All cat owners want their pet to live a long and healthy life. It’s up to you to make sure you do all you can to protect your cat from disease, illness and injury. You provide them with the basics of healthy cat food, water and shelter but you can also do a lot more to make sure they are in tip-top condition.
Making sure your cat is up to date with their cat vaccinations is part of being a good owner. You don’t want your cat to contract a potentially lethal condition if it can be avoided. Kittens are usually given their first set of vaccinations at nine weeks and then at twelve weeks. They’ll need a booster after a year. Older cats may need boosters as their immunity can weaken.
Cats are routinely vaccinated against:
- Feline infectious enteritis
- Feline herpes virus
- Feline calicivirus
- Feline leukaemia virus (usually if they live in densely populated area like cities)
If you intend to leave your cat at a cattery while you go on holiday they will need evidence that your cat’s vaccinations are up to date. So keep your records safe.
Cats also need regularly preventative treatment for fleas. You can get flea spot on treatments, flea collars, flea tablets and flea sprays all designed to ward off the little parasites!
If cats do pick them up, you can usually tell as they start scratching themselves more than usual or you have a bite or two yourself! You’ll need to treat your cat for fleas and your home too.
Cats need regular worming against roundworm and tapeworm especially if they hunt. Cats with worms can lose weight and have diarrhoea.
They may itch their behind by rubbing it along the floor. You may be able to see the worms in your cat’s anus looking a bit like a grain of rice or in your cat’s poo in the litter tray.
There are lots of different products available from supermarkets, pet food shops and vets. Worming tablets are the most common but liquid spot on treatments, granulates and pastes are also available.
Some are effective against both roundworm and tapeworm, while others are only effective against one or the other so get the right product.
Cat neutering and cat spraying
Many people get their cat neutered or spayed to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Having your cat spayed (female) or neutered (male) is usually done early at around four or five months old.
It’s not a very expensive operation. When you get a kitten from some rescue charities they often give you a voucher for a free operation or may have organised a vet to complete it on site. Unwanted cats are a big problem for rescue charities as not all are found homes.
Cat pregnancy can happen easily. It can happen when the female cat is in heat, which takes place several times a year usually from February to September. Cats can become pregnant as young as four months of age.
Their pregnancies last about 9 weeks and for the first few weeks you probably won’t notice a difference. By three weeks your vet may be able to make out small walnut sized embryos when he feels the cat’s abdomen. If you think your cat may be pregnant you should take them to the vet. A pregnant cat will need extra food in the last few weeks of her pregnancy and when she is feeding her kittens.
Learn about how to care for your cat during cat pregnancy.
Cats usually have pretty sturdy digestive systems but may sometimes experience cat diarrhoea, that is frequent loose or liquid bowel movements. It can be caused by too sudden a change in diet or something more serious like illness or infection. A one off bout isn’t really anything to worry about but if it lasts more than a day take your cat to the vet as it can lead to dehydration and the vet can check for any underlying illness.
Cat health check
Giving your cat a weekly health check is a good idea to look for signs of common illnesses or problems with skin, coat, eyes and ears.
As many cats spend hours outside exploring or if indoor cats are asleep owners sometimes don’t spot if their cat is unwell. Be alert to a change in your cat’s movement or the height of cupboards or surfaces that they seem happy to jump up to compared to usual.
Ears, eyes and nose
Open each eye and these should be bright and clear with no weeping or discharge. Check the nostrils making sure they are clean and dry.
Open the flaps of each ear and check inside and outside of the ear. Check for signs of bleeding, dirt or wax. You may notice a small amount of wax which is normal. Look for lumps, bumps or any swellings on the ear. Those tufts of fur inside cat’s ears are called ear furnishings and help keep out dirt and bugs.
Ear mites can be a problem for some cats causing irritation and inflammation.
They are passed from cat to cat and account for most cat ear infections. If your cat is scratching their ears or shaking their head a lot it could be a sign of ear mites. Take them to the vet who’ll prescribe ear drops or antibiotics.
Cat teeth should be white with no signs of chips. Gums should be healthy looking and pink without bleeding or swelling. Check your cat’s teeth are clean and their gums and tongue look healthy. Check their breath, it probably isn’t EVER the sweetest smelling but if it’s worse than usual it may be a sign of infection.
Listen to your cat’s breathing. This should be even and appear to be easy and effortless. Your cat shouldn’t be breathing with any strain or effort. Also check for panting, wheezing, coughing, suffering shortness of breath.
Skin, coat and body
This should be healthy looking, fur should be shiny. Cats generally groom themselves however you can brush them to get rid of any mats and tangles and check for fleas and ticks.
Dull and flaky fur may be a sign of illness.
Run your hands along the head, body, limbs and tail checking for lumps, bumps and signs of pain.
Claws and paw pads
Check the length of your cat’s claws, if they are too long give them a trim if you have the correct equipment and if the cat will let you. Cats are usually good at scratching their own claws to the right length. Check the paw pads for any damage from things like thorns or tiny cuts from hunting or prowling around outside.
Use this weekly check to weigh your cat to make sure they’re not getting too heavy. You can weigh yourself holding your cat and then take away your weight. You can then see if they are at a healthy weight.
Here’s a guide (Pet Obesity Prevention) to what cats should weigh:
- Domestic cat – 3.6-4.5 kg
- Persian cat – 3.1-5.4 kg
- Siamese – 2.3-4.5 kg
Most vets run special weight monitoring clinics for cats who are trying to lose a few pounds. They’ll make sure your cat isn’t losing weight too fast and that their diet is working properly.