Help! My cat is obese! What do I do?



  • Approximately half of the pets in the United States are either overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity include increased risk for joint disease, heart and respiratory problems, and diabetes.
  • As with humans, weight management is not a quick fix, and the associated goals and lifestyle changes should be long-term in order to be successful.

Why Is Weight Control Important?

Currently, studies estimate that approximately half of the pets in the United States are either overweight or obese. The health consequences of obesity in pets include increased risk for joint disease, heart and respiratory problems, and diabetes. Some researchers also have redefined obesity as a chronic inflammatory condition that can have other harmful effects in the body. Being overweight is not cute and it is not just a nuisance; it is now being recognized as a medical problem that should be managed long-term to reduce associated health risks.

On the positive side, research has shown that keeping dogs lean can increase their lifespans by as much as 2 years. While the same research has not been done in cats, it stands to reason that eliminating the health risks associated with obesity could extend their lives as well.

Why Is Weight Control So Difficult?

Despite the fact that many of us struggle to help our pets lose weight, the formula for weight management is actually rather simple—if calories burned through activity exceed calories taken in through food and treats, weight loss will occur. Unfortunately, this formula can seem difficult to implement for several reasons.

First, many pet owners don’t know the daily calorie requirements for a dog or cat. Even for a conscientious pet owner, it can be difficult to understand pet food labels and realize how many calories a pet is eating. Sometimes (especially when there are several family members who interact with a pet), it can be difficult to know exactly how much and how often your pet is eating. Even if you think your pet may not be eating too much, weight gain can happen so gradually that you are unaware of it until the problem is obvious to an outside observer. Also, sometimes life just gets in the way and things like exercise can slip by the wayside.

How Is Obesity Diagnosed?

Most human physicians use body mass index scales (tables that compare height to weight) to help determine if a patient is overweight. Many veterinarians are now using a relatively standardized system called body condition scoring to help determine if pets are overweight. There is a 5-point scale in which a dog or cat that has a body condition score (BCS) of 3 is at the ideal weight, a score of 1 to 2 indicates the pet is underweight, and pets with a score between 4 and 5 are overweight or obese. There is also a similar 9-point scale in which a score of 4 to 5 is considered ideal weight, 1 to 3 is underweight, and 6 to 9 is overweight or obese.

If your pet’s BCS is not ideal, your veterinarian may begin the discussion with you by asking what your pet eats each day and how much exercise he or she gets. Some pet owners are surprised when they add up how much food, treats, and table scraps a pet may consume in a day. Your veterinarian may also want to discuss diagnostic testing to investigate any medical problems, such as thyroid disease, that can affect a pet’s body weight.

How Can I Tip the Scale in My Pet’s Favor?

Once you and your veterinarian determine that your pet has a weight problem, and underlying medical concerns have been addressed, the next steps involve deciding how to correct the problem. As with humans, weight management is not a quick fix; the associated goals and lifestyle changes should be long-term in order to be successful. Here are some tips that can help get weight loss started and keep it going:

