Congratulations – you have a new kitten!
You’ve anticipated the new arrival by “kittenproofing” your home and had lots of fun choosing the carrier, bed, blanket, toys and other supplies he or she will need. This adorable little bundle of fluff is sure to bring you much joy. In return, you can make a major contribution to your pet’s longevity, happiness and quality of life by providing him or her with good nutrition, loving attention in a safe, sanitary environment and regular checkups at your veterinarian’s.
Spaying or Neutering your kitten
Many veterinarians believe that spaying or neutering not only helps solve the serious problem of a burgeoning population of unwanted cats, but also makes for friendlier, easier-to-live-with pets. Spayed female cats are more relaxed, playful and affectionate, while neutered males are calmer and less likely to “spray” or urine-mark their territory, wander away from their home or fight. Plus, sterilization has health benefits – it minimizes the risk for breast cancer in females and enlarged or tumorous prostate in males.
Spaying removes the uterus and ovaries of a female cat, usually around the age of 4-6 months. A major surgical procedure, it is performed under general anesthesia and most often involves an overnight stay at an animal hospital. Complications are rare and recovery is normally complete within ten days.
Neutering, also carried out under general anesthesia, removes the testicles of a male cat. The small wounds that result usually heal in about a week. Less complicated than spaying, it is often performed on a “day surgery” basis when the cat is 4 to 12 months old.
Your kitten’s basic health check
Your new kitten should visit a veterinarian as soon as possible. The first visit will probably include:
- Thorough physical examination to determine his or her state of health.
- Check for external parasites (fleas, ticks, lice, ear mites).
- Check for internal parasites (tapeworm, roundworm, etc.), if you can bring a stool sample for analysis.
- Initial vaccination and/or a discussion of the types of vaccinations your kitten needs and when they should be scheduled.
- Discussion about whether your kitten should be sterilized (spayed or neutered) and when.
This first health check will give your veterinarian the information he needs to advise you on your kitten’s immediate diet and care. Plus, it will give him a “knowledge base” from which, on subsequent checkups throughout your cat’s life, he can better evaluate, monitor and manage your pet’s health.
Make your new kitten feel at home
With sensitive handling and friendly contact for at least an hour a day, your new kitten should soon be very comfortable with you and his new home. Be sure if there are also young children in the home that they are taught that a kitten is not a toy but a living creature who must be treated with gentleness and respect. Also provide your pet with lots of opportunities for interesting, challenging play that will satisfy his natural instincts. Toys that he can pretend to “hunt” and capture and special posts that he can scratch (instead of your carpets and furniture) will help make your kitten a joy to live with.
Your Geriatric Cat
When is the best time to start caring for your aging pet? When he’s a kitten. Starting off your cat’s life with good nutrition, scheduled veterinary appointments and a happy home life sets the blueprint for a high quality of life in his older years. Most cats are considered geriatric by the age of 8 to 10. Much like humans, time takes its toll on vital organ functions as your cat ages. Cats are more subtle than dogs in showing you when they are sick or in pain. Paying attention to your cat’s behavior will make detecting problems easier and help them live healthy lives well into their teens.
What you can do at home
- Check your cat’s mouth, eyes or ears regularly. Watch for loose teeth, redness, swelling or discharges.
- Keep your pet’s sleeping area clean and warm.
- Make fresh water available at all times.
How old is your cat?
If your cat is…
|In human terms, that’s|
A healthy cat’ eyes should be clear and bright and the area around the eyeball white.
Common Symptoms of Illness
- Red inner eyelids
- Matter “stuck” on the surface or in the corners of the eye
- Cloudiness within the eyeball
- A dull eye surface
- The “third eyelid” coming across the eye
- Excessive tearing or unusual discharges
- Tear-stained fur around the eyes
Eye Tests used to Diagnose Eye Problems
- Fluorescein stain to identify the presence of corneal ulcers
- Schimmer Tear Test to determine the level of tear production
- Ocular pressure to detect glaucoma
- Ophthalmoscope to see in the eye chamber
Common Eye Conditions & Symptoms
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the membrane that covers both the inner lining of the eyelid and the white of the eye. It may be caused by allergies or by bacterial, fungal or viral infections. In fact, recurrent or chronic conjunctivitis in cats is often the result of herpes viral infections which, just as in humans, can return – again and again. It can be contagious between cats, so keep an infected cat away from other cats.
Corneal Ulceration can occur when the surface of the cornea is scratched or damaged, either as the result of a cat fight or more seriously, a bacterial or viral infection.
If your cat’ eyes constantly “weep” or if the fur around them appears “stained”, he may suffer from this inherited defect, in which a malformation of the tear ducts blocks the normal flow of tears.
Cataracts & Glaucoma
Cats, just like humans, can have these serious eye diseases. Cataracts, which cloud the lens inside the eye, are most often seen in elderly or diabetic cats. A thorough evaluation by your veterinarian is necessary, as surgery is the only treatment. Glaucoma stems from too much pressure being exerted upon the eye’s interior as a result of a decrease in the amount of fluid draining from it.
- Remove any discharge around the eye with a cotton ball moistened with saline solution.
- Hold your cat sideways on your lap or place him on a table at a comfortable height (you may want someone to help restrain your cat if you choose the second option).
- See the instructions on the bottle for dosage. Shake if necessary.
- Use one hand to hold the bottle between thumb and index while using the other to support the cat’ head.
- Tilt the head back and, to prevent blinking, use your free fingers to hold the eyelids open.
- Hold the bottle of drops close to the eye but DON’T touch the eye’ surface.
- Squeeze, aiming the drops at the centre of the eye, then release the head after the drops are in the eye.
- Your cat will blink, spreading the medication over the eye’ surface.
How to Apply Eye Ointment
- Remove any discharge around the eye with a cotton ball moistened with saline solution.
- Hold your cat sideways on your lap or place him on a table at a comfortable height (you may want someone to help restrain your cat if you choose the second option).
- Check the instructions on the tube for dosage.
- Gently pull back upper and lower eyelids.
- Hold the tube parallel to the lower eyelid, squeeze out the ointment onto the edge of the eyelid (about the size of a grain of rice).
- Release the head and let your cat blink.
- If necessary massage upper and lower eyelids together to spread the medication.
IMPORTANT: Always administer medicine to its full term for it to be effective. When administering medication stay calm – your pet can sense if you are nervous making it more difficult to apply the treatment. Always praise and reward your pet with a treat.
Clean, odor-free, pale pink color and a minimal accumulation of wax are indications of healthy ears.
Check your pet’s ears regularly.
