Owning a ... cat
At the vet
All cats must be fully vaccinated before they are allowed outside. Cats are vaccinated against Feline Infectious Enteritis, Cat Flu, Feline Chlamydia and Feline Leukaemia (see below for details of these diseases). It is vital that you vaccinate your cat, since the diseases it protects against are often fatal. Vaccination not only protects your own cat but prevents your cat being a carrier and transmitting disease to other cats.
Two types of worms affect cats - roundworms and tapeworms. Roundworms look like lengths of wire, around 12cm in length. There are two main species, Toxocara and Toxocaris. The worms live in the intestines, where they mate and lay eggs, which are then passed out of the cat. In the faeces, the eggs hatch into larvae. If a cat eats a larva, from dirt licked off a paw etc. the larva passes into the intestines where it burrows through the wall of the intestine and into the blood. From here, it passes through the liver, to the lungs and then the windpipe, where it is coughed up and swallowed again and returns to the intestine. They don't do much harm to adult cats, unless present in great numbers, but can cause diarrhoea in kittens. Tapeworms consist of lots of tiny segments. Each segment is full of eggs and segments are often seen in faeces, where the eggs will hatch into larvae. Again there are two species, Dipylidium, whose segments wriggle initially before drying, and Taenia, whose segments are not mobile.
Worming powders can be obtained from your vet. The dose depends on the weight of your cat. All cats should be wormed from a young age and throughout their lives.
Cats roam and inevitably some get lost, or hit by a car or are involved in an accident of some kind. To identify them, cats should be microchipped (see the dog section). A tiny chip is inserted under the skin which ensures identification of the lost cat so that it can be returned to its rightful owner.
It is important that you get your cat either neutered (toms) or spayed (queens). This prevents unwanted litters and can also help to stop cats from fighting, and toms from spraying.
Fleas are a big problem and prevention is better than cure in this case. Once a cat is infested with fleas, it is more than likely that there will be fleas and flea eggs in the carpet as well. Plus, they will be transferred to any other animals in the house. Fleas cause immense irritation to the skin, resulting in excessive scratching and nibbling and sore and broken skin. There are many flea treatments, such as Program and Frontline, which either make the fleas infertile or kill them on contact. Such treatments are usually monthly and can be obtained from your vet. Alternatively your cat can wear a flea collar. Flea collars are impregnated with parasiticides (chemicals that kill parasites). When selecting a flea collar, always choose a reliable make which is known to be safe and effective. Some cats will be allergic to the chemicals on the collars, which may cause inflammation, in which case the collar should not be worn.
Ticks are small insects which feed on the blood of other animals. They start off small but the more blood they suck, the bigger their body grows until it is full, when it pops off again. Cats can pick up ticks from long grass, wild animals such as hedgehogs (which also provide fleas) and from other cats. If you find a tick on your cat, be careful as to how you remove it. The jaws of the tick are embeded in the cat's skin and if you pull the body, the jaws may well get left behind, leading to infection. There are special 'tick removers' available from vets and pet shops. If you are unsure, your vet can remove it for you.
It is important to keep your cat's teeth clean and healthy. Feeding hard, crunchy biscuits helps but by far the best way to do so is to brush the cat's teeth. Cat toothpaste is available (never use human toothpaste) which can be applied using a special pet toothbrush, designed for a cat's mouth. Gently brush all the teeth, starting at the back and working forwards. If your cat won't allow you to brush its teeth, there is a gel available which doesn't require brushing. The cat just licks the gel from your finger, or its own fur if you smear some on, and since it is very tasty the cat will be happy to eat it. There are also some treats available made by Whiskas called Dentabits which are supposed to help keep the teeth clean.
Feline Infectious Enteritis (Panleucopaenia) is a viral disease which is very contagious. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, depression, diarrhoea, vomitting, lack of appetite and abdominal pain. This causes dehydration and can lead to death. The disease can cause permanent damage to the cat's immune system.
Cat Flu (Feline Infectious Respiratory Disease) is also a viral disease. The disease is spread via coughing and sneezing, just like human colds and flu, and by direct contact. Symptoms include runny eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, a high temperature, conjunctivitis, coughing and sometimes pneumonia. Cats which recover act as carriers of the virus (of which there are two varieties) for many years. The disease can be fatal for kittens.
Feline chlamydia affects the respiratory system and produces symptoms similar to cat flu. It is another infectious disease that is spread via the respiratory system. Symptoms include a discharge from the eyes, which begins in one eye and spreads to the other. The eyes will be red and sore and often kept half-closed. The disease can also affect the genital tracts of cats, which may cause infertility in queens.
Feline Leukaemia can do damage to the cat's immune system and sometimes cause tumours. It is very similar to HIV and can be spread via urine, blood, saliva or any other bodily fluid. Since it suppresses the cat's immune system, the infected cat is vulnerable to many fatal diseases which it is unable to combat and so often dies.
Diarrhoea is often caused by a sudden change in diet or from eating something nasty. Since the cat is losing a lot of liquid it will become dehydrated fairly quickly. Cats should be fed simple foods, such as chicken and rice until the diarrhoea clears up. If diarrhoea persists for more than 48 hours, consult your vet.
Obesity is common in old cats but young cats with a lack of exercise or excess food will also become obese. Obesity causes many problems, most obviously lack of mobility but in the long term the lifespan of the obese cat is greatly reduced and heart problems are more common. Cut down the cat's food and encourage exercise to help reduce weight. Special 'light' foods are available which contain fewer calories to help weight loss.