  • Pick reasonable weight loss goals: Your veterinarian can help you determine how many calories your pet needs each day, and how many pounds your pet needs to lose. Once this information is understood, your veterinarian can work with you to develop a healthy, reasonable schedule for meeting specific weight loss goals.
  • Start with a plan that is going to work for you and your pet: Your veterinarian may recommend increased activity (such as leash walks, swimming, or other exercise) along with dietary modifications to help your pet lose weight. Talk frankly with your veterinarian about how much time and effort you can commit to your pet’s weight loss program. If leash walks are not possible, or you can’t change your pet’s diet, ask about other options. If your pet has joint problems, like osteoarthritis, you may need to address joint pain before your pet is willing to become more active. You and your veterinarian need to work together to find the best weight management solutions. There are generally many ways to approach weight loss—there is even a “diet pill” formulated for dogs to help them lose weight. However, there is no diet pill for cats, and exercise can be a particular challenge for indoor cats. Talk to your veterinarian about ways to increase activity that will work for you and your pet. 
  • Commit to your pet: This can be challenging because it means understanding that your pet’s obesity is a problem that you need to commit to solving without making yourself feel guilty. Perhaps some mistakes were made, but having an overweight pet does not mean you are a bad person. So start the process by giving yourself a break. Pointing fingers does not solve the problem—try to focus instead on what is going to happen from today forward!
  • Measure: Measure the amount of food you are feeding your pet each day. If you don’t know how much you are feeding, there is no way to know how many calories your pet is eating. Don’t forget to check the number of calories in treats, as these can also add up on a daily basis. If you must give treats, consider low-calorie alternatives, like raw carrots, green beans, or air-popped popcorn for dogs.
  • Learn how to overcome barriers to success: Barriers to success include giving treats or extra food, letting the overweight or obese pet have access to another pet’s food, or feeling guilty and giving in when your pet begs for food. Other barriers are exhibited by the pets themselves and include refusal to eat a diet food or to exercise. Inability to overcome these barriers on a daily basis will doom any weight loss program to failure.  Talk to your veterinarian about ways to overcome them.
  • Understand the importance of this lifestyle change:Being overweight increases the risk of certain medical conditions and can shorten your pet’s life. It may be difficult to withhold treats and table food from a pet that is used to getting them, but before you give in, think about the big picture! If you want your pet to be healthy and to live a longer life, weight management needs to be part of that plan.
  • Make monitoring fun: Your veterinarian may recommend seeing your pet for periodic weight checks to keep track of how your weight management program is progressing. Try to make this as much fun as possible. Consider scheduling an extra trip to the park for a walk after each weigh-in. Or take a trip to a pet store for a new toy after key weight loss goals are achieved. Some veterinarians offer programs to help encourage you through the weight loss process, like posting “before” and “after” photos of pets. This can give your self-esteem a boost, as well as encourage another pet owner who may still be struggling with his or her pet’s weight problem.

How do I stop my cat from itching?

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In some cases, multiple problems contribute to itching in pets.

  • Scratching can quickly lead to skin damage, bleeding, hair loss, scabs, and secondary skin infections with bacteria or fungal organisms.
  • Treatment for an itchy pet can require a long-term commitment. You should maintain communication with your veterinarian, especially if a treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, or if your pet seems to be responding negatively to a treatment.
  • Itching is one of the most common problems veterinarians encounter in practice. The causes can include allergies, parasite infestation (for example, fleas or mites), skin infections, or a variety of other conditions. Keeping the pet comfortable while trying to figure out what is causing the itching can present a challenge for you and your veterinarian.

What Causes Itching?

Itching can make pets absolutely miserable, but it is actually a sign of an underlying problem. For example, if the pet has an allergy, exposure to the allergen causes a series of events to happen within the animal’s body. Part of this series of events involves causing certain cells in the pet’s skin to release a chemical called histamine. When released into the skin, histamine is very irritating and leads to itching. (Histamine is also involved in allergic reactions in people.) Medications that target histamine are called antihistamines. However, histamine is only part of the story. In pets, allergic reactions also cause the release of several other chemicals that contribute to irritation, inflammation, and itching, but antihistamines can’t counteract the effects of all these other agents. Some bacteria and fungal organisms (which can be introduced into the skin during scratching) also release chemicals that irritate nerve endings in the skin and cause itching. If an itchy pet doesn’t respond to an antihistamine, it may be because histamine is not playing a large role in the itching that the pet is experiencing.

Less commonly, some animals chew or lick themselves excessively as a compulsive behavior, usually as the result of stress. These kinds of behaviors are caused by the brain and are called psychogenic behaviors.

These many factors are important when considering therapy for itching. Some pets with allergies can do fairly well just on antihistamines, but most other pets need other interventions to help control their problem.

What Are Clinical Signs of Itching?

The clinical signs associated with itching can be mild or very severe:

  • Licking
  • Biting
  • Scratching
  • Rubbing
  • Twitching the skin

Some pets may seem generally agitated, stop suddenly while walking to turn around and scratch, or whine as they are scratching. Scratching can quickly lead to skin damage, bleeding, hair loss, scabs, and secondary skin infections with bacteria or fungal organisms.

