The 5 Easiest Ways to Keep Your Cat Healthy

We know you love your cat. But even the biggest cat lovers can fall prey to a dangerous trap: thinking that your furry feline is “low-maintenance.” While it’s true that cats are less needy than many other types of pets, Dr. Jason Nichols, AKA “The Preventive Vet,” says that cats are merely silent sufferers.

To ensure that your cat lives a long and healthy life (or nine), check out Dr. Nichols’ five easy steps to promoting feline wellness.

1.      Keep Your Cat Indoors.

Depending on your home environment (and your individual cat), keeping your kitty indoors 100% of the time can be tricky. But making sure your cat stays inside, however, is one of the best ways to make sure she stays safe. She won’t be at risk of attack by other animals, like coyotes, and she won’t get into fights with other cats, which can lead to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or injury. Indoor cats also have a lesser risk of contracting parasites. 

Additionally, more cats are killed by cars each year than are euthanized in animal shelters. By keeping your pet indoors, you’ll be keeping her safe from automobile injuries.

2.      Keep an Eye on the Litter Box.

Your cat’s litter box can provide many clues to her health. Scoop and check the box daily, and get to know your cat’s routines. If there are suddenly fewer urine spots each day, or there’s no urine at all for two consecutive days, it may be an indication that something is amiss. Irregular urination can be symptomatic of degenerative kidney disease, cystitis, inflammation of the bladder or urethral obstructions, which are all common in aging cats. Additionally, diarrhea or lack of bowel movement can also be a sign of infection or disease.

It’s not just about detection, though—prevention is also key. By encouraging water intake, you can help increase urination and prevent these diseases. Feeding your cat a canned diet (which comes in measured amounts) will help, as will adding additional water bowls around the house. Water bowls with various depths, as well as circulating foundations, can help lead to more water consumption.

Lastly, creating a welcoming litter box environment will promote healthy habits. A good rule of thumb is to have one litter box more than the number of cats you have, i.e. two boxes for one cat, and three boxes for two cats, etc. Uncovered litter boxes with unscented litter, in a low-traffic area of the house, will be most appreciated by your cats.

3.      Make Your Home Hazard-Free.

Even if you keep your cat indoors, there are still plenty of dangerous—even fatal—everyday hazards your pet could encounter. Strings like dental floss, mistletoe, Easter grass, sewing thread and fishing line can get wrapped around cats’ tongues or can damage their digestive tracts, requiring surgery 99% of the time, estimates Dr. Nichols. One easy way to fix this is to cover your bathroom garbage can, preventing your cat’s access to dental floss.

There are also many unexpected toxins that could be lying around your house. Lilies are extremely dangerous to cats—every part of the flower is toxic, including the pollen and the water that lilies sit in absorbs the toxins as well. Even a small amount can send cats into kidney failure, which is extremely expensive to treat and fatal without veterinary help. Additionally, acetaminophen—which is found in many combination medications—is also toxic if ingested.

Lastly, flea treatments formulated for dogs can be very hurtful to cats. Pet owners often believe they can save by dividing up their dog’s treatments for cats, but these medications can cause seizure-like tremors in cats. Never medicate cats without the direction of a veterinarian!

4.      Watch Your Cat’s Weight.

The majority of indoor-only cats should weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. Heavier cats are at greater risks for urethral obstruction, diabetes and arthritis, as more pressure is put on their joints. A high-protein, low-carb diet will prevent weight gain—talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate diet for your pet.

Additionally, promote exercise with fun toys that will keep your cat moving. Laser pointers and interactive toys encourage cats to run around and cut down on the likelihood that your feline will become obese.

5.      Book Yearly Vet Appointments.

Most cats don’t get the veterinary care they need. Annual exams are extremely important; aside from vaccines, a yearly visit will help your vet track what’s been going on in your cat’s life and detect diseases like heart disease, hyperthyroidism, arthritis and periodontal disease before they worsen.

These five easy steps won’t take a ton of time or money, but they’ll pay off in a big way when it comes to protecting your beloved cat’s health.

Insure Your Kitty's Health

Gretchen von Grossmann was stunned when her vet told her that it would cost $3,000 to treat her 8-year-old tabby, Bob, for a serious infection. “I stepped outside the office and cried,” she says. “Then I went back in and told them I had to put him down.” 

Luckily that didn’t happen, since von Grossman and her veterinarian discussed other options and agreed on a more affordable treatment. But for many pet owners, the cost of care does lead to that desperate outcome. An often-overlooked solution is pet health insurance. Knowing that they will never have to put their kitties down for lack of money to pay for veterinary fees offers cat owners peace of mind.

