Cat care – Winter blues

Now that the cold has arrived and the winter months are upon us, we need to ensure that our feline friends are well looked after.

Arthritis is common in cats, particularly in senior cats. However, the signs of arthritis in cats are subtle and can be difficult to recognise and arthritis has therefore become one of the least diagnosed syndromes in cats. Often, cat owners simply think their senior cat is “slowing down” because of age. In fact, these cats may very well be less active because of the joint pain they are experiencing.

Arthritis is a degenerative disease of the joints, frequently seen in middle aged to older cats.
Arthritis can cause a great deal of pain. However, cats rarely show any signs of pain. While it is possible to see an arthritic cat limping, this is not the typical presentation of arthritis in cats. In this, cats differ from their canine counterparts. Cats often attempt to mask the signs of arthritis.

Symptoms associated with arthritis in cats may be:

  • lower level of activity
  • sleeping more often
  • interacting less often with human family members and other pets
  • reluctance to jump onto surfaces at heights which were once readily accessible
  • urinating and/or defecating outside of the litter box, particularly if the litter box has
    high sides which the arthritic cat has difficulty climbing over
  • reluctance to cover feces or urine in the litter box
  • hissing when getting up
  • lack of appetite

Radiographs are the most commonly used and often the most useful diagnostic test to determine whether a cat has arthritis. Commonly hips and stifles are involved. Spinal arthritis is also possible, as is arthritis within the elbow or shoulder.

Although arthritis can’t be cured, it can be managed:

  • dietary supplements which decrease inflammation. Common examples include
    glucosamine, chondroitin and omega-3 fatty acids – technyflex.
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications.
  • Acupuncture or heat therapy

Cat flu can be seen all year round, it is a condition that can afflict many cats and is often poorly understood. Cat flu (also known as upper respiratory tract disease) is a general term used to describe a common set of symptoms of the upper respiratory tract. The symptoms are similar to that of a cold or flu in humans. The most common causes are feline herpes virus (FHV), feline calicivirus (FCV), Bordetella bronchiseptica, and feline Chlamydophila
(Chlamydophila felis).

Many of the causes of cat flu have overlapping symptoms. However, some causes have individual symptoms. For example, mouth ulcers are often seen in a cat with feline calicivirus, whereas eye ulcers are seen with feline herpes virus. A thick, sticky eye discharge also occurs with cat flu. Sneezing and nasal discharge are common symptoms of
cat flu. Cats can come down with fevers, loss of appetite and general malaise.

Treatment depends on the cause of the cat flu. There are no drugs to treat viral infections, and supportive care is necessary. This includes keeping the nose clear of discharge. Often eye creams are used to help the discharge and ulcerations. Even if the cause is viral,
antibiotics may be prescribed to protect against secondary bacterial infections.

Remember that this disease syndrome can be vaccinated against and it’s important to keep up the annual check up and vaccinations with your vet to prevent any occurrences.

Winter is also a good time to remind yourself to keep your cats locked up especially at nights. Most cat fights also occur during the night hours. Cats are very territorial by nature, and may believe a wide area around their actual home is their territory. It doesn’t stop at
the fence erected by the humans! In the cat’s viewpoint, they may believe they own the whole street, and attack any cat that ventures near! These bites and scratches commonly develop into swollen, infected abscesses, requiring pain relief, antibiotic treatment and
surgery for drainage. Desexing your cat will certainly help in preventing these catfights, but will not stop them occurring completely. Thus prevention is by keeping your cat inside
during the most common cat attack times- at night! This will also keep your neighbours happier- no one likes to be woken at night hearing hissing and growling outside their bedroom window! They will also be more prone to catching worms and fleas if venturing
out a lot, so ensure that you are up to date with monthly flea products and 3 monthly worming.

Cat fights can also transmit the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) from one infected cat to another, which attacks the cat’s immune system. This lowered immunity causes it to become more susceptible to diseases another cat would be able to recover from. We have
had an increasing number of FIV positive cats throughout the Albury area in recent years. It can also be vaccinated against, but if you have a mature cat it might need prior testing before going on a vaccination regime.

So keep your cats inside, nice and warm, this winter to prevent all of the above.