Category: cat

Eye medication: how to give to your cat

Eye problems in cats are quite common. Tears quickly wash out any treatment put in the eye so eye drops need to be given several times a day. This means you will have to learn how to give the treatment at home.

Some drops only need to be given once a day, others up to six times daily. Always follow the instructions given to you by your vet very carefully. Never give more than the recommended dose and, if at all possible, try not to miss treatments.

You will find it easier to hold your cat at a comfortable working height. Try placing your cat on a table or raised surface. If the surface is slippery, put a carpet tile or towel down so that your cat feels more secure. If your cat struggles a lot, you may need to wrap your cat in a towel or blanket to prevent them scratching you. You will need to get a friend to help you – one of you will hold the cat whilst the other steadies the head and puts the drops into the eye.

  • The person holding the cat should grip the cat’s head firmly under the chin and tilt the head upwards.
  • The other person holds the dropper bottle in one hand and opens the cat’s eye using the thumb and forefinger of the other hand.
  • Position the dropper bottle a few centimetres above the eye and squeeze gently to release the right number of drops.
  • Avoid touching the eye with the bottle nozzle.

Ointments and creams are slightly more difficult to apply because they are thick like toothpaste.

  • Hold the cat and open its eye as above.
  • Holding the tube of ointment above the eye, squeeze out some ointment and let it drop onto the eye to lie between the lids.
  • Detach this ‘worm’ of ointment from the tube by pulling the ointment down against the lower lid.
  • Always avoid touching the eye with the nozzle.

As long as the treatment falls on the eye somewhere it does not matter where. When your cat blinks the drug will spread all over the surface of the eye.

The eye is one of the most sensitive parts of the body and putting anything into an eye may cause discomfort. However, eye drops and ointments are designed for use in the eye and any discomfort will be slight. Your cat may blink a lot or have a ‘watery eye’ for a few moments after you have put the drops in.

On rare occasions your cat may paw at the eye(s), rub its face along the floor or the white of the eye may become red and sore. If so, stop the treatment immediately and contact your vet.

Always continue the treatment for as long as your vet recommends. Eye problems often appear to get better very quickly once treatment starts but if you stop treatment too soon the problems may come back.

Most owners get quite good at giving eye drops with a bit of practice, but if you really can’t do it yourself tell your vet. They may be able to prescribe a different drug which does not need to be given so often or which can be given by mouth instead. In some cases a nurse may be able to help you, or your cat could be admitted for a few days to be given treatment.

Corneal ulcers – a sore eye

Although cat’s eyes have a number of differences which improve night vision, the basic structure is much the same as a human’s. Consequently cats can suffer a similar range of eye diseases to humans. Because the eye is complicated, delicate and very sensitive, all eye problems require immediate veterinary attention. One of the most common eye problems in cats is a corneal ulcer.

A corneal ulcer is a hole in the clear covering of the front of the eyeball (the cornea). Sometimes only the top layer of the cornea is affected but the damage may go deeper and be more difficult to treat. There will often be a layer of dead tissue over the wound and the surface of the eye may appear cloudy. Usually ulcers increase in size slowly but on rare occasions the wound can become infected with dangerous bacteria. These bacteria can produce chemicals which eat away at the surrounding normal tissue causing permanent blindness within a few hours.

In many cases the cause of the ulcer is uncertain. Most are caused by a scratch from another cat during a fight or something rubbing on the eye such as a piece of grit or grass seed caught under the eyelid or eyelashes or hairs growing in the wrong place on the eyelid. Bacterial or viral infections can cause damage to a normal eye as well as making problems worse following physical injury.

Ulcers can be very painful and your cat may hide or become unusually aggressive if it has one. The affected eye is usually very watery unless the ulcer is caused by a lack of tears. Your cat may blink frequently and the membranes around the eye may appear red and inflamed. Sometimes the third eyelid (a protective membrane under the main eyelids) will cover the surface of the eye when the eye is open.

Your vet will try to identify the cause of the ulcer in order to choose the best treatment. The eye must be examined carefully to make sure there is nothing rubbing against the eye. Local anaesthetic drops may be put in the eye to make your dog more comfortable whilst the eye is examined.

Your vet will then put a few drops of dye into the eye. This dye sticks to the damaged areas and will show your vet how far the corneal ulcer extends.

The choice of treatment depends on the type of injury and how far it extends. A foreign body (like a grass seed) in the eye can be removed.

For minor ulcers you may be given a cream or eyedrops to speed up the healing process.

If the damage is more severe your vet may need to keep your cat so that an anaesthetic can be given. During the operation any dead tissue will be cut away and a protective layer put over the wound to encourage it to heal. The third eyelid may be sewn across the eye until the ulcer has healed or a clear soft contact lens can be fitted.

An Elizabethan collar may be necessary to prevent your cat rubbing the eye and causing further damage. Antibiotic drops or cream help tackle any infection and other drugs may be used to reduce the inflammation. As the eye heals, the area around the ulcer may become redder and small blood vessels start to grow across the eye surface to help the healing process.