Why cats are good candidates
Pet insurance is less common among cat owners than dog owners, even though kitties are perfect candidates for it. Why? Maybe because it’s easy to think a young, healthy or indoor cat doesn’t really need it -- or that an older cat may not even qualify for it. In all of these cases, however, insurance can be life- and money-saving.

“Cats will hide their illness or injuries,” says Jack Stephens, DVM, who founded the Boise, Idaho, insurance company called Pets Best Insurance. “It’s their wild nature to hide when they’re vulnerable, for protection.” Because of this, a pet owner may not realize a cat is ill until a disease has progressed to a point where treatment is expensive. “Cancer is the main reason for euthanasia of cats,” says Stephens. “We’re working to make sure pet owners don’t have to do this.”

Younger cats, and indoor cats of any age, can also get into household mischief that leads to accidents or ingestion of nonfood items. When James Helmer’s cat, Mittens, began limping around the house, he immediately took him to the vet and learned that Mittens had a torn ACL (a ligament in the leg). Surgery and testing came to $1,800, but Helmer’s pet insurance -- Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) in Brea, Calif. -- reimbursed him $1,400. “If it wasn’t for VPI, we probably would have put him down,” Helmer says.

What to look for
A lot of pet owners don’t even think about insurance until their pets become seriously ill, and by that time, it’s usually impossible to get coverage. So, do your feline family member a favor, and look into the costs and benefits of pet insurance well before a crisis. Here are some questions to ask when looking for a reliable insurance company that will fit your needs:

  • Does the company offer coverage for routine health care? Often, different levels of programs are available, one of which may cover basic care, sometimes referred to as “well-cat care.”
  • Does the company spell out what it does not cover and explain all fees? A schedule of benefits and any extra fees should be clear to you.
  • How long has the company or its executives been in this business? Look for stability, as well as experience with veterinarians.
  • Does the company require you to visit only certain veterinarians? If this is the case, check to see if your veterinarian is on the list of accepted doctors.

Insurance makes even more sense if you have more than one cat, because of the eventual costs of care they may rack up. “The earlier you can get your cat enrolled, the better,” says Brian Iannessa of VPI, which currently insures over 400,000 pets. “The longer you wait, the greater the chance that an illness or injury will occur.” Also, be clear about what is not covered. For instance, some insurance companies do not cover diseases that are preventable by vaccines, orthodontics or treatment for parasites.

How it works
Once you enroll your pet or pets, you will be charged a monthly premium. You can get an estimate on premiums at many pet insurance Web sites. When you take your cat to the doctor, you will need to later submit a claim for the cost, and the insurance company will then reimburse you the full amount, or a high percentage of the fees.

“Pet insurance is a form of risk management,” says Iannessa. “It’s there to protect you and your pet against the unexpected.” It can give you the confidence of knowing you’re doing everything you can to provide your kitty with a long and healthy life.

Photo: Corbis Images

Top 5 Ways to Improve Life for Your Senior Cat

If your senior cat is starting to slow down, there are extra steps you can take to ensure that it is healthy, comfortable and content.

How to Help Your Senior Cat
Here are five basic steps you can take to make life better for your senior cat:

1. Visit your veterinarian regularly. Cat owners sometimes have the tendency to not schedule regular veterinarian visits unless their cat is due for vaccines, says Dr. Debbie Van Pelt of the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado. But bringing your cat in for at least an annual exam helps your veterinarian catch treatable illnesses in the early stages. For example, your veterinarian can check for lumps and bumps. “Cancers that are caught early can be treated and removed,” says Van Pelt. Veterinarians think of cats as senior at about age 10, says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a veterinarian in Knoxville, Tenn. However, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian do a baseline blood-check when your cat is about 7 years old, advises Dewhirst. “It’s a good landmark. Then the veterinarian has something to look back on if your cat starts to develop problems.”

2. Maintain your cat’s dental health. “From a veterinary health standpoint, oral health is really big. We see cats decline rapidly when they don’t have their teeth taken care of,” says Dewhirst. If your cat develops plaque and gum disease, bacteria can find its way into the bloodstream and threaten your cat’s heart health, among other problems. Cats with dental problems also might struggle to eat and maintain weight.

3. Watch your cat’s weight. Excess weight can lead to serious conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and a fat cat is more likely to suffer from arthritis. Make sure your cat is eating a high-quality food designed for senior cats, and try rationing the portion sizes to help your cat maintain a healthy weight, as its metabolism has slowed in the last few years. Your veterinarian can help you figure out an appropriate calorie count and portion size for your cat. You’ll also want to notice if your cat is losing weight, since older cats can develop thyroid problems, says Dewhirst.

