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How to Detect Health Problems

You can become the eyes and ears of your veterinarian between visits.

A five-point home health check, every month, can help you detect signs of poor health in your cat. If you spot problems, you can call your veterinarian and get treatment before anything serious develops.

1. Weight check

Weigh your cat regularly. Look for changes in body weight by standing above the cat and looking for a slight "waist" behind her ribs. Place both hands on her ribs - if your cat is at her proper weight, you will be able to feel the ribs under a thin layer of fat, but they should not stick out.

Check for pouches of fat in the groin area between the hind legs and under the belly. If your cat is overweight, talk to your vet about a weight reduction program. Cut all treats and table snacks out of her diet, and divide her daily feeding allowance into two to four small meals a day. Make sure she gets some exercise, too, starting slowly with short activity periods and gradually increasing the exercise time.

2. Coat and skin check

Your cat's coat should feel uniformly smooth from head to tail. Part the fur near the head and along the spine to check for flakes, scales or cuts. Check for signs of fleas - black flakes or specks - at the base of the tail and on the rump and stomach. You can treat fleas with spot treatments from your vet, or dips, shampoos and sprays.

If your cat has a dull or matted coat, she may have a nutrient deficiency or a disease - talk to your veterinarian about the underlying condition.

3. Eyes and ears check

Check your cat's lower eyelid - the area should be pink. As well, the whites of her eye should be glossy white with no redness. Look for normal pupil size and check the responsiveness of the pupil to light. Watch for colored discharge, a sign of infection.

Your cat's ears should be clean, pink in color - but not bright pink - and free of debris and strong odors. Check for wax, especially dark wax which may indicate the presence of ear mites or infection. Visit your veterinarian if you detect any problems with your cat's eyes or ears.

4. Teeth and gums check

Lift your cat's lips away from her gums and press a finger firmly over an upper tooth. When you take your finger away, the white color of the finger imprint on the gum should return to pink. Open her mouth to inspect all her teeth. Look for tartar build-up, which is yellow to dark brown in color and may lead to periodontal disease. It should be removed by a veterinarian.

To prevent tartar build-up, have regular dental cleaning done by your veterinarian, and use specially designed pet toothbrushes and toothpaste between dental visits. Give your cat chew snacks designed to help eliminate plaque and tartar build-up.

5. Spot checks

Check for unusual lumps or bumps on your cat. Place both your hands on top of your cat's head and move them down under the chin, then behind the front legs, under the shoulders, down the back, over the hips, and down the legs. Inspect her claws and footpads for cuts or cracks. Report any unusual lumps to your veterinarian.

Learn what is "normal" for your individual cat and her breed so you can identify any irregularities during the monthly check. Ask your vet for advice on the routine.

Source: Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition (WCPN), Leicestershire, England.

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