Cats’ nutritional requirements change according to their lifestage, from kittens through to adults and senior cats. Cats are obligate carnivores - they cannot be vegetarian. Home-prepared diets are complex and need to be balanced correctly. Feeding a commercial ‘complete’ diet provides all the nutrients in the correct amounts and proportions. So-called ‘lifestage’ diets are available which cater for the specific needs of kittens, adult and older cats. Information on nutrition is available on the Pet Health Council website.
Vaccination is the only proven method of protecting cats against a range of potentially life-threatening diseases including cat ‘flu and Feline Leukaemia. Your vet will be able to advise you on vaccination and will also carry out a health check to ensure your cat is in tip top condition.
Worms are internal parasites that can be a serious health risk to cats if left untreated and may potentially infect and cause disease in people as well. Roundworms and tapeworms are the most common ones to infest cats, although it isn’t always easy to tell if your cat has worms as there may not be any noticeable symptoms.
People, particularly children, can catch worms as eggs can be picked up in contaminated soil. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) recommends that cats are wormed at least every three months. Your vet, country store, pet shop or pharmacist will be able to advise you on appropriate worming products.
Most cats suffer from flea infestation at some point in their lives and, while there may be no symptoms at all, the most common symptom to look out for is scratching or chewing most commonly at the tail-base and lower back. Close inspection may reveal either small black insects or more likely the small, black flea faeces, which are passed through the insect after sucking blood from dogs. Flea faeces can be identified by brushing your pet’s coat with a fine-toothed comb and placing the debris you collect on a piece of white paper. Flea faeces will dissolve in water to produce brown/red swirls on the paper.
You should examine your cat’s mouth regularly for signs of oral disease which include bad breath; reddened, bleeding or swollen gums and build up of tartar. It’s worth checking your cat’s teeth from kittenhood so that he gets used to you examining them. Home dental care kits are available from vets, country stores and pet shops to help keep your cat’s teeth free from plaque.
Neutering is carried out for a variety of reasons including health-related issues, reproduction control and “heat”, behavioural / psychological reasons such as territory marking and dominance and aggression problems. It involves removing the ovaries and womb from females (spaying) and the testicles from males (castration). Both are surgical procedures carried out under general anaesthetic. Many people recommend that all cats should be neutered unless you specifically want to breed from them, to avoid the chance of unwanted letters. For further information, please contact your vet.
Many of the UK’s cat population are indoor cats, and some cats with access to the outdoors live sedentary lifestyles. Daily exercise is essential to keep cats healthy and mentally and physically stimulated - the level of exercise will depend on their breed, age and health. Exercise not only improves your cat’s wellbeing, but also helps build muscle tone and prevent depression, obesity, joint problems, heart conditions and behavioural issues.
Regular Health Checks
Your vet will carry out a ‘nose to tail’ MOT when your cat is given its annual booster vaccinations. You can play a role too by following the guidelines below to keep an eye on your cat’s health and help him to stay in tip top condition and live a long and healthy life:
- Look out for changes in your cat’s food consumption, drinking and toilet habits. Does he have less energy or is he slower in getting up or jumping? Monitor your cat’s faeces for colour, consistency and signs of worms
- Run your hands over your cat’s body including his head, legs and paws to check for any lumps or bumps or anything stuck in his pads. Also keep your eyes open for evidence of fleas, ticks and other parasites. Check your cat’s coat quality and whether any dandruff or hair loss is evident. Is your cat scratching, chewing or biting excessively?
- Check your pet’s nose, eyes and ears for any abnormalities or discharge. Your cat’s nose should be moist, the corners of his eyes should be free of discharge and his ears should be clean
- Regularly examine your cat’s mouth for signs of disease such as bad breath, reddened, bleeding or swollen gums and build up of tartar
- Monitor your cat’s body condition by running your hands over his ribs and backbone. If he is losing weight or is overweight, it’s advisable to take him to the vet.
Microchipping is a permanent and inexpensive way of identifying cats. A microchip about the size of a grain of rice is inserted under a cat’s skin around his neck. Each chip has its own unique number held on a central database. If your cat gets lost, it can then be scanned to find your details. Engraving ‘I am microchipped’ on your cat’s tag will highlight the fact he can be identified.