VET VISITS: Cats need to go to the veterinarian every year. This isn’t simply because they need vaccines. Cats are exceptional at hiding illnesses because they are predators, and they often do not show symptoms until they are very sick. Your vet can tell a lot about your cat through the exam, so there is no reason to wait until your cat is very ill or very old. Each year for them is like several years to us – so can you imagine waiting 5 or 6 years between your yearly checkups? Once cats reach around age 8 (which is older-middle age for a cat), you should be very diligent about taking them to the vet each year. We recommend taking blood and urine on them annually at that age, even if they appear healthy. It is better to catch an illness early, so these basic tests are essential for maintaining general healthcare for your cat.
Common symptoms of illness you should look out for are: lethargy, vomiting, increased thirst, increased appetite, decreased appetite, weight loss, urinary distress or lack of urination, loose/bloody stools, constipation, disorientation, and unusual vocalization. Any of these symptoms should be checked out by your vet, especially if your cat has more than one at the same time. Remember, cats are creatures of habit, so any deviation from normal behavior is an indication that something is wrong and should be investigated.
If your cat gets stressed during travel, please speak with your veterinarian about how to make this process easier. Products like Feliway and catnip (and treats, of course!) are great to place in their carrier to help calm them down and make the trip a bit friendlier.
DIET: A proper diet is the most important factor in keeping your cat healthy. Cats are extremely sensitive to urinary tract problems, allergy syndromes, and a variety of deficiency problems. All of these can be caused or exacerbated by an improper diet.
We recommend a diet of “limited ingredient” and “grain free” wet food. We usually recommend wet/canned food as the primary source of what to feed your cat. Cats don’t drink enough water, so it is important for them to have wet food so they get the proper amount in their diet to prevent certain illnesses later in life. You can use dry food as treats or as a small supplement, but dry food is better left as the secondary source of food. Poultry is also best to feed your cat, so stick with chicken, turkey, or duck based products. We do not recommend feeding your cat diets with fish or beef as ingredients, as they are often linked to food-related allergies in cats. Raw food diets (so long as the manufacturer tests for bacteria and has high safety standards) are great as well, but they only last for a couple days once you defrost the container, so it is not as easy for an average cat parent to use. Cats are obligate carnivores, so they should be eating nearly all meat in their diet, which is why a grain-free diet is essential. Dogs, on the other hand, are omnivores, so vegetables have some significance for them.
Homemade diets have the risk of potentially serious nutrient deficiency problems – you need to add things like bone and vitamin supplements and this is not easy to do at home. The website www.catinfo.org from Dr. Lisa Pierson (a renowned feline nutritionist) offers a lot of great advice about feline nutrition, so please check it out if you need more information about feeding your cat.
Remember, fresh water (changed daily) should always be available to your cat – and it is best to use stainless steel containers to prevent issues with allergies.
EXERCISE: Cats of every age need daily exercise. The good news is that if you have two or more cats, they often provide themselves exercise through chasing each other and playing. A good sturdy scratching post sprinkled with catnip is an absolute necessity for every cat. Laser pointers, toy rats, catnip toys, and balls always make great fun for your cat. If you have a lazy cat, you can use bits of dry food as treats and throw them for your cat, teaching them to play fetch as well as getting some exercise for them at the same time!
Most of all, it is important to remember that having activity with your cat helps build a bond as well as keep your cat alert and satisfied with the amount of attention its getting. Kittens always need more attention – this is the time they are learning how to interact with their surroundings, animals, and people, so the more you can play with them and build your relationship the better! Cats can learn tricks and language skills just like dogs can, you just have to take the time to teach them.
Some cats (such as Bengals) are very hyper, and they need extra attention in order to have the right amount of daily stimulation. Other cats (such as Persians of Sphynxs) are more low energy and are happy to rest most of the day. Just like with dogs breeds like Huskies and German Shepherds, some are incredibly high energy and need more play time and social interaction than a low energy dog such as a Shih tzu.
