Keeping Your Cat Healthy

One of the most important choices you can make to keep your cat healthy is to provide preventive care.  Your veterinarian can help in many ways, beginning with a thorough physical examination.  A relatively young, healthy cat should be seen at least once annually; an older cat or one with chronic problems will need to be examined more frequently.  Although recent advances in veterinary medicine offer your pet the highest quality health care ever, the best advice is to prevent disease from occurring in the first place.


During your pet’s examination, the doctor will check for common conditions such as internal or external parasites, skin disorders, disorders of the eyes, ears, or teeth, and heart conditions.  Your doctor will advise you on care for any detected problems in your pet, and counsel you on vaccinations, surgical alteration, and behavioral issues.  Take this time to ask any questions you may have about your pet’s health care.




Your cat will need vaccinations to prevent infection and to ensure proper long-term protection against various viral illnesses.  The following is our recommendation of vaccines for your cat:


FVR-CP:  Commonly known as the “distemper” vaccination, this vaccine is actually a  

3-way vaccination against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia (distemper).  We recommend this vaccine for all cats, beginning at 6-8 weeks of age with a second and third booster given at 3-4 weeks intervals.  The vaccine is then boostered annually.

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis is a widespread respiratory disease caused by a herpes virus.  It is most severe in kittens and causes signs of nasal and ocular discharge.  It is very contagious to cats and infection can result in chronic or recurrent infections throughout life.
  • Calicivirus is responsible for causing severe respiratory infections.  It may cause severe, painful ulcerations of the mouth and tongue, discharge from the eyes, and may cause pneumonia.  It may lead to persistent infection. 
  • Panleukopenia, otherwise known as feline distemper, causes clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and death.  It is the most widespread disease of cats and causes high mortality rates in those cats infected.  Vaccination is highly protective against this very contagious virus which is capable of surviving in the environment for years.


 Feline Leukemia (FeLV):  Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) is one of the most commonly diagnosed causes of disease and death in domestic cats. It is a transmittable retrovirus that can severely decrease a cat’s immune system and its’ ability to fight infections.  The virus is spread through contact with an infected cat – specifically body fluids, including saliva, blood and urine. It can also be passed by an infected mother cat to her unborn kittens, or through her milk when nursing. Symptoms of FeLV include weight loss, anemia, recurring infections, certain types of cancer, weakness, etc.  Because cats can carry the disease without showing symptoms, it is important to have all kittens and cats tested, even if they appear healthy.  The test is a simple blood test performed at your veterinarian’s.  Results are available in approximately 15 minutes. Cats that are in contact with known FeLV-positive cats or who frequently go outdoors should be vaccinated.  Initial vaccination is done at 9-12 weeks and a second booster is given 3-4 weeks later.  Annual vaccination is recommended.


The blood test mentioned above also checks for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). Also a retrovirus, the disease is transmitted by cat bites or breeding.  FIV progresses slowly and cats may remain symptom free for years. Because their immune systems are compromised, they may develop illnesses that are unrelated to the virus itself.  It is important to note that while similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), neither FeLV nor FIV are transmittable to people or dogs.


Rabies:  An inevitably fatal zoonotic disease affecting the central nervous system, this disease is seen infrequently now due to required vaccination for dogs and strong recommendations for cats.  It is, however, still present endemically in the wildlife populations and is therefore a very important public health concern.   Transmission is from any contact with a wild animal (bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes are the primary carriers) but especially from bites or scratches.  Given its nocturnal and predatory nature, the cat has surpassed the dog in actual rabies cases in recent years.  Any person receiving a bite or scratch from a wild animal or unfamiliar dog or cat should immediately clean the area with soap and water and report the wound to a physician and local animal control office.  The vaccination is given when your kitten is at least 12 weeks of age, and boostered yearly or every three years.




Internal and external parasites can be more than just an annoyance for you and your pet.   In certain instances, they can lead to serious illness and even death.  Prevention again plays an important role where parasites are concerned.


