Caring for Your Feline Companion

Throughout their lifetimes, cats should receive regular veterinary care to prevent against any illnesses or diseases.  The following is a very general guideline to veterinary care for your cat; a specific care program for your cat should be discussed with your veterinarian to assess your cat’s specific needs.

Kitten Care

Beginning at 6-9 weeks of age, your kitten should begin her vaccination series.  At her initial visit to the veterinarian, she should receive her first FVRCP vaccine (also called feline Distemper or 5-in-1).   This vaccine helps your kitten to build immunity against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), Calicivirus disease (C) and feline Panleukopenia (P).   Feline viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirus disease are two severe viral diseases that cause respiratory problems in cats and kittens, often displaying symptoms of sneezing, dripping nose, mucousy eyes and decreased appetite.  Feline panleukopenia, usually called feline distemper, is a virus that causes a breakdown of the cat’s defense mechanisms by attacking the intestinal tract and bone marrow.  Your kitten should receive this vaccination every 2-4 weeks until the age of 16 weeks.

Should your kitten be in contact with other outdoor cats, she should receive a Feline Leukemia vaccine.  Feline Leukemia virus (or FeLV) is a destructive virus acquired mainly through a kitten’s infected mother.  Other modes of transmission include mutual grooming, sharing food dishes and fighting.  It is a cancer-causing virus which in addition to causing feline leukemia, causes severe anemia and suppresses the cat’s immune system, leaving her vulnerable to a variety of other diseases.  Infected cats primarily shed the virus in their saliva, but it is also common in the blood, tears, feces and urine.  After your kitten’s initial vaccination, she should receive a second vaccination 2-4 weeks later, and yearly thereafter or as recommended by your cat’s veterinarian.

At four months of age, your kitten should receive her first Rabies vaccine.  Cats do not have to be licensed with Contra Costa County Animal Services as dogs do, but if your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat,  she should be vaccinated against rabies.  Rabies is a fatal disease that can be transmitted to your cat through a bite wound, scratch or other mode of saliva transmission.  Rabies is also a zoonotic disease, meaning that it can be transmitted to humans as well.  After her inital vaccination, she should be vaccinated for rabies one year later, and every three years beyond.

Intestinal parasites are common in kittens and certain types can be transmitted from mother to offspring.  Kittens should have a fecal test performed to check for the presence of any eggs that may have been shed by the parasites.  Kittens should receive 1-2 deworming treatments to ensure your kitten’s optimal health.  The most common parasites in cats and kittens are roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms.  Roundworms and hookworms can be transmitted from mother to kitten and are zoonotic (can be transmitted to humans as well).  These two parasites may cause diarrhea or other symptoms of illness, but many kittens will appear normal and so should receive a deworming treatment regardless of any physical symptoms.  Visible tapeworm will appear as small white worms (often likened to grains of white rice) that are segments of the tapeworm itself and are excreted in the stool of your kitten.

Your kitten should be spayed (female) or neutered (male) ideally between the ages of 4-6 months, but can be done as early as 8 weeks of age.  Most female cats become sexually mature around the age of 6-9 months and males between the ages of 4-7 months, but it can vary slightly.  The benefits of spaying and neutering your kitten greatly outweigh any risks involved:

  • Unspayed females are at a much greater risk for mammary cancer, and each heat they experience only increases this risk.

  • Unspayed females are also at higher risk for uterine and ovarian cancer.

  • Your female will be healthier overall and she will be able to maintain a healthy weight, as her resources and nutrients won’t be directed to nursing kittens.

  • If your female is spayed, she will have less desire to roam in order to mate, thus keeping her from being hit by a car or otherwise injured or injuring other animals.

  • Unneutered males have a high risk of testicular cancer.  Needless to say, neutering your male cat eliminates this risk.

  • Unneutered males are more likely to roam in order to find a female and thus they are more likely to be hit by a car, fight with another cat (which puts them at risk for injury and disease) or otherwise be injured or injure other animals. Neutering eliminates the desire to roam in 90% of cats, and results can immediately be seen in 60% of cats.

  • Neutering will eliminate the need for male cats to fight in more than 90% of cases.  Fighting between males is extremely common in unneutered males and can lead to abscesses, wounds and other serious injuries, as well as diseases such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and possibly FeLV (Feline Leukemia).  Needless to say, you can also save yourself an expensive trip to the veterinarian!

  • Neutering your male will also eliminate his need to mark territory (“spray”) in more than 90% of cats.  Marking, however, does become a learned behavior the longer the cat is exposed to testosterone, and therefore, it is best to neuter your male cat before this behavior develops.

One of the most important benefits of spaying and neutering your cat lies in the fact that you will directly be saving the lives of thousands of homeless animals.  Theoretically, in seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce 427,000 cats.  Not all of these animals will have homes and many will be euthanized.  Each year, 6-8 million animals enter shelters, and each year, 3-4 million animals are euthanized by shelters due to overpopulation.  For every kitten you allow your cat to have, one less home is available for a cat already waiting in a shelter before being euthanized.  You can help to stop end the needless cycle of euthanasia by doing the responsible thing and spaying or neutering your cat!   Wouldn’t you feel better knowing you helped to save that many animals?

Heartworm is much less common in cats than in dogs, but is still something to speak to your cat’s veterinarian about.

Adult Care

At one year of age, your kitten becomes an adult!  At this point, she should be nearly full-grown and should be switched from a kitten food to that for an adult.  Provided that your cat does not face specific medical challenges, her veterinary care should consist of routine yearly or bi-yearly exams and vaccinations, as needed.  It is important that the doctor check your cat’s teeth, ears and eyes, as well as her BMI (Body Mass Index) to determine if she is overweight.  Obesity affects 25-40% of the animal population and can cause serious health concerns for your companion such as diabetes, orthopedic problems, cardiovascular disease as well as many other metabolic and physical problems.

Routine vaccinations should include Rabies and FVRCP, as well as FeLV (if your cat is an outdoor cat or exposed to other cats).   A yearly or bi-yearly fecal exam will also show if your cat is infected with any internal parasites such as tapeworm, roundworm, or hookworm.

Senior Care

At seven years of age, your cat has entered her “golden years” and is considered a senior cat.  By no means, however, does that mean that your feline companion doesn’t still have plenty of life and energy left in her.  Some indoor only cats can live to be 21 years old!  Because the health needs of senior cat changes, it is important to maintain a close relationship with your cat’s veterinarian to ensure that any medical concerns are noted and addressed.

Aside from vaccinations and overall exams, one of the most important tools your veterinarian can provide for your companion is a senior bloodpanel.  This bloodwork will provide your veterinarian a baseline by which to evaluate your cat’s liver and kidney function, thyroid function, as well as red and white blood cell count.  As your cat ages, many internal changes may also occur correspondingly that are not visibly obvious.  Therefore, by establishing a baseline bloodpanel, your cat’s veterinarian will be able to appropriately assess any changes in your cat’s health.

Similarly, your cat’s nutritional needs will change when she enters her senior years.  It is appropriate to switch her to a senior diet.  If she has special medical concerns, many reduced-calorie and prescription diets are available to assess your cat’s needs.

This information serves solely as a general guideline to your cat’s veterinary care.  It is important to discuss your cat’s specific needs with a trusted veterinarian to ensure that appropriate medical care is received in consideration of your cat’s continued health and longevity.