Signs of Ear Disease
- Unpleasant odor
- Excessive scratching and pawing of the ear and head
- Sensitivity to touch, often resulting from pain
- Constant tilting/shaking of the head to one side
- Black or yellowish discharge
- Redness or swelling of the ear flap or canal
- Changes in behavior like listlessness, depression or irritability
- Accumulation of dark brown wax
- Loss of balance or hearing and disorientation
- Bleeding or discharge resembling coffee grinds
Causes of Ear Disease
Infection of the external ear canal and otitis media, infection of the middle ear, are usually caused by bacteria or yeast. Other possibilities include debris or a foreign object lodged in the ear canal. When seeking treatment, act quickly. If your cat has an ear infection, he or she will be in considerable discomfort. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections while antifungals are administered for yeast. Ear infection can also be indicative of other problems such as allergies, hormonal abnormalities or hereditary diseases. Your veterinarian will determine this during your visit and suggest the best course of action.
Ear Mites are common parasites that are highly contagious, often contracted from pet to pet. Excessive itching is the most common sign. Ear mites create dark, crumbly debris that look like coffee grinds.
Hematoma of the Ear Flap means blood has accumulated in the ear flap (pinna). Vigorous head shaking, scratching or trauma to the ear area result in damage to the blood vessels, often set off by infection, mites, fleas or debris.
Deafness usually brought on by age, trauma, loud noise or infection, can also be hereditary or congenital. Unfortunately, once diagnosed with clinical deafness, it is a lifelong condition.
Ear cleaning solution used on an appropriate basis can be helpful in maintaining your cat’s ears healthy.
How to Administer Ear Drops or Ointment to Cats
- Clean the external ear thoroughly with a moistened cotton ball using a veterinary recommended solution. Read the label instructions carefully for correct dosage.
- Gently pull the ear flap over the head, squeeze out the desired amount and apply it to the lowest part of the ear canal.
- Gently massage the ear area to help work the medication deeper into the ear canal. If there is enough medication in the ear, you will just begin to hear a ‘squishing’ noise as you massage.
IMPORTANT: Always administer medicine to its full term for it to be effective. When administering medication stay calm – your pet can sense if you are nervous making it more difficult to apply the treatment. Always praise and reward your pet with a treat.
Cutting through all the information
Due to illness, disease or trauma, your pet may one day require surgery. While always stressful (for both you and your pet) there are a few basic guidelines that you can follow that will make the process as complication-free as possible and put your pet on the fast road to recovery.
Depending on the type of surgery, whether minor or major, your veterinarian will advise you when your pet can resume his or her normal lifestyle.
- Your veterinarian will do a check-up on your pet before the surgery to determine if there are any pre-existing conditions that may interfere with the surgical procedure.
- Make sure your pet is current on his or her vaccinations.
- Your veterinarian may suggest a blood test to screen for disease not apparent from a physical exam.
- You may need to administer antibiotics several days prior to major surgery to increase your pet’s ability to fight off infection.
- Your veterinarian will tell you when to withhold water and food prior to an operation.
- Chances are your pet will be weak or groggy after surgery. Do not let him or her get too excited.
- Restrain your animal with a leash or put him in a carrier when leaving the hospital. This will protect him from additional injury.
- Provide only small amounts of food and water until he or she re-adjusts to being at home and is recovering. Too much food and water can lead to an upset stomach or vomiting.
- If a special post-surgical diet has been prescribed, follow all instructions carefully. Limit your pet’s exercise. Climbing stairs, jumping or running may open up sutures or cause nausea.
- Make sure his or her sleeping area is clean, warm and free of drafts.
- Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to administer during your pet’s recovery. Follow all label instructions carefully.
- Sutures are usually removed approximately 10 days after surgery. Check the area around the incision daily for redness, swelling or drainage. If you detect any irritation, contact your veterinarian immediately.
- Try to keep your pet from licking or chewing on the wound. If this is difficult to do, you might want to provide a physical barrier by placing an “Elizabethan collar” around his head.
Your pet counts on you for protection
With major advances in treating serious infectious and other pet diseases, oral disease – most importantly periodontal or gum disease caused by the buildup of plaque and tartar – has become the number – one health problem for cats. It’s estimated that without proper dental care 70% of cats will show signs of oral disease by age three. With your help, your pets can have healthy teeth and gums throughout their lives.
You simply need to provide them with a few things:
- A nutritious diet
- Chew treats recommended by a veterinarian
- Regular brushing at home
- Yearly dental checkups by a veterinarian
Good dental health begins with the proper diet
The wrong kinds of food can cause dental distress in pets. Feeding your cat a dry food rather than a moist, canned one will, through its mild abrasive action on the teeth, help remove the bacterial plaque that can harden into tartar. Dry food also provides adequate chewing exercise and gum stimulation. Avoid giving your pet sweets and table scraps as they may also increase plaque and tartar formation. Your vet may recommend the use of special dry foods designed to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, especially if your pet is prone to dental problems due to his breed or individual genetic history.
Brushing your pet’s teeth
Cats need to have their teeth brushed in order to eliminate the dental plaque that can cause tooth decay and the formation of tartar, which can lead to gum disease. You should begin a regular, daily brushing routine as soon as you bring your new kitten home. Even older cats can be trained to accept having their teeth brushed. You simply need to introduce the activity gradually and make the experience a positive one for your pet. Reassure and praise him profusely throughout the process and reward him with a very special treat when it’s finished. Here’s how it can be done:
• Start by dipping a finger in tuna water or warm water.
• Rub this finger gently over your pet’s gums and one or two teeth.
• Repeat until your pet seems fairly comfortable with this activity.
• Gradually, introduce a gauze-covered finger and gently scrub the teeth with a circular motion.
• Then, you can begin to use a toothbrush, either an ultra-soft model designed for people (baby tooth-brushes work well for cats) or a special pet tooth-brush or finger brush, which is a rubber finger covering with a small brush built in at its tip.
• Finally, once your pet is used to brushing, introduce the use of pet toothpaste in liquid or paste form. Most of these contain chlorhexidine or stannous fluoride – ask your veterinarian for his or her recommendations. Don’t use human toothpaste, as it can upset your pet’s stomach and cause your cat to foam at the mouth. Your vet may also advise the use of an antiseptic spray or rinse after brushing.
Don’t forget a yearly dental checkup
Doing your best to ensure that your cat receives the proper diet and regular brushing at home will help maintain his or her teeth and gums in top condition. To provide optimum dental care at home, you need to start with a clean bill of dental health. That’s where your pet’s veterinarian comes in. He or she will give your pet a thorough examination of the entire oral cavity to determine whether there are any underlying problems and, especially important, tartar buildup. Brushing removes plaque but not tartar, so if your pet’s teeth do have tartar, your veterinarian will have to remove it with a professional cleaning and polishing, usually accomplished under anaesthesia. After removing the tartar above and below the gum line, your veterinarian may treat your pet’s teeth with fluoride and will provide you with instructions for home care and follow-up.
A few tips:
- Watch out for wood – letting your cat pick up a piece of wood with his mouth can result in splinters and gum damage.
- Don’t let your pet chew on hard materials like bones or stones. They can wear down, even break teeth, damage gums and lead to infection.
