Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clues From The Waiting Room.

Veterinary medicine is all about collecting clues to make a diagnosis. For those of us with mute patients it is imperative to pay very close attention to the subtle clues. Those hidden, quiet, trained eye clues will often lead your way to the diagnosis, and therefore, a better chance of your treatment being successful.

Here's a very good example how this happens in my real-life.

Can you guess what this cat presented for?

(Here's a hint; This cat carrier is so heavy that the client has to employ a dish rag to keep the metal handle from digging into her hand).

This kitty was brought to me for limping.

She had been to the clinic three other times over the last year and a half. At four years old she has been overweight since two.

Can you guess why a young cat would have intermittent chronic lameness?

Without spending any money on diagnostics we spoke about how difficult it was for her cat to do the normal things that young cats do. She was reluctant to play, jump, or over exert herself. The limp came and went over the last two years. Her mom loved her to pieces, doted on her, managed her diet and her life and filled it with affection. But this kitty was 14 pounds. (She should weigh about 10). Four extra pounds when you are supposed to be 10 is a whole lot! The stress on the joints is significant and severe. There was a significant decrease in the range of motion of the joints, reluctance to palpation of the elbows, hips and knees, and a painful left rear leg. 

Her official diagnosis was degenerative joint disease.

We spent more time talking about her cats diet. Even though she was measuring her food, feeding only twice a day, and not giving snacks her kitty was not getting any smaller. 

My lecture about weight loss is always the same; "Weight loss is all about diet and exercise." It is very hard to have one without the other, BUT, when it comes to cats how do we approach the difficult task of  'exercising your cat?' 

My views on weight loss for cats has evolved. I used to recommend measured amounts of a high quality prescription or commercially available low fat dry kibble. I would recommend using the bags suggested feeding amount guidelines for the optimal body size. For example, if your cat is 14 pounds but has an optimal body size of 10 pounds feed the amount suggested for 10 pounds. Or, I would recommend to reduce the amount fed by 20 % every month until the desired weight was achieved. Which required monthly weigh-ins (cats are not so fond of these) then gradually increase the amount fed until you reached the quantity that maintained the ideal weight. I would even suggest providing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry food twice a day with small mid-day snacks to help curb the hunger and boredom cravings.  This changed when the epidemic of feline diabetes erupted. I have now changed my tune in response to the devastation that diabetes has cost my feline patients. I now recommend 1/2 to 1 can of a 5 ounce high quality or prescription wet food twice a day. For those kitties who are used 
to the potato chip pasta dry food diet, you can offer a small amount (like 1/4 to 1/2 a cup) of a high quality dry food mid-day snack is fine as we adjust from the carbs to the protein. It is imperative to minimize or eliminate commercial cat snacks (as these are almost always high fat, low quality, and full of salt to help palatability).  Cats are obligate carnivores and wet food is higher in protein, water, and much lower in carbohydrates when compared to bagged food. We call it the "Catkins" diet. 

Cats are smart, cunning, finicky little critters. Never try to force a cat to do anything. Every change in their world should be done slowly and with them thinking that it was all their idea. They are not dogs and when there is a war of wills they will win every time. In fact, they are so stubborn they will go on a hunger strike and for some cats this can be fatal  after a few days. 

Even with all of my savvy nutritional guidance I had still been trying to get cats into shape by only adjusting one side of the diet equation. I was never giving much advice about exercise. I would just say, "for the dog people I can say go take your dog for a walk, but you can't exactly take your cat jogging, can you?" in a smart curt smile. So I would talk about laser games, catnip stuffed toys, and anything that your cat enjoyed doing to encourage more calorie burning activity. Well, I began to think, why not? Why couldn't you take your cat for a walk? Turns out cats love to investigate, they can tolerate a harness (with a little time and patience) and they get to use their senses to keep them interested in the world outside of your four walls and the food bowl.

BIG DISCLAIMER TIME; There are amazing nutritionists available to help with your cats diet plan. And every diet plan should be monitored very closely with frequent veterinary visits and weigh-ins. Your cats happiness and health is your responsibility, reach out for assistance and support, there are lots of incredible resources to tap into.

If you are worried about your cats weight, or have any other pet question, you can find me and a whole bunch of other helpful people at I would love to hear about how you successfully managed and assisted in your cats weight loss. Did you employ any exercise? How did you manage to coerce your cat to walk on a leash? Or stay in a public safe place? Please join us in helping other pets and their families.

Or find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. Or meet me at the clinic anytime at Jarrettsville Vet, in Harford County Maryland.


  1. One thing that really seems to help with diabetics or overweight cats is adding one can of water for each can of food. They seem to like their food that way. It is also likely more filling and has to be good for their kidneys. While most cats will respond to a laser, even more fun is a B-U-G. Letting a moth in the house and then screaming out B-U-G is sure to attract all my cats and they stay engaged longer than with a laser.

    1. Hello!
      That is great advice and I will certainly add them to my list. I especially love the catch and release BUG exercise plan. I have to admit I am very guilty of leaving the door cracked open and the interior lights on, to lure some of those after dark moths into the house. Not to the delight of my husband, but to the great joy and jubilation of my kitties. (And seriously its worth the small domestic dispute it causes. My allegiance lies with my critters, who is he kidding).
      Many Thanks for reading and for your comment! I love to hear from you!

  2. Who (what idiot) makes a pet carrier with a metal handle?
    Cat weigh-ins can be accomplished easily. Owner cuddles cat and steps on scales at home. Owner releases cat, weighs in alone and does a little math.
    Living algebra:)

    1. Used to be that a flimsy little handle could carry the average 8 pound cat load..but as all of us Americans get bigger, we need bigger cars, bigger airplane seats, bigger clothes, and now stronger softer cat carrier handles..
      And, yes, we recommend the at home scale method often!
      Many Thanks for reading!
      Please keep the tips coming!
      Take care,