Cat Health Timetable
- 2-4 weeks - Baby teeth arrive
- 6-8 weeks - Kitten is weaned
- 6,8,10,12 weeks - Call vet about vaccinations and parasite check
- 3 months - Rabies vaccination (in PA)
- 3-7 months - Permanent teeth arrive
- 6-8 months - Time to spay female
- 8-12 months - Time to neuter male
- 4-12 months - Call vet about Rabies vaccination (outside PA)
- 6-24 months - Call vet about booster shots
- 12 months - Mating age
Spay & Neuter
Unless you have acquired a purebred cat for breeding purposes, neutering or spaying is recommended and has a positive effect on your cat's health. Neutering (males) or spaying (females) is a responsible way to prevent the birth of unwanted litters. It can also improve your kitten’s disposition and prevent many undesirable behaviors such as urinating, or spraying. Spaying and neutering is so widely recommended, many shelters and humane societies require this procedure before you can adopt a cat so that more unwanted kittens don’t come into the world.
Spaying is the surgical removal of the female cat’s reproductive organs. After spaying, she will not experience heat cycles or become pregnant. Most veterinarians feel that 5 -6 months of age is the ideal time for spaying, before she has her first heat. When a cat is in heat, she becomes restless, nervous and tense. She may roll on the floor frequently and appear more demanding. Her voice may also become more piercing.
Once your cat has been spayed, her disposition should change for the better. She’ll probably be more relaxed, playful, affectionate and less nervous and noisy. Spaying also helps reduce the risk of uterine infections, false pregnancies and conditions related to hormonal imbalances.
Neutering is the surgical removal of the male cat’s reproductive organs. If not neutered, he may exhibit an uncontrollable urge to roam by the time he turns one year old. As he grows older, he may develop the habit of spraying walls and furniture with streams of urine as a way of claiming his territory. Once sprayed, furniture is extremely difficult to deodorize.
Ideally, a male kitten should be neutered before the age of 10 months, before he acquires the “spraying” habit. However, neutering an older cat is definitely still worth it, since it should weaken, if not eliminate, those unpleasant tomcat traits.
Vaccinations are also important to your cat's health. All cats, even indoor pets, need to be vaccinated. Some viruses travel through the air or can be brought into your house on people’s clothing or shoes. There is also the risk of an indoor cat getting out or that a disease-carrying cat may wander into your yard or house.
Your veterinarian will provide routine vaccinations for feline distemper and upper respiratory disease (rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and pneumonitis). In addition, ask your veterinarian about vaccinations against Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP). Remember, some vaccines must be given as a series over a period of time, and many require boosters.
A rabies vaccination is essential and should be given sometime between 3-4 months of age, depending on the vaccine.
Your veterinarian may prescribe oral medication for a sick cat. Following are some methods that will make it easier for you to give your cat medicine.
Giving a Pill
- Wrap your cat’s body and legs tightly in a towel, leaving her head exposed.
- Grasp her head, pressing opposite sides of her upper jaw. Pull her head gently backward until her nose points straight up.
- Pull down her lower front teeth, then drop the pill on the back of her tongue.
- Close your her mouth and stroke her throat soothingly.
- As your stroke her throat, be alert for a swallowing motion. Cats are clever at hiding pills in their mouth and may spit them out.
Giving Liquid Medication
- Wrap your cat in a towel, and hold her head.
- With a medicine dropper, gently pour a small amount of medicine into the side of her mouth
- Stroke her throat to stimulate swallowing
Monitoring Your Cat’s Health
While forming a good relationship with your veterinarian is important, getting to know what is normal for your cat is crucial to her health and well being. Just like a parent with a child, you will learn what is abnormal behavior for your cat and you might be able to help your veterinarian discover the source of your cat’s health problem.
Keep in mind that a healthy cat has the following characteristics:
- Eyes – Bright and clear; without signs of irritation or red or yellow discoloration. Make sure there is no evidence of tearing or cloudiness. If discharge collects in the corners of her eyes, clean them with a cotton ball moistened with warm water.
