals, the Flehmen response is associated with exposure to fluids.  Exposure to secretions from other cats most often initiates a Flehmen . Males use the Flehmen response more frequently than do females.  However, if female cats are left in a room with urine from another cat, they will use the Flehmen response.

So, if your cat is doing the Flehmen, it probably means he is sensing the after-smells of another cat.  If you work around cats during the day, your cat is very likely to give you the Flehmen when you get home.  Think of it as a “How was work? Did you meet any interesting people?” sort of interaction.  It’s definitely not personal.

You may learn more about the Flehmen response in cats and other animals at Slate.com.

Hart, B.L. and Leedy, M.G., Stimulus and hormonal determinants of flehmen behavior in cats, Hormones and Behavior, 1987.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

 

 

 

Your House Cat May Be a Champion

The MoKan Cat Show is coming up in March.  If your cat isn’t pedigreed, no worries!  Your house cat may still be a champion in the Household Pets category.

Showing your house cat

Is your cat one of a kind?  The great thing about mixed-breed cats is the almost unlimited diversity of coat length, markings, size, and disposition.  If your cat is unusual, beautiful, or even just sweet, you might consider putting him in a Cat Fancier Association (CFA) cat show.  There are no standards that cats in the household pet category must meet.  However, the CFA requires that cats not be declawed.  If over 8 months, cats in this category must be spayed or neutered.

If your cat meets these requirements and is in good health, she may be ready for the spotlight.  It’s important to plan ahead for the cat show.  There are some items that you will need to prepare, and if you’re coming in from out of town you will need to make reservations at a local hotel.  Preparation and participation can be a great project for the entire family.

Each show is different, so your first step should always be to contact the show organizers.   Some shows may not have a household pet category, and entry fees will vary. You will find a listing of shows on the CFA website.

Getting started

The show will provide a cage and chair for you.  According to the CFA, you should ask for a double cage when you register.  A single cage is 2 x 2 x 2 feet.  A double cage is twice as wide to provide more room for your cat to move comfortably.  You will need to provide cage curtains for the sides, back, and top of the cage.  Making cage curtains doesn’t have to be difficult, but you can let your creativity shine!  These curtains can be as simple as bedsheets, but they can be as elaborate as luxury draperies.   You can find instructions for making curtains online, even if you don’t sew.

In addition to curtains, you may want to decorate the top of the cage.  Many shows have a theme, and organizers will award prizes for the best cage decorations. Bring a towel to cover the bottom of the cage, and a cat bed. Bring your cat’s food, litter, and bottled water, plus litterbox, food bowl, and water bowl.  You may also want to bring your cat’s grooming supplies.  If it’s your first show, let the show clerk know.  You will most likely want to show up early for set-up.  You will find more information about showing your cat at the CFA.

Meow Madness 2018 MoKan Cat Show

This year the MoKan Cat Club will host their annual show on March 10.   The theme is “Meow Madness,” reflecting the college basketball championship season.  Prizes will be awarded for the best basketball-themed cage decorations.  The show will highlight 40 breeds of cats, and categories include the household pet.  It’s a family-friendly event.

Catch the Fever

Showing your cat can be a rewarding year-round hobby.  The CFA offers a Household Pet Recording Program.  Once your cat is recorded, he will be eligible to accumulate points and work towards more significant awards like Grand Household Pet.

Come out to the MoKan Cat Show and share your obsession with your feline friend.  And share your story with us!  We would love to see your favorite photos.

 

Featured image: Shutterstock

 

Does Your Cat Care About You?

Does your cat care?  Admittedly, I am not much of a cat person.  So I am sometimes skeptical when my cat-loving friends and family tell me how much their cats love them.  After all, most of the cats I know tend to fit the stereotype of the self-interested and aloof.  Sometimes, however, a story breaks through the noise and proves too compelling to ignore.

The Warning

Do cats care enough to warn their owners of potential danger?  Maybe Boogey the tuxedo will convince you.

Boogey is a well-loved feline who is tightly bonded to his family.  Last week, his parents inadvertently shut Boogey in the bathroom when they left for work.  This can happen from time to time even in the best of homes, but it had never happened to our friend Boogey.   When his parents came home, Boogey was ecstatic to see them, and he seemed unfazed by his day in the bathroom. But he didn’t forget his experience.  Later that evening, when he saw his dad going into the bathroom, he came running.  He kept his body between his dad and the bathroom, cried out, and seemed to be making every attempt to keep his dad from entering the room.  He had never exhibited this type of behavior before.

Could it be that Boogey was trying to keep his human from being locked in the bathroom?  Was he warning him of potential danger?

Can cats remember experiences?

Scientists studying cat behavior and learning have made some intriguing discoveries that could provide insight into Boogey’s behavior.

First, scientists have demonstrated that cats can remember experiences, at least in the short-term.  This type of memory is called episodic memory in humans, and it demonstrates self-awareness.  Because scientists are not convinced that any animals are self-aware (apparently having never owned either cats or dogs), they refer to this type of memory as “episodic-like” in animals.

Scientists in Norway tested the ability of cats to remember experiences in the short term.  They tested 49 domestic cats.  In their experiment, they exposed the cats to four food bowls.  Two of the bowls contained food, and the other two were empty.  The cats were allowed to eat from the bowls with food, then they were removed from the room.  The food was taken out of the bowls, and the cats were allowed to explore the empty bowls after 15 minutes.  In the next phase of the experiment, the cats were exposed to two bowls filled with food, one with a non-edible item, and one empty bowl.  The cats were allowed to eat from one bowl.  Surprisingly, in both phases the cats spent less time exploring the bowls from which they originally ate.  This suggests that they remembered what was in those bowls and didn’t need to explore them further.  That they didn’t simply return to the bowls that had held food indicates they weren’t simply responding to a pleasurable experience. The study was published in the January, 2017 edition of Behavioural Processes.

This study could have been stronger had a control group of cats been exposed to four empty bowls as a negative control. However, even as an uncontrolled study it is interesting and suggests that cats can remember both “what” and “where,” at least in the short term.  So, Boogey could have remembered his bad experience in the bathroom.

Do cats really care about their humans?

In another study, researchers exposed adult cats, half from shelters and half pets, to stimuli in four categories: human social interaction, food, toy, and scent.  Although there was significant individual variability, human social interaction was the most preferred stimulus for a majority of the cats in both groups.  Food came in second.  It seems that for many cats, interaction with humans is more important than eating.  If human interactions are important to cats, then perhaps humans themselves are also important to them.  Boogey may have been acting out of concern for his pet parents.

This study demonstrates that cats care about interacting with their humans.  It doesn’t demonstrate that cats value their humans or act to protect them.  But stories like Boogey’s abound.  Can it just be coincidence or wishful thinking on our part? Did Boogey warn his parents of perceived danger, or was he just remembering a bad experience?  What do you think?  Does your cat care about you? Comment below and share your story.