When do you have to take your cat to the vet?
“It’s very simple. When your cat farts once too many.”
That is how I explain it to people in my audience during a lecture. And then people laugh. Because humour helps people to remember what you are saying. And why do I want people to remember this so badly?
You should know, I got very emotional while writing this email. So forgive me if you notice. This is a serious issue: not intercepting pain in cats on time.
It is in fact a requirement to have a cat completely checked for medical problems before you even think about consulting a behavioural professional. I look back on 10 years of guiding people with stories of cats who have a ‘behavioural problem’, whom I immediately advise to go to the vet and have everything medically checked. I’m not exaggerating when I say that at least half or even more of these people come back to me with tragic stories: fatal kidney cancer, cystitis, acute kidney failure, leukaemia, bladder infection, dementia, food allergy, you name it.
Cats are so incredibly good, they are MASTERS in hiding pain.
Why is that? Because cats are naturally solitary hunters. They are completely dependent on themselves to keep themselves safe and secure. If you start limping in the wild or show that you are weak, you will be targeted and that can mean your end.
Your cat is programmed to not show pain
The only thing we have: our gut feeling and the observation of a tiny change in their behaviour.
Often it’s very subtle:
“Yeah, she’s acting a little quieter than usual.”
“She peed on the bed, she normally never does that.”
“He suddenly aggressively bit my legs yesterday, I got scared because I don’t know him that way.”
Or sometimes even so clear but still without an alarm bell:
“My cat’s been peeing outside of its litter tray for 7 months, it’s driving me crazy, it has got to stop or she’s got to go!”
“My cat has been meowing with a razor-sharp meow for weeks, even when we’re in another room.”
Your cat can endure high levels of pain without giving a sound, so the moment a change in behaviour becomes visible, it is often a step too far and they are possibly already going through pain one way or another. And we as humans can take a pain killer when we have a headache, your cat does not have a medicine cabinet, we are her sole caregiver and responsible for noticing in time.
What we know is that many unwanted behaviours in cats are caused by pain and discomfort.
I’m having a hard time with that. And I want the negligence to change.
– Owners who wait months to think about where this changed or undesirable behaviour comes from or what it could mean.
– Owners asking a question on our Facebook community first, “Hey, what’s up with my cat?” and then sharing a video of a cat suffering. Really, I don’t get it, that is why we have a very strict rule to NOT ask medical questions online, you consult your vet first.
– Owners with the best intentions are forwarded to us by the veterinarian who sometimes did not even examine the cat but just said on the phone: “Ah, that sounds like a behavioural problem, just call Anneleen”.
– Owners who don’t understand that when their cat has been behaving aggressively or antisocially for six months, it could be pain or illness.
– Vets who advise to ‘wait a few more days’, while the next day the cat has to go straight in because of some acute organ failure.
– Abnormal behaviour considered being funny
I hereby make an important and emotional appeal: let’s put an end to this together. Please…
To owners: Constantly pay attention to the slightest change in your cat’s behaviour. Be observant, be aware of abnormalities and do not hesitate to take your cat to your vet. Follow your gut feeling and even exaggerate if you need to to get in, you can never be too sure. Your vet does not want to do extra testing? Then go for a second opinion, that will not hurt anybody. You owe it to your cat. You have to fight!
To vets: You guys make a big difference! And thank you for everything you do every single day. But for cats it is sometimes not enough to just wait until an owner comes to you. Ask cat owners pro-actively if they notice (small) changes in the cat’s behaviour, don’t be afraid to ‘hunt people down’, go to the bone to find out that every cat that comes into your practice has no hidden pain or disease.
If an owner comes to you who talks (or complains) about changed behaviour, that’s your cue, you go to the end of the earth to find out what is wrong instead of ‘wait another day’, or ‘go to a therapist’. Give cats sufficient post-operative pain relief, even if they show no signs of obvious pain.
To cat professionals: with the slightest indication about abnormal behaviour, you advise the client to go to the vet as this may indicate a medical problem. You can make a big difference helping that cat. Convince the client with the info from this email: cats don’t show hurt, only deviant behaviour.
To Catfluencers: Inform your network that if they notice changes in character, behaviour, reactions and social relationships between cats, they should immediately go to the vet and ask for more than a clinical examination, further blood and urine tests are necessary and if necessary extra scans if not sure.
You are not sure and nothing is found? Talk to your vet to give a preventive painkiller. It is not a permanent solution, but then you know you have to look further for the medical cause. I’ve had dozens of situations where the ‘undesirable behaviour’ stopped immediately.
We owe it to cats to protect them from pain and disease. That starts with the slightest change in their behaviour.
We have to start taking this seriously. Spread the word.
Love, Anneleen ♡
PS: For people who feel emotions of shock, fear, disillusionment or frustration when reading this message know that this email is written with so much love. Breathe through your emotion and discuss it with a loved one and find out where the emotion comes from. Whatever you have been through, as an owner or professional, it is ok to feel what you’re feeling. The important thing is that you do something with it towards the future, you can make a difference now.
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