Why Cat Owners Should Not Try and Diagnose Cat Illnesses

Cat illness diagnosis

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

With the internet comes endless possibilities to find answers on anything. These days, a lot of people self-diagnose illnesses that they believe they might have. Some, but not all, cat caretakers like to see if they can find a quick answer to an illness that they believe their cat is suffering from. The internet has spawned a generation of amateur veterinarians.

The objective, I suppose, is to save on paying a vet’s bill. I can understand that completely and, of course, at the same time you can save all the hassle of taking a cat to the vet if you successfully diagnose and treat your cat’s illness.

It is one thing to research feline illnesses to gain knowledge which helps you communicate with your vet but to diagnose is an altogether different prospect.

One obvious problem is that the core serious feline diseases such as FIV, FIP and FeLV have multi-symptoms and they can be the catalyst for secondary illnesses and a depressed immune system. You might successfully diagnose the secondary illness such as a URI and ignore the primary underlying illness. This may delay professional treatment and exacerbate the underlying illness. Some of the major disease can be difficult for a vet to diagnose never mind the untrained but dedicated cat owner.

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Also, some symptoms are very unspecific such as lethargy, a lack of appetite and diarrhoea. Other symptoms need to be picked up and tests may need to be carried out to get to the bottom of the matter (i.e. blood work). This is well beyond the abilities and means of the cat owner (unless, of course he is a veterinarian).

Another negative to trying to diagnose a cat illness oneself is that it may delay a visit to the vet. Delay can make matters worse. We know that. Attempts at treating a cat can also matters worse. Think of the commonplace cat ear mite. They are not that hard to diagnose but are you skilled enough to kill them? A little knowledge and a little amount of skill can kill. Or make matters a lot worse. Palpating a cat¹ is one diagnostic method. Do this incorrectly and you can hurt a cat and, in any case, it is requires a lot of skill to do properly and to take useful information from the process.

The key is not to try and diagnose your cat’s illness but be skilled at spotting the signs that your cat might be ill and then taking her to a good vet promptly.

I do understand the monetary problems presented to many cat owners who are on tight budgets. The vet can be scary because the amount to be paid is often initially unknown. You don’t want to have an open ended veterinary bill staring you in the face. The harsh truth is, though, that each cat owner has a responsibility to ensure he or she has the funds to do at least a reasonable job of looking after their cat.

I have to finish up by referring to a previous post which was about the intrinsic value of a cat. If a person does not value their cat companion highly, he/she is more likely to take risks with respect to their cat’s health. A good cat caretaker by contrast will see their cat as a precious living companion. With that attitude taking risks with the health, happiness and life of their cat is unthinkable.

Note: (1) feeling the cat’s insides with one’s hands.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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8 Responses

  1. Dee (Florida) says:

    Well, it’s a no brainer for me that any of my indoor and indoor/outdoor cats go to the vet if I feel they need to. I really don’t like guesswork unless I have no choice.

    But, it’s a little different with ferals. There’s a lot of guesswork and decision making that has to be done. If there’s an apparent injury (someone is limping), I have to decide whether it is bad enough to put the cat through the trauma of trapping, chasing, tackling to take them in or if the injury is so slight that it will resolve on it’s own. It’s a very hard call, because getting close enough to really see can be a problem.

    It’s never about me, because I’ll roll on the ground with the meanest of them. It’s about them.

    There’s a difference between what needs to be done about a young, usually healthy and robust feral that starts looking “sour” and an old one that’s looking frail, slow, and eating poorly. There have been a few times that I’ve had to decide to just let nature take its course.

    It’s always been helpful to have a vet to “consult” with when really unsure.

    • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

      Yes it’s different with ferals Dee, sometimes it’s kinder to let Nature take its course than put them through the trauma of trapping and a visit to the vet.
      It’s amazing how wild animals can mostly heal themselves with time and I think ferals come into that category, they know themselves what’s best to do.

  2. Jo Singer says:

    I totally agree with you Michael.What gets me upset are people who log onto the internet and ask “what’s wrong with my cat?” They know something is wrong and trust people to “diagnose” their kitty.

    I do understand financial constraints, but there are several resources for folks to be able to afford proper veterinary care- such as Care Credit http://www.carecredit.com/vetmed/ at least here in the USA, which are interest free and payment schedules can be arranged that are affordable to most people.

    Excellent article!

    • Thank you, Jo. The article was prompted by the fact that people come to this website and ask the sort of questions that you mention in your comment and all I can do is present the information that I have from a book without actually doing any diagnostic work. Perhaps I’m doing the wrong thing but their question suggests to me that there are a number of people, cat owners, who are not, regrettably, prepared to fork out for a veterinarian to diagnose their cat’s illness probably. This goes to the heart, really, of cat guardianship. There is a need, I think, for a bit of a rethink, to reset the adoption process because good cat caretaking does depend upon having sufficient funds. Not enough emphasis is placed upon that basic requirement.

  3. Marc says:

    Sounds like good advice to me. To be honest though when Gigi and Molly had their operations I never took them back to the vet and I did the stitches myself because Molly especially was so traumatized by the vets.

  4. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    Yes good advice Michael, vets study for years to be able to diagnose and treat animals and the days of home remedies should have long gone.
    It is traumatic going to the vets with a cat and even though I worked for vets I hate taking ours, but it’s part of being a responsible cat caretaker so it’s something we just have to be prepared to do.

  5. kylee says:

    Yea as we got to think of our own cats well being and seek professional help esp if its an illness we dont know about. Very wise advise.

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