, Newburyport, MA

October 12, 2012

Paw Prints: Cats are masters of disguise all year long

Paw Prints Heidi Bassler

---- — It’s October and Halloween is approaching. Your kitty has been practicing all year. He doesn’t need a costume — he’s already the master of disguise.

That doesn’t mean he has a spooky outfit. Cats are experts at masking problems. Fluffy won’t howl or write you a note or point his little paw to where it hurts. When cats are ill or in pain, they’re good at keeping the secret until the condition is advanced.

At first glance, your cat may seem content. However, he may be hiding a problem. Learning to recognize your kitty’s early distress signals can help him lead a long, happy life with you.

A change in drinking patterns often signals health issues for your cat. Be on the lookout for increased water consumption. You may notice the water bowl needs filling more frequently. Maybe Fluffy is eager to drink from dripping faucets or open toilet bowls. Mother Nature designed cats as desert animals, so a thirsty cat is often a sick cat.

Kidney disease occurs in cats of all ages, but it is especially common in seniors. Diabetes is another consideration. Early diagnosis can make a difference in long-term outcome for your cat.

Some cat owners may not notice increased water consumption, but they do notice their cat is using the litter more frequently. If Fluffy is producing more urine, he’s probably drinking more water. If that’s not the case, then his frequent attempts to urinate might indicate bladder pain. Your veterinarian can help you sort this out. There are some very effective treatments for kidney and bladder disease.

Check Fluffy’s stool in the litterbox, too. Any changes are important clues from your cat. If stools become soft, small and hard, or have streaks of mucous or blood, let your veterinarian know.

Fluffy’s gastrointestinal tract may not be healthy and he might need help to feel comfortable again.

If Fluffy’s appetite has changed, he’s trying to tell you something. A cat that is eating less is not feeling good. Something hurts. Maybe it’s his stomach, even if nausea isn’t causing him to vomit yet. Or maybe his tooth aches. When was the last time he had a professional dental cleaning with oral X-rays?

A common cause of appetite change in older cats is thyroid disease. Fluffy’s appetite may be up or down, depending on his thyroid level. Hyperthyroidism in cats over age 7 is common.

If your cat is losing weight, don’t assume his diet is finally working. Without professional help, indoor cats are notoriously difficult to successfully slim down. If Fluffy is suddenly winning the battle of the bulge, ask yourself what might be wrong.

Cats should not have stinky, fishy breath. Foul odor from your cat’s mouth indicates a problem. You may notice that his gums are red and inflamed.

By age 3, 80 percent of cats have periodontal disease. Another painful condition in cats’ mouths occurs when tooth pulp, the living nerve tissue inside the tooth, becomes exposed. This can happen when a tooth is broken, or when a hole develops in the tooth, called a Feline Oral Resorptive Lesion or FORL. Fifty percent of cats will develop painful FORLs during their lifetimes.

A common misperception is that if Fluffy is eating, then his mouth must not be hurting. Cats feel pain like we do. The difference is they don’t know something can be done about their toothache. They instinctively eat to survive. Some cats with painful mouths become finicky eaters. Others roll the food around in their mouths, trying to find a more comfortable place to chew. You may notice that the area around the bowl has become messier.

Another distress signal from Fluffy is that he has become generally less active, and also less interactive with you. The furry friend that used to greet you at the door may keep sleeping when you arrive home. Or maybe he used to curl up on your lap when you worked at your computer, but now he naps in the laundry basket instead. These are clues that your cat doesn’t feel like he used to.

Maybe he is developing arthritis and his joints hurt. Or he feels sick to his stomach. Or his fractured tooth is beginning to abscess. Or his kidneys ache.

Cats are the ultimate masters of disguise. They can have serious health issues that only your veterinarian can detect, through either physical examination or lab tests. For example, heart disease of young adult cats is sometimes genetically predisposed. Certain breeds, such as Maine Coon or part Maine Coon cats are more at risk.

Don’t play cat and mouse games with your kitty’s health. All cats should have a physical exam annually.


Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital ( She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to