What Is Your Cat Telling You?

During veterinary school, I believe I intentionally limited my feline exposure. During clinical rotations, a Siamese cat, owned by the family of jazz great Al Jarreau, was referred to the veterinary school with an incredibly high white blood cell count. The diagnosis was peritonitis caused by an ingested wood splinter perforating his intestine. Surgery and antibiotics were curative. This cat was my case. Was someone trying to tell me something? 

I'm a dog guy. A German Shepherd aficionado. Nancy and I have had them living with us since 1981. In my mind, big dogs and cats don't reside simultaneously in the same household! My daughter Sara was always asking "Dad, when can I have a kitten?" My typical response? "It wouldn't be fair to raise a kitten in a household of German Shepherds."

That was then. Fast forward to April 2010 on a warm spring evening. Nancy and I were strolling around the yard inspecting winter's wrath when out scrambled a kitten from underneath the air conditioner. In spite of my oblivion, this 6-week feline made me his project. He followed me (of all people) as we continued our stroll.

Shortly after, Nancy found a second kitten under the air conditioner. I was faced with the inevitable. Two abandoned, skinny, hungry, and flea infested kittens that focused on me. With hope in their hearts and voices, Nancy and Sara demanded an immediate response: "We're going to keep them, aren't we?" My thought was, how am I going to wriggle from this predicament? In the blink of an eye, the words preceded my thoughts; I relented, YES!

Feline rescue mission immediately elevated to DEFCON 1, our highest state of alert! The kittens were boxed and transported to the practice. Flea dips ensued with numbers of dropped fleas beyond your wildest nightmare! The younger kitten, eyes not even open yet, was fostered with the area rescue organization; Friends of Noah. The other became the first feline family member in the Spaulding household.

As we settled at home we observed until his name evolved. Indy racing was the first thought as this kitten raced around the house and slid across the wood floors. Andretti it was!

Qira, our young German Shepherd, bonded immediately with power maternal instincts. Jeck, our slightly older Shepherd, was much less enthusiastic about the addition. Jeck's mission for the first few weeks was Andretti eradication. Slowly, his surrender set in and from then on, Jeck and Andretti have learned a healthy respect and tolerance for each other.

Understandably, Andretti adopted many traits characteristic of the German Shepherd breed. At the sound of a doorbell, it's a race to the door, barking to alert all who need to know and hair standing on end. Although he doesn't bark, Andretti is in the race, hair standing erect.

Like many kittens, Andretti had issues urinating outside the litter box. This was going on far too long for this farm boy. I was at my wit's end. A urinalysis revealed urine crystals, urging frequent urination. A dietary change to a prescribed Royal Canin crystal reducing diet and fresh water through a water fountain brought resolution. As a farm boy who tolerated cats as a necessary evil, clearly this level of care was a sure sign that this 12-pound wonder cat was finding his way to my heart!

A proven survivor, Andretti does whatever it takes to make his mark in life. I've always respected the self-reliant, and this cat proved himself. He acquired German Shepherd behavior, which scored many brownie points with me and, I kid you not, he even plays fetch! Another trait I admire: he's not your typical lap cat. 30 seconds in your lap and it's time to move on. Leash training remains a challenge!

Much to our dismay, this past Christmas, Andretti's inappropriate urination behavior returned. Urinalysis was clean and blood work normal. The bond that Andretti has created with us let to a physical exam. Excessive tarter on his teeth was noted and routine dental prophylaxis was performed.

During dental cleaning and examination, Dr. Reed discovered a fractured premolar - OUCH! The tooth was extracted, Andretti made a speedy recovery, and his inappropriate urination ceased. We were a happy family once again!

Who would have thought a dental issue caused him to urinate in the house? Not me, that's for sure! This lesson in cat care has been a learning experience for this Wisconsin farm boy! The importance of routine dental care for pets can't be over-emphasized!

I wonder how many cats are discarded because of inappropriate urination. How many cats have relatively minor health conditions that can be easily treated? How many cats have never or very seldom have routine dental care?

Andretti was suffering such pain and the only way he knew to get our attention was to urinate outside of his box. I'm grateful my eyes were open! What is your cat telling you?

February is National Pet Dental Month. Make an appointment now to have your pet's teeth examined!