Cat bite abscesses
Chronic Kidney Disease
Cats, unlike dogs or people, are obligate carnivores – this means that they have a biological requirement for a meat diet. It is neither possible nor safe to formulate a vegan or vegetarian diet for a cat! However, just feeding them meat alone isn’t sufficient either – they need a properly balanced diet, suited to their specific needs.
Like all animals, cats have specific requirements for water, the three major nutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate), and micronutrients (such as iron, salts and vitamins). Creating a balanced diet can be tricky, because cats are adapted not to eat meat and vegetables (like us), but whole animals – meat, bone and internal organs. Of course, you could probably feed a cat perfectly healthily on a diet of whole mice, but most people are unwilling to try this! So in this guide, we’ll look at each of the major nutrient groups, and briefly outline a cat’s requirements.
(1) Water. All animals need water – a loss of only 15% of body water is usually fatal. Cats often don’t seem to drink much, but that’s usually because they are getting all the water they need from their food (wet food, for example, is usually 75% water!). In general, we assume that a cat needs roughly 50mls of water per day per kg, but a healthy intake may be a little lower, especially in cooler weather.
(2) Energy. All animals need energy to allow them to move and do things, and also to keep their basic metabolic systems running. Inadequate energy in the diet results in weight loss (as the cat uses its reserves to stay alive) and eventually starvation. Cats can get energy from protein, fat or carbohydrate, and usually need between 65 and 70 kcal (calories) per kg of body weight. However, most diets actually have too much energy in them, which is why so many cats are overweight or obese! The energy requirement will also vary according to a number of factors, such as age (growing kittens need more, old cats usually less), activity (the more they do, the more energy they need), gender (male animals usually need more than females, and neutered animals need less than entire ones). Pregnancy and lactation (milk production) also mean higher energy requirements. Overall, the best solution is usually to work out the rough amount the cat needs, feed them, and then adjust it depending on whether they are gaining or losing weight.
(3) Protein. Cats require much more protein in their diet than dogs, or humans – an adult cat’s daily diet should usually include at least 26% protein. However, the total amount of protein isn’t the only factor you need to take into account – you also need to note the protein quality. While dogs and humans can make some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) relatively easily from other (which is why although there are 23 amino acids, only 11 are deemed “essential”), cats find this much harder. They require much higher levels of arginine, tyrosine and methionine than we do, for example, and unlike us cannot manufacture taurine at all. These amino acids are found predominantly (and in the case of taurine, exclusively) in animals – not in plants.
(4) Fat. Fat provides energy, but also certain vitamins (the “fat soluble” vitamins, A, D, E and K). In addition, it’s the part of the diet that has the most impact on palatability and tastiness – and we all know how fussy cats can be! In general, a diet that is too low in fat will be rejected, unless extra carbohydrates are used to bulk it out and increase flavour.
(5) Carbohydrate. Cats do not actually need sugars and starches in their diet (there’s very little sugar in a mouse!) – we add them to incorporate a cheap and easy source of energy. That said, there’s nothing wrong with feeding carbs, as long as you remember that all they’re doing is providing calories. However, adult cats cannot digest lactose (milk sugar) and should NOT be fed milk – it can give them diarrhoea. Likewise, unlike humans, cats do not need much (if any) dietary fibre, but about 5% is probably beneficial.
(6) Minerals and Vitamins. A cat’s mineral requirements (for iron, phosphorus etc.) are similar to ours. However, in keeping with their strict meat-only lifestyle, cats require certain vitamins that are only found in animals, such as A, D and B3. These need to be in exactly the right ratio though, as an excess can cause disease. Growing kittens in particular need large amounts of calcium to form their bones – this is not found in meat alone, which is why it needs to be supplemented in the diet unless you’re feeding whole animals.
The formulation of the diet is almost as important as its composition; in general, we can feed wetter diets or drier ones. There are advantages and disadvantages each way. A dry diet is better for their teeth (as it tends to scrape them clean, reducing dental problems compared with wet foods) but a wet food provides more water and is usually tastier, which is better in cats who are prone to bladder stones, or those with fussy appetites.
