Cat Illnesses

Help, My Cat is Bow-Legged!

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Whenever you notice a change in your cat, be it behavioral or physical, it's a safe bet that there's an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Claudia K. writes:

Sully is a five year old cat who I believe is healthy, however, for the past few days he has been walking bow-legged with his paws facing out. I can’t figure out why. I felt his legs and joints and nothing seems out of place. What could cause this? He has been losing weight and drinking and peeing a lot lately.

Claudia, cats can sometimes have a sudden onset of leg weakness (usually the hind legs) due to diabetes, a blood clot, epilepsy, or physical injury. Arthritis is also a possibility and some breeds are prone to hip dysplasia.

When you add in the facts that he's losing weight and drinking more than usual, the signs indicate diabetes. Diabetes is easily treatable and Sully can live a long and healthy life with the disease, but he needs to see a veterinarian ASAP.

If Sully's vet diagnoses him with the disease, your first order of business is to make sure he's on a low-carbohydrate diet. We have a post on this very subject here:

 http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/food-recommendations-for-cats-with-diabetes 

Diabetes has become a feline epidemic because of all of the high-carb foods in the marketplace these days. Many of the most popular brands of cat food, especially dry foods, are mostly carbs. Pet food manufacturers are literally getting away with murder by pushing these awful products on an unsuspecting public. The only way we can combat them is to educate ourselves on products that deliver a healthy, species-appropriate diet.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of prescription diets for diabetes. Many veterinarians prescribe them and cats seem to get better, but most of those diets are high-carb as well. Feline diabetes can actually go into remission if the cat is fed a species-appropriate diet.

You also want to make sure that Sully is getting plenty of exercise every day. At the age of five, he should have at least two thirty minute play times daily, during which he gets a vigorous workout. If you're having difficulty transitioning him to new food, it can help to have these play times right before meal times.

We wish you and Sully all the best!

Why Does My Cat Shiver?

When our feline friends display symptoms or behaviors that are unusual, we're often left wondering what they mean. Jean B. writes:

I have a Bombay cat named Jackie. She’s three years old. For no apparent reason she will start shivering. She has ever since she was a kitten. She does not seem upset. When she was a kitten, I told the vet, but he didn’t think there was anything to worry about. Is there?

While many cats experience tremors, none should be taken lightly. It's worth another discussion with your veterinarian, especially if you observe any similarities in the instances when Jackie's tremors occur. 

Common causes of tremors include physical issues like low blood sugar, diabetes, hypothermia, and fever. There are also psychological issues such as fear and brain problems that can trigger tremors and even seizures. While this sounds like a terrible list of maladies, we include it to illustrate just how many different things can cause this kind of thing.

For now, we suggest you relax and start a notebook or calendar and note each time Jackie has visible tremors. Note the date, time of day and the temperature in the room she's in. It's also helpful to note when she last ate prior to the tremors. Then, the next time you take Jackie to her vet for a checkup, you can talk to them about the tremors from an informed perspective and even show them the data you've collected. You may even find that the tremors happen so infrequently as to be unimportant. Chances are, if she's lived with these tremors for several years now, it isn't a big deal, but only your vet can tell for sure.

Oh, and one last thing - many cats hold their tails upright and vibrate them when they're very happy. Many do this with a hunched back while rubbing or leaning against something, maybe even their human. If that's what Jackie is doing, it only means she's very happy to see you. :)

We wish you and Jackie all the best!

Help, My Cat is Losing Weight!

When a cat experiences unexpected weight loss, there's good cause for concern. Elizabeth T. writes:

I have a 12 year old cat named Jade who has always been small. Her usual weight is 6 pounds. She is down to 4 (was even lighter a month ago). I have been feeding her baby food and wet kitten food and while it has helped, she has only gained less than half a pound in the last month. I have taken her to the vet and they can’t find any problems. Is there something better I can feed her to help her gain weight?

Elizabeth, this is an extremely complex problem and one that should be solved with the input of a qualified veterinarian. Since we can't even see Jade or her test results, it's difficult to draw conclusions, but we can give you some general advice on seeking an answer for her problem.

It's unusual for a 12 year old cat to have weight loss without an underlying medical cause. Our first thought is that Jade might be diabetic, but surely your veterinarian tested for that. It might be worth getting a second opinion from another vet. Many veterinarians are very dog-centric because that's what pays the bills. Since many cat caregivers rarely take their cats in for checkups and most cats are very good at hiding their maladies, some vets rarely see cats at all.

Common medical causes for weight loss in cats include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) & parasites. Jade should be tested for all of these.

Once you're confident that there's not an obvious medical cause, it's time to look for more subtle causes. 

  • If Jade is having sinus problems, she will not be able to smell her food and will probably not eat.
  • If she has dental pain, she won't want to eat.
  • If there are other cats in the household and she's being bullied, she may not eat. 
  • If one of her companions has died recently, she may go through a grieving period and not eat.
  • If she's on medications, she may have gastric issues caused by the medicine.

You see what we're getting at. You need to put on your detective hat. A cat with abdominal pain may lay on her side in a way she doesn't usually like. She may respond to gentle abdominal pressure with a hiss that goes beyond her ordinary reaction. Look for changes in her behavior, however subtle, as clues to her problem. 

