Why is my cat so sad? And what do I do about it?

  • Based on observed changes in behavior, it is thought that some dogs and cats grieve after losing a close human or animal companion.
  • Dogs and cats seem to show a wide variety of responses to losing a companion.
  • As in people, signs of grief in pets usually improve with time. However, there are things you can do to help your pet through this difficult period.
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Do Dogs and Cats Really Grieve?

Whether animals feel emotions in the same way people do is a mystery. However, their behaviors are commonly interpreted as reliable expressions of mood—for example, relaxed, fearful, or aggressive. Based on observed changes in behavior, it is thought that some dogs and cats grieve after losing a close human or animal companion. In 1996, the ASPCA conducted a study of mourning in companion animals and found that more than half of dogs and cats had at least four behavioral changes after losing an animal companion. Many of these changes, such as eating less and changes in sleep patterns, were similar to behaviors exhibited by grieving people.

If you have recently lost a pet and other pets in the household are acting differently, it is possible that they miss the deceased pet and are experiencing grief.

Signs of Grief

Like people, dogs and cats seem to show a wide variety of responses to losing a companion. Behavior changes observed in the 1996 ASPCA study included:

  • Eating less
  • Restlessness or sleeping less
  • Acting sluggish or sleeping more
  • Vocalizing (barking, howling, meowing) more
  • Avoiding contact or play with other family members
  • Becoming “clingy”
  • Seeming disoriented or confused

However, these behaviors are also signs of illness in pets. If your pet is exhibiting any of these behaviors, call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment to rule out health problems.

Some animals appear to look for the missing pet, or, if the deceased pet was taken to the veterinarian to be euthanized, they may wait by the door or window for him or her to come home.

Other changes in behavior among surviving pets may reflect shifts in relationships, especially if the deceased pet was a dominant member of the household.

Helping Your Pet Deal With the Loss of a Companion

Again, as in people, signs of grief in pets usually improve with time. However, there are things you can do to help your pet through this difficult period.

  • If your pet is eating less or is not eating, encourage him or her to eat by making food more appealing. For example, slightly warming canned food can make it smell better to pets. However, be very careful to not overheat food, which can burn your pet’s mouth. If your pet refuses to eat at all, call your veterinarian.
  • Spend extra time with your pet, whether on walks, during grooming, or playing games.
  • Provide distractions for your pet. Hiding toys in his or her favorite places and putting a little dry food inside a puzzle toy are a couple of examples. Try not to accidentally reward behaviors that you do not want to continue. For example, do not try to distract a howling pet with treats, or the pet may learn to howl for treats. Wait until the pet is quiet, and then give him or her your attention.
  • If the deceased pet had a favorite blanket or toy, leave it in the house for a while so that other pets understand that the missing pet is not returning.

Because you are also feeling the loss of your pet, it can be hard to concentrate, and your behavior can affect your other pets. Spending extra time bonding with them can help both you and them.

The five stages of grief after losing your beloved cat (and best friend)

  • Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a pet.
  • Everyone grieves differently.
  • Pet-loss support resources exist and may be helpful for you.
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The Five Stages of Grief

Grief is a natural reaction to the loss of a pet. Regardless of whether the pet is old or young, or whether the loss is expected or sudden, family members and other people who were close to the pet will experience similar feelings when a beloved pet dies. These feelings, commonly called the five stages of grief, are the same as those experienced when a person passes away:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining (i.e., trying to find an activity or action that either could have helped avoid the loss or that will take it away)
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There is no “set” way that people experience these stages, and not everyone goes through all of them. Everyone grieves differently. What is important to know is that if you have lost a pet, it is normal to feel sad or angry. Sometimes, people who did not know the pet may say things that imply that grief is a reaction that should be reserved for the death of a person. This is not the case—grief is natural whenever you lose a loved one.

Remembering Your Pet

Some people find that performing a special activity, such as planting a flower or creating a memorial item, helps ease the sadness they feel at losing their pet. A memorial item might be something you make yourself, like a photo of the pet in a special frame, or something you can purchase and personalize for your pet—you can find many suggestions on the Internet by typing “pet memorials” into a search engine. Donating to an animal shelter or favorite charity in your pet’s name can also be a way of remembering your pet.

When—or if—to Get a New Pet

Just as there is no set way that people mourn, there is no set time. Some people feel that they are ready for a new pet quickly, and some people do not want to consider getting a new pet until time has passed. Some people decide not to have another pet, even when they have finished grieving. Because every pet is different, it is not possible to “replace” a pet, but every pet offers a new chance for companionship.

Professional Pet-Loss Resources

Many resources exist to help people who are grieving the loss of a pet. Two of these are the Argus Institute and the Veterinary Social Work Program at the University of Pennsylvania. Both of these sites have links to or phone numbers for grief counseling services. Your veterinarian may also be able to suggest local support groups or other people, such as therapists or spiritual counselors, who can help.

How to care for your pet after surgery

  • After your pet has surgery, it is important to strictly follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for rehabilitation and recovery.
  • Before you leave the hospital, ensure that you understand all of your veterinarian’s instructions.
  • Some swelling will be normal immediately after surgery, but watch the surgery site carefully for any signs of oozing, odors, heat, pain, or redness.
  • It is critical to keep all of your pet’s recommended follow-up appointments so that your veterinarian can monitor your pet’s progress.
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The type of surgery that your pet undergoes determines the in-hospital recovery time and when you will be able to pick up your pet. Because the period immediately following surgery is when most complications occur, it is important to follow your veterinarian’s suggestion for when to pick up your pet. If you would like to visit your pet in the hospital, ask your veterinarian if that would be okay.

After your pet has surgery, it is important to strictly follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for rehabilitation and recovery. Doing so can help your pet recover fully. In some cases, following recommendations may mean the difference between life and death. For example, a surgical site that fails to heal due to reinjury or infection, such as a joint replacement or fracture repair, can leave a veterinary surgeon with few treatment options.

Before You Leave the Practice

When your pet is ready to be released (discharged) from the hospital, you’ll be given instructions for at-home care. You’ll also be told when to return for a follow-up examination or to have sutures removed; you can make the appointment before you leave. Before you leave the hospital, make sure that you understand all of your veterinarian’s instructions. Ask to review them with a veterinary technician if you have questions. If you’re unsure of something, such as how to administer a medication, your pet might sense this and become difficult to handle; but if you’re confident and calm, your pet will likely be easier to handle. If you don’t think that you will be able to carry out a particular part of your pet’s at-home care, ask your practice what kind of outpatient support they can provide. Find out what the practice’s procedures are for after-hours help if there is a problem.

We’re Home! Now What?

