Asked Questions about Cats
by Robyn Hauser, DVM
When should I have my kitten spayed/neutered?
It is recommended that your female pet be spayed or male pet be neutered by six months of age. Spaying prevents unwanted pregnancy, prevents cancer of the reproductive system, eliminates the potential for infections of the uterus later in life, and reduces the potential for breast cancer, especially if performed before the first heat cycle. Neutering, or castration, of your male pet eliminates the potential for cancer of the testicles. The urge to spay urine, or scent mark, will be greatly reduced or even eliminated. The male is also no longer agitated by females and the strong hormonal drive to reproduce. He will tend to roam less, decreasing the potential to be hit by a car or otherwise injured, become lost, or be involved in territorial fights.
What should I feed my kitten or cat?
A high quality feline diet is essential for proper growth and development of your kitten and for maintenance of a happy, healthy adult. Table food, scraps, and dog food are not adequate to maintain the long term health of your feline companion. Given the huge number of foods available, choosing the proper diet for your kitten or cat can be a very confusing experience. Your pet's age, overall health, exercise level, environment, and breed can all be factors to consider in choosing the right diet. Your veterinarian or pet care professional can offer valuable advice on the best diet for your feline friend. Most veterinarians recommend a predominantly dry food diet for normal pets as this will help maintain good tooth and gum health.
Can I bathe my cat?
Yes, but how easily it is accomplished will depend on your cat. Some cats become highly agitated or even aggressive when bathed. Others allow easy routine grooming. General grooming is an important part of good coat and skin health for your pet. Many cats, especially those with short coats, are good self groomers and rarely require bathing. However, a bath is appropriate whenever you want your feline friend to be clean and smell fresh. The frequency will depend on coat length and type, self grooming behavior, activity level, environment, and overall health. Also, be aware that over frequent bathing, or use of harsh or drying products can dull the coat and cause dry, flaky, and sometimes itchy skin. Consider your pet's other grooming needs including nail trims, ear cleaning, coat brushing, and dematting if appropriate for your feline companion's hair type.
Do you recommend declawing my cat?
There is some controversy over feline declawing. It should be an individual, personal decision based on your situation, and the needs of your feline friend. Feline declaw surgery involves the permanent removal of the nails of the front feet. In rare cases, the back feet nails may also be removed. The procedure is usually performed to prevent cats from damaging furniture or other items by scratching. Declawing should be considered only for cats that will be indoor pets. Many cats can be trained to use a scratching post and receive frequent nail trims and may not need declawing.
Two versions of the surgery are most common: amputation of the toe tip up to the first joint, or amputation of the nail bed only. Both procedures must be preformed under general anesthesia and involve some post surgical pain and home care. Younger cats seem to recovery more quickly and may exhibit fewer pain related behaviors than older animals. If declawing is desired, performing it at spay or neuter time is recommended.
My cat is spraying in the house, what can I do?
Urine marking (spraying) is usually a cat's way to mark territory. The marking behavior is most frequently seen in adult males that have not been neutered. Occasionally, it can be a indicator of urinary tract or other disease. Have your pet examined by a veterinarian to determine if the urine spraying is behavioral or medical. Behavioral urine marking in males can often be reduced or eliminated by neutering. The best prevention for male urine spraying is neutering by six months of age as most young male cats have not started to urine mark by that time.
It will also be helpful to thoroughly and promptly clean urine marked areas. A enzymatic odor neutralizer may be required to completely remove the scent. Cats often continue to urinate in an area that already has an odor.
My cat is urinating in the house and not in the litter box, what can I do?
Abnormal urination can often be a sign of potentially serious urinary tract or other disease. Inappropriate urination may also be behavioral. Any animal that exhibits abnormal urination should be promptly evaluated by a veterinarian to determine if the problem is medical or behavioral. Don't delay in having your feline friend examined. Quick treatment of urinary system disease offers a better prognosis, costs less, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your pet may have. If it is determined that your pet has a behavioral urination problem, there are several strategies to help control the undesirable habit.