A few statistics:
- Kittens have their first 26 “milk” or deciduous teeth at 2 to 3 weeks of age. Their 30 permanent teeth begin erupting around 3 months.
- Cats have the fewest teeth of any common domestic mammal.
A few fundamentals
Cats, now the most popular pet in North America and Europe, were once described as asocial animals, but this is no longer regarded as true. Although very different from dogs, cats also need interaction and most importantly, your loving attention! When you bring a new kitten or cat into your home you’ll have to decide whether your pet will live strictly indoors or will be allowed outside. There are advantages and disadvantages in both cases. Free-roaming cats are prone to more illnesses and have a much shorter life expectancy, as they can be hit by cars, attacked by other animals and exposed to internal and external parasites such as fleas, worms and ear mites. Conversely, if your cat never ventures outside you must provide him or her with physical and mental stimulation, including interaction with you, exercise, scratching posts and a clean toilet area. Whatever decision you make, following a few simple guidelines to direct your cat’s behavior can ensure that harmony reigns in your cat-loving household!
Make sure you have a post that’s up to scratch
Scratching just comes naturally to cats. An instinctive activity that begins when kittens are five weeks old, scratching allows cats to leave chemical and visual signals that, among other functions, serve as “messages” to other cats and animals. However, what’s entirely normal for your cat can become a big problem for you if he starts scratching your carpets and furniture. If this happens, you can cover or remove the tempting object or use plastic Nail Caps™ that are glued to the cat’s claws. Unfortunately, these caps must be cut and replaced every month and some cats do not tolerate them. Therefore, an easier, more practical solution is to provide kitty with a special scratching place, usually a post, of his own. As befits the feline reputation, you may find that your kitten or cat may be slightly picky about what kind of scratching post he or she will agree to use.
Not all commercially available scratching posts are equally attractive to all cats.
Posts that some cats might find acceptable have sisal, cardboard, wood or wood composite surfaces.
Some cat owners have found that making their own posts, whether from soft logs, tree stumps or a piece of 2 x 4 wood covered in sisal or another material with a longitudinal weave does the trick.
The most important characteristics of a post are that it be taller than the cat when he stands on his hind legs, sturdy enough not to tip over and located in a prominent, easily accessible area.
A board about 6-8 inches wide by 12-14 inches long attached to a wall can also work well.
Whatever its construction, the scratching post or board should not be changed as long as your cat is still using it. The more scratched and awful looking, the more your cat will love and use it instead of your furniture!
Playtime helps keep your cat healthy and happy
Make sure your kitten or cat has lots of opportunities for interesting, challenging play that will satisfy his natural instincts and provide him with much-needed activity. Find toys that bounce or flutter – there are many available – that he can pretend to “chase,” “hunt” and “capture”. Some cats love to chase moving spots of light, whether they’re produced by mirrors or flashlights. You can also attach a ball of aluminum foil to a long string and tie it to your belt or waist. As you move about, your cat will have a great time interacting with you while trying to “catch” the ball. Just be sure to make the string long enough that kitty doesn’t accidentally catch your leg! You should try to have at least one daily, 15-minute interactive play session with your cat, especially if he is often left alone.
Cats appreciate clean facilities, too!
Cats are fastidious creatures, so providing your pet with a clean, easily accessible toilet area will help minimize any litter problems. Cats generally prefer unscented, soft-textured fine litter. Some cats like to urinate in one box and defecate in another so the ideal number of litter boxes is one box per cat plus one. Therefore, a two-cat household should have three litter boxes placed on different floors or in different rooms. Don’t put litter boxes next to noisy equipment such as furnaces or washing machines – cats prefer quiet. Scoop out fecal matter (and urine if you use a clumping litter) daily. Wash boxes with water and mild dish soap once a week if you use non-clumping litter or once a month if you use the clumping type. Do not use Lysol or Pinesol type products to wash the litter box. Elimination outside the box can occur for several different reasons, various medical conditions being the most common. If you suspect your cat might have such a condition, consult your veterinarian for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Spraying or urine marking
Spraying,or urine marking, is a normal behavior in cats with intact sexual organs, and as well in neutered male or spayed female cats. In fact, as many as 10% of castrated male and 5% of sterilized female adult cats spray regularly. Spraying is often associated with the presence of other cats (both inside and outside the home) or other stresses, such as changes in the cat’s environment (a new roommate, pet or baby, or perhaps a change in the amount of time the cat is left alone), that can cause anxiety. Spraying may be the way your cat communicates his anxiety. Treatment is available – ask your veterinarian.
Diane Frank, DVM
Like people, cats can suffer from allergies.
As in the human population, the incidence of allergies in pets seems to be increasing. While allergic humans may often sneeze, wheeze or even have serious respiratory difficulties, cats show similar symptoms, even to the point of developing asthma. Allergic reactions in pets are mostly characterized by skin problems, exacerbated by their primary symptom –itching and scratching. Cat allergies fall into three main categories: flea allergic dermatitis, atopy, and food allergy. Many pets can be affected by one or more allergy.
What is food allergy and what are its symptoms?
Food allergy is an allergic reaction to one or more ingredients in a pet’s food. The most common allergens are beef and milk products, cereals (wheat, corn, soya), chicken and eggs. The exact cause of a food allergy is not known. Perhaps a change in the pet’s immune system causes
certain ingredients to be perceived as “foreign”, initiating inflammatory mechanisms to fight off the perceived “intruder”.
The most common symptoms of a food allergy are itching, licking or chewing. Otitis Externa (ear infection) along with other skin problems are also common in conjunction with food hypersensitivity. Some pets may also have diarrhea and other digestive problems. Symptoms can appear at any age, whether a pet has just started a new diet or has been eating the same food for several years.
How is food allergy diagnosed?
The only effective way for your veterinarian to diagnose a food allergy is to put your pet on a “hypoallergenic” or “exclusion” diet for a minimum of 8-12 weeks. Such a diet contains ingredients to which the animal has not been exposed in the past. Because the source of protein causes most allergic reactions, exclusion diets use proteins – often venison, fish or duck – that are normally not found in regular pet food. An exclusion diet may comprise home-prepared food or prescription commercial hypoallergenic products.
If your pet has a food allergy, there should be a significant reduction in the symptoms after the recommended period on the exclusion diet. To identify all the food allergens, your veterinarian will recommend adding a single protein back into the diet every 1-2 weeks, while watching for a recurrence, or worsening, of symptoms. If this happens, the veterinarian will recommend removing the offending ingredient from the diet.
How is food allergy treated?
The best way to treat your pet’s food allergy is to carefully monitor his or her diet, in order to avoid flare-ups.
In rare cases, your veterinarian may also prescribe antihistamines and corticosteroids.
Flea Allergy Dermatitis
What is flea allergy dermatitis and what are its symptoms?
Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), often called “flea bite hypersensitivity”, is a skin disease caused by an allergic reaction to flea saliva. A single flea bite can trigger the disease’s intense itching. Cats with FAD scratch their heads and necks. This often leads to “hot spots”, or localized hair loss and skin infections. You may find fleas and flea dirt (the flea feces look like black specks) on your pet, although many cats with FAD have very few fleas, since they are constantly licking and chewing.
How is flea allergy dermatitis diagnosed?
Your veterinarian looks for the usual signs (scratching, skin sores, the presence of fleas and/or flea dirt). He or she may also perform a skin test to confirm that fleas are causing the problem, as FAD symptoms can resemble those of other conditions, including external parasites (mites, lice), infections and other allergies, that cause severe itching.
How is flea allergy dermatitis treated?
The best way to treat FAD is to prevent fleas from attacking your pet. Various insecticides and insect growth regulators that eliminate flea infestations are available. Your veterinarian can recommend the right product for your pet. Daily vacuuming and frequent washing of your pet’s bedding can also reduce your home’s flea population.
To break the “itch-scratch” cycle that leads to skin infections, your veterinarian may prescribe corticosteroids, antihistamines and essential fatty acids to relieve irritation. Warm water baths and anti-itching shampoos and conditioners also help.
What is most important to realize is that there is no cure for FAD: your pet will always be allergic to flea bites and you must be continually on your guard to prevent further problems. Flea prevention is a must.
What is atopy and what are its symptoms?
Atopy, or environmental allergy, is an allergic reaction to airborne substances like pollen, molds, house dust mites and animal dander (skin or hair fragments). It is most common in dogs, but some cats are also affected. The incidence of atopy depends as much upon a pet’s genetic susceptibility as exposure to the allergen itself. (An allergen is any agent causing the allergic reaction.)
Itching, mostly around the face, feet, lower chest and belly, is the primary symptom. Depending on the cause, this may occur only seasonally (pollen) or year-round (molds, dust mites and dander). “Hot spots”, other skin infections and ear problems can develop. Frequent scratching due to chronic irritation may lead to hair loss. These signs can be seen from 4 months to 7 years of age but are typically first noticed around 1-3 years of age.
How is atopy diagnosed?
Atopy is confirmed through a process of elimination. Other causes of itching, such as fleas, mites, lice, bacterial and yeast infections, as well as food allergies, must be ruled out first. Your veterinarian will ask you for a detailed history of your pet’s itching problem. Skin or serum (blood) testing for different allergens may then be performed to help pinpoint the exact cause.
How is atopy treated?
Atopy is a lifelong condition and there is no known cure. However, there are a number of ways to manage the problem:
- Anti-itch therapy, including the use of drugs, medicated shampoos and conditioners.
- Removing the source of the allergy from the environment as much as possible.
- Immunotherapy uses a series of injections to gradually accustom your pet’s system to the allergen(s) causing the problem. Although its effectiveness varies, it provides at least some relief for around 75% of pets with atopy.
- If the atopy is relatively mild (for example, occasional itching during the pollen season), you can use “Elizabethan” collars, T-shirts and socks to reduce irritation by physically preventing your pet from scratching or biting themselves
If your cat no longer appears interested in playing with her favorite mouse toy for hours on end, there may be a good reason – osteoarthritis. A chronic, degenerative joint disease that makes movement difficult and painful, osteoarthritis mainly strikes pets in their middle and senior years. However, younger animals can also be affected. In fact, studies show that approximately 20% of dogs have the condition in some form and, even though they are less prone, cats can also suffer from it.
It can be heartbreaking to see your once lively, always active best friend begin to limp, or notice his or her obvious pain when moving around. There is no cure for osteoarthritis. However, if it is treated promptly, there is a great deal that you and your veterinarian can do to decrease your pet’s discomfort and increase his or her mobility.
Early warning signs of osteoarthritis:
- Difficulty in walking, climbing stairs, or getting in and out of the litter box
- An overall decrease in activity, especially play
- Resting more than usual
- Slowness in getting up from a lying position
- Failing to groom themselves or eating less, with a resulting loss of weight
- Slow or stiff movements upon waking, after a rest, or in cold weather
- Beginning to limp
- Swollen joint(s) that is warm to the touch
- Licking or biting at a joint
- Personality change – your pet no longer likes to be touched
- If you notice any of the signs above, don’t just think that your pet is “slowing down with age”. Take him or her to see your vet! The faster osteoarthritis is first diagnosed and treated, the better your pet’s quality of life will be.
What causes osteoarthritis?
There are many causes, but practically all can be grouped into two main categories:
- Abnormal stress on normal joints
- An injury that damages a joint
- “Wear and tear”: joints are subjected to repeated loads or stress
- Obesity: an excessive load is put on joints
- Normal stress on abnormal joints
- Developmental defects that alter the shape or stability of a joint
- Poor limb conformation: bow legs or knock knees can cause an uneven load on a joint
Whatever the specific cause, stress on a joint can begin a destructive cycle of inflammation of the joint area and damage to the cartilage that leads to pain for your pet.
How is osteoarthritis treated?
Treatment includes three main components, each equally important.
- Weight control Cats that suffer from chronic pain caused by conditions like osteoarthritis often become inactive, which can result in obesity. Controlling your pet’s weight will lighten the load on arthritic joints and make it less difficult to move around. Just as for humans, weight loss for animals involves both a well-balanced, calorie-reduced diet and regular exercise. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the proper diet for your cat.
- Exercise is essential because it contributes to strengthening the muscles that support joints. Daily, moderate amounts of low-impact exercise also improves joint mobility and can help get a lethargic, arthritic pet active again. Cats can profit from play that keeps them moving without excessive jumping. Consult your veterinarian about what amount and type of exercise would be best for your pet. Also, be aware that your cat’s osteoarthritic pain may be more severe at certain times than others. If this is the case, let your pet take a break from his or her exercise routine for a few days, until the painful flare-up subsides.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs combat inflammation in the joints, thus relieving pain, increasing mobility, and protecting the joint from further damage. As joint pain may vary according to the amount of exercise, the weather or season, or for other, unknown factors, your veterinarian may prescribe anti- inflammatory medication such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) as treatment. Newer NSAID drugs are proving to be especially effective in reducing inflammation and pain to improve mobility without the significant side effects – including gastrointestinal problems – previously associated with NSAID use. Ask your veterinarian for more information.
In addition to the above, your veterinarian may also suggest physical therapy, cold or hot packs and baths, massage or acupuncture as well as glucosamine and chondroitin to help control pain. In extreme cases surgery may also be indicated.
What’s the outlook for a pet with osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis may progress very slowly (over several years) or very quickly (you might notice a major change in just a few weeks or months). It all depends on your pet’s age, his or her activity level, the joints involved and the underlying cause. Some pets’ pain and loss of mobility can be kept to a minimum for long periods of time with a simple regimen of weight control, moderate, regular exercise and the occasional use of anti-inflammatory drugs if flare-ups occur. For others, severe damage to the joints may occur rapidly and require long-term medication and other therapy. In either case, your veterinarian can determine the best course of treatment for your pet’s particular condition. There is no reason why, with your loving attention and committed care, as well as your veterinarian’s guidance, your osteoarthritic pet cannot have a happy, healthy and comfortable life for many years to come.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which your pet’s pancreas can no longer produce enough of the hormone insulin.
