If you are thinking about getting a cat, or already have one, it is important to be familiar with some major cat health concerns. By being educated about common feline health problems, you can help to ensure your furry friend will have a long, healthy life with you.
There are many potentially deadly viruses and diseases that can affect cats. Luckily, many of the most common ones are almost fully preventable through vaccination. Vaccinating your cat or kitten may be one of the most important decisions you make for the health of your pet. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, all cats regardless of breed, sex or geographic location should be vaccinated against the following diseases.
Feline panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, is caused by the feline parvovirus. This highly infectious disease is especially prevalent in catteries, shelters and boarding facilities. The virus can remain active in the environment for months to years after it is introduced. Cats become infected with panleukopenia by coming into contact with the virus on litter boxes, bowls or through contaminated feces. Panleukopenia is especially dangerous in kittens, and can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Kittens should be vaccinated for panleukopenia at 8 weeks of age, and boostered every 4 weeks until 16 weeks, then given annually or every 3 years thereafter.
Feline Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus are the two most common causes of upper respiratory diseases in cats. Caused by the herpesvirus or the calicivirus, both are highly contagious between cats, transmitted via nose-to-nose contact or by sharing infected items. Although these viruses are not usually life-threatening in adult cats, affected kittens can die from the disease, and some cats that develop the virus may become chronic carriers. Vaccination should be started at 6-8 weeks of age, continuing every 3-4 weeks until the cat is 16 weeks old, then boostered in one year. After that time, vaccination should be given once every three years, and is often combined with the panleukopenia vaccine, in the form of an FVRCP vaccine.
Rabies is a deadly, untreatable illness that is transmitted through the bites of affected animals. The disease is always fatal, and due to their propensity for hunting species of animals that may be infected with rabies, it is recommended (and in some states, required) that all cats be vaccinated for rabies, regardless of whether they are indoor only or outdoor cats. Initial vaccination is given at 16 weeks of age for kittens, then boostered at 1 year of age, and boostered every three years thereafter.
Feline Leukemia Virus is a retrovirus that works by attacking the immune system of affected cats. Extremely contagious, it can be transmitted by saliva and nasal discharge, as well as from an infected mother cat to her kittens. The disease causes an array of problems including weight loss, lethargy, anemia, cancer, and infections. A simple blood test must be performed prior to vaccinating for FeLV to ensure a cat is not a carrier of the disease. Vaccination for FeLV can have side effects, the most serious of which is a vaccine associated sarcoma, or cancerous mass, than can form at the injection site. For this reason, many vets may choose not to give the vaccine to indoor-only cats who are negative for FeLV, and do have an opportunity to come into contact with infected cats. In outdoor cats, the risk of contracting FeLV is a far greater threat to their health than a potential vaccine reaction, and the vaccine is thus recommended. Kittens should be vaccinated at 12-16 weeks, with a booster in four weeks, and every year thereafter.
The best way to address your cat health concerns is to create a relationship with your cats’ veterinarian. Careful discussion can help you to select the best vaccination protocol for your cat, as well as helping you to keep your cat healthy throughout his or her life.
Spaying or neutering your cat not only is the single best way to stop pet overpopulation, but it has significant health benefits for your cat. Female cats should be spayed (ovariohysterectomy) before they enter their first heat cycle (before 6 months) to cut the risk of developing mammary (breast) cancer by almost 95%, and eliminate the risk of developing ovarian or uterine cancer completely. In male cats, neutering will eliminate the risk of testicular cancer. In addition, several behavior problems common to male cats, such as spraying urine in the house, fighting with other cats and the urge to roam to find a mate are greatly diminished once a cat is neutered. Like vaccinations, spaying and neutering is an easy way to achieve peace of mind with your cats health- and will go a long way to reducing suffering of thousands of unwanted cats and kittens.
Ensuring your cat is free of parasites is an important part of pet ownership. Your cat sits in your lap, sleeps on your bed or couch, and is part of your life- and it’s important to know that he is not harboring parasites on the inside, or the outside.
Routine fecal screening with your veterinarian can help to detect and eliminate common internal parasites, such as roundworms, tapeworms, coccidia and Giardia. In addition to their adverse effects on your cats health, many of these parasites are zoonotic, meaning that they can be transmitted to humans, especially children. Routine fecal screening can detect and correct these conditions before they become a serious problem.
External parasites, such as fleas and ticks, are equally important to remove and prevent from infesting your pet. There are a plethora of highly effective products available on the market that work well in killing fleas and ticks, and preventing them from infecting your cat. By talking to your veterinarian, you can find out which product works best in your area, and the most effective way and frequency to administer the product. In addition to being annoying and even painful to your pet, fleas and ticks can transmit serious diseases, such as tapeworms and lyme disease, to your cat.
Throughout your cats life, your veterinarian can help to identify cat health concerns that may occur. Dental care and routine dental cleanings, annual health exams, and as your cat gets older, annual blood and urine analysis testing can help to detect potential health problems early, so that they can be diagnosed and treated before they become a major health problem.