Watching your healthy cat grow and mature is the best thing a pet owner can experience, but you always need to prepared for the unexpected.
A good cat owner needs to be knowledgeable and well informed when it comes to cat health problems.
Owners need to be aware of the routine medical procedures such as vaccinations and neutering as well as signs of illness or injury.
An essential part of cat care is keeping an eye on your cat’s overall health so you can take action quickly when you notice something is wrong.
Just like us, cats get diseases that can be prevented by vaccinations. Many of us see our cats as an important part of the family, and like our human family we want to protect them from anything the world throws at them. Cat vaccinations are relatively inexpensive and are certainly a lot cheaper than the treatment required should your cat get one of the diseases.
How Many Vaccines Do Cats Need in NZ?
Initial kitten course – vaccinations every 3-4 weeks from 6 weeks of age until 12 weeks of age, then at 6 months then every 3 years after that (unless your cattery requires annual vaccination). Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) – 3 vaccinations 2-4 weeks apart as an initial course (can be started at 8 weeks) then annually. The 'core' infectious cat diseases currently present in NZ that vets recommend your cat should be vaccinated against are: Cat flu, Enteritis and Feline Aids.
How Do Cat Vaccinations Work?
How vaccinations work can be looked at on both an individual and group basis.
Cat vaccinations are basically the same as human vaccinations - an inactive or broken part of the disease you are vaccinating against is injected into the cat (this means the cat won’t actually get the disease). The cat’s body recognises the inactive/broken disease as a threat, and the immune system responds by producing antibodies (molecules that fight the disease). These antibodies will stay in your cat's bloodstream. If a cat that hasn’t been vaccinated comes into contact with the disease, the reaction to the disease will be slow (a few weeks), with severe symptoms. If a cat that is vaccinated comes into contact with the disease they will be able to fight off the disease quickly with minimal symptoms. This is because they have antibodies in their bloodstream ready to fight injection.
Vaccinations also work through a concept called herd or community immunity. Essentially this means that as long as a high percentage of a population is vaccinated, then there is low chance of any individual (even non-vaccinated) getting the disease. For example if a town has 100 cats in it and 90 of them have been vaccinated against Feline Infectious Enteritis then the chances are that the disease will be destroyed before it is passed on to one of the non-vaccinated individuals.
Should I Neuter my Cat?
Does your cat sneek off for a few hours in search for a partner? Or does your cat seem to attract other cats to your house? There are health benefits to neutering a cat and it can change your cat’s behaviour for the better.
- Unneutered Male Cats
An intact male cat can be a nuisance as he becomes the neighbourhood lothario. You will find a male cat that hasn’t been castrated will spray frequently to mark his territory, will wander far in search of a female in heat, and will regularly fight with other cats. Regular fighting will lead to expensive vet bills as it greatly increases the risk of your cat picking up a disease or getting a nasty infection.
- Unneutered Female Cats
An intact female cat will attract tom cats to your home, she will be keen to get out, and will wail and yowl when she is in heat. You are also potentially causing unnecessary stress to your cat as the mating process can be quite violent.
- Advantages of Neutering your Cat
Other advantages of neutering cats are that it significantly decreases the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and some cancers. Cancers that are less likely to affect a neutered cat include mammary, ovarian and uterine (in females), and testicular or prostate (in males). Neutered cats are often friendlier, calmer and easier to live with.
Signs of Illness in Cats
The best way to tell if your cat is poorly is to know how she behaves when she is healthy. Cats are incredibly good at hiding an illness which means even subtle changes in behaviour can indicate a serious change in health.
General behavior changes to look out for include:
- Eating / Drinking
- Toilet Habits
It is also important to realise that with some of the traits listed above, both positive and negative changes can indicate a problem. For example, a cat who has come into contact with rat poison will probably have a decreased appetite but a cat who has worms may have an increased appetite. If you are worried about any recent changes in your cat the best thing to do is to take them to the vet for a check up.
Checking your Cat's Eyes
Cat’s have great eyesight which comes in very handy for not only hunting but expressing emotion. It is therefore very important that their eyes are in tip top condition. If you think your cat may have impaired vision then there are a few ways you can check before taking her to the vet.
- Physical Appearance of Eyes - if the eye looks cloudy or has any visible surface scratches then this can be indicative of a problem.
- Move something towards your Cat’s Eyes slowly - when settled with her eyes open you can move your hand or a toy towards her eyes slowly. If your cat doesn’t focus on the item or react as you move the toy towards her eyes then they may be a problem with your cat's vision.
- Shine a Light in your Cat's Eyes - using a small torch or reading light you can shine light into your cat's eyes. A healthy response is for the pupil to shrink/constrict and for the cat to blink, squint or turn away. A blind cat will show little to no change to a light being shined in its eyes.
- Place your Cat on the sofa and Observe how they get Down - a healthy cat will jump without a second thought but cats with vision impairments may reach out with their paws as if they are trying to determine where the floor is before they jump.
Checking your Cat's Ears
When you think about cats you will almost certainly picture their iconic ears. Cats have great hearing and have the ability to point their ears in order to improve their hearing in a certain direction. With such big ears it is unsurprising that they can suffer from a range of ear problems.
- Dirt and Wax - a little bit of dirt or wax is normal so you are really looking for an excessive build up. Its best to know what your cats ears look like when they are healthy so you can determine what is excessive for your cat.
- Blood, Redness or Inflammation - any of these symptoms can indicate injury or infection.
- Smell - Smelly ears is usually a sign of an ear infection.
- Itching or Scratching - if your cat has itchy ears then they may well have picked up some ear mites.
Some easy checks you can do include:
Checking your Cat's Mouth
Cat’s have over 130 types of bacteria living in their mouths that cause disease. Yet they still have cleaner mouths than humans. But just like us, cats can have problems with their teeth and gums. To catch a problem before it develops into a serious health issue you should regularly check your cat’s mouth.
If you start to notice your cat eating less due to problems with its jaw or mouth then the chances are it has been a problem for a long time already. Checking your cat’s mouth is easy and only takes a couple of minutes.
- Make sure your cat is relaxed - the best time to check your cat’s mouth is when she is settled and relaxed on your lap.
- Lift the flaps of her gums - either side of the top jaw where the whiskers come out you can lift back the skin to expose the teeth and gums. Be careful not to put your fingers directly into her cat’s mouth as she may bite you.
- Examine her teeth and gums and take note of any changes in breath smell.
- Gum colour - Healthy gums are usually pink. Brown, black and red gums are a sign of gum disease.
- Gum recession - A cat with gum problems may show gum recession. This is where the gum moves away from the tooth and can expose the tooth’s root.
- Plaque and Tartar - If you notice plaque or tartar build up on your cat’s teeth then it’s possible that serious tooth decay is happening underneath.
- Bleeding gums - any blood on the gums or teeth is a sure sign of a serious gum problem.
- Broken or loose teeth - it's important to notice any broken teeth quickly as they can cause a lot of pain, especially if left for a long time.
- Lumps and bumps on gums - abnormal tissue growth on the gums can indicate an array of problems so best to get them checked out asap.
- Swollen gums - this usually occurs if there is an abscess in the mouth which can be very painful.
- Breath - cats aren’t known for their fresh smelling breath. But if you notice your cat's breath is particularly stinky then this may indicate an underlying mouth problem.
If you notice any of the above problems with your cat’s mouth then a visit to the vet as soon as possible is in order. It's always best to get your cat checked out by a vet when you suspect a mouth problem as these can be quick to progress, and significantly reduce the quality of life for your cat.