As a veterinarian, one of the most common things I hear people say is that they do not need to bring their cat to the vet because their cat does not go outside. The American Veterinary Medical Association published a report listing some shocking, related statistics — among cat owners, nearly 45% say they do not take their cat or cats to a veterinarian annually.
It’s a sad statistic, because annual examinations provide an extremely valuable opportunity to perform a full physical examination, which can be crucial in detecting disease processes before a patient shows signs of illness, especially in cats. These are the most common silent or hidden illnesses in cats that can often be detected early with the help of a trusted veterinarian.
Hyperthyroidism, the most common hormone imbalance in cats, is a disease of the thyroid gland in which a benign growth in the gland produces too much thyroid hormone. The thyroid hormone is responsible for setting the body’s metabolic rate. When there is too much of this hormone, the body’s metabolism significantly increases, which can result in a variety of symptoms, including weight loss (despite a normal to excellent appetite), muscle deterioration, heart disease and high blood pressure. Untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to heart failure, sudden blindness or sudden death. Fortunately, hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Most cats respond very well to treatment and can continue to live with a very good quality of life. Treatment options include oral medication, prescription diets, radiotherapy and surgery.
CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive, irreversible loss of kidney function. CKD is the most common kidney disease of cats and affects almost 3% of the general feline population. Though CKD can affect cats of any age, it is most common in older animals. Studies have reported that 30% of cats over the age of 15 years have CKD. Cats suffering from it will often display signs of increased thirst and/or urination, weight loss, high blood pressure and muscle deterioration. Kidney function can be easily evaluated with a blood test and a urinalysis. CKD cannot be cured; however, there are many treatment options that can be utilized by your veterinarian to slow down the disease process, including prescription diets and medications. Many cats can be treated successfully and can look forward to months or often years of quality of life.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease that results in high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time. Most cats suffer from type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes. Symptoms may include weight loss, increased thirst, frequent urination and increased hunger. Left untreated, diabetes can result in death. Diabetes is commonly detected by testing for high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood and/or urine. Insulin injections are needed to treat most diabetic cats, but there is the potential for the diabetes to actually resolve or go into remission. Once a cat enters remission, the disease can often be controlled with a proper therapeutic diet — and the cat can enjoy a great quality of life.
Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the most common acquired heart disease in cats. One study found that the prevalence of the disease in cats could be as high as 30%. HCM is a disease of the heart muscle in which the muscular walls of the heart become too thick (or hypertrophied). This thickening results in the heart having to work too hard to pump blood out of the heart to the rest of the body. Veterinarians often detect signs of HCM early by listening to a cat’s chest during a physical examination. An increased heart rate, heart murmur or extra heart sounds may be noted as the diseases advances. HCM is usually definitively diagnosed by an ultrasound of the heart (echocardiogram). There is currently no cure for HCM, but once diagnosed, most cats can be properly monitored at home and by a veterinarian for signs of heart failure — at which point medication can be initiated to help support the heart and the patient.
Cats are natural predators and have evolved to hide pain and illness. Even the most experienced owner may miss signs that indicate that their cat is sick. By working with a trusted and skilled veterinarian, many diseases can be detected early on physical examination, which can result in a longer and happier life for your feline friend.
Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON. firstname.lastname@example.org