‘In touch’ with your cat’s health

Regular visits to the veterinarian are an essential part of keeping your cat healthy. An excellent way for you to keep tabs on him in between vet visits is to do your own, nose-to-tail checkups at home.

Get in the habit of running your hands all over your cat’s body whenever he’s cuddling with you or you’re Cat Healthgrooming him. This is the best way to discover problems before they become serious. Call your veterinarian if you find any of these conditions.

Skin deep

While petting your cat, feel for any lumps, scratches, scabs, swelling, or any other irregularities. Dandruff, oily fur, and missing fur can indicate skin or internal problems. Part the fur to look for fleas; specks that look like black pepper are actually “flea dirt” (flea feces that contain your cat’s blood turn red when wet).

Lend

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an ear

The hairless part of your cat’s ears should be clean and odourless. If your cat is having problems, he may shake his head a lot and scratch his ears. Check for flaking, scabs, foul odour, or discharge. If you see a black, gritty substance inside, he probably has ear mites, a parasite that causes severe itching and is contagious to other cats.

Eye spy

Look for bright, clear, evenly focused eyes. Redness, discolouration or discharge, squinting, or the emergence of the third eyelid can signal that your cat has a problem.

Open wide

Healthy gums are pink, pale or bright; red gums may mean something is wrong. Drooling and pawing at the mouth are cause for concern as well. Brown streaks and tartar build-up on the teeth may indicate a dental problem. Your cat’s breath should not be so bad that you can’t stand to have him near you.

Get nosey

Cat’s noses should be clean, and, depending on his activity level and the ambient temperature, his nose may be cold or warm. If he paws at his nose, sneezes frequently, or there is a discharge, contact your veterinarian.

Tall tails

Look under his tail. If you see what looks like grains of rice or spaghetti, contact your veterinarian. Your cat has parasites—some of which may be spread to you or other pets.

Foot the bill

Most cats don’t like to have their feet touched, but if yours doesn’t mind, look for stuck-on litter, torn claws, cuts, swellings, or infections. Also, check your cat’s claws regularly to see if they need to be trimmed; untrimmed claws can inadvertently scratch you, get caught on carpet and furniture, and grow into the paw.

Brush it off

If your cat likes to be brushed, finish off your exam with a nice grooming session. Brushing is good for removing loose fur, distributing oils, and stimulating blood flow. Brushing also helps prevent hairballs, which cats cough up when they’ve swallowed too much fur from grooming themselves or another cat in the household.

Book smarts

All owners should have a book on cat care (recommended by a veterinarian) that includes a section on emergency first aid. You should never try to be your own veterinarian, but there are some emergency procedures that could minimise damage and keep your pet relatively comfortable on the way to the veterinarian. Familiarise yourself with these procedures before an emergency happens.

(This article is contributed by Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS). Established in 1954, HSUS seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals; www.hsus.org)