Your vet may ask you to put drops or ointment into your cat’s eye to help with healing. This is relatively straightforward in most cats with a bit of practice.

  1. You will need someone to help you hold your cat firmly.
  2. Then you should grasp your cat’s head with your left hand and tilt it upwards.
  3. With the thumb and finger of the holding hand, the eyelids should be pulled gently apart and the medication given with the other hand.
  4. The tip of the tube should be held parallel with the eye surface, not pointed directly at it.
  5. A squirt of cream or a few drops of fluid are carefully placed on the surface of the eye
  6. The eyelids are closed and rubbed gently to spread the medication over the whole surface of the eyeball. Be careful not to touch the surface of the eye with the tip of the dropper or tube because this may damage the eye or spread bacteria from the eye back into the contents of the bottle.

The likelihood of successful treatment depends on the type of ulcer and how advanced the condition has become. Early treatment gives the best chance of a good recovery. When the ulcer has healed there may be a small indentation or white scar left on the eye surface, but this is unlikely to affect your cat’s eyesight.

If your cat’s eyes appear sore or red or if any abnormal discharges are present you should make an appointment to see your vet immediately.

Conjunctivitis in cats

If your cat has a sore or red eye, or there is discharge from the eye, then it is important to contact your vet. Your cat may have an infection in the eye, but a discharge can also be caused by a foreign body (such as a grass seed) caught under the eyelid. It is important that diseases of the eye are treated quickly to prevent any permanent damage being done.

The conjunctiva is the pinkish surface surrounding the eyeball. The third eyelid is an extra protective eyelid in the cat and is also covered by conjunctiva. In normal cats the conjunctiva is not readily visible. In conjunctivitis this membrane is inflamed and becomes red and swollen. Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes.

Cats with conjunctivitis usually have a discharge from their eye(s). This can be clear and watery or thick and greeny/yellow in colour. The conjunctiva is often more visible and may be swollen, partially covering the eye. The eye(s) may be held half closed and the third eyelid is more prominent.

A number of different conditions will cause conjunctivitis. Many are sudden in onset and easily treatable. Others cause a long term disease which can be more difficult to control.

  1. Irritants, trauma (e.g. cat fights) and foreign bodies (e.g. grass seeds) can cause conjunctivitis. In most cases treatment is rapidly effective once the cause has been removed.
  2. The most common causes of conjunctivitis in cats are infectious agents. These can be viruses (usually one of the cat flu viruses), bacteria and a group of organisms which resemble bacteria (most commonly Chlamydia).
  3. Disease of the immune system can also cause conjunctivitis. These diseases are rare in cats but can be difficult to treat.

Usually your vet will be able to tell that your cat has conjunctivitis by a simple examination. They will want to examine the eye closely to ensure there is no damage nor foreign body. If there is no obvious traumatic cause most cases will respond to drops or ointment containing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. If a foreign body is present then this obviously needs to be removed.

If the signs are not getting better with a few days treatment, or appear to improve only to get worse again when treatment stops, more investigation is required. Your vet will want to take a swab from the conjunctiva to look for infection. In some cases a blood sample may also be required.

If there is no infection then it can be helpful to look at a sample of cells from the conjunctiva. This sample is obtained by gently scraping the surface of the conjunctiva with a cotton wool swab or spatula. If a larger sample is required, then a section of conjunctiva taken surgically may be necessary.

In most cases conjunctivitis is treated by application of drops or ointments to the eye. Sometimes with particularly stubborn infections antibiotic treatment may also need to be given by injection or tablet.

If you are able to treat your cat’s eyes this can be done at home but regular treatment is essential. Most drops or ointments need to be administered at least 3-6 times a day. Two people are usually required to give drops to a cat, one to hold them still and the other to give the treatment. If you have any doubts as to how to give the medication prescribed, please ask your veterinary practice to give a demonstration. If you are unable to treat your cat appropriately your vet may arrange to keep it in the hospital for a few days to ensure that effective treatment is given.

Cataracts in cats

Cataract is a disease of the lens of the eye in which the normally clear lens becomes opaque or white. You may see the whiteness of the eye when you look at your cat. This interferes with vision and can result in blindness. In some cases, if the cataract is causing significant problems, an eye specialist may be able to operate on the eye to remove the cataract.

Light enters through the front of the eye and is focused by the clear lens onto the retina, at the back of the eye. Information from the retina is transmitted to the brain when processing occurs.

For the lens to work correctly it must be perfectly clear. When a cataract develops, the lens becomes opaque (like frosted glass) or even completely white. Light cannot pass through so well and vision is reduced. Severe cataracts cause blindness.

Cataracts most commonly develop in cats after severe inflammation in the eye, or as a result of poisonings or nutritional imbalances. Some cats are born with cataracts or develop them soon after birth and they may develop due to nutritional abnormalities, or trauma. Diabetes mellitus is a common cause of cataract in dogs but it rarely causes cataract in cats. Lens opacification increases with age and almost all older cats will be affected to some degree although this may not affect their lifestyle at all.

