Are Concerns About Your Cat Medical or Behavioral? Be on the safe side!
Do you know what’s causing your cat to act a certain way? Are concerns about your cat medical or behavioral? I recently had a client named Taylor, who at age 16, was (ahem) pooping throughout his guardians’ home. The kitty would not consistently use his litterbox to stool, and his human family members were finding “deposits” in their bedroom and the living room. This started after the carpet was replaced and at first I thought it might have something to do with that (new smells, developing a substrate preference, etc.), but after questioning his guardians about the type of stool they were seeing and how often they were seeing it, it appeared that Taylor had been having gastric upset for the past several months. In fact, in addition to his chronic diarrhea, he had lost weight. Cat behavior issues – medical or behavioral? In this case, medical.
Thus, I proposed Step 1 in helping Taylor rehab his litterbox problems: Get that cat to the vet ASAP to run some tests and heal his medical conditions, if any were identified!
In nearly all cases, if there is a medical cause for a behavioral problem, the medical issue will need to be treated in order for the behavioral problem to be resolved. In Taylor’s case, having diarrhea (or constipation, for that matter) can cause a loss of control, which can end up in the poor kitty stooling whenever and wherever is convenient. And if there’s no litterbox nearby, well, the carpet will have to do. Taylor’s diarrhea needed to be treated before the behavioral issue could be resolved…although while that was happening, I did have his guardians place extra litterboxes around the house, along with a few other things that could treat any outside-the-box “habit” that may have developed during the time he was having digestive problems.
Before coming to see me (or me coming to see my clients, rather), I will usually recommend that a client’s cat be examined by a veterinarian, and I will always take into account the medical history of a cat before diagnosing the cause of a behavior issue. It is not unusual for people to wait until an undetected (or ignored) medical condition develops into an obvious behavior issue. Cats are very skilled at hiding their pain, and will mask it until they absolutely no longer can. But there are clues to tell you when it might be time to take your cat to see a veterinarian. Here are a few of them:
- Your cat’s behavior abruptly changes, or you see a new habit form. Is your cat doing something weird or different than she usually does? Is she awake more than she used to be, or sleeping more, or using her litterbox more, or being more distant or hiding? Any sudden change in your cat’s behavior could signal a medical condition that needs to be checked out.
- Excessive vocalization. Many cats are natural talkers, like Siamese and other similar breeds. If you have a kitty who is naturally quite vocal, you don’t necessarily need to worry! However, if your cat is more typical, any sudden increase in meowing or vocalizing (including growling or hissing) could signal that she is in pain and needs medical attention right away.
- Persistent vomiting. An occasional hairball is to be expected (regular grooming helps!), but if your cat is throwing up food or liquid on a regular basis, your cat needs to see a veterinarian. That’s how I determined that my kitty Jesse had hyperthyroidism…he started vomiting twice a day, so I had him tested and his thyroid levels were way off. But now that he’s on the proper dosage of medication, his vomiting is much reduced and he’s gaining some weight back. Many other ailments can cause vomiting too (some of them serious), so the sooner you can see a vet, the better.
- Changes in litterbox use. This can include straining to use the litterbox while urinating or defecating, or suddenly going outside of the litterbox altogether. Probably the most dangerous situation is with males – a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or cystitis can cause a blockage and be lethal – so get him to the vet IMMEDIATELY if you believe he is straining or can’t urinate. Urinary tract infections, etc., can be treated with medication, but may need to be treated through diet as well (e.g., in the case of crystals being present in the urine…ouch!). Constipation and diarrhea can have long-term consequences, so you should talk with your vet about the best way to treat those conditions too.
- Stumbling, seizures, labored (open-mouth) breathing, bleeding, etc. These are all pretty obvious signs that your cat needs to see a veterinarian right away, the sooner, the better. Know where your nearest 24-hour emergency clinic is!
I hope that I’ve given you a few things to look out for. While cats usually don’t enjoy the trip to the vet, you’ll be doing them a huge favor by treating any medical conditions they may have, thus saving them from unnecessary pain and putting them in a position where you can work on correcting any behavioral issues that cropped up as a result. So when it comes to answering the question “Are Concerns About Your Cat Medical or Behavioral?”, they can be rooted in a medical condition, develop as a result of environmental influences (behavioral), or even both. It’s best to err on the side of caution – when you see any behavior change in your cat, let your vet know. You’ll be a step ahead of the game in determining how to address any behavior problems that arise. And why not be on the safe side? Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help you identify and treat any medical needs even before they start causing trouble. Your cat will thank you!
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