Caring for ill cats during lockdown: how owners can help vets to make the right treatment decisions


Following ‘lockdown’ measures introduced by the UK government in March 2020, access to veterinary services has been limited due to social distancing requirements needed to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. This has understandably caused some concerns for both veterinary professionals and pet owners. They may now need to rely on ‘remote consultations’ by phone or video to obtain veterinary advice and some services. Whilst not ideal, there is a lot of valuable information that can be relayed by phone or video. This can greatly assist veterinary professionals in making the correct diagnosis ‘over the phone’. The following tips are also presented in a 30 minute webinar: Nursing sick cats at home which can be accessed from this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSH5eTYAtYo&feature=emb_logo 

This article is biased towards cats as these are the only species the author deals with but the same principles can be applied to all pets under veterinary care.

When should I contact my vet clinic for advice?

If you have any concerns at all regarding the wellbeing of your pet, you should not hesitate to contact your vet clinic. Before making a call, it may be helpful to review the information below so that you can provide as much clinically useful data to your vet clinic as possible. Your vet clinic will be in the best position to provide the most appropriate advice if they know as much about your pet as possible.

What general information can a carer provide to their vet?

A key component of a standard veterinary consultation is what we call the ‘history’ where typically a carer will be asked a lot of questions about their pet and their current concerns. Typical questions will ask about the following. If you have noticed any changes, make sure you tell your vet clinic what you have spotted that is different.

  • Is your pet’s appetite and ability to eat normal?
  • Is your pet’s thirst normal?
  • Is your pet’s behaviour normal?
  • Is your pet as active as normal? Have you noticed any problems with energy levels or mobility?
  • Is your pet urinating and defecating normally? If your cat uses a litter tray you may be able to provide information on numbers of times a day that urine and faeces are being passed. Also whether there are any changes in this behaviour.
  • Is your pet grooming normally? Is their coat in good condition?
  • Is your pet breathing normally?
  • Have you noticed any other changes in their health?
  • What medications, if any, is your pet currently receiving?

Don’t worry if you are not able to answer all of these questions, For example if your cat spends a lot of time outside the home, any and all information is helpful!

Information on specific concerns you have

If you have noticed something that specifically worries you such as a cough or sneezing then further questions are likely to be asked, such as:

  • When did the problem start?
  • Did it start suddenly or gradually?
  • Is it getting worse or better with time?

Try and describe the problem in as much detail as possible – all clues are helpful to the clinic. For example, if a runny nose has been spotted: are both nostrils affected, what does the discharge look like? 

Animals with chronic health problems – further data that might help

If possible to weigh your pet accurately at home this can provide vital data for the vet clinic. Small scales (weighing up to 20kg) are inexpensive to purchase online (typically around £30). They can be helpful when caring for elderly animals and those known to have long term health issues that benefit from close monitoring.

Can you provide a photo or video that will help to show your pet’s problem?

If your worry relates to something visible (and/or audible) then photos and videos can be useful and are easier to do before a consultation occurs. Sharing with the clinic via whatsapp, dropbox or other methods should be possible.

What information might your vet ask you to provide?

In some situations, further information might be requested and may be possible. This might include:

  • Counting how many breaths per minute your pet is taking when sleeping or very still
  • Feeling for a heartbeat and counting the number of heart beats per minute. If the heart rate is very fast then count the number of beats in 6 seconds. Then multiply by 10 to get a rate in beats per minute.
  • Skin tenting: lifting the ‘scruff’ of skin behind the neck. Then letting go to see if there are any signs of dehydration. In a dehydrated animal, the skin tent may be visible for a few seconds rather than disappearing instantly
  • Water consumption: you may be asked to measure how much water your pet is drinking in a 24 hour period. To do this, put a measured quantity of water into your pet’s bowls. 24 hours later, measure what is left. The amount drunk = amount put in – amount left after 24 hours
  • Food consumption: monitoring the amount of food eaten can be helpful in patients where poor appetite is a worry.
  • Collecting urine or faeces samples from your pet at home. A guide to urine sample collection from cats at home can be accessed from the author’s website www.vetprofessionals.com (look under Helpful info – Free Downloads)

For more information including videos, please view this webinar: Nursing sick cats at home which can be accessed from this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSH5eTYAtYo&feature=emb_logo.

 Sarah is currently hosting a free weekly live zoom webinar (including Q&A) for cat owners – what she is calling her ‘cat café’ initiative. Sessions occur every Thursday at 4pm and last around 45 minutes. In May the focus is on feline hypertension (high blood pressure), in June the focus will be lower urinary tract disease. To find out more about the cat café sessions please visit www.vetprofessionals.com and click on the green cat café banner.

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