Usually owners are alerted to the fact that their pet may have a problem when they notice a whiteness of the eye. If eye disease develops gradually animals are often able to adapt well and use their other senses to help them get around. Cats have very good hearing and a sense of smell and can use these to compensate for poor vision to some extent. In familiar surroundings it may be almost impossible to tell that a pet cannot see. If you are worried about your pet’s vision you can test it yourself using some simple exercises:

  1. Observe your cat carefully in the home environment and out of doors
    Does he appear to be having any visual difficulty?
  2. Throw light, silent objects (e.g. a ball of cotton wool) in front of your cat’s eyes
    Does he see and follow these?
  3. Construct a small obstacle course in the home, or move furniture around and away from the usual positions
    Does he see and avoid these obstacles the first time?

Repeat the above tests in daylight and in subdued lighting.

If you are concerned about the results of the report them to your veterinary surgeon and ask for a check-up for your pet. Diagnosis is usually straightforward, and based upon visual testing and examination of the eye by a vet/ophthalmologist. Additional tests may be required to check for other causes and other eye diseases.

Cataracts are treated by removing the lens from the eye. The lens is surgically removed by a specialist eye surgeon. There are several different techniques but one of the most popular is known as phacoemulsification (the use of ultrasound waves to break up the cataract). Once the lens has been broken up fragments can be removed through a small incision in the eye. Other surgical techniques are also possible and may be indicated in certain cases, eg when lens of the eye has become displaced.

Following surgery the aftercare is very important. Eye drops may be required for several months and must be applied regularly at home. If cataracts are present in both eyes, they may be removed at the same time, thus avoiding the need for further surgery in the future.

Poisoning

Poisoning can occur if a poisonous substance is swallowed (solids or liquids), breathed in (gases) or absorbed through the skin (normally liquids). Poisons are substances that damage the cells in the body. In order to cause harm they must enter or come into contact with the body.

Many poisons are products we use every day and can be found in food, medications, household and garden substances. Accidental poisoning in cats is usually caused by substances we commonly have around the house, e.g. human medications and pest control products.

Almost all cases of poisoning are accidental so the best way to prevent poisoning is to ensure that all poisons are kept out of sight and reach of your pets (and children):

  • Dispose of unwanted medicines safely.
  • Read the product label and follow the instructions for correct use.
  • Ensure lids are replaced correctly to prevent spillage if the container is knocked over.
  • Clean up drips and spills promptly.
  • Dispose of empty containers and waste food safely.
  • Put pest control products in pet-proof containers before putting them out.

Younger animals are more likely to be affected as often chew strange objects. Cats are less likely to be poisoned than dogs as they are naturally more suspicious of novel substances. Cats may be poisoned by licking off substances spilt on, or applied to, their coat.

In many cases of poisoning the owners are aware that their pet has eaten, or been in contact with, something unusual before signs of illness develop. You should be worried that your pet might have been poisoned if they suddenly develop severe clinical signs, or if they become ill with breathing difficulties, seizures or severe vomiting and diarrhoea.

Every poison produces different effects and a poisoned pet may show a number of signs such as:

  • Restlessness or drowsiness
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Salivation or drooling from the mouth
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Muscle tremors, twitching or seizures
  • Confusion, changes in behaviour or an abnormal reaction to sound or light
  • Hallucinations
  • Wobbly gait (ataxia)
  • Changes in gum colour to blue, pale or even very red
  • Unusual odours or smells (either on the breath or from contamination on the skin)
  • Bite marks – poison can result from a bite or a sting
  • Burns to the mouth or the tongue
  • Irritation or inflammation of the skin
  • Foreign material passed in the stools

A rapid response is critical in cases of poisoning. If you suspect that your cat may have been poisoned:

  • Protect your pet and remove it from the source of the intoxication
  • If you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from the pet’s mouth
  • Don’t let other people handle your pet (disorientated or frightened animals may become aggressive and other people may be contaminated with the poison)
  • Allow your dog to drink water, which may dilute ingested poisons
  • Contact your vet for further advice and be prepared to take your pet and the suspect material or product to the hospital

The sooner a poisoned animal receives treatment, the higher its chances of recovery. If you think that your pet has been poisoned then contact your veterinary emergency service immediately; your pet’s life may well depend on it. It is always better to phone in advance to warn the surgery that you are on your way. This will give them time to prepare everything they need and for you to check that there is someone available at the surgery to help you.

In most cases the best course of action is to get your pet to the veterinary surgery as soon as possible. However, in some cases you may be advised to give some immediate first-aid treatment at home. If your pet is already showing signs of poisoning do not attempt to make it vomit or drink anything but seek immediate veterinary care.

If your pet has a toxic substance on its skin or coat the worst of the contamination may be washed off to reduce further absorption. Protective clothing must be worn and only water should be used. Make sure you do not get contaminated in the process.