  • Carefully follow all of your veterinarian’s at-home instructions.
  • Recognize that your pet may still be feeling the effects of anesthesia and may be unsteady on his or her feet even hours after the procedure. Initially keep him or her in a quiet and contained place if necessary. Although your pet might want to return to his or her regular routine, you need to ensure that your pet gets adequate rest.
  • Pets recovering from surgery should be allowed outdoors only to urinate or defecate. When taking your pet outdoors for bathroom breaks, keep him or her on a leash at all times; follow your veterinarian’s instructions regarding whether you should attach the leash to a collar or harness. Ask your veterinarian to show you the best way to lift or support your pet when it is required.
  • If your pet is receiving medication (especially pain medication), his or her reflexes may be slow, so try to restrict your pet’s activity to prevent injury; for example, your pet should avoid stairs and slippery floors. Keep your pet in a safe area and ensure that he or she receives all the medication that your veterinarian prescribed. “Crate rest”—that is, keeping your pet in an appropriately sized crate to restrict activity—may be recommended. See Keeping Your Crated Pet—and Yourself—Sane, below, for tips on managing this kind of care.
  • Supervise your pet’s eating and drinking. Provide food and water in small amounts until you are sure your pet is back to normal. Follow all instructions for special nutritional requirements.
  • Make sure that your pet is urinating and defecating as expected. Be aware that some pets, especially if they have been given fluids during surgery or hospitalization, may need more frequent bathroom breaks.

Monitoring Surgical Sites

Some swelling will be normal immediately after surgery, but watch the surgery site carefully for any signs of oozing, odors, heat, pain, excessive bruising, or redness. Do not allow your pet to scratch or chew at the sutures or bandage. An Elizabethan collar—also known as an “e” collar—may be necessary to prevent your pet from chewing the wound. If something doesn’t look right, call your veterinarian immediately.

Recovery Times

Typically, full recovery from an extensive orthopedic surgery, such as total hip replacement, takes at least 2 to 3 months. Some dogs require 6 months of careful monitoring and rehabilitation before they reach optimal recovery. Other, less invasive surgeries, such as neutering or ovariohysterectomy (spaying), may require only a matter of days or weeks for recovery.

Follow Up

It is critical to keep all of your pet’s recommended follow-up appointments so that your veterinarian can monitor your pet’s progress. If sutures were used, your veterinarian may need to remove them. If a cast was placed, your veterinarian will want to check it periodically and eventually remove it. Radiographs (“x-rays”) or other tests may be scheduled to assess healing.

Physical therapy, including massage and hydrotherapy, may also be helpful to your pet’s recovery and may be prescribed.

Keeping Your Crated Pet—and Yourself—Sane

It’s hard to know whether crate rest is harder on the pet or the owner. This can be a trying time, but no matter how “sad” or how much “better” your pet seems to be, it is vitally important to observe all of your veterinarian’s restrictions. You can make the time go faster for your pet by keeping him or her occupied with plenty of toys and an occasional low-calorie treat; turning on a radio or television for company sometimes works well. Daily grooming can also be a welcome distraction for some pets. You can help keep your pet entertained by placing your pet’s crate in a high-traffic area where he or she can watch the household’s activity. If your pet is easily agitated, you might prefer to keep the crate in a quiet room to reduce stress.

How to pick the perfect groomer

 

  • Groomers are not regulated or licensed by a government agency.
  • When looking for a groomer, seek recommendations from friends, veterinarians, trainers, and boarding facilities.
  • When looking for a groomer, visit the grooming facility during regular business hours to check the cleanliness and observe how pets are handled.
  • When visiting a grooming facility, ask about its health policies, including proof of vaccination.
  • Some services, such as dental cleanings, should only be provided by a veterinarian.
  • Brushing your pet and handling its paws at home can help make your pet more comfortable when it’s time for professional grooming.
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How Do I Find a Groomer?

Choosing a grooming facility based on an ad in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet is not the best way to select a groomer. Because groomers are not regulated or licensed by any government agency, the skills and experience of groomers can vary greatly.

A good way to start looking for a groomer is by asking for recommendations from friends, veterinary hospitals, boarding facilities, and animal trainers. You can also visit Web sites, such as those of the National Dog Groomers Association of America (nationaldoggroomers.com) and the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America (professionalcatgroomers.com). These organizations provide groomers with education and certification and may be able to recommend a groomer in your area. You may also want to consult the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) to ensure that no complaints have been lodged against a grooming facility that you are considering.

What Kind of Grooming Facility Is Best?

First, decide whether you would prefer to take your pet to a grooming facility or to have a mobile groomer come to your home. In general, mobile groomers charge a little more for convenience.

Before taking your pet for grooming, stop by the facility during regular business hours to see the facility and watch the groomer(s) in action. Ensure that the facility is clean and well-ventilated and that the cages look comfortable. If possible, watch the groomer(s) as he or she grooms pets, noting whether the pets are handled gently and appear stressed. If the facility uses heat-producing dryers, ask how the staff ensures that pets are not burned or overheated.

Ask about the facility’s health policy. If it doesn’t require proof of vaccination, it is in your pet’s best interest to go elsewhere. Ask about the policy on accepting sick pets. For example, coughing dogs may carry a contagious disease that can spread to your dog. For references, you may ask the facility for contact information of current clients.

What Services Should Be Included in Grooming?

It’s important to discuss what is included with the grooming fee. Most facilities offer bathing, drying, brushing, clipping, ear cleaning, and nail trimming. In most cases, there is an additional fee for animals that are severely matted or need additional shaving. If your pet has skin allergies, consider taking your own hypoallergenic shampoo to the groomer to avoid skin flare-ups.

Some services should only be performed by a veterinarian. Proper dental cleanings should be done while a pet is under general anesthesia to allow a veterinary professional to remove plaque and tartar from beneath the gum line with minimal stress to the patient. In addition, only a veterinarian should empty anal glands. If your pet has frequent ear infections, ask your veterinarian whether a groomer should pluck ear hair. Pets requiring any kind of tranquilizer or sedative, such as cats that are severely matted, should be groomed at a veterinary facility where they can be closely monitored.

How Can I Make Grooming a Positive Experience for My Pet?

If your pet will require a lot of grooming throughout his or her life, start familiarizing your pet with the grooming facility when he or she is young. At home, try to brush your pet and handle his or her paws on a daily basis. The more comfortable your pet is with being handled, the more tolerant and stress-free he or she will be at the groomer.

Ready to pick out a kitten? Here's how to get the perfect one for you

  • Take your time when deciding whether a kitten is right for you. The kitten you choose may be with you for 10 to 20 years or more.
  • For best social development, a kitten should remain with its mother and/or littermates until 12 weeks of age.
  • It can be tempting to adopt more than one or two kittens from a litter, so be careful not to agree to take home more kittens than you have time for and can afford.
  • Don’t be tempted to choose a kitten based on looks alone. Look for personality, too.
  • Before you decide to adopt a kitten, your veterinarian should check the kitten’s physical well-being.
  • Adopting two kittens at the same time is often recommended so that they can continue to learn from each other and keep each other company.
  • Before deciding to adopt a special-needs kitten, ask your veterinarian what you can expect in terms of the care required and the kitten’s prognosis.
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Timing

Take your time when deciding whether a kitten is right for you. The kitten you choose may be with you for 10 to 20 years or more.

Kittens can leave their mother and littermates after they have been weaned, usually by 8 to 10 weeks of age. However, for best social development, a kitten should remain with its mother and/or littermates until 12 weeks of age. A kitten that is taken from its mother before weaning is complete may develop the troublesome behavior of sucking on nearby items or fingers.

Looking for Personality

Don’t be tempted to choose a kitten based on looks alone. Look for personality, too. Try to find a time when the kitten is active. Kittens are usually sleepy after eating. When watching kittens, note the following:

  • Who is playful, confident, and friendly? A timid kitten might not be the best choice for a home with children who want to play with the kitten.
  • If you get down on the floor, how do the kittens react to you? A well-socialized kitten should be comfortable with you and unafraid.
  • Use something (other than your finger or hand) to entice the kittens to play. They should express an interest.
  • After playtime, try to hold the kitten. He or she shouldn’t hiss, bite, or scratch you. A little squirming is normal.
  • Learn as much as possible about the kitten’s history. Where and how a kitten is raised can greatly affect his or her temperament and behavior throughout life. For example, a kitten that has not been socialized to people by 7 weeks of age may have trouble bonding with them.

The Physical

Before you adopt a kitten, you and your veterinarian should check the kitten’s physical well-being. Many kittens have fleas, ear mites, and intestinal worms, so these problems shouldn’t be a reason to reject a kitten. However, you should ask yourself whether you can afford a kitten’s veterinary care. Be sure that you check the following:

Skin and haircoat—Healthy kittens have soft fur with no bald spots. The skin shouldn’t have scabs or rashes. Little black specks in the fur and on the skin may be flea dirt (excrement). This may be a sign of a flea infestation, which can be treated.

Body—The kitten shouldn’t feel fat or skinny. If you can feel the ribs, that’s okay. However, the ribs shouldn’t be visible. If the belly is hard or swollen, the kitten might have worms.

Eyes—The eyes should be free of discharge. The kitten shouldn’t be squinting, and the eyes shouldn’t be red. The third eyelid (a protective membrane that is normally folded into the inner corner of the eye) should not be prominent.

Ears—The ears should look clean inside. Head shaking, scratching, and/or the presence of gritty brown or black debris may be a sign of ear mites, which can be treated.

Nose—The kitten should not be sneezing or coughing frequently and should not have a runny nose. This could indicate a respiratory infection that is treatable but is contagious to other kittens and cats.

Mouth—The teeth should be white. The gums should be pink but not red or pale. Ask what the kitten eats and whether his or her appetite is good. A kitten that is ready for adoption should be eating solid food. At first, try to feed the same food the kitten has been used to eating; a sudden diet change can cause stomach problems.

Rear end—The kitten’s anus and surrounding area should be clean—no signs of discharge or diarrhea.

Overall energy level—Be wary if the kitten is constantly sleeping and does not seem playful or active. This could be a sign of illness.

Any new kitten or cat being introduced into the home should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible and separated from all other household pets for a quarantine period of at least a few weeks. During that time, the new kitten should be tested for parasites and infectious diseases such as feline leukemia virus—especially if this testing was not performed before you obtained the pet. New cats or kittens should be observed closely for any signs of illness. Any problems should be reported to your veterinarian before introducing the new kitten to your other pets.

Two May Be Better Than One

Adopting two kittens at the same time is often recommended so that they can continue to learn from each other and keep each other company. In addition, in terms of feline behavior, it’s much easier to start with two kittens than to adopt a second cat later. Adult cats are territorial, so introducing another cat can be difficult.

It can be tempting to adopt more than one or two kittens from a litter, so be careful not to agree to take home more kittens than you have time for and can afford.

Special-Needs Kittens

Not everyone is looking for a perfectly healthy kitten. People who have decided to adopt special- needs cats know that they can become very special companions. However, these cats may require a lot of care (which can be expensive) and may not live as long as healthy cats. Before deciding to adopt a special-needs kitten, ask your veterinarian what you can expect in terms of the care required and the kitten’s prognosis.

Ready to get a cat? Adopt! Don't shop!

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  • While estimates vary, approximately three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized (“put to sleep”) each year in the United States because too few people spay or neuter the pets they have, too few adopt their new pets, and too many give up their pets.
  • By adopting a pet from an animal shelter or rescue group, you'll help save the lives of two animals—the pet you adopt and a homeless animal that can be rescued because of space you make available.
  • Animal shelters and rescue groups have plenty of healthy, well-behaved animals waiting for a home.
  • Adopting a pet from an animal shelter is much less expensive than buying a pet.
  • Although many shelters and rescue groups have purebred animals, an adopted mixed-breed pet may be healthier than a purebred pet and, therefore, cost less overall.
  • If you’re thinking of adding a pet to your household, there are many good reasons to adopt instead of buy one.

You'll Save Lives

While the estimates vary, approximately three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized (“put to sleep”) each year in the United States because too few people spay or neuter the pets they have, too few adopt their new pets, and too many give up their pets. Because space at shelters is limited, staff members must make the difficult decision to euthanize healthy animals that aren’t adopted within a certain amount of time.

The number of euthanized animals could be reduced greatly if more people adopted pets instead of buying them. By adopting from an animal shelter or rescue group, you'll help save the lives of two animals—the pet you adopt and a homeless animal that can be rescued because of space you make available.

You'll Get a Great Pet

Animal shelters and rescue groups have plenty of healthy, well-behaved animals waiting for a home. Most shelters examine and vaccinate animals when they arrive, and many shelters spay or neuter them before adoption. In addition to providing medical care, more and more shelters and rescue groups screen animals for specific temperaments (“personality” characteristics) and behaviors to match pets with prospective owners.

It is a common belief that animals end up in shelters because they were abused or behaved badly. In truth, most animals in shelters are there because of “people reasons”: divorce, moving, lack of time, and financial constraints are among the most common reasons why pets lose their homes. Adopted pets are just as loving, intelligent, and loyal as purchased pets.

You'll Save Money

Adopting a pet from an animal shelter is much less expensive than buying a pet at a pet store or through other sources. Buying a pet can easily cost $500 to $1000 or more; adoption costs range from $50 to $200. In addition, animals from many shelters are already spayed or neutered and vaccinated, which makes the shelter’s fee a bargain. 

Although many shelters and rescue groups have purebred animals, an adopted mixed-breed pet may be healthier than a purebred pet (purebred pets are more likely to have genetic problems) and, therefore, cost less overall.

You Won’t Support Puppy or Kitten Mills

Puppy and kitten mills are factory-style breeding facilities that put profit above the welfare of animals. Most animals raised in these mills are housed in poor conditions with improper medical care. They are often in poor health and have ongoing behavior and health problems due to lack of human companionship and inbreeding. Mill animals are sold to unsuspecting consumers in pet stores, over the Internet, and through newspaper classified advertisements.

By adopting instead of buying a pet, you can be certain that you aren't supporting puppy or kitten mills.

You Can Choose a Pet of Any Age

Although puppies and kittens are cute, they can require a lot of work to train. An adult or older pet that is already trained may be a better fit for your lifestyle. For example, adopting an adult dog that is already housetrained and knows basic commands is often much easier than adopting a puppy.

You’re Likely to Have a Support System

Most pet stores don’t provide any support if you have questions or problems with your new pet. However, rescue groups do provide support for new owners because keeping pets in good homes is in the best interest of these groups.

Search for adoptable pets on Web sites like Petfinder.comand theshelterpetproject.org or contact your local shelter for adoptable pets in your area.

Keep your cat safe in the summer (all the things you didn't know you needed to worry about)

 

  • When temperatures outside reach dangerous levels, the temperature inside the house can, too. Keep fresh water available, and make sure your cat has a cool place to spend the day.
  • Bring your cat indoors if a heat advisory is issued, or if severe weather (heavy rain, high winds, flooding) is expected.
  • Keep vaccines up to date, have your cat spayed or neutered, and continue parasite control throughout the summer.
  • Regardless of whether your cat spends time outdoors, exposure to dangerously high temperatures, environmental hazards, and physical dangers is possible. Knowing what to look for is the first step toward protecting your cat from potential summer hazards.
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What Should I Know About Warmer Temperatures and Heatstroke?

Cats that don’t go outside are protected from many warm weather hazards, but only if the temperature inside the home remains within a healthy range. In an effort to reduce energy usage and costs, some pet owners shut off fans and air conditioning when they leave the house in the morning and turn them on when they return later in the day. However, when temperatures outside reach dangerous levels, temperatures inside the house can, too. Being shut inside a hot house can be dangerous for your cat. Like dogs, cats can rely on panting to cool themselves off. When the temperature in the environment increases, panting becomes less effective. This means that your cat could be locked inside with minimal options for cooling down. 

Instead of turning off the air conditioner, try leaving it on a conservative but comfortable setting (perhaps 76°F) while you are out. Make sure your cat has plenty of fresh water, and consider closing curtains to reduce the heating effects of sunlight through the windows. If there are parts of the house that are likely to be cooler, make sure your cat has access to those areas.

Cats that go outside need even more protection from hot weather. Access to clean drinking water is essential, as well as making sure cool, shaded areas are available if your cat wants to get out of the sun. Remember, however, that fleas also tend to like cool, shaded, moist areas, so be sure to use a safe and effective flea control product on your cat. Cats should not be left outside for long periods of time in the summer and should always have the option of coming inside. It’s important to be aware of the risk of heatstroke so you can keep your cat safe and healthy.

Cats tend not to develop heatstroke as commonly as dogs do, perhaps because cats tend not to exercise with humans and spend less time in the car. However, even a few minutes in a car (even with the windows cracked) on a hot day can be deadly for a cat. Research has shown that on a partly cloudy, 93°F day, a car can heat up to 120°F in just 15 minutes. Even cooler days can be deadly.  A similar test conducted on a 71°F day determined that the temperature inside a car parked in the sun with the windows cracked open went up to 116°F in 1 hour.

Even cats that are used to being outside can suffer during hot weather. Remember that young, elderly, or sick cats are more likely to become dehydrated or otherwise ill as a result of heat exposure. If a severe heat advisory is issued in your area and humans are advised to stay indoors, it is a good idea to bring your cat indoors, too. If your cat cannot be brought indoors, a ventilated or air-conditioned garage or mud room can provide enough shelter in some cases. Cats should also be brought inside if severe weather is expected, as heavy rain, flooding, and high winds can be hazardous, especially for cats that are hiding under cars or in other low-lying areas.

Why Are Strange Animals and Other Cats Hazardous?

Cats that are allowed to roam outside are more likely to have encounters with other cats and wild animals during the summer months. Such encounters increase the risk of bite wounds, scratches, and other injuries related to fighting. Infectious diseases such as rabies and feline AIDS can be transmitted through bite wounds. Additionally, female cats’ fertility cycles are linked to the length of time they are exposed to daylight. Female cats tend to start going into heat in the spring, and they may go into and out of heat repeatedly for several months. Unwanted pregnancies and litters of kittens increase dramatically in the summer, which contributes to pet overpopulation, the spread of infectious diseases, and other issues.

Protect your cat from these hazards by having him or her spayed or neutered and keeping vaccines up-to-date. Keeping cats indoors not only protects them from a variety of animal encounters, it also prevents them from being injured or killed by cars.   

What Toxic Chemicals Might My Pet Be Exposed To?

Lawn chemicals and fertilizers, insect repellants and sprays, weed control products, antifreeze, slug bait, ant bait, rat poison, and pool chemicals are just a few toxic chemicals your cat may encounter in your home or on your property. Learn more about dangerous chemicals at the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/.   

How Can I Prevent Bee Stings and Related Hazards?

Bee stings, spider bites, and other related injuries are common in cats. Keeping your cat indoors reduces the risk of these things, but it is a good idea to check around your home (inside and out) for beehives, wasp nests, and other hazards your family and pets may encounter.  Don’t forget to also check garages and storage sheds.

How Can I Prevent Fleas, Ticks, and Other Parasites?

Fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites (like roundworms and hookworms) are year-round hazards for your cat. However, increased exposure to the outdoors and certain parasite life stages during the warmer months makes these predators more of a concern during the summer. Be sure to keep your cat up-to-date on fecal parasite testing, and make sure you continue flea, tick, and parasite prevention during the summer months. If your cat receives heartworm preventive medication, continue this during the summer (heartworm disease is carried by mosquitoes, which are mostly active from the spring through the fall). If you are using a flea and tick control product for your cat, be sure you purchase the correct product and that you are using it properly. Never use a dog product on a cat.  Ask your veterinarian about the best ways to protect your cat from fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites.

What Should I Know About Toxic Plants?

Your cat may encounter toxic houseplants (such as elephant ear and dieffenbachia) at any time of the year, but plants that flower in warm weather, like daisies, dahlias, lilies, and chrysanthemums, are also toxic and create additional hazards for cats that go outside. Information about poisonous houseplants and outdoor plants and flowers is available at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/.

These common household items are poisonous to your cat

  • Many common food items or household products can sicken or even kill animals.
  • Be aware of what substances may be toxic to your pet, and store and use them safely.
  • If you think your pet has eaten something poisonous, call your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline immediately.
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The Basics

Your home can hold a lot of unrecognized dangers for your pet. Many common food items or household products can sicken or even kill animals. However, a few simple precautions can help keep your pet safe.

Pets are not “mini people.” Animals react to substances in food and medicines completely differently than people do, so just because something doesn’t make a person sick doesn’t mean it is okay for a pet. Also, most pets are much smaller than people, so what may seem like a harmless amount of a food or drug can make them ill.

Pets are curious. If something smells good, they’ll eat it. If they can get into a container, they will. Be aware of what substances may be toxic to your pet, and store and use them safely.

Chocolate

If you suspect that your pet has consumed any amount of any chocolate, call your veterinarian. However, not all chocolate is equally dangerous to pets. In general, the darker the chocolate, the more toxic it is to animals. Baker’s chocolate is the most dangerous because it contains the highest concentration of a substance called methylxanthine. Pets that eat too much of this substance can have vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and urination, hyperactivity, and, in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, and seizures.

Other Food

It is generally not a good idea to give your pet table food. Many human foods can cause digestive upset, which can be severe. Also, several common ingredients in human food can be toxic to pets. Just a few are:

  • Avocados
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Onions, garlic, and chives
  • Xylitol (a common sugar-free sweetener, often found in chewing gum and commercial baked goods, that can cause life-threatening liver failure)
  • Yeast dough

Some beverages, such as coffee and alcohol, can also be poisonous to pets.

Grapes are sometimes recommended as treats for dogs; however, cases of serious kidney damage related to eating grapes have been reported. Raisins have also been reported to be toxic to dogs.

In general, do not store or leave food meant for you and your family in a place where your pet may be able to get to it. Take special care during holiday seasons and festive occasions, when it is very easy to become distracted and leave food or drinks on a counter or coffee table.

Medicines

Never give your pet a medicine meant for people unless you’ve been told to by a veterinary professional. Many common over-the-counter drugs can be extremely toxic to pets. Don’t leave medicine bottles out where pets can reach them (a determined dog can chew through a childproof cap), and pick up any dropped pills immediately. Use the same caution with dietary supplements or with products you buy at a health food store.

Cleaning Products

Read the warning labels on the household cleaning products you use, and store as directed.

Outdoor Hazards

If you have a garage, shed, or garden, you probably have at least some of the following:

  • Plants: Learn which plants can be toxic to pets and under what circumstances. Tomatoes, for example, are in the nightshade family. Many lilies, flowers, and common ornamental shrubs can be toxic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) maintains a comprehensive online list (http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants).
  • Pest poisons: Poisons meant to kill rodents, insects, or weeds are very common causes of poisoning in pets. Be very careful how you apply and store any poisons around your home.
  • Garden products: Cocoa mulch, fertilizers, and compost piles are also unsafe for pets. Make sure any mulch or fertilizer you apply to your yard is safe for pets to play in (and possibly eat). Keep your pet out of areas treated with toxic products. Compost piles can grow bacteria and fungi that are highly toxic to pets, so if you have a compost pile, make sure your pet cannot get into it, and don’t compost dairy or meat items.
  • Garage chemicals: Any chemical in your garage can be dangerous to pets. Antifreeze, in particular, can be deadly. Store all chemicals out of reach of your pet (just as you would for children), and carefully mop up any spills.

In an Emergency… 

If your pet does eat something he or she shouldn’t, time is critical. Call your veterinarian or a pet poison hotline immediately and be prepared to describe the following:

  • What your pet ate
  • How long ago
  • How much

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center’s hotline number is 888-426-4435. The Pet Poison Helpline number is 800-213-6680. (Note: Callers will be charged a consultation fee.)

If possible, bring some of the substance, including any available packaging, with you if you are asked to bring your pet in for an examination.

Top 10 Pet Poisons

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center handles more than 100,000 cases of pet poisonings every year. Based on those cases, the top offenders are:

  • Human medicines
  • Insecticides
  • Human food
  • Rodenticides
  • Veterinary medicines that are given incorrectly (e.g., wrong medicine, wrong amount)
  • Plants
  • Chemicals (e.g., antifreeze, pool/spa chemicals)
  • Household cleaners (e.g., bleach, detergent)
  • Heavy metals (e.g., lead paint chips, linoleum)
  • Fertilizer

Popular toys that are actually bad for your cat

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  • To keep your pet safe, it’s important to know about pet toy hazards and how to avoid them.
  • If you are worried about the safety of your pet’s toys, talk to your veterinarian.
  • Contact your veterinarian if you see your pet swallow a piece of a toy or if your pet vomits, has diarrhea, or has abdominal pain after playing with a toy.

The Basics

Pet toys, whether homemade or purchased, can pose hazards to your pet, so it’s important to know what the hazards are and how to avoid them. When possible, supervise your pet while he or she plays with a toy. In addition, help keep your pet safe by following these toy safety tips:

  • Read and follow all safety information that comes with a toy.
  • Avoid toys with small parts that could detach and become a choking hazard.
  • Avoid toys with sharp edges and points.
  • Never give your pet balloons.
  • Never give your pet balls small enough to swallow.
  • Never point a laser pointer at your pet’s eyes. Laser pointers can damage a pet’s (or person’s) eyes.
  • Purchase well-constructed plush toys with tightly secured parts.
  • Toys with strings, ribbons, straps, or cords could wrap around your pet's neck. Always monitor your pet when he or she plays with these types of toys.
  • Discard all packaging for toys as soon as they have been opened.
  • Regularly inspect your pet’s toys to ensure that they are not damaged. Repair or discard damaged toys before your pet plays with them again.
  • Do not use your hands or fingers as pet toys. Teaching your pet that hands and fingers are toys could lead to unwanted biting or scratching of any person’s hands or fingers.
  • Use Frisbees specially made for dogs. Frisbees for humans are too hard and could chip a dog’s teeth.
  • Do not let your pet play with Christmas tree icicles, ribbon, rubber bands, paper clips, or plastic bags.
  • Give your pet chew toys that are indestructible or are designed to be safely digestible.
  • Do not give your pet chicken bones, which can splinter when chewed, possibly resulting in damage to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Do not let your pet play with children’s toys because they may not be safe for pets. In addition, pet toys may not be safe for children.

When to Contact Your Veterinarian

Feel free to ask your veterinarian for advice in choosing safe toys for your pet. Contact your veterinarian if you see your pet swallow a piece of a toyor if your pet vomits, has diarrhea, or has abdominal pain after playing with a toy.

Testing for Toxins

The American Pet Products Association (APPA) checks with its suppliers to ensure that products are tested for lead and other toxins. In addition, some pet supply companies randomly test their products for lead and other toxins. However, there are no national standards for allowable levels of lead and other toxins in pet toys. Most pet supply companies use the same standards used by the children's toy industry. If you are worried about lead or toxin levels in your pet’s toys, talk to your veterinarian.

Things you need to worry about in winter if you have a cat

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  • Cats are attracted to the sweet smell and taste of antifreeze, but if eaten, this toxin can quickly cause kidney failure.
  • Outdoor cats depend on people for their warmth and survival during the winter months; special steps need to be taken to keep these cats safe.
  • Holidays are a time for celebration but can pose multiple risks to cats. Lilies, chocolate, alcohol, ribbons, tinsel, and other common holiday items can all be dangerous to our feline companions.

What You Need to Know

Cats that spend time outdoors are exposed to various environmental and physical dangers. In the winter, cats are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia (low body temperature), just like humans. Cats should not be left outside for long periods of time in the winter and should always have the option of coming inside. It’s important to be aware of these risks, so you can keep your cat safe and healthy.

Colder Temperatures

Once temperatures start to dip below the freezing point, remember that any outdoor water will freeze. Cats need a constant supply of fresh, unfrozen water. For outdoor cats that only have access to outdoor water, heated water bowls can be used to keep water from freezing. If an electrical source is not available, water should be kept in a covered, enclosed space to prevent it from freezing quickly. Dog igloos filled with straw work well for outdoor cats, giving them a warm place to eat, drink, and keep dry from the winter elements. Heated pet mats are also helpful and will help a cat retain its body temperature, which is especially important for old or sick cats. It is important to only use heated products that are approved for pets.

