This section is designed to leave you with a basic understanding of how to protect your cat from injury and disease, detect if something is wrong with them, and how to assist your cat back to health if they do fall ill.
Preventing Illness & Injury
As soon as possible after you get your cat, you need to register him with a local vet. It is better to do this before any problems occur, and it is always advisable to get a new pet checked out by a vet anyway. If you have a new kitten or an un-vaccinated or un-neutered cat, another reason to contact your vet is to enquire about neutering and vaccinations, both of which greatly reduce your cat's chances of illness and injury. This will also give you the opportunity to note down any relevant information such as opening hours, fees and whether there is a 24-hour telephone number to call in case of emergencies.
Most people are aware of the dangers facing cats when they are exploring outside, such as traffic accidents, and fighting with other cats, but you also need to be aware of the hazards inside your home. Hazards include any hot liquids or surfaces, unguarded fires, sewing needles with thread attched and open widnows in upper stories. Cats may also go through rubbish if left accessible (inside or outside) and are at risk of cuts from tins or broken glass. Whilst you cannot protect your cat while he is outside, you can minimise his risk of injury by keeping him indoors at night and not using rodenticides, herbicides, slug bait or anti-freeze anywhere that your cat could get to as these are poisonous to cats.
The best way to look after your cat is to simply routinely check for anything amiss. Check his ears regulary and if needed, clean with a specialist cleaner or a few drops of olive oil on some cotton wool. Also check his eyes, which can be cleaned with some cotton wool moistened with water. It may become necessary to clean your cats teeth, if he is co-operative, which can be done with a baby's toothbrush (it needs to be very soft) and a weak salt solution. Never use human toothpaste on your cat. Regular grooming is also beneficial to both long and short haired cats. It keeps their coat in good condition and tangle-free, and reduces the risk of them developing hair balls. One of the most important factors in keeping your cat healthy is his diet. Always make sure his dietery requirements are being met, and that plenty of fresh water is always available. See the Diet section for more information.
Two of the most common ailments in cats are fleas and worms, but both are easily preventable and treatable. When registering your cat with your vet, the vet will probably speak to you about flea and worm treatments. These are simply pills or drops that need to be administered, usually once a year, in order for your cat to remain parasite free. You should keep a record of when your cat is due for these treatments every year so as not to forget them.
This section covers how to tell if your cat may be ill or suffering from an injury. Many injuries will be obvious to spot such as fighting or trafic accident injuries, but other injuries and illnesses take closer observation. You need to keep an eye on your cat's eating and drinking patterns as a change in these can often be the first sign that something is wrong. Also, if they lose or gain weight, this may be a sign of some other problem. Cats are particularly prone to bladder infections and may show signs of one by urinating more frquently, passing blood in their urine, or having difficulty urinating. To alleviate these symptons, the ebst thing is to increase their water intake which can be done by mixing in extra water with their wet food, taking away any dry food they normally eat and giving them milk to drink if they can tolerate it. However, if you are concerned about your cat's health always get professional advice from your vet.
There a number of other symptoms your cat may show to indicate illness. Many of them are indicative of easily treated ailments and so you should not become unduly worried, but seek medical advice so that the problem can be adressed. These symptons include vomiting, diarrhoea, swellings, wounds, itching, sneezing, pot-bellies, fits and convulsions. If your cat displays any of these sypmtoms or anything else that is out of the ordinary, then take him to your vet for a proper dagnosis.
The best way to spot if anything is wrong with your cat is to simply spend time with him. If you learn his normal habits, routines and behaviours, it will be easy for you to spot if he deviates from his normal happy, healthy self.
Certain small injuries may be treated by you without the supervision of a vet. It is a good idea for any cat owner to assemble a cat first aid box, containing useful items for use on your cat when they suffer minor injuries. A good cat first aid box should contain
- An antiseptic solution and cream based on chlorhexidine (eg Hibitane) or cetrimide (eg Savlon). Do not use antiseptics based on phenol, cresol or related compounds as they are toxic to cats.
- Ear drops from your vet, or alternatively, olive or almond oil from your pharmacist
- Eye drops from your vet (or pharmacist as human eye solutions are suitable for cats)
- A hair ball remedy from your vet, or olive oil can also be used.
- Cotton wool
Traffic accidents are all too commmon in cats and you need to know how to handle your cat if he is involved in one. If your cat has sustained only minor injuries it may only be necessary to wash his wounds with antiseptic solution and try to control the bleeding. This also applies to light wounds sustained from fighting with other cats or any other means. Be careful when handling your cat if he is scared or injured as he may try to scratch or bite. If your cat has any large wounds (larger than 6mm), eye injuries, difficulty breathing, or if he seems to be in pain, then you need to take him to your vet immediately.
If your cat is involved in a traffic accident and is immobile or unconscious, it is important to not disturb his position as much as possible. To lift him, ideally a solid flat surface should be used such as a metal or wooden tray. If there is no solid item available then use a blanket. To lift your cat onto the object, place it behind him and put your hands, palm upwards, under your cat's shoulders and hindquarters. Gently lift your cat onto the board or blanket taking care not to move his position. Try to control any bleeding and immediately seek medical attention.
