Sheila visited Sharpes Hill Animal Sanctuary in County Wicklow shortly after reading a book about the First World War, featuring a soldier called Pasha. During her visit, she came across a particularly good-looking cat, who had been dumped and who had been rejected by every visitor so far. Sheila fell for him at once. She felt as if he had been through his own war, and so she christened him Pasha, after the soldier she had been reading about.
He was two years old when she took him in. He settled in well with Sheila, and he soon had his own routine. Three years passed by, and soon it was as if Pasha had always been a part of her life.
Last month, when Pasha didn’t come home one evening, Sheila knew that there was something odd going on. When there was no sign of him the next morning, she knew that something had gone wrong. She searched the locality, calling him, but there was no sign. She asked neighbours, but no-one had seen him.
When a week had passed, Sheila was beginning to resign herself to his absence, and she presumed that he had either been killed in an accident, or he had simply decided to head off on his own. Then one evening, she heard a “miaow”, and there he was at the back door, hungrier than usual, but otherwise, behaving as if nothing had happened.
As he sat in Sheila’s lap that evening, she realised that he had lost weight. It wasn’t a surprise, if he had been missing his meals for a full week. But on reflection, she realised that he might have lost weight even before he had gone missing. He had not been thriving in recent months. The changes were subtle enough, but it was almost as if he had become depressed. He had been walking around the house with his head down, and had taken to hiding in her bedroom, instead of staying in the living room with Sheila. He had stopped interacting with Sheila in his usual friendly way.
When she thought about it, Sheila also realised that he had begun to behave strangely with his food. Instead of just tucking into his bowl in the normal way, he had started lifting it carefully out of the bowl, and placing it on the floor. He sometimes dragged it around a bit, before nibbling at it, and he rarely finished it. Sheila had sometimes thought that she should take him to the vet about this, but he had suffered from bouts of gingivitis in the past. Maybe this was the cause. It had always settled down in the past, so maybe it would do the same this time. She also noticed that Pasha’s breath had become smelly in recent months. Again, she blamed the gingivitis, but it had become so severe that when he yawned, she could smell him across the room.
Sheila decided to take Pasha to the vet in the morning. After being missing for a week, it made sense to have him checked out in case there were any underlying illnesses or injuries. And she could use the opportunity to ask the vet about these other niggling issues that were going on.
When I checked him over, he seemed healthy, but his mouth was definitely the source of quite a few problems. The gingivitis had deteriorated dramatically, and he had gone on to develop decay in a number of teeth. I recommended that he should be booked in for a full overhaul of his gums and teeth under anaesthesia.
The procedure was carried out the next day, and as expected, his mouth needed a significant amount of dental work. Four large molar teeth had to be extracted because their roots were rotten. The rest of his mouth was cleaned up, and despite the pain relief, he was very dull when he went home that evening.
Pasha stayed in for the following three days, and he was very quiet. Then, after a particularly deep and long sleep, he woke up as if he was a different cat. He was full of life, playing with Sheila in a way that he hadn’t played for a year. From that day onwards, he has been healthier than Sheila has ever seen him. He spends all of his time close to her, chatting to her with gentle miaows and small purrs. He enjoys his food now, tucking into his food bowl like a cat in an advertisement for pet food. He never plays with his food in the way that had become his habit. And his foul breath is completely cured. If he yawns right into Sheila’s face now, there’s no unpleasant odour at all.
With hindsight, it’s now obvious that Pasha had been suffering from dental disease that had clearly been causing him pain and making him feel unwell. Sheila now wishes that she had known about the cause of his problem sooner, and she has a message for readers:
“If you’re thinking of buying Christmas presents for your pets, think about booking a trip up to your vet for a proper dental check. You may prefer to see your pet with a cute Christmas toy or outfit, but I can promise you, your pet would much prefer to have a clean, healthy, comfortable mouth as a present”.
Dental disease can cause signs of illness that are not obvious
Halitosis and slowness to eat food are two common causes
Once painful teeth are extracted, pets often become more playful