If a poison has been eaten in the last 2 hours it may be possible to remove it from the stomach by making the animal vomit. If your pet has swallowed a corrosive or petroleum-based substance, e.g. some solvent-based paints, some toilet cleaners, some drain cleaners, petrol, turpentine substitute (white spirit) do not induce vomiting (as this may cause further damage to the throat if the substance is brought up). Instead wash the mouth and face with water and give milk or water to drink (within 10 minutes of your pet swallowing the substance).

It is only safe to make your pet vomit if it:

  • Is conscious
  • Is alert or only mildly depressed
  • Has an intact gag reflex, ie gags when you place your fingers at the back of its throat
  • Is known not to have ingested corrosive (caustic) or petroleum-based substance

Never induce vomiting if your pet:

  • Has already been sick
  • Is unconscious, very sleepy or depressed
  • Has eaten a corrosive (acidic or alkaline) product (highly corrosive products can do more damage if vomited up)
  • Has eaten a petroleum-based product (volatile products can do more damage if vomited up)

Do not try to make your cat vomit (unless specifically instructed to do so by your vet), particularly if the agent or timing of exposure is uncertain. If you are able to make your cat vomit or it has already vomited, collect a sample and take it to your vet in case it is required for identification of possible intoxicant.

Never give salt water to make your cat vomit; this is potentially very dangerous and can cause salt poisoning. Washing soda can be used on the advice of your vet – give as big a piece as you can get down the animal’s throat. Place the crystal over the back of your pet’s tongue so that it is swallowed. Your pet should vomit within 5 minutes – if not you can repeat this once. If your pet will not be sick do not keep giving further doses as soda crystals can themselves be poisonous.

Note: It is essential to use washing soda (soda crystals) and not caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) as this is very corrosive and will cause serious injury.

If you have any doubts – do not make your cat vomit.

On arrival at the veterinary surgery someone will assess your cat immediately and make sure that its condition is stable before any other treatments are instigated. Your vet will want to know:

  • If your pet has known access to possible poisons
  • If so, what poison – is a sample or container available?
  • When your pet had access to the poison – how long ago?
  • How much was eaten or drunk – how much is missing from the container?
  • Has your pet shown any signs of being unwell?
  • If your pet is receiving any medication or has any pre-existing medical conditions?

If you are able to take a sample of the poison or any packaging associated with it then this may help your vet to provide the best care for your pet.

One of the most common causes of accidental poisoning in dogs is owners giving human medication to their pet for pain relief. Never give medication to your pet unless instructed to do so by your vet.

Ibuprofen

Although this painkiller can be bought in any chemist for humans it is extremely toxic to cats. Just one tablet can cause stomach ulceration, liver damage, kidney failure and death. It is one of the most common causes of poisoning in cats.

Paracetamol

Cats cannot break down paracetamol safely and toxins quickly build up to dangerous levels. Cats are particularly susceptible to paracetamol poisoning – as little as half a 500mg tablet can kill an adult cat.

Slug pellets

The most common active ingredient in slug pellets is metaldehyde. The poison causes excitement and seizures followed by depression and collapse. Avoid the use of chemicals in the garden if you have pets or confine your pets indoors or fence off treated areas.

Rat poison

Many rat poisons contain anticoagulants (such as difenacoum or bromadialone). Cats are most likely to be poisoned by eating a rodent already poisoned. Animals remain well for several days after eating the bait as the poison takes effect. Repeated small doses are more toxic than a single large dose. Signs include depression, weakness, breathing problems, and prolonged bleeding from any minor wounds or abrasions. Poisoned animals can bleed to death without treatment.

Cannabis

Cannabis rarely causes serious side-effects. Most affected animals become excited and may salivate a lot. Sometimes affected pets will seem disorientated and may hallucinate – just as in people, appetite may be increased.

Food stuffs (Raisins, Onions and Chocolate)

Pets can be poisoned by human foodstuffs and these poisonings can be fatal. Raisins (and sultanas, currants and grapes) cause damage to the kidneys, chocolate poisoning affects the brain and the heart, and onion poisoning can cause anaemia. In animals which are susceptible to these poisonings even a small amount (a piece of fruit cake, a few squares of dark chocolate) can have serious effects.

Adder bites

The only native venomous snake in the UK is the European Adder. Snake bites are most common in late spring and summer when the snakes are active. Cats can become unwell very quickly after an adder bite with pain and progressive local swelling. Treatment often includes administration of antivenom.

Permethrin flea treatment (Bob Martin) for dogs

Many flea treatments for dogs contain permethrin. Cats are usually poisoned when their owner treats them with the dog formulation by mistake or when a cat comes into contact with a treated dog. Affected cats become excited and may develop seizures. Without supportive care these cats can die but can recover if treatment is begun quickly enough. Recovery can take several days.