Cats that spend a lot of time outdoors during the winter months use more calories in order to stay warm. Giving your cat a higher-quality, protein-rich food will help him or her stay warm and healthy. If your cat has any medical problems, consult your veterinarian before making any diet changes.

Outdoor cats may seek warmth under car hoods and can be injured or killed by the car’s fan belt. Before getting into your car, knock loudly on the hood to ensure that a cat is not hiding beneath.

Even cats that are used to being outside can suffer hypothermia and frostbite. If severe winter storm warnings or extreme cold weather alerts recommending that humans stay indoors are issued in your area, it is a good idea to bring your cat indoors, too. If your cat cannot be brought indoors, a garage or mud room can provide enough shelter in some cases.

Antifreeze

Also known as ethylene glycol, antifreeze is probably one of the most common and dangerous winter toxins. Antifreeze is highly toxic, and cats are sometimes attracted to its sweet smell and taste. Once a cat drinks antifreeze, the toxin is rapidly absorbed, and signs such as vomiting, loss of coordination, and depression can appear within 1 hour. The kidneys are most severely affected by antifreeze, and even if signs start to improve with treatment, they may have already started to shut down. Acute kidney failure can occur within 12 to 24 hours after ingestion of antifreeze, so it is important to take your cat to the vet immediately if you suspect he or she has drunk even a small amount of antifreeze.

Salt and Chemical Ice Melts

Cats that walk on sidewalks or pathways that have been de-iced can have chapped, dry, painful paws. Also, because cats tend to lick their paws, they can be exposed to toxic chemicals found in some ice melts. Pet-safe ice melt products can be purchased at most home improvement and pet stores. However, not everyone in the neighborhood may use these products, so it is important to wash your cat’s feet with a warm cloth after he or she comes in from being outside.

Holiday Hazards

The holidays pose many risks to cats. Chocolate, alcohol, onions, and coffee are some of the popular party supplies that can cause health problems in your cat. A common holiday plant is the lily, found in many holiday arrangements. Lilies are poisonous to cats. If a cat eats any part of a lily, initial signs of poisoning could include lethargy (tiredness) and a lack of appetite, but kidney failure can occur within 36 to 72 hours. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you think your cat has eaten any part of a lily plant.

Most cats love tinsel and ribbon, which, if eaten, can damage the intestines, requiring surgery. Keep these items out of reach of your cat.

Cover up electrical cords to prevent them from dangling and being mistaken for cat toys. If chewed, these cords could electrocute your cat.

More Cold-Weather Tips

The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) has more cold-weather tips at its website: www.aspca.org. Additional information about toxic houseplants, antifreeze, and other winter toxins is available at the Animal Poison Control Center: http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/poison-control/.

Do I really need to brush my cat's teeth?

  • 85% of all pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years of age.
  • Dental disease can result in bad breath, painful chewing, and tooth loss.
  • Bacteria under the gum can travel to the heart, kidneys, and liver.
  • A professional dental cleaning is required to remove plaque and tartar from a pet’s teeth and to assess the health of the mouth.
  • A thorough dental cleaning requires that the pet be under anesthesia.
  • Regular, at-home dental care can help improve the health of your pet’s mouth and lengthen the intervals between professional dental cleanings.
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It’s estimated that 85% of all pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years of age. Periodontal disease is a progressive disease of the supporting tissues surrounding teeth and the main cause of early tooth loss.

Periodontal disease starts when bacteria combine with food particles to form plaque on the teeth. Within days, minerals in the saliva bond with the plaque to form tartar, a hard substance that adheres to the teeth. The bacteria work their way under the gums and cause gingivitis—inflammation of the gums. Once under the gums, bacteria destroy the supporting tissue around the tooth, leading to tooth loss. This condition is known as periodontitis. Gingivitis and periodontitis make up the changes that are referred to as periodontal disease. The bacteria associated with periodontal disease can also travel in the bloodstream to infect the heart, kidneys, and liver.

A professional veterinary dental cleaning is the only way to remove tartar from the teeth and under the gum tissue to protect your pet’s health. With a professional dental cleaning and follow-up care, gingivitis is reversible. Periodontal disease is not reversible, but diligent at-home dental care and regular veterinary cleanings can slow down the progression of the condition.

What Is a Dental Cleaning?

During a dental cleaning (sometimes called a prophylaxis), (1) plaque and tartar are removed from a pet’s teeth and (2) the health of the entire mouth (tongue, gums, lips, and teeth) is assessed. A thorough dental cleaning can be accomplished only while the pet is under general anesthesia. Anesthesia keeps your pet free of pain during the dental procedure and allows your veterinarian to fully inspect the teeth and remove tartar from under the gums. During anesthesia, a soft plastic tube is inserted into the trachea (the main airway in the throat) to support the patient’s breathing. Placement of the tracheal tube also prevents inhalation of bacteria that are aerosolized during the dental cleaning.

A dental cleaning may include the following:

  • Removal of visible plaque and tartar from the teeth
  • Elimination of plaque and tartar from under the gum
  • Probing of dental sockets to assess dental disease
  • Polishing to smooth enamel scratches that may attract bacteria
  • Dental radiographs (x-rays) to evaluate problems below the gum line
  • Application of fluoride or a dental sealer
  • Removal or repair of fractured or infected teeth
  • Dental charting so progression of dental disease can be monitored over time
  • Inspection of the lips, tongue, and entire mouth for growths, wounds, or other problems

How Do I Know if My Pet Needs a Dental Cleaning?

Regular inspection of your pet’s mouth is important to catch dental disease in the early stages. Tartar may appear as a brownish-gold buildup on the teeth, close to the gum line. Redness or bleeding along the gum line may indicate gingivitis. Other signs of dental disease include:

  • Bad breath
  • Drooling
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Loose or missing teeth

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

What Are the Benefits of a Dental Cleaning?

A professional dental cleaning removes not only the visible plaque and tartar on the teeth surfaces but also the bacteria under the gums. This eliminates potential sources of infection to the mouth and other organs and protects your pet from pain and tooth loss.

What Can I Do to Keep My Pet’s Teeth Clean?

Once a dental cleaning has been performed, you can take a number of steps at home to keep your pet’s teeth clean and lengthen the intervals between dental cleanings.

Your veterinarian may recommend a plaque prevention product—a substance that you apply to your pet’s teeth and gums on a weekly basis. The product adheres to the teeth surface to create a barrier that prevents plaque from forming.

Just as in people, daily brushing can help remove food particles from between your pet’s teeth. You can use a child’s toothbrush or purchase a finger brush from your veterinarian. Human toothpastes should be avoided because they contain ingredients that should not be swallowed by your pet. Your dog or cat may like the taste of pet toothpaste, which is available in flavors such as chicken, seafood, and malt.

Several dental diets and treats can also help keep plaque and tartar to a minimum. The diets tend to have larger kibbles to provide abrasive action against the tooth surface when chewed. Or they may contain ingredients that help prevent tartar mineralization. Ask your veterinarian which diets or treats are appropriate for your pet.

Why do I have to vaccinate my cat?

