Prevention goes a long way in staving off problems—especially when caring for a cat. By taking proactive steps to keep your fur baby healthy, you’re more likely to enjoy many happy years together (up to 14 or more, to be exact). Read on for some tips and tricks to maximize the years spent with your kitty.
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Your Cat Needs the Essentials
To be a successful cat parent, you need the right gear. Many of us think of no-brainers like food and water right away, but some things are more subtle—like nice, flat, wide bowls for that food and water so kitty doesn’t bump her whiskers while enjoying it. In place of a water bowl, you can opt for a cat water fountain— there’s some research that fountains make housecats healthier, too.
And then there’s the litterbox. Who likes small, cramped, smelly port-a-potties? Not us, and not our cats. Research has shown that cats like a litter pan that is 1.5 times the length of their body, including the tail—which is HUGE! And most cats seem to prefer a pan without a cover. They even have litter preferences: Most cats will choose a dust-free, scent-free clumping litter that’s about 1.5 inches deep in the pan. Who knew?
One item commonly overlooked is the cat carrier. Many people equate putting cats in a carrier with rides in the car and decide that, because Fluffy won’t travel often, they probably don’t need one. But what if there’s an emergency and your cat is injured or seriously ill? It’s recommended to have at least one medium-sized carrier per cat, and one that loads from the top is often the quickest and easiest for a kitty that isn’t totally cooperative about getting inside. Why choose a top-loader? Gravity is on your side!
And don’t forget that everyone, kitties included, needs a little fun. Many cats love to play with toys—some will even play fetch with stuffed mice or jingly balls. Cat trees and perches located near windows go hand-in-paw with bird feeders outside to provide hours of entertainment (for humans and felines alike). Not to mention the joy of a laser cat toy.
Nutrition Is Key
An array of cat foods is available, so ask your veterinarian for help in choosing a diet plan tailored for your cat.
Veterinarians have found that, as a rule, cats do seem to be healthier when fed canned foods. The risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease is lower when cats are fed portioned amounts of canned cat foods, namely because of the lower amounts of carbohydrates in these diets. Even “low-carb” dry foods have a lot of carbs compared to an average wet food, so these differences are important to consider. But this precaution doesn’t translate to “all dry foods are bad.” Just know that if you choose to feed your cat dry food, portion control is critical because it’s very easy for kitties to overeat on these carbohydrate-rich diets.
Most people choose to “meal feed” cats—in other words, put a portion down at a certain time and let the cat eat when he chooses to. At the next set time, another portion goes into the bowl. Having this set schedule prevents your cat from grazing all day long and consuming too many calories. But once a day isn’t enough, so if you choose this method, feed your cat a portion of her calories two to three times per day. Your veterinarian can help you to determine what an appropriate portion size is.
Keep the Litterbox Clean
No one likes cleaning the litterbox, but it’s an important role for all cat parents. Cats are picky about where they eliminate, and if the box is smelly and gross, they won’t want to go in. A dirty litter pan is the biggest reason why cats choose to turn other areas of your home, like the bathtub or that pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to put away, into their personal toilet.
Keeping up with scooping can also alert you to medical problems. Are those puddles of urine getting bigger or smaller? Both can indicate a health issue. How about the stool—is it getting smaller? All kinds of answers can be found to medical questions in the litter pan, and it is easier to notice health problems more quickly if you pay close attention to the litter box.
So, how often should you clean the litterbox? Here’s a breakdown:
- Scoop out all waste at least once per day.
- Dump, wash, clean, and dry the box at least once per week.
- Throw away the box and purchase a new one at least once per year, as plastic holds not-so-nice residues and smells that your cat will notice over time.
Stay on Top of Grooming
Cats are famous for grooming themselves, so why do they need any help from us when they already do such a great job? One big reason: hairballs.
When kitty grooms, all that hair has to go somewhere. And usually, that means into the stomach. Sometimes it will pass through into the stool, but other times it comes back up and you find a surprise on your floor. Save yourself future clean-up by brushing your cat with a soft, bristled brush.
Another brush or comb you want in your grooming kit is one designed specifically to remove matted hair. Most cats develop the occasional tangle, and it’s much easier to use a brush while the mess is small rather than wait until it becomes unruly. Severe tangles often need to be shaved off, so catching them early is easier for you and your cat.
Flea combs are also important. If you aren’t already treating your cat monthly with flea prevention (which is strongly recommended), use a flea comb on your cat every week to catch any fleas.
The other critical aspect of grooming is nail clipping. Although cats will remove the sheaths from their nails and sharpen them, nails can (and do) overgrow, resulting in painful ingrown nails that often become infected.
Kitties with extra toes are especially prone to this problem. Overly long nails can also get stuck in things when a cat tries to stretch or scratch on a post, and she can accidentally scratch you during playtime. Keeping those nails short are in everyone’s best interest, so trim them weekly.
Stay Consistent with Veterinarian Appointments
Don’t forget the cornerstone of a healthy kitty: finding problems early! Your feline friend may look healthy to you, but would you notice if she lost a few ounces over the last year? Probably not, but your veterinarian should.
What about if he developed some dental tartar, a lump on a nipple, or a cyst in the ear? All these things are common in cats, and exactly the type of things veterinarian look for in routine veterinary appointments. And all of them are much easier—and cheaper—to treat when caught early.
Taking your cat to annual wellness exams goes a long way in keeping her healthy. Your vet will check kitty from head to tail tip and administer vaccines, heartworm medications, and flea and tick control as needed. The veterinarian will also be able to help advise you on any necessary diet adjustments or other concerns.
On average, most cats under the age of 7 can go into the veterinary hospital just once per year (once they have finished their kitten vaccines and checkups, that is). Once turning 8, most cats should see a veterinarian twice per year. Your kitty may need to be seen even more often if there are any specific health concerns that need to be managed.