Pet Connection: Catch cat illnesses early

Cats are good at hiding signs of illness, and even better at hiding when they’re ill. That’s why we cat owners need to know our cats well, so we can notice the subtle changes that may mean something deadly is brewing.

Learn to know what’s normal for your cat, and what routines he likes to follow. Pay attention to both physical changes, such as a gain or loss in weight, and behavioral ones, especially in these areas:

• Changes in eating habits, especially loss of appetite: Be aware of how much your cat eats and make a mental note of any changes. More than a day without eating is reason for concern. In a multi-cat household of free feeders, you may have a hard time figuring who’s eating what. Make a conscious effort to see each of your cats at the food dish daily, and if you give them canned rations once a day, feed them separately.

• Changes in litter-box habits: Many times, a “behavior” problem is really a health problem, and avoiding the litter box or using it more often than normal is one of the classic symptoms. A cat with an undiagnosed urinary-tract infection or diabetes, for example, may break his normal patterns of litter-box use. He’s not “bad” – he’s sick!

• Changes in drinking habits: Cats drink more in the summer than in the winter, but even taking that into consideration, you should be aware of changes in your cat’s drinking habits – too much or too little.

• Changes in grooming: If you notice your cat looking ill-kempt, he likely has a problem, especially if he’s normally fastidious. Grooming is one of the most important parts of a cat’s routine, and the cat who isn’t taking care of his coat isn’t well.

• Changes in voice: You know what's normal for your cat – how often he pipes up and how he sounds when he does. If your cat is noisier than usual or more quiet or the sounds he makes are different, something is going on.

Wellness examinations (once or even twice a year) are especially important for cats, but cats are statistically less likely than dogs to see a veterinarian at all. That makes keeping an eye on a cat’s physical and behavioral variances even more important.

Taking your cat in for what veterinarians call an “ADR” or “Ain’t Doing Right” visit may seem unnecessary, but any veterinarian and many a cat lover will tell you about cats whose lives were saved (or about the money that was saved) because their owners turned their observations into a veterinary visit and caught something before it got worse.

Cats can be mysterious creatures, but they typically share clues to their secrets. Careful owner observation and some veterinary sleuthing has solved many feline mysteries. Take the time to be a feline health detective, and you and your cat will both be better off!

The buzz

Dog parks continue to grow in popularity

• The concept of a public park dedicated for use by off-leash dogs and their owners is a relatively new one, but it has been popular from the start. The nonprofit Trust for Public Land notes that in 2010 there were 569 off-leash dog parks in the 100 largest cities, and that the growth in the number of dog parks has been 10 times greater than the number of parks dedicated to general use. An article in USA Today noted that the trend is not surprising, given that more households today have dogs than have children.

• Rattlesnakes working for the good of humankind? Yes, say researchers from the University of Maryland. That's because a single snake is responsible for removing 2,500 to 3,500 potentially disease-carrying ticks a year, along with the small mammals that are the snake's prey. So, thank a snake ... but not too closely.