Cats Hide Illness

Watch Carefully for Clues

If I could change one thing about cats it would be their communication skills. They are certainly a social species but in rather different ways than dogs and humans-the champions of chatter. Many cat lovers treasure their pets’ aloofness. Few cats  nag. Well, the Nichol family cats do but that’s because we reinforce their bad habits by capitulating to their whims.

That cool feline exterior is actually an evolutionary adaptation; betraying a lameness or other infirmity could be a fatal mistake if predators are lurking. But for a house cat, with no risk of becoming lunch, suffering in silence is more liability than strength.

Tracy was a 6 year old tortoise shell kitty who arrived on my exam table with the vague owner observation that she hadn’t eaten much in several days and had vomited a few more times than usual. This feline beauty, a bit thin at first glance, winced-but only a little-when I palpated her abdomen. I got more concerned when listening for gut sounds with my stethoscope revealed silence. Tracy’s dehydration was just one more unwelcome sign.

My patient’s x-rays showed an indistinct fluid pattern but it was the microscopic exam of the sample we rinsed from inside her abdomen that made the diagnosis. Bacteria and white blood cells by the carload from a body compartment that should be a sterile could mean only one thing: septic peritonitis. With no visible skin wounds it could only have been caused by an internal injury. Without quick action Tracy wouldn’t make it.

We got that sweet kitty through surgery but it was touch and go because the damage was already advanced when she first waltzed through the door. She was almost too weak to survive; way too good at her feline failure to communicate. More next week.