4. Be a detective. Cats tend to be private, aloof and secretive. “By the time a cat owner notices a behavior change, things may have progressed farther,” says Van Pelt. “We see a lot of older cats where by the time we see them, we are diagnosing them with kidney disease and heart failure.” Pay attention to little clues, such as water intake, how much your cat is eating and its elimination habits. A change in elimination can signal a myriad of health problems and indicate a need for a veterinary visit.

5. Make your cat comfortable. A 16- or 17-year-old cat might show signs of creaky joints. If you simply make things easier, your cat is sure to enjoy better quality of life. Create warmth for your cat by using a heating pad or placing its bed near a warm area.

6. Give your cat extra attention. Natasha Deen, a Canadian author of young adult novels, helped two beloved kitties live to the ages of 19 and 21, and she thinks extra attention made a difference. Deen cuddled her cats more and regularly brushed and groomed them. Your loving attention is crucial, says Deen.

De-stress Veterinary Visits for Your Cat

Few cat owners relish the thought of taking their feline to the veterinarian, so imagine how your cat feels about it. “Cats are the ultimate control freaks,” explains Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian at Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif. “If you even so much as move a couch in your home, your cat will likely be in a tizzy for weeks.”

Richter is very gentle with his furry clients. He was recently named one of the top ten veterinarians in the entire country by Petplan pet insurance, but even he has seen many vet-phobic cats over the years. Is it a hopeless mission to ease the fears of a freaked out feline in such situations? Absolutely not, he says, as does Dr. Jane Brunt CATalyst Council Executive Director and former president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Here’s what they suggest:

1. Schedule appointments at less busy times.

The same way you wouldn’t want to wait in a noisy room packed with malcontent patients, neither does your cat. Richter advises scheduling appointments either early in the morning, first thing, or toward the end of the vet’s day. In both cases, the crowd should have dissipated, making the atmosphere less noisy and chaotic.

Brunt additionally says that “you might want to consider finding a cat-friendly veterinarian. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has developed a program that certifies veterinary practices as ‘cat friendly.’” Participants have to apply and may obtain either a gold (“optimum level”) or silver (meets “essential criteria”) status.

2. Get your cat to like its carrier.

Richter echoes Brunt’s advice above. “You wouldn’t believe some of the carriers that people bring in,” he says. “Some look like they’ve lived on a workbench in a garage for ages. They come in dirty and smelly. It’s no wonder the cat hates the carrier.” He and Brunt recommend that owners do the following:

·         Leave the carrier out in the open in high cat traffic areas. The cat will then become more used to it and not only associate it with scary things.

·         Keep the carrier clean at all times. Cats are among the world’s most fastidious individuals.

·         Place a soft blanket, towel or other cover inside. Brunt says that many cats may even nap inside the carrier willingly.

·         Put food treats in the carrier every so often, again so that your pet will associate it with pleasant happenings.

3. Make the vet visit as fun as possible.

Your cat reads your emotions, so stay calm and upbeat. Drive smoothly, avoiding any bumps and sharp turns, if possible. Avoid loud air conditioning and radio, since less stimulation during potentially scary times is better for your cat.

4. Lessen visual and auditory stimulation while in the waiting room.

If you have a scared-y cat, it helps to lessen what your pet sees and hears. Ideally, your veterinary office will have separate waiting rooms for dogs and cats. Place a towel over your cat’s carrier, if necessary, to close out visual stimulation and some smells (your cat will be sensitive to these).

5. Work with your vet to determine the proper level of restraint.

Richter has some feline patients who seem to crave any and all attention, while others “get really wound up and are ready for blood by the time I enter the room.” Even cats that are tame at home can suddenly revert to a more feral state when out of their familiar environment. In those cases, it helps to have an understanding, experienced vet. Richter keeps detailed records on each cat patient, so that he knows exactly how to manage each feline’s needs.

6. Keep the visit brief.

“This is more on the vet,” Richter says. But you can help by not stopping for unnecessary social chats or running errands while your cat may be hoping to get back home.

7. At home, allow your cat to calm down.

“Cats are classically known for displaced aggression,” Richter explains. “They may dig you one if they are unhappy once out of the carrier. If stressed, just let them calm down for a while.”

All of the above might seem like a big hassle, but Brunt reminds that 68 percent of all cats over the age of three suffer from dental disease. She adds that most cases of diabetes can be prevented with proper advance care. “A simple checkup can help detect and treat preventable diseases and conditions that can cut a life short,” Brunt shares. Patience and preparation before vet visits can therefore offer big rewards.

How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses

You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.

Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”

Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.

GI Upset
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even pancreatitis.

Diabetes

Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes, advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer your cat some exercise.

Dental Disease

Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise. “Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your cat’s dental health.

Heartworm and Other Parasites

Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly application of a preventative will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.

Injuries and Trauma

The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.

Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put them at risk.”