In the past several weeks, a number of concerns regarding cats have come to the examination table. Some were pressing, but others were mundane. How can you tell which is which? It’s time to discuss a potpourri of varied kitty oddities.
Through the years, owners have brought in their cats for a possible hair-loss issue. The good news is, there is no issue. In front of the ears, there are sparsely haired areas of skin that are perfectly normal. In some cats, that paucity of hair is alarmingly visible, but there is no need for worry. Usually, it is more prominent in skinny, angular-faced cats. Also, black cats create the optical illusion of these patches to be more obvious. I’m not sure why cats have these patches, but my theory is that it must funnel sound to improve an already acute auditory sense. If there are no scratches in that area, consider these balder triangles normal.
Speaking of hair loss, certain cats have a ‘nervous’ disorder known as ‘barbering.’ Barbering is when a cat licks itself bald. It seems like a behavioral issue in the vast majority of cases, but there can be a medical cause, such as a flea allergy. Commonly, the belly and the insides of the back legs are the most affected. Strangely, sometimes a medical treatment for allergy will stop the obsessive/compulsive behavior. Alleviating anxiety also can address the issue. That’s if you can figure out what in the world would make your cat anxious!
Another all-too-common problem for our kitties involves squinting in one or both eyes. In almost all cases, squinting equals pain. Curiosity gets cats into all manner of ocular trouble. They squiggle and squirm into any and all tight places indoor and out, often resulting in a poked eye. The least severe is a foreign-body type irritation, resulting in swollen, red eyes with squinting and discharge. The more severe version is an ulcerated or ‘scratched’ cornea. That is one painful poke in the eye, and takes a while and some particular medicines to heal.
An odd occurrence that sometimes shows up on the pads of the feet is a strange callous. It appears as a hard-as-a-rock, conical extension of an edge of the pad. It affects the outside toe pads and lateral margins of the main pads, more so than the insides, or medial toe pads. It just happens, and there is not much anyone can do about it, unless it breaks off and bleeds.
Cats pant! It does not happen very often, but it can happen and if nothing else seems out of the ordinary, don’t sweat it. It freaked me out the first time I saw it as a new veterinary graduate. Thank goodness my boss alleviated my fears, having already witnessed the phenomena. Cats also will appear to be panting when they are actually ‘tasting’ the air to identify some unknown scent. Horses and other hoofed animals also do this. Weird, huh?
Finally, cats will get some plugged up follicles under their chins called ‘feline acne.’ This common (and disturbing) affliction appears as bumps or ‘zits’ on the chin and sometimes around the lips. This can require medical attention, but some home care can help. You can pop the bumps and extrude the oily plugs and dry the area with diluted peroxide solution dabbed on with a cotton ball. Don’t overdo it. Strangely, switching from plastic food and water bowls to glass or ceramic alleviates the problem.
So enough with the weirdness of the cats that I have seen recently. The inexplicability of cats is what endears us to them.
Dr. Kenneth Geoghegan, of Village Veterinary Hospital in Warson Woods (villagevethosp.com), has been a neighborhood veterinarian since 1992.