While cats can be susceptible to any number of diseases, many shared in common with dogs and people, there are 4 specific health issues that every feline owner must be aware of and be proactive in promoting preventive screening and early detection measures.
1.) Blood pressure: Many felines suffer from high blood pressure, or hypertension, from ages as early as middle age. Hyper tension may be a primary genetic issue as it often is with people, or it may be a secondary symptom of chronic diseases in cats, such as cardiac disease, endocrine disease, and kidney failure. I have diagnosed many diseases due to follow up on the discovery of hypertension on routine wellness physical examinations, leading to early detection, optimal disease management, and subsequent increase in quality of life and longevity. As such, as a routine part of a physical examination on any feline over the age of 7, a blood pressure reading is taken. Whether a secondary manifestation of a primary disease or is a primary disease in and of itself, hypertension in cats must be addressed, as it commonly leads to kidney degeneration, cardiac disease, hemorrhage of retinal blood vessels and subsequent blindness, and dangerous clot formations. Management of blood pressure is often easily accomplished with low sodium diet and simple medication, as well as addressing other primary diseases that may be contributing to the hypertension.
2.) Dental health: Many felines are exhibiting disease of the teeth and gums as early as 3 years of age. The leading cause of death in felines is kidney failure, and a major contributing factor to the development of kidney failure is chronic dental and gum disease. Felines are also unique from dogs and people in that they as a consequence of chronic dental tartar and gum infection, they often develop tooth lesions known as feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions (FORL). In the case of FORLs, as a reaction to tartar and gum infection, felines activate a cell called an odontoclast, a cell that begins to essentially degradate the tooth. These lesions are often found on physical examination, but with kitties not uncommonly uncooperative for oral examinations in the exam room, they are often missed on routine physical examination. Sometimes they are hidden under tartar. When feline patients are under anesthesia for dentistry and receiving their ultrasonic scaling and polish, these lesions are easily found by the veterinarian through routine probing. It is always recommended that teeth with FORLs are extracted, as they are a source of chronic pain and possible abscess formation.
3.) Obesity: Obesity has serious consequence in cats. Diabetes is a very common disease in felines, and 95% of diagnosed diabetics are type II diabetics, meaning that it is their sedentary and overindulgent eating habits that get them there in the vast majority of cases. Obese cats also overstress their cardiovascular systems commonly leading to chronic cardiac disease, and overstress their musculoskeletal systems leading to early onset arthritis, degenerative joint disease, and joint pain.
4.) Keep them indoors! Depending on the source, statistically, indoor cats as opposed to those let outside tend to live anywhere from 5-7 years longer. From a veterinarian’s perspective, this is not surprising, as much of what we treat in feline medicine is the result of cats being allowed to go outside, whether it is infectious disease and parasites, injuries from other animals, hit by car, or poisoning/injury from sadistic people to name a few.
These issues above are best addressed by engaging in yearly wellness visits with your veterinarian, where the patient is thoroughly examined and blood pressure is taken as a routine part of the physical examination once the kitty is 7 years of age or older. If your vet is not taking routine blood pressures on your cat and he is over the age of 7, I advise you push for it. Blood pressure is easily and quickly read with a device called a Pet MAP.
If dentistry is recommend for your kitty, do not hesitate, as poor dental health in cats is far more than just a case of bad breath: it is a source of stress and pain, as well as a major contributor to the most common cause of death in cats, kidney failure.
If your cat is determined to be obese, take it seriously, especially if the idea of giving your cat insulin injections two times daily is not appealing to you. Weightloss can be achieved through portion control, weightloss diets, and encouraging exercise with laser pointers, cat toys, and kitty jungle gyms.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.