How Is Itching Diagnosed?

Itching is a response to another condition, so identifying the cause of the itching is as important as treating the itch. Your veterinarian will likely begin the process with a complete medical history and physical examination of your pet. Your veterinarian may also recommend diagnostic testing that can include the following:

  • Combing your pet to look for fleas
  • Taking samples of hair and skin cells to look for mites and other skin parasites
  • Culture testing to identify bacteria or fungal organisms
  • Allergy testing
  • Blood work to look for underlying medical issues that can affect the skin

If the problem has been chronic or recurring, your veterinarian will likely ask about what therapies have been tried in the past and whether they were successful. This history can provide useful information about the nature of the underlying problem.

How Is Itching Treated?

Managing an itchy pet can involve combining several approaches, because multiple factors can be contributing to the problem. For example, if a pet has an underlying allergy problem that is complicated by a flea infestation in addition to a bacterial or fungal infection, all of these issues may need to be addressed. In this situation, be sure to clear up any questions about your pet’s diagnosis or therapy to minimize confusion and frustration during the course of treatment.

Treatment for an itchy pet can require a long-term commitment. Because pets respond differently to medications, your veterinarian may need to revise the treatment plan as therapy is progressing. It is important to maintain communication with your veterinarian, especially if a treatment doesn’t seem to be helping, or if your pet seems to be responding negatively to a treatment.

  • Topical products: Your veterinarian may recommend a topical product of your pet has mild or localized itching, or as supportive therapy for more generalized conditions. Examples may include moisturizers, ointments, and lotions. These products may need to be applied frequently (sometimes several times daily) to help ease itching. Be sure to follow all label directions, and consult your veterinarian with any questions.
  • Shampoos: Medicated shampoos can help some pets suffering with itchy skin. The effects of medicated shampoos may last for a few days; some shampoos can be used along with a leave-on conditioner to extend the effects. If you are unable to bathe your pet, another option should be discussed.
  • Medications: For many pets, corticosteroids (steroids) provide more relief from itching than many other forms of treatment. A variety of products are available, and they can be given as pills, liquid, or by injection. However, corticosteroids have some side effects, and not every pet is a candidate for this treatment. Your veterinarian will evaluate your pet and determine if corticosteroids are a good option. Some pets with itching do well when given antihistamines, and if your pet has a bacterial or fungal skin infection, medications are commonly used to treat those infections.  There is also a formulation of cyclosporine that can help dogs with some types of skin allergies.
  • Supplements: Fatty acid supplements and other nutritional supplements can help some pets with skin itching. However, various formulations are available using fish oils, vegetable oils, and other combinations, and effectiveness can vary. Ask your veterinarian if a nutritional supplement can help your pet.

In some cases, therapies work best for a particular animal when they are combined. One pet may do very well receiving a combination of antihistamines with a shampoo and a nutritional supplement, whereas another pet may not. If your pet is not responding to therapy, contact your veterinarian to see if modifications may be helpful.

Human foods that are dangerous for dogs and cats



  • Some human foods can cause serious illness (and even death) in dogs and cats.
  • Pets should not be given human food unless recommended by your veterinarian.
  • If you suspect your pet may have eaten a dangerous food, contact your veterinarian immediately.

What Do I Need to Know About Foods That Are Dangerous for My Pet?

A number of human foods are dangerous to pets. Many of these foods may seem tasty to our pets but can prove deadly if eaten. It can be very tempting to offer pets food from the table, but pets should not be given human food unless recommended by your veterinarian.

If you suspect your pet may have eaten a dangerous food, contact your veterinarian immediately. In many cases, early recognition and treatment are critical.


Xylitol is an artificial sweetener found in products such as gum, candy, mints, toothpaste, and mouthwash. Xylitol is harmful to dogs because it causes a sudden release of insulin in the body that leads to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).  Xylitol can also cause liver damage in dogs. Within 30 minutes after eating, the dog may vomit, be lethargic (tired), and/or be uncoordinated.  However, some signs of toxicity can also be delayed for hours or even for a few days. Xylitol toxicity in dogs can be fatal if untreated. It is unknown whether xylitol is toxic to cats. 

