Practice tips: Caring for cats (Proceedings)

Aug 01, 2009

What is a cat? What characteristics are different for this species than we are or dogs are? Only by better understanding our patients can we provide better nursing care.

Cats are obligate carnivores. They diverged from canids approximately 30 million years ago, evolving metabolically into carnivores with unique strategies for the utilization of protein and amino acids, fats and vitamins. This concept must be at the centre of trying to understand the nutritional needs of cats and planning dietary therapies for health disorders.

Working with a species that has not evolved with a social structure similar to ours provides interesting challenges to the practitioner of veterinary science working with cats. Cats are able to function completely efficiently as a solitary creature. Cats do have complex and changing social interactions which make for a changing structure, much more intricate than that of a herd or pack species. Cats are also small predators. This has affected their anatomic and physiologic development, which has remained unchanged over several million years. While being predators, their size also makes them prey to other species. This aspect affects how they respond to us in a clinic setting and deserves to be discussed further in this presentation.

Relying on the "fight or flight" or epinephrine response, they escape situations viewed as dangerous. From the perspective of a cat, we are, and what we do is, dangerous. Accordingly, one of the great challenges we see on a daily basis is the frightened and assertive cat. It is essential to remember at all times that this small creature feels more threatened than we do so that we do not become frightened ourselves. Because cats are small, they try to avoid physical confrontation at all costs and attempt to intimidate using sounds and posture as much as possible.

1. Handling the uncooperative cat: a comprehensive physical examination can usually be done using a towel as a protective barrier. Facing the cat away from you is less threatening for him/her. Confining the cat between your legs as you sit on the floor provides adequate persistent firm restraint that is reassuring rather than frightening.

2. Collection of blood and urine can be done by bundling a difficult cat's forelimbs, torso and head in a towel and using the medial saphenous vein and a lateral approach for cystocentesis. This vein is also a superb choice for catheter placement and administration of intravenous medications.

3. Blood pressure evaluation may also be done recognizing that a persistently elevated systolic value of greater than 170 or 180 mm Hg is probably represents true hypertension rather than the stress response. If in doubt, repeat the value later on during the visit.

4. Feliway, a synthetic analog of a facial pheromone produced by cats has, in general, a calming effect on cats. Spray it into kennels and carriers and even on your clothing before handling an anxious cat. Let the substance evaporate for a few minutes before placing kitty into the sprayed space. Plugging the diffuser form of Feliway into treatment and hospitalization areas as well as reception and consultation rooms can help patients relax.

5. Elevated blood glucose and glucosuria may be a result of persistent stress. The diagnosis of diabetes, therefore, is dependent on finding and elevated serum fructosamine or glycated hemoglobin.

Domestic cats have evolved from the wild cat model remarkably little. (They display a much narrower diversity of phenotype than dogs.) They are anatomically and physiologically adapted to eating 10-20 small meals throughout the day and night. This allows them to hunt and eat when their prey are active. Small rodents make up the majority of their diet, with rabbits, birds, insects, frogs and reptiles making up a smaller proportion. The average mouse provides 30 kcal of energy, which is about 8% of an average feral (i.e. active) cat's requirements. Repeated hunting behaviors throughout the 24 hour period are needed to meet this need; this has evolved into the normal grazing feeding behavior of domestic cats. Under stressful situations, cats will refuse a novel food; under other circumstances, the same cat may be very adventuresome and chose a new diet over their familiar food.