Cat Digestive System
The most finicky and delicate part of your pet’s body has to be the digestive system. Throughout your cat’s lifetime, it will remind you both that it won’t stand for any foolishness. Spicy foods, bones, bad-tasting mice, pieces of wood, and any other garbage will cause a fit of vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Your cat’s digestive system is a food processor par excellence. Not only does the digestive system chop, pulverize, blend, grind, and emulsify food, but it converts carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into easily digested molecules that are then handed over to the bloodstream and lymphatic system for delivery to your cat’s cells for energy, growth, and tissue repair.
Digestion begins when food enters your cat’s mouth. The tongue positions the food for the shredding and tearing action of the teeth and mixes the food with the saliva to start the digestion of carbohydrates.
Your cat’s tongue, which should be pink, has hard spiny projections similar to those on a wire brush. The tongue does act as your cat’s built-in wire brush for pulling out loose hairs. The tongue also has taste buds that are aided by a primitive gland (Coiner nasal gland) located in the back of the upper front teeth. Occasionally, you may see your cat taste by first licking (such as when a male cat licks a female’s vulva) and then flicking the tongue behind its upper front teeth, thereby distributing the taste to the sensitive Vomeronasal gland, which can’t be seen.
Your pet’s teeth are used for protection and for grasping, cutting, and crushing food. Your kitten doesn’t have teeth at birth. The baby’s (deciduous) teeth appear between two and five weeks of age. The permanent teeth begin replacing the baby teeth at four months of age. Cats have four types of teeth: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. The teeth should be white, and the gum line should be pink, not swollen or red.
Some cats fail to lose all their baby teeth (especially an incisor or canine) by eight months of age. In that case, you may see a double tooth. The baby tooth should be surgically removed, because it produces a good location for food entrapment and infection and may cause misalignment of the adult teeth.
A normal bite in cats has the upper incisors slightly overlapping the lower incisors. A slight overbite (a more marked overlapping) or an underbite (the lower incisors overlapping the upper incisors) doesn’t seem to cause any problems.
The rest of the digestive system cannot be seen, but with practice,, you may be able to palpate some of the organs. Remember, to palpate gently to avoid injury.
After your cat swallows, the food enters a muscular tube, the esophagus, through which it is transported to the stomach by coordinated waves called peristalsis. Because they eat odd things and fail to chew, cats can occasionally get blockages in the esophagus, caused by bones, fishhooks, small toys, and so forth. Early diagnosis and treatment are a must since a perforation in the esophagus can cause fatal pneumonia. Persistent gulping, difficulty in swallowing, regurgitating (not vomiting) food (it just seems to come right back out), and excessive salivation are some early signs.
The stomach is the chief active partner in the digestive system, churning food and making it acceptable for the intestines. When you’re pet’s stomach is full of food (or full of gas), it may feel like a doughy bag (feel behind the last rib on the left side). A kitten’s stomach can distend considerably after a meal, and this is not necessarily a sign of disease or worms.
The liver is the largest organ in your pet’s body, but it is located so that it cannot be palpated well in a normal cat. It nestles under the rib cage, probably because it has hundreds of jobs to do and can’t be interrupted. The liver makes the proteins that provide energy for your cat’s graceful leaps, manufactures the clotting agents that stop the bleeding of a cut, and is very important in that and sugar metabolism. In addition, the liver is a great detoxifier purifying toxins and drugs in your cat’s system and it recycles the bodies of dead red blood cells.
Some of its products are used to make new red blood cells; others are used to make bile, the green digestive juice stored in the gall bladder that, at mealtime, is released to the intestine through the bile duct to help break large fat molecules into smaller ones. Liver disease or the rapid destruction of red blood cells will release large amounts of bile into the bloodstream, producing jaundice and staining the eyes, gums, and skin yellow.
The pancreas resides behind your cat’s stomach and also can’t be palpated easily. The first job that the pancreas undertakes is to neutralize the acids in the soupy gruel that the stomach passes on to the intestines. These acids are no laughing matter; they could inflict serious damage to the intestines if not neutralized. Your cat’s pancreas also produces an impressive array of enzymes that are important in sugar, fat, and protein digestion. If the pancreas becomes inflamed as in pancreatitis, some of these enzymes leak from the cells into the bloodstream. The pancreas is best known, however, for its manufacture of insulin, which ensures that all your pet’s cells get glucose, a simple sugar, for their energy needs.
All nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine, which then passes them to the bloodstream and lymphatic systems. By gently grasping the abdomen between the thumb and fingers, you may feel the small intestine as a slippery tube. The last stop on the way is the large intestine, where water is extracted for your pet’s use and the feces (the stool) become firmer. You may be able to feel the large intestine by gently palpating high in the posterior abdomen. Any problems in this organ can produce diarrhea, sometimes mixed with blood or mucus.
All indigestible material has to leave the body by way of the anus. The entire trip takes about twenty hours. Your pet’s normal feces should be firm and brown. If the feces are loose, black, or clay-colored. bloody; are streaked with mucus; have a foul odor; or are extremely large in volume.
See more: Cat Larynx