Cat Health Terms Demystified


Visiting a veterinarian can sometimes feel like you’ve taken a trip to a non-English speaking country. Terms like “gastritis” and “enteritis” may roll off your doctor’s tongue while you and your cat sit listening equally puzzled. While most vets take the time to explain such terminology, there are instances when they may lapse into conversation that is best suited to medical conferences and peer reviewed journals. You can meet your vet halfway, however, by promoting better dialogue while learning to think more in vet speak.

Don’t Feel Intimidated

While waiting in a room to see your vet, you may see one or more impressive degrees framed on the walls. These could be next to posters describing seemingly impossible-to-pronounce conditions. Despite the potential for intimidation, Thomas Carpenter, DVM, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, said that you should remember that your veterinarian likely has a lot in common with you. “He or she may have one or more treasured pets,” said Dr. Carpenter. “Feel free to ask as many questions as necessary, as that’s what your vet might do in your position.”

Know Your Sci-Speak Comfort Level

When reading the paper, do you pore over health stories? Maybe science was your favorite subject in school, or you work in a related profession. On the other hand, your brain could tune out medical terminology as some kind of alien verbiage. Dr. Carpenter said that when training and advising vets, he tells them to be aware that some people want to hear a lot of science, while others don’t. It could just be that your own veterinarian misjudged your level of comfort on such matters. Diplomatically let your vet know what type of discussion best works for you.

Maximize Your Vet’s Staff

Some of the best sources of information are often underutilized, according to Dr. Carpenter. These are the staff members who work with your vet. “Think about it,” he said. “When you go to see your family doctor, you probably wind up asking more questions of the nurse and staff than you do of your doctor.” He assured that most personnel at veterinary office are very well trained and are open to answering questions. Although busy themselves, they might also have a bit more time than your vet does to explain complex conditions, prescribed drugs and other issues related to your cat’s health. Dr. Carpenter said they could also sometimes open the door to further discussions with your vet, if needed.

Read Up
Even if you have a great rapport with your vet and his or her staff, it never hurts to read up on feline health matters, particularly those that may directly concern your pet or might soon. The American Animal Hospital Association has a number of related articles at its site, Healthy Pet. Your vet’s office may be able to provide you with brochures on common conditions. In the meantime, to help decipher some common technical terms that you might run across while conducting such investigations, here is a mini dictionary:

asymptomatic — without symptoms
blocked urethra — blockage of the urinary passage
bronchi — the main passages that allow air to move in and out of your cat’s lungs
bronchitis — an inflammation of your cat’s lung airways; usually indicated by a cough
colitis — inflammation of your cat’s colon
conjunctivitis — inflammation of the eyelid lining
cyst — a fluid filled sac
enteritis — inflammation of the intestines
eosinophilic granuloma — an ulcer, or swelling, usually on your cat’s lip
FCV — stands for “feline calicivirus,” a virus that can cause symptoms much like the common cold
Panleukopenia — also known as feline distemper – this highly contagious viral disease can affect multiple internal tissues and organs
FIP — feline infectious peritonitis is a progressive and ultimately fatal disease causes by a coronavirus
FVRV — stands for “feline viral rhinotracheitis virus,” a virus that can cause a severe version of cat “flu”
flukes — a type of intestinal parasite
gastritis — inflammation of the stomach wall, that can cause vomiting
gingivitis — gum inflammation
hemorrhage — loss of blood from a blood vessel that can occur either internally or externally
lymph nodes — small organs where immune system responses are launched
metritis — infection and inflammation of a cat’s uterus
peritonitis — when the lining of your cat’s abdominal cavity becomes inflamed due to any number of reasons, including infection
pleurisy — inflammation of the inner lining of the chest cavity that can lead to fluid build-up making breathing difficult for your cat
pneumonia — inflammation of the lungs caused by a number of different agents, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi
ranula — a blister-like swelling beneath one or both sides of your cat’s tongue
rectal prolapse — when the rectum turns inside out due to diarrhea or straining
thrombosis — a blood clot

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

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