- Mouth – Pink, healthy gums; no redness or swelling at tooth margins, no bad breath and no sores or growths on lips.
- Ears – Clean and free of odor and discharge. Check for ear mites. For more information on mites see Ear mites below. Use cotton balls (not cotton swab sticks) moistened with water for routine ear cleaning. Have your veterinarian show you how the first time. Be very careful; your cat’s ears are fragile.
- Nose – Clean and free of discharge or sores.
- Coat and Body – Smooth body with thick, shiny, silky coat. Feel for lumps and ticks; check the coat for fleas, greasiness, dandruff or bare batches.
- Anus – Free from swelling or evidence of internal parasites. For more information see Internal Parasites below.
During a routine exam your veterinarian should check your cat’s eyes and ears, listen to her heart and breathing, feel her abdomen and coat, and inspect her mouth for disease or tartar build up.
The veterinarian may require tests such as examination of a stool sample for internal parasites and blood tests to uncover disease. Regular tests and vaccinations are especially important during a kitten’s first year of life.
Symptoms of Illness
Even with good care, your cat might not always be in the best of health. She could have a flurry of sneezes or a coughing spell. She may regurgitate occasionally, even if she is not seriously ill. But if these symptoms persist, don’t ignore them. Take her to the veterinarian right away. Other signs to watch for which indicate the need for veterinary attention include:
- Severe diarrhea or constipation which persists for more than 24 hr. or accompanies other signs of illness
- Persistent vomiting
- Listlessness and lack of interest in grooming or socializing
- Labored breathing or panting
- Straining to urinate or blood in the urine
- Lumps or swelling which increase in size
- Repeated sneezing, coughing, or gagging
- Loss of appetite for several days (make sure he isn't snacking on your neighbor's cat food)
- Sudden loss of weight or weight gain
- A dull, patchy coat which sheds heavily
- Red, watery eyes or nasal discharge
- Failure to wash herself
- Failure to use the litter box
- Uncharacteristic hiding from the family under beds and sofas
- Resents or resists handling
- Scratching or biting by a normally even-tempered kitten or cat
- Other unusual symptoms
Internal parasites usually live in a cat’s digestive system and are detected by an examination of the stool. Treatment can begin as early as 2 weeks of age and be repeated at 2 to 3 week intervals, as determined by your veterinarian. The veterinarian will also do one or more parasite checks within this period.
Researchers now believe that many cats transmit roundworms and hookworms directly to their offspring. Your veterinarian will advise you as to whether a parasite check and/or worming treatment are appropriate as part of your kitten’s or cat’s routine healthcare – whether or not symptoms are present.
- Tapeworms – Tapeworms are one of the most common problems cats encounter; however, they rarely pose a health risk. Cats can acquire tapeworms by eating a rodent or ingesting a flea carrying an immature tapeworm, so flea control is important. Keeping him indoors also may help. Small, white worm segments around the anus or in her litter box indicate tapeworms are present (though infected cats may show no symptoms). Check the litter box periodically. Your veterinarian can give an injection or prescribe medication as treatment.
- Roundworms – A mother cat, even if she has been wormed, may pass roundworms to her kittens through her milk. Take a stool sample to the veterinarian when your cat is scheduled for her regular shots. These internal parasites can cause weight loss, weakness, diarrhea, or mucus in the stool. Mildly infested cats sometimes show no symptoms. Your veterinarian can de-worm your cat safely. Frequent, thorough cleaning of the litter box can help to avoid re-infection.
- Hookworms – Kittens may acquire hookworms from their mother before birth or when nursing, so it’s vital for your veterinarian to routinely check your kitten for them. If possible, keep your cat away from other cats’ waste, since hookworms can be transmitted this way. Hookworms cause anemia, diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, or black, tarry stools. Your vet can provide appropriate treatment. Frequent, thorough cleaning can help prevent re-infection.
