While the cat population slowly increases, veterinary care provided to cats progressively decreases. Typically, cats fail to recieve the same veterinary attention as dogs. Two years ago, feline visits decreased 5% from 2006. This year, it is estimated that fewer than half of the estimated 74 million pet cats in the United States will not receive regular veterinary care. Fewer than half!
Proper kitty care doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are ten ways to keep your cat happy and healthy.
1. Keep cats indoors
Unfortunately, family vets in general, and surgeons in particular, see all kinds of wounds and fractures in cats who are left outside unattended. We have treated cats who were hit by a car, shot at with an arrow, shot at with a BB gun, shot at with a real gun, and bitten by animals (dogs, possums, raccoons, other cats). In some areas, cats vanish after encounters with coyotes or other predators.
If you feel that keeping cats indoors in inhumane, then walk them on a leash around the yard. This will prevent them from getting out of the yard if left unsupervised. Sadly, we live in a world where the safest place for your cat is on the couch.
Just because cats should live on the couch, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t exercise. Sedentary cats are prone to obesity. One way to avoid this is provide toys to play. Initiate play with your cat. This is good not only to help your pet lose extra pounds, but to tap into your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Different cats like different toys, so explore various options. You can also offer special a “food toy” which releases food when it’s moved in a particular way. Another idea is to hide pieces of kibble around a room to increase your cat’s hunting instinct.
Cats are obsessed with cleanliness. A clean litter box is critical to avoid inappropriate elimination in the house. A litter box should be cleaned once a day. If you have more than one cat, you should offer multiple litter boxes – all cleaned once a day.
Get your cat used to the carrier. Teach him or her that it is a safe place and not a torture device. This can be done by just having the carrier out as a hiding spot. Food is a big incentive in getting your cat into the carrier. This will make it a lot less stressful when it is time to take your pet to the annual veterinary exam. You can also pay a visit to the Catalyst Council to learn how to help your kitty and his or her carrier get along.
5. 3D world
Cats live in a 3D world. They don’t live only on the ground like many dogs do. Cats like to jump and perch and observe and rest at various heights. To learn more about the 3D environment concept, take a look at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s overview of perches as well as their Indoor Pet Initiative page for tips to keep cats (and dogs) happy.
6. Physical exam
A healthy cat is a happy cat. Cats should have a yearly physical exam, and older cats may benefit from an exam twice a year. It’s not always easy: cats are very good at hiding signs and you often have to look hard to know if a cat is sick. Unfortunately, you still might not know until your cat’s body cannot take it anymore. This means that by the time you realize that your cat is sick, it may be very late (or too late) to find a cure as we’ve discussed before. Thankfully, a good physical and blood work can reveal problems like lumps and bumps under the skin, eye conditions, ear infections, as well as kidney or liver disease.
7. Preventive care
You’ve heard it a thousand times: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” – wise words attributed to Benjamin Franklin. After the yearly physical, you and your vet can decide what your particular cat needs: vaccines, deworming, heartworm prevention, blood work, flea and tick prevention and dental care.
A microchip is a tiny device (the size of a grain of rice) that is placed under the skin and stays there for life. If your pet is ever lost and ends up in a shelter or a vet clinic, a microchip reader will reveal who kitty belongs to. This can help reunite you with your cat and is much more reliable than a collar and a name tag.
How to best feed a kitty is a highly controversial topic. Professionals like veterinarians know that there is a lot of “junk food” on the market. Some call it “kitty crack.” Feeding these foods (which of course we cannot name here) would be similar to humans eating at a fast food restaurant every day at every meal.
It is probably fair to say that there is no ideal food for all cats. Finding the best solution for your particular cat should ideally come out of a heart-to-heart discussion with your family vet. The choice will vary depending on your cat’s age, waist size and health status.
Cats are social creatures. They enjoy each other’s company (OK, most of the time!). Consider going to your local shelter and saving a life by adopting your next feline friend. Double the cats: double the fun!
Let’s finish our review of tips to keep cats happy and healthy with one more suggestion. If you’re concerned that you may not be able to afford proper veterinary care if your cat gets really sick, then consider getting pet insurance. This is a great way to know that no matter what happens, you will be able to provide the best care for your feline friend.
Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ and Chris Longenecker, CVT