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A common rule in the practice of medicine is,

“When you hear hoofbeats look for horses,
not zebras” .

This basically means to look for the most common cause of a problem first — and rule it out as the culprit before doing extensive diagnostics for more uncommon conditions.

This makes good sense and it is typically a smart rule to follow.

For The Cat Breeder

Most cat breeders become skillful at diagnosing the health problems in their cats, given experience and some knowledge.

Indeed, it is important for anyone working with a large number of breeding animals of any species to become good at figuring out what is going on when caring for their animals' health.

Practical Examples

Let's think about an example where you hear hoofbeats, so look for a horse, not a zebra. In other words, most times the obvious answer is the correct answer.

You notice your cat scratching at its ear. What is your first thought about what the problem might be?

Dirty ears?

Ear Mites?

Ear Infection?

Any of these would be likely causes of a cat scratching at its ear. It could also be due to Ear Polyps, Allergies, or ear cancer — but these are less likely.

So you first test for the more common possibilities. Only if testing or treatment produces negative results, do you move on to investigate the other possibilities.

Consider a cat that has Diarrhea; what is the probable cause? You should first investigate whether the cat has either of the common parasites; Giardia or Coccidiosis.

If not those, how about Tritrichomonas foetus?

Only if all tests for parasites are negative, would you then move on to consider the less common possibilities such as a food allergy, inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.

The Exceptions

Of course, a problem isn't always going to be caused by the most obvious culprit. Sometimes it is a zebra that is responsible for those hoofbeats — and that's where you and your veterinarian must work together as a team to diagnose the cause.

Final Words

When trying to diagnose health problems in your cattery, always begin by testing for the more probable possibilities and then work your way towards the least likely.

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