Here are some general suggestions for behavioral urination problems:
Many cats have litter type or litter box location preferences. If your pet is used to a certain type of litter and box location, continue to use it. Many prefer a quiet, low traffic area.
Clean the litter box very frequently. Some cats will refuse to use a dirty box.
Thoroughly and promptly clean soiled areas. A enzymatic odor neutralizer may be required to completely remove the scent. Cats often continue to soil in an area that already has an odor.
In cases where a pet always soils in the same spot, after cleaning and deodorizing, you may need to physically cover the area (with a piece of furniture or a box) or close a door to prevent access. Sometimes, this will break a location specific behavioral soiling problem.
What is feline urinary tract disease or urinary tract syndrome?
Feline urinary tract syndrome refers to the lower urinary organs and is also called Lower Urinary Tract Disease (L.U.T.D.). It is an infection or inflammation of the bladder and/or the urethra (the canal that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body). In some instances, L.U.T.D. can lead to formation of stones in the bladder. Numerous factors contribute to the development of this disease. Examples are: improper mineral balance in the diet, diets that promote too high or too low a urine pH, bacteria, viruses, infrequent urination, decreased water intake, stress, obesity, tumors of the urinary tract, and congenital defects, etc.
Signs of the disease can include: urinating in inappropriate locations, frequent or painful urination, blood tinged or strong smelling urine, excess licking of the genital area, etc. Untreated urinary tract disease can progress rapidly to a partial or complete blockage of the urethra (the canal that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body), allowing little or no urine to be voided. This type of blockage is life threatening, and can quickly lead death as waste products build up to toxic levels in the animal's body. Signs of blockage include: inability to urinate, straining or pain that may resemble constipation, depression, abdominal pain, difficulty walking, vomiting, etc.
If your pet has any of these signs, have him or her examined by a veterinarian immediately. Don't delay in having your feline friend examined. Quick treatment of urinary system disease offers a better prognosis, costs less, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your pet may have.
My cat has fleas, what can I do?
Start a complete flea control program immediately. Fleas live by sucking the blood of your pets. They can bite humans as well. Fleas can cause discomfort by biting, anemia, skin allergies, spread disease and transmit tapeworms. Spare your pet the discomfort of a continued infestation.
An effective flea control program must address three points: treatment of the pet (or pets), the entire house (and car or motor home), and the yard ( deck, garage, etc). All pets that can contract fleas MUST be treated ( fish, birds, reptiles, or small and furry pets don't need treatment). There are many safe and effective products for adult pets as well as puppies and kittens ( ferrets and rabbits too).
For house and vehicle treatment, begin with very thorough vacuuming. Be sure to get under everything- furniture, rugs, etc. Don't forget the basement or garage. Throw out the vacuum bag after use to prevent fleas from crawling back out. After cleaning, use a professional bomb or premise spray according to the label directions. Treat the entire area, even places not frequented by your pet. You may need to vacuum and treat furniture according the manufacturers' recommendations as well. Be sure to remove all pets and family members from the area while spraying and until it is safe to return them.
Don't forget the environment. Treat as much of the yard as possible with a professional flea spray according to the label directions. Be sure to treat areas where your pet spends time, including decks or dog houses. Fleas like to hide in bark dust and leaf litter as well.
For safe and effective use, always read and follow the label directions for all flea control products.
When will my cat begin to have heat cycles and get pregnant?
Young female cats can first come into heat as young as 5 months of age, but usually don't until between 6 and 9 months. Some may not cycle until one year of age. To avoid pregnancy, cancer of the reproductive system, and the potential for infections of the uterus later in life, your pet should be spayed by 6 months of age. This holds true for indoor cats as well. During a heat cycle, even timid, young, indoor cats may do their best to get outside to reach males. It only takes one quick escape outdoors for your feline friend to become pregnant.
I think my cat is in heat- how do I tell?