Of course, cats are individuals, and at certain times in their life, they may require a different balance of nutrients. For example, a pregnant cat or growing kitten requires more energy, and more protein, than a healthy adult. Likewise, a cat whose kittens are still drinking her milk benefits from more carbohydrate, to make the milk sugars. You also need to factor in any disease conditions – cats with kidney disease, for example, need a very different diet to healthy cats. Overall, however, these guidelines are pretty accurate for 90% of cats, 90% of the time.
The simplest and easiest way to feed a cat a fully balanced and healthy diet is to feed a reputable commercial diet (wet or dry). However, if you want to make up a homemade diet, that’s fine – but we STRONGLY advise that you get advice from a fully qualified feline nutritionist. Talk to one of our vets, and we’ll be able to direct you to someone!
Fleas are the biggest cause of skin disease for UK pets – even now, with so many great products on the market, they’re still present living on cats across the country! There are two reasons they’re hard to get rid of – firstly, they can jump from cat to dog to rabbit to human to cat and so evade us; and second, 95% of the fleas aren’t living on the animal, but hiding away in your home, waiting for their chance.
There are a number of phases to getting your home “Flea Free”, but they sit easily into two categories. Firstly, kill the adults, then break the life-cycle!
(1) Herbal and homeopathic remedies. Herbal flea remedies are notoriously unreliable – what works in one cat fails completely in another. Unfortunately, we cannot recommend homeopathic remedies, as there is no evidence that they are effective against fleas.
(2) Over-the-Counter Flea Drops and Powders. There are a wide range available, at very cheap prices. However, remember that, with medicines as with everything else, you get what you pay for. Over-the-counter products from pet shops or supermarkets are unlikely to be as effective as prescription-only or vet/pharmacist only products – not least because these often do not need to prove their effectiveness. There have also been MAJOR problems in recent years with unscrupulous manufacturers rebranding dog medications for cats, with fatal effects – many dog flea treatments contain permethrin which, while safe in canines, is fatal to cats.
(3) Prescription Flea Spot-Ons. There are a lot of different spot-on medications, containing different ingredients, but they all work by killing the fleas. The most common contain fipronil, selamectin or imidacloprid, but there are others as well. These medications have to prove their effectiveness before being given a license; however, remember that many aren’t waterproof and will wash out if you give your cat a bath or even if they spend a lot of time outdoors in wet undergrowth. On the other hand, these are often effective against other parasites, such as ticks or mange mites. Of course, you can only get these from, or with a prescription from, your vet.
(4) Flea Tablets. There are a number of different brands, and different active ingredients available now; these have the advantage that they cannot be washed off. They do still need to be repeated periodically though – like all medications, they won’t last for ever! Some over-the-counter tablets only last for 24 hours, whereas some of the prescription-only products last a whole month.
(5) Medicated Collars. Available as a prescription-only medication, these are effective for up to eight months, and also treat and repel ticks. The collars also contain a safety-catch so the cat cannot become hung-up or injured by – instead, the collar will open allowing the cat to escape.
(6) Environmental Control Medications. Some flea products contain ingredients called Insect Growth Regulators, that effectively put the fleas on the pill so they only lay non-viable eggs. Others contain ingredients that directly act to kill flea larvae in the environment. These are invaluable for preventing a household infestation, but may not completely control one that is already established (or at least, not quickly). These are most commonly given either mixed in with a spot-on; or as an injection.
(7) Environmental insecticides. These can be sprayed onto soft furnishings throughout the home to kill larvae and eggs. Bear in mind that, although generally effective, you need to follow the label instructions, as these can be toxic to cats if you don’t allow enough airing time after application! In addition, flea pupae are immune to any form of chemical warfare we can practically employ!
(8) Vacuuming. Yes, the humble vacuumed cleaner is your secret weapon in the war on fleas! It will suck up eggs, and the flea-droppings that the larvae feed on, but more importantly, it will stimulate the pupae to hatch, releasing new hungry adults. In this state, they an easily be killed with an insecticide spray!
No one medication or intervention will control a severe infestation – instead, you’ll need to attack them on several fronts, usually with an adult-killing medication, and environmental control spray or medication, and spotless hygiene in the home. If you need advice, feel free to call us!
