Introduction to Cat Health
Cats can live anywhere from 8 to 24 years depending on the risk factors in their lives, genetics, nutrition, preventative health care, and a bit of luck. While you can’t change some risks such as your cat’s genetics, you can prevent certain health and safety problems with vaccinations, deworming medications, flea and tick control products, and a microchip.
Because cats age so quickly, it is important to ensure your cat has yearly physical examinations. With a good exam, veterinarians can diagnose problems early when they are more treatable. They can also provide cat wellness measures such as vaccinations, fecal examinations, and parasite control that can prevent infestations and optimize comfort.
However, many cats don’t get their routine cat wellness checks or exams. According to a 2013 study conducted by Bayer HealthCare and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), more than half of cats in the United States are overdue for their yearly recommended veterinary appointment.
Why don’t cat owners take their cats to the vet? There are a wide range of reasons including:
- Most cats hate going to the vet. They dislike getting in their carrier, the car ride, and the stress of the appointment.
- Unless something is wrong, it is easier for most owners to not take them to the vet.
- Some cat owners falsely believe their cat won’t get sick if they don’t go outdoors.
- Cats are very good at hiding their signs of illness making owners unaware of health problems.
- Because many cats are acquired at no cost (e.g. they were found, or someone gave them the cat) or low cost (e.g. from the humane society), they are often perceived to be a low-cost pet.
- Unlike dogs, most cats don’t need routine baths, grooming, and frequent walks. Because cats are so independent, there is a misperception that they don’t need a lot of veterinary care.
The fact is that any cat can get sick and they are very good at hiding symptoms of illness. Regular examinations can diagnose problems early and provide needed veterinary care that can extend the life span, health, comfort, and quality of life of cats.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats
There are different health problems that affect indoor vs. outdoor cats. The life expectancy of indoor, indoor-outdoor, and outdoor cats varies significantly. Depending on the study, the life span of outdoor-only cats can be as little as 6 months, indoor/outdoor cats can range from 3 – 6 years, and indoor-only cats approximately 14 years. There are huge variations in these numbers depending on the genetics, environmental risk factors, nutrition, and veterinary care.
To optimize cat health, the following are recommendations:
- Outdoor cats should have yearly examinations, be up-to-date on cat vaccinations including feline leukemia, rabies, and feline distemper, have yearly fecal examination and any needed dewormings, parasite prevention medications, and have a collar and microchip. Common cat health conditions of outdoor cats include flea infestations, bite wounds, trauma from accidents, exposure to toxins, and various infectious diseases.
- Indoor cats should have yearly examinations, fecal parasite testing, and also be up-to-date on vaccinations. Cat health conditions of indoor cats include obesity and behavioral problems resulting from boredom or related to a high density of cats relative to square footage.
Cat Care Wellness & Health Checklist
To keep your cat healthy, the following is a checklist:
- Yearly veterinary examinations. Because cats age so quickly, seeing a cat yearly can be similar to a person seeing his doctor every 5 to 7 years for a check-up. A lot can change in that amount of time. Examinations can reveal important problems such as skin tumors, dental disease, ear infections, or diseases such as diabetes.
- Consider cat only vet clinics. Many cat owners, and cats, hate vet visits. A cats only vet clinic optimizes the environment to be cat friendly. The veterinary team understands how to deal with various temperaments and works to minimize feline stress. An environment without barking dogs alone can reduce cat anxiety. If the vet visit isn’t quite so stressful, you may be more inclined to take your cat in on a regular basis.
- Keep cat vaccinations up to date. Vaccines are important to prevent infectious diseases. A series of vaccines is recommended for kittens which are boostered as adults. Vaccinations are often referred to as “core”, which means they are required to optimize health, or “noncore”, which means they may be recommended depending on the cat’s lifestyle and risk factors. Cat vaccination recommendations include:
- A combination panleukopenia virus/feline herpesvirus/feline calicivirus vaccine is recommended as early as 6 weeks of age, then every 3 – 4 weeks until 16 to 20 weeks of age. This is a combination vaccine that may be abbreviated as “FVRCP” but can vary depending on the manufacturer.
