Kitten Vaccine Protocol
- FVRCP (feline upper respiratory vaccine)
- FVRCP Booster
- Rabies vaccine 1yr
- FVRCP Booster
- +/- 1st Feline Leukemia (FeLV) vaccine***
After 16 Weeks
- FVRCP 1yr vaccine
- +/- FeLV 1yr or 1st FeLV
After 19 Weeks
- +/- FeLV vaccine 1yr
NOTE: Vaccine schedule may slightly vary from above. The schedule depends on the vaccine start date.
Vaccines should be started at 6 to 8 weeks of age.
We need to booster FVRCP vaccines every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 to 18 weeks of age.
***FeLV vaccine must be given twice, about 3-4 weeks apart, then is given yearly after that.
***FeLV vaccination is recommended for cats that will be outdoors/exposed to other outdoor cats.
Rabies vaccine lasts 1 year when given as a kitten.
*We recommend all kittens have a FeLV / FIV test at their first visit to check for these potentially fatal viral infections often passed to kittens from their mother.
*We recommend fecal tests and routine dewormers on all kittens to address worms and other parasites common in kittens.
*We recommend heartworm/flea prevention at each kitten visit to treat any flea/ear mite infections that your kitten may have obtained prior to adoption. We recommend this monthly, year-round, and indefinitely.
Core Feline Vaccines
Feline viral rhinotracheitis, also known as an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) in cats, is caused by many different bacterial and viral pathogens. The FVRCP vaccine covers Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1) and Calicivirus (FCV). Clinical signs of a URI in a cat can include sneezing, runny eyes and nose, cough, conjunctivitis, oral ulcers, fever, and a hoarse voice. While this disease is often self-limiting, it can be more serious or even fatal in young kittens and elderly cats if they stop eating. If the infection becomes chronic, it can cause irreversible damage to the sinuses. Because URIs are very contagious between cats, there is an excellent chance that any cat or kitten is already infected at the time of adoption. While vaccination does not always prevent infection, it does significantly reduce the severity and duration of infection. URI signs may recur throughout the lifetime of infected cats anytime the pet is stressed (ex: during a move, a new pet in the house, boarding, vet visits, etc.).
Panleukopenia is also known as feline distemper and is easily spread from one cat to another. It’s especially common in kittens who have not yet been vaccinated, and symptoms include fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. This disease progresses rapidly and requires immediate medical attention as a cat can die within hours of contracting the disease.
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV):
Feline leukemia virus is a widespread infection of outdoor cats and catteries. The majority of persistently infected cats will die either from tumors or from immune system damage caused by the viral infection within 3 years of contracting the disease. Infection is commonly spread through close social contact, including mutual grooming and sharing food/water bowls, since the concentration of the virus is high in saliva. Since many kittens are infected from their mother’s milk at birth, testing kittens/newly adopted cats for FeLV before introducing them to other cats in the household is crucial to prevent the spread of the disease. Current vaccines provide a good level of protection and do not interfere with routine testing for the virus. Because the virus tends to take many months before it causes disease, infected cats can appear completely normal and healthy. This vaccine is only routinely performed in cats who will be outdoors and exposed to other cats.
Rabies is a fatal virus that affects the brain of infected mammals. After infection, infected animals will start to show neurological signs, including but not limited to mental dullness, increased salivation, aggravation/aggression, paralysis, and inevitably death. Rabies is transmitted most commonly through the saliva of an infected animal after a bite. Once an animal begins to show signs of rabies, death always occurs within 10 days. THERE IS NO KNOWN TREATMENT FOR RABIES as this disease is 100% fatal. The most common rabies vectors are bats, coyotes, wolves, raccoons, and skunks. Due to the public health risk, current rabies vaccines are required for all cats and dogs in the state of Texas.
** A note on FIV: (not a core vaccine)
FIV stands for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, just as HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Outdoor cats who get into fights are most commonly infected since the virus is most commonly spread through cat bites/scratches. Once infected, cats with FIV cannot but cured of the virus. Luckily, most cats with FIV still live relatively long lives; they are, however, at a higher risk of obtaining infections because they are immunocompromised. Keeping infected cats inside, staying current on preventative vet care, and treating at the first signs of infections will help keep FIV+ cats healthy as long as possible. Vaccination for FIV is not widely recommended for multiple reasons, including false-positive tests after vaccination and lack of vaccine efficacy. For this reason, it is very important to test all new cats or kittens for FeLV and FIV before coming into the home!
Spay/Neuter - The Facts
Reduce Pet Homelessness
In every community, in every state, there are homeless animals. In the U.S., there are an estimated 6-8 million homeless animals entering animal shelters every year. Barely half of these animals are adopted. Tragically, the rest are euthanized. These are healthy, sweet pets who would have made great companions. Many people are surprised to learn that nationwide, more than 2.7 million healthy, adoptable cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters annually. Spay/neuter is the only permanent, 100 percent effective method of birth control for dogs and cats.
Your Pet’s Health
A USA Today (May 7, 2013) article cites that pets who live in the states with the highest rates of spaying/neutering also live the longest. According to the report, neutered male dogs live 18% longer than unneutered male dogs and spayed female dogs live 23% longer than unspayed female dogs. While no studies have been done on cats, this likely correlates to them as well. Part of the reduced lifespan of unaltered pets can be attributed to their increased urge to roam, exposing them to fights with other animals, getting struck by cars, and other mishaps.
Another contributor to the increased longevity of altered pets involves the reduced risk of certain types of cancers. Unspayed female cats have a far greater chance of developing pyometra (a fatal uterine infection), uterine cancer, and other cancers of the reproductive system. Spaying females before their first heat cycle essentially eliminates the risk of breast tumors which are malignant (cancerous) in about 90% of cats. Male pets who are neutered eliminate their chances of getting testicular cancer.
Curb Bad Behavior
For cats, the urge to spray is extremely strong in an intact cat, and the simplest solution is to get yours neutered or spayed by 4 to 6 months of age before there’s even a problem. Neutering solves 90 percent of all marking issues, even in cats that have been doing it for a while. It can also minimize howling, the urge to roam, and fighting with other males. While getting your pets spayed/neutered can help curb undesirable behaviors, it will not change their fundamental personality!
- Roaming: More than 90% will reduce this behavior with neutering. Approximately 60% reduce this right away.
- Fighting: More than 90% will reduce this behavior with neutering. Approximately 60% reduce this right away.
- Urine marking: More than 90% will reduce this with neutering. Approximately 80% reduce this right away.
Litter Box Problems
Urinating in odd places can mean a behavior problem, a medical problem, a territorial marking problem, or some sort of environmental problem. Several factors may be in play, and some conditions involve medical symptoms resulting from psychological stress.
Is the Problem Medical?
There are several medical conditions that can lead a cat to inappropriate urination, and these should be ruled out so as not to get on the wrong track. The cat will need to be examined and get some testing. Conditions to rule out in part depend on the age of the cat as young adult cats tend to get different diseases than do senior cats but, briefly, here are some conditions that should be investigated:
- Bladder infection
- Bladder stone
- Conditions that lead to excessive water consumption
- Bladder tumor
Of special note is the condition currently referred to as feline idiopathic cystitis. This condition amounts to physical manifestations of anxiety where the cat not only may urinate inappropriately but also strains painfully in the litter box and produces bloody urine. A male cat can actually obstruct his urinary tract, creating a medical emergency. This is a common condition in young adult cats but is uncommon in older cats. As mentioned, your veterinarian should evaluate your cat medically before you conclude that the problem is behavioral, and you embark on a long-term behavioral approach.
What if the Cause is Behavioral?
Once medical causes are ruled out, treatment for underlying behavioral causes can be further discussed with your veterinarian.
As a first step, the litter box situation must be made optimal as best as possible. If it is possible, an additional box should be provided. If there are multiple floors to the home, there should be a box on each level. The box should be 1.5 times the length of the cat (not including the tail), and the box should not be in a high traffic area or in an inconvenient location (e.g., near a loud washing machine, in an area where the dog may pounce). When retraining a cat to use the litter box, limit the cat’s access to a small room such as a bathroom or playpen with easy access to the box. Next, a large room is added until the cat again has their usual access.
Any litter boxes should be scooped daily and kept as clean as possible. The box should be washed with soapy water or water alone without strong-smelling disinfectants. Another product that helps attract cats to the box is a litter additive called Cat Attract. As the next step, another type of litter can be provided to see if the cat prefers a different brand or texture. If your cat is urinating on clothing or towels, you can try lining the litter box with a washable fabric or puppy pads.
Feliway® spray is a spray for the area being marked. The spray consists of feline pheromones that cats deposit when performing facial marking (i.e., rubbing their face/cheeks on things to scent mark). These pheromones provide a message that the territory is secure. This confers a general calming effect and reduces the cat’s interest in marking.
There are a few natural supplements that can be utilized to decrease overall stress levels in cats where inappropriate urination is due to stress in the household. “Zylkene,” “Composure,” and “Solliquin” are made of natural compounds that create a “zen-like” brain state. Supplements such as these are compatible with the other therapies listed above, so they may be used in combination with pheromones or with medications.
If these tips are not effective in restoring the cat’s proper toilet behaviors, behavior-modifying drugs or referral to a behavioral specialist should be considered. Please contact your veterinarian for the best consultant in your area.
Fleas are the most common external parasite of companion animals. In addition to causing itching and other skin problems, fleas can transmit diseases to animals and people. The majority of the flea population (i.e., eggs, larvae, and pupae) are found off the pet and around the home. Fleas are not just a dog problem; in fact, up to 10% of INDOOR-only cats have fleas!
Flea Control Recommendations
- Treat all pets with a YEAR-ROUND flea control product. Do NOT use permethrin-containing products (or any dog labeled products) on cats. As fleas can live indoors even in the winter, we recommend year-round flea control.
- Sometimes a pet’s indoor environment also needs to be treated for fleas:
- Wash all bedding.
- Vacuum all carpets and upholstery FREQUENTLY and then discard the vacuum bag. This will prevent flea eggs from hatching in vacuum bags and spreading through your home.
- In severe infestations, having pest control come to your home may be warranted.
- Sometimes a pet’s outdoor environment will also need to be treated for fleas. The outdoor environment can be treated professionally by pest specialists.
The most common worms in our pets are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. Common single-cell parasites are coccidia and giardia. Most of these parasites are transmitted through the stool of infected animals or even through the dirt. Severe parasitic infections can cause vomiting, diarrhea, anemia, and even death in puppies and kittens. Some of these parasites can even cause illness in children and immunosuppressed adults. Routine fecal tests are recommended throughout life to check for parasitic infections. Monthly heartworm prevention provides additional intestinal parasite prevention for some of these worms!
Out of all of these parasites, only 2 are visible to the naked eye – tapeworms and roundworms. Tapeworms occur due to a previous or current flea infestation. They are white, flat, and often segmented (usually <1 inch). The segments sometimes come out separated but can remain intact (like below on the left). Roundworms are long and round, usually like spaghetti (like below on the right). If your pet has tapeworms, your pet has had fleas, so it is very important to start monthly flea prevention!
Microchipping Could Save your Pet's Life
Microchip Implantation: Basically a Shot with a Big Needle
Implantation is basically a shot. The needle is fairly large, so sometimes there is a yipe but, most often, the reaction is minimal. Some people wait until the pet is being spayed/neutered so as to be anesthetized for this.
Can a Microchip be Used to Locate a Lost Pet?
No. A microchip is NOT a location device (GPS tracker).
What Happens if the Chip Does not get Registered?
It is vitally important that you register your chip. Simply having a chip will not bring your pet home to you. If a pet with an unregistered chip is found, it may still be possible to trace the owner, but not always. If your chip is not registered and someone finds your pet and wishes to keep him, they may simply register the chip in their own name.
Must the Chip’s Registration be Renewed Annually?
For major brands of microchips, the answer is no. Once the chip is registered, that registration is indefinite. The problem is that people move or the pet changes ownership, and the chip information is never updated. Don’t forget to update your contact information with the chip registry when you move.
What Should be Done for a Pet that was Adopted with a Chip Registered to a Prior Owner?
Contact the chip company that issued the chip for instructions (they each have their own policy).
What Should I do if my Pet is Lost?
Notify the chip company so that the chip number will be flagged as belonging to a lost pet. Be sure the chip company has your correct contact information should your pet be found. Be sure to check the local animal shelter and inquire as to how to proceed there. Posters around the neighborhood also help. Hopefully, your pet is wearing some sort of ID (such as the tag that came with the chip) so that you can be contacted by the finder.
What Do I Do if I Find a Pet?
Running the pet to a local animal hospital or shelter will allow for scanning for the presence of a microchip, and doing this sooner rather than later is recommended in case someone is out there searching. If a chip is discovered and is registered, it should not be difficult to find the owner. If there is no chip or ID tag, check the lost local lost ads. If there is no match-up, you may be legally compelled to bring the animal to the local animal shelter, as this will be where the original owner is likely to look.
Situations Where a Chip Can Mean Life or Death
- Lost Pet – If your lost pet is recovered by the local shelter or taken to an animal hospital as a lost pet, the pet is scanned, the number found, the registry contacted, and you will be notified.
- Burglary – If your home is burglarized, the criminals involved will not be careful to leave your doors or gates closed when they leave. Your pet may wander away in this situation.
- Natural Disasters – Earthquakes, floods, fires, mudslides, hurricanes, etc., all lead to pets separated from their homes. Sometimes animal control must evacuate pets into a central holding area. Being able to prove a pet is yours is invaluable, especially if your pet is difficult to identify from a photo or does not have distinguishing markings.
- Injury – If a pet is injured while lost or injured while roaming, a good Sam might bring the pet to an animal hospital for care. A stranger may not be willing to cover expenses for a pet they found on the road, and if your pet has no ID, you may never even know what happened. A microchip allows you to be notified so that proper decisions can be made.
- Travel – A traveling pet is unfamiliar with the area you are visiting and may be more likely to get lost.
Body Condition Score
Toxins – What You Need to Know
If you have an emergency, you may call either poison control line (fee associated with both)
Top 10 Food Toxins:
- Chocolate, Coffee, and Caffeine
- Grapes and Raisins
- Macadamia Nuts
- Onions, Garlic, Chives
- Raw/Undercooked Meat, Eggs, Bones
- Salt and Salty Snack Foods
- Yeast Dough
- Corn on the cob (if a pet ingests cob portion)
Top 10 Human Medication Toxins:
- NSAIDs (e.g. Advil, Aleve and Motrin)
- Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol)
- Antidepressants (e.g., Effexor, Cymbalta, Prozac, Lexapro)
- ADD/ADHD medications (e.g., Concerta, Adderall, Ritalin)
- Benzodiazepines and sleep aids (e.g. Xanax, Klonopin, Ambien, Lunesta)
- Birth control (e.g., estrogen, estradiol, progesterone)
- ACE Inhibitors (e.g., Zestril, Altace)
- Beta-blockers (e.g. Tenormin, Toprol, Coreg)
- Thyroid hormones (e.g., Armour desiccated thyroid, Synthroid)
- Cholesterol-lowering agents (e.g., Lipitor, Zocor, Crestor)
Top 10 Plant Toxins:
- Autumn Crocus
- Tulips and Hyacinths
**Cats are particularly sensitive to certain essential oils. Please consult your veterinarian before applying or diffusing any oils around your pet!
Reasons for biting include:
- Biting can be a way to communicate or achieve a result. Just like with human infants/children, a young pet’s communication skills are a little bit more basic. Biting is a way to say, “No! Stop that! I’m afraid!” or “I don’t like that!” or even “Come on, come play with me!”
- Play biting or mouthing during play is extremely common. It is not uncommon to see them wrestle, growl, and posture aggressively as a part of normal, healthy play. If things escalate, the offended youngster will yelp or distance himself until things calm down. Issues can arise when puppies and kittens play too rough with their human owners, and normal dog or cat social cues are missed because of species differences.
- Biting can be associated with hunting behaviors. This may be associated with chasing or unexpected attacks (especially in cats). It is an instinctive ritual to help teach kittens and puppies how to hunt. Hunting behaviors, more often directed towards pet housemates, can be an issue with humans, especially if the little one doesn’t have animal “siblings” to play with. Their humans may be the only moving objects with which to practice this.
- Biting and mouthing may occur during times when adult teeth are replacing baby teeth.
- Mouthing is part of how they learn and gather information about food, toys, and their surroundings.
- Biting/nipping can be breed or genetically associated, as with herding dog breeds.
Consequences of Biting
Biting and mouthing may be normal for puppies and kittens, but continuing to bite into adulthood can lead to issues. Normally, young animals learn to stop biting during play when their mother and siblings correct them with yelps or distancing themselves. When siblings and parents are not available to teach them how to behave in the family, human owners must step in. Long-term consequences of biting vary depending on the cause. For example, biting out of fear, frustration, or to avoid something can teach bad habits if not prevented. When biting achieves the desired result of getting a human to stop an action (such as biting while having nails trimmed), the youngster could potentially learn that biting to get what he wants as an adult is acceptable. The same goes for biting because of attention-seeking. If a puppy or kitten is mouthy as a means to get you to play with them and give them attention, rewarding this behavior with any kind of attention (to some pets, even corrections are attention) could mean continued mouthing or attention-seeking behaviors as an adult. Even mouthing because of teething can lead to bad habits and continued mouthing well beyond the onset of adult teeth if not corrected.
Regardless of why a youngster bites, biting should never be encouraged because it can lead to continued biting into adulthood, and as adult dogs and cats, that bite can inflict serious damage and/or result in a poorer quality of life for themselves and their owners.
How to Manage Biting
- Do not encourage mouthy/biting play between the pet and humans. Rough play between owners and pets can encourage mouthing behaviors and should be discouraged.
- Use time-outs to de-escalate biting/mouthing behaviors and calm down your pet. This can be done by removing the pet or yourself from the pet’s attention when play biting occurs, including eye contact and talking to them. Remember to come back to attention and play with love/excitement once the pet has settled down and quits biting.
- Use command words, such as “sit,” to distract from biting. Give a reward only if the biting stops and the command are followed.
- Use a high-pitched yelp noise like the siblings/mother would make or a high-pitched “ouch” when bitten. Then redirect the pet to something more appropriate to chew on.
- Make sure you are providing a good outlet for biting behaviors; youngsters need plenty of playtime, exercise to expend some energy, safe encouragement for hunting behaviors, safe chew toys, etc.
- Treat, or food puzzles can encourage food-seeking and hunting behaviors that can decrease the need for biting.
- Remember to reward for good behavior with attention, petting, and treats. Providing the appropriate reward for a kitten might be a little more difficult than for a puppy, but food and toys still work, especially at a young age.
- If biting continues despite appropriate training, discuss your concerns with your veterinarian!
Punishment for Biting
Do not punish a puppy or kitten for biting. Punishment, especially for normal behavior, can prevent a puppy or kitten from learning normal skills like play biting to hone hunting skills. It can also affect the bond between the pet and humans and may even lead to fear, aggression, and/or anxiety. Punishment does not serve to teach appropriate behavior. The best solution is to stay consistent with your training methods and be patient. Use management tools that encourage better actions and provide good outlets to meet the needs of both you and your young pet.
Pet insurance is best used for unexpected, catastrophic medical events that are difficult to budget for. While some pet insurance does cover routine care, often, the cost of adding wellness care to your plan ends up being more than it would cost you if you paid for these procedures out of pocket. It is possible that you will pay more in premiums than you get back if your pet stays relatively healthy; therefore, pet insurance (like any other insurance) should be used as a risk management tool, not as a way to save money.
Pet insurance is similar to human health insurance in that it has premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and maximum payouts. It also has waiting periods that define when coverage starts.
Pet insurance differs from human health insurance in that It does not cover pre-existing conditions. Don’t wait until your pet has an illness/injury before you buy pet insurance – it will be considered a pre-existing condition and will not be covered. If you have to switch pet insurance companies, any medical conditions your pet had under the old company may be considered pre-existing by the new one.
It is a reimbursement program. This means you pay the vet bill; then, you file the claim with the pet insurance company for reimbursement. It is very different from human insurance, where the doctor files the claim and receives the payment directly from the insurance company.
Pet insurance companies do not use networks. You can visit any vet in the US (some cover international vets too).
How to Select a Pet Insurance Plan
Selecting a pet insurance plan is an individual choice. First, determine if you need pet insurance. If you can cover the worst-case scenario costs out of your own pocket, then you may not need insurance. If you determine that you need pet insurance, make sure the insurance company you choose has the following attributes:
- Has good medical coverage : to get the most comprehensive coverage, you want to purchase a plan that covers accidents/injuries AND illnesses. The illness part should include 1. Coverage for cancer; 2. Coverage for chronic disease. 3. Continual coverage for chronic disease. If you don’t get this coverage, the chronic disease will only be covered in the policy year it was diagnosed. After that, you will have to pay for any continuing meds or diagnostic monitoring yourself. 4. Coverage for hereditary/congenital diseases. 5. Coverage for diseases that are common to your pet’s breed.
- Has a good reputation.
- Has a strong underwriter. Use ambest.com to research the underwriter’s strength.
- It has a maximum payout limit that will cover the worst-case scenario costs. The maximum payout limit is the max amount of money the insurance company will reimburse you. This payout limit can be an annual, lifetime, per incident, per body system, or based on a predetermined benefit schedule.
- Has an affordable premium.
- Pays claims in a timely fashion.
- Does not have unreasonable exclusions and requirements. Exclusions are medical conditions that are not covered by the plan. Requirements are things you must do to remain insured (e.g., annual exams, submission of medical records, adherence to the vaccination recommendations, etc.).
What about Accident-Only Policies?
As the name implies, accident-only policies cover accidents only. They do not cover medical costs caused by illnesses. Accident-only policies tend to be much cheaper than comprehensive accident/illness policies because they don’t cover costly illnesses. In addition, what a pet owner considers to be an accident is not necessarily what a pet insurance company considers to be one (e.g., foreign body surgery or cruciate (ACL) tear may not be covered).
Additional Points Regarding Pet Insurance
- Know which states are covered by the plan (not all pet insurance companies are licensed to sell in all states).
- Know the enrollment age range of the plan (the age your pet must be to sign up for a new policy). There is usually a low and high end. There can be one range for dogs and one for cats, as well as ranges for certain breeds.
- Make sure you ask the company how and when your premium can increase.
- Make sure you understand what the company’s waiting periods are as they will vary from company to company.
Recommended Annual Services
- Complete Physical Exam and Fecal Analysis
- FVRCP Vaccine*
- Rabies Vaccine*
- FELV Vaccine (outdoor cats only)
- Comprehensive Chemistry Panel, CBC, Thyroid Screen, +/- Urinalysis
Additional Services (if needed)
- Nail Trim
- Anal Gland Expression
*3 year vaccines if booster has been done in the past (Not applicable for puppies/kittens)
Vaccine Reactions in Cats
What Is Considered Normal?
After vaccination, it is usual for pets to return home and re-engage in normal activity; however, since vaccination is inflammatory by nature, sometimes there are symptoms for a couple of days:
- Pain at the vaccine site
- Mild fever
- Reluctance to play or exercise
- Reduced appetite
- Sneezing after a nasal vaccine
These symptoms are considered normal for the vaccination process. The patient can be expected to be back to normal in a couple of days.
What Is not Normal and When Is Treatment Required?
Occasionally, a reaction is extreme and potentially dangerous. As vaccine technology has advanced, these reactions are less and less common, but it is important to know when to take action. The following symptoms are more serious, and your veterinarian should be notified at once, especially if they occur within hours of receiving the vaccine:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Facial swelling
- Difficulty breathing
- Panting (in cats)
These symptoms can be part of an anaphylactic reaction. Any symptoms from this list should be taken seriously, and future vaccination plans should be altered to avoid more severe problems. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of these signs to discuss treatment options and recommendations for the future. If you are new to a veterinary clinic, be sure they are aware of your pet’s history of vaccine reactions!
Keeping Your Cat Indoors
Our Unique Feline Companions
In the wild, cats hunt for food, hide from predators (often by climbing), and defend their home territories. Indoors, these behaviors may look hostile (biting and scratching) or spiteful (climbing, spraying, marking), and we may not like them. The keys to enjoying cats in our lives are to provide acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors and reduce their exposure to threats.
Cats are Unique in a Number of Ways
Cats do not have a daily sleep-wake cycle and may want to sleep or play at any hour of the day or night.
Dogs and primates (humans) are cats’ natural predators. By understanding this, we can learn to “get along.”
Cats are not a pack species such as dogs and humans. This makes them more independent and self-contained and also means they learn differently, which can put them at risk for conflict with others. These checklists describe the indoor resources cats need to live happy and healthy lives. More extensive information is available here.
When making changes, start with what is easiest!
What You Can Do To Keep Them Happy and Healthy
We developed this resource checklist to help you learn what indoor-housed cats need to enjoy their lives with you. Essential resources include:
- Fresh food and water
- Give each cat their own food and water bowl in a safe, quiet place.
- Some cats prefer different shaped bowls, some like running water, and some may not like the taste of some water. Offering alternatives will let your cat show what they like.
- Change food form (e.g., dry to canned) only when both the owner and cat want to.
- Once you learn what food and water your cat likes best, don’t change without “asking” your cat first.
- Litter boxes
- Cats eliminate to fulfill a fundamental need. They also use eliminations as a way to mark their territory. Since your home is their territory, you can avoid elimination problems by providing an attractive litter box. There are four basic things to consider when setting up a litter box
- Litter box hygiene: the litter box must be scooped daily and washed weekly with mild dish detergent
- Litter box type and size: Litter boxes are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Cats generally prefer large, uncovered litter boxes, about one and a half times the length of the cat. Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litter.
- Litter box location and number: Cats need quiet and privacy when using their litter box, the litter box must be easily accessible, and the Golden Rule is “One litter box per cat, plus one.”
- Cats eliminate to fulfill a fundamental need. They also use eliminations as a way to mark their territory. Since your home is their territory, you can avoid elimination problems by providing an attractive litter box. There are four basic things to consider when setting up a litter box
- Informed owners
- Our favorite books for cat owners:
- From the Cat’s Point of View by G. Bohnenkamp. ISBN: 0964490114 and perfectpaws.com/cpv.html
- Cats for Dummies (2nd ed.) by G. Spadafori. ISBN: 0764552759.
Your Home, Their Territory by C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, Ph.D., DACVM. The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, The Indoor Pet Initiative
- How cats are…
- Cats are not “pack animals” like people and dogs, so they respond more to rewards and are more fearful of punishment (hitting, yelling, “rubbing their nose in it”). Instead, we can reward cats for doing what we want by offering food or affection. We can make areas off-limits by using sticky tape, foil, citrus scent, or upside-down carpet runners in those places.
- Ask the cat!
- When making changes, always offer any new article, food, litter, etc., next to the familiar one so the cat can tell you if they prefer the new one to the old one.
- Our favorite books for cat owners:
- Scratching and climbing structures
- Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Even declawed cats retain their instinct to scratch. Scratching posts provide cats with an outlet for their instinct to scratch and save your furniture and carpets.
- Most, but not all, cats prefer scratching posts made out of rough material they can shred. Scratching posts should be located in “public” parts of the house that the whole family uses. In multi-cat households, there should be several scratching posts, both vertical and horizontal, located throughout the house.
- Rest, relaxation, and safety
- Cats are their most vulnerable while sleeping, so they prefer to rest in areas where they feel safe and secure. Cat beds can be purchased, but snug blankets and towels are just as appealing to cats and are easy to wash. The refuge should be a place where your cat feels safe and comfortable, for example, a bedroom or back room. Your cat can retreat to their refuge when they want to rest.
- Play opportunities
- Cat playing is “pretend hunting” for birds, bugs, or mice.
- Some cats like toys that mimic their favorite prey, such as feather toys, play mice, or pieces of food rolled across the floor.
- If your cat isn’t interested in toys, he may prefer to be brushed or petted.
- Don’t let you cat “go in for the kill” on you!
Because all cats are unique, we can tell what works for most cats but not what will work for your cat. Please use these checklists to get you started, and then have fun exploring what works best for you, your cat, and your situation.
Heartworm disease in cats is very different from heartworm disease in dogs. The cat is an atypical host for heartworms, and most worms in cats do not survive to the adult stage. Cats with adult heartworms typically have just one to three worms, and many cats affected by heartworms have no adult worms. While this means heartworm disease often goes undiagnosed in cats, it’s important to understand that even immature worms cause real damage in the form of a condition is known as heartworm-associated respiratory disease (HARD). Symptoms may include coughing, asthma-like attacks, periodic vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss. Occasionally an affected cat may have difficulty walking, experience fainting or seizures, or suffer from fluid accumulation in the abdomen. Unfortunately, the first sign in some cases is the sudden collapse of the cat or sudden death. There is no approved treatment for heartworms in cats, so prevention is the only means of protecting cats from the effects of heartworm disease. Don’t forget about heartworm prevention for your indoor kitties… in fact, 1 in 4 cats who test positive for heartworms are INDOOR ONLY!
We recommend heartworm prevention YEAR-ROUND for all dogs and cats over the age of 8 weeks for the LIFETIME of your pet!
In-Stock Feline Preventatives
**A note on online pharmacies: Counterfeit products and medications not handled/transported under appropriate conditions are possible with online pharmacies so we do not recommend purchasing from these sites (eg: 1-800-PetMeds, Chewy.com, etc). In addition, drug companies WILL NOT cover heartworm or parasite treatment if your pet becomes infected when utilizing a preventative purchased from an online pharmacy.
Feeding Your Cat
Dry cat food is relatively inexpensive, and since it does not dry out, it offers owners the convenience of “free choice” feeding. Dry food is generally lower in protein and higher in carbohydrates which can cause weight gain in cats. Dry food may be less palatable to a cat than wet food, and depending on the quality of the ingredients, may also be less digestible. If you do use dry food, it is important to store unused portions in a cool, dry place and not to use the food after its expiration date.
Canned cat food has a moisture content of at least 75 percent, making it a good dietary source of water. It is generally the most expensive type of cat food but is also highly palatable for most cats. Canned food has the longest shelf life when unopened, but any unused portion of opened canned cat food should be refrigerated to maintain quality and prevent spoilage. Canned food is generally higher in protein than dry food, meaning it helps keep cats leans and trim.
Making your own cat food can be both rewarding and difficult. Cats are very sensitive to nutritional deficiencies, and home-cooked foods often do not contain the right quantities and proportions of nutrients for your cat. For this reason, commercially prepared diets are safer and easier for most pets. If you are determined to home cook for your pet, we always recommend working with a board-certified veterinary nutritionist to make sure the diet is complete and balanced!
While giving your cat an occasional treat is not generally harmful, they are usually not nutritionally complete and should only be fed occasionally. A good rule of thumb is not to let treats exceed 10% of a cat’s daily caloric intake. Raw meat is not recommended as a treat for cats because it is a potential vehicle for toxoplasmosis and other infectious diseases. Milk is not generally recommended for cats either, as many cats are lactose-intolerant!
Choosing a Food
Commercially prepared cat foods have been developed to give your cat the correct balance of nutrients and calories. Reading the nutrition label on food packaging is the best way to compare cat foods. All pet foods that carry an AAFCO-approved nutritional guarantee often referred to as the“AAFCO statement,” are considered to be nutritionally complete and balanced. Because a pet’s nutritional needs change throughout their life, be sure to pick a cat food that is labeled for that life stage (e.g., kitten, adult, pregnancy, etc.).
Although many cats are content to eat a single food, some cats may become very selective about what foods they’ll accept. Feeding your cat two or three different cat foods provides flavor variety and may prevent your cat from developing an exclusive preference for a single food. A cat that refuses to eat can develop serious medical problems. This is true for sick cats that lack an appetite, for cats on a diet, and for the finicky cat that refuses to eat. Your veterinarian should examine any cat that refuses to eat and is losing weight.
Our Diet Recommendations
At Bluebonnet Animal Hospital, we recommend introducing kittens to both dry and canned food throughout kittenhood. As cats age, some will develop illnesses that require a specific type of diet (e.g., canned food); if that cat has never been exposed to wet food, they may not be willing to eat this diet. Young, healthy, adult cats do best on food that is rich in animal protein. We recommend feeding a high-quality canned food or a kibble that is >45% protein (this breakdown should be listed on the back of the bag)! Feeding high protein foods help keep cats lean and prevent diseases like obesity, arthritis, and diabetes. Most cats rarely need more than ½ cup of dry food TOTAL per day. If your cat is gaining or losing weight, speak to your veterinarian.
Dental Care for Cats
Periodontal disease is a disease around the outside of the tooth. In a normal mouth, the dog’s 42 teeth and the cat’s 30 teeth are clean and white, and the gums attach smoothly to the tooth. If we don’t regularly brush away plaque, that plaque will build up and mineralize into tartar. Tartar is solid and gritty, causes inflammation of the gums, and eventually leads to loss of teeth and destruction of the underlying jaw bone. Luckily, if we catch gingivitis early, it can be reversible with routine oral care. Bone loss, once it starts, is not reversible.
Fortunately, there is a lot we can do to prevent periodontal disease, and the rules are basically the same whether the teeth belong to a pet or a human being: Professional Veterinary Cleaning and Home Care. Expect your pet to need an anesthetic professional teeth cleaning every 6-12 months for each tooth to receive proper attention and care.
Feline Odontoclastic Resorptive Lesions (FORL)
A common feline oral malady is tooth resorption. Greater than half of all cats older than three years old will have at least one tooth affected by resorption in their lifetime. Outwardly, the lesions look like pink defects in the enamel of the tooth. They usually are found on the outside of the tooth, where the gum meets the dental surface. The cause is unknown, but theories supporting an autoimmune response, viral causes, and metabolic imbalances relating to calcium regulation have been proposed. As resorption progresses, the tooth becomes red and soft, and extremely painful. There is no way to reverse tooth resorption in cats, so treatment of FORLs involves the extraction of diseased teeth to eliminate pain. Annual oral exams are very important to check for early tooth resorption. If you notice any changes with your cat’s mouth, including excessive drooling or changes in chewing/appetite, bring your pet in for a thorough oral exam!