Lilies

Plant poisonings are more common in cats than in dogs. In particular, indoor cats will often nibble at house plants. Lilies (including Easter lilies, stargazer lilies, tiger lilies, oriental lilies and day lilies) seem to be particularly attractive to cats. Unfortunately even a little of this plant is extremely toxic to the kidneys. Prompt treatment is essential in all cases of lily exposure.

Anti-freeze (ethylene glycol)

Antifreeze is palatable to cats. The initial signs are very non-specific (vomiting, wobbliness/weakness, thirst) and are easily missed, particularly in cats. These are followed by kidney failure, seizures and coma. Treatment with an antidote may be possible but only if started very soon after ingestion. Most cases of ethylene glycol poisoning in cats have a poor outcome.

Toad poisoning

In the UK the common toad is relatively harmless but all toads have glands in their skin which secrete unpleasant substances. Animals that have put toads in their mouth show excessive salivation and may paw at their mouth. Usually the signs resolve without treatment (pets may appreciate having their mouth washed out with a hose). In more severe poisonings signs include weakness, limb swelling and seizures.

Fitting in cats – an emergency?

If you have witnessed an animal or person having a seizure (convulsion or fit), you will know how frightening it can appear. An animal suffering a generalised seizure (also known as grand mal seizure) will be unconscious. They may show violent, rhythmic movement of their legs, excessive drooling and twitching of the face and jaws. Some animals cry out and it is not uncommon for them to lose control of their bladder or bowels.

Although time seems to slow down when you are faced with a seizuring animal most seizures only last for 2 minutes or less. Seizures are not common in cats and some cats will have only one seizure in a lifetime. Remember your cat does not know what it is doing during a seizure so it is important to keep you and your pet safe.

The most important thing is to stay calm. Remember that your cat is not in pain or distressed during the seizure itself. The seizure is likely to be more distressing for you than your pet. Ensure your cat is in a safe place, i.e. not at the top of a flight of stairs and then do not intervene further or you may get hurt.

It is a good idea to have a plan that you can enact every time your pet has a seizure. If everyone in the family knows what to do in advance they will be less alarmed when a seizure starts. Print out the seizure plan and pin it in a prominent place in the house so everyone can access it in an emergency.

During the seizure keep notes as these may be helpful to your vet later on – write down the time the seizure started and finished and what your pet did during the seizure.

If your cat stops seizuring within 5 minutes allow them time to recover quietly. Immediately following the seizure your pet may show some strange behaviours and may be abnormal for minutes to hours after. If this is the first seizure your cat has had you should contact your vet and let them know. Your vet may ask you to bring your cat into the next routine appointment for a check and some routine blood tests. It is far better for your cat to recover quietly at home rather than be bundled into the car and carted off to the vet right away.

If your cat continues to have an active seizure as described above for more than 5 minutes or fails to recover fully before another seizure starts, or has repeated seizures within hours of one another, then you should contact your vet immediately.

Your vet will give some advice over the phone. If your cat has a history of seizures your vet may have given you medication to keep at home for emergency use. Some drugs (diazepam or valium) can be given per rectum or nasally (i.e. up the nose) and this can be given during a prolonged fit and/or after individual seizures if the cat is predisposed to severe clusters. If you have to give medication by mouth wait until your cat is fully recovered and never try to put tablets in your cat’s mouth while it is still dazed. Your cat may not be sufficiently aware to swallow properly and you may get bitten.

If your cat has more than 3 seizures in a day you should contact your vet for further advice.

If your cat is still having an active seizure after 5 minutes your vet will probably want to see it straight away. Always call your vet’s practice before driving there to be sure that there is someone on hand who can help your pet.

Immediately after a seizure your cat may be very confused and could show strange behaviour such as aimless pacing, wobbliness or a desire to eat and drink excessively. You must be very careful during this time as they can become aggressive.

Most of the time epileptic cats recover perfectly well after a seizure. A very small number of cats die as the result of an injury that has happened because of a seizure. In some cases, cats do die during a seizure without any obvious explanation. Sudden unexplained death in epilespy (SUDEP) also occurs rarely in people affecting 1 in 1000 epileptics. Non-one knows how rare this is in cats.

These directions will help you manage your pet in a safe way during and after a seizure.

Before Seizure

1. Write your vets contact number here so you have it to hand

  • Vets contact details………………………………………….
  • Emergency contact number………………………………..

2. Know where emergency drugs are stored.
3. Instruct all adult members of household how to administer these drugs correctly.

During Seizure

1. Ensure your cat is in a safe place and if necessary move them away from hazards such as the top of stairs.
2. Ensure that any other household pets are shut up away from the seizuring cat. Other animals can become distressed seeing a companion having seizures and may get hurt if they go to investigate. In some cases cats will attack a seizuring companion.
3. Write down start and finish time of seizure. If seizure lasts more than 5 minutes call your vet for advice.

