Cats don’t really have nine lives but most veterinarians will attest to a memorable case (or two or three) where cats who seemingly were poised to leave this life have miraculously recovered. The stories will range from feline friends who have recovered from terminal cancer, survived kidney disease or emerged from the throes of liver and cardiac disease. So while cats don’t really have nine lives many do have the apparent ability to heal to a degree that is often surprising compared to other species. Although there is not one particular reason it does propagate the myth that cats will take care of themselves when they become ill.
The reality is that cats are protective of themselves when they hurt. Showing any signs of weakness, whatsoever, could be devastating to an assertive member of a colony. Give this circumstance our feline companions are not likely to show obvious signs when sick. They may hide a bit more, not eat with quite the gusto, sleep a bit more all signs that are not obvious to most pet owners.
Take Buddy, for example. Buddy was a twelve year old cat who many years ago was diagnosed with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, a virus commonly known as the cat AIDS virus. The owners were very careful and protective of Buddy hoping to avoid any diseases or infections which could be serious for Buddy. Similar to people with HIV, minor infections can become very serious problems when the immune system is compromised. For the last few months they thought Buddy had maybe lost a little weight and was not quite as active. Since Buddy was not a young cat they thought that this might be a normal progression. He seemed to be eating and acting reasonably well.. When it was obvious that something was not right, Buddy was presented to the Brockton Animal Hospital. Upon exam, specifically abdominal evaluation, I felt what I suspected was a large mass in his abdomen. When ultrasound confirmed my suspicions, Buddy was taken to surgery for abdominal exploration and growth removal. However the mass was very large and had invaded many important blood vessels and tissues. Unfortunately Buddy could not be saved. Had it been obvious earlier the tumor would have been smaller and perhaps removable. But because Buddy, like most cats, didn’t show obvious signs of illness, treatment was delayed.
No one knows your pet better than you. If you think something is “not quite right” it probably isn’t. Cats do not show signs of pain as obviously as dogs so it takes a very astute eye to recognize illness in cats at an early stage. Make it a point to observe your feline companions every day for what you associate as normal behavior. Food and water consumption, litter box habits and activity are all part of the profile that describes your pet’s normal behavior. If you have any concerns whatsoever, call your vet immediately. Could this have helped in Buddy’s situation? Probably not but in many other cases it certainly has.