Unspayed cats often repeatedly cycle through heat until they are spayed or bred. The frequently obnoxious heat cycle behaviors to look forward to include constant, loud vocalizing, rubbing and rolling, placing the hind quarters up in the air while flagging the tail, urine spraying, scratching at doors or windows, and many attempts to get outdoors. The female may also receive loud midnight serenades by courting tomcats. Interested males may also urine mark the area and fight amongst themselves.
Young female cats can first come into heat as young as 5 months of age, but usually don't until between 6 and 9 months. Some may not cycle until one year of age. To avoid pregnancy, cancer of the reproductive system, and the potential for infections of the uterus later in life, your pet should be spayed by 6 months of age. This holds true for indoor cats as well. During a heat cycle, even timid, or young indoor cats may do their best to get outside to reach males. It only takes one quick escape outdoors for your feline friend to become pregnant.
When can I breed my cat?
A good question to consider before breeding any animal is: Should my pet have offspring? Sadly, there are millions of animals put to sleep in the U.S. each year because there are not enough homes to go around. Responsible breeders will allow their healthy pets to have offspring only to improve the breed, not as an educational experiment for the family, or solely for monetary gain. Good breeders also take the responsibility to provide good homes and quality medical care, including first vaccinations and deworming, to all the offspring their pets produce. It takes a fair amount of hard work, time, and money.
If you have decided that the work and responsibility of pet breeding is for you, be sure your pets are healthy and fully vaccinated. This allows the mothers to pass good protective immunity to their kittens. Cats bred after 18 months of age tend to make better mothers and may have less pregnancy or kitten care problems. Proper pre- and post-natal veterinary medical care and diet are very important for breeding females and their kittens. Many books and resources exist to help you.
My cat is not getting along with the new cat, what can I do?
Existing cats may often need an adjustment period when a new pet enters the household. Gradual introduction is often needed. This can be accomplish by shutting the new cat in a room, with food, water, litter box, bed, and toys for several days or longer. This gives the existing cat(s) time to become familiar with the new pet's odor and vocalizations. The older the established cat is, the longer an adjustment period may be needed. Some older cats never come to accept a new family member. After an adjustment period, the cats should be allowed to interact between a slightly opened door. A cage or screen door between cats can also be used for this introductory period. Do not force the cats to interact- allow them to do it on their own. Some growling, hissing, swatting, and hiding will be normal. Intervention may be needed if the cats truly attempt to injure each other. Most cats will eventually adjust to the new family member if given time and not crowded.
A veterinary examination is very highly recommended for all new pets, ideally before they enter the household. New pets should be evaluated for overall health, vaccine status, and potential to carry disease or parasites to your existing feline friend(s).
I found an abandoned kitten, how can I feed and take care of it?
That really depends on how old the kitten is and what state of health he or she is in. Consider a veterinary examination to help determine the kitten's age, exact care needs, or if any health problems exist. If the kitten can eat and drink well on its own, he or she may need only routine kitten care(safe environment, kitten food, water, toys, bed, litter box, veterinary care, etc.) If the kitten is too small to eat and drink well unassisted, or does not have the eyes open yet, you will have to act as a replacement mother. Extremely young kittens need to be fed kitten milk replacer according to the manufacturers' directions, as often as every 2-4 hours, depending on age.
They may require a safe heat source, such as a heating pad and an enclosed nest area (like a box). If a heating pad is used, be sure to follow all the manufacturers' safety instructions and only heat about 1/2 of the nest area on a low setting. The kittens can regulate their body temperature better if allowed to move between warmer and cooler (room temperature) spots in the nest. Extremely young kittens cannot pass stool and urine by themselves. They need gentle rubbing in the genital areas (with moist warm cotton balls or a very soft moist cloth) to help them pass bodily wastes. This should be done every time the kittens are fed. Any stool or urine MUST be gently, but completely, cleaned off the skin to avoid potentially severe skin rashes and even blistering from body wastes. Numerous books and other resources exist to help you.