After Seizure

1. Keep other household pets locked away from seizuring cat until it is fully recovered.
2. Keep human contact to a minimum until pet is recovered.
2. Immediately after seizure cats may be hungry, thirsty or need to go out to toilet.
3. Allow animal to fully recover in a quiet peaceful environment but you should expect that your cat may be restless or agitated and may move around a lot so it is important that you provide a safe environment for this.

Fever – is it serious?

Often when you put a hand on your cat it feels warm, particularly on a patch of bare skin. This is because the normal body temperature of a cat is higher than that in people. Body temperature is maintained within a fairly narrow range (between 38.1°C / 100.5°F and 39.2°C / 102.2°F) although it varies slightly during the day, with lowest temperatures recorded in the morning and the highest in the evening. Fever is simply an increase in body temperature and can be seen with many disorders in cats.

Body temperature is kept constant even when the cat is exposed to wide changes in environmental temperature. Any change in body temperature is detected by specialised receptors (thermoreceptors) that send signals to the body organs that are able to lose or generate heat.

If the body temperature goes up, blood flow through the skin increases so that heat is lost from blood flowing near the surface of the cat. In hot conditions the dog will seek out a cool place to lie.

When the environment is cold shivering occurs (because muscle activity increases heat production), cats curl up in a ball and their hair coat becomes erect to trap warm air against the skin.

Since body temperature is so closely controlled in the normal cat a fever is an indicator that something is wrong. In some diseases short fever ‘spikes’ occur (where the temperature is suddenly raised for a short period of time only to drop to normal and then rise again later). In other diseases persistent fever occurs and the temperature is always above normal.

A cat with a fever is usually depressed and may not want to eat but short-term moderate fever does not do any permanent damage to the body. If the fever gets very high (above 41ºC / 105.8°F) body tissues can be damaged and it is important to try to bring the body temperature down. Soaking the coat with cool water and using fans may help but veterinary advice must be sought immediately.

Fortunately it is very rare for body temperature to rise this high and such high temperatures are more often the result of heat stroke or serious seizures (fits) than infections.

Fever is caused by the action of ‘pyrogens’ – substances which change the level at which the body temperature is maintained. Once the ‘normal’ body temperature has been reset, the animal now tries to keep body temperature at a higher level. Pyrogens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, some drugs and natural substances released by the body in response to inflammation.

In many cases a moderate fever can be a good thing. Bacteria may not grow so quickly at higher temperature and so raising body temperature gives the cat a better chance of dealing with the infection. It is not always wise to suppress a fever without trying to find out what has caused it, and it is always better to try to treat the underlying cause if possible.

If you suspect that your cat has a fever you can check their temperature to be sure. Digital thermometers are easy to use and fairly reliable but cats often resent having their temperature taken. If your cat is very quiet they may let you take their temperature – if not you should ask your vet to do this for you.

If your cat’s temperature is high check it again a few hours later (if the temperature rises above 40ºC / 104°F or is persistently higher than normal contact your vet).

Occasionally a falsely low temperature reading is recorded if the thermometer is accidentally inserted into faeces in the rectum – if you think this might have happened check the temperature again after your cat has just passed a motion.

  • Turn on the thermometer (usually by pressing the button on the side).
  • Dip the end of the thermometer into vasoline or similar lubricant.
  • Lift your cat’s tail gently and slowly insert the thermometer into the rectum.
  • Keep the thermometer in place until a steady temperature reading is recorded (most digital thermometers will automatically ‘bleep’ when temperature has been recorded).
  • Remove the thermometer and read the temperature displayed in the small window.
  • Turn off the thermometer and wipe clean before storage.
  • Record the time and date that the temperature was recorded.

The vast majority of fevers in cats are caused by infections of some kind (usually an abscess caused by a bite from another cat). In most cases body temperature returns to normal spontaneously or with the help of antibiotics to control the infection. In some cases fever persists and despite simple tests no obvious cause of the raised temperature is found – in this case the condition is given the name ‘Fever of unknown origin’ or FUO.

There are many different diseases in which fever is the only problem your vet can find on examination. If your cat’s temperature remains high after a few days of treatment your vet may want to undertake further tests to try to identify the cause of the problem.

Investigation of an unexplained fever will usually require blood samples, x-rays and ultrasound, but there may be many more tests that need to be run. Some tests will have to be repeated a number of times in order to confirm or rule out particular diagnosis. Unfortunately investigation often continues for several weeks, may cost many hundreds of pounds and there is no guarantee that a specific diagnosis will be found. However once certain conditions have been eliminated from the checklist it may be possible to try medications to reduce the fever even if the diagnosis is not known.

Never give medications to your cat without veterinary advice because you may mask the signs of a more serious disease and make it harder for your vet to find out what is going on, and many commonly used human drugs (such as paracetamol) are extremely toxic to cats.

In some cats with unexplained fever the fever may resolve without treatment but may then recur months or years later, again with no apparent cause.

Ear disease in your cat

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. Most often ear disease in cats is caused by a type of mite which lives inside the ear canal.