- Coccida – to avoid these organisms, which can live in your cat’s intestines, make sure your cat doesn’t eat raw or undercooked meat, including rodents. Also, clean her litter box daily, since it takes one or two days for feces to become infectious. Most infected cats show no symptoms at all. Your veterinarian can prescribe oral medication.
- Toxoplasma – Toxoplasmosis is a multi-systemic disease caused by a parasite that is dangerous to humans as well. Symptoms can include nonspecific signs such as fever and loss of appetite as well as ocular lesions, difficulty breathing and loose stools. Since toxoplasmosis can cause severe birth defects in humans, pregnant women should avoid changing the litter box, having a non-pregnant family member do the job.
External parasites live on your cat’s body. These are diagnosed by physical examination and by tests run on your cat’s skin. If left unchecked, parasites can make life miserable for you and your cat. However, there is much you can do to prevent and treat them.
- Fleas – Fleas are often acquired from another cat or from the environment. Examine for fleas during grooming. If you suspect your cat has fleas, consult your veterinarian for a safe and effective treatment method. Signs of flea infestation include frequent scratching or biting of the fur. Occasionally you will see small red spots on her skin. Black specks (flea dirt) may cling to her fur on her neck or rump. The only way to fight flea infestation is to treat both your cat and her environment.
There are several ways to combat fleas. A flea bath or dip by a veterinarian or groomer is the most efficient treatment for serious problems. Another solution is to bathe your cat thoroughly, then follow up with flea spray or powder which is labeled safe for cats. Never buy or use these products at random; certain combinations of insecticides can be harmful to your cat since they lick themselves as part of normal grooming. When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian for a safe and effective flea treatment plan. You must also wash your cat’s bedding in hot, soapy water. Clean the carpeting with a commercial rug cleaner safe for cats. Vacuum thoroughly and throw away vacuum cleaner bags afterwards. Use flea-killing room foggers according to your veterinarian’s instructions to make sure all newly born fleas are destroyed. Also, consult a professional exterminator if the problem gets out of hand.
- Ticks and Lice – Fortunately, ticks and lice are a rarer problem than fleas. However, you should periodically examine your cat for these parasites, especially if you live in a hot or wooded region where ticks thrive. A hidden tick may resemble a scar or other bump. Remove a tick by grasping it with a tweezers close to the skin and pulling upward slowly and firmly. Avoid twisting and breaking the tick’s head off. Leaving it in your cat could cause skin irritation and infection. After the tick is removed apply antiseptic to the skin. Lice can be controlled through most flea sprays and powders. Be sure to use only those which are safe for cats and approved by your veterinarian.
- Ear Mites – Cats are very susceptible to ear mites. Since they can lead to secondary ear infections, it is important to check their ears regularly. They usually acquire ear mites from contact with other cats. If you have several cats and one becomes infected consult your veterinarian about treatment or prevention for the others. Signs of ear mites include excessive ear scratching and shaking of the head. Ears might show rough spots or have material resembling dried blood in them. Other signs of ear mites include dark, foul smelling ear wax. Your veterinarian can prescribe eardrops for treatment and demonstrate how to keep your cat’s ears clean.
- Mange - Mange is caused by several kinds of mites. It can also be transmitted to humans. As a preventative measure, make sure your cat avoids unnecessary contact with other cats. Signs of mange include loss of fur in patches, excessive bleeding, or bald spots around the eyes, nose or ears. Your veterinarian can use a special insecticidal dip to treat mange.
Feline Leukemia Virus( FeLV) -What is FeLV or Feline Leukemia Virus? Find out the facts about this disease, what symptoms a cat exhibits, treatment, and how to prevent it from affecting your cat
Feline Diabetes - Find out the facts about this disease, what symptoms a cat exhibits, treatment, and if your cat is at risk.
Cat Allergies - Cats, just like people, can suffer from a wide range of allergies. Find out the different types of cat allergies, symptoms, and how they are diagnosed and treated.