What vaccines does my kitten or cat need and how often?
Having your kitten properly vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep him or her happy and healthy. Vaccines protect against many serious and even fatal diseases.
The following vaccines are imperative to your feline companion's health:
Distemper/Upper Respiratory: This 4 in 1 vaccine protects against several very serious diseases.
Rabies: This disease is fatal for all mammals, including humans.
Feline Leukemia: This disease can easily be fatal to your feline companion.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis: Another fatal disease.
Young kittens usually need several sets of vaccination boosters ( just like children) to provide them with as much protection as possible. Adult cats that are properly vaccinated should be boostered yearly for most vaccines.
Vaccination schedules vary depending on age, overall health, state regulations, vaccination type, and risk of exposure.
Do I need to brush my cat's teeth?
Yes! Home dental care is one of the best ways to help keep your pet's teeth and gums healthy. Start as early as possible in your feline friend's life so he or she will become accustomed to having the mouth handled. Use a moistened, soft, pet or child's toothbrush, finger tooth brush, gauze around a finger, or a cotton swab. Pet tooth paste is your best option. Stay away from human tooth paste, baking soda or salt. Use gentle brushing motions to clean the teeth and gums, as you would your own. Most animals will not allow you to brush the inside surface of the teeth, but at least clean the outside (check) surfaces. Be sure to reach the back upper molars and canine teeth. These teeth tend to quickly build up tartar. Your pet's teeth should be brushed as often as possible, ideally every day. There are numerous dental care products, pastes, solutions, brushes, dental diets and tartar control treats, etc.
Let your veterinarian help you chose the best products for your pet. Pets that have a significant tartar build up or gingivitis may need a veterinary dental cleaning to prevent serious oral disease that can shorten your pet's life if left untreated.
Why is my cat scratching at his/her ears?
An occasional scratch is normal. However, scratching or pawing at the ears or head can be an indication of ear infection, foreign bodies, injury, excess ear wax, or skin problems. Some ear problems may not be easily visible and require a deep ear exam by a veterinarian to be properly to evaluated. Any discharge, odor, redness, pain, swelling, or masses may indicate an infection or other abnormality. If you suspect your pet has an ear problem, visit your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment offers a better prognosis, reduces the potential for chronic disease, hearing loss, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your pet may have.
Do I need to clean my cat's ears?
That depends on your cat. Many cats are excellent self-groomers and rarely need ear care while others should have routine cleanings. If you notice wax, dirt, or other debris, then it is probably time for a cleaning. For those cats that need it, cleaning and caring for your pet's ears are important ways to reduce the chance for ear infections and excess waxy build up. Routine cleaning and/or at home examination lets you detect any infections or other problems early. If you suspect your pet already has an ear problem, visit your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment offers a better prognosis, reduces the potential for chronic disease, hearing loss, and gives earlier relief for any discomfort your pet may have. Any discharge, odor, excess scratching, pawing, or rubbing at the ears, redness, pain, swelling, or masses may indicate an infection or other abnormality.
To clean normal ears, choose a mild ear cleaner specifically for use in animals. Don't use vinegar, alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide routinely. These substances can be irritating to some cats and painful to an already inflamed ear canal. There are several types of cleaners to choose from. Some cleaners break up wax, while others dry the ear canal. There are combination products as well. Consult a professional groomer, pet care associate, or veterinarian for the best options for your pet.