What does insulin do?
Every time your pet eats a meal, glucose is absorbed from the intestines and enters the bloodstream. Glucose (sugar) is the essential fuel of the body’s cells and is needed for these cells to work and so for the body to function. At the same time, insulin is released by your pet’s pancreas. Insulin allows the glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter cells (e.g. liver, kidney, brain and muscle cells) where it can be used for energy and growth. Think of insulin as a key that unlocks a door to let glucose into the cells. Insulin lowers blood glucose and allows it to enter cells, where it is used to produce energy.
What happens with a lack of insulin?
In diabetic pets the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin. Without insulin, glucose is no longer able to leave the bloodstream to be used as energy by the body’s cells. Hence the glucose in the blood will rise to an abnormally high level. The level will become so high that glucose overflows into the urine and your pet’s urine will contain glucose.
The body’s cells cannot utilise the glucose they depend upon for energy. In order to compensate for this, other ‘abnormal’ energy producing processes start up which do not depend on glucose (such as fat break-down). Unfortunately, these processes eventually create toxic by-products that can make your pet very sick.
What signs should I look for?
Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your pet.
Signs to look for are:
- increased thirst
- frequent urination
- changes in appetite
- weight loss
- deteriorating coat condition
- lethargy or lack of energy
Can it be treated?
Your veterinarian will discuss how diabetes can be managed depending on the extent of the diabetes. This could include dietary changes as well as considering insulin injection therapy to replace the insulin that your pet’s pancreas can no longer produce.
Protecting your best friend
One of the most important things you can do to give your dog a long and healthy life is to ensure that he or she is vaccinated against common canine diseases. Your dog’s mother gave her puppy immunity from disease for the first few weeks of existence by providing disease-fighting antibodies in her milk. After that period it’s up to you, with the help and advice of your veterinarian – to provide that protection.
How do vaccines work?
Vaccines contain small quantities of altered or “killed” viruses, bacteria or other disease-causing organisms. When administered, they stimulate your dog’s immune system to produce disease-fighting cells and proteins – or antibodies– to protect against disease.
When should my dog be vaccinated?
The immunity that a puppy has at birth begins to diminish sometime between 6 and 12 weeks. It is then usually time to begin the initial vaccinations, which will be repeated once a month until the puppy is about 3 to 4 months old. Thereafter, your dog will require repeat vaccination at regular intervals for the rest of his or her life. Above all, follow the vaccination schedule recommended by your veterinarian – if there is too long an interval between the first vaccination and the booster, your dog may have to undergo the series all over again.
Which vaccinations should my dog receive?
Most veterinarians believe that your pet should be protected against those diseases which are most common, highly contagious and which cause serious illness. Such diseases could include Canine Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Canine Parvovirus, Canine Tracheobronchitis and Rabies. Other vaccinations may be recommended, based on your veterinarian’s evaluation of the risks posed by such factors as your dog’s particular heredity, environment and lifestyle.
1- Canine Distemper
Vaccination against this often fatal, hard-to-treat disease is absolutely essential. Highly contagious, it is spread by discharges from the noses and eyes of infected dogs. Symptoms can include listlessness, fever, coughing, diarrhea and vomiting; convulsions and paralysis may occur in the disease’s final stages. The distemper virus attacks many organs, including the nervous system, which may be permanently damaged, even if the dog recovers.
2- Canine Tracheobronchitis (CANINE COUGH)
Just as with the human common cold, this respiratory-tract infection is easily transmitted from one dog to another, so vaccination is imperative if your pet will come in contact with many other dogs in such situations as obedience training or boarding at a kennel. Caused by various airborne bacteria and viruses, including Canine Parainfluenza virus, Canine Adenovirus Type II and Bordetella Bronchiseptica, you’ll first notice its onset by your dog’s dry, hacking cough.
3- Canine Influenza (DOG FLU)
Canine influenza is highly contagious and easily transmitted by direct contact, cough or sneeze and via contaminated surfaces. Usually mild in 80% of the cases, some dogs exhibit more severe symptoms, and a small number of dogs have died from complications associated with the disease. Unless a dog has already had the illness and recovered, virtually every dog exposed to the virus will become infected. The most common sign of canine influenza is a persistent cough – in some cases similar to that seen in dogs with canine cough. Protection from canine influenza is available with a new canine influenza vaccine. Ask your veterinarian if it is appropriate for your dog.
4- Canine Parvovirus
Very contagious, debilitating and widespread, the disease caused by this virus emerged in many parts of the world only in 1978. Spread through infected feces, the highly resistant virus can remain in the environment for many months. Symptoms include high fever, listlessness, vomiting and diarrhea. Vaccination is the only certain method of preventing this potentially fatal disease, which is most severe in young pups and elderly dogs.
This incurable viral disease affects the central nervous system of almost all mammals, including humans. It is spread through contact with the saliva of infected animals (which can include skunks, foxes, raccoons and bats) through bites or any break in the skin. Vaccination will provide your pet with much greater resistance to rabies if he is exposed to the disease, but you must be aware that there is no cure once it occurs. For this reason, many municipalities absolutely require that all dogs receive rabies vaccinations on a regular basis. Plus, you will definitely have to prove that your dog is vaccinated if you travel with him – whether across the United States or around the world.
6- Infectious Canine Hepatitis
Caused by Canine Adenovirus Type I or Type II, this disease is transmitted among dogs by contact with secretions, such as saliva, infected urine or feces. Its symptoms are similar to those of the early stages of distemper. Causing liver failure, eye damage and breathing problems, the course of this disease can range from mild to fatal. Vaccination remains the best protection.
7- Other Vaccinations
After evaluating your dog’s particular situation and risk factors, your veterinarian may also recommend vaccination against other infectious diseases. These might include:
• LEPTOSPIROSIS, a bacterial disease which attacks the kidneys and liver
• CANINE CORONAVIRUS which attacks the intestinal system
• LYME DISEASE, transmitted by ticks to dogs, other animals and humans. Many dogs do not exhibit clinical signs, which could include arthritis and lameness. Lyme disease if left untreated could have serious consequences to a dog’s health. This disease is most common in the northern parts of the United States.
How effective is vaccination?
Like any drug treatment or surgical procedure, vaccinations can not be 100% guaranteed. However, used in conjunction with proper nutrition and acceptable sanitary conditions, vaccination is clearly your pet’s best defense against disease. Plus, when you consider what treating a serious illness can cost you and your beloved dog in terms of both money and distress, prevention through vaccination is extremely cost-effective.