It’s all very well for us vets to say “give these tablets twice a day, next patient please!” – but how easy do you actually find it to give medication to your cat? In this brief guide, we’ll look at some common medications, and easy tricks to help you get them into or onto your pet!
Different routes of medication are used for different conditions in cats; however, there are a few common ones we’ll look at here. Remember, whatever the medication is, always follow the directions that came with it. If you can’t read something, or can’t understand them, or if they seem wrong – don’t make it up, call and ask us!
(1) Tablets. Tablets or capsules are the most common forms of medication, and can be among the trickiest to administer. In some cases, they can be broken up and hidden in food (typically inside a chunk of wet food or hidden in their bowl) – however, make sure that breaking the tablet won’t alter how well it works because some medications are inactivated, or even become dangerous, if broken. Remember too, that cats are excellent at discovering and rejecting medications! Many people find it easier to actively “pill” their cat. To do this, it’s useful to have a proper pill-popper or tablet-giver, but not essential. Sit your cat down with their head pointing towards you (you may need an assistant!) and open their lower jaw gently with one finger. Then, using the pill-popper, pop the tablet on the back of their tongue and close their mouth before they spit it out. Hold their mouth shut until they lick their lips, at which point they should have swallowed it. Sometimes, giving a little trickle of water between their lips can encourage them to swallow but DON’T give too much.
(2) Oral Liquids. As many cats are VERY hard to tablet, these are increasingly popular. They are usually given with or on food, and can just be measured out into or into the food. Usually, it’s easier to administer them in a strong-smelling or particularly tasty type of food, but most are designed to taste quite nice by themselves. If you have to give an oral liquid in the absence of food, or the cat won’t eat the food with it on, the trick is to use a syringe (obviously without a needle on) and gently inject it between their teeth. The best technique is to sit them down, close their lips with one hand and then insert the syringe through the gap between their cheek teeth, then GENTLY syringe it into them (not too fast or they might choke on it). Once its in their mouth, hold their mouth closed and rub their throat until they swallow.
(3) Spot-Ons. Most commonly used for flea, tick and other parasite treatments, spot-on medications are increasingly being used. They should be applied to the back of the cat’s neck (i.e. where they can’t reach it to lick!). Part the hairs carefully, and then deposit the liquid on the skin directly. If the volume of liquid is too great, split the dose between 2 or more sites. Make sure it’s completely dries before you pet the cat or allow any other pets to lick them!
(4) Ear Cleaners. Used to clean the ears, so don’t confuse these with ear drops (containing medication for treating ear diseases). To apply an ear cleaner, have the cat sitting or standing upright, and lift their ear up (which will straighten the ear canal). Then apply a suitable amount of cleaner directly into the canal but DO NOT force the nozzle into the ear, or you may damage the sensitive structures inside. Instead, insert the tip of the nozzle just into the canal before squeezing. After filling the canal with the cleaner, find the firm “trumpet” of cartilage below the ear, and give it a good massage – you’ll usually get a lovely squishing sound as you move the cleaner around inside the ear. Then use a cloth or cotton wool to wipe away the liquid and dirt that comes back out of the ear (again, DON’T stick anything down inside). Beware afterwards – most cats will shake their heads violently, spraying the room with cleaner and liquid ear wax, so probably better do this away from any soft furnishings!
(5) Ear Drops. These should be applied to your cat’s ear in exactly the same way as a wash, but not wiped away afterwards – the quantity is usually too small to need it.
(6) Shampoos and Washes. There are all sorts of different shampoos and washes, for many different conditions. Each needs to be made up in a different concentration and left on for a different amount of time. Basically, READ THE LABEL before you start! In general, however, you need to wet the cat all over (which is unlikely to be popular, but remember, it’s for their own good!). Then apply the shampoo (remember, you may need to wear gloves for some) and lather it up. Allow the cat to stand for the required amount of time before rinsing thoroughly with lots and lots of fresh water, and then allow them to dry off naturally (towelling and using hairdriers are usually a bad idea, for various reasons).
