Cats and Dental Issues and Pain

Mr. Davis had to have 3 teeth pulled today. He’s doing fine right now – he’d ripped the bandage from the catheter off of his paw before we even got home, and he’s currently grooming with vigor. The story goes like this:

Davis had seemed a little off for the past couple of months, but in tiny ways that I didn’t give too much notice to. One day last week after his breakfast, I noticed that his jaw was popping oddly when he licked his lips or yawned, and I caught him pawing at his face once or twice. I brought him into the vet that morning to get him checked out, and while his jaw seemed fine and nothing appeared out of order, the vet decided to do a thorough mouth exam (because Mr. Davis is so well-behaved about having vet hands all up in his grill. It’s really amazing!)

They found a localized spot of pain at one tooth, but nothing was visible on the surface that would cause it. The only way to see if there were lesions in the root of the tooth was to do an x-ray that would require Davis to go under anesthesia. I decided to go ahead and do it because:

1. Any sort of dental issue in cats can be really, really serious

2. Lesions in cat teeth are actually pretty common, so there was a good chance he would need the extraction

2. He was due for a cleaning this year anyway, so I already had a good chunk of that money saved up, and since that also requires anesthesia I got it all done at once (plus apparently it was Pet Dental Month, so, yay discounts?)

After I’d scheduled the cleaning/potential extraction, I started to think about the minor “off” things I’d seen in Davis and wondered if they were actually pain symptoms. More on that later.

So it wound up that there were lesions in 2 bottom teeth, and they also took out a top tooth that had shown the beginnings of issues during his last cleaning and was in “keep an eye on it” mode for the past 2 years and had also developed a lesion. They found a lot of infection at the lower extraction site, so it is a very good thing I had this taken care of now (they also did a deep cleaning on the other side of his mouth to try and clear up anything that might lead to the same problem).

Now, as for the issue of pain in cats, anyone who’s ever owned a cat probably knows that it’s very difficult to tell if kitty is in pain. They are solitary predators, and so in the wild any revealing of a problem or weakness makes them vulnerable to attack. They are naturally predisposed to be stoic.

To see what I mean, just look up “symptoms of pain in cats”. You’ll get stuff like:

  • Is more active than usual
  • Is more lethargic than usual
  • Craves attention
  • Wants to be left alone

They may as well say “behaves as a cat behaves.” You have to be sharp eyed and very in tune with your kitty to notice something is amiss, and sometimes even then you miss stuff.

So, here are things that I had considered “off” about Davis that may or may not have been symptoms of his dental pain.

  • Would often stop in the middle of walking and crouch down. I thought that the abruptness in this was always odd, but I thought maybe he was just offering a trick (it’s the way he lays down for the “lay down” command)
  • Yawned a lot. This one’s weird, right? Cats yawn. But I recall thinking a couple of weeks ago, “Davis sure does yawn a lot”
  • Went on shorter walks. I usually allocate an hour a day for walking Davis, but I noticed that for the past month or so, he was only going out for 15 or 20 minutes before heading back in. I’d thought this was because he’s a SoCal cat and maybe he didn’t like the “cold,” but could it have been a pain symptom?
  • Was not as enthusiastic about breakfast in the mornings. He’d still eat, he just wouldn’t gobble everything down all at once. He’d eat a few bites, go do something else, and finish up a little at a time later. He only really did this for breakfast.

As to whether those were pain symptoms, I have no way of really knowing. I guess I’ll see if he still does them after he recovers from his extractions.

My biggest clue that he was in pain, though, was how quickly he learned what pain medicine was. When I’d first taken him in, the vet gave me some pain medicine for him for the weekend until his surgery. It was just a small amount of liquid in a syringe that I’d squirt in his mouth.

The first time I gave it to him he resisted, as cats do when you try to shove anything in their mouth. But the second time, when Davis saw me carrying the syringe, he ran up to me and meowed, like he was about to get a treat. Did he really so quickly make the connection between the syringe and pain relief?

Anyway, I guess the lesson learned is that you shouldn’t take any sort of dental issue lightly in cats, and that they’re really tricky about pain. Send Davis kitty prayers for a speedy recovery and no post-op infection, and I’ll give him lots of snuggles and love. He’s already meowing to go out on his walk, though, so he must already be on the mend!

The Design of Everyday Things

This is one of those books that has been on my “recommended design-related reading” list for ages. It is extremely relevant to designers of any field, game designers included, mainly in the realm of the importance of usability. Aspiring game designers, read this book!

It’s pretty interesting to read now through the lens of the future (the original was written in 1988) and seeing how the author’s predictions about the future have come true. Basically he longed for the iPhone. Thinking about electronics now compared to those of the late 80s, I wonder how many designers “grew up” on this book and came into design with usability as a priority.

Anyway, much of it was reiterating what I had learned about playtesting through other means, while providing a more systematic framework for thinking about usable design. Every time I use a public restroom now I consider whether the automatic faucets have been “playtested,” and I feel like I appreciate a well designed object much more when I run into one. I also finally learned what those weird little gates are in stairwells that lead to the basement level.