The information shared in this article as well as in parts 1 and 2 is in no way meant to discourage anyone from adopting a cat. My goal is to help people understand a cat’s needs so that there is happiness and harmony in the home.
Way too many cats are surrendered to shelters for circumstances that can easily be corrected if the guardian is provided with information and resources.
Keep in mind that cats have only been living inside with us for 60 or so years. It wasn’t until cat litter was invented in the 1950s that cats were welcomed as full time residents in the home.
In the last 20 years we have learned more about a cat’s physical, mental and emotional needs than in the 10,000 years prior.
Still, there are myths and misconceptions that linger on. I just read an article in the Wall Street Journal about cats that offered archaic information. It is an uphill battle for those of us working to help educate cat lovers and future cat lovers.
Once of the most harmful misconceptions is that cats can stay home alone for several days at a time
Since cats relieve themselves inside the house, they don’t need human assistance
Cats generally stop eating when full, so leaving several days of food (in a bulk or automatic feeder) is fine
Cats prefer to be alone
Cats do not need humans
As you have probably guessed, there is a resounding NO to all of these points.
Cats can become very stressed when their routine is changed. Recent studies show that they are also much more attached to their humans than previously thought. So yes, contrary to popular belief, cats do become very depressed when left alone. They miss us!
When we are gone for long periods, cats may feel abandoned. This adds to the stress of the routine change. And stress can lead to problems with the urinary tract. If a cat does not pee, the toxins can quickly build up and if not addressed quickly, can lead to death.
If a friend or family member cannot stay with your cat when you travel, having a professional pet sitter come at least two times per day is highly recommended. An experienced sitter will keep your cat’s fresh, healthy meals on schedule, be able to see if there are any problems in the litterbox – and keep it clean, will play with your cat and will provide company.
Cats do not need an annual exam
Cats only need to see the vet if injured or ill
A cat will let you know when they don’t feel well
The closest vet is the best option
The old saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true.
It is important for cats to see a veterinarian at least once per year for a comprehensive examination. Unfortunately, a majority of cat guardians do not follow this protocol. According to a study by Bayer HealthCare partners and American Association of Feline Practitioners, 52% of cats are not brought in for annual examinations. Why is this so alarming?
Cats are masters at hiding illness and pain. This is rooted in their natural instinct to not show weakness. In the wild, cats are both predator and prey. Showing weakness is a death sentence. Even the most domesticated feline is a master at hiding symptoms.
For example, a cat can hide the progression of kidney disease for years before there are obvious symptoms, like urinating outside of the litterbox. By this time, the kidneys usually have significant loss of function.
Annual exams are an important tool in catching medical issues early. Not only can this minimize treatment, it can save a boatload of money.
During an annual exam, the vet will check the eyes, ears, mouth and nose. S/he will listen to the heart, feel around the abdomen, check the anus and toes. A good vet will also give your cat a deep sniff (cat huffing!!). It is a good idea to have a urinalysis done during the exam, as well.
I recommend having blood work done beginning at age 6. This will provide a baseline. Your vet will most likely not require blood work again for a few years (unless an illness is suspected).
Beginning around age 10, two annual exams are recommended, as well as yearly blood work. This will increase as the cat ages.
While conventional veterinary care is wonderful for diagnosing issues, I do encourage including a holistic or integrative vet as part of your cat’s health team. These vets focus on getting to the root of problems rather than simply treating the symptoms. Most are happy to be part of your 'team' and will work in conjunction with your conventional veterinarian. Today, most holistic vets are more integrative, meaning they offer the best of both worlds – a more natural approach (supplements, herbs, homeopathy, laser therapy, acupuncture, etc.) as well as conventional care.
When choosing a veterinarian, look for one who really ‘gets’ cats. You will be surprised in how many vets are well versed in dog, but not cat. I know a vet who is allergic to cats! How could he possibly understand the day to day awesomeness of a kitty?