Cats can also get diseases that affect the skin of the ear flap. Solar dermatitis is an irritation caused by sun burn on the ear tips which causes crusting and scabbing. This must be treated early as it can lead to cancer of the ears later in life if left untreated.

Owners may not notice ear disease until it is severe. Your cat may shake its head from side to side, or may be forever stopping to sit down and scratch its ears.

Ear mite infestation tends to make cats scratch at their ears and shake their heads. You may notice a very dark, almost black wax in the ear canals. Some cats produce so much wax that the ear canal becomes totally blocked. However, many cats carry ear mites without showing any signs. Ear mites should always be treated otherwise bacterial infections may develop and aggravate the problem. The lining of the ear is very delicate and a long-standing problem can cause permanent scarring.

Sometimes a cat will shake their head so much that they burst a blood vessel and develop a swelling in their ear flap – a haematoma. If this happens your cat will probably need an operation to drain the swelling.

In many types of infection there is a smelly discharge or the ear canal may be full of black wax. Ear disease can be very painful, sometimes animals with sore ears will sit with their head tilted to one side, they may be off their food or generally miserable.

Even if your cat has had problems with its ears in the past it is very important that your vet examines them each time a problem occurs. There may be damage deep within the ear, or a foreign body such as a grass seed stuck in the ear. If there is something stuck in the ear it can cause permanent damage if not removed.

To examine the ears properly your vet will need to put an instrument called an ‘otoscope’ inside the ear. However, the inside of the ear is very sensitive and many cats will not allow sore ears to be examined unless they have been sedated or even anaesthetised.

Once ear disease develops your cat will need some treatment to stop the irritation. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the problem. Obviously a foreign body will have to be removed, and specific treatment may be required for mites or nasty infections.

When one animal is affected by ear mites it is necessary to treat all the in contact animals in the house, even if they’re not obviously affected. If these are not treated then re-infection is likely. Fortunately the treatment of ear mites in cats is simple. Application of a single ‘spot-on’ treatment to the back of the neck should be sufficient (although the dose may need to be repeated a month later in some cases.

Your vet may need to take samples from your cat’s ear to decide which is the best treatment to give. Treatment is usually with ear drops and possibly also some tablets. However, unless the ear is clean the ear drops cannot work. It may be necessary for your vet to admit your pet to the hospital and clean out its ear canals before treatment starts. In less severe cases, your vet will show you how to use an ear cleaner.

Always make sure you follow your vet’s instructions carefully. You must complete the treatment course even if the ears seem to be much better after one or two days.

No! Never put anything into your pet’s ear without first consulting your vet. Even if the drops were prescribed for your pet in the past they may do more harm than good on this occasion. Many types of ear drop deteriorate once they have been opened, or it may be that the ear problem is caused by something different this time. Remember that ear disease is very itchy and can be very painful – you must always seek veterinary treatment sooner rather than later for the sake of your pet.

It is unlikely that ear disease will get better on its own. The longer you leave it before starting treatment the harder it becomes to clear up the irritation. Each time ear disease develops, more damage is done and eventually the walls of the ear canal may become thickened. This makes further infections more likely as fresh air cannot get to the bottom of the ear canal. When ear disease keeps coming back, surgery may be needed to remove part of the wall of the ear canal so that treatment can get to the site of infection.

Unfortunately some animals are just more prone to ear problems than others. Cats with growths within the ear canal may be at risk of developing repeated infections. Animals with allergies frequently have recurring ear problems. The lining of the ear is like the skin on the rest of the body and can become itchy and inflamed in an allergic cat.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some animals. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

In most cases of ear disease the symptoms will clear up within a few days of treatment starting. Unfortunately this is not the end of the problem. It is highly likely that the problem will come back at some stage in the future and you should be on your guard for it. If the problem recurs, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible because if the disease is allowed to go untreated for any length of time, permanent damage may result.

Ear cleaning

Ear disease is quite common in cats and you should make ear examination part of a weekly health check for your pet. If your cat’s ears look red or sore on the inside, if there is a smell coming from the ears or if your pet is shaking its head excessively then contact your vet for advice. Ear disease can quickly take hold and is unlikely to get better without treatment. If left untreated it can cause permanent damage to the ear canals and make your pet more likely to have further problems in the future.

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear.

There are a variety of things which may irritate your cat’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is also a mite which lives inside ear canals and although this is very common in cats many cats live with this without it causing any problems.

Proper ear cleaning is essential in the management of ear disease. Debris and secretions can accumulate in the ear and this may prevent treatment from reaching deep inside in the ear and some medication may not work in the presence of secretions.

Many cats will not tolerate ear cleaning well unless you have trained them from a young age – if you are finding it very difficult to clean your cat’s ears do not struggle alone. If you are unable to clean your cat’s ears easily you will not do a very good job, and may in fact damage the ears more. If your cat’s ears are very sore, or if your cat is difficult to handle, your vet may need to sedate or anaesthetise your cat in order to be able to clean its ears effectively.

