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November 4, 2008

What's cat's problem? Hard knowing without benefits of checkups

Is there really such a thing as sudden disease?

I suppose the answer relies at least partially on one's definition. When I discuss disease, I think of a process or processes that have gone awry within the body. I envision these diseases manifesting in a less-than-sudden manner. I distinguish this from terms such as sudden illness, which I do agree can be sudden.

For example, if your pet ingests a toxin or is struck by a car, that's sudden. Sometimes, as caretakers, we perceive a change in our pet's health as sudden or acute when in reality this may not be the case when considering the underlying cause.

I suspect Tabitha has a chronic disease. Ellen has had Tabitha, a house cat, for 12 years.

Tabitha has been in good health until the last week or so. She has begun to eat less and sleep more and, most recently, has vomited a couple of times. Ellen reports these symptoms as being sudden, and from her description, I would agree. However, even though the symptoms might be somewhat sudden in their presentation, the underlying disease process could be more chronic in nature.

Unfortunately, from Ellen's description, I cannot give a definitive diagnosis but can provide a few possible causes. But narrowing these down is going to require a visit to Tabitha's veterinarian.

Diagnosing Tabitha's underlying disease will require some diagnostics, which will likely include blood chemistry analysis and a complete blood count, a urinalysis and possibly radiographs of Tabitha's abdomen. This basic testing should give a good base to work from and quite possibly could give a definitive diagnosis for Tabitha's problem.

There are a few reasons why I suspect Tabitha's disease process is more chronic in nature. The first of these is her environment. She is an entirely indoor cat, making the chances for more acute insults to her body less likely. Another factor is her age. As cats and, for that matter, all of us age, there are increases in the likelihood of disease. This is a simple fact of life.

Go out and compare prices on health insurance based on age and I think you'll agree. Living creatures do wear out, some faster than others, but all do so. It is all part of the aging process.

The first thing that comes to mind is kidney disease. One of the cornerstones of this disease is a decrease in appetite and then vomiting as the disease progresses. That said, there is a huge list of diseases that contain those symptoms. I picked kidney disease because it is statistically the most probable. Beyond that possibility lies various cancers, liver disease, heart disease and so on.

The point I want to convey is that we many times mistake acute symptoms to represent acute disease. It is common for pets to be able to compensate for disease processes occurring inside their bodies, showing only subtle signs until they can no longer do so and overt symptoms ensue. This is why it is so important to have your pet examined regularly, especially as he ages. This can allow early diagnosis of problems and make the likelihood of recovery much greater.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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