Good Healthcare for Your Cats
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
While cats are one of the most popular pets in the United States, they are often not seen as regularly by veterinarians as they should be. In fact, cats currently outnumber dogs as pets, but cats receive fewer veterinary visits than dogs. What’s more, cats are living longer and longer and putting off veterinary care puts your cat’s health at risk. Too many cats are not receiving the care they need and deserve. Scheduled wellness exams are vital to cat’s health, but when your cat is sick it’s even more important to have them seen by a veterinarian. Cats are masters at hiding illness, making regular trips to your veterinarian even more important. Also, if you see any subtle signs that your cat might not be feeling like him/herself, it’s time to schedule a visit right away! Did you know that a cat can go into liver failure in as quickly as 24 hours if they stop eating all together?
Cats are much better than dogs at hiding illness, so some things to pay attention to are litter box use, changes in interactions, changes in activity, changes in sleeping habits, changes in food or water consumption, unexplained weight loss or gain, changes in grooming, signs of stress (such as increased grooming, decreased socialization, spending more time awake, excessively scanning the environment, hiding or withdrawing, or changes in appetite), changes in vocalization, and bad breath. If you notice changes in any of these areas, or if something just feels off to you, it is best to schedule an appointment right away!
As your veterinarian, we want to be your partners in assuring your cat has the happiest, healthiest, quality life possible. Some different ways we are able to do that are bi-annual wellness exams, diagnostic tests, vaccines, parasite control, dental care, behavioral assessment, and nutritional counseling. Bi-annual wellness examinations are so important since, as we discussed before, cats can often mask how they’re feeling – especially if they’re under the weather. That’s why it’s critical to have your cat examined by a veterinarian every six months. Older cats or those with behavioral or medical conditions may need to be seen more frequently. With diagnostic testing, even if your cat seems healthy on the outside, an underlying problem may be lurking on the inside that testing can allow us to discover and treat or manage. Intestinal parasite testing, blood and urine tests, and other tests that screen for infectious diseases, such feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV), will be recommended based on your cats age and lifestyle. Vaccinations are important even if your cat spends most or all of its time indoors. Your cat may still be at risk for certain preventable viral diseases and if your cat does happen to sneak outside, you want to be sure that they are protected. Every individual animal is unique and a vaccine protocol can be tailored specifically to your baby’s needs.
Monthly parasite control is also hugely important, whether your cat is an indoor-only kitty or spends time outdoors as well. Cats are prime targets for parasites such as fleas and ticks, not to mention the parasites that are not as visually obvious such as heartworms and intestinal parasites. There is no approved treatment for heartworms in cats, so protection is key. As much as we may think that an indoor cat is not as risk for these parasites and diseases, often the outside finds its way into your house – sometimes even as a hitchhiker on your clothes or other pets! Dental disease isn’t just an issue in dogs – cats are susceptible too and with regular visits your veterinarian can examine your cat’s mouth and determine if further action is needed. Most cats will need a professional dental cleaning and polishing by the time they are three or four years of age in order to keep the teeth and gums in good shape.
Veterinarians are also there to help with the behavioral and nutritional needs of your cat as well. Just as your cat needs to be physically healthy, they also need to be emotionally healthy. During veterinary visits, you can discuss your cat’s environment, whether there are other pets or children in the house and how your cat participates in the social aspect of your household, and inquire about any behavioral issues that need attention. Behavioral issues are one of the main reasons cats are relinquished to shelters, so making sure that any abnormal behavior is addressed is critical to having a quality relationship with your cat. Nutritional counseling is also very important, since cats are not small dogs – even though many cat foods are formulated from dog foods with just a little more protein. This can lead to obesity in cats, which in turn can cause diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and other serious, even fatal diseases. During visits you can discuss the type of food you’re feeding and the frequency of meals to ensure you are providing your cat with the best nutrition and avoid (or start to address) your cat being at an unhealthy weight. Your veterinarian can help determine if any adjustments need to be made in your cat’s feeding regimen in order to keep it in the most healthy weight range, which allows for a longer and healthier life!
There are also multiple things that you can do at home to ensure that your cat is getting everything he/she needs to thrive. Following your veterinarian’s recommendations about the right type and amount of food your cat need to stay in a healthy weight range is critical. However, the environment you provide for meals is important, too. For example, putting food in a quiet area or offering it in toys like food balls or puzzles can make meal times more enjoyable. Cats are social creatures and need to have environmental enrichment. Cats need to be in stimulating and comfortable surroundings, so be sure to provide plenty of toys, hiding spots, scratching posts and elevated resting areas in your home. Also, do not forget the importance of one-on-one playtime with your cat (chasing a laser around the room, playing with a feather on a string dangled above your cat’s head, chasing down toys you throw, etc.). Having regular (at least 30 minutes a day) play time will also give you the chance to watch for any changes in behavior in your cat.
Cats are very clean creatures and so meeting their standards for appropriate places to use the bathroom is critical. The best rule of thumb is that you need to provide at least one litter box per cat plus one. With litter boxes, location is key so you want to provide litter boxes that are easily accessible in all the areas where your cat likes to hang out – that means upstairs and downstairs if your cat spends time on both floors. In general, cats prefer open litter boxes in a clean, quiet environment and unscented, clumping litter. Cats are also finicky and do not do well with change, so it’s best not to switch up the brand and type of litter you use. You want to be sure to scoop the box at least twice a day and do a full litter switch and cleaning of the litter box weekly. No one wants a messy bathroom! A cat being fastidious does not just apply to their environment and litter box, but also to their own appearance. Most cats are pretty good at keeping their coats in good condition, but cats with longer fur may need some help with grooming with frequent brushing or keeping them shaved down to avoid matting. Also, as cats age or develop medical issues, such as arthritis, they may also require more attention from you. They also tend to need your assistance when it comes to claw care. It is best to trim your cats’ nails at least monthly and to provide multiple scratching posts for a do it yourself option for your baby!
It’s no secret that getting your cat to the veterinary clinic can be challenging sometimes, since most cats dislike carriers, but it is totally worth the trip and there are things you can do so that your cat doesn’t hate the carrier or the ride as much! You want to condition your cat to feel comfortable in a carrier at a young age, if possible. It is best to have a carrier that has a top-loading option to make it easier to get them in and out of the carrier. You also want to leave the carrier out in the house and let your cat wander in and out of it. You can even place treats or special toys, or even feed your cat in the carrier, to help your cat associate the carrier with positive things. You also want to take your cat on short rides in the car in the carrier from a young age to get them used to riding in the car. It is often best to secure the carrier using a seatbelt and cover the carrier with a towel to decrease the stimulus on the rides. When you are getting ready for a trip in the car, it is best to avoid feeding your cat for several hours before the trip in case they get nauseated. It is also a good idea to take your cat into the veterinary hospital just for a fun, treat-filled visit, so he/she does not always associate the trip to the veterinarian with exams and procedures.