It is easier to restrain your cat for ear cleaning if you have someone to help you. Ask someone to hold your cat either lying down on its tummy or sitting up. The head should be held tightly against the handler’s body so that it can be held securely and there is no chance of the cat shaking its head. You may find it helpful to wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it so that it is unable to get its legs free to scratch you. Ask your vet to demonstrate the best way to restrain your cat so that you can access its ears for cleaning.

Once the cat is restrained introduce some ear cleaner into the opening of the ear. Gently massage the ear canal which runs straight down the side of the head below the opening. As you massage the ear canal you will loosen all the debris in the ear canal. If the ear canal is sore your cat might not like the massaging at first so be as gentle as you can.

After massaging wipe away the cleaning fluid with cotton wool. Never use cotton buds or poke anything into the ear canal – if you do you will only push debris further into the ear and may damage the ear drum. Repeat the whole procedure if necessary then rinse the whole ear canal with water to remove any residual cleaning fluid and dry with cotton wool.

Once the ear canals are clean you can apply any ear drop medications that have been prescribed by your vet. Once the drops have been applied to the ear you should gently massage the ear canal again to spread the drops over the surface of the canal.

Your vet may also prescribe some tablets to help treat the ear disease. It is important to give all the tablets that your vet has prescribed – even if you think your cat is getting better.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some cats. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

Regular ear examination, and cleaning when necessary, can help to keep your cat’s ears healthy. If you have any concerns about your cat’s ears you should contact your vet for further advice.

Periodontal disease and how to prevent it

Periodontal disease affects the area around the teeth and will eventually lead to tooth loss. Prevent this by brushing your cat’s teeth, using the step-by-step guide included here.

Your cat’s teeth deserve as much care as your own!

The periodontium is the structure that surrounds and supports the tooth. It comprises the periodontal ligament – which holds the tooth into the socket – and the gum (gingiva). In periodontal disease, all or part of the periodontal ligament is destroyed and the gum recedes.

Periodontal disease starts with formation of plaque, the transparent adhesive fluid made up of protein, sloughed cells and bacteria that we remove by cleaning our teeth. Plaque starts forming twelve hours after dental cleaning and, if not removed, reacts with mineral salts in the food to form hard tartar (dental calculus). Calculus irritates the gum, changing the balance of acidity to alkalinity in the mouth and allowing bacteria to grow. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s periodontium leading eventually to loss of the tooth.

  1. Gingivitis: inflammation and possible swelling of the gum line.
  2. Early periodontitis: the gum bleeds when prodded and gives less support to the tooth.
  3. Established periodontitis: the gum recedes away from the tooth giving even less support.
  4. Advanced periodontitis: the tooth begins to wobble.

X-rays of the inside of your cat’s mouth give your vet different views of the teeth. Gum examination using a periodontal probe detects any soft tissue changes (periodontal pockets).

X-rays show areas of bone loss and where pockets are likely to be – but do not show pockets or their depth. If more than half the bone around a tooth has been lost, it is unlikely that the tooth can be saved. The periodontal probe, in addition to showing gum bleeding and inflammation, enables the depth and shape of any pockets to be measured.

  • Stage 1 (gingivitis) – professional teeth cleaning and home care.
  • Stage 2 & 3 (early & established periodontitis) – home care and application of an antibiotic gel.
  • Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) – removal of the tooth or gum surgery to reduce the periodontal pocket.

Tooth brushing is the key to prevention and is an easy process with most small animals.

  1. Select a cat toothbrush: many types are available, including a minibrush that fits over your index finger.
  2. Select a cat toothpaste: the best ones contain enzymes to help control plaque, and fluoride may be included to help control bacteria. Do not use human toothpastes because they sometimes contain baking soda, detergents or salt.
  3. Brushing technique: place the toothpaste between the bristles rather than on top of them to allow the paste to spend the maximum possible time next to the teeth.

Most pets accept brushing if approached in a gentle manner. Start when they are young, if you can. It’s quite easy, but even older pets will accept the process. Start slowly, using a soft cloth to wipe the teeth, front and back, in the same way you will eventually use the toothbrush. Do this twice daily and after about two weeks your cat will have become familiar with it all. Then take the toothbrush, soak it in warm water and start brushing twice daily for several days, only adding the toothpaste once your pet accepts this brushing.

Place the toothbrush bristles at the gum edge where the teeth and gum meet and then move the brush in an oval pattern. Be sure to gently force the bristle ends into the area around the base of each tooth and also into the space between teeth. Complete ten short back-and-forth motions, covering three to four teeth at a time. Then move the brush to a new location. Pay most attention to the outside of the upper teeth.

Tooth brushing from an early age will ensure that your cat becomes used to it and is happy to have it done. It will keep plaque from forming and keep periodontal disease at bay. It will save your cat from tooth decay, toothache and eventual loss of teeth. Just as important, it will also prevent the bad breath often associated with decaying teeth.