Just like you, your cat is going to get sick occasionally and you’ll likely come home from the veterinarian’s with some medication to administer. Learning how to do it right will make the process easier both for you and your cat. Always follow the instructions given by your veterinarian. Be sure to administer the full amount of medication over the number of days instructed by your veterinarian.
Tablets & Capsules
• Place the pill between the thumb and index finger of one hand.
• Hold the top of the cat’s head and grasp the cheekbones with the thumb and index finger of the other hand just behind the canine teeth.
• Tilt the head back until the cat’s eyes are facing upward.
• Usually the cat’s jaw will drop open on its own. If not, apply a little pressure on the lower jaw with your middle finger.
• Bring the pill to the cat’s mouth.
• Keep your middle finger over the small incisor teeth to keep jaw open.
• Deposit the pill as far back on the tongue as possible.
• Immediately close the mouth.
• Gently stroke the throat or blow in the nostrils to encourage swallowing.
• Work fast to avoid being bitten.
Liquids & Syrups
Read the label for the proper dosage. If instructed, shake the contents of the bottle.
• Fill a syringe or dropper with medication before starting.
• Liquid medication is poured into the pouch between the teeth and cheek.
• Hold your cat’s jaw closed and tilt the head back slightly.
• Gently squirt the medication into the pouch with the dropper or syringe.
- Always read the label instructions carefully.
- Ask your veterinarian if the medication can be given with food or must be given on an empty stomach.
- Place the cat on your lap or table with a non-slip surface.
- When administering medication stay calm – your pet can sense if you are nervous making it more difficult to apply the treatment. Always praise and reward your pet with a treat.
Should you wish, you can use a pilling device to avoid placing your fingers into your cat’s mouth. It is a plastic tube resembling a syringe used to deposit the pill.
- Place the pill at the end of the device.
- Hold the device like a syringe between your index and middle fingers, using your thumb to push the plunger.
- Tilt your cat’s head back until his eyes are facing upward. Usually the cat’s jaw will drop open on its own. If not, apply a little pressure on the lower jaw with your middle finger.
- Place the device over the base of the tongue.
- Push the plunger to deposit the pill as far back on the tongue as possible.
Before you go
Ask yourself: will my cat be comfortable and happy on this trip? Some animals simply prefer to stay at home and a “homesick”, possibly motion-sick pet will ruin everyone’s trip. In such a case it’s probably wiser to leave your pet with a friend, relative or hire a “petsitter”. If that is not possible, you might consider boarding him or her at a clean, well-run cattery.
If you do decide to take your pet along, you must take as much care with the preparation of your pet’s trip as your own. If you plan to travel by plane, bus, train or boat, find out if your pet will be welcome and, what kind of reservations and transport arrangements must be made. If you’ll be staying at hotels, motels or campgrounds, you must check if animals are allowed or if kennel facilities are available. If you’re staying with friends or family, make sure your pet is also invited.
Traveling by plane
- Contact the airline you wish to fly well in advance – each has its own regulations and reservations for your pet will be necessary.
- Be sure to ask about the airline’s rules for pet crates or carriers.
- Try to book a direct flight or one with a minimum of stops.
- The airline may allow your pet in the passenger cabin if your crate or carrier can fit under the seat in front of you. If your pet must travel in the cargo hold, be at the airport early, place him in his travel crate yourself and pick him up promptly when you land.
- Establish that your pet will be in a pressurized area of the plane – cargo holds can get very hot or very cold without environmental controls.
Traveling by car
- If your pet is not used to being in a car, take him or her for a few short rides before your trip. Your cat will probably be safer and more comfortable in a carrier.
- Give the main meal at the end of the day. Dry food is more convenient but if your pet needs canned food, dispose of any unused portions if they cannot be refrigerated.
- It is not recommended to leave your cat in a parked car for a prolonged period of time. If you must leave your pet in a parked car, put the cat in the carrier, lock all doors and open windows enough to provide good ventilation. Remember, on hot days, the temperature in a parked car can rise to dangerous levels in just minutes and your pet could die of heat stroke.
Traveling by bus, train or boat
- Not all bus lines allow you to travel with your pet, so phone ahead for information.
- Amtrak does not permit pets to travel in passenger cars, but they may travel in cages as checked luggage.
- Some cruise ships do welcome pets. Check with the cruise line or ask your travel agent.
Wherever you go
- Ensure your pet ALWAYS wears a collar with complete identification and a license tag. Microchipping with HomeAgain® is the way to ensure you will retrieve your animal should it be lost.
- Pack his or her favorite food, toys and dishes, a cooler of water, a litter box and a leash.
- Have your pet examined and vaccinated, if necessary, by your veterinarian before a long trip.
- If your pet must travel in a crate or carrier, be sure it is strong, large enough for him or her to stand up and turn around, has a place for food and water, and a litter box, is well ventilated, has a leak-proof bottom and closes securely.
- Contact the consulate or embassy of your destination or ask your travel agent for advice if you are planning a trip abroad with your pet, as health and vaccination regulations vary greatly.
Pet proofing your home
Just as parents “childproof” their home, so should pet owners “petproof” theirs. Four-legged members of the family, like infants and small children, are naturally curious and love to explore their environment with their paws, claws and mouths. But they can’t know what is dangerous and what is not… so it’s up to you to make your home a safe haven. The following tips can help ensure that your pet enjoys a long, happy and accident-free life in your care.
All around the house
- Screen windows to guard against falls.
- Don’t let young pets out on balconies, upper porches or high decks.
- Many house plants, including dieffenbachia, elephant ear, spider plants and more are poisonous if eaten. Remove them or put them out of reach in hanging baskets.
- Kittens love to chew when they’re teething, so unplug, remove or cover electrical cords.
- Don’t leave a room where a fire is lit or a space heater is being used unattended.
- Plastic bags may be fun to play with, but they can suffocate.
- If your pet can put something in his mouth, he probably will. Don’t leave small, sharp, easily swallowed objects lying around.
In the garage
- Cats enjoy naps near a warm engine so, before you drive off, honk your horn and make sure your pet is not under or near the car.
- Pets like the smell and taste of antifreeze and windshield washer. Tightly cover their containers and wipe up any spills.
- Paint, gasoline and other dangerous chemicals should be stored out of reach.
In the kitchen, laundry room & bathroom
- Never leave burners or irons on unattended.
- Dangerous household chemicals such as bleach and ammonia should be stored out of your pet’s reach.
- Close washer and dryer lids – your pet might climb in and become trapped.
- Keep toilet lids down – small pets can actually drown if they fall in.
- Medicines, shampoo, suntan lotions and other personal care items can kill your pet. Make sure he can’t get hold of them.
Out in the yard
- Some outdoor plants, like ivy and oleander, can be poisonous to pets.
- Keep pets away from lawns and gardens treated with chemicals.
- Store garden tools and chemicals securely. Keep garden sheds locked.
- Cover swimming pools and hot tubs – your pet might fall in and not be able to get out.
