The Ancient Egyptians once worshipped them as gods, and some would say not much has changed for their modern day owners.
They can be a good source of comfort during times of stress, but can also be the cause of it for some people. Either way, cats remain a beloved and celebrated house pet, one with unique qualities all its own.
Although a cat’s reputation tends to be “they can take care of themselves,” they still rely heavily on their owners. Just like any other pet, a cat’s health is very complex and requires much attention, especially if it hopes to get the most out of its nine lives.
February is recognized as National Cat Health Month, a time when animal welfare organizations, local shelters and veterinarian clinics raise awareness to cat owners with tips on how to best care for their feline friend.
This includes topics such as essentials for the home, when to take your cat for annual check-ups, proper diet and the importance of spaying and neutering.
Essentials for the home
Welcoming a new cat into the home can be a rewarding experience, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility, as well as a list of household essentials.
Dr. Erin Katribe, medical director for national welfare organization Best Friends Animal Society, said the most important thing for new pet owners is to provide everything possible to make the cat feel comfortable.
She also suggests opting for a wet food diet as opposed to dry food, as it is most-related to the diets of their ancestors.
“These essentials are food, water, litterbox, and exercise,” Katribe said. “Cats’ ancestors didn’t eat or stay hydrated the same way that our house cats do; the dry kibble that is most convenient for owners to feed is very different than their natural diets. If you are able to feed your pet canned food it is a much closer approximation to their ancestral diets than is dry.”
House cats are often more overweight than an outdoor/feral cat, one who is constantly moving or might go long periods of time without food or water. This can lead to obesity problems in house cats, as well as the risk of feline diabetes. It can also cause painful arthritis and joint pain.
A visit to the vet will be the best bet in determining your cat’s ideal healthy weight, as well as forming a proper diet and exercise routine to achieve it.
“It’s not just dogs that need exercise – cats need it, too,” Katribe said. “While you can harness and leash train cats and many felines enjoy this, most pet cats prefer a more private form of exercise. Providing toys and engaging them in play with laser pointers or string toys for exercise are great ways to keep them active. This is not only mentally stimulating but can also help prevent obesity that can lead to other diseases.”
A cat’s litterbox also contains many important factors, such as placing it in a convenient place for the cat to get to, and not stowed away in a distant part of the house. This can avoid a potential behavioral misuse, such as the cat relieving itself in other, more-easily accessible parts of the home.
Cats who urinate outside of the box might also be an indicator of a different problem, such as urinary infections or kidney disease.
It is also essential to take precautions in the unfortunate event when an indoor cat might slip out the front door, or an outdoor cat not returning home for multiple days. One way to ensure a lost can can be returned to its owner is by using a collar with an ID tag.
Another, more high-tech option would be to implant a microchip. Microchips are small pieces of technology, about the size of a large grain of rice, which are implanted under the skin. When the pet is scanned with a microchip scanner, the scanner will display a number unique to that chip and that pet.
“If registered online, that number will link the pet back to your contact information,” Katribe said. “Shelters and animal control agencies generally scan pets when they enter the shelter, so this can lead to pets getting back to their homes much more rapidly, and with a greater chance of success.”
Going to the vet
Nobody likes going to the doctor, even more so with cats.
Cats are territorial creatures, ones who don’t often like it when they have to be taken away from it, and that’s especially true when it comes to a visit with the local vet.
However, regular visits to the vet are vital to maintaining a cat’s health. One of the main reasons is because the signs that your cat may be sick aren’t always obvious.
“Cats are masters at hiding illness, what likely evolved as a survival tool in their ancestors; what this means for the cat parent, though, is that when Fluffy starts to actually show signs of sickness, her situation may be much more serious than you think, and something has been going on for a while,” Katribe said.
“If you do notice even small changes in your cat’s health or behavior, it’s better for both of you to see a vet sooner rather than later. Addressing problems early will mean a much greater chance of successful treatment and will likely mean less stress on her and less financial expense, too.”
Even if your cat isn’t sick, there are still reasons for scheduling regular vet visits. These include annual vaccinations for things like fleas or rabies. Just like we schedule our annual physical, cats may also receive a through exam, as well as testing that could help in detecting an illness early.
Why spay and neuter?
Bob Barker used to close each episode of “The Price is Right” by reminding viewers to “always spay and neuter your pets.”
It wasn’t just a clever catchphrase, but one with good reason. Spaying and neutering not only helps cats lead healthier lives, but could potentially save the lives of others across the country.
For one, sterilization can help reduce or completely eliminate chances of cats developing certain cancers. It can also reduce a cat’s instinct to exhibit “wild behavior” such as urine marking, fighting or roaming.
It can also prevent cats from overbreeding, leading many to become strays, abandoned or wind up in an animal shelter.
“The sad truth is cats are twice as likely as dogs to lose their lives in our nation’s shelters, simply because there aren’t enough homes for all of them,” Katribe said.
“Spaying and neutering pet cats prevents more kittens from being born and so allows for more of the cats that do end up in shelters the chance at life.”
One way communities are stepping up to prevent cat shelter deaths has been by implementing community cat programs, such as adoption drives and foster care. For more information on Best Friends Animal Society, as well as local community cat programs and more information on National Cat Health Month, visit Best Friends’ website at www.bestfriends.org.