Next to you and your family, 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 arrange for a first appointment as soon as possible. The 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 identified when you purchased 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, ask questions about any behaviors about which you need more information and your grooming preferences, particularly nail clipping. Your vet will examine your cat to ensure healthy bones, joints and muscles and good heart, eye, ear and other organ functions. The vet will also do a blood test to check to make sure your cat has the right levels of nutrients and minerals.
Use your carrier to transport your cat to and from the vet. Your cat will likely experience some stress going to the vet. The vet will know how to deal with this at his or her office. When you come home, be prepared for your cat to hide for a while until it regains its composure and can be enticed with treats.
After the first visit, plan on taking your cat to the vet for a check-up annually. However, if you allow your pet to go outdoors, you may need to get your cat dewormed two or three times a year.
A vaccine protocol should be provided to kittens at two, three and four months of age, with a once a year booster to prevent some common cat diseases. The vaccination protects cats from three serious diseases: panieukopenia (distemper), calicivirus (upper respitory infection) and rhinotracheitis (herpes virus). If you acquire a cat that is older than two months and it has not been vaccinated, the vet will use a different protocol, but must still vaccinate your cat. In these cases, two vaccinations are delivered two-to-three weeks apart, followed by an annual booster shot.
Currently, there is a vaccine for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and none for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), two fatal diseases among cats. These diseases can be transmitted from a mother at birth to her kittens or through a bite from another cat. Outdoor cats can be carriers, so do not mix any outdoor cats with indoor cats. There is no vaccination currently for FIV. All outdoor cats should get the FeLV vaccination. During your cat's annual check-up, be sure to talk to the vet about any new vaccinations.
Common Health Issues
An indoor cat that is fed a balanced diet, kept active, mentally engaged and clean should remain healthy through much of its life. However, cats do experience illnesses. Following is a brief description of some of the more common cat diseases and illnesses.
Ear Mites. If you see your cat constantly shaking its head, as it does when you clean its ears, or scratching its ears, your cat may have ear mites. You need to take your cat to the vet right away to be treated for an infestation. The vet will clean out your cats ears thoroughly and then administer medications to rid your cat of the mites.
Feline Urological Syndrome (FUS). This urinary-tract infection affects both male and female cats. About 5% of all cats get FUS. Symptoms to watch for are frequent trips to the litterbox and, for males, a look of constipation. Males can experience an obstruction in their urethras which prevents urination. This is fatal, so get your cat to the vet immediately. The treatment for FUS is usually through diet management.
Fleas and Ticks. Fleas are external parasites that cause a skin allergy, a common skin disease for dogs and cats. Ticks latch on to the skin and burrow in to feed on blood. Both can be itching, annoying and unhealthy for your cat. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms. If there are fleas on you cat, that means there are fleas in you house. You will need to use a flea bomb or other premise-control device to rid your house of the fleas. Be sure that any sprays or treatments you use are safe for 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 returning from an area known to have them, like wooded camping sites.
Hairballs. Cats form hairballs as a result of licking and grooming their fur. The wet fur they swallow is difficult for cats to digest and cannot be processed through the gastrointestinal tract. As a result, they accumulate into obstructions, which, if not coughed up, can cause serious harm. You can recognize hairballs by their cigar-like shape. Symptoms to watch for are constipation, frequent coughing and hacking, loss of appetite or lethargy. To prevent hairballs, brush your cat's coat frequently to remove loose and dead hair. There are also commercial nutritional solutions that add fiber and fat to the diet to help breakdown hairballs and help them pass. If your cat has a hairball, commercial cat laxative remedies are available that can be sprinkled on food and that provide a lubricant to help the hairball work its way through your cat's digestive system. Be sure to check with your veterinarian about which product is best for your cat and if your cat will require a supplement while taking the laxative. High levels of mineral oil products, for example, will deplete vitamin A, which you will need to supplement. Some cat owners find giving their cats a half teaspoon of butter two or three times a week or a teaspoon of canned pumpkin or baby food squash also acts as an effective laxative.
Worms. Heartworm, roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm are other parasites that can enter your cat's bloodstream and create serious health problems. Heartworm parasites are passed on to cats through mosquitoes. Hookworm and roundworm larvae end up on your cat's feet, which, through licking, enters its abdominal system. The best form of treatment is early and regular prevention. A monthly pill will help your cat avoid these parasites. If your cat does contract a worm, it is important for your vet to do testing to determine which kind it is suffering from and what level the development the worm has reached. A correct diagnosis is needed because the treatment for one worm is not the same as for another. Symptoms of a worm parasite are an occasional cough, fatigue, weight loss, difficulty breathing or vomiting. Left untreated, worms can be fatal. Talk to your vet about how often s/he recommends checking for worm 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 your bring your cat home, get rid of any houseplants that appear on the following list. Don't let your cats eat plants and leaves indoors or out. If you do suspect poisoning, get your pet to the 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 toll free (888) 426-4435.
Following is a partial list developed by the ASPCA's Poison Control Center of common plants that are poisonous to cats:
Apple leaf croton
Avocado (both the fruit and pit)
Bird of paradise
Cherry (seeds and wilting leaves)
Fruit salad plant
Giant dumb cane
Gold dust dracaena
Hahn's self-branching ivy
Indian rubber plant
Janet Craig dracaena
Lacy tree philodendron
Lily of the valley
Madagascar dragon tree
Peach (wilting leaves and pit)
Saddle leaf philodendron
Spotted dumb cane
String of pearls
Swiss cheese plant
Tomato plant (green fruit, stem and leaves)
Tropic snow dieffenbachia
Spaying and Neutering
Most pet cats are spayed (females) or neutered (for males) to remove reproductive organs and prevent pregnancy. But health issues provide other compelling reasons for spaying and neutering cats. Female cats have a high incidence of breast cancer and older unspayed females frequently contract a uterus infection, called pyometra, that requires extensive surgery and medication. Because females go into heat about three times a year, spaying can also prevent unwanted, or accidental, litters. Males that are not neutered often exhibit aggressive behaviors, including urine marking and fighting with other males. Spaying and neutering is therefore recommended for every cat and should occur by six months of age. However, because shelters want pets to be spayed or neutered before they are adopted, it is not uncommon for these surgeries to be conducted as early as eight weeks, the earliest age for which they are safe.
Spaying and neutering are common surgeries. They require some form of anesthesia and most vets prefer for the cat to remain in the hospital overnight. Your cat may be under the weather for a few more days as a result of the surgery, but will heal within a matter of a week or so.