Cats can choke if their throat or upper airway becomes obstructed by food, fur, or other foreign materials. Your cat may appear to be coughing or vomiting without bringing anything up. You will need to try to remove the blockage with either your fingers or a pair of tweezers. If your cat is having difficulty breathing, he will quickly become distressed so you may need to wrap him in a blanket and hold him firmly by the scruff of the neck to be able to get your hand into his mouth. If you cannot dislodge the obstruction, seek medical advice.
If you are in any doubt as to the health of your cat or if you think they may be injured or in pain, do not hesitate to contact your vet.
All cats and kittens need to be vaccinated to provide protection from viruses and bacteria such as cat 'flu and feline leukaemia. A vaccination is simply a way of stimulating the cat's immune system so that they have a better chance of fighting off infection if they ever come into contact with the diseases. There are various vaccinations available to you and your vet will discuss with you what the best options are. Certain factors need to be taken into account, such as, if your cat is likely to be going outdoors or in direct contact with other animals at all, they will be more at risk of infection and therefore likely to need more vaccinations than a cat without these risk factors.
Kittens need to be vaccinated when they are eight or nine weeks old, with second vaccinations after three or four weeks. If you have an adult cat which has never been vaccinated, they will also need two sets of vaccinations, three to four weeks apart. Boosters will then need to be given normally on an annual basis, but the timetable for boosters should be decided between you and your vet, in order for any risk factors to be accounted for.
A female cat can be responsible for 20,000 descendents in five years. There are many unwanted cats and kittens, and more are abandoned every single day. As a responsible pet owner, there is really no reason not to have your cat neutered as soon as possible (both male and female cats can be neutered from the age of about five months). There are, however, many reasons why you should have your cat neutered:
- There is a common misconception that you should allow a female cat to have one litter before being neutered as a kind gesture to allow her to know what it is to be a mother. However, a cat has no concept of motherhood until her first kitten squeals at her the first time she gives birth. Therefore, it would seem kinder to not let her have one litter, and therefore not realise that she is missing anything.
- Another common misconception is that cats get fat when they are neutered. The only reason a cat gets fat is because of over-feeding. Neutering also does not affect a cats ability to catch mice, and will make him more likely to stay close to home and a better pet.
- Neutered cats are less likely to wander and get into fights with other cats, even to protect their territory. This makes them much less likely to get infected with a variety of illnesses inlcuding feline leukaemia and feline immunodeficiency virus both of which can be fatal.
- Most cats killed in road accidents are un-neutered toms as they are more likely to wander off. They may disappear for weeks at a time, and return with injuries from fighting. Also, un-neutered toms will mark their territory with strong smelling urine. This is called spraying and will be done inside the house as well as outside.
From as early an age as possible it is advisable to get your cat used to being handled, and this includes allowing you to inspect inside his mouth. If you get your cat as an adult, or if you did not do this when he was a kitten, it is still possible to train him to allow you access to his teeth. It is important that you regularly check your cats teeth as often they will hide the fact they have a painful tooth.
One of the best ways to ensure healthy teeth and gums for your cat is to allow him outside to hunt. Cats that regularly hunt and eat their prey are using natures toothbrushes- fur, feathers, bone and gristle. If you are unable to let your cat outside to hunt, then an alternative is to make sure they have dry food available in their diet. Dry food helps to clean your cats teeth as it scrapes off any debris from the teeth, and your cat needs to produce more saliva in order to eat dry food, which helps keep the mouth clean.
To reduce your cats chances of gum disease or other dental problems, brushing should be carried out on a daily basis. The best way to get your cat used to tooth brushing is by using positive reinforcement and by introducing the practice slowly. Do not punish bad behaviour or failure to comply, instead reward good behaviour with a treat and/or praise. If you persevere slowly and gently, your pet should learn to accept this behaviour. There is no need to brush the insides of your cats teeth as his tongue acts as a fairly effective toothbrush. You should instead concentrate on the large cheek teeth (premolars and molars) and the fang teeth (canines).
Always use small, soft toothbrushes designed for cats, and only specially made cat toothpaste, as these do not froth and are designed to be swallowed with no ill effects. Never use human toothpaste on your cat. Try to choose a toothpaste containing natural enzymes as these help to break up any existing plaque, and stop any more forming.
If your cat refuses to allow you to brush his teeth, then you can buy oral hygiene gels that you can rub onto their teeth or mix in with their food and these contain the natural enzymes to help get rid of plaque and inhibit the bacteria which allow plaque to form. These gels seem to be palatable to most cats.
Regardless of whether your cat allows you to brush his teeth or not, you should have your cats teeth regularly inspected by a vet, especially as your cat gets older. If your cat shows any signs of discomfort in his mouth such as difficulty in eating, pawing at his mouth, bad breath or red, swollen gums then contact your vet. These need to be treated and may indicate more serious health problems.