Cats are often described as stoic — that they don't show it when they are sick. I think that is partly true. In the wild, they don't want to be obvious about being sick or injured. Showing that kind of weakness is a good way to get yourself eaten. Better to hide until you feel better. But when you share your life with a cat, you get to know them pretty well. Watching the subtle things, it usually is easy to tell when something is wrong.
I'm always paying close attention to my cats; assessing their behavior for anything that seems "off." When I was younger, I had a gray and white tuxedo cat. One day I came home and found CJ curled up in a ball. Her normally bright pink nose was really pale, almost white. Her breathing was shallow. She barely responded when I touched her. I panicked. I just knew she was on death's door — something was terribly wrong. I put her in a carrier and rushed her to the vet. On the way, she opened her eyes but seemed disoriented. The vet saw her immediately. By then she was a bit perkier, looking around and color was returning to her nose. He checked her over and concluded I had just found her very deeply asleep. The color of her nose could vary depending on what she was doing. I was embarrassed. Imagine rushing your cat to the vet because she was sleepy! I always wondered if I became an anecdote for that vet: The Lady with the Sleepy Cat.
I don't regret my reaction; I would always rather over-react when it comes to my cats' health. Sometimes time really is of the essence. One morning last year, I woke up to find Stanley, the Raw Fed Kitty Campaign logo cat, acting funny. She didn't greet me in the usual way and her eyes weren't fully open. Her ears felt warm. She had been acting completely normal the previous night. I got her to vet right away, calling ahead as I was driving that I had an emergency. By the time I got her there, she was listless and woozy. The vet quickly determined that Stanley had an infected salivary gland. She drained it, and got Stan on antibiotics and fluids. But it was close. She had gone from normal to acting funny in about seven hours, and from that to gravely ill in about two. If I'd had a wait-and-see attitude, she probably would have died.
Then there are times when you can't tell anything is wrong. One day, when Kai, the Feline Nutrition logo cat, was about a year and a half old, he jumped off a counter and gave a little cry. He was limping a bit, favoring his right rear leg. I checked his paw and leg and could find no obvious injury. He let me handle him, so he wasn't in too much pain. I made a vet appointment for him. The vet prodded and manipulated while looking thoughtful. She was pretty sure he had a broken hip! X-rays confirmed it. He had broken off the little round knob at the top of the femur — the one that rests in the hip bone socket in humans. I couldn't believe he'd done that jumping off of the counter. Fortunately, I was able to get a 7:00 am appointment at a veterinary orthopedic surgeon for the next day.
Next morning, the surgeon examined Kai, looked at the x-rays and confirmed a broken hip — and it had been broken for at least three months! Talk about feeling like the worst kitty guardian in the world. My cat had been walking around with a broken hip for three months, and I hadn't even noticed. Kai had only started to complain — or even act any different at all — when the bone had started to re-grow and was rubbing. Jumping off of the counter that one time set things off. We never could figure out how he had broken it in the first place.
Kai had his operation. The surgeon removed the knob entirely and smoothed the remainder. I had to give him physical therapy at home — which he hated — and after about eight months he was good as new. The muscles hold everything in place, so he does fine without that little knob.
So the lesson is to pay close attention to your cats, err on the side of a wasted vet visit and hope that what your cats really do manage to hide from you isn't immediately life threatening.
This article originally appeared on the Feline Nutrition website: http://feline-nutrition.org