We've all walked by a pet store and seen the collection of kittens staring out, ears perked up, begging to be adopted. Choosing to bring a cat into your life is a rewarding experience not just for your pet but for you as well. Studies have shown that owning a pet can reduce instances of depression and increase general well-being. Whether you choose an indoor cat or want to let your cat roam the neighborhood, your pet needs all of the love and attention you can give. Not only should you take care to make sure they have the best diet, but you should always be on the lookout for potential health problems. Here are some tips to keeping your feline friend happy and healthy for years to come.
Healthy Diet and Body Weight
- Cats are carnivores. They have much stricter dietary needs than humans or dogs. When choosing food for your pet, make sure the label says it meets the standards of the American Association of Feed Control Officials so you know the cat food meets the minimal nutritional requirements for your pet.
- Keep in mind that cats can be finicky eaters, so be ready to search for a food that is nutritious that your pet will actually eat. Natural cat food can be a treat, but it really comes down to your pet's palate. Unlike dogs, cats will not eat food they don't like and have even been known to starve themselves. Starved cats are in danger of serious health problems such as liver failure.
- Introduce new food to your cat slowly over several days by mixing it with the food they already eat to prevent stomach upset and diarrhea.
- Be sparing with the cat treats. Just like snacks for humans, they can help your pet pack on the pounds.
- Make sure you cat has access to clean, fresh water. Cats have a low thirst level, so always be on the lookout for symptoms of dehydration. Dehydration can lead to serious health problems.
- When it comes to body weight, not all cats are created equal. Different breeds have different body types, but here is a fast guide for ideal cat weights:
- Siamese: 5-10 pounds
- Persian: 7-12 pounds
- Domestic Shorthair: 8-10 pounds
- Maine Coon: 10-25 pounds
- There are many factors that influence how much you should feed your cat, such as whether or not they are spayed or neutered, if they are an indoor or outdoor pet, and their age. Always be sure to check with your vet to make sure you pet is getting the right amount of calories and is at its ideal body weight.
Litter Box Cleanliness
- Introduce your cat to the litter box early. Cats can be choosy when it comes to toilet habits, so make sure they understand that the litter box is the place to go.
- Your litter box should have an ample amount of litter, at least 3 centimeters or 1.5 inches, at the bottom.
- The litter box should be at least 1.5 times the length of your cat from nose to rump. This gives the cat plenty of room to do its business without feeling trapped.
- Never place a litter box near a food or water bowl.
- Make sure you clean the litter box regularly. Depending on the type of litter or number of cats, you may need to clean it more or less often, but twice a week is a good rule of thumb.
- Some disinfectants can be poisonous to cats, so make sure your cleaning agents are pet-friendly and are diluted properly before using them on the litter box.
- If your cat isn't using the litter box, it may not be because it isn't clean enough. Some cats don't like using the same litter box as other cats, or they may not like the type of litter you've chosen. Not using the box can also be a sign of discomfort or disease, so pay attention when Fluffy decides that the carpet is a better place to go.
Vet Visits and Flea Control
- Your cat should see a vet a least once a year for a general checkup. Make sure to take your new pet to the vet as soon as possible so you'll know of any existing health problems that should be addressed.
- A general physical will mean the vet checks your cat for any external signs of disease, such as poor coat quality, bad skin, or other factors. Some vets will show you basic pet maintenance, such as how to clean your cat's ears or properly trim claws.
- Communication is important to your cat's health. Make sure you understand any medications or treatments completely before leaving the vet's office.
- The American Animal Hospital Association has made a handy fact sheet for cat owners to fill out before visiting the veterinarian. This is useful in making sure your vet knows your cat's lifestyle and environment in order to better diagnose your cat.
- Vaccinations are important to you cat's health. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has outlined a general vaccination schedule to keep your pet happy and healthy.
- Both indoor and outdoor cats can get fleas, not matter how clean you keep your pet. Combating a flea infestation is a multi-step process:
- Make sure you clean your pet's environment. Bedding, pillows, and anywhere else your cat likes to sleep or lounge can be infested. If your cat is an outdoor cat, make sure to treat your yard with a pet-friendly pesticide.