(7) Eye Drops. Medicating a sore eye can be really difficult – cats don’t like you poking at their eyes (understandably), and the muscle that closes the eyelids (orbicularis oculi, if you’re interested) is, for its size, the strongest in the whole body. The trick with eye drops is not to try to apply them directly to the surface of the eye (the cat’s blink reflex is often too fast for that!) but into the lower eyelid. So, allow them to stand or sit upright, and then with one hand gently CLOSE the affected eye. Use your thumb to carefully open just he lower eyelid, so it stick out, and apply the required quantity of drops onto the INSIDE of the lower eyelid. Then, allow the eye to close, and the drops will be transported onto the surface of the eye. Easy!
Giving medications can be tough, but it’s usually straightforward once you know how! If your cat really resents it or you’re finding it really hard, don’t struggle on and risk getting scratched or bitten, or hurting them. Instead, give us a call and we’ll be able to show you how (or suggest a different option if even we can’t get them to cooperate!).
Cats frequently develop hairballs, or “furballs”, which occur mainly because when they groom themselves, they accidentally swallow some of the hair. In most cases, hairballs are retched up again (which is a bit disgusting, but not dangerous). However, in some cases a large hairball may cause an intestinal obstruction or constipation. Occasionally, they are so severe that the cat requires surgery to remove them.
Most cats probably develop hairballs from time to time; however, cats with long coats are at the highest risk, because the longer hairs are more likely to matt together in their intestines. Some cats also have more problems with processing hairballs because of other underlying diseases, such as Feline Dysautonomia (Key-Gaskall Syndrome), or Megacolon.
There are a number of ways to manage hairballs in cats who have a problem, so we’ll look at the different approaches here.
(1) Grooming. Most hairballs form when cats grooms themselves, particularly when they’re removing dead hair. By giving them a helping hand, you reduce the amount of hair for them to swallow. A dematting tool such as a “furminator” is invaluable in gently grooming and removing excess dead hair.
(2) Laxatives. Although not suitable for most cats, most of the time, in cats with a particular predilection to hairballs, periodic use of cat-specific hairball laxatives is really useful. These are mostly oil-based pastes that act to lubricate the hairs that are swallowed; reducing the degree to which they clump up, and encouraging them to move on down the intestinal tract. Don’t, however, use laxatives regularly without talking to one of our vets first, as excessive inappropriate use can upset the intestines’ normal function.
(3) Diet. There are a number of commercial diets now that are specifically designed to help the cat cope with hairballs. They may contain a higher oil content, to help lubricate the hairs; and/or a high fibre content to help move the hairs down the intestine without getting balled up.
If a stubborn hairball does occur, and doesn’t respond to simple laxatives, there are a couple of veterinary approaches we can employ:
(1) Enemas. The most common severe problem caused by hairballs is constipation, as a mass of hair builds up in the colon. Although these can often be shifted with cat laxatives, sometimes they are so stubborn that you’ll need to bring them in for our vets to help. In most cases, a simple micro-enema is the sufficient to get things moving again, but in some cases we may need to admit the cat, give them an anaesthetic and then a thorough soapy water enema to wash all the debris and hair out of their large intestine.
(2) Prokinetics. There are some prescription drugs that encourage the intestine to push food (and therefore hair!) on more efficiently; judicious use of these can also help in constipation.
(3) Surgery. If the hairball is lodged in the small intestine, it can cause an intestinal obstruction. In these cases, it is sometimes necessary to open them up and surgically remove it.
Hairballs are usually no more than a minor annoyance. However, for some cats they can be a major problem – fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help! If your cat is struggling with hairballs, make an appointment to see one of our vets to discuss which option would work best for them.
In just 7 years, two cats can (given ideal conditions) produce 40,000 offspring – no wonder, then, that cat rehoming centres are full to bursting. In addition, unneutered cats are prone to a number of annoying and unpleasant habits, which can be easily prevented by neutering. In this guide, we’ll look at the advantages of neutering, and then briefly discuss the procedure and aftercare needed.
The main advantage of neutering is, of course, the fact that a neutered cat cannot reproduce. With the world cat population being as healthy as it is, there is no good reason to breed from your cat unless they have excellent genetics that should be preserved. If not, neutering will make your life (and theirs) much less crowded!