Chocolate, Coffee, and Caffeine

Chocolate contains theobromine, a chemical that is toxic to dogs in large enough quantities. Chocolate also contains caffeine, which is found in coffee, tea, and certain soft drinks. Different types of chocolate contain different amounts of theobromine and caffeine. For example, dark chocolate and baking chocolate contain more of these compounds than milk chocolate does, so a dog would need to eat more milk chocolate in order to become ill. However, even a few ounces of chocolate can be enough to cause illness in a small dog, so no amount or type of chocolate should be considered “safe” for a dog to eat. Chocolate toxicity can cause vomiting, diarrhea, rapid or irregular heart rate, restlessness, muscle tremors, and seizures. Death can occur within 24 hours of ingestion.

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins can cause acute (sudden) kidney failure in cats and dogs. It is unknown what the toxic agent is in these fruits. However, clinical signs can occur within 24 hours of eating and include vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy (tiredness). Other signs of illness relate to the eventual shutdown of kidney functioning.   


The avocado tree leaves, pits, fruit, and plant bark are likely all toxic. Clinical signs in dogs and cats include vomiting and diarrhea.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic and onions contain chemicals that damage red blood cells in cats and dogs. Affected red blood cells can rupture or lose their ability to carry oxygen effectively. Cooking these foods does not reduce their potential toxicity. Fresh, cooked, and/or powdered garlic and/or onions are commonly found in baby food, which is sometimes given to animals when they are sick, so be sure to read food labels carefully. 

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia nuts are common in candies and chocolates. The mechanism of macadamia nut toxicity is not well understood, but clinical signs in dogs include depression, weakness, vomiting, tremors, joint pain, and pale gums. Clinical signs can occur within 12 hours after eating. In some cases, signs can resolve without treatment in 24 to 48 hours, but patient monitoring is strongly recommended.


Many cases of human food toxicity in pets are accidental. A pet may find and chew on a package of gum or candy, or steal food from a countertop or table. The best way to prevent this is to keep all food items in closed cabinets or in areas that are inaccessible to pets. This may be particularly difficult during the holiday season, when more candy, chocolate, fruit baskets, and other food items are around. During these times, increased vigilance can help prevent pets from finding and eating dangerous foods.

Unfortunately, some cases of food toxicity in pets occur when pets are given a human food that contains a dangerous component. In general, human food items should not be given to pets unless recommended by your veterinarian. Children should also be taught to never give candy, gum, or other human food items to pets.

If you suspect that your pet has eaten a potentially hazardous item, contact your veterinarian immediately.

For more information on human foods that are dangerous for pets, visit the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) Animal Poison Control Center at

How to pick the best cat food

  • Understanding pet food labels is the first step in choosing the right food to help make an optimal nutritional plan for a pet.
  • Animals require specific nutrients from the ingredients in their foods.
  • The new regulation to include calorie information on pet food labels might help decrease the number of overweight pets.

Pet owners can be passionate about choosing the best food for their pets, but with thousands of pet food products on the market, how do pet owners make the best choice? Pet food labels are a good place to start. Understanding the label information can help pet owners make informed decisions about the food they feed their pets.

Which Part of the Label Helps Assess Quality?

The following key components of a pet food label help evaluate nutritional information:

  • A nutritional adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO; a nongovernment advisory organization with representative officials from every US state)
  • A list of ingredients (in descending order by weight)
  • A guaranteed analysis

The AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement declares whether the product or treat is complete and balanced and whether it should be fed under veterinary supervision. The following types of nutritional adequacy statements can appear on a pet food label:

  • Animal feeding trials using AAFCO procedures substantiate that the product provides complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages or a particular stage.
  • The product is formulated to meet the nutrient levels established by AAFCO for a particular life stage or for all life stages.
  • The product is intended for intermittent or supplemental use only.