Getting her to eat depends on the root cause of her lack of appetite. For example, if her problem is sinus related, you may need to help her clear her sinuses. (See this post: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/treating-chronic-rhinosinusitis )

 
 

If she has diarrhea or is constipated, she may be having gastric issues. The best treatment for those is a good probiotic like FortiFlora and a teaspoon of canned 100% pumpkin puree added to each meal. These two ingredients combined will sort out a huge variety of intestinal issues. The FortiFlora has the additional benefit of having an irresistible flavor to most cats.

Finding the cause is key here, Elizabeth. It just takes perseverance. Feeding her high-calorie kitten and baby food is a good way to keep her weight up in the interim. There really are no higher calorie food sources to consider. As I mentioned above, adding FortiFlora to her food may make her more interested in it until you can diagnose her real issue.

We wish you and Jade all the best!

My Cat Has a Lump Under Her Skin!

Every cat caregiver should take the time to feel their feline friend's body from head to toe when allowed. ;) Cats can sometimes develop skin lumps and the sooner they're caught and diagnosed, the better. Troyce B. writes:

I just discovered a golf ball size growth on Serbrena’s right side at the end of her rib cage. She seems to feel OK. She is about 15 years old and looks like a Maine Coon but she’s not as big. She lives Inside. What should I do?

Troyce, this can't be diagnosed without a hands-on exam. You should get Serbrena to her veterinarian as soon as you can. It's most likely a fatty tumor called a lipoma. Your vet will need to do a biopsy to find out if it's cancerous or not. About 10% are, so odds are she's in no real danger. You just need to get it checked out.

Many cats develop small lipomas that are completely benign. If they don't get in the cat's way, they usually don't need to be treated at all.

If it is cancerous, the mass will need to be surgically removed. The procedure is a simple one and can usually be handled on an outpatient basis. If the lump turns out to be cancerous, it will be very important to monitor Serbrena for additional lumps or the re-growth of this one.

There are literally dozens of other potential causes of skin lumps on cats. These include abcesses, infections, parasites, and even adverse reactions to injections, but most of these never develop into anything as large as a golf ball. Your veterinarian will be able to identify exactly what Serbrena has and recommend the best course of treatment.

Help, My Cat's Not Pooping!

Cats are well-known to have occasional digestive problems. It's our opinion that most of these issues stem from incomplete nutrition. Even the best raw food diets can be incomplete because they offer neither the variety nor the diversity of foods that a cat would consume when hunting prey in the wild. The pet food industry has made matters even worse by using substandard ingredients and presenting cat caregivers with misleading marketing claims. What we really need is better science regarding the needs of cats. Until that time, we have to do what we can to help them get past their digestive problems. Nancy S. writes:

I noticed there has not been any poop in Precious’ litter box. Then the other day her backside and tail were covered in poop. I took her to the vet and they did blood work and gave her de-worming medicine. She is now eating her wet food, but not drinking her water. Her blood work was all good but she is still not pooping. Is there anything I can give her to help her to poop? My kitty is almost 8 years old and this has never happened before.

Nancy, constipation is a symptom of something else that's going on inside Precious. It's too bad she can't just tell us, but we can do better than guessing. We can follow the clues she shows us and the ones the veterinarian's tools can reveal.  If she's had a change in diet recently, she may just be having a change in her bowel habits.  Many cats change their litter box habits when switched to a raw diet, for example, and poop less than they did on conventional commercial diets.  If she's straining to defecate but can't produce results, you know for sure that she's constipated.

It's important to first rule out intestinal blockage. All cats ingest some hair when grooming. Many cats will also ingest rubber bands, hair ties, strings, etc. and these can get stuck in their intestines, requiring surgery for removal. The only way to rule out blockage of this sort is to X-ray the abdomen. See this post on why you shouldn't use strings as cat toys.

Other causes of constipation are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, kidney disease, pancreatis and other diseases that result in dehydration. To check if Precious is dehydrated, grasp the skin at the scruff of her neck and pull it upward without lifting her. If the skin springs back into place quickly, she's probably well hydrated. If it stays pinched and doesn't return to position quickly, she could be becoming dehydrated.

A couple of notes on water consumption are in order. A healthy cat will only drink water a couple of times a week. If they drink more than that, they're showing you that they're dehydrated. Domestic cats are descended from desert-dwellers and have very low thirst drives. That's one of the reasons why dry foods are so bad for them. They get most of their moisture from the foods they eat. Adding a little water to already wet food can be the most effective way to get more water into their diets. A wet-food-only diet is a MUST. 

Treatment must eventually address the cause of the constipation, not just the symptom.  You can only arrive at a conclusion with the help of an attentive veterinarian. If you feel that your current veterinarian isn't digging into this matter to your satisfaction, there's nothing wrong with getting a second opinion.

 
 

Symptom treatment can vary considerably with the cause, but commercial cat laxatives are never recommended. We've had the most luck adding a level teaspoon of canned pumpkin (100% pumpkin only) to wet food along with a couple of teaspoons of additional water. This treatment should be continued for at least a week. It's important to stop adding pumpkin soon after positive results are observed since too much fiber has been shown to increase hair balls in many cats. 

Nancy, you'll also need to try not to express your stress when observing Precious' litter box visits.  Precious will pick up on your stress and it could have a negative impact on her improvement.  We've even seen cases where a fretting human caused their cat friend to stop using the litter box entirely. Observe her casually and do your best not to let on to her that you're worried about her poops.

One last thing to consider are changes to Precious' litter, litter box, or household in general. Any big change can cause large amounts of stress in an indoor cat. Look at her world from her point of view and see if you can identify any new causes of stress in her life.

We feel certain that, along with a helpful vet, you can solve Precious' problem. We wish you both all the best!