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Cat and kitten ownership should not be taken on lightly, and naturally one of the most important concerns for this new family member will be health care. Health care is important for your cat’s well-being, physical and mental condition, and longevity. Proper and timely health care for your cat (including veterinary exams, immunizations, dentistry, spaying/neutering, nutrition, and even proper grooming) will improve your cat’s quality of life, lead to fewer health problems, and lower your veterinary bills.
Your veterinarian is one of the most important people in your cat’s life. You should identify a veterinarian for your new cat before you bring it home, and schedule your cat’s first appointment as soon as possible. This first vet visit gives you and your veterinarian an opportunity to establish your cat’s baseline level of health and identify any potential long-term or chronic health problems. This visit can confirm the health status you were told when you adopted your pet.
When you meet with the vet, be sure to discuss your daily care routines, home environment, any anticipated problems or concerns you may have, behaviors about which you need more information, and your grooming preferences, such as nail clipping. A complete veterinary examination includes checking the health of the bones, joints, and muscles; heart; lungs; eyes; ears; and other organs. Your veterinarian may also run some diagnostic tests to make sure your cat has normal organ function along with normal blood health, immune system health, electrolyte levels, and liver and kidney values. These tests check for signs of diseases like diabetes, feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus, gastrointestinal parasites, and heartworm.
Your cat may experience some stress going to the vet. The best way to alleviate this is with positive reinforcement, attention, and happy visits. Stop in at the veterinary office with your cat a couple of times when it doesn’t need to be examined so your cat associates the clinic with some positive experiences. Pet your cat and give it praise when it behaves calmly and well at the vet’s office. Bring along some of your cat’s favorite treats for our staff members to offer. Fortunately, our veterinary staff is experienced at handling cats of all sorts and will likely make your job much easier.
After the first visit and your cat’s initial vaccinations, you should plan on getting your cat checked by a veterinarian at least once a year, although you may need to go more frequently if other health issues arise.
A basic vaccination series should be a part of your kitten’s health care schedule during the first four months of its life. Vaccines protecting your kitten from common infectious illnesses, including feline viral rhinotracheitis, chlamydia, panleukopenia, and calici virus should be administered at eight, 12, and 16 weeks of age. Leukemia immunization should be administered at 12 and 16 weeks of age. The rabies vaccine should be administered at either the 12- or 16-week visit, but it cannot legally be administered prior to 12 weeks of age. Your vet may also tell you about other vaccinations that may be appropriate depending on where you live.
Most pet cats are spayed (females) or neutered (males) to remove reproductive organs and therefore prevent pregnancy. Spaying and neutering cats provides even more health benefits than pregnancy prevention, though.
Female cats have a high incidence of cancers and other illnesses related to the influence of hormones. Spaying prior to the first heat cycle removes the ovaries and the uterus and therefore removes the hormones they produce. Breast cancer is an example of a cancerous disease that is related to the production of estrogen. If your cat is spayed after even one heat cycle, the advantage of prevention of mammary tumors is lost. Pyometra is another example of a hormonally linked illness, and many unspayed older female cats contract this life-threatening infection of the uterus, which is related to the presence of the hormone progesterone.
Males that are not neutered often exhibit urine marking traits, a tendency to roam in search of a mate, and an increased tendency to fight with other cats. If neutered between six months and 12 months of age, your cat is much more likely to retain his youthful charm.
Spaying and neutering are common surgeries. They require some form of anesthesia, and some vets may prefer the cat to remain in the hospital overnight. Your cat may be under the weather for a few days after the surgery but will usually be back to normal within 24 to 48 hours. Most of the healing will be complete within 14 days. Minimizing exercise during the initial week after surgery will greatly reduce postoperative pain and complications.
Your cat is likely to have some health issues during its life. Some of these issues (such as some cancers) are unavoidable, but many of these issues can be prevented with vaccinations, parasite control, good nutrition (prevention of obesity), prevention of dental disease, and spaying/neutering.
External Parasites. Fleas are external parasites that often cause skin allergies, a common skin disease for dogs and cats. Ticks latch on to the skin and burrow in to feed on blood. Both can cause itching, and they are annoying and unhealthy for you and your cat. Keeping your cat flea and tick free is easier today thanks to new products that can be applied once a month. However, you need to visually inspect your cat’s skin for signs of fleas during daily grooming, and check for ticks after your cat returns from spending time outdoors.
Internal Parasites. Roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms are parasites that can enter your cat’s intestinal system and create serious health problems. Heartworms are passed on to your cat by mosquito bites. The best way to prevent these diseases is to regularly administer monthly preventative medications. Even while on prevention medications, however, pets can still contract these parasites, so annual testing is still necessary. Talk to your vet about how often they recommend checking for internal parasites, since the symptoms may not present themselves before serious damage occurs.
Poisoning. Many common indoor and outdoor plants can be poisonous to cats. Before you bring your cat home, you may want to rid your home of any houseplants that appear on the list below. Don’t let your cat eat plants and leaves when outdoors. If you do suspect poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately. You should also keep the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center hotline number near your phone in case of emergency. You can reach this 24/7 hotline by calling 1-888-426-4435.
Following is a partial list developed by the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center of common plants that are poisonous to dogs and cats: