We know you love your cat. But even the biggest cat lovers can fall prey to a dangerous trap: thinking that your furry feline is “low-maintenance.” While it’s true that cats are less needy than many other types of pets, Dr. Jason Nichols, AKA “The Preventive Vet,” says that cats are merely silent sufferers.
To ensure that your cat lives a long and healthy life (or nine), check out Dr. Nichols’ five easy steps to promoting feline wellness.
1. Keep Your Cat Indoors.
Depending on your home environment (and your individual cat), keeping your kitty indoors 100% of the time can be tricky. But making sure your cat stays inside, however, is one of the best ways to make sure she stays safe. She won’t be at risk of attack by other animals, like coyotes, and she won’t get into fights with other cats, which can lead to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or injury. Indoor cats also have a lesser risk of contracting parasites.
Additionally, more cats are killed by cars each year than are euthanized in animal shelters. By keeping your pet indoors, you’ll be keeping her safe from automobile injuries.
2. Keep an Eye on the Litter Box.
Your cat’s litter box can provide many clues to her health. Scoop and check the box daily, and get to know your cat’s routines. If there are suddenly fewer urine spots each day, or there’s no urine at all for two consecutive days, it may be an indication that something is amiss. Irregular urination can be symptomatic of degenerative kidney disease, cystitis, inflammation of the bladder or urethral obstructions, which are all common in aging cats. Additionally, diarrhea or lack of bowel movement can also be a sign of infection or disease.
It’s not just about detection, though—prevention is also key. By encouraging water intake, you can help increase urination and prevent these diseases. Feeding your cat a canned diet (which comes in measured amounts) will help, as will adding additional water bowls around the house. Water bowls with various depths, as well as circulating foundations, can help lead to more water consumption.
Lastly, creating a welcoming litter box environment will promote healthy habits. A good rule of thumb is to have one litter box more than the number of cats you have, i.e. two boxes for one cat, and three boxes for two cats, etc. Uncovered litter boxes with unscented litter, in a low-traffic area of the house, will be most appreciated by your cats.
3. Make Your Home Hazard-Free.
Even if you keep your cat indoors, there are still plenty of dangerous—even fatal—everyday hazards your pet could encounter. Strings like dental floss, mistletoe, Easter grass, sewing thread and fishing line can get wrapped around cats’ tongues or can damage their digestive tracts, requiring surgery 99% of the time, estimates Dr. Nichols. One easy way to fix this is to cover your bathroom garbage can, preventing your cat’s access to dental floss.
There are also many unexpected toxins that could be lying around your house. Lilies are extremely dangerous to cats—every part of the flower is toxic, including the pollen and the water that lilies sit in absorbs the toxins as well. Even a small amount can send cats into kidney failure, which is extremely expensive to treat and fatal without veterinary help. Additionally, acetaminophen—which is found in many combination medications—is also toxic if ingested.
Lastly, flea treatments formulated for dogs can be very hurtful to cats. Pet owners often believe they can save by dividing up their dog’s treatments for cats, but these medications can cause seizure-like tremors in cats. Never medicate cats without the direction of a veterinarian!
4. Watch Your Cat’s Weight.
The majority of indoor-only cats should weigh between 9 and 12 pounds. Heavier cats are at greater risks for urethral obstruction, diabetes and arthritis, as more pressure is put on their joints. A high-protein, low-carb diet will prevent weight gain—talk to your veterinarian about an appropriate diet for your pet.
Additionally, promote exercise with fun toys that will keep your cat moving. Laser pointers and interactive toys encourage cats to run around and cut down on the likelihood that your feline will become obese.
5. Book Yearly Vet Appointments.
Most cats don’t get the veterinary care they need. Annual exams are extremely important; aside from vaccines, a yearly visit will help your vet track what’s been going on in your cat’s life and detect diseases like heart disease, hyperthyroidism, arthritis and periodontal disease before they worsen.
These five easy steps won’t take a ton of time or money, but they’ll pay off in a big way when it comes to protecting your beloved cat’s health.
Gabrielle Karol is a writer living in Manhattan. Her early love of animals made her want to be a veterinarian — until she realized that blood would be involved. Now, she’s content to write about them only, and dote on her parents’ golden retrievers and her grandmother’s Himalayan cat.