- Many objects used as cat toys – yarn, string, rubber bands, aluminum foil – can be extremely harmful if swallowed.
- Cats love to sleep in warm, dark places, so close drawers, trunks and closets – your pet might suffocate if trapped.
- A cat looks adorable with a ribbon tied around its neck… but it could get caught and choke your pet.
Home for the holidays
- Tinsel and icicles, Christmas tree lights and glass ornaments will be sure to tempt your pet’s curiosity – but all could be lethal if chewed or swallowed.
- Poinsettia, holly and mistletoe are poisonous to your pets.
Ticks are small spider-like acarids and fleas are insects, but these two tiny creatures have at least one thing in common – they are both parasites that feed on your cat’s blood and can cause a lot of discomfort and more serious health problems.
Flea bites may go unnoticed on some pets, cause slight irritation in others and produce extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in those animals with flea allergy dermatitis, which is the result of extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Severe flea infestations can cause anemia, especially in kittens. Fleas can also transmit several diseases, as well as tapeworm. Ticks are “vectors” or carriers of a number of diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever which can sometimes be transmitted to humans.
Adult fleas are wingless insects, generally smaller than a sesame seed, who feed on the blood of animals. Their proportionately enlarged back pair of legs gives them an extraordinary jumping ability. Hanging on to your pet’s fur with their claws, their needle-like mouth parts bite through the skin to suck up blood – in quantities of up to 15 times their body weight daily in the case of female cat fleas.
If one flea finds your cat an attractive food source, you can be sure that other fleas will, too! They mate, with females laying 30-50 eggs per day. These eggs will drop to the ground within 8 hours and, as soon as 2 days later flea larvae will hatch and hide in dark places on the ground, on carpets or in upholstery. After about a week of feeding on adult flea droppings, crumbs, flakes of skin, etc., the larvae spin cocoons to become pupae. The pupae can remain in this stage for very long periods of time. As early as a week later, the pupae develop into adult fleas and emerge from their cocoons when they sense that a cat or other animal host, is near. The cycle – which can take as little as 12 days or as long as 180 days – can then begin again.
Ticks are wingless creatures that live exclusively on the blood of animals for three of the four stages of their life cycle. They are equipped with an apparatus called Haller’s organ which senses heat, carbon dioxide and other stimuli to allow the ticks to locate the presence of an animal food source. Once found, they crawl on and embed their mouth parts into the animal’s skin and proceed to suck up its blood.
You should inspect your pet regularly for ticks, especially if they have been outside in areas where there are woods or tall grasses. A thorough combing within 4 to 6 hours of exposure to such environments can help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to feast on your pet. Should you find a tick, it should be removed immediately, as the longer it is attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. Do not touch the tick. Wear gloves and use tweezers to carefully grasp the exposed section of the tick’s body near your pet’s skin. Gently pull until the tick lets go. To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several tissues and flush it down the toilet. Do not crush, burn or suffocate it, as any one of those actions may spread infectious bacteria.
Controlling fleas and ticks
The best way to control flea problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Fortunately, developments in veterinary parasite control in recent years have made the twofold goal of eliminating fleas on pets and preventing further infestations much easier to achieve. Available for both cats and dogs, new insecticides and insect growth regulators in easy-to-use topical or oral forms not only eliminate any existing fleas, but also work long-term to prevent future infestations. This is accomplished either by killing the parasites before they can reproduce or by preventing their eggs from developing into normal adult fleas. Consult your veterinarian for advice about the proper product for your pet. Furthermore, thorough daily vacuuming of high-traffic areas and frequent washing of your pet’s bedding will also go a long way in reducing the flea population in your home.
Some of the same types of topical or oral products used to control flea infestation are also effective against ticks. Such treatments should be combined with daily examinations and tick removal for those pets, especially cats, who are frequently outdoors in areas with high tick populations. Ask your veterinarian for information about the situation in your locality. Clearing brush and long grasses and removing leaves, grass clippings and other organic debris will also help reduce the presence of ticks by disturbing their natural outdoor habitats.
When a parasite picks your pet for a meal
If, despite your best efforts at control, you find that fleas or ticks have crawled (or jumped) on board your pet, you will have to use a product that will kill and/or repel the parasites. These include once-a-month topical treatments, or more regular use of sprays, powders, dips, shampoos, collars and, to combat fleas, oral or injectable medication. Once again, you should ask your veterinarian for advice about what the most appropriate product is for your pet . And remember, it is perfectly normal to see live fleas or ticks on a pet immediately after a topical treatment, spray, shampoo, collar, etc. is applied. Many believe that this means the product is not working, but the fleas or ticks have to fully absorb the product before they will be affected, which may take from a few hours to a few days.
Facts about fleas
- Worldwide, there are about 3,000 different types of fleas, but the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common to be found on cats and dogs.
- Adult fleas can jump 600 times an hour. Each jump, in terms of the flea’s size, is the equivalent of a person clearing a 50-story building.
- The record jump for a flea is 13 inches.
- In just 30 days, 25 adult female fleas can multiply to 250,000 fleas.
Tips about ticks
- A female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs.
- Except for eggs, ticks need a blood meal to progress to each stage of their life cycle.
- Some ticks can live for more than a year without a meal.
- In very rare cases, toxins secreted by ticks can cause pet paralysis.
Old age is not a disease
As a result of advances in veterinary medicine, more knowledgeable care and improved nutrition, cats are now living much longer, healthier lives. But, just as for humans, the passage of time has its effects, and you may begin to notice that your once-frisky feline seems to have slowed down a bit. Being aware of the natural changes that can occur as your cat reaches his or her golden years, as well as what you can do to help keep your pet as healthy, active and comfortable as possible, can ensure that you both enjoy this final stage in your cat’s life to the fullest.
How-and when-will I know that my cat is getting “old”?
As cats move into the geriatric phase of their lives, they experience gradual changes that are remarkably like those of aging humans: their hair may turn grey, their bodies are not as limber and reflexes not as sharp as they once were, hearing, eyesight and the sense of smell may deteriorate and energy levels seem to diminish. In fact, the first sign of aging is often a general decrease in activity, combined with a tendency to sleep longer and more soundly. Such signs may begin to manifest themselves anywhere between the ages of 7 and 11. Furthermore, a healthy cat who lives indoors, especially one that has been spayed or neutered, will most likely age later than one which has been affected by disease or environmental problems early in life. Thus, while wild or feral tomcats have an average life span of only 3 years, a castrated male house cat that is well cared for can live happily and healthily into his late teens or early twenties. Again, as with humans, the aging process will vary with the individual. Your veterinarian will be able to judge when it’s time to consider your pet a “senior”.
