Twenty years ago, I found a lump on my cat Chani’s throat. The next day the vet surgically removed a date-sized mass from her neck. The pathology report described the tumor as a hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive cancer. We caught it early and thankfully it didn’t spread. Since then, I have been an evangelist for monthly cat exams.
Many cats only see the veterinarian for annual shots; in human terms that’s the equivalent of every seven years; a lot can change in that period. Monthly exams offer early detection of potentially serious problems while they are treatable. So let’s pledge to perform a nose-to-tail physical every month when you make your house payment. As you feel, look for changes, lumps, bumps and eruptions. Any change should be checked out by a vet.
The first time, ask your veterinarian to go over the process with you. She can tell you what is normal for your cat.
Look at your kitty. Fortunately cats have two of most everything. Is everything symmetrical? Does the left paw look like the right paw?”
Nose. Do you see discharge?
Mouth. As you pet your cat, pull his lips up with your thumb. Go slowly. (If your cat is combative, stop. Don’t risk a bite or scratch.) Look at one side of the mouth, then the other. The teeth should be free of tartar. Check for a pale pink tongue and gums, not red. Does he have bad breath or any bleeding? Always follow with a treat.
When you feed your cat, look for any change in eating behavior, like dropping food, not eating at all, or eating more than usual. If a cat who normally prefers dry food suddenly wants canned, or starts drinking more water, see your vet.
Eyes. Examine the eye by pulling the lid down. The eyes should be clear and bright.
Ears. There should be no wax or black gunk. Feel the angle of the jaw for lymph nodes that feel like soft jelly beans. If you play around the folds of the neck, you’ll eventually find them.
Body. Examine his coat. Look for matting and flea dirt. Run your fingers down the spine to check for areas of tenderness.
Legs. Give the leg bones a gentle squeeze. Check the paws. Inspect for ingrown toenails; that’s common in older kitties. Feel between the toes and pads for sores. (It’s time for another treat.)
Belly. Gently knead the abdomen. (Treat!) Although you may not have a clue what each bulge is, after a while you will be able to recognize a new lump. Does he feel fatter than last month? Is he bonier? Feel the nipples for swelling.
Cup his chest with your hand and feel his heartbeat and respiration. His heart rate should run between 100 and 150 at rest and his respiration should be in the mid-20s.
Backdoor. Finally, run your fingers down to the tip of his tail to check for lumps or scabs. Lift the tail and look at his rear. Is it swollen, red, or stinky?
You may be done groping your cat, but you’re not finished. Watch as Fluffy uses the litter box. Peeing and pooping should be effortless. Is he in the box, but nothing happens? Is he using the carpet instead of his box? He needs to see the vet now!
To do this every month, you must make it a pleasant experience for your cat. Include lots of reassuring words, throat scratches, and a gentle body massage. Don’t forget to give him a treat when you complete the more unpleasant parts.
Monthly examinations can help identify changes in your cat’s body. Keep an eye on your cat for uncharacteristic behavior and massage him regularly to monitor potential changes. My cat, Chani, lived to be 20. With early diagnosis and treatment, you may have many more years with your kitty companion.