Did you know that cats can live up to 30 years? It's true! While there are genetic and environmental factors that are beyond our control, there are many things we can do to help our cats live happy, healthy, long lives.
1. Offer The Best Diet Possible For Your Carnivore
Cats are actually classified as obligate carnivores, meaning that there are essential nutrients they require that cannot be made in the body. These nutrients must be obtained from animal sources. They include the amino acids (building blocks of protein) taurine, arginine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
Understanding your cat's physiology
Let's start with a cat's mouth. See those fangs, the ones you think so cute when s/he smiles for a photo? They are incisors and they are meant to tear flesh. That's right, your cute little bundle of joy is a programmed killing machine.
Cats barely chew their food - they gulp it. They have large stomachs with very strong digestive acids and enzymes that break down meat, bone, fat, skin, and fur. Food is digested and assimilated quickly and the stomach is emptied between 30 minutes and two hours. Cats that are fed high-carb diets often have sluggish digestion. A small percentage of their diet should be made up of carbohydrates (vegetables). They have no biological need for grains, nor can they digest them well.
if your cat suffers from frequent furballs or vomiting and it is not due to a medical condition, remove grains and starches from the diet. Most cats will begin to digest their food much more efficiently.
You have probably heard the term bio-appropriate diet. So what exactly does that mean? It is a diet that contains the ingredients and nutrients needed for optimal health (muscle and organ meat, glands, bone and fat, vitamins and minerals, small amount of vegetation) and excludes ingredients the body does not need or has difficulty processing (by-products, grains, artificial and so-called natural flavorings and colors, sugar, corn, soy, beets).
Unlike humans, cats do not utilize carbohydrates for energy. Fats and proteins are what fuel them. Vegetables and fruits do provide vitamins, minerals and both soluble and insoluble fiber. In the wild, the only vegetables cats eat are grass (promotes digestion) and the digested and fermented vegetation in their prey’s stomach.
Homemade raw or cooked diets are most beneficial for cats (work with a holistic vet or nutrition expert to be sure of the correct balance of nutrients). It is not as difficult or time consuming as people think. A week's worth of food can be made in fewer than 30 minutes. It can cost less than $1 per day, per cat to provide this type of diet. But it is not for everyone. Commercial raw foods are the next best thing. If the idea of raw is just too much for you, consider freeze-dried raw food (just add water)! This is often a convenient solution.
Because cats digest and assimilate raw foods efficiently, there is less waste. Most cats on a raw food diet produce less feces and it is low odor. You can say that your cat's poop doesn't stink - bonus!!
There are also cats that do very well on a canned food diet. It is usually a goal to graduate my clients from canned to a real food diet (raw or cooked), however I've had clients whose cats do very well on canned (human grade, grain-free, no ingredients from China, BPA-free cans).
The one type of food I feel is inappropriate for any cat is kibble. This highly processed, starch and carbohydrate-rich food can lead to many health problems including those of the digestive tract (IBS) and urinary tract (crystals, stones). For more information, check out these articles:
How often does your cat pee every day? How often does s/he poop? What does the poop look like? How long does you cat scratch the litter? How much gets tossed outside of the box?
Knowing these habits can help alert you when something is off. If all of a sudden your cat goes from peeing two times per day to five or only once, that may be a sign of a health issue. If your cat's bowel movements are usually the same volume and suddenly the amount has significantly increased or decreased, that may be a red flag. If your cat is usually quite neat in the litter box and is suddenly kicking litter out after s/he pees, that can also be a sign of a problem.
If you are familiar with what's going on inside the box, not only can you address problems before they become bigger (and perhaps more painful) issues, but you can also provide your veterinarian with more precise information.
3. Learn How To Play Properly And Do It Every Day
There are many benefits from playtime, especially interactive playtime. Play provides exercise, which keeps muscles in shape, aids in circulation, keeps bones healthy, joints lubricated and more. Play also allows cats to use their hunting instincts (after all, they are natural born killers). In addition, many behavioral and aggression issues can be avoided or remedied redirecting energy into play.
Interactive playtime is a wonderful bonding experience for cats and their people or their feline/canine siblings. Simply playing with your cat for ten minutes, once or twice a day is beneficial. Some cats are excited to play; others need motivation. Matching toys and playtime with your cat's personality will make it a fun experience for all.
When hunting, a cat's prey moves away from them, so try to match that movement during play. Pull toys around corners, under doorways and furniture. This will engage your kitty. With wand toys, try to stand behind your cat with the toy in front of them. Alternate fast and slow movements.
Senior and geriatric cats should also be played with, but in a gentler way. A game of hide and seek is often a favorite! This keeps the cats physically active and mentally sharp.
Focus on playing before mealtime. At the end of the session, let your cat catch the 'prey' and then serve the meal. This is quite satisfying for your kitty. It is part of the natural pattern of hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep (repeat).
4. Provide A Cat Friendly Home
Kitty trees and condos, shelves, scratch pads and vertical scratchers all make for a cat-friendly home. Providing vertical space is important for most cats. Not only does this offer a place to climb and observe, it also provides a surface to stretch, file claws, leave his/her scent and call something 'mine.' Cats like to circumnavigate a room without touching the floor. So if there a space where a condo or shelves can go that will allow your cat to jump from it to a couch or table, that would be ideal. Look for condo/trees that offer climbing, perching and sleeping options.
5. Annual Exams Are Important
From kittenhood on, it is really important for cats to see a vet for an annual exam. Unfortunately, a majority of cat guardians only take their cats to the vet if there is a health problem. By then, not only has the cat most likely suffered for a while, the problem may be more advanced than if it had been caught earlier.
During an annual examine the vet will listen to the heart, feel the tummy and organs, examine the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, feel the fur, look at the skin, etc. Urine and feces may also be tested.
If there are any potential problems, like tartar on the teeth or if a parasite was found in the feces, the issue can be addressed before it worsens.
I feel that it is beneficial to have blood work done starting at age 6. This will offer a baseline going forward. Your vet may feel that the blood will not need testing again for two or three years.
By around age 10, blood should be tested annually. When an issue or disease is caught early, the better the chances are to be able to manage the problem.
Senior cats (10+) and geriatric cat (15+) should see the vet at least twice per year. Blood work should at least be done annually, if not more often.
6. Avoid Over Vaccination
Over vaccination has been linked to a number of feline diseases, including cancer. Many vaccines prove to be effective for several years or more. This is because antibodies produced in response to vaccinations often carry on for years.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association: revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.
So how can you tell if your cat needs a booster or not? You can ask your vet to perform a blood test called an antibody titer. This measures your pet's immunity.
If you do choose the rabies vaccination for your cat, opt for the feline-only vaccine called Purevax by Merial. It does not run the same risks of cancer as most 'killed' vaccines. You must request this from your vet. This vaccine must be given annually.
The risk of cancer is high with all killed vaccines (including rabies, feline leukemia, and feline immunodeficiency virus or feline AIDS); try to avoid them.
Work with your vet to determine a vaccine protocol that is right for your cat, as each is a unique individual and should be treated as such.