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

Care for Aging Cats

Just like their human companions, cats experience a gradual decline in organ function as they age. These age-related changes include a natural slowing of the cat's resting metabolic rate (RMR), resulting in a decrease in muscle and an increase in body fat, which also increases the likelihood of obesity. While energy needs vary from pet to pet, cats between the ages of 7 and 9 years are at the highest risk for obesity. It is important for you to watch your cat's intake, weight status and physical activity to help offset age-associated loss of muscle.

Remember that your aging pet has the same nutrient needs as during her earlier years, however the quantities and the way in which they are provided may have to change. As its metabolism changes, select a diet that's less energy-dense, while still providing essential nutrients.

Visible Signs of Aging
A sure sign that your cat is entering old age is when it does not jump onto its favorite perch as easily, sleeps more, and moves more slowly when awake. In addition, the skin loses its elasticity and becomes less pliable. The decrease in skin elasticity may result in areas of hair loss. Old age also brings a decrease in bone mass. This may be due, in part, to the inadequate absorption of calcium. The age for these developments is around 12 years in cats. Arthritis commonly occurs in older pets, too, and can be made worse by obesity. Some of this can be managed by proper nutrition, medical therapy and nutriceuticals.

Old age in general may result in a reduction in response to a cat's surroundings and partial loss of vision, hearing and taste. To avoid startling your loving pet, it's a good idea to let your cat see your hand in front of its face before touching and to call the animal by name before approaching.
Special Dietary Needs for Your Mature Cat
Try these nutritional strategies to cope with age-related health issues. 

  • Hairball Prevention Older cats can still develop hairballs and some may even experience an increase in hairballs.  To help minimize the development of hairballs, feed your cat a diet with a unique combination of beet pulp and cellulose fiber. 
  • Weight Control Aging pets should be fed a diet with a higher percentage of calories from high-quality animal protein and with antioxidants and essential amino acids, like taurine, to help maintain healthy muscle mass and immune function. A little less fat in the diet may also help mature cats if their diet remains rich in fish oils to promote overall health and a beautiful, shiny coat.

Special Dental Needs
Proper tooth and gum care is also important for older pets. Dry foods, may assist in maintaining good dental and oral health. You may also need to schedule regular appointments with your veterinarian to prevent dental scaling or periodontal disease.
Behavioral Changes in Your Aging Pet
One of the most noticeable changes in mature pets is their resistance to change in their daily routines. Older cats may become more finicky about their eating habits. With a decreased sense of smell and taste, it may be necessary to provide a food with a stronger smell and taste. Lower quality pet foods are not recommended for elderly pets because some of them may not offer enough of the right nutrients.

As your cat slows down, short, sustained periods of physical activity will help to enhance circulation, maintain muscle tone and prevent excess weight gain. The level and intensity should be adjusted to your pet's medical condition. Encourage a healthy exercise routine by playing games with your cat for 15 to 30 minutes at least twice a day.

How Old is Your Cat in Human Years?
While the aging process varies from cat to cat, have you ever wondered how old your cat might be in human years?  Check it out:

Cat's Age Human's Age
1 year =  20 years
2 years =  24 years
3 years = 28 years
4 years = 32 years
5 years = 36 years
6 years = 44 years
7 years = 48 years
8 years = 52 years
9 years = 56 years

Dental Care for all Cats

Have you brushed and flossed? No, not your teeth -- your cat's teeth. Your feline needs regular dental care just as you do. That's because dental disease can affect the gums, bones, and connective tissue around your cat's teeth. It can even cause your pet to lose one or all of its teeth. The statistics for this are startling. According to a recent study conducted by the American Veterinary Dental Society, 70 percent of cats develop dental problems by the age of three. To ensure that your cat doesn't suffer a similar fate, here's what to do.

Beware Bad Breath
One of the first signs of dental disease is bad breath. People often joke about how pets have a malodorous mouth, but this usually is a symptom of underlying dental problems initially caused by plaque buildup. Plaque is a soft, clear or cream-colored deposit that forms on teeth. If it isn't removed, minerals in your cat's saliva turn the plaque into tartar. Tartar builds up on the tooth and below your cat's gums allowing bacterial growth and inflammation.

The same bacteria that lead to the inflammation can enter your pet's bloodstream and may cause or aggravate lung, kidney, liver, and heart problems. That's a lot of trouble, worry and cost from something that may be headed off in its early stages.

Start Care Young
Begin your cat's dental care regime as soon as possible. If your cat is still a young kitten, inspect its mouth as soon as it starts to get permanent teeth. Make sure that its baby teeth come out when the new teeth come in. Retained teeth can cause the permanent teeth to be crooked, and can promote later dental conditions. That's because crooked teeth can become plaque traps, which may be difficult to clean. Kittens have tiny jaws that are at special risk for this and related problems.

It's also important that you condition your kitten to regular tooth brushing. As soon as you bring your pet home, get it accustomed to having its mouth handled. For example, gently pry its mouth open with your hands. Afterwards, lavish it with praise and a head or cheek rub. It is good training because it teaches the kitten to tolerate having things in its mouth without biting or clawing. Your vet will also appreciate that you did this when the cat becomes older.

Food and Dental Hygiene 
What your kitty eats affects its "smile." Many experts believe that dry foods and treats help to clean the teeth. They may do this through the abrasive nature of the food, similar to how certain crunchy fruits and vegetables appear to "self-clean" our teeth to some extent. Some dry foods and treats even have special dental care properties that help slow the formation of tartar, so take time to read product labels to see what might be best for your cat.

Brushing at Home
When you first begin to brush your cat's teeth, run your finger gently over its gums. Initially, just rub the outside gum area, but as your cat starts to adjust to the routine, open its mouth and rub the gums inside the teeth as well.

As your pet becomes accustomed to this, wrap your finger with gauze and rub its gums with your protected finger. Eventually, add a pet toothpaste -- never use human toothpaste. After a few weeks, your pet should be willing to accept a toothbrush for pets. Choose a brush that has soft, multi-tufted synthetic bristles. Keep at least one spare on hand so that you can easily change brushes when the bristles wear down.

Hold the toothbrush at a 45-degree angle and apply it to the area where your cat's teeth and gums meet. Rotate the brush in small circles, overlapping several teeth. Finish with vertical strokes to pull plaque from between the teeth. Repeat until all the teeth on your feline's cheek side are clean. The inside teeth will be more difficult, as your pet may resist opening its mouth, but eventually you may be able to brush the inside and outside surfaces of all the teeth. For effective cleaning, brush your pet's teeth a couple of times a week.

When to Call the Vet
If, after time, your pet won't cooperate with home brushing or if you already see brown tartar stains on its teeth or red and bleeding gums, it's time to turn to your veterinarian for help. He or she will give your pet general anesthesia and will then clean its teeth above and below the gum line to remove plaque and tartar. After your cat's teeth are cleaned, they will be polished to remove microscopic plaque and to make the teeth smooth to discourage plaque from clinging.

Just remember that dental care is as important to your pet's health as it is to your own. You owe it to your feline friend to provide it with regular tooth care and cleaning. Your cat may not have nine lives, but ensuring that it has healthy teeth and gums is one way that you can help to make this lifetime the best that it can be.