  • Vaccination is an important weapon against infectious diseases.
  • Some diseases, like rabies, are transmissible to humans, so protecting your pets also protects your family members and community.
  • Pets that stay indoors also can be exposed to infectious diseases, so even indoor cats can benefit from vaccinations.
  • Vaccines are safe and generally well tolerated by most pets.
  • Vaccine selection and scheduling should be an individualized choice that you and your veterinarian make together.
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Companion animals today have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives than ever before, in part due to the availability of vaccines that can protect pets from deadly infectious diseases. Over the past several decades, the widespread use of vaccines against diseases like rabies has saved the lives of millions of pets and driven some diseases into relative obscurity. Unfortunately, infectious diseases still pose a significant threat to dogs and cats that are unvaccinated; therefore, although vaccine programs have been highly successful, pet owners and veterinarians cannot afford to be complacent about the importance of keeping pets up-to-date on their vaccinations.

How Do Vaccines Work?

Although there are many types of vaccines, they tend to work through a similar principle. Most vaccines contain a very small portion of the virus or bacterium that is the infectious agent. Some vaccines contain small quantities of the entire virus or bacterium, whereas others contain particles that are part of the infectious organism. When this material is introduced into the body in a vaccine, the body’s immune system responds through a series of steps that include making antibodies and modifying other cells that will recognize the target organism later. When the vaccinated individual encounters the “real” organism later, the body recognizes the organism and reacts to protect the vaccinated individual from becoming sick.

Why Does My Pet Need Vaccines?

Vaccines protect your pet

Vaccines are one of our most important weapons against infectious diseases. Some diseases, such as “kennel cough,” in dogs and rhinotracheitis in cats can be transmitted directly from pet to pet. If your pet is ever around other animals, such as at a kennel, dog park, grooming salon, or daycare facility, exposure to infectious disease is possible. Even pets that look healthy on the outside may be sick, so keeping your pet’s vaccines up-to-date is a good way to help prevent illness.

Even primarily indoor pets can be exposed to diseases

Even if your pet doesn’t have direct contact with other animals, some diseases can be transmitted indirectly. For example, parvovirus infection, which is potentially fatal, is spread through contact with feces from an infected dog. Even if your dog never has contact with a dog infected with parvovirus, exposure to the virus can occur through contact with feces from an infected dog, such as in a park or on a beach. Lyme disease—a dangerous infection that is carried by ticks—is another disease that your dog can be exposed to without coming into contact with other dogs.

In cats, panleukopenia infection is potentially fatal and spread through contact with body fluids (mostly urine and feces) from an infected cat. Once a cat is infected with panleukopenia, it may shed virus in body fluids for a few days or up to six weeks. Panleukopenia can live in the environment (such as on contaminated bedding, food bowls, litter boxes, and other items) for a very long time, so contact with contaminated objects can spread the infection to other cats. Additionally, if a pet owner is handling an infected cat, failure to change clothes and wash hands thoroughly with the correct disinfectant can expose other cats to the disease.

So, even pets that spend most of their lives indoors or have very limited contact with other animals are not completely safe from exposure to infectious diseases.

Vaccines protect your family and community

Some infectious diseases, such as leptospirosis in dogs and rabies in dogs and cats, are zoonotic diseases. That means humans also can become infected.  In the case of rabies and leptospirosis, both diseases can cause serious illness and death in infected individuals – including humans. Protecting your pets against these diseases also protects the rest of your family members, as well as other pets and people in your community.

Are Vaccines Safe?

All of the available vaccines for dogs and cats have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe when administered as directed. Most pets tolerate vaccines very well, although reactions can occur in some cases. Some pets can seem a little “tired” after receiving vaccines. But notify your veterinarian if your pet develops breathing problems, facial swelling, vomiting, hives, redness on the skin, or other unusual changes after receiving a vaccine. You also should tell your veterinarian if your pet has ever had a problem in the past after receiving a vaccine.

Which Vaccines Does My Pet Need?

Many vaccines are available for dogs and cats, but every pet does not need to receive every available vaccine. So how do you know which vaccines your pet should have? The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) have summarized vaccine recommendations to help veterinarians clarify how to best protect dogs and cats through the use of vaccine programs. AAHA and AAFP evaluated the available vaccines and categorized them to provide guidelines on how commonly they should be used. Vaccines are categorized as core, non-core, or not recommended. A core vaccine is one that all pets should receive. The core vaccines for dogs are rabies, distemper, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus; and the core vaccines for cats are rabies, rhinotracheitis (feline herpesvirus-1), panleukopenia (feline distemper), and calicivirus. Non-core vaccines are optional ones that pets can benefit from based on their risk for exposure to the disease. Examples include the vaccines against Lyme disease and leptospirosis in dogs, and the vaccines against feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus (or feline AIDS) in cats. Categorization of a vaccine as “not recommended” does not mean that the vaccine is bad or dangerous. This designation simply means that widespread use of the vaccine is not currently recommended.

Because core vaccines are recommended for all pets, your veterinarian will recommend keeping these vaccines up-to-date at all times. The decision regarding non-core vaccines should be made after you and your veterinarian have discussed the vaccines in question and whether your pet might benefit from receiving them. Factors to consider include your pet’s lifestyle (how much time your pet spends outside), where you live, where you travel with your pet, and how often your pet has contact with other animals. Bear in mind that vaccine recommendations and your pet’s lifestyle can change. Your veterinarian may want to discuss modifying the vaccine recommendations to ensure that your pet is well protected.

What Is The Recommended Schedule For Vaccines? 

Puppies and kittens generally receive their first vaccines when they are around six to eight weeks of age (depending on the vaccine and manufacturer’s recommendations). Booster vaccines are generally given during your puppy or kitten checkup visits; your veterinarian can discuss the recommended schedule with you. Vaccines are generally repeated a year later.

Although puppies and kittens are considered especially vulnerable to some diseases, it is also very important for adult pets to be up-to-date on vaccines. Traditionally, many vaccines were repeated yearly, during regular checkup examinations. However, research has shown that some vaccines can protect pets for longer than one year. In light of these findings, the AAHA and AAFP guidelines note that some vaccines don't need to be repeated more frequently than every three years. The decision regarding how often your pet needs vaccine boosters depends on several factors, including your pet’s overall health status and risk for exposure to the diseases in question. Your veterinarian may recommend annual boosters after considering your pet’s lifestyle and disease exposure risk. The decision regarding how often to administer any vaccine (annually, every three years, or not at all) should be an individualized choice that you and your veterinarian make together.

Vaccination remains one of the most important services your veterinarian offers, and although vaccination is a routine procedure, it should not be taken for granted. It also allows a regular opportunity for your veterinarian to perform a physical examination, which is very important for keeping your pet healthy. Protecting patients is your veterinarian’s primary goal, and developing an appropriate vaccine protocol for your pet is as important as any other area of medicine.

How do I know if my cat is sick?

