Caring for a Cat: Learn About Taking Care of Your Cat's Health

Veterinarian Jon Geller takes the case of one feline patient over 15 years to discuss common cat health problems and how to prevent and treat them.

| August/September 2001

I walked into the Morales' barn to visit one of my favorite patients, Chico, a 15-year-old, orange, short-haired male cat. Chico had been losing weight and drinking more water for several months. His coat was dry and ragged, and he'd become shockingly thin. This worried me because changes in body weight are the most significant indicator of underlying disease in cats, and I estimated Chico to weigh no more than six pounds. I scratched his head and lifted him out of the wheelbarrow where he was crouched like a roasting turkey, then took him inside to get an accurate weight.

The Moraleses offered me some hot coffee, and I turned to the torn, coffee-stained folder that contained Chico's medical records before completing Chico's exam on the kitchen table. Normally feisty and resistant, Chico didn't resist my probing. His eyes seemed glazed over as he stared ahead.

According to his owners, Chico had not eaten anything in several days, not even the tuna fish and turkey offered in place of his regular diet. I pushed my fingers behind his prominent ribs, and could feel two very small, irregular kidneys.

Chico was in kidney failure, an irreversible and devastating disease. As toxins build up in the blood stream, overwhelming nausea causes vomiting and loss of appetite. Neurotoxins cause disorientation and induce a comatose-like state. Valuable proteins in the bloodstream are lost through the kidneys, causing a downward spiral of weight loss and weakness. It is inhumane to allow any cat to endure the end stage effects of renal failure.

I stared down at Chico's folder, planning my words carefully before telling the Morales about his death sentence. We had all been through a lot together. I perused his record, amazed at what he had survived:

June 1986: Feline Leukemia

I first met Chico when he was a four-month-old kitten living in the barn with his littermates. As I scruffed him for an exam, I noticed his eyes matted with discharge, his breathing noisy and congested. His coat was unkempt and disheveled. Like many barn cats, he had never been vaccinated.

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