Cats between the ages of one and eight are physically in their prime. Subtle changes can, however, occur in healthy-appearing adults that may lead to trouble later. For example, up to 50% of cats seen by veterinarians are overweight or have dental disease. These and other conditions pose a threat to your cat’s health and need to be managed now, before they become advanced disabilities.
Some risk factors for disease are inherited and so cannot be eliminated, but many such as inappropriate nutrition can be modified or eliminated. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss your pet’s risk factors based on history, physical examination, and results of diagnostic tests if performed. You also must play an important role by following your veterinarian’s advice to keep your cat healthy.
WHAT CAN A CAT OWNER DO TO KEEP HIS/HER CAT HEALTHY?
Annual examination: Routine annual examination can often detect early signs of illness during a treatable stage. Your veterinarian is trained to look for subtle physical evidence of disease, but cannot do it unless you actually bring the cat in to be examined!
Dental disease: Periodontal or gum disease is very common in cats over 2 years of age. Poor alignment of teeth (as in Persians) and consumption of canned foods are risk factors for dental disease. Your cat’s oral health can be managed by feeding dry food only, use of a damp cotton gauze on the teeth and gums daily (start training early in life), and professional cleaning/polishing as recommended by the veterinarian.
Vaccinations: Vaccinations are critical for preventing serious illness or death due to a number of dangerous viral diseases in cats. Housecats are almost as susceptible to infectious diseases as outdoor cats are because owners can track viruses into the home, cats can escape inadvertently, and contact with other cats can occur through screen doors or if an owner brings another cat into the home. We recommend annual vaccinations for distemper, respiratory infections, feline leukemia virus, and of course rabies.
Spaying/neutering: Please spay/neuter your cats in a timely manner. Females do not benefit from having a litter, and our animal shelters are terribly overburdened with unwanted pets. Spaying your cat while young is highly effective in preventing breast cancer. Male cats will fight, spray urine, spread FIV (a fatal virus), and become a neighborhood nuisance if not neutered. Though Los Angeles now requires spaying/neutering by four months of age, we find 6 months in females and 8 months in males is most medically appropriate and can provide a waiver until then.
Nutrition: The role of good nutrition in your cat’s health should never be underestimated. Far too many cases of urinary tract disease, intestinal disease, and skin trouble are completely avoidable by feeding only a high-quality diet such as Science Diet or Max Cat. Never feed your cat “people food”, table scraps, fish in any form, dairy products, garlic/onions, or generic cat food. Avoid canned cat food unless your veterinarian specifically recommends it. And of course never give your cats treats or supplements before discussing with your veterinarian.
Behavior: Inappropriate behavior is a leading cause of death in the cat due to euthanasia or abandonment, and much is tragically unnecessary. See your vet promptly in the event of a behavior problem, since many have their roots in disease (which can and should be treated), and most purely behavioral problems are quite treatable with environmental modifications and/or medication. Remember, the longer your cat’s behavior continues untreated, the less likely that any treatment will be effective.
Litter box: Provide your cat(s) with adequate toilet facilities. Cats are obsessively clean given half a chance, and you can avoid many behavioral and medical problems if you don’t slip up here. The rule of thumb for box count is: one per cat, plus one. If you have space to do this, DO. Use a top quality unscented scoopable litter (PetSmart’s Exquisicat Scoop is our favorite), scoop daily (dispose of scoopings in trash), keep the litter box away from the cat’s food/water and bedding, avoid using a cover on the box, and avoid the electric self-cleaning boxes (they frighten most cats).
Grooming: Good grooming is an important part of your cat’s overall health. While most cats groom themselves effectively, some need help in the way of combing and brushing, occasional shaving, and rarely bathing. Routine brushing allows you to notice skin lesions early, while they are small and easily treated. Be sure to bring any abnormalities to the doctor’s attention during your cat’s examination – they can be easily overlooked.
Environmental hazards: Outdoor cats live an average of only 2-3 years, while well-cared for housecats live an average of 15 years. Keep your cat indoors as much as possible, and make your home “cat safe”. Clean water, fresh food, a cozy home, proper exercise, a clean litter box, and loving human companions will all go a long way toward ensuring your cat a long healthy life.
Parasites: Cats are susceptible to a number of internal and external parasites depending on whether they stay in or go out, and how much time they spend outside. Some of these parasites are merely annoying, some are dangerous to your cat’s health, and some can be spread to humans who can then become seriously ill. Be sure to discuss parasite control with your veterinarian during your cat’s annual exam. Modern parasite controls are very safe and effective compared to what we had to rely on even 15 years ago.