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Keeping your cat healthy for a long and happy life seems like it would be easy. After all, they have nine lives! Years ago we thought a cat's lifespan was about 10 years. Now we commonly see cats live into their late teens and some live to be over twenty! The difference has been three main factors: nutrition, vaccination, and keeping cats indoors. The following are recommendations to help keep your cat thriving and enjoying life as long as possible.|
1. Regular visits to your veterinarian. Twice a year is what is recommended. That is the equivalent to a human visiting their doctor every 3-4 years! Not really enough, but it will do for a start. Kittens will need to go more often. Start the first DAY you have your pet (OK, Sunday doesn't count). Then every 3 weeks until your kitten is about 4 months old.
And agree to the age appropriate laboratory tests and services needed for your pet. We understand budgets, but if you can no longer do the bare minimum for your cat, maybe you could find him a new home? Before he gets heartworms?
2. Keep your cat confined! A loose cat is a dead cat. This means indoors only, or in a screened-in porch. Hopefully, you expect your pet to be a pet and be indoors. Barn cats are not really pets, they are more like livestock and usually have short life spans. The best place for a cat is indoors only. Cats are great hunters if allowed outdoors. This puts them at risk at death by other predators such as dogs, coyotes and humans with guns and cars. Also, cats will decimate an area's population of small, native wildlife, especially songbirds. Being outdoors also puts them at risk of many diseases from feral cats and rodents including the feline version of AIDS and plague.
For more information see www.abcbirds.org/cats/
3. Good food doesn't mean a food that was cheap and you can't remember the name. Good quality food costs money. We will give you minimum recommendations and will also tell you what the best food is for your pet. There is actually little difference in price since you can feed less of the best food. As a bonus there is less feces to clean up in the litter box and less smell also. Cats need a very high protein food. All grocery store foods fail this test. The ones that come close have too much fat. The most easily available food with the recommended high protein is a Hill's product called m/d sold at veterinary clinics. If a cat is provided with lower protein food, they overeat and get overweight and obese. While trying to get the needed protein, they also get too many calories. So get the right food to begin with and avoid all the medical problems caused by obesity.
4. Appropriate snack foods are very important. They are often used as training treats. These would include Pacific salmon (NOT Atlantic salmon) and turkey with no preservatives. Only use these treats in very small amounts and twice a day at the most. Do not use commercial treats since these are loaded with preservatives and are nutritionally unsound.
5. Maintain appropriate weight throughout life. Most of our patients are overweight or obese. The owners control the amount of food the pet gets. The thinner pets have been shown to live longer and healthier and have delayed arthritis by several YEARS. So the extra years are healthy years. A healthy weight pet does not look like a sausage, they should be shaped like an hourglass. You should be able to instantly find the ribs just by touching the rib cage. The shape of the backbone should be barely visible. Even a little thinner than that is still OK. It is better to be a little on the thin side than a little on the thick side. But be prepared for all the people who think all pets should look like a sausage.
6. Parasite control and prevention will go a long way to keeping your pet healthy and preventing certain parasites in the human population too. This needs to be done without using environmental insecticides which pollute our waterways. Do not use flea shampoo, flea dip, flea collars or treat your yard or house with flea products. Some of these products can kill cats. There are now multi-purpose, cat-safe monthly topical products that are applied directly to the pet that minimize the collateral damage to the environment. Fleas cause skin disease, tapeworms, anemia, cat-scratch fever bacteria and even plague. The intestinal worms such as roundworms and hookworms are common in cats. Roundworms can cause blindness in humans and hookworms can cause skin lesions and intestinal infection. Routine deworming and fecal testing are done. Kittens are always put on a deworming schedule since worms are so common. Heartworm prevention is now known to be very important in cats as well as dogs. Heartworms can cause sudden death in cats or can cause permanent lung damage with asthma symptoms. Ten to 20% of cats in our area are affected with heartworm disease. This is a higher incidence that feline leukemia or feline AIDS. Cats can not be treated for heartworms like dogs. Prevention is the only answer. The combination flea, heartworm and deworming products are started at 6-8 weeks of age and continued for life to prevent heartworms, intestinal worms, mange mites, ear mites and fleas. Our favorite for cats is Advantage MULTI.