As well as rendering them infertile, neutering (unlike a vasectomy or hysterectomy) also stops cats from making sex hormones (oestrogen in the queens, testosterone in the toms). This has the following effects on their behaviour:
(1) Aggression – sex hormones drive aggression in both toms and queens; once neutered, you can expect cats to be more friendly and less aggressive. This is especially marked in toms!
(2) Calling – when in season, queens cry out in a high-pitched voice, and roll around on the floor. People often think they are injured or in pain, but actually they’re calling for a mate – something they won’t do once neutered.
(3) Urine spraying – tomcats tend to mark their territory by spraying foul-smelling urine up every available surface. Once neutered, this hormone-driven behaviour (and also their pungent male odour) will stop.
When your cat is booked in for neutering, it is important to make sure they’re properly prepared. In general, this means that if at all possible they should be starved (no food after 6pm and no drink aft midnight the night before). Then bring them down in the morning and we’ll admit the, for the day for their procedure.
Spaying – in females, the procedure is a spay. This involves a general anaesthetic and a clipped patch surrounding a small incision (perhaps 1cm long) on one flank. Through this “keyhole” our vets will remove the cat’s ovaries and uterus (womb) before tying off the blood vessels and stumps, and then closing the incision with stitches or, sometimes, glue. We would normally expect her to go home the same day.
Castration – for tomcats, the procedure is called castration, and involves surgical removal of both testicles. Once under anaesthetic, we will pluck the hair from his scrotum (“ball sack”) and then make two small incisions in it, one on each side. Through these, the testicles are removed and then snipped off, and the cords tied. We often leave the incisions open to drain, but it is sometimes more appropriate to close them with glue or sutures. This is a much easier procedure than spaying (the testicles being much more accessible than a queen’s ovaries) and again we’d expect him to go home the same day.
After neutering, your cat will go home with an Elizabethan collar (or cone) on. This is to prevent them from licking at their surgical wounds – licking and nibbling will pull out stitches and will introduce infection. It takes about 10 days for the skin to heal fully, and during this period they must NOT be allowed to interfere with the wounds. At the end of this time, we’ll ask to see them again, to remove any stitches and give them a final once-over before signing them off!
Neutering may seem like a big step, but it genuinely does improve cat welfare – by reducing population pressure, and making our pets much easier to live with!
In the UK, between 40 and 50% of cats are either overweight or obese. It is by far the most common form of malnutrition we see as vets. While we may like to give our pets nice treats and extra meals, we are in fact “killing them with kindness”.
To understand, and be able to control, our pets’ tendency to ballooning waistlines, we need to ask a series of questions:
(1) What is obesity? An obese cat is one who is more than 20% heavier – due to fat! – than that individual’s ideal weight. We call a cat who is 1-19% heavier “overweight”.
(2) Why do cats become obese? Essentially, because we feed them too much. Many cats are by their very nature greedy, and if they ask for more food, all too often we give it too them! Other common problems include us treating them (and feeding them) as kittens even after they’ve reached their adult size; some people’s inability to recognise a cat’s healthy weight; increased numbers of neutered cats (who need less calories in their diet than entire cats); and the problem of cats with two or more homes, all of whom feed them.
(3) Why is obesity a Bad Thing? Obesity is a causative factor in a number of serious diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, cystitis (FLUTD), some skin diseases and liver conditions. In addition, it reduces the effectiveness of their immune system, makes them more likely to suffer problems giving birth, puts increased stress on their heart and lungs, and increases the risk of complications if they ever need surgery.
(4) How do we tell if a cat is obese? We use the Body Condition Score system (you can read about it here: http://icatcare.org/advice/obesity-cats). This allows us to asses how much fat the cat is carrying around with them, and score them – in this system, 4-5 is the ideal weight, 1 is skeletally thin and emaciated, and 9 is morbidly obese.
(5) What can we do about it? Essentially, feed less calories and make them do more exercise! Unfortunately, exercise alone doesn’t usually resolve the problem, but it does help to increase their muscle tone, heart and lung fitness, and when they’ve lost the extra weight, they’re more likely to keep it off if they are fit.
(6) Surely we can’t just stop feeding them?! Definitely not – suddenly starving a an overweight cat can cause liver failure. The best option is to gradually reduce the amount of food they’re getting – we usually look for about 1% of body weight loss per week. Some very hungry (or greedy, or manipulative!) cats won’t accept this, so it is often better to change to a weight-loss diet, which is designed to fill them up with a low energy density ration – making them feel full, while providing less calories.
(7) How do you make a cat exercise? You could take them for a walk on a lead and harness (and some people do), but expect funny looks! In most cases, encouraging them to play is the better option, usually with chasing or pouncing toys.
Obesity is a growing problem (pun intended) in the UK’s feline population. Fortunately, a number of simple, minor changes in the way we interact with our pets can usually bring it under control. If not, give us a call – we run regular weight clinics with our nurses who will be able to help you!
It is remarkably hard to tell boy and girl kittens apart – at least until they reach puberty (about six months old) at which point it’s usually a bit too late…! In this quick guide, we’ll look at some of the simple ways you can tell whether it’s a boy or a girl, in a species that’s rather shy about disclosing the matter.
All of the methods below are possible ways to tell a cat’s sex; however, some are more useful in kittens than others:
(1) Coat Colour. Although coat colour may be indicative, it isn’t usually reliable. Yes, ginger cats are more likely to be toms, but there’s no reason you can’t get a ginger queen, it’s just less common. The only exception is with Tortoiseshell cats, which are almost invariably female (the genes for tortie-ness cannot be found in the male). However, there are a few male torties out there due to genetic or chromosome abnormalities, so even with these, it isn’t 100%.
(2) Face shape and build. When adult, tomcats usually have a leaner, more muscular build, and a broader, heavier face and skull. However, these features are driven by the sex hormone testosterone, and don’t appear until puberty (in the same way that you wouldn’t expect a small boy to have a deep voice and a beard!). In kittens before puberty, there is no significant difference in build or facial shape.
(3) Presence of a penis. This sounds the easiest way – however, tomcats have a retractable penis that points backwards underneath the tail… In exactly the same place as the queen’s vulva. In both sexes, it just looks like a small hole underneath their anus.
(4) Presence of testicles. By definition, only the boys have testicles! These are located BELOW the anus but ABOVE the penis (bottom hole), and in most kittens will be about the size of a small pea. You can usually feel them by gently feeling the area with your fingers. However, some kittens are a little shy, and pull their testicles back inside, so while the presence of testicles proves that its a boy, the absence doesn’t prove that it’s a girl. Of course, the older he is, the more likely it is that they’ll be obvious, and by 6 or 7 months, 99% of toms will have fully descended and obvious testicles.
(5) The Ano-Genital distance – in other words, the distance between the top and the bottom hole. In general, females have a shorter distance than males, but it can be hard to judge unless you’ve got a couple of kittens to compare!
(6) The shape of the genital orifice (the bottom hole!). In the females, this is an elongated slit, so when looking from behind they have a round anus and long vulva, like – an i The toms, meanwhile, have two round holes, like :
(7) Genetic Testing. OK, this is a cheat – but it is an option if all else fails!
No one method is ideal; however, by using a combination of different features, it’s almost always possible to sex even very tiny kittens with a fair degree of accuracy. If in doubt, come and talk to us and one of our vets or nurses will show you!
Cats are very prone to becoming stressed – and we now know that stress is a major factor in the development of a range of different diseases and problem-behaviours. In fact, stress and its attendant behaviours may be one of the most common reasons for cats to be rehomed. In this factsheet, we’ll try to answer some of the key questions about stress in cats.
(1) How do you know if a cat is stressed? “Acute”, or sudden onset, stress or fear is usually easy to recognise – cats tend to crouch down, with their ears back, tail under them, and start shaking. Often, cats will hiss or growl, and they may wet or mess. However, “Chronic”, longer term, stress is both more serious and harder to detect. Cats may lose their appetite, or sometimes start gorging. Often, they’ll spend more time sleeping or hiding, and they may well increase their marking behaviours – urine spraying, scratching, and face rubbing. Personality changes may also be apparent – increased fussiness, or aggression, for example. Some stressed cats may also seem really confused, unable to decide if they like you or hate you; or appearing to forget the normal routines.
