The Veterinarians’ Guide to Your Cat’s Symptoms: How to Keep a Cat’s Body Healthy
The current thinking is that a chemical called an adjuvant, added to these two vaccines to stimulate the immune response, is responsible for the tumor development. An adjuvant is not present in other cat vaccines.
The incidence of these tumors is low—approximately one in five to ten thousand vaccinations. In the future, vaccines will be produced with advanced DNA technology that may help eliminate the risk of cats developing these tumors.
Vaccinations are usually given in a series every four weeks to kittens under four months of age. See the kitten immunization chart. This is necessary because the passive immunity kittens attain during the first week of life from the colostrum in their mothers’milk is shortlived.
Studies show that 95 percent of kittens have lost passive immunity by the time they are twelve weeks old; most of the remaining 5 percent lose it by the time they are fourteen weeks old. While the maternal antibodies are present they automatically inactivate a vaccine. But because we don’t know exactly when this passive immunity will be lost, a series of vaccines is given to ensure a kitten’s immunity at all times.
After fourteen weeks it is almost certain a kitten no longer has any maternal antibodies and he will now be able to respond to vaccination by forming his own antibodies, or active immunity. This is why so-called temporary shots do not always provide effective protection.
After a kitten has been successfully vaccinated by the series of injections it can usually be assumed that immunity has been achieved for a period of time. But owners must realize no vaccine is 100 percent effective in all cases. Some cats have a more sluggish immune system than others, and not all respond as well to vaccines as others. It is always possible for a kitten or cat to contract a disease even when he has been properly vaccinated, although the disease will usually be less severe and of shorter duration than it would be in an unprotected animal. Booster shots are given to adult cats on a regular basis.
Spaying and Neutering
At the same time the veterinarian sets up an immunization schedule she will probably want to discuss the benefits of spaying or neutering a pet cat. If an owner does not want to breed a pet cat, both an overiohysterectomy (OHE, “spay”) of a female cat and castration (“neutering,” “altering”) of a tomcat are desirable for a number of reasons both behavioral and physical. In both cases, of course, these operations prevent accidental breeding and the birth of unwanted litters of kittens. Although public awareness has reduced the number of unwanted kittens in recent years, a visit to any pound or shelter, especially in the spring and early summer breeding season, will attest to the continuing birth of many hundreds of unwanted kittens each year.
Many of these kittens are not adopted and end up being put to sleep. In addition to preventing the conception and birth of kittens, an OHE will also prevent recurring heat periods in female cats. During heat periods female cats will pace and yowl, or “call,” loudly all day and night. They will usually also rub continuously against both people and furniture and may roll around on the floor. Because cats normally do not ovulate unless they are bred, heat periods will continue to occur every ten to fourteen days during the entire photoperiod. When a female cat is spayed before her first heat period, the operation is thought to prevent mammary gland tumors, which are very serious in cats, and will also prevent future uterine infections and tumors of the reproductive tract.
Although an OHE is a major abdominal operation, modern medical techniques have made it relatively painless and uncomplicated when performed by a competent veterinarian. A cat will usually stay in the hospital overnight following an OHE to be certain she has come out of the anesthetic well and is comfortable. After a day or so of quiet rest at home she usually shows no signs of discomfort. Complications rarely occur, but if a cat should show signs of discomfort or the incision becomes red or irritated, the veterinarian should be consulted.
For a male cat castration usually eliminates roaming behavior, aggression toward other cats, and, probably the most important consideration for a pet owner, the spraying of foulsmelling urine to mark his territory. Once a cat forms this habit it can be very difficult to break, so castration before eight months of age is recommended. Neutering also decreases the odor of male cat urine.
The neutering operation is relatively simple and a cat is usually allowed to go home the same day. After the operation the cat needs to be kept indoors for several days to prevent infection. Shredded newspaper should be substituted for clay litter to prevent contamination of the incision. Complications are rare; the most common problem is swelling of the scrotum due to irritation or excessive licking. If this occurs the veterinarian should be consulted.
In recent years many animal shelters have begun to neuter young kittens before they are adopted in order to avoid the birth of more unwanted kittens. So far, early neutering has proved to be safe and effective. However, not enough time has elapsed since this procedure was begun to find out if there are any negative longterm health effects.
If a kitten from a shelter has already been castrated or had an OHE, there is probably nothing for a prospective owner to worry about. If the procedure has not already been performed, it is best to wait for the operations until the recommended ages.
What About Weight Gain After Spaying or Neutering?
Because OHE’s and castrations are routinely performed just as cats are maturing, normal changes in sleeping habits, activity levels, metabolic rate, and food utilization are often blamed by owners on the surgery.
However, some cats seem to have increased appetites after neutering. Owners need to remember that a one-year-old cat requires far fewer calories a day than a growing kitten. Adult cats often need to be encouraged to exercise to burn off excess calories. Indoor-only cats, especially, may require incentives to exercise. More about this later in the chapter.
Providing Good Nutrition
Much has been learned about cat’s nutritional needs in the past decade. Although cat’s dietary requirements are similar to those of other mammals, it is known that they have some very specific and unique nutritional needs.
First of all, cats require more protein per day than dogs and this protein must come from an animal source in order to contain the amino acids necessary for cats. The amino acids arginine and taurine are essential for cats to have in their daily diets. Arginine helps rid adult cat’s bodies of the unusually large amount of ammonia created by their high-protein diet. Their bodies cannot make arginine, therefore it must be part of their daily food. Arginine deficiency can lead to depression, muscle tremors, lack of coordination, and eventually death. Deficiencies are not common because meat proteins contain arginine. Taurine is not sufficiently manufactured in cat’s bodies either, as it is in all other species. It is necessary that taurine be in a cat’s diet throughout his lifetime. A deficiency of taurine will lead to degeneration of the retina and eventual blindness. It will also lead to severe, potentially lifethreatening weakening of the heart muscle and stunted growth. Meat is the best source of this amino acid. Commercial pet food manufacturers are aware of cat’s taurine requirement and add it to their products in the proper amount. Cats consuming home-cooked diets or vegetarian diets may be at risk for taurine deficiency.
There are three essential fatty acids that cats need: linoleic, linolenic, and arachidonic acid. Linoleic and linolenic acid are found in vegetable oils, but arachidonic acid is contained only in animal fats. An animal source of fats is essential for cats because, unlike other animals, cats cannot convert arachidonic acid from linoleic and linolenic acids.
Other essential dietary elements for cats include vitamin A and niacin.
Cats have a relatively high vitamin A requirement, but are unable to convert carotenoids (found in vegetables) into vitamin A in their own bodies and must have a meat source for it. Liver is a good source for A, but an excess of liver can lead to severe bone disease caused by too much vitamin A. A deficiency of A can lead to weight loss, scaly skin, hair loss, and retinal and reproductive problems. Another essential dietary element that cats cannot convert in their own bodies is niacin, therefore they must have it in their daily diets. A niacin deficiency can lead to weakness, weight loss, diarrhea, mouth disorders (including a susceptibility to herpes), and respiratory disease.
Given the very specific dietary needs of cats, it is obvious that the best source of proper feline nutrition is a diet that has been formulated to meet these daily requirements. It is very difficult to meet these needs with a diet consisting only of home-cooked foods. Some owners opt to use a commercial cat food as a basic diet, adding home-cooked treats from time to time. Care must be taken, however, because some cats cannot digest even the blandest “people food,” and will develop diarrhea. See also “Foods to Avoid”.
To avoid upsets a new kitten or cat should be fed whatever type of food he has been used to eating. Breeders often send home a “care package” with several days’ supply of food to start a kitten off on the right paw. If it becomes necessary or desirable to change diets, it’s best to do so gradually, mixing a small amount of new food with the old. If a cat accepts the mix well, without any intestinal upset, increase the new food gradually each day until he is eating the diet exclusively.
Kinds of Cat Food
Commercial cat foods come in three basic forms: dry, semi-moist, and canned. The most obvious difference in these types of food is moisture content, which also affects their ability to stay fresh when exposed to air. Many owners feed their cats more than one type of food each day. It is a good idea to accustom a cat to eating several types and flavors of food early in life to avoid firmly established food preferences—see “Finicky Eaters,” below. The most important thing about choosing cat food is that the label says “complete and balanced.” Then any form of food is fine for a cat. Many owners feed a combination of dry and canned foods.
