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General health care
The life expectancy of cats has increased dramatically over the last few decades, mainly due to improved food quality, better disease control through vaccinations and improved health care. To make sure that your cat can enjoy this extra life span to the full it is important to look after his or her health from a young age. This obviously includes factors such as feeding good quality food, regular vaccinations and good parasite control. However, there are other important aspects of routine care which should help to keep your cat in good health for many years to come.
Dental care is advisable to keep teeth clean and to prevent cavities and infection in the mouth. There are a number of ways to look after your cat's teeth and it is worthwhile discussing these with us to make sure that the method you choose fits in with your time schedule and your cat's temperament (See Dental care for dogs and cats information sheet).
Regular weight checks are an important component of preventing your cat from becoming overweight. This is an important issue and currently a high proportion of cats in the UK are too heavy. Being overweight can take up to several years of your cat's life expectancy and greatly increases the risks of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.
Routine health checks carried out at the surgery are very important for your cat's well-being. They are performed annually at the time of vaccination, but in some cases it will be advisable to check your cat more frequently than just once a year. After all, your cat is not able to tell you about some aches and pains or other symptoms that would prompt us to see a doctor, thus making sure that disease is diagnosed early. If you are in any doubt, please contact the surgery for advice.
Feeding a good quality food is vital for your cat's well-being and longevity. In the majority of cases a good quality complete cat food is the most appropriate way to feed your cat. We recommend dry food, which has the added benefit of keeping your cat's teeth clean. In some cases a 'life-stage', 'lifestyle' or even prescription food needs to be fed to keep a cat in good health and we will discuss this with you as necessary.
While it is possible, although difficult, to feed a dog on home cooked food, it is almost impossible to do the same for cats. Cats have very special nutritional needs and require a lot more in their diet than just fish or chicken. Cats can develop severe health problems (usually due to deficiencies) when owners try to prepare their food for them, and we strongly recommend that you do not to try it. (See Nutrition advice for cats information sheet).
Short haired cats usually take care of their own grooming, so much so that a cat spends up to one third of its waking time grooming itself. A cat's rough tongue acts like a brush. Long-haired cats need some help with their grooming, otherwise their hair will start to tangle and form matts. Regular, preferably daily, brushing or combing is advisable to prevent any matts from forming. Once matts form, brushing becomes painful and the cat may resent it. If regular grooming is not practised, we occasionally have to carry out more drastic measures such as shaving the whole coat off under general anaesthesia - this is obviously something which is best avoided.
Whether your cat is short- or long-haired, a daily body check is advisable. This can be done while the cat is having a relaxed cuddle on your lap. As well as being 'quality time' for owner and cat, it is a time where health problems can be picked up early. Eyes and ears should be checked for discharge and ear wax. Gentle cleaners can be used if necessary, but medicinal ear or eye ointments should only be used when prescribed as part of a medical treatment. The nose and mouth, including the teeth, should be checked as should the paws. In short-haired cats any matts or other evidence of incomplete grooming should alert the owner to the possibility of a health problem, as healthy cats would not dream of presenting themselves to the world other than as being meticulously groomed! A wide variety of problems can prevent a cat from grooming itself properly, so in such cases it is worthwhile arranging an appointment with the vet.
Scratching furniture or carpets is another normal part of cat behaviour that can cause tension between owners and cats. Cats that go outdoors may do the majority of their scratching outdoors, but indoor cats have to rely on objects inside the house. Cats like rough surfaces and wood to scratch. They scratch to shed the outer sheaths of their claws, and also to mark their territory. There are special scent glands on the cat's paws that carry an individual scent, which humans cannot smell. Other reasons for scratching include the release of pent-up energy/emotional stress or just the fact that cats simply enjoy a good scratch and many do it as part of their waking routine as a 'scratch and stretch'. However, scratching has a devastating effect on carpets and furniture, so designated scratching posts or boards are important to ensure that you can live peacefully together. The scratching post should be high enough for the cat to do the enjoyable scratch and stretch routine and placement of the post is important, too. A scratching post in the wrong place is not attractive for the cat, so if your cat does seem to like the post, try moving it into another area, preferably near a place where the cat has scratched already.
One frequently asked question is whether cats should wear collars or not. There is no clear right or wrong answer to this - it is a matter of individual choice. Many people like their cat to wear a collar either because the key to the cat flap is attached to it or as a form of visual identification so that other people are aware that the cat is not a stray - home address/contact details can also be put on the collar in case your cat gets lost, although identichipping is a preferable method of identification (see below). Flea control should no longer be a reason for your cat wearing a collar as this is much better provided by 'spot-on' products. Unfortunately collars can cause severe damage or injuries to cats as a result of strangling, when a leg gets trapped in the collar or when bells or discs hanging from the collar become trapped (bells rarely help to prevent cats from catching birds).