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  • Any change in your cat’s normal behavior, such as increased lethargy (tiredness), changes in appetite, weight loss, or hiding in the house may be indications that your cat is ill.
  • Male cats that frequent the litter box but are unable to urinate should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
  • If your cat has eaten string, and a portion of the string is still visible, leave the string in place, and see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • If your cat becomes ill outside of normal clinic business hours, call an emergency veterinary clinic for guidance.
  • Some illnesses require immediate veterinary attention, so when in doubt, call a veterinary professional.

How Can I Tell if My Cat Is Sick?

Any decreases in energy level, appetite, or weight may signal that your cat is not feeling well. If your male cat is squatting to urinate, but no urine appears, call your veterinarian immediately. It is common for the urinary tract in male cats to become blocked. This condition is not only extremely painful; it’s a medical emergency.

It is also common for cats to ingest string, yarn, or dental floss, which can cause problems in the intestinal tract. If you notice a string hanging from your cat’s mouth or anus, do not pull the string out. Leave the string in place and bring your cat to the nearest veterinary clinic.

Other signs that your cat may be ill include:

  • Bloody urine or accidents outside the litter box
  • Increased drinking and/or urination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or bloody stools
  • Constipation
  • Sneezing or nasal discharge
  • Runny eyes or holding one eyelid shut
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Limping or inability to use hind legs
  • Unusual lumps, bumps, or swellings
  • Bad breath or excessive drooling
  • Hiding or yowling

If you are concerned that your cat may have a fever, you can measure its temperature with a thermometer in the rectum. Normal temperature for a cat is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If your cat’s temperature is above or below this range, contact your veterinarian.

What Should I Do if I Suspect That My Cat Is Sick?

If your cat shows signs of illness, don’t wait—call your veterinarian at once. If it is outside of normal clinic business hours, contact an emergency veterinary clinic. Some illnesses may require immediate veterinary attention, so it’s in your cat’s best interest for you to ask if it needs to be seen right away.

If your cat goes outdoors, you may not always know when he or she has been exposed to toxins or suffered trauma from cars, dogs, or cat fights. Internal injuries may not be immediately apparent, but should be attended to as soon as possible. If you suspect that your cat may have been injured, call your veterinarian.

My cat has arthritis—what do I do?

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Arthritis is a joint problem that can reduce a cat’s mobility and cause severe, chronic pain. You can improve life for your arthritic cat by doing the following:

  • Help your cat get or stay slim so that unnecessary weight doesn’t increase the load on your cat’s joints, resulting in more pain and inflammation. Ask your veterinarian to recommend an exercise program and a diet that are appropriate for your cat.
  • Because arthritis is aggravated by the cold and damp, keep your cat warm and dry. Padded cat beds can help.  
  • Apply warm compresses to soothe your cat’s affected joints. Make sure the compress is not too hot, which can burn the skin.
  • Learn how massage can increase your cat’s flexibility, circulation, and sense of well-being. Professional animal massage therapists are available.
  • Ask your veterinarian about medication to help manage your cat’s arthritis. Never give your cat a drug without your veterinarian’s recommendation. Many human and canine pain relievers are poisonous to cats. Your veterinarian may prescribe the following:
    • Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis.
    • Corticosteroids, which can suppress arthritis-associated inflammation for short periods of time.
    • Disease-modifying osteoarthritis drugs (DMOADs), which can be an important part of managing arthritis.
  • Ask your veterinarian about glucosamine, chondroitin, and other joint supplements that can be used to help manage arthritis in animals.
  • Consider acupuncture for your cat. This procedure is painless and has shown some success in animals.
  • Consider surgery for advanced cases of feline arthritis. Your veterinarian can tell you more.
  • Provide your cat with a low-stress environment, plenty of affection, and aids such as:
    • Slip-free flooring
    • Soft bedding
    • Ramps (instead of steps)
    • Help with grooming (regular brushing)
  • Caution: Many human and canine pain relievers are poisonous to cats.

How to give your cat eye medication

  • Many eye conditions in cats require medicine to be put directly into the eye.  
  • Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely.
  • Always put health and safety first. If the procedure seems dangerous to you or very painful for your pet, stop and consult your veterinarian.
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The Basics

Many eye conditions in cats require medicine to be put directly into the eye. This procedure can be relatively easy, as long as you follow a few simple guidelines. The most important guideline is to always put health and safety first. If, for any reason, your cat becomes so agitated that you feel you are at risk of being bitten, stop. If the procedure seems excessively painful for your cat, stop and get your veterinarian’s advice.

Follow Recommendations

The eye is a very delicate structure. It is very important to closely follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for medicating your cat’s eye. Treating too frequently or too aggressively can make the problem worse, not better. Sensitive, already inflamed parts of the eye can be damaged.

It is important to use only medicines prescribed by a veterinarian and to treat for the full length of time prescribed. Do not stop treatment early, even if the problem seems to be resolved.

What You Need

  • Safe work area
  • Eye medication prescribed by your veterinarian
  • Moist cotton balls or tissues

Technique

There are several techniques for applying eye medication. Only one is described here. Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate application of the prescribed medicine and follow his or her recommendations.

  • If necessary, gently restrain your cat (see Restraining Your Cat, below). You may need a helper.
  • Using moistened cotton balls or tissues, gently wipe away any discharge from around the eye.
  • Hold the affected eye open with the fingers of one hand.  If the medication is liquid (eye drops), hold the upper and lower eyelids apart; if the medication is an ointment, gently pull down on the lower eyelid to create a small gap between the lid and the eye. You may see a white membrane (the third eyelid) partly covering the eye.
  • With your other hand, gently squeeze the prescribed amount of medicine into the eye. Drops can be applied to the center of the eye or in the gap between the eye and the lower lid; ointment can be placed in the gap. Do not touch your cat’s eye with the medicine container or your fingers.
  • Note: If an eye medication requires refrigeration, do not store it at room temperature; however, allow it to reach room temperature before use to make it more comfortable for your pet.
  • Either allow your pet to blink to move the medicine across the eye, or, using a very light touch, hold the eye closed for a moment and gently massage.
  • Use cotton balls or tissues to gently wipe away any excess medication or discharge.
  • Reward your cat with a treat.

Contact your veterinarian if you have questions or difficulty administering any medication.

Signs of Eye Trouble

  • Excessive tearing
  • Discharge
  • Red eyelids
  • Third eyelid visible
  • Squinting or closing eye
  • Cloudy or dull-looking surface; visible mark on surface
  • Pawing at face
  • Swelling or bulging around, near, or in eye

Restraining Your Cat

Keeping your cat still while you medicate his or her eye is important so that you do not accidentally damage the eye or touch the eye with the medicine container. Here are some tips:

  • Place your cat in your lap and allow him or her to lie down flat on his or her side. Put one arm—the one you will use to hold the eye open—on top of your pet’s body, and use your upper arm and elbow to help keep him or her still. Do not use excessive force to hold your cat still.
  • If your cat will not stay in your lap, you can use the same method while seated on the floor. Your cat may be more comfortable sitting upright. 
  • Alternatively, cats can be wrapped in a large towel and held against your body, leaving only the head free. Be sure not to wrap your cat too tightly.
  • If your cat struggles, talk to him or her calmly. Stop if he or she becomes extremely agitated.