The presence of either of the first two statements indicates that a food can be used as the sole source of nutrition. “Complete and balanced” indicates that a food has all the recognized, required nutrients in the proper proportions, when fed appropriately.

In a feeding trial, a product is fed to a specific number of dogs or cats for a minimum of 6 months to determine whether it provides adequate nutrition. By conducting feeding trials, pet food companies ensure that animals in a particular life stage (i.e., gestation, lactation, growth, adult maintenance) will obtain proper nutrition from a food. Feeding trials also provide some assurance of palatability and the availability of nutrients.

When a food is formulated by calculation or chemical analysis, the nutrients may meet the maximum or minimum levels established by AAFCO, but because the finished product is not fed to animals, availability and palatability are not assessed.

The nutritional adequacy statement regarding intermittent or supplemental feeding applies to treats or to veterinary diets that require a veterinarian to monitor the pet.

What Should I Know About the Ingredients?

The following are important to know about pet food ingredients:

  • Each ingredient, including additives, must be listed in the ingredients statement.
  • Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. However, this does not reveal the amounts of the ingredients. For example, wheat germ meal, wheat bran, and wheat flour are all components of wheat, but they may provide different nutrients. The ingredient list is valuable when a patient has a confirmed allergy and must avoid a certain allergen.
  • AAFCO defines what ingredients can or cannot be called. For example, according to AAFCO, corn gluten is the part of the commercial, shelled corn after removal of the larger portion of the corn’s starch and germ.

What Do the Percentages on the Label Mean?

AAFCO regulations require pet food manufacturers in the United States to include a guaranteed analysis that lists percentages of certain nutrients on pet food labels. These percentages (i.e., minimum protein and fat; maximum fiber and water) are listed on an as-fed basis. “As fed” simply means the percentage of each nutrient, including water or moisture, contained in the final product the pet consumes. To compare products on a level “playing field,” pet owners should always use the dry matter (without moisture) equivalent listed on pet food labels. If a dry matter basis is not used, canned food appears to have a lower concentration of nutrients than dry food because the latter contains approximately 10% water and canned food contains approximately 75% water.

What Are the “Chemicals” in the Ingredients?

Pet owners may be concerned to see “phylloquinone,” “α-tocopherol,” “cobalamin,” and “ascorbic acid” listed on their pets’ food until they learn that these are the technical names for vitamins K1, E, B12, and C, respectively. α-Tocopherol is also an antioxidant. Antioxidants are added to foods to balance the nutrient profile and preserve fats; therefore, preservatives are not universally bad for pets and prevent foods from becoming rancid.

What Are the By-products on the Label?

Many pet owner questions about pet food result from misunderstandings about particular ingredients. Pet owners may incorrectly think that by-products are only the undesirable parts of animals, such as hooves, feathers, and beaks. However, by definition in the pet food industry, meat by-products are clean parts other than meat, such as lungs, kidneys, and spleens. By-products are an excellent source of amino acids, protein, vitamins, and minerals. For example, poultry by-products contain 70% protein on an as-fed basis and are highly digestible.

Who Ensures the Quality of Pet Foods?

Several governing agencies have a role in regulating pet food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authority over pet foods. The FDA establishes certain labeling regulations for animal food and enforces regulations about contamination. Feed control officials from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) work with the FDA to inspect facilities and enforce regulations within each US state. AAFCO defines ingredients and has an agreement to work with FDA scientists to ensure the safety of ingredients. Owners can voluntarily submit reports using the FDA Safety Reporting Portal:

Are Organic or Natural Ingredients Better?

As more pet foods are manufactured to meet the demand for “organic” and “natural” ingredients, pet owners need to understand these terms. AAFCO has defined “natural” as originating from animals or plants. AAFCO has no regulatory definition for “organic,” which refers to the procedure by which organic ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed. There is no evidence that organic food is more beneficial to animals than nonorganic food. Pet foods that meet the human standard for organic (at least 95% of the content by weight, excluding salt and water, must be organic) may display the USDA organic seal on their packaging. The FDA uses “natural” to describe food and “organic” to describe food and the way in which it was processed.

Are the Feeding Guidelines Right for My Pet?

Complete and balanced pet foods must include feeding directions on their labels. However, one set of feeding guidelines cannot account for the great variation in metabolic rates and nutritional needs among individuals. In addition, breed, temperament, environment, and many other factors can influence food intake. Feeding guidelines provide a good starting point for clients but may overestimate the needs of some pets, leading to weight gain. Therefore, pet owners (with guidance from a veterinary professional) may have to adjust the feeding guidelines on a case-by-case basis to achieve a healthy, lean body condition in pets.

Why is My Pet Gaining Weight on New Food?

The size of a “cup” is commonly misunderstood. The feeding guidelines on pet food labels refer to a standard 8-oz measuring cup, so if a pet owner is using a 12-ounce coffee mug or other larger “cup,” it is easy to accidentally overfeed a pet.  Also, the amount of calories fed to a pet can vary greatly depending on the brand of food. When pet owners change their pet’s food, they are often unaware that there can be a large discrepancy in the amount of calories in different foods.

Why Aren’t Calories Listed on the Label?

Calorie content is not on most pet food labels, but that may be changing in the future. The format of pet food labels was derived from large animal feed packaging, which does not legally require the inclusion of calorie content. AAFCO recently voted to mandate the inclusion of calorie content on pet food labels.


If read correctly, pet food labels can provide important information for optimizing pet nutrition. Clients should educate themselves about the myths and misconceptions regarding pet foods and their labels. Clients with questions about a pet food or its label should contact their veterinary hospital or the pet food manufacturer.

For more information on pet food labels, visit the FDA’s Web site at:

How to groom your cat

  • Regular brushing can help keep your cat’s skin and haircoat healthy.
  • Groom your cat when he or she is relaxed, and start with short sessions.
  • Try to make grooming a pleasant experience for your cat. If your cat seems uncomfortable with being groomed, stop.
  • Ask your veterinarian about the best way to care for your cat’s nails and teeth.
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Grooming Basics

Cats are known for grooming themselves, but a little help is never wasted. Regular brushing can help keep your cat’s skin and haircoat healthy and can be another way to strengthen the relationship between you and your pet.

If you and your cat are new to grooming, start slow. Choose a time when your cat is relaxed, and keep sessions short (5 to 10 minutes). Give your cat plenty of petting and praise (and perhaps a treat) for good behavior. As you pet your cat, try to handle all parts of his or her body, including the feet, so that your cat becomes used to this activity. If at any time your cat seems uncomfortable with being handled or groomed, stop.

Brushing your cat helps to remove dirt and loose, dead hair and to prevent mats and tangles. How often you need to brush your cat depends on the length and thickness of his or her hair. Long-haired cats, like Persians, may need to be brushed daily. Short-haired cats may need brushing only weekly. By brushing your cat regularly, you will learn how often he or she needs to be brushed to keep his or her coat clean and tangle-free.

Regular brushing also helps reduce the amount of hair your cat swallows during grooming, which should lead to fewer hairballs.

There are several types of brushes and combs, including:

  • Bristle brushes: Although these brushes can be used on all types of haircoats, the density, length, and stiffness of the bristles affect how well a specific brush works on a specific coat. Longer coats need longer, less dense bristles, and coarser coats need stiffer bristles.
  • Wire-pin brushes: These brushes work best on medium to long, dense coats.
  • Slicker brushes: These brushes have angled wire bristles. They can be used on all types of coats, and they help remove mats and tangles and make the haircoat look shiny.
  • Undercoat rakes: These combs are useful for cats with double coats. They help thin out the undercoat, especially in the summer.

If you find a mat in your cat’s hair, do not pull on it. Pulling will be painful for your cat, and he or she will not want to be brushed again. Also, do not try to cut mats out—you may end up accidentally cutting yourself or your cat. Special brushes and combs are available to help split and remove mats; alternatively, consult your veterinarian or a reliable groomer. Sometimes mats must be professionally shaved.

