I remember someone telling me when I was a child that cats were the perfect pet because they didn’t require any care, you really didn’t even have to feed them.
Unfortunately for cats some people still feel this way, but those numbers are dwindling fast as standards for care are recommended and new methods of care and treatment become available. Our cats may not like seeing the doctor and may expertly hide their symptoms in an effort to seem well even though their living conditions no longer require this evolutionary response to illness, but this is one time when we humans should go against our cats’ will and provide both basic wellness and acute care.
October is National Pet Wellness Month sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Pfizer Animal Health, so it’s time to schedule our cats’ appointments and learn how to help them live as healthy and long a life as possible. I’ll be writing articles on care for cats, and my guest writer Karen Sable has prepared a thorough two-part article on helping your pet stay well and getting to know your pet from nose to tail so that you can better tell if something is wrong, which will include a downloadable checklist for your nose-to-tail inspection.
Beginnings of feline health care
Moving forward from those frightening early days when your houseplants got more care than your cats, I learned what I know about caring for my cats anecdotally, simply by living with cats, rescuing and fostering and dealing with situations as they arose. Then came a few books, then my current veterinarian and more cats as I realized that care for cats was not too different from, and just as important as, care for myself. As I have learned I have happily shared my knowledge with people who adopted cats from me when they adopted and afterward as well, and with others who knew I kept cats.
Never wanting to pass up a chance at helping any cat live a better life, as I wrote and designed Great Rescues Calendar and Gift Book I decided to include some of that basic cat care information in the book. It’s obviously going to be in the hands of cat lovers, I thought, so I chose from the information I offered most frequently and information that people have simply found interesting. Here is a portion of that information from the book, which I’ll also be sharing this month.
BASIC FELINE WELLNESS
Cats are a joy to live with and require much less day-to-day care than other pets, but they are not maintenance-free. At minimum they need quality food, lots of clean and fresh water, a clean and comfortable litterbox and love and attention. Here are a few basics for all cats, plus specific basic needs for kittens and seniors.
REALLY BASIC THINGS YOUR CAT NEEDS
• Quality cat food with a high level of meat-based protein and fat, as few carbohydrates as possible; cats are “obligate carnivores” meaning they have to eat meat to obtain the nutrients their bodies need to grow and sustain.
• Feed your cat away from any high-traffic areas and in a separate room from the litterbox.
• Fresh, clean, cool water should be available at all times, possibly even in several places; changing once a day is best. Wash food and water bowls daily.
• Find a litter and a litterbox you and your cat can agree on. Place it away from a high-traffic area; use one litterbox per cat, plus one box. Scoop daily, wash and change litter weekly and wipe with a 1:10 bleach/water solution to kill any diseases or parasites that may be present, rinse and dry before refilling.
• Follow recommendations for veterinary care by getting your cat a wellness exam at least once a year, more often as kitten or as senior cat.
• Get to know your cat’s eating, sleeping and activity habits—cats hide illness very well and often a change in habits is the only way you know something is wrong.
• Play with your cat and take some time for affection every day. Often this is the best defense against behavior problems, besides, it’s fun.
• Keep your cat free of fleas and other parasites to maintain your cat’s health and your own.
• Spay or neuter your cat as soon as possible, 4 pounds or 4 months is a good rule to follow.
KITTENS (up to 6 months)
If you’ve adopted a kitten, follow the advice of the shelter/rescue or your veterinarian for core vaccinations: rabies, distemper or feline panleukopenia virus (FPV), feline viral respiratory disease complex (FVRDC); often you will see “FVRCP” in which the distemper and viral respiratory complex are mixed together, the latter given in three doses to build up immunity. Often a shelter will have taken care of the earliest basics of vaccinations and veterinary care for a tiny kitten and you will need to follow up with “booster” shots.
• Kittens are highly active, grow very quickly and need food with more protein, calories and fat, and also need to eat frequently for their first six months, which is what “kitten food” is all about.
• Kittens are fearless because exploring their habitat is essential to their development and their survival as an adult in the wild. Minimizing dangers is a must because a healthy active kitten will climb into, onto, through or under everything in your house. Lock up any toxic substances, remove breakables where your cat plays, remove or minimize wires and make sure even tiny accesses into walls, crawlspaces, ductwork, attics or the outdoors are secured; in other words, “kitten-proof” your house.
• Spay or neuter as soon as possible, 4 pounds or 4 months—that can’t be said often enough.
SENIORS (ages 7 to 14), GERIATRIC (ages 15 and up)
On the other end of the age spectrum, cats can live much longer than most of us ever realized but some seniors begin to lose their senses—of hearing, sight, taste, smell and their little bodies are subject to the same ills our own bodies are such as arthritis and even types of dementia, and the rate of affliction is just as varied as it is in humans.
• They still need food which is high in protein but less of it, and even more water as dehydration is common and can lead to serious health issues.
• And instead of protecting them from themselves, they may need help getting up, down and around. Make sure the things they need, especially food, water and litterbox, are easy to access.
LIFE STAGES OF CATS AND HUMAN EQUIVALENTS
Kitten, birth to 6 months
0 – 1 month = 0 – 1 year
2 – 3 months = 2 – 4 years
4 months = 6 – 8 years
6 months = 10 years
Junior, 7 months to 2 years
7 months = 12 years
12 months = 15 years
18 months = 21 years
2 years = 24 years
Prime, 3 years to 6 years
3 = 28
4 = 32
5 = 36
6 = 40
Mature, 7 years to 10 years
7 = 44
8 = 48
9 = 52
10 = 56
Senior, 11 years to 14 years
11 = 60
12 = 64
13 = 68
14 = 72
Geriatric, 15 years+
15 = 76
16 = 80
17 = 84
18 = 88
19 = 92
20 = 96
21 = 100
22 = 104
23 = 108
24 = 112
25 = 116
This information was contained in the Feline Advisory Bureau 2008 Annual Review, www.fabcats.org.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.