(2) What things make cats stressed? In general, there are three things that cats find stressful. Firstly, changes in the physical environment – so moving furniture, having building work, or replacing carpets or furniture are all difficult for them. Secondly, unexpected events – such as fireworks displays, trips to the vets, or alterations to routine. The most common source of chronic stress, however, is social stress. This typically involves competition between cats – cats often don’t get on well with others, and often prefer to be solitary. Being forced to live with other cats, especially unrelated cats, can be inherently stressful (especially if they feel they have to compete for water bowls, food or litter trays). Likewise, new cats coming in (wanted or uninvited) will upset the existing residents. Of course, any human stress will also upset cats, so a new baby, or people moving in or out, will also be a problem.
(3) What can stress lead to? Stress is the main cause of cystitis in cats (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder). It also drives a number of unwanted behaviours, such as aggression, inappropriate urination and defecation, furniture scratching, and urine spraying. Finally, if a cat decides they’re too stressed, they’ll run away and try to find someone else to live with.
If your cat is stressed, it’s important to try and help them! There are a number of possible approaches…
(1) Remove the underlying cause – if possible! If there are several different cats living together, make sure that food and water bowls aren’t all together, so the cats don’t have to eat together if they don’t want to, and make sure there are enough “facilities” for every cat plus one spare. In the case of changes to the human environment it’s harder (we’re not recommending you bring a child home from school because the cat is stressed, for example!) but where possible, try to minimise the impact on the cat(s).
(2) Use pheromone products. The product which has been proven to work is called Feliway; it contains a synthetic version of Feline Facial Pheromone, the scent that cats use to mark territory. The use of a spray or diffuser is to reassure the cat that they’re safe, and it’s really effective against all types of stress.
(3) Use calming products. There are a huge range of cat “calmers” on the market; for many, we simply don’t know how well they work. There is one product (Zylkene), containing the milk protein casein, that the evidence suggests does work; however, the effect of all of these products are variable and usually quite minor,
(4) Prescription medications. In some, very severe, cases, our vets can prescribe certain medications (such as alprazolam) which, at the right dose, can be useful in managing short-term stressors.
If your cat seems stressed, it’s really important to check that there isn’t an underlying medical problem. If not, you need to try and work out why they aren’t happy! Our vets can help, and in severe situations can refer you to a feline behaviourist to help you get it sorted.
Vaccines are the key to protecting cats from infectious diseases such as cat flu, panleukopenia, and even feline leukaemia. These conditions cause untold suffering and even death to unprotected cats, and are all very common in unvaccinated populations.
Vaccines work by “teaching” the cat’s immune system how to recognise and fight an infection, without their having to contract it in the first place (and take the risk of chronic long term health issues, severe symptoms or death). Vaccines do not “weaken” the immune system, nor do they “damage” it.
The effect of vaccination is to reduce the chance that a cat develops a disease; if they are unlucky enough to contract it despite vaccination, it will be milder and they won’t transmit it to other cats. Some cats, however, cannot receive vaccination (due to certain immune diseases or medications) so vaccinating other cats in the household, colony or area will help to protect these individuals. In this section, we’ll look at the different vaccines commonly available in the UK.
(1) Feline Herpes Virus. This is one of the main causes of Cat Flu, and it also attacks the eyes. It’s a particularly nasty virus because once infected, most cats will remain carriers for life, as the virus hides away in their nerves even after they have apparently recovered. When they get ill, or stressed, the virus will re-emerge from hiding again. This vaccine is deemed a “core vaccine” that all cats should receive; it only lasts a year, unfortunately, so after the initial course (two injections three weeks apart) they need annual boosters for life.
(2) Feline Calicivirus. This is the other big Cat Flu virus, but can cause more severe disease as well, including ulceration of the mouth and nose, arthritis, abnormal bleeding, and can be fatal. This is a second “core vaccine”, again, it requires two injections three weeks apart and then annual boosters.