Bathing Your Cat

Unlike dogs, most cats do not need to be bathed regularly. However, if your cat’s coat gets dirty or sticky, a bath may be necessary. Try to make bathing a pleasant experience for your cat: use warm (not hot) water, a mild shampoo made for cats (dilute as directed), and treats, petting, and praise as rewards for good behavior. Wear old clothes and keep plenty of large, absorbent towels on hand. If necessary, use a rubber bath mat to keep your cat from slipping.

Do not pour or spray water directly on your cat’s head. Mats and tangles are easier to remove by brushing before bathing. Trimming your cat’s nails before bathing is recommended.

Caring for Your Cat’s Nails and Teeth

Nail trimming and toothbrushing are also important aspects of grooming. Teaching your cat to accept having his or her feet touched can help make nail trimming easier.

Ask your veterinarian or a veterinary technician to teach you the safest way to perform these grooming activities.

Does my cat need a probiotic?

  • Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that compete with harmful bacteria to restore the proper bacterial balance in the intestines of dogs and cats.
  • Probiotics are administered when an overgrowth of harmful bacteria result in diarrhea, vomiting, or gas.
  • Different probiotic bacteria have different effects on the digestive tract.
  • Because probiotic products on the market can vary in their integrity and efficacy, it’s best to consult your veterinarian about the proper probiotic for your pet.

During the birthing and nursing processes, puppies and kittens ingest bacteria that make themselves at home in the intestines. Some of these bacteria are beneficial to the pet, and some are potentially harmful. The beneficial bacteria help digest food, produce energy for the cells lining the digestive tract, and help with immune function. They also help keep the potentially harmful bacteria to a minimum.

It’s been estimated that there are up to 500 different kinds of bacteria in a dog or cat’s digestive tract. Under normal conditions, the beneficial and harmful bacteria strike a balance, so there are no detrimental effects to the pet. However, a number of factors can cause an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, such as disease, parasites, antibiotics, old age, stress, and food changes. The resulting imbalance can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, and gas.

What Are Probiotics?

By definition, probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which provide a health benefit to the pet when given in adequate amounts. These probiotics are available as supplements or as part of some diets. When pets experience an overgrowth of potentially harmful bacteria, probiotics are administered to increase the numbers of beneficial bacteria and restore the balance in the digestive tract.

How Do Probiotics Work?

When beneficial bacteria are added to the digestive tract, they adhere to the walls of the intestines, so there is less room for the harmful bacteria to colonize there. They also compete for food, and alter the pH of the environment, making it less conducive to the survival of harmful bacteria. By restoring the balance of bacteria, probiotics help relieve the diarrhea, vomiting or gas the pet may be experiencing.

In humans, probiotics may also play a role in helping control allergic conditions, immune diseases, dental disease, as well as some nervous system problems. However, there has been no research to show that probiotics have the same effects in pets. Never give a human probiotic product to your pet unless instructed to do so by your veterinarian. 

Why Would My Pet Need Probiotics?

Under normal conditions, a healthy pet shouldn’t need probiotics, because the intestinal tract can usually maintain the proper bacterial balance on its own. However, antibiotics, stress, and other factors can alter this balance. This can lead to an increase in harmful bacteria and resulting intestinal problems in some pets. Your veterinarian may recommend probiotics if your pet is showing signs of an overgrowth of harmful bacteria.

How Do I Choose A Probiotic?

Different types of bacteria exert different effects in the digestive tract. That’s why probiotics used in humans may not have the same beneficial effects in pets.

Also, remember that probiotics are living organisms. They must survive not only the manufacturing process, but also storage under certain conditions. A recent study showed that many of the probiotic products on the market did not have live organisms in the quantity specified on the label. These bacteria must also survive the acid environment of the stomach, so that they can have their effect in the intestinal tract.

That is why it’s best to ask your veterinarian for advice about probiotics. He or she can recommend a product that is appropriate for pets, and is produced by a reputable manufacturer.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ( and the Professional Cat Groomers Association of America ( 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 ( 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.


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!

  • 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 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.

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:   

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:

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.

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.


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.


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 (
  • 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

  • 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.