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Cat Health Terms Demystified

By Jennifer Viegas

Cat Health Terms Demystified

Visiting a veterinarian can sometimes feel like you've taken a trip to a non-English speaking country. Terms like "gastritis" and "enteritis" may roll off your doctor's tongue while you and your cat sit listening equally puzzled. While most vets take the time to explain such terminology, there are instances when they may lapse into conversation that is best suited to medical conferences and peer reviewed journals. You can meet your vet halfway, however, by promoting better dialogue while learning to think more in vet speak.

Don't Feel Intimidated
While waiting in a room to see your vet, you may see one or more impressive degrees framed on the walls. These could be next to posters describing seemingly impossible-to-pronounce conditions. Despite the potential for intimidation, Thomas Carpenter, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, said that you should remember that your veterinarian likely has a lot in common with you. "He or she may have one or more treasured pets," said Dr. Carpenter. "Feel free to ask as many questions as necessary, as that's what your vet might do in your position." 

Know Your Sci-Speak Comfort Level
When reading the paper, do you pore over health stories? Maybe science was your favorite subject in school, or you work in a related profession. On the other hand, your brain could tune out medical terminology as some kind of alien verbiage. Dr. Carpenter said that when training and advising vets, he tells them to be aware that some people want to hear a lot of science, while others don't. It could just be that your own veterinarian misjudged your level of comfort on such matters. Diplomatically let your vet know what type of discussion best works for you. 

Maximize Your Vet's Staff
Some of the best sources of information are often underutilized, according to Dr. Carpenter. These are the staff members who work with your vet. "Think about it," he said. "When you go to see your family doctor, you probably wind up asking more questions of the nurse and staff than you do of your doctor." He assured that most personnel at veterinary office are very well trained and are open to answering questions. Although busy themselves, they might also have a bit more time than your vet does to explain complex conditions, prescribed drugs and other issues related to your cat's health. Dr. Carpenter said they could also sometimes open the door to further discussions with your vet, if needed.

Read Up
Even if you have a great rapport with your vet and his or her staff, it never hurts to read up on feline health matters, particularly those that may directly concern your pet or might soon. The American Animal Hospital Association has a number of related articles at its site, Healthy Pet. Your vet's office may be able to provide you with brochures on common conditions.

In the meantime, to help decipher some common technical terms that you might run across while conducting such investigations, here is a mini dictionary:

asymptomatic -- without symptoms

blocked urethra -- blockage of the urinary passage

bronchi -- the main passages that allow air to move in and out of your cat's lungs

bronchitis -- an inflammation of your cat's lung airways; usually indicated by a cough

colitis -- inflammation of your cat's colon

conjunctivitis -- inflammation of the eyelid lining

cyst -- a fluid filled sac

enteritis -- inflammation of the intestines

eosinophilic granuloma -- an ulcer, or swelling, usually on your cat's lip

FCV -- stands for "feline calicivirus," a virus that can cause symptoms much like the common cold

Panleukopenia -- also known as feline distemper - this highly contagious viral disease can affect multiple internal tissues and organs

FIP -- feline infectious peritonitis is a progressive and ultimately fatal disease causes by a coronavirus

FVRV -- stands for "feline viral rhinotracheitis virus," a virus that can cause a severe version of cat "flu"

flukes -- a type of intestinal parasite

gastritis -- inflammation of the stomach wall, that can cause vomiting

gingivitis -- gum inflammation

hemorrhage -- loss of blood from a blood vessel that can occur either internally or externally

lymph nodes -- small organs where immune system responses are launched

metritis -- infection and inflammation of a cat's uterus

peritonitis -- when the lining of your cat's abdominal cavity becomes inflamed due to any number of reasons, including infection

pleurisy -- inflammation of the inner lining of the chest cavity that can lead to fluid build-up making breathing difficult for your cat

pneumonia -- inflammation of the lungs caused by a number of different agents, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi

ranula -- a blister-like swelling beneath one or both sides of your cat's tongue

rectal prolapse -- when the rectum turns inside out due to diarrhea or straining

thrombosis -- a blood clot

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

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Posted on May 30, 2009

sharon ornelas says: can i give my cat 1 yr old 1 mg and will she be drowsy she is a long hair and the vet did give this to me to give to her I trust my vet but I worry about this drowsey thing thank -you

Posted on October 12, 2007

Rinis says: I have a a long haired orange cat.He has the same problems with the vomiting and alot of hair ball's. He seems to have a hard time breathing some of the time also. The Vet can not find anything wrong. But i do worry

Posted on January 2, 2008

arena says: today my cat did not have appetite to eat. i give it vitamins to increase her appetite but still she refuses. it worries me. last i force her to eat. and she ate a bit. but couples of minutes then i found out she vomited her food. i am really worried. when i check her mouth the gum under next to the jaw has a bit rash occur like red dots. the cat's behaviour seems normal now. it cheerful and love to play. just it refuse to eat. help!

Posted on January 3, 2008

Claudine says: Asti has an appetite and drinks alot of water. He also visits his litter box quite frequently. Sometimes within minutes. He has not groomed himself except for his face, front paws and his private parts. Especially after using the box. Sometimes he leaves little gifts for me out of the blue. I think constipation, I am not sure. His pats are dry as well. Otherwise, he is very attentive & affectionate. He overhears me taking about a trip to the vet and all of the sudden he is behaving like his "old self". He is a lot slower and daydreams alot. I have a visit to the vet in the next week. I love my cat, I just want to know what I am in for.

Posted on October 9, 2007

Jaci Masters says: My cat has been very sick it started out she was loosing weight and puking her food up and alot of hairballs, now after she has been to the vet 2 times and all kinds of blood work she is dying and they don't know why or what to do, when i picked her up from the vet they had been force feeding her and she's only 10 yrs old and we don't know what to do any advice?

Posted on March 18, 2012

Ngisondt says: Pet insurance may be irngoed by some, if not most, pet owners. This is quite understandable I think. However, what happens when you suddenly need to take your pet to the vet for some unexpected health issue? You'd rather think about your pet's safety instead of how much the medical procedure is going to cost, right? Hence, I would go with pet insurance if I had a pet of my own. Wouldn't want to risk my pet's safety, would I?

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