It is important to me that I get to ‘interview’ the vet before deciding whether s/he is the right fit. There is a great article by Ingrid King about choosing a vet that includes questions to ask.
A vet’s accessibility is also important – look for one who happily offers their cell phone number to you.
Cats need annual vaccinations
Cats don’t need annual vaccinations
Confused? Most cat parents are. The fact is that which vaccines are needed and when really does vary. It is advised that all kittens follow vaccine protocols. I do recommend not spaying/neutering at the same time vaccines are given. More and more veterinarians believe this, as well.
It is important to understand that over-vaccination has been linked to a number of feline and canine 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 (recommended every 3 years). This measures your pet's immunity.
There is a great titer tester available called Vaccicheck - http://vaccicheck.com.
If your cat does require booster vaccinations, it is best to give them one at a time. This way, if there is an allergic reaction, worsening of inflammatory conditions, or development of immune system disease, organ system failure or seizure, your vet will be able to pinpoint which vaccination was the cause.
If you choose to vaccinate your cat against rabies, there is a feline rabies vaccine (Purevax by Merial) that does not run the same risks of cancer as most “killed” vaccines. Request it from your vet, or find one that carries it. Purevax has two options, an annual vaccine and a 3-year vaccine.
Laser declawing is better than the traditional surgery
Declawing will stop behavioral issues
There is so much wrong and absolutely nothing right with declawing. Never, ever, ever declaw a cat, period.
Declawing is mutilation. During this barbaric procedure (which is banned in a number of countries), not only are the claws removed, so is some bone. It is like amputating the tips of your fingers from the first joint.
And this does cause permanent damage.
Here is a summary of how damaging declawing is to cats from The Paw Project, an organization working to ban this horrific practice:
Declawing is a surgical procedure, also called onychectomy, in which the animal's toes are amputated at the last joint. Most people do not realize that a portion of the bone—not only the nail—is removed.
Declaw surgery is usually performed when the animal is a cub. While some felines will have immediate complications from the procedure, it may be many months or years before the damaging effects of declawing become obvious. Declawing may result in permanent lameness, arthritis, and other long-term complications.
Cats normally walk with their toes bearing the weight of their bodies; each step is cushioned by the pad under the toe. Declawed cats experience extreme pain supporting their body weight when standing or walking, if the tendon attached to the retained segment of the third phalanx pulls that bit of bone under the foot. The displaced bone fragment produces a painful "pebble-in-the-shoe" sensation when they stand or try to walk.
Cats have a natural need to scratch. It helps them stretch their muscles, balance, mark their territory with pheromones, take care of an itch, capture toys (prey) and it also feels good!
If you provide appropriate places for cats to scratch, they will not scratch you or your furniture. There are sturdy vertical scratching posts, scratching areas on cat condos, horizontal corrugated cardboard scratchers, scratches that hang from doors or that can be hung on walls. Some cats love the feel of sisal, some carpet, some cardboard, some wood, some all of the above.
In addition to all of these outlets, it is important to keep your cats claws trimmed. Using a guillotine clipper makes this easy and efficient. Trim the front claws every few weeks, the back claws every couple of months (if needed).
Cats groom themselves and the don’t need any help
It is true that cats can generally take care of their grooming needs. However, everyone needs help every now and then and cats are no exception.
I do recommend combing your cat daily or at least a few times per week. Not only does this feel heavenly to your kitty, it is a wonderful, positive bonding experience for the two of you. Using a fine tooth comb, like a flea comb, is a good idea. I also love the Shed Monster for grooming – it removes loose hair from the undercoat without pulling and tugging.
There are times when a cat may need some extra help staying clean. Perhaps they are ill or have an oral infection. Using a grooming wipe can be a great help.
Keeping the ears clean and free from debris is also recommended. There are convenient ear wipes as well as several natural ear cleaners that are easy to use.
Cats also benefit from home dental care. Many can be trained to let their humans brush their teeth. For those who refuse, there are wipes and some treats, like Perio Plus, that work to help keep bacteria (plaque) from adhering to the teeth.