SPAY & NEUTER: Female and male cats should always be spayed or neutered between 4-6 months of age. There are several health benefits for female cats to be spayed during this time (before they reach their first heat cycle) to help prevent breast cancer and other reproductive issues they might have later in life. Fixing your cat also helps prevent issues with territory/behavioral marking. Unless you are planning on breeding your cat, there really is no good reason to keep your animal in-tact.
VACCINATIONS: Kittens should be vaccinated at 8, 12, and 16 weeks and yearly thereafter. Rabies vaccines are required yearly for all cats in New York, even indoor cats. The FVRCP vaccine (which is every 3 years) offers protection for several upper respiratory viruses as well as panleukopenia virus and calici virus. We also offer the Felv vaccine for feline leukemia, but it is not necessary for cats that are indoors and not exposed to other cats.
FELINE-to-FELINE COMPANIONSHIP: All cats appreciate friendship from members of their own species as much as they would with their human family. The best way to accomplish the right amount of feline friendship is to have two to three cats. Larger numbers of pets at home should only be attempted if you spend a lot of time at home and can assume the proper responsibility for their care. Cats need to have other cat friends to keep them entertained, well-socialized, and stimulated. Also, cats can be very affectionate to one another and have a strong need to snuggle other cats (just like we do). Adult cats can learn to love each other and can become very bonded. Once cats reach a bonded relationship with another cat, they should never be separated. They are very loyal to their bonds, whether they are to people or to other cats, and they need to maintain those healthy relationships throughout their lives.
GROOMING: Cats are very attentive to their appearance, which means they spend a lot of time cleaning their coats. Your assistance can make the job easier because sometimes they can’t do it all alone. Long haired cats need to be brushed regularly, especially as they get older. As cats age, they tend to get a bit lazier in their grooming habits (just like we do), so you will need to brush them more and give them baths with kitty wipes or a warm wet wash cloth. Even a young, clean cat loves being given a light and gentle wash cloth grooming – it reminds them of their mother cleaning them as kittens. There are groomers that can help you maintain your cat’s coat if it becomes unruly. Remember, letting your cat get matted hair is an unhappy experience for them, so please give them the grooming they need to stay silky and clean!
OUTDOOR CATS: We always recommend keeping your cat indoors if at all possible. Getting a leash and harness for your cat and taking it on walks is far safer for them than being entirely on their own outdoors. But, if your cat goes outdoors alone, you must microchip them immediately so that they can always be returned to you if they get lost or someone rescues them because your cat appears to be a stray. You should also give your cat a collar and identification tag with your phone number. Don’t give them jingle bell collars since they might alert predators of your cat’s whereabouts. While your cat needs a collar and tag, you should also consider the debate of if you should give your cat a bright color to help them be noticed by cars – however the downside is that it alerts predators and makes them an easier target. So it is your decision if you want them to blend in to their collar or stand out, but be aware of the potential consequences either way.
Outdoor cats will face more natural hazards than the average apartment cat and have a much shorter lifespan in comparison. We recommend that all outdoor cats be vaccinated against Felv, Rabies, and FVRCP. Any outdoor cat should go to the vet annually to ensure they are in good health. Remember, they will be exposed to other outdoor cats and animals that might be contagious, so they need extra care from their veterinarian than an indoor cat.
PARASITES: Your cat's stool sample should be checked periodically (ideally every year) for internal parasites, such as giardia. Make sure your cat’s feces look normal in appearance and that your cat isn’t itching more than normal. Your shoes and houseplant soil can actually introduce some parasites, so even indoor cats might get them. Frontline and Revolution are great products for fleas and ticks, but they do not cover everything. Bedbugs do not live on cats, but they can bite them – so if you have bedbugs it’s recommended that you should treat your cat with Frontline. De-worming is necessary if a related parasite infestation is known to exist. The most common external parasites encountered are fleas, ticks, and ear mites. If neglected, each could be potentially harmful to your cat.