When we go to our doctors for annual physicals, we usually leave the office with an order for labwork whether it is blood work, ultrasounds, or other diagnostic tests. Why do our doctors do this? Because many of our illnesses alert us only when they have progressed to a moderate to severe state, and preventative diagnostics are the only ways we can detect problems early. It is widely known that diseases spotted and treated in their early stages have a much better remission rate. Sometimes we are lucky and have a symptom which alerts us to go see our doctor at an early stage of disease, but many times we don’t. Now let’s apply that same philosophy to our feline friends. They may be walking around, looking healthy and fine, but may have early disease that they have no way of telling us about. This is particularly true in cats, who are experts at hiding or compensating for illness. In the wild, if they are seen as weak, they are taken as supper. Evolutionarily, cats have adapted this physiology. Our household cats may continue to want to be near us, purr, eat and drink normally, but there may be a disease process brewing that could be managed more effectively if caught early. Take kidney disease for example. This is a very common disease in cats. All too often, I see cats in their late stages, when they are having urinary accidents, and are maybe not eating so well anymore. There is supportive care at that point, but the damage has basically been done. If I could have known that the kidneys were in their early stages of decline months or years earlier, I could have quite possibly looked for an underlying cause, such as a kidney infection (which in a cat presents with no symptoms) or switched the cat’s diet to a food which does not push the kidney to work so hard, thus slowing the disease progression. Another example of this is heart disease, which in many cats is a silent killer. A friend of mine woke up one day to find that her cat had dropped dead without warning. The cat had gotten a clean bill of health just three months earlier from her vet and had no cause for alarm. Unfortunately, cats can have significant heart disease, enough to kill them, without a murmur or an irregular heart rhythm. There is a blood test that can screen for the likelihood of significant disease without having to go through an expensive and stressful cardiac workup. Knowing that there may be significant disease affords you the option of treatment. Sudden death does not.
Written by Dr. Geri Katz, owner of AristoKatz, a full-service veterinary facility that caters exclusively to cats.
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