Regular Professional Cleaning
The professional vet cleaning for your pet is similar to what a person receives at their dentist’s office:
- Tartar is removed from tooth and roots with professional scaling.
- The enamel is polished to remove any unevenness left by tartar removal.
- X-rays are performed, periodontal sockets are probed, and notes are taken, noting abnormalities on a dental chart.
Remember: “Non-anesthetic” teeth cleanings are not comparable to professional cleaning. It is not possible to perform a thorough cleaning in a pet without general anesthesia. These cleanings do not address periodontal disease where it occurs: under the gum line.
Dental Home Care
Toothpaste and Brushing
Just as in people, tooth brushing is the single best way to prevent periodontal disease. However, because animals generally swallow their toothpaste, be sure to purchase safe animal-specific toothpaste. You may use a finger brush or a pet toothbrush. The brand we recommend is CET.
For those pets who don’t tolerate routine brushing, the second-best way to prevent dental disease is the use of dental treats. Chewing on a dental treat daily can substantially reduce plaque and tartar by up to 69%—brands we recommend: Greenies. Visit VOHC.org for Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved products!
Breed, health, and personality also play a factor in the way a pet behaves with others, even if properly socialized. Some dogs and cats are not as outgoing as others and do not enjoy spending time with big groups of people or animals. Socialization is not necessarily about teaching them to want these interactions, but more about teaching them how to handle themselves and communicate appropriately within their environments. Many rescue pets that act “abused” were simply not socialized, leading to intense fear around unfamiliar people and settings.
When to Socialize
Start socialization efforts as early as possible to maximize their benefits! Developmentally, the best time for socialization is between 3-14 weeks of age in puppies and 3-9 weeks in kittens. During this key socialization period, any experiences will have long-lasting effects on a puppy or kitten’s future learning and interactions. Unfortunately, that means negative experiences will also have lasting effects. It is critical that this time period be positive and safe.
How to Socialize and Desensitize a Puppy or Kitten
Put your pet in situations that she may experience as an adult, such as car rides, being in a carrier, toys, grooming procedures (ear cleanings/nail trimmings/tooth brushing), meeting other animals and people, and trips to the veterinarian. Introduce your puppy or kitten to new people, animals, and things in a nonthreatening manner, which means it’s not scary to the kitten or puppy. If your pet reacts with fear, you likely need to scale back the interaction to the level they are comfortable with. This could mean letting them watch instead of play, distracting them with treats, or moving them farther away from whatever they are afraid of until they become comfortable. Never punish a fearful puppy or kitten if they are anxious during interactions. Creating fearful situations will only lead to more problems in the future; just remember to keep things relaxed.
Gently touch, restrain, and physically interact with your pet every day. Handling your puppy or kitten should include gently touching the face, ears, and paws to make grooming and examinations easier. Puppies and kittens need to interact with non-family members often (including children). In fact, veterinary behaviorists suggest that during the socialization period, a puppy or kitten should meet 5 to 10 new people each week and that they should experience being in a new place at least once a week.
Spending time with friend’s/family’s adult, healthy, vaccinated pets should be safe for your puppy or kitten. However, try to avoid exposing your pet to an unvaccinated animal, such as at the dog park, the pet store, or anywhere a large number of animals congregate.
Consequences of Not Socializing
Socializing puppies and kittens early within the socialization developmental period has been shown to decrease fear, aggression, and anxiety of new people, animals, or situations. They are often fearful of people or other animals, even within their own species. This can result in avoiding people or other animals, anxious behaviors, or even hostility or violence towards others. Pets not properly socialized often have an increased sensitivity to new experiences and are much more likely to end up in shelters or even being euthanized. Giving your new puppy or kitten (or young animal of any species) significant socialization during that critical stage will pay off handsomely by helping your pet become a confident adult!
Local Behavioral Training & Puppy Classes
Julie Bailey – 512-608-3066
Kim the Dog Trainer – 512-796-5783, kimthedogtrainer.com
Fidelio Dog Works – 512-231-8095, fideliodog.com
Sit Means Sit – 512-384-7833, sitmeanssit.com
TAURUS – 412-442-3416, taurusacademy.com/locations/lamar
Train My Dog – 512-715-4364, trainmydogsaustin.com
Austin Canine Consulting, Lauren@AustinCanineConsulting.com
Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist:
Dr. Kenneth Martin 512-240-2331, veterinarybehavior.com (referral required)
Snake Avoidance Training:
Respiratory distress is recognized by increased effort to breathe, noisy or squeaky breathing, cyanosis (a bluish tinge to the lips and gums), and an inability to inhale or exhale. In cats, breathing with the mouth open (panting like a dog) is a sign of severe distress and should be evaluated by a veterinarian right away.
What to Do
Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds (e.g., English Bulldog, Pekingese, and Pug) warrant a special mention. Because of the short nose, the soft palate can interfere with breathing. On hot days, these dogs try to cool off by panting vigorously, and the soft palate begins to swell. This cycle continues until the dog is in severe distress and overheated. Cooling these dogs is imperative. Move them to a cool environment and seek immediate veterinary care.
If your pet is showing signs of severe respiratory distress, here’s what to do:
- If the pet has choked on a foreign body, perform the Heimlich maneuver and/or a finger sweep.
- Perform rescue breathing (see below) if necessary/unconscious.
- If the pet is overheated, moisten the feet and ears with cool water and place the pet in front of cold air (AC vent) on the way to the vet.
- Seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): First Aid
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is the treatment required to save an animal’s life when suffering cardiopulmonary arrest. The intent of CPR is to provide sufficient blood flow and oxygen to the brain and vital organs to support life until more advanced medical therapy can be started. CPR consists of two parts: rescue breathing and chest compressions.
Make Certain the Animal is actually Arrested and Unconscious
Talk to the pet first. Gently touch and attempt to awaken the pet. You could be seriously injured should you attempt to perform CPR on a pet who was only sleeping heavily and was startled awake.
