Making sure your feline friends stay healthy as they age is a very important part of being a great cat owner. Even though most cat owners are aware that their cats should be seen by a veterinarian every 6-12 months for an examination many cats go years without having a physical. The biggest reason for this is that bringing your cat to the vet can be very stressful for both the cat and their owner. In order to decrease the stress of a visit to the vet’s office try to make the carrier a safe place. Keep the carrier out in the open, and make it an enjoyable place to be by adding bedding, toys, and treats. Feed your cat in the carrier. Teach your cat the “in” command by rewarding with lots of treats, attention and playing each time he enters the carrier. Gradually move from closing the carrier door to walking with the carrier, to taking the carrier outside, to taking short trips with the carrier. Remember to finish each training session with lots of positive reinforcement!
Reducing the stress of traveling by asking your veterinarian about treating possible car sickness if your cat exhibits any symptoms of car sickness such as drooling, vomiting or nausea can also help make the experience less stressful. Finding a veterinarian that embraces their feline patients can also be very helpful. In order to improve the experience of our cat patients, the River Road Veterinary Clinic has adopted “cat friendly” hours on Tuesday afternoons after 3pm. These are cat-only hours where no dogs will be scheduled for non-emergency appointments. Additionally we provide non-slip bath mats on each of our tables as well as tasty cat treats in each room! In order to keep your cat calk at the vet try using a feline pheromone spray (such as Feliway) in your cat’s carrier or in the exam room. Bring something from home to act as a distraction; this can include treats, toys, or his/her favorite thing to hide under. Practice touching your cat at home the way he will be touched by the veterinarian. This includes looking at his mouth and ears and touching his paws and abdomen.
There are several reasons that bringing your cat to see the veterinarian regularly is important. Vaccination, examination, blood work, and microchipping are among these reasons. Rabies is a fatal virus endemic to Vermont and New Hampshire that is usually transmitted by common wildlife such as bats, raccoons and skunks. All cats are required by law to have a current rabies vaccination. Even indoor cats should be vaccinated as it is not unheard of for rabid bats to be found inside homes. Our feline rabies vaccine is approved for 1 year. A 3-year rabies vaccination is available but may cause cancer in cats.
The Distemper vaccination protects against several potentially devastating feline diseases: rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Young cats should be vaccinated yearly, with older cats receiving this vaccine every 2-3 years. Indoor/outdoor cats are most vulnerable to contracting these diseases, but ALL cats should be vaccinated. Even indoor cats can contract these diseases through contaminated objects or the clothing and hands of someone who has been in contact with an infected cat.
The Feline Leukemia vaccination protects against a fatal viral disease. Indoor/outdoor cats or indoor cats that live with outdoor cats should be vaccinated every year. The vaccine is very effective and this disease is always fatal. It is relatively common in this region and can be a real danger to your cat.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that your cat have a complete examination at least once per year, twice per year for senior cats. As our feline companions have a lifespan that is significantly shorter than ours, this is akin to one examination every several (4-7) years for humans! Cats are incredibly talented at hiding their ailments, and careful observation and examination by a trained professional can indicate problems that may otherwise remain hidden. Weight loss, fever, dental disease, ear infections, upper respiratory problems, heart murmurs, and joint pain can be common physical exam findings. With many feline diseases early detection can significantly improve longevity and quality of life. Additionally, establishing a baseline of information (normal temperature, weight, arthritic changes, masses, etc.) makes it much easier to detect illness as your cat ages. Annual blood work, or blood work indicated by an abnormal finding on physical examination can be extremely helpful in the early diagnosis of many common older cat diseases.
Cats are prone to developing several different diseases as they age. Elevated kidney values will indicate a loss of kidney function and the development of chronic renal failure that should be addressed immediately. Early intervention in CRF can significantly improve the lifespan of your feline friend. Elevated thyroid levels usually indicate hyperthyroid disease. Hyperthyroidism is very common in older cats, and causes an increased metabolic rate that results in an inability to gain weight. Treatment is extremely effective and will greatly improve your cat’s quality of life. An elevated blood glucose indicates that your cat has become diabetic. Left untreated your pet’s condition will continue to deteriorate. In some cases, early diagnosis and proper treatment can actually cause remission of this disease!
Other ailments are common to both older and younger cats and can include a variety of parasites. Indoor/outdoor cats can contract a variety of intestinal parasites outside, such as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and coccidia. Indoor cats frequently contract tapeworm through the indoor hunting of small mammals (mice and moles) as well as through the ingestion of flea dirt. Fleas can be contracted outside as well as indoors. Adults and eggs can be carried in on clothing and shoes, and eggs can lie dormant in a house for several months while they wait for a proper host. Many cats are allergic to flea saliva which causes severe itching and an allergic dermatitis. Ear mites are most often contracted by indoor/outdoor cats. Ear mites are extremely irritating to cats and cause intense itching and discomfort. Many cats do not show outward symptoms of having ear mites.
Indoor/outdoor cats can often wander great distances on their outdoor ventures and are often mistaken as homeless by good Samaritans. Indoor cats can also escape and end up many miles from your home (some have even been known to hitch rides in or under vehicles!) Having your cat microchipped provides a permanent way for veterinary clinics, humane societies, and other officials to identify your pet. This microchip number is permanently linked to your information and greatly increases your lost or wandering pet’s chances of being safely reunited with you.