If you decide that your cat should wear a collar, it is vital to get not just a pretty, but a high quality one. Check the collar for sharp buckles and edges or other bulky parts that could cause discomfort. Elastic collars can be dangerous if the cat puts a leg through the collar and cannot pull it out. Collars that snap open when pressure is put on them may be safer, but check that the buckle opens quite easily. Remember that it is better for the cat to lose the collar than to get strangled because the buckle is too tight.
Several life-threatening diseases can be avoided by having your cat vaccinated. Vaccine protocols vary between countries , but in the UK vaccination generally includes herpes and calici virus (both are causes of 'cat flu'), panleucopenia ('feline infectious enteritis') and feline leukaemia virus. The leukaemia vaccine is not necessary for cats that live indoors and have no contact with other cats that go outside.
Before a cat is vaccinated a full general health check is performed. This is necessary to ensure the patient is able to mount a proper immune response against the diseases, and it is also invaluable for picking up any emerging health problems early, for discussing any health related queries that you may have and generally for ensuring that your cat stays in good health. (See Vaccination in cats information sheet).
Several types of worms can affect cats and it is usually impossible for you to know whether your cat is infected with worms. Unless a cat is severely infested or has tape worms, it is not possible to notice worms in faeces - usually only microscopically small worm eggs are passed with the faeces. Unfortunately some types of worms can also infect humans, especially children or the elderly. Although uncommon, severe health problems including blindness or brain problems are possible in humans infected with certain cat worms. Regular worming will not only protect the health of your cat, but also the health of your family. (See Worming your cat information sheet).
External parasites (Ectoparasites)
Several types of external parasites can affect your cat. Most common and well-known are fleas, but ticks, ear mites and several other types of mites are seen on a regular basis, too. Mites cause itchy skin or ears in almost every case, alerting us to the fact that something is wrong, and ticks are usually quite obvious to find. Fleas can also cause dramatic clinical signs of skin irritation and hair loss, especially if the cat is allergic to fleas, but we also see many cases where the owner has been unaware that the cat carries fleas. This is not a sign of poor hygiene on the owner's part - it is almost impossible to completely avoid flea infestation in a cat. However, having fleas is not only a cause for skin irritation in the cat - it will usually also turn into a hygiene issue, as fleas then start to breed in the environment, leading to an ever increasing flea burden of the house and its inmates. Treatment can be quite involved and prolonged when the flea burden is high, so it is much better to prevent flea infestation rather than wait and only treat fleas when they have already been found. Several good 'spot-on' preparations are available that will not only prevent flea infestation, but also treat ticks and/or mites and may even be combined with a wormer. Please contact us for advice on which product is most suitable for your cat and how to use it. (See Ectoparasites (fleas and other skin parasites) in cats information sheet).
The majority of cats will be neutered at about 6 months of age and we recommend neutering your cat (male or female) unless you intend to breed. Uncastrated male cats tend to roam widely and fight with other cats. They also develop an intense smell and start spraying urine indoors to mark their territory. Additionally they will father a lot of unwanted kittens.
Entire female cats come into season every 2-3 weeks, especially during spring and summer. During that time their behaviour changes and, as they are very good at finding mates, the chances are high that they will become pregnant. Both male and female un-neutered cats have a high risk of picking up infections like FIV ('cat AIDS') (See Neutering in cats information sheet).
An identichip is a microchip about the size of a grain of rice. It contains a unique bar code number which can be read using a small scanner. This microchip is injected into the scruff of the neck and heals into the tissue in that area. The microchip number together with the details of the owner and cat (name of cat and owner, address and telephone numbers) are then registered on a national database. Should your cat become lost and is found, the chip number can easily be read by using the scanner and your cat can be re-united with you. Scanners are used by the police, by the RSPCA, vets and most larger organisations dealing with lost and found cats. As the cat's microchip number is registered together with your address and telephone numbers, it is vital that you notify the database of any changes in your home details. (See Microchipping section).
Having your cat's health insured with the right insurance policy gives you the peace of mind that he or she can receive the best treatment, including specialist care, without you having to worry about the expense.
Many different pet health insurances exist and it is very important to choose one that suits you and your pet. Specialist care should definitely be covered, as the costs of modern complex investigation and treatment can mount up quickly. It is also important to ensure that chronic illnesses as well as those of a shorter duration are covered, especially as the policy moves into the following year of cover. Should your cat ever need lifelong treatment, you may otherwise have to pay yourself after the few months cover by the insurance have run out or you have reached the limit of cover for any one claim. Premiums will depend on the insurance plan you chose, and also on age of the cat and your post code. The small print may appear boring, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to making a claim or being able to afford to have more expensive treatment performed at all. (See Pet health insurance information sheet).