Checkup time now comes twice a year
As your cat ages, regular checkups at the veterinarian’s become more important than ever. In fact, at this stage of your pet’s life, it is recommended that he or she receive a thorough examination every 6 months, as adult cats can age as much as 4 years (in human terms) within the period of one calendar year. Besides the usual complete physical examination, your veterinarian may conduct a urine and fecal analysis and a full blood screen. If your cat goes outdoors, or is part of a multi-feline household, he or she may also recommend that your pet be tested for the presence of feline leukemia or immunodeficiency virus.
Keep your vet informed
Most importantly, you should tell your veterinarian about any noticeable change in your cat’s physical condition or behavior. A problem that you may assume is simply related to your pet’s advanced age may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition. For example, your cat’s lack of interest in exercise or play may not stem from the normal decrease in energy that comes with age, but be due to the stiffness and pain that results from arthritis – a condition that can be managed with the proper treatment. Regular, semi-annual checkups can thus help your veterinarian work out a suitable preventative health program for your pet and catch any disorders sufficiently early to provide effective treatment. Working together, you can both ensure that your cat’s senior years will be healthy and happy ones.
Put a healthy diet on the menu
As he or she ages, your cat’s nutritional needs may also change. You may find that, although your pet is eating less, he still puts on weight. This could be due to a slowdown of his metabolism or a decrease in his activity. Excess weight can aggravate many feline medical conditions, including heart, respiratory, skin and joint problems. To help a portly puss reduce, try feeding smaller quantities of food or gradually switch to a diet that is lower in calories. Other cats have entirely the opposite problem – they lose weight as they age, sometimes as the result of heart or periodontal disease, thyroid dysfunction, kidney failure or sometimes because of a reduction in their taste sensation, which leads to a loss of appetite.
In either case, ask your veterinarian for advice about your pet’s individual nutritional requirements.
Senior cat food do’s & don’ts
- Do make sure that your cat’s diet is well balanced, highly palatable, digestible and contains potassium and taurine.
- Don’t serve food with high mineral and protein content.
- Do consider, in consultation with your veterinarian, increasing the level of fiber in your cat’s diet, especially if he or she suffers from frequent constipation.
- Do try warming canned food to body temperature – it may make meals more tempting to senior cats with poor appetites.
- Don’t feed your cat between-meal snacks or table scraps.
The top 10 health tips for senior cats
- Take your cat to his or her veterinarian for twice-yearly checkups.
- Become informed about conditions and diseases common to senior cats, be on the lookout for symptoms and, should they arise, inform your cat’s veterinarian promptly.
- Feed your cat the best food you can afford and consider giving him several small meals a day rather than one large one.
- Don’t overfeed – obesity causes many health problems and may shorten your cat’s life.
- Make sure your cat receives adequate exercise to preserve muscle tone, bone, joint strength and fight obesity.
- Look after your cat’s dental health. Have his teeth cleaned professionally when your veterinarian so advises, and ideally brush his teeth daily.
- Have your veterinarian do a risk assessment to determine an appropriate vaccination protocol for your cat.
- Do your utmost to control fleas and make sure your cat and his environment (his bed, play area, etc.) are always spotlessly clean.
- Check your cat’s nails weekly and trim them as often as necessary, as senior cats may not use their scratching posts as often as they did when younger.
- Give your cat lots of love and attention and do all you can to keep him interested, active, happy and comfortable.
Dealing with the Loss of a Pet
The death of a beloved pet can be very distressing. Our pets are not only members of the family, they are our faithful friends, our children’s devoted playmates and reliable, affectionate companions for the elderly or disabled. They enrich our day-to-day lives and their passing makes for a deeply felt loss.
There are many reasons why we may have to face a pet’s death:
- Terminal illness
- Old age or senility
- Fatal accident or unexpected occurrence
- Behavioral problems
- Long-term or chronic illness entailing heavy burdens in terms of care and/or finances
Most of these factors may place you in the heartbreaking position of having to contemplate euthanasia. As an owner, you are responsible for your pet’s overall health and welfare. When his or her quality of life deteriorates, determining to do the humane thing and end the pet’s needless suffering may be one of the hardest decisions you will ever have to make. That is why bereavement often begins before the actual death of a pet.
Points to consider when assessing your pet’s quality of life:
- Pain or serious discomfort when walking or moving
- Drastic loss of appetite
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea following eating or drinking
- Difficulty in breathing
- Incontinence or other serious problems with urination or defecation
- Capacity to see and hear properly
- Unresponsive, unmanageable or dangerous behavior
Talk to your veterinarian. He or she can give you a complete assessment of your pet’s health and level of suffering, as well as assist you in evaluating your options. This will go a long way in helping you make your decision. You should also speak about your concerns with family and friends in order to enlist their support during this difficult time.
Losing a friend, and that is what your pet is, is always very painful. Facing such a loss is not easy, and may evoke feelings of denial, anger, guilt or depression before acceptance is reached. These reactions are entirely natural and should be expressed. Everyone grieves in his or her own way. You may experience some or all of these feelings, in varying degrees and for different lengths of time. Acknowledging them is an important step in the mourning process, one that will help you understand why you may have withdrawn from, or lashed out at, people who care about you. You should realize that it is perfectly natural to need comforting. It will not only help you cope with your emotions and adjust to life without your pet, but may allow you, in the future, to provide welcome support to others around you who are experiencing the same loss.
- Be honest. Children are very intuitive and know when something is wrong. In wanting to safeguard them from a painful experience, you may feel it’s wiser to exclude them from the decision-making process. Once the decision is made, talk openly about what has happened. Provide your children with honest, simple answers that are appropriate for their age group, using terms they know and understand. Not only will they respect you for your honesty, but they will also be better prepared to deal with the situation.
- Avoid euphemisms. Younger children can be confused by phrases like “went to sleep”. Indeed, employing such terms may lead to fear and cause some children to become anxious about actually going to sleep.
- Encourage children to speak freely about their pet’s death and give them the opportunity to vent their grief and sadness. Share some of your own feelings and involve them in the pet’s funeral preparations, if any. This will help them deal with their concerns and give them the chance to say goodbye in their own way.
- Make sure that children understand that no one is to blame for the pet’s death. Such an occurrence may arouse their curiosity about death and its consequences in general. A factual, straightforward approach, using answers or illustrations that are appropriate for their age group, will help guide children through the grieving process and lead to their acceptance of the pet’s death, without pangs of unnecessary guilt.
The Healing Process
Even though we may not believe it at the time, the old adage “time heals” does hold true when we are faced with the loss of a beloved pet. Recognize that loss and give yourself the emotional time and space to grieve. Getting over the sorrow, guilt and pain varies from person to person. Seek help. Many hotlines, chat rooms, message boards and support groups are available on the Internet, and books on adult and child bereavement may help you better understand what you are experiencing. And, if you need to, don’t hesitate to reach out for others’ personal and professional assistance. Talk to your veterinarian, trusted friends, or a therapist. Make a donation or volunteer your services to a pet shelter or Humane Society. With time, the pain will lessen and you and your family will be able to fully cherish happy memories of your special friend.