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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Top Cat Health Questions Asked During a Veterinary Consultation

To commemorate National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day (August 22, 2012) I implore our feline loving readers to schedule a wellness consultation with your veterinarian.

According to the 2011 Bayer Healthcare Care Usage Study, an alarming trend is emerging that has significant consequences on cat health. Nearly twice as many cats than dogs never go to a veterinarian’s office for a consultation and physical examination.

A meager 41 percent of feline caretakers visit the veterinarian to get their cat vaccinated. Although immunizations are an important part of a feline wellness strategy, many disease conditions occur regardless of vaccination status (obesity, periodontal disease, etc.).

Another unfortunate tendency is that 39 percent of cat owners only take their cat to the veterinarian upon seeing clinical signs of illness. Cats often exhibit subtle behavioral changes until their condition(s) worsen and clinical signs become obvious. 

It’s vitally important that cat caretakers schedule regular veterinary examinations on at least an every 12 month basis (more frequently for juvenile, geriatric, or sick pets). During this visit, a thorough history should be taken and physical examination must be performed.

Be prepared to answer a series of questions about your cat’s daily habits. Awareness of your feline friend’s patterns greatly helps your veterinarian achieve a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

My strong belief in the power of a medical history motivated me to create my “Top Cat Health Questions Asked During a Veterinary Consultation”:

1. Presenting Complaint 

  • What are the current medical or behavioral concerns you have for your cat? 

2. Previous History 

  • What medical or behavioral concerns has your cat been treated for in the past? 

3.Daily Environment 

  • Is your cat indoor, outdoor, or both?What percentage of time does your cat spend in a particular environment?
  • What other pets live the household or in close proximity to your home? 

4. Appetite 

  • Is your cat’s appetite normal or abnormal?
  • What kind and quantity of food and treats is your cat eating (home prepared, commercially available, dry, canned, fresh prepared, etc.)?
  • Have there been any recent food or treat changes?
  • How frequently do you feed your cat each day? 

5. Bowel Movements 

  • Are your cat’s bowel movements and patterns normal or abnormal?
  • Does your cat have a habit of producing bowel movements elsewhere besides the litter box?
  • If you note the presence of diarrhea, please skip to the diarrhea section. 

6. Urination 

  • Are your cat’s urinary habits normal or abnormal?
  • Do you see the presence of blood, straining (stranguria), alterations in urinary patterns (pollakiuria), or find urine in locations besides the litter box? 

7. Water Consumption 

  • Have you noticed an increase or decrease in your cat’s water consumption?
  • What hydration sources do you provide to your cat? 

8. Vomit 

  • Have you seen any recent or consistent episodes of vomiting?
  • Do you note the presence of food (digested or undigested), bile (yellow/foamy liquid), hair, water, or other material?
  • What time of day and how frequently does the vomit occur? 

9. Diarrhea 

  • Is the consistency of the diarrhea soft or liquid?
  • Does the diarrhea contain blood, mucus, or any other unusually appearing substance?
  • Is there any urgency, straining (tenesmus), or explosive nature to the diarrhea? 

10. Cough or Sneeze 

  • Does your cat cough or sneeze more than on an occasional basis?
  • Does your cat produce blood, mucus, or other discharge from the nose or mouth?

11. Current Medications and Dietary Supplements 

  • What are the current medications and dietary supplements your cat takes?
  • How frequently and for how long has your cat been taking a medication or supplement? 

12.    Activity, Grooming, Mobility, and Sleep 

  • Has your cat shown any changes in activity, grooming, or mobility?
  • Does your cat seem to be excessively or deficiently sleeping?

Each of these questions potentially opens a variety of other threads of dialogue, so they really function as the starting off point in attaining a complete medical history.

The clients I worked with during filming of the Animal Planet show My Cat from Hell were queried in such a manner. My inquisition led to some notable discoveries correlating their cat’s behavior with underlying health issues (see my petMD blog A Veterinarian’s Perspective on Treating a Cat From Hell).

My second patient for season three, a cat named Pump, would have been in an overall healthier state if his owners had pursued an examination with a veterinarian on at least an annual basis. As I inquired about Pump’s medical history, I learned that over four years had transpired since his last physical exam. The conditions I diagnosed, including arthritic pain, periodontal disease, hyperthyroidism, heart murmur, and thin body condition are detected and treated through regularly veterinary care.

Don’t let your cat’s problems become advanced, irreversible, or life threatening before a diagnosis is achieved. Get to know and work closely with your veterinarian to create a wellness strategy that best suits your cat’s needs.

Thank you to Carol Bryant of Fidoses of Reality for providing the impetus to write this article.

Image: One of the felines of Phi Phi Island (Thailand) I met during my 2009 trip, by Dr. Mahaney


Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Comments  6

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  • Ack!
    08/21/2012 11:12am

    I am constantly baffled how people can have a cat and not have regular veterinary appointments.

    Vomiting, constant sneezing, diarrhea, changes in eating or water consumption, limping, lethargy, crying, bald patches? Please take Fluffy to the doctor as soon as possible!

  • 08/24/2012 10:14pm

    I completely agree with you on the sentiment that it's remarkable to hear about cat owners not bring their beloved feline friend to the veterinarian until they are showing visible clinical signs of illness.
    Especially since our felines companions cannot verbally tell us about the days that they may be slightly not feeling well, it's vitally important that they regularly have an examination and diagnostics to catch underlying diseases before they become severe.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

  • 08/24/2012 10:57pm

    Oh my yes! Cat owners need to be proactive with their critters like they are with themselves.

    My kitties get a full checkup at least every 5 months.

    We're currently working to find out why one of my critters is perhaps on her way to hypercalcemia. She looks fine. She acts fine. No weight loss. No vomiting. No diarrhea.

    Her blood panels show that her calcium has been slowly increasing over the past couple of years and now it's just crossed into the high range. We've already done a fasting malignancy profile from Michigan State. (All normal and no mention of elevated vitamin D [which is part of the Michigan State test].)

    In a week or so, we're going to do a UA and x-rays to rule out urinary problems and bladder stones. Of course, there will be another blood panel to keep an eye on her calcium. (And a blood pressure just because that's something I insist upon.)

    Most likely, it will end up being idiopathic hypercalcemia, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Right now, we're just trying to be sure we can head off anything that might become a problem.

    Josie, on the other hand, is baffled by all the attention and trips to the clinic.

  • 08/29/2012 06:08am

    I'm sorry to hear of Josie's recent issues with hypercalcemia.
    The clinical causes of hypercalcemia certainly can be mysterious, frustrating, and always merit regular and consistent evaluation.
    Taking the next steps as you described to look inside her abdomen for potential causes in the abdominal organs (including the urinary bladder) sounds like a reasonable approach.
    Thank you for your comments,
    Dr. PM

  • Ack!
    08/21/2012 04:44pm

    The problem is that the owners who aren't conscientious enough to maintain their cats' good health care visits, also won't be reading this blog as they have other priorities. )-:

  • 08/24/2012 10:16pm

    Thank you for your comments.
    That is a really good point!
    If a cat owner is not conscientious enough to bring their cat to the vet for regular evaluation, diagnostics and treatment, they will likely not be reading this blog.
    I would love it if you could spread the awareness of such a need with your feline loving friends through your social media network.
    Thank you,
    Dr PM

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