Sometimes, we think of cats as needing less care and attention than dogs. And while cats can handle most of their grooming and toileting needs with minimal human intervention, they do require vigilant care in order to live their best lives. In the spirit of the popular myth—cats have nine lives—here are nine practical tips to help the cats in your life maintain optimal health.
1. Vaccinations. Immunization against feline illnesses is a critical part of maintaining your cat’s health. Core cat vaccines against panleukopenia, calicivirus, herpesvirus, and rabies are given by your vet or by a shelter staff while a cat is still a kitten (typically under 12 weeks of age). Some vaccines require booster shots later on, so check with your vet at your cat’s annual or semi-annual wellness check to ensure that your animal remains current on its immunizations.
2. Spay/Neuter. Estimates of the US feral cat population vary, but most put the number at or above 50 million—leaving shelters struggling to care for and place many of these animals. Spaying or neutering your cat can help to keep the feral cat population from expanding further. Also, spaying female cats before their first heat can help to prevent uterine infections and breast tumors, while neutering of male cats removes the risk for testicular cancer and some prostate conditions.
3. Diet/Weight Control. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that over half of domestic pets in the U.S. suffer from some form of obesity issue. Depending on its severity, feline obesity can increase your cat’s risk for developing diabetes, liver disease, joint problems, and hypertension. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the risk for these conditions and help your cat live a longer, more active life. If your cat has trouble maintaining healthy weight, consult your vet. They can rule out potential causes (like thyroid disease) and can recommend a diet to keep your cat’s weight within healthy norms.
4. Dental Health. Regular dental care is an essential part of maintaining your cat’s overall health. If left untreated, dental problems in cats can cause not only pain and tooth loss, but also loss of appetite, oral infections, and other potentially serious health problems. While it is possible to train some cats to accept having their teeth brushed at home, a regular tooth cleaning and dental checkup by your vet is recommended. Preventive and regular care are encouraged, as these typically result in lower treatment costs and better outcomes.
5. Grooming. We tend to think of cats as “self-grooming,” and to a large extent they are. However, as owners of longhaired breeds already know, maintaining a truly healthy coat can entail a bit of effort. Grooming twice a week with a brush or flea comb is usually sufficient to prevent or control tangles and mats that can lead to bacterial overgrowth and skin infections. And while most cats dislike water, the occasional bath can help remove dead skin, burs, parasites, and feces from the fur. If you have a cat that’s particularly resistant to water, a professional groomer can bathe your pet or provide tips for home bathing.
6. Litter Box Care and Habits. Regular litter box cleaning is a responsibility that comes with cat ownership. It also offers you the chance to observe your cat’s litter box behavior. If your cat has runny stools, soaks the litter with urine, or has trouble urinating or defecating, these can bee signs of serious health problems. Often, observing your cat’s litter box behavior can provide the clues needed to spot potentially serious health problems early.
7. Exercise and Play. Most cats are experts at keeping themselves entertained. Still, they can always use a little extra help. A hunting toy like a feather teaser or a climbing toy like a cat tree, can help your pet stay active, agile, and engaged. Playing with your cat regularly has benefits for you as well—it can help you manage stress, improve mood, and even lower blood pressure.
8. Emotional Health. We don’t often think about the importance of maintaining our cats’ emotional health, but if a cat is stressed or unhappy, there can be negative consequences for your pet’s physical health. Signs of emotional stress in cat include decreased appetite, weight loss, over- or under-grooming, and “hot spots” on the skin. If you believe your cat has a serious emotional health issue, consult with your vet. They may be able to offer potential solutions or direct you to a feline behavioral specialist.
9. Loss Prevention. No cat owner wants to think about the potential loss of their pet. But the chances of being reunited with a runaway or lost cat increase dramatically if the animal has some form of identification. Whether you choose a collar tag or implantable microchip, be sure there is some way for a good Samaritan to reunite you with your pet if your animal becomes lost.
We hope these tips help your cat to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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