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September 2003

The Importance of Preventative Care!

September 2003 Maude's Catty Mews and Sasha's Tail Waggin' Slashes!

You know, all the truly great cats are lifelong learners. We continue to grow and improve even into old age. That's why lately I've been working on improving my social skills. I think you'll agree that I've already developed a great capacity for tolerance, what with my warm and accepting friendship with that stupid dog, Sasha. And that is why, when she rudely remarked that my hind quarters were looking a little 'extra fluffy' lately, I didn't hiss or slap her silly, as a lesser cat might have done. Instead I changed the subject quickly, asking, "Hey, isn't it about the time of year for your shots? And aren't you due for some blood work, too?"

It is so satisfying to be improving your character and be able to feel so noble about not hissing and spitting over each petty slight about your teensy weight problem, and still to make just the constructive observation that will reduce that dog to a whimpering mess!

"Ah, but Sasha dear", I continued, "do quiet down! Of course I did not ever mean to upset you; I was only concerned about your health. You know how important these things are, especially (Oh, this was sweet!) at your age!"

The trouble with dogs is that they don't know when they've been zapped. Sasha wanted to know what I meant, and so I had to talk about prevention and long term health.

OK, she said she understood why the shots. We've both seen too many dogs and cats get sick and even die unnecessarily because they weren't current on their shots. But she didn't get the thing about blood work. "I don't feel sick, so why do I have to get stuck with a needle?" she asked. So I explained that we don't always get sick all at once. Things like liver and kidney disease can start slowly. By the time we have symptoms (like being thirsty and peeing a lot for kidney disease, or getting jaundiced - yellow - or losing our appetites for liver disease) we can already be down to only part of a working kidney, or have 3/4 of our liver diseased.

When we're young, the blood work we get is a 'junior profile'. It tests for infections, kidney or liver problems, and to be sure the blood has the right amounts of the right kinds of cells. It also is our first 'baseline': the Docs can check each of our blood tests against the ones we had before. Sometimes, by comparing them, they can catch a bad trend before it even shows up as abnormal, so they can help us to not develop a problem. Later we get 'senior profiles' that look at all the stuff from the 'junior profiles', plus thyroid, adrenal function, and diabetes (the endocrine system) and more in-depth testing of liver, kidneys, etc. And they compare them to the earlier tests, too.

She wondered why we can't just have our regular yearly exam, which feels like being petted and massaged, so we like it. I explained that that is a big help, and can find all kinds of things, like heart problems, teeth that need cleaning,..."

"Weight problems?" She asked, trying to look innocent. I just kept going: "Yes, that and also trouble with our teeth..." Sasha said dogs don't get tooth decay. I was pleased to be able to tell her that she was wrong, and that we get tooth decay and gingivitis (gum disease) that can cause our gums to bleed. That's pretty gross all by itself, but in addition, the germs in our mouth (including the bacteria that cause the inflammation and bleeding in the first place) like blood. A lot. They follow it, like a trail, through the breaks in the skin (bleeding gums, remember? The blood comes out through breaks in the blood vessels and skin) back into the blood vessels and then to the heart, or liver, or kidneys - anywhere the blood can go - or they can stay in the blood. Wherever they are, they cause infections and disease. They can even kill us. That made her forget all about making weight remarks. I could see her thinking. It took her a long time. Finally, she asked what could be done about it if the Docs found a problem when they did the exam. I explained that they could do a dental: that's kind of like a dental cleaning for our pet people. The Docs (or Susie, or somebody who knows how) clean our teeth and use an ultrasound scaler to take off all the plaque and debris from under the gums as well as from the surfaces of the teeth. They smooth and polish the teeth to get rid of rough spots or crevices where bacteria could grow back, then put fluoride on them to keep the teeth cavity free. It also makes our breath smell nicer and it makes our teeth pretty and shiny (and fierce-looking, when we want them to be). "How often do we need that done?" Sasha wanted to know. I told her it depends: everyone's teeth are different. Some of us need it done often, some not for years. The Docs check and tell our people about our teeth when they do the annual exam.

Sasha began whining. "Now what", I asked. "I can't remember ever getting my teeth done. Don't they care about my gums and germs in the blood and...woo! Woo! Woo!..."

"Sssst! Stop it, you daft mutt!" ( I encouraged her to calm herself.) "They put us to sleep (more whining from her at this) - No, no, just for a little while. Not 'Put Us To Sleep' for good. This is just anaesthesia so we don't get scared or move around or bite when they take care of our teeth." Still, I explained, this is another reason for blood work. Before anesthesia it's always a good idea to have our blood checked to see if there's anything that would make the anaesthesia cause problems for us.

Then Sasha wanted to know why she has to get preventive care, since she isn't sick. "That's the point!" I told her, "If prevention works, you don't get sick."

"Then how do you know you needed it?" Dogs can be so thick. I explained that if you don't want to get sick, you need it. And if you want to catch any problems before they get really bad, you need it. And if it works really well, you get to be old and stay healthy, and you think you never needed it, but maybe it's why you got to be old. And healthy.

Sasha started to wiggle and wag her tail.

"Now what?" I asked.

"I'm getting a shot soon, and probably some blood work," she said.

I asked why on Earth she was wagging and thumping about that.

"My people want me to stay healthy. They must really love me," she answered.

Now what could I say to that?