Cats are amazing creatures that have become America's number one companion pet. There are more pet cats owned in the US then dogs-almost 10 million more! So why is it that as the veterinary health team we see far fewer cats in our exam rooms? Doesn't preventative care count for something? It just doesn't seem right then, if there are that many more cats in our families, why aren't we seeing them?
Cats are intelligent, curious, and athletic creatures but they are also masters of hiding their illnesses. They have developed finely tuned skills that allow them to be good hunters, avoid predators, and stay physically fit! That's really what survival of the fittest is about. Doesn't make sense to show your weaknesses...so many of our beloved feline friends are under -treated when it comes to preventable disorders and diseases. Most of our pet cats are kept indoors where honestly they're much safer and tend to live longer. But, that protection comes at a cost of boredom and a sedentary life style leading to decreased activity and therefore more overweight cats. Many times the only exercise they get is waking up to go to the food bowl and litter box before they resume their sunbathing and sleeping activity so the only exercise they get is trying to get them into their carrying case--and that often is an exercise in futility unless they're not feeling well! After all who wants to go to the doc?- and once you've been there, well that's probably the only time you'll see your furball high tail it into the carrier because they certainly don't want to stay! More about getting your cat to the veterinary hospital later...
Cats can make relaxation into an art form: snoozing in the afternoon sun, stretching a little, a quick jump up onto the window ledge before they settle into your lap for the night. It's our role to provide environmental enrichment to our indoor cat's routines to keep them mentally challenged, prevent obesity and avoid behavior problems. Cats need to get up and move but they are different than dogs. Cats are designed for short, frequent bursts of energy and intense activity rather than longer, slower paced exercise sessions.
The following ideas help keep your cat happy:
So however you play with your cat make sure your fingers or hands are not the "bait" or the object of teasing. It's not OK for them to scratch or bite your hands or feet for that matter. Exercise is important for the health of your cat just like other basics such as shelter, proper nutrition, and clean water. Promotion of a healthy lifestyle for the life stage and life age is very important. Kiitens play differently than older cats and you don't want to start an exercise plan without consulting the family veterinarian.
- Play: Cats like to chase things so the end of a moving string brings out the predator in even the most sedentary cat. Be careful that the string doesn't get swallowed. (also avoid curling ribbon, dental floss and sewing thread which can get stuck if eaten!)
- Perch: Cats are naturally drawn to higher places: better to see their prey from above. Provide a window perch or a cat "tower" with multiple levels. Consider placing a bird feeder within visual line of that window but also make sure the window screen is secure: no flying or high jump cats please. And, don't put that bird feeder near your bedroom window unless you're an early riser... I no longer need an alarm clock once spring is in the air, my cats are up when the birds start singing!
- Scratch: Scratching stretches and tones the muscles in your cat's shoulders and back. It is a normal feline behavior that has many purposes (ands I don't mean to ruin your furniture). It's important to provide your cat with an acceptable place or two for scratching. Scratching removes the old, outer nail sheath, allows for claiming territory as their own, and of course burns calories with exercise. A scratching post should be sturdy and allow for a full body stretch. Sometimes renewing interest in a forgotten post can be obtained by spiking the post with catnip. If you want to deter problem scratching, like the sofa, try double sticky tape and "scat mats" to prevent this activity.
- Explore: Empty boxes and paper bags may get your cat to jump in, out and on top. Avoid plastic bags for the same suffocation dangers faced by children.
- Tricks: If you have a cat that comes running at the sound of the can opener or refrigerator door opening they're already on the way to being trained. Cats can be trained to catch, come, sit, lie down, roll over and fetch. You might even try to set up a kitty agility obstacle course! They just might not let on that they do these tricks because a dog may come when called, but a cat will take a message and get back to you!
- Eat: In nature cats are predators: they hunt at night. Try stimulating the hunt for food by using food puzzles, hiding treats in various places, putting some treats in a paper bag that they have to find to enjoy. Most of our house cats just have to show up to (usually an overfull!! ) food bowl. Many cats adore fresh greens: but make sure the greens are safe types such as catnip and cat grasses. Watch household plants as many are dangerous to cats.
