Conducting a home physical exam is not only smart but simple and quick. Cats are known for hiding symptoms when they are sick. In the wild, it is imperative that the competing carnivores as well as the cat’s prey do not know that they are sick or injured. Knowing your cat and doing home exams may bring to light any hidden ailments.
Physical exams may be performed during routine grooming or during interactive play. Your cat may not realize you are actually examining it. We’ll discuss the different checks to perform and what the results mean. Make sure you keep a record of all measurements you take when your pet is healthy, comparing these values with the ones the veterinarian gets will assist them with the diagnosis and treatment of your ailing cat.
You can purchase a digital pet thermometer from many pet supply stores or Amazon. Never use a mercury glass thermometer for your cat, they may break causing serious injury. Follow the directions that came with the thermometer. You may need two people to take your cat’s temperature, most cats won’t sit still for this test! The newer more expensive digital thermometers take your cat’s temperature in its ear and it works in one second, so these are the safest and easiest to use.
A cat’s normal body temperature is between 101°-102.5°F. If the temperature is above 103°F, it may indicate infection. If the temperature is below 101°F it may indicate shock, or overexposure to cold. In either case, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The respiratory rate can be measured by counting how many times your cat’s chest moves. Count the number of breaths in 15 seconds and multiply by 4. This is your cat’s respiratory rate in one minute. A cat’s normal rate is approximately 20-40 breaths per minute. An increase in respiration can be a result of a high temperature, high humidity environment. Panting is rapid breathing and is a way for cats to lose excess body heat. It may also be caused by nervousness or excitement. A high respiratory rate may also signify a fever or lack of blood oxygen being carried throughout the body. A low respiratory rate can be due to cold or coma.
The heart rate can be measured ideally with a stethoscope over the left side of the chest behind the elbow. However, it is just as effective using the inside of the back leg and your hand. Place your hand on the upper part of the leg with your fingers on the inside of the leg with the thumb on the outside. Slide your fingers back until they fall into the groove in the middle of the inner thigh. Press firmly but gently and you should feel the pulse. Count the number in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 for the rate per minute. The rate should be about 160-180 beats per minute. This may take some practice but with time you should have no problem. An increased heart rate could be from excitement, exercise, fever, or some types of heart disease. A decreased heart rate could indicate sleep or other types of heart disease.
Gums & Mucous Membranes
The gums in your cat’s mouth should be a pink color unless it has dark pigmented skin. This indicates that the heart and lungs are getting oxygenated blood throughout the body. Redder gums may indicate excitement, exercise, some poisons, or fever. Pale or white gums could signify anemia (low red blood cells), yellow may indicate jaundice (liver disease) or anemia and blue may imply that there is a lack of oxygen circulating the body due to heart disease or shock.
CRT (Capillary Refill Time)
You may have noticed your veterinarian press on the gums above or behind an upper canine tooth (fang) with their finger. If you press for a few seconds and then remove your finger, there should be a fingerprint for an instant after you remove your finger. The normal pink color should return within 2 seconds. This is an indication of capillary refill time and signifies good blood circulation. If the CRT is longer than 2 seconds it may indicate a problem with blood circulating to the small blood capillaries. It may be a sign of dehydration, shock, or severe heart failure.
During grooming or petting, check your cat’s skin for loss of hair, lesions, dryness, or red patches. They may be associated with allergies or infective agents. If your pet allows you, check the pads of its feet and the skin webbing in between. This may be done during routine nail trims. The pads should not be dried or scaly, this may indicate dehydration or infection, respectively. Another area to watch is the area on the chin close to the bottom lip. Some cats get a type of acne which is usually associated with the type of food and water bowls they use, specifically plastic. Stainless steel bowls are suggested to help prevent recurrence of this condition.
While grooming or petting, run your hands over your cat’s entire body including the head and under the legs. If you find any lumps at all, contact your veterinarian immediately. They may be indicative of benign or cancerous tumors or cysts or lesions.
Eyes, Ears, Nose
If you notice any secretions from your cat’s nose or eyes call your veterinarian immediately. They may signal a respiratory infection or other infectious disease. Look in your cat’s ears, if you notice a brownish-black waxy substance it may indicate the presence of ear mites which are easily treatable. All pets in the household should be treated for ear mites even if only one pet tests positive for them.
Many veterinarians recommend feeding dry food to prevent tartar buildup on your cat’s teeth. Not only do cats not chew their food but the carbohydrate content covers their teeth in tartar buildup which then leads to decay and infection which can also lead to gum disease and loss of teeth as well as heart and kidney disease. Clean your cat’s teeth daily for best protection.
Keep an eye on your cat, you will be the first to recognize if your pet is exhibiting behavior which is not normal. Watch your cat’s feeding, urinating, and defecating habits and its overall behavior. You are the first line of defense in your cat’s health and longevity.
Information on this site is for general information purposes only and is provided without warranty or guarantee of any kind. This site is not intended to replace professional advice from your own veterinarian and nothing on this site is intended as a medical diagnosis or treatment. Any questions about your animal’s health or diet should be directed to your veterinarian.