Pet Improvement: All about cats


What is the first rule of veterinary medicine when it comes to cats?

“They are not small dogs!” said Jay Fineman, retired veterinarian. Dr. Fineman is a regular contributor to this column and with over 30 years of practice experience he has some great advice.

“Cats are very different creatures and fascinating because of these differences,” he added.

Socialization, physical exams, vaccinations and parasite checks should all start right away, even as early as six to eight weeks of age. Get your kitty use to the idea of going to a clinic for a regular check-up. Annual exams are important and as they age, they might need additional exams because problems can sneak-up.

Cats get freaked out. Just getting them in a carrier can be a big deal. He suggests leaving the carrier out in the living room for several weeks. Put food in it and associate it with something other than getting stuck with a needle. Home is the “power spot” for cats so when you move them, it’s really a big deal.

Your cat will have a better exam by just keeping them quiet. The key is to reduce stress as much as possible. Some examples are to try and minimize exposure to dog noises such as barking, also use separate cat-only entrances to the clinic, and keep the kitty wrapped in soft blankets for comfort.

Cats are extremely smart and great hunters, so they need lots of stimulation and play. They love a world that entertains them particularly on their own terms. They are very interactive animals which goes against the stereotypes of being loners and not caring.

Keep your cats indoors or if outside then use a “catio” so they cannot roam. These are outside enclosures attached to the house that are protected on all sides. This gives the cat the feeling of being outside but is safe.

Felines have strange immune systems compared to other animals. Outdoor cats experience many more immune challenges than their indoor counterparts. Wild animals and feral cats can all transfer viruses. A group of feral cats is a reservoir for disease and highly unsafe for your pet.

Outdoor cats do not always recognize the predator or danger until it’s too late. The marauding coyote or the speeding automobile can spell doom. And brazen coyotes will come right up to the house to take an unsuspecting pet.

Cats are considered obligate carnivores which means they do not have the enzymes to break down starches and this can vary by cat. The issues of reduced enzymes and restricted metabolism of food can lead to obesity and diseases such as diabetes and pancreatitis. Felines also suffer from chronic allergies manifesting as skin issues or digestive disturbances indicated by persistent vomiting. Vomiting from hairballs is a different issue and corrected with diet and grooming. 

They are also finicky about drinking water, therefore you should make sure you provide plenty of fresh water based upon how they like to drink. Cats are prone to kidney problems, so flushing the system can be helpful. These issues are ultimately caused by an amyloid glue that stops kidney filtration.

Cats immune systems will react either positively or negatively when you vaccinate against a virus such as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Yet, if they contract FIP, there can be serious issues. FIP is a viral disease found in both wild and domestic animals and caused by the coronavirus. Although some cats can live with the medications to treat it, others might have a crisis with a suppressed immune system and get pneumonia.

Cardiac issues can be difficult to diagnose. Until ultrasound was made available to practices, it was not as easy to detect in cats as with dogs. One sign is a thickening of the heart muscle which causes deep breathing problems.

One last bit of advice, if you are anywhere that is not home, do not just rely on a microchip but use a collar for identification with a name and phone number on the outside that’s visible. No hanging tags — that is dangerous. People take their cats in RV’s and cars, and even indoor cats can freak out and run away.

Jane Laulis is an avid pet lover. She hosts a pet talk radio show and is involved with pets from research to retail, nutrition to pet food manufacturing. She lives on the coast with her scientist husband, ocean faring dogs, indoor cats, exotic snakes and a charm of hummingbirds. She may be reached at [email protected]

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