Why looking into your cat’s eyes can be an early warning on health problems

Guest editor Alison has another great story for you! It’s about why looking into your cat’s eyes, observing changes, and seeing the vet once a year is vital to your cat’s health and well being. We think you’ll enjoy this story and learn a few new things too.


CATS DON’T WEAR SUNGLASSES

I went to the local shelter looking for a black and white male kitten, but the only one there had already been chosen. There were SO many kittens in need of homes I couldn’t just leave. I sat on a chair inside the glassed in kitten room while all the furry bundles of energy ran and played around me. Soon a small black female climbed into my lap, grabbed the metal tab and unzipped my jacket. I could hear laughter from outside the enclosure and smiled. I knew I had been chosen. Tommy Lee Jones (Cat in Black) came home with me that day.

Many kittens leave shelters either recovering from, or incubating an upper respiratory infection (URI). Of course, I took Tommy to my vet right away for a checkup and she received a clean bill of health. However, I also kept her isolated from my other cats until I felt sure she wasn’t harboring a latent infection that could harm them.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) cats are less likely than dogs to have annual physical exams. In fact, overall veterinary visits for cats decreased 13.5% from 2006 to 2011, while visits for dogs increased 9.2% during the same time period. (https://www.avma.org/news/pressroom/pages/Dog-veterinary-care.aspx) Although there are many possible explanations for the decline, a likely reason is a cat’s natural ability to hide symptoms of ill health. In fact, we may not realize our cats are sick until a disease has progressed significantly. Although there is no substitute for a thorough veterinary exam we can help cats achieve longer healthier lives by becoming more observant as we interact with our feline companions. Even subtle changes could be significant.

These include:

  1. changes in food or water consumption
  2. weight gain or loss
  3. skin flakes, itchiness and/or hair loss
  4. changes in the eyes

Who can resist marveling over the beauty of a cat’s eyes? But how often do we look for subtle signs of disease in these windows to their souls?

Over the years I started noticing some brown flecks of color in the light green iris of Tommy’s left eye. At first I thought the change was my imagination. Had the flecks always been there? Then a small amount of ocular discharge appeared. She didn’t act as if the eye was painful or irritated, but a visit to the veterinary clinic was definitely in order. Fortunately it was nothing serious. The overall condition was diagnosed as iris melanosis. If the spots had been raised, rather than flat, she might have lost an eye to cancer. He suspected that part of her problem was a herpes virus (not contagious to humans) most likely acquired from an upper respiratory infection (URI) as a young kitten. Herpes virus can remain latent until stress or illness trigger the recurrence of clinical signs.

Tommy’s eyes are now examined regularly to be sure the pigmented areas do not become raised. She is also taking an amino acid supplement, L-lysine, to reduce the likelihood of herpes flare ups and potential corneal ulcers. However, I still can’t convince her to wear sunglasses.

Alison W. Certified Veterinary Technician, Reiki Master

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