Vegetarian diets will not provide a cat with enough usable protein, taurine, essential fatty acids, and minerals to maintain health. Cats often like vegetables, and some vegetable matter is contained in almost all commercial cat foods. Cats are able to utilize carbohydrates and fats for energy, but they have an obligatory need for energy from protein sources even when they are fed enough other calories.
Semi-moist foods, once popular, are falling out of favor. While some cats loved them, the chemical odor was not appreciated by others. Many semi-moist foods are preserved with a high sugar content and many contained propylene glycol, which can damage cat’s red blood cells. We do not recommend semi-moist diets, although an occasional semi-moist treat is all right.
Special-formula (prescription) diets are designed to meet the specific needs of cats with medical conditions such as food-related allergies, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD;), heart condition, kidney failure, and so on. Their formulas are precise and they can be obtained only by prescription through veterinarians. Most are available in both dry and canned forms.
Some cats are more particular about their food than others. In general there are several kinds of finicky eating. The most common type is when a cat develops a preference for one particular type or flavor of food, usually some sort of fish or chicken. If fish is preferred, it won’t hurt a cat as long as the food is properly formulated and balanced. Problems can arise if a cat develops a preference for plain, unsupplemented fish intended for humans. Some fish contain an enzyme that breaks down thiamine, an essential vitamin. Another problem with all-fish diets is steatitis, a serious disease causing inflammation of body fat. This won’t hurt a cat as long as the fish is properly supplemented and balanced (see chart).
Cats with chronic nasal congestion or those with a diminished sense of smell, which can occur in older animals, can also become problem eaters; as we mentioned in Chapter 1, cat’s appetites are governed by their sense of smell. Upper respiratory infections can become chronic and prevent a cat from smelling his food and, therefore, from eating.
Chronic nasal congestion can be treated by a veterinarian.
A cat may also reject food if he is upset for some reason. A move, a new pet or person in the household, a favorite animal or person going away—all of these events may cause a cat to lose his appetite. Other, more subtle changes may upset a cat, especially if he has a nervous temperament. Visitors in the household, sudden loud noises from outside such as building or street construction, a new feeding dish—anything can trigger a sensitive cat to lose his appetite. An owner will have to become a detective in this case to ascertain what may be upsetting a cat.
Sometimes there is no apparent cause for a sudden loss of appetite. If a cat is acting normal in other ways it is safe to wait a day or two, offer the cat’s favorite food, and see what happens. Generally, a cat will begin to eat well again in a few days. If not, a veterinarian should be consulted right away.
How Much/How Often to Feed
Cats do not do well on one meal a day. Many owners leave dry food out all day for snacking and give one or two “meals” of canned food to their adult cats. Others do not like leaving food out and simply provide two larger meals a day If food is left out all day some cats will overeat and become obese. See “Eating Behavior” in Chapter 3, for more about this.
Avoiding Excessive Weight
Gain It is unusual for active indooroutdoor cats to become overweight, but housebound pets may become obese because of inactivity. It is important for an obese cat to lose weight because excess weight puts a strain on a cat’s body and will shorten his life. Obesity predisposes a cat to diabetes mellitus and will exacerbate respiratory conditions and arthritis.
A veterinarian is the best source of advice as to how to help a fat cat lose weight. A fat cat needs to have a lower caloric intake and usually can’t be allowed to snack freely. Usually a veterinarian will prescribe a low-calorie cat food. The cat should be weighed regularly to be sure he is losing weight; otherwise his rations must be further reduced. Rapid weight loss in cats should be avoided, however. Some cats develop a poorly understood disease called hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver) from rapid weight loss.
The fatter a cat becomes, the less he is apt to move around. An owner can help a fat cat reduce his weight by encouraging him to play. A dangling object may entice him to play, or a small moving toy such as a ball (Ping-Pong balls are excellent) or a windup mouse may cause him to give chase. Don’t expect a sedentary cat to suddenly jump up and play for any length of time. Give him a chance to get used to moving around again in short play sessions.
There are foods available on the market designed to meet kittens’ special nutritional needs. Up until four months kittens should be fed four times a day; after that, at least twice a day. In general, kittens should be allowed to eat as much as they want at each feeding. Supplementation is not recommended as long as a kitten is fed a high-quality complete and balanced diet specifically for kittens.