Ear cleaning starts with good general grooming. Excess, dirty, or matted hair should be removed from around the ear canal and the ear flap. Heavy, matted, or constantly moist surrounding hair will decrease air flow to the ear canal, trap wax and other debris, and can lead to infection. After grooming the ear area, it is time to actually clean out the ear canals. Always be gentle! The ear canals and flaps are sensitive. Overly aggressive cleaning can actually cause damage to the delicate ear structures. Dribble a small amount (a few drops) of the appropriate ear cleaning solution into the ear. The solution should flow down deep into the canal. Massage gently at the ear base for 5-10 seconds- you will probably hear the solution "squish" around as you massage. This should not be painful for your pet. If it is, have him or her examined by your veterinarian. Repeat the cleaning procedure with the other ear canal. After massaging, stand back and let your pet shake his or her head to bring softened wax up out of the ear canals. Use clean cotton balls to gently wipe out and up the canal, removing any wax, debris, or cleaning solution you see. You may need to use cotton balls that have been pulled in half. Avoid cotton swabs, unless your pet will be very still and allow ear care without moving the head. Even in that case, never place the swab any farther into the ear canal than you can see. A cotton swab placed too deeply or forcefully into the ear can cause ear drum damage, pain, and hearing loss.
How can I stop my cat from scratching on furniture?
Scratching is a normal feline behavior. The difficult part is training them to use something other than furniture or door frames. The best choice is to offer a sturdy scratching post from the time your pet is a kitten. Play with him or her on and near the post, offer treats, toys, and praise when your pet uses it. Many cats will be attracted to scratching posts that have been rubbed with cat nip. Some cats will scratch on cardboard boxes or scratch pads, while others will only use tall, sturdier posts that do not tip over. Older cats that have developed a furniture damaging habit will be harder to train to a post, but can still learn. Frequent nail trims can decrease the damage caused by scratching. Some owners find help with a soft, plastic nail cap that is temporarily glued to each nail. This can have mixed success as the cats may still scratch ( with plastic blunted nails), and the caps need frequent re-application. Covering a favorite scratching area with something slick or tacky like plastic sheeting, or double stick tape may discourage the behavior as well. The only way to insure a cat cannot scratch, is surgical removal of the nails, or declawing. These cats will still exhibit scratching behavior, but no nails exist to shred objects.
Does my kitten need vitamins?
A high quality feline diet is essential for proper growth and development of your kitten and for maintenance of a happy, healthy adult. This includes a good balance of vitamins and minerals. Table food, scraps, and dog food are not adequate to maintain the long term health of your feline companion.
Growing kittens, geriatric pets, as well as stressed, pregnant, nursing, or ill pets and those recovering from surgery, can all benefit from appropriate vitamin supplementation. Chose a supplement designed for your pet's needs. Given the huge number of supplements and foods available, choosing the proper items for your kitten or cat can be a very confusing experience. Your pet's age, overall health, exercise level, environment, and breed can all be factors to consider in choosing the right diet and supplement. Your veterinarian or pet care professional can offer valuable advice on the best products for your feline friend.
The inside corners of my cat's eyes are always messy- do I need to clean them?
Yes, any excess mucous, secretions, tears, or matter should be routinely cleaned from these areas. Most pets will collect a small amount of eye secretion or debris at the inside eye lid corners, just like we do. Some breeds, especially many short faced breeds, can produce a large amount of tears or debris and may also have chronic hair staining at the eyelid corners from proteins in the tears. However, be sure NOT to mistake an eye infection or other problem for "normal" secretions. If your pet has any eye redness, swelling, pain, excess discharge, loss of vision, changes from normal eye ball appearance, excess blinking or pawing at the eyes, he or she may have an infection or problem. If you have any concerns about your pet's eyes, see your veterinarian immediately.
To clean normal tears or debris from the eyelids, use a moistened, soft, clean cloth, cotton ball, or tissue to gently wipe any secretions away. Avoid rubbing or touching the eye ball, as this can cause injury to delicate eye structures. If a large amount of debris has built up, you may need to soak the area with your moist cloth to soften the secretions before removal. Some pets may need this cleaning repeated daily. Some breeds with long facial hair will greatly benefit from careful trimming or grooming to keep hair out of the eyes. If you choose to trim this hair yourself, use care to avoid injury to the eye or eye lids. Consider using a professional groomer as well.
[ Source: Petsmart.com ]