Ensure an Open Airway
Extend the head and neck and pull the tongue forward. Look in the mouth and sweep your finger deep into the mouth and throat to remove any vomit/foreign body. Be aware of a smooth, bone-like structure deep in the throat, which is likely to be the hyoid apparatus (Adam’s apple). Serious injury could result if you pull on it.
Sometimes an animal will begin to breathe spontaneously when the head is positioned appropriately. Watch for the rise and fall of the chest and listen closely for breath sounds. If no breathing is evident in 10 seconds, begin rescue breathing.
Begin Rescue Breathing
Rescue breathing is performed by covering the pet’s nose with your mouth and forcefully blowing into the lungs. In cats and small dogs, you must hold the corners of the mouth tightly closed while you blow. In larger dogs, the dog’s tongue should be pulled forward, and the mouth and lips held shut using both hands cupped around the muzzle. Force air into the lungs until you see the chest expand. Give 3 to 5 Full Breaths After several breaths are given, stop for a few seconds to recheck breathing and heart function. If still not breathing, continue to rescue breathing 10x per minute.
After Ensuring an Open Airway, Check for a Pulse
If no pulse is detectable, begin chest compressions.
In small dogs or cats, squeeze around the chest (just behind the armpits) using one/both hands. Depress the rib cage circumferentially. In Large Dogs, lay your pet on his side and compress the chest wall where it is widest with one/both hands. Depress the rib cage 1.5 to 4 inches, depending on the dog’s size. Do this 100-120 times per minute.
Continue CPR until you get the animal transported to a veterinary facility, and professionals can take over.
Eye Injuries: First Aid
If you notice any of the following, You should seek veterinary attention immediately as these signs can indicate potentially serious eye problems that can risk your pet’s vision:
- Your pet squinting or protecting an eye
- Any suspected trauma to the eye
- Abnormal appearance of the eyeball
- Excessive redness to the white part of the eye (sclera)
- Any time the eyelid cannot cover the eyeball
Eyes are quite fragile, and just a few minutes could mean the difference between sight and blindness. Referral to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) may be needed for more severe cases.
Diarrhea and Vomiting: First Aid
Vomiting and diarrhea (gastroenteritis) can be caused by MANY different medical conditions. Some cases are quite severe (e.g., poisoning, organ failure), and some are not (e.g., dietary indiscretion). Because pets can’t tell us what is going on, the best way to determine the underlying cause of your pet’s gastroenteritis is with a detailed physical exam and diagnostics by your veterinarian. Do not administer any over-the-counter or prescription medications to your pet without talking to a vet first.
Fever: First Aid
Fever is an elevated body temperature that occurs as a response to inflammation in the body. Some causes of fever are infection, autoimmune diseases, heatstroke, and cancer. Normal body temperature is 101 to 102.5°F for both dogs and cats. The temperature is most accurately taken with a rectal digital electronic thermometer. In order to take your pet’s temperature, lubricate the thermometer with a water-based lubricant (such as K-Y jelly, baby oil, or soap), and then insert the thermometer about 1-2 cm (about 1/2 to 1 inch) into the rectum.
What to Do
- Take and record the rectal temperature if your pet feels ill or warm. If it is above 103°F, call your veterinarian or local emergency center. A temperature above 106°F can be life-threatening and demands immediate attention.
- If the animal has been outside, and its temperature is over 105°F, it could be experiencing “heat stroke.” Moisten the pet’s hair coat with cool water and pay particular attention to the ears and feet, and direct a fan on the moistened areas. Then bring your pet to the closest veterinary clinic ASAP.
What NOT to Do
- Do not give aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or other drugs as many of these are poisonous to pets.
- Do not demand antibiotics from your veterinarian for all causes of fever.
Seizures and Convulsions: First Aid
A seizure is a sudden and uncontrolled movement of the animal’s body caused by abnormal brain activity. Seizures may be very severe and affect all of the body or quite mild, affecting only a portion of the pet. The pet may or may not seem conscious or responsive and may urinate or have a bowel movement.
Seizure activity that lasts longer than 3 to 5 minutes can cause detrimental effects on your pet’s body, such as fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) or brain (cerebral edema). A dramatic rise in body temperature (hyperthermia) can also result, causing internal organ damage.
Seizures can be caused by epilepsy, toxins, low blood sugar, liver shunts, birth defects, brain tumors, and a host of other medical conditions. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of seizures in your pet, and if necessary, can refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis or treatment of seizures. Some pets require life-long anti-seizure medications to control seizures. These medications may require frequent dose adjustments and monitoring of blood levels.
What to Do if your Pet has a Seizure
- Protect the pet from injuring herself during or after the seizure. Keep from falling from a height and especially keep away from water.
- Remove other pets from the area as some pets become aggressive after a seizure.
- Record the time the seizure begins and ends and if it started with a certain body part (such as an eye twitching).
- If the seizure lasts over 3 minutes, cool the pet with cool (not cold) water and seek veterinary attention at once.
- If your pet has two or more seizures in a 24-hour period, seek veterinary attention.
- If your pet has one seizure that is less than 3 minutes and seems to recover completely, contact your veterinarian for further instructions.
What NOT to Do
- Do not place your hands near the pet’s mouth. (They do not swallow their tongues.) You risk being bitten.
- Do not try to startle your pet out of a seizure. The seizure will end when it ends.
Special instructions for toy breeds and diabetic pets on insulin
If your pet is a toy breed (under 5 pounds) or is diabetic, the seizure may be due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). If the pet is able to stand, is not vomiting, offer a small meal. If the pet is non-responsive, vomiting, or actively seizing, rub some honey or Karo syrup on the gums and proceed immediately to your veterinarian or local emergency center. Prolonged low blood sugar can cause irreversible brain injury.