- Rabies vaccination is administered a single dose as early as 8 or 12 weeks and boostered with revaccination 1 year later. After that, yearly or every 3-year boosters are commonly required by state or local law.
- Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) vaccination is recommended as early as 8 – 12 weeks of age with a second dose administered 3-4 weeks later. After that, a single dose is given 1 year following the last dose of the initial series then annually in cats with an increased risk of infection or every 3 years in cats with lower risk.
- Noncore vaccines may be recommended by your vet such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella, and/or feline Giardia.
- Parasite prevention medications, such as for flea, tick, and heartworm can avoid various infestations and diseases. Signs of infection vary depending on the specific parasite and may include hair loss, itching, shaking or scratching the ears, or trouble breathing.
- Dental care is an important part of cat comfort and good health. Regular brushing is ideal but often hard to do in cats. Dental cleanings are commonly recommended every 1-2 years depending on the individual cat. Signs of dental problems can include swollen painful gums, visibly cracked or missing teeth, cracked teeth, bad breath, weight loss, or trouble chewing.
- Weight management, or being at an ideal weight, is critical to good health. Obese cats more commonly develop signs of arthritis or diseases such as diabetes. It is also more difficult for overweight cats to groom properly leading to uncomfortable matts. You can monitor your cat’s weight by weighing your cat on a regular basis. Your veterinarian can provide nutritional consultations and diet recommendations to help your cat get to an ideal body weight. Just as obesity is a problem, so is unexplained weight loss.
- Behavioral problems can develop in some cats. Some problems, such as inappropriate urination, are more common in indoor cats. It is important to monitor your cat for abnormalities such as new onset lethargy, increased sleep patterns, withdrawn behavior, increased thirst or appetite, increased or decreased activity, or inappropriate behavior such as restlessness, meowing, or wandering.
- Home examinations can alert you to important cat health conditions. Monitor the following:
- Appetite. Did he eat normally? Was he slower to eat his food?
- Water consumption. Is he drinking normally? Any increase or decrease can be abnormal.
- Respirations. Monitor breathing for abnormalities such as increased effort, panting, coughing, or wheezing. Eyes, Ears and Nose. Look at the eyes and ears for abnormal signs such as redness, discharge, itching, or a foul odor. Is there any nasal discharge? Sneezing?
- Hair and skin. Evaluate the haircoat for areas of hair loss, scabs, areas of inflammation, dandruff, matts, or lumps.
- Litter box use. Are the urinations and defecations in the box normal?
- Other. As you observe or pet your cat, look for any abnormalities such as evidence of vomiting, drooling, or any other irregularities.
See your veterinarian for any abnormalities or any examinations, diagnostic tests, and any recommended treatments.
How to Pay for Cat Care
Veterinary medicine has become extremely advanced with state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment capabilities. Veterinary care can be expensive. One way to provide your cat with the very best medical care without worrying so much about costs is to get pet insurance. Pet health insurance can help you pay for veterinary bills.
We know that your cat is unique and has special health care needs and that’s why we created Felix Cat Insurance: Just for Cats! With Felix, you can enjoy whisker-to-tail coverage for your feline family member. Felix Cat Insurance presents 3 affordable plan options and your plan can be further personalized with your choice of 3 deductibles and 3 reimbursement options. Plans start at under $1 a day. Get a free quote today.
5 Tips for Visiting the Vet
- Consider cat only vet clinics that can minimize your cat’s stress. This may encourage you to take your cat on a regular basis.
- Leave the carrier out in the house and provide treats and toys inside on a regular basis. Allow your cat to see the carrier as a good place.
- During the car ride, use a light towel or sheet over the carrier to minimize visual stimulation. Seeing other cars, buildings, and lights can all add to the stress of cats.
- Calming pheromones, such as Feliway®, can provide a calming influence on cats. Spraying some on the towel in the carrier or on the carrier cover can minimize feline stress.
- Call your vet from the parking lot. If there is a wait, ask for the option to stay in the car until they are ready to put you in an exam room. This can minimize the stress of sitting in a crowed lobby with lots of pet smells and noises.
Veterinary care is an important part of responsible cat ownership. Cats are just as susceptible to accidents and illness as dogs, and they deserve the best care you can provide.