Responsible cat ownership
Owning a cat brings great happiness to both owner and cat but also brings responsibility for the lifetime of the pet. This means that you have to think about the cat's living conditions, feeding, grooming, and the cleaning of litter trays.
Most cats live quite happily in our houses and do not require too many personal possessions. However a litter tray, food and water bowls, a private resting place and facilities enabling an opportunity to scratch should all be provided. Many cats get on well with other animals in the household, but the more cats there are housed together the higher are the risks for infectious diseases, stress-related disorders or behaviour problems. It is generally advised that no more than five cats should live in one household.
Whether cats are kept indoors only or are let outside depends not only on your living conditions and on your preferences, but also on the individual cat's personality. Indoor cats are less prone to injury, accidents and infectious disease, but are more likely to suffer from boredom and develop behavioural problems and stress-related diseases.
Obesity is also more likely in indoor cats. Both options have their pros and cons, therefore it is important to consider this carefully - once a cat has had the chance to go out, it is very difficult to return it to an indoor cat's life.
If cats go out, it is advisable to train them to come indoors in the evenings, as more accidents and injuries happen during the night. Regular worming and disease control are particularly important for cats which go outdoors, and you may be presented with gifts in the form of dead or dying prey on the carpet. When keeping cats indoors it is important to prevent boredom, so the house needs to be very cat-friendly and it is important to provide new toys on a regular basis and to spend a lot of time with the cat. If behavioural problems start, remember that it is not the cat's fault or that he/she is trying to be naughty, it means that something is missing in the cat's life or that he or she is unwell. In such cases it is advisable to arrange an appointment with us to discuss how to best help your cat and prevent this behaviour.
Cats like to pass urine and faeces in clean places and can be very fussy about their litter tray. If the tray does not meet their standards, they will simply not use it. The problem is not usually obvious if the cat goes outside, as many cats will perform these functions outdoors. However, at least one litter tray should always be provided in case of 'emergencies'. Cats that live indoors - or outdoor cats that prefer to use a litter tray - not only insist on a meticulously clean tray, but also on where the tray is placed. Certain areas e.g. behind the washing machine, may ensure that the slightly unsightly tray is out of the way, but the cat may refuse to use it because of, for example, noise or vibration. However, a certain amount of privacy is also required, so the tray should be placed with some thought. Some cats may also prefer certain types of cat litter or a certain type of tray, e.g. open or closed. If more than one cat is in the household, there should be at least one tray per cat and ideally one extra tray. If a cat stops being clean after having used the tray before, it is either due to a disease or due to a stressful change in the cat's life that may not be very obvious to you. In such cases it would be advisable to arrange an appointment with the vet.
Since April 2006 the Animal Welfare Act has been in place. As a result it is now not only against the law to be cruel to an animal, but the owner must also ensure that all the welfare needs of an animal are met. These needs include those for a suitable environment (a place to live) and a suitable diet, to be able to show normal behaviour and also to be protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
Travelling to Europe and several other countries has been made easier by the introduction of the Pet Passport. With a valid passport your cat can travel to and from those countries back to the UK without having to go into quarantine. The basic requirements are a microchip, rabies vaccination, a rabies antibody blood test and the issue of a Pet Passport. The rabies vaccination has to be repeated within a strict period of time to keep the passport up to date. Also, before re-entering the UK, the cat has to be seen by a local vet within a strict time period for parasite treatment.
If you are thinking about travelling with your cat, please plan well in advance as the process takes some time and initially the cat is only allowed to travel back to the UK six months after a successful rabies antibody blood test. For the most up to date information we advise that you contact DEFRA on their website: www.defra.gov.uk.
While rabies is scary and travelling is strictly regulated because of it, it is also a fairly rare disease. Your cat is much more likely to encounter other diseases when travelling, some of which are common in other countries, but unknown or rare in the UK. We strongly advise that you find out about other possible diseases in the area you are going to before travelling with your cat (See Diseases Abroad information sheet). It is also important to consider whether your cat will enjoy going on holiday with you. Unlike dogs, most cats hate to travel, so in many cases a cattery or a reliable cat sitter may be a better option.
Euthanasia ('put to sleep')
Sadly, there may come a time when your cat's quality of life has deteriorated so much that euthanasia is the kindest option available. We appreciate that it is very difficult to make the decision and that this is a very distressing time for you and your whole family. If you wish, we will try to arrange a house visit for our registered clients when the time has come to put your cat to sleep. We have several options for cremation and will discuss this with you in detail at the time (See Euthanasia information sheet).
Should your cat be unwell or should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.