Being a cat owner has benefits. Serious benefits. Science-backed benefits:
- Cats can reduce the likeliness of a heart attack by nearly one third, according to researchers at The University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute.
- Children raised with cats develop strong immune systems and resistance to allergic diseases, such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.
- Petting a cat releases oxytocin. This makes you feel happy.
Knowing this, you want to keep your feline purring for years to come.
Here are some helpful facts and tips for a healthy cat lifestyle:
Common Health Problems
The Big Four
These viruses spread by contact and the passing of fluid through mating, licking, and biting.
- Feline Leukemia Virus is second only to trauma as the leading cause of death in cats. First discovered in the 1960s, feline leukemia virus is a transmittable RNA retrovirus that can severely inhibit a cat’s immune system.
- Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is in the same retrovirus family as feline leukemia virus, but is distinctly different. In the United States, approximately 1.5 to 3% of healthy cats are infected with FIV.
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis Virus is a fatal, incurable disease caused by certain strains of a virus called the feline coronavirus. It appears in both wild and domestic cats.
- Feline Distemper is a highly contagious and often fatal viral disease of cats. The symptoms can mimic other illnesses and may be hard to diagnose without a veterinarian’s expertise. Luckily, it is easily prevented through routine kitten vaccination.
Occasionally, cats who are infected present no clinical signs of these diseases, but are carriers that infect other cats. If your indoor cats escapes one night he might come into contact with a carrier.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord of all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans. While dogs have historically been associated with rabies transmission to humans, cats are more likely to be reported rabid in the U.S. According to the CDC, cats are infected with rabies 3 times more often than dogs.
Why the disparity?
Many of these cat are not properly vaccinated against the rabies virus. Data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) indicates that more than 36 percent of U.S. cat-owning households did not visit a veterinarian in 2006. This is more than double the percentage of dog-owning households that did not visit a veterinarian.
Rabies is a preventable disease. Vaccination is the best way to keep cats healthy, so don’t skip your yearly check-up – they could be lifesaving.
Flea and Tick Control
Do indoor cats really need flea and tick prevention? The short answer is yes, they really do.
Fleas are ubiquitous. They are notorious for “hitching a ride” on other pets that go outdoors. Even a few minutes outdoors can cause an infestation in an unprotected pet. They are also carriers of other parasites, like tapeworms, that can infect your cat if swallowed while they groom themselves.
Topical flea and tick products are also a simple and effective way to keeps cats healthy. Since there are so many options out there, every cat parent should compare flea treatments for cats. I prefer a topical product called Revolution made by Zoetis Animal Health. Revolution is a prescription product available at your veterinary clinic or through an online source. Once properly applied Revolution kills and prevents fleas, ticks, ear mites, intestinal worms, and certain types of mange. The key is applying this liquid product very carefully each month and it is an easy process.
I always advise clients to watch and instructional Youtube video, like this one, for helpful application tips and techniques.
A nutritious, balanced diet is essential to keeping your cat healthy. Cats are carnivores, which makes their basic dietary needs much different than dogs and humans. In fact, if we ate like cats, we’d have heart disease by age 20!
The best advice is to keep it simple. Any major brand dry cat food fed once or twice daily is fine. The most common mistake people make when feeding cats is over-feeding. But try not to leave the food bowl full all day long which leads to cat obesity, a major health risk.
Read the Label
Deciding which brand cat food is the best or most popular is a never ending discussion. Every pet food company will claim they make the healthiest cat food. Major cat food brands are very similar and usually made by the same few companies who rely on fancy packaging and colorful ads.
When choosing a cat food, read the package. It should say it meets the standards set by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), ensuring the food meets at least the minimum nutritional needs of your cat.
Cats often will go on hunger strikes rather than eat something they don’t like, so be prepared when trying new foods. If you do need to switch from one food to another, introduce the new food gradually, in small amounts over a week.
Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats
Some cats will not stay inside and tend to wait for any opportunity to dash out the door. Others are perfectly content to lie around the house and not attempt an escape.
Indoor cats tend to live longer, healthier lives. Why? Domestic cats are actually very fragile. Outdoors they are much more likely to be injured, infected, poisoned, or lost. Cats who live indoors sometimes pass without so much as a cold.
Meet the Author
Dr. Clayton Jones
Dr. Jones has 25 years of veterinary medical experience as a staff veterinarian and medical director of his own practice. He also is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Society and President of the US-Cuba Veterinary Cooperation Society.