So lets' talk about getting your cat to the veterinary office. And, these following suggestions focus on particular pet peeves (every pun intended) of mine so please take my advice...
Getting your cat into the carrier: Ok first thing: clean that carrier
! After being stashed away in the basement or garage or where ever: the carrier NEEDS to be cleaned. Use a bleach and water solution :1 part bleach to 30 parts water or as I recommend take a spray bottle and pour bleach (Chlorox) into the bottom for a thin layer, fill it up with water and viola` you have a proper cleaning solution for your cat's carrier. Now, put a clean, absorbent towel on the bottom (accidents are usually going to happen on the way to the veterinary hospital: they'll either pee, poop or puke or all 3 so be prepared!). Next leave the carrier out in your home and put a few treats in the carrier which helps your kitty to see that this is a safe place. If needed, ask your veterinarian about Feliway- an aromatherapy like scent that is really a pheromone which reduces anxiety in cats. We use the spray in our exam room and on our hands before handling scardey cats because it does work! And, make sure the carrier is big enough for your cat: one cat per carrier please!
Next, while there are many carriers on the market, be sure to choose one that has a top opening and an additional side opening because top loading carriers are much easier for placing your cat inside. Another option is a molded plastic carrier that has a removable top half so your cat can remain in the carrier during the examination if needed. And by no means should you bring your cat to the hospital without a carrier! You do not know what type of animals will be in the waiting room or lobby and in our case at Animal Health Care of Marlboro, Route 9 highway traffic is but an escape route out the door with potentially deadly consequences. Only once in our 21 years did we have an escapee and that's because the owner said, "oh it's OK, I can hold him"....WRONG! We did eventually did get the cat back inside but the owner sustained deep scratches which required an emergency room visit with stitches. Don't let this happen to your cat or to you! If needed we have loaner carriers for the safe transport of your cat either to us or on the way home form their veterinary visit.
Once you're in the exam room, remove, do NOT dump your cat out of the carrier. It's OK to tip the carrier and let them get their footing before lifting the carrier away or see above about removing the top half of the carrier for an in the carrier exam if needed.
Let's not forget about the car ride over to Animal Health Care, either. When travelling with your cat in the car, always put your cat IN the carrier. They should not be allowed to roam freely. They will not always just sit by the back window and instead they can get tangled between the brake and gas pedal with very dangerous results. I believed that my cats would sit like angels in the back seat or even sleep the whole way home the first time I traveled home from Purdue. Nope... first place they wanted to be was on my lap causing a potentially dangerous situation. In the boxes they went, my Jake and Elwood. In order to make your cat comfortable in the car, acclimate them by taking them other places besides the vet's office. Get them used to short rides and gradually increase the time of the drive. To reduce risk of vomiting have your cat travel on a empty stomach: a 6-8 hours food fast is fine and will be needed anyway if your cat needs a blood sample once they get to the animal hospital. Again, use that Feliway for anxiety reduction or ask us about Rescue remedy both for your cat and you. Those pitiful yowling cats can jangle anyone's nerves!
Now let's talk about making the veterinary visit as pleasant as possible. After all who really likes going to the doctor anyway? And, most times the visit involves sharp items like vaccination needles or blood sampling. You can bring your cat's favorite treats or a toy or even a piece of your clothing to put in the carrier for familiarity. Practice handling your cat at home by routine grooming, nail trims, and dental care. Touch their face, look in their ears, handle their feet. And, don't just bring your cat to the veterinarian when they're already sick... make well care visits a priority by making trips to the veterinary office even for weight checks. These visits are not as threatening and gives our veterinary team a chance to interact with you and your cat in a familiar way.
Cats aren't small dogs. The team of veterinarians, nurses, receptionists, and care givers, at Animal Health Care of Marlboro, pride ourselves in maintaining a cat friendly atmosphere. We love our cats and yours... let's us show you how...