(3) Panleukopenia. This is also known as Feline Parvovirus, and is a nasty aggressive virus that attacks a cat’s bone marrow and gut, causing vomiting and diarrhoea followed by collapse of their immune system. It is the third “core vaccine”, and after the initial course, it needs a booster one year later and then boosters every 3 years.
(4) Feline Leukaemia. This virus is spread by close contact (biting, grooming, or sharing food and water bowls) and attacks the cat’s immune system. Once infected, the incubation period may last for months or even years, but will eventually destroy their immune system. It can also lead to the development of cancers, particularly leukaemia and lymphoma. The vaccine requires 2 doses 3 weeks apart in kittens, followed by annual boosters.
(5) Feline Chlamydia. This is an uncommon cause of cat flu, and is caused by a bacterium (Chlamydophila felis). Disease is most common in large colonies, especially among breeding groups. The vaccine requires 2 doses 3 weeks apart in kittens, followed by annual boosters.
Vaccines, in most cats, most of the time, are very safe – and certainly, the amount of disease prevented by vaccines is far greater than the amount caused by them. However, they do, very rarely, have significant side effects. The most common noticed effect is minor lethargy for 24 hours after the vaccine; this is exactly what you expect and it means that the vaccine is working, as the immune system meets and analyses the vaccine. Very very rarely, cats may develop allergic reactions, but this is very unusual.
Injection Site Sarcoma is a widely talked about problem, and it is a genuine risk. However, it’s really important to remember that it is quite rare, and also that it isn’t strictly speaking caused by vaccination (it used to be called Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma, but this is misleading and so the term has been dropped). Injection Site Sarcomas occur even in cats who have never been vaccinated – the tumour is, we think, caused by injection, not by the vaccine that’s being injected.
Vaccines save cats’ lives – its a simple as that. Although very occasionally a cat will develop a side effect, for most cats the advantages massively outweigh the possible disadvantages.
Cats can suffer from a range of different worms – especially roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Small numbers of worms usually don’t cause major problems, but if there are too many of them, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhoea may result. Some species of roundworms can even infect humans (especially children), burrowing into the gut, the liver, the brain and the eye. As a result, regular worming is really important!
Most worms in cats are contracted through eating live prey. The major exceptions are the roundworm Toxocara cati (which can infect kittens in their mothers womb, or even through the milk) and the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum (spread by fleas). As a result, even cats who do not hunt are potentially at risk from worms. So, what types of worming products are available?
(1) Herbal and homeopathic remedies. The effects of herbal treatments are weak and unpredictable, while there is no evidence that homeopathic products work at all. As a result, we don’t recommend these products for worm control.
(2) Over the counter pet shop and supermarket tablets. These often do kill some worms, but tend to be relatively weak drugs, in low concentrations. Yes, they’re cheap, but they don’t often work terribly well. They also tend to be big, bulky tablets that need to be pushed down your cat’s throat!
(3) Vet and Pharmacy only worming tablets and liquids. The tablets usually contain a mixture of ingredients to kill all the major worm groups, and are generally both safe and effective; while the liquids kill roundworms and are very safe for young kittens.
(4) Prescription-only worming tablets. These are very safe and highly effective, containing several active ingredients to kill all the UK worm types. A few of these products will also kill fleas or other parasites. They can only be purchased from us, or with a veterinary prescription, but they’re usually much easier to dose than other tablets, as well as being more effective.
(5) Prescription-only Spot-On products. There are a number of different spot-on wormers. Some just do worms, while others will also kill fleas, mites, and sometimes other parasites; however, most of these combination medications only kill roundworms, not tapeworms too. They can only be purchased from us, or with a veterinary prescription.
So, once you and the vet have decided which worm treatment is best for your cat, you need to decide how often to worm them. To a great extent, this depends on how old they are.
Kittens need regular worming against roundworms, but we tend not t worry so much about the other types. From 3 to 9 weeks, they should be wormed roughly every 14 days; and then monthly until six months old. Remember to choose a product that is safe for small kittens, though.
Adult cats should be regularly wormed against roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms. Cats who are active hunters need more regular worming (every 4-6 weeks), whereas those who aren’t catching live prey should be treated every 3 months.
Worms are not only disgusting, but also potentially dangerous – so make sure your cats are protected!