- Fleas can camp out in your carpet and on furniture, so make sure you vacuum your home and pay attention to corners and areas beneath furniture.
- Soapy water is excellent for killing adult fleas, larvae, and eggs, but other treatments, such as spot treatments, are also effective. Flea collars and oral medications can also kill fleas infesting your pet.
Fur, Skin, and Claws
- Cats are clean animals, so they don't normally require bathing. Bathing needs depend on your cat's environment, fur type, and breed. Some cats, such as those that have arthritis, are older, or have fungal infections, need help keeping clean, but be careful. Excessive bathing can actually harm your cat's skin and coat.
- Always use soap designed for your pet when washing them. Some soaps have drying agents that can irritate your cat's skin.
- Cats are known for being difficult to bathe, so always have a game plan and take into account your pet's temperament.
- A cat's coat is a good indicator of its overall health. In general, your cat's coat should be soft with some sheen. Short-haired cats are known for sleek, glossy coats, while long-haired breeds may have little to no shine to their fur.
- Be sure to brush your cat daily. This is very important for long-haired breeds, which can develop matted fur if they are not properly groomed.
- Your cat's skin is very important to its health, so always be on the lookout for signs of disease such as crusts, scabs, or lumps.
- Many pet owners trim their cat's claws to prevent scratching behaviors and to lessen damage from a frisky or upset pet. Like bathing, always have a plan in mind for trimming your pet's claws to limit injury to yourself and your pet.
- Start trimming your cat's claws from an early age to get them used to the process. This lowers the animals stress and prevents them from developing adverse behaviors such as hissing and hiding when the clippers come out.
- A cat's claws have two sections: the claw itself and the quick. The quick is the pink portion of the claw, similar to a human's nail bed, where blood vessels and nerves are located. Do not cut into the quick or you will cause your pet pain.
- Be patient with your pet. Getting its nails trimmed can be stressful, so never yell at or punish a cat that avoids it. Try again later, after your cat has calmed down.
Gums and Teeth
- Your cat's oral health is very important. Healthy teeth are white and smooth with pink gums and no visible swelling. Discolored gums can be an indication of severe health problems and should not be ignored.
- Just like an annual vet visit, your cat should have a professional oral checkup and assessment at least once a year.
- Check your cat's mouth regularly. Red, swollen gums and yellowing teeth can be a sign of periodontal disease.
- Brushing your cat's teeth daily is a good way to prevent most oral diseases.
- The type of cat food you feed your pet can affect its oral health. Cats that eat dry natural cat food have less tartar buildup.
- Chew toys and special treats designed to clean your cat's teeth can help maintain oral health and keep your pet happy.
- Other indicators of bad oral health can be excessive drooling, lip smacking, lack of appetite, or growths in the mouth or neck.
Healthy Mind and Body
- Indoor cats are less active than their feral and outdoor counterparts, so playtime is necessary to keep them healthy. They also get bored more easily than dogs, so keep a good selection of cat toys around the house to keep them engaged.
- Cat puzzles and other interactive toys are good ways to keep your pet engaged and willing to play.
- Play aggression is normal in kittens and young cats but can be a problem in older pets. Learn ways to curb aggression and stop biting and scratching.
- Cats can get stressed just like people. Some signs of stress in cats include eliminating outside of the litter box, excessive meowing, hiding, hissing, and increased agitation. Some simple ways to reduce stress in your pet are:
- Set up a refuge, such as a perch or tall scratching post, where your cat can get away when it feels the need.
- Cats are creatures of habit, so someone or something new in their environment can increase stress. Try to keep a regular schedule to give them a sense of normalcy.
- Loud noises can frighten your cat. While you may not be able to control the construction outside your home, try to keep things inside the home quiet and calm.
- Cats love company! Make sure to introduce new pets or people to your cat slowly. Most experts suggest gradual introductions over at least a week to get your cat used to the new individual and to prevent fights.
- Other signs of stress in your cat may be an urge to constantly hide from people or becoming passive while being handled.
Taking care of any pet isn't an easy undertaking, but it is rewarding. Keeping your cat happy and healthy will keep your friend around for years to come.