More information at www.petsandparasites.org
7. Spaying and neutering are essential for the health of the individual pet and hopefully to eventually end the euthanasia of so many unwanted but adoptable pets at pounds and shelters in our area. Un-spayed females get cancers and infections of the mammary glands, uterus and ovaries and wander in search of males. They can also have complications because of pregnancy and some of them eat their own babies. Un-neutered males frequently wander and fight other males due to their hormones. They also tend to urinate on items in their territory as well as everywhere else. They often are shot, poisoned or hit by cars. Unaltered pets have a shorter life span because of all these issues. Also, the most common cause of death in cats and dogs is due to overpopulation-euthanasia in shelters and pounds.
More information at www.petpopulation.org
8. Keeping up with vaccinations are extremely important for kittens in our area because of the threat of panleukopenia and leukemia, two diseases that are fatal. Upper respiratory vaccines are also given during this time. Vaccines need to be done from 6-7 weeks of age every 3 weeks until 16 weeks of age. Rabies vaccines are done for the first time between 12 and 16 weeks of age.
After the kitten vaccines are completed, the next time vaccines are due is a year later when all the vaccines are repeated one time. Then the panleukopenia and upper respiratory vaccines are only given once every 3 years. Leukemia may be given every 3 years depending on the risk of the cat. Rabies vaccine schedule depends on where you live.
9. Dental care is not an option, it is a necessity. It is just as important as it is for people. Poor dental care kills people like it kills animals. Bacteria escapes from the infected mouth and ends up in the heart, liver, even the brain. When we need to schedule a dental procedure for your pet, we aren't concerned about how white his teeth will look in his next portrait, we are concerned about infection advancing during the next six to twelve months. If you want to save money, then brush your cat's teeth! Now! We have dental kits available. The toothbrush has much softer and longer bristles, and the toothpaste (that is OK to be swallowed) has odd flavors (like chicken and salmon). We will explain how to do it. It is best to brush every day, but even once a week (during your favorite show) is better than nothing.
10. Exercise is an absolute necessity. Of course, you will have to make an effort too. Exercise has to be the sustained output of energy for a period of time. Cats can be exercised by dragging a thick string with a toy on the end of it, by throwing foil balls or ping-pong balls, by providing large paper sacks with shredded paper inside, by getting two cats instead of one, by using a feather tied to a small home-made fishing pole, etc. All cats need exercise for 3 reasons. Weight control, cardiovascular fitness, and arthritis prevention. Without exercise, you will be decreasing their lifespan and their quality of life.
11. Behavior problems is a common reason cats are given up by their owners, or made to be outdoor-only cats which greatly shortens their lifespans. If your veterinarian is not interested in helping with your's cats behavior problems, ask for a referral. Texas A&M Veterinary School has Behavioral Specialists and Dr. Haug in Sugarland is now available as well. Some of the most common problems are scratching the furniture, not using the litter box and attacking other pets in the home.
Scratching the furniture can be solved by training, giving attractive alternatives to exercise the claws on (some vertical, some horizontal) discouraging use of the furniture by waterguns, covering the furniture with things the cat doesn't like (either materials or scents or both), or even declawing, which is better than death (which is often the result of abandoning to the shelter or keeping the cat outside only).
Litterbox problems can be due to medical problems and often a change to a special diet will solve the problem, so your veterinarian needs to be interested in solving your problems. Also, there should be at least one litterbox per cat plus one. So a 2 cat household should have 3 litterboxes located in various parts of the house. Anytime there is more than 3 cats in the household, social problems will increase the chance of litterbox problems. But there are still things that can be done. Covering the inappropriate places with aluminum foil or a shower curtain and putting a litterbox nearby is helpful. Also, changing to a different type of litter such as pine, or using a litter additive such as a scoop of potting soil can be tried. Some cats like covered boxes, some want open boxes. Some older cats need the front edge cut down because arthritis makes it uncomfortable to step over the high sides.
Attacking other pets in the household can be handled with behavior therapy and sometimes medication is very helpful also. Usually the medication is only used for awhile, and then is weaned off. Multi-cat households can have complicated behavior problems and often a behavior specialist is the quickest way to solve the problems.