You take your cat to the vet once a year for her checkup (or maybe more than once a year if she’s a senior or has a chronic illness). But what do you do to keep track of her health between visits? Cats can be subtle about expressing illness or pain, and they rely on you to listen to what they can’t tell you in words. Here are some tips to help you do just that.
1. Check her coat
Your cat’s fur should be smooth, thick, and shiny — or consistent with the standards for Sphynx, Rex, and other breeds with non-standard coats. If you find fleas, start using a flea preventive. If you find dandruff, a greasy coat or bare patches, contact your veterinarian.
2. Get in her face
Your cat’s face can tell you a lot about her health. Her nose should be free of discharge and sores, her eyes should be bright and clear, and she shouldn’t have bad breath. If her eyes look cloudy, her pupils are unevenly dilated or inappropriately dilated for the level of ambient light, or her third eyelids are showing, contact your vet.
Cats do tend to get "eye boogers" from time to time, and it’s usually not a big deal — but if her eye discharge is yellow or green, or there’s a lot more of it than usual, you should report that information to your vet. Her ears should also be free of discharge and swelling.
3. Look at her teeth
Your cat’s dental health is crucial to her overall health: Infected teeth and gums can cause heart and kidney disease, among other potentially life-threatening problems. Lift up your cat’s cheeks and look at her gums — they should be nice and pink, with no redness and swelling. Her teeth should be free of tartar, and she shouldn’t have sores or growths in her mouth.
4. Be a weight watcher
Put your thumbs on your cat’s backbone and run your fingers along her rib cage. If you can’t easily feel her ribs, she may need to lose weight. Look at your cat from above; you should see a slight "tuck" at her waist. Then look at your cat from the side; her abdomen should be tucked up behind her rib cage. The Purina Body Condition Score chart can help you determine where on the weight spectrum your cat falls. If your cat needs to lose or gain weight, work with your vet to create a nutrition plan.
5. Monitor intake and output
Changes in your cat’s eating or drinking habits can be signs of potentially serious illnesses. If your cat is always hungry or thirsty, or if she’s lost her appetite, call your vet. Likewise, changes in stool or urine output can be warning signs of potentially serious problems.
6. Be on the lookout for behavior and activity-level changes
Sleepiness and lethargy can be signs of illness or fever. An increase in aggression can be a mask for physical discomfort. If your cat has started meowing more or begun peeing outside her box, it might be a medical problem, not just "bad behavior."
Most of all, remember to look at your whole cat: If you’re seeing changes in her behavior and a greasy coat and she’s been sleeping even more than usual, these symptoms combined are more likely to point to a health issue than any one of them alone.
If you monitor your cat’s health at home, are there other checks you do? Has home monitoring allowed you to discover a health issue in your cat before it became serious? Please share your stories in the comments!