Intestinal worms:  Among the most common problems a cat may face, intestinal parasites are particularly prevalent in kittens.  Adult cats may be infected also.  Common parasites include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and several protozoa.  Signs may include diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, a distended or bloated abdomen, poor hair coat, and even death.  It is estimated that up to 85% of all kittens have intestinal worms.  Transmission is from eating off contaminated ground, eating wildlife or uncooked meat, or migration through the skin from infected soil.  Your veterinarian can identify parasite eggs in your cat’s feces.  A fresh stool sample (less than 12-24 hours old - litter within the sample is ok) should be provided to check for these parasites.  Many over-the-counter medications are less effective and even dangerous to your cat, so your veterinarian should prescribe an appropriate medication.


External parasites:  Common to dogs and cats are a number of external parasites which are not only bothersome to you and your pet, but can transmit sometimes-fatal disease.


Fleas:  These brown insects live on the surface of your pet’s skin and feed on blood. They excrete dried-blood feces often identified on your pet as “flea        dirt.”

            Here are some facts about fleas:

  • Since they feed on blood from your cat, severe flea infestation can cause life threatening anemia, especially in kittens.
  • Each flea lays approximately 50 eggs per day which fall off wherever your pet goes.  A flea infestation by 50-100 fleas is not uncommon.
  • Fleas can transmit other diseases, including blood parasites and tapeworms.
  • Flea bites can lead to a severe flea allergy, causing sores and infection of your cat’s skin.
  • Fleas are now easily treated or prevented with a once-a-month topical medication.  Over-the-counter products are NOT as effective and can be extremely dangerous if used on cats.


Ticks:  These blood sucking arthropods attach themselves to your cat’s skin, usually around the head and neck where they cannot be groomed off, and engorge themselves with blood which is used to nourish their eggs. They may carry a number of infectious blood-borne diseases.  A tick should be removed by pulling it out near the attachment point on the skin.  Using tweezers is advised.  Never burn or squeeze a tick while attached to your cat’s skin.  A very effective topical once-a-month prevention is available to prevent both flea and tick infestation.


Mites:  These parasites are found on the skin or in the ears of both dogs and cats.  Several types of mites can be found.  Infestation of the skin is called mange and may cause mild or intense itching, hair loss and skin lesions.  Your veterinarian will advise you on the proper treatment depending upon the type of mite found. 

Ear mites are very common in kittens or outdoor cats and are relatively easy to treat.


Heartworm disease:  Yes, cats can acquire heartworm disease also (which is usually considered a dog parasite) and the infection can be severe, even fatal.  Heartworm is a parasite whose larva is transmitted by the bite of a mosquito and then matures in the heart to cause heart or lung disease.  Symptoms in the cat include coughing or labored breathing, vomiting, or sudden death.  Incidence of heartworms in the cat is thought to be very low, particularly in SW Michigan. However, many cats are clinically normal making detection difficult.  Testing in cats involves a blood test which is sent to an outside laboratory for those suspect cats.  Testing does not have to be done prior to starting prevention in the cat.  Prevention is available in the form of a once-a-month topical medication which prevents fleas, ticks, mites, intestinal worms, and heartworms.  We recommend applying this medication year round,




Surgical sterilization, or neutering of your cat is a responsible decision for any cat owner.  It is important to reduce the soaring pet population, reduce the number of homeless pets, and protect your cat’s health.  Male cats are surgically castrated, while female cats are surgically spayed (ovariohysterectomy).  Consider the following facts:


  • Neutering reduces the risk of cancer in older pets.  Spaying female cats before a heat cycle or pregnancy virtually eliminates the risk of breast cancer which, left untreated, can be fatal in up to 80% of cases.  It also eliminates ovarian or uterine cancer.  Castration of male cats prevents testicular cancer.
  • Spaying eliminates life-threatening uterine infections.
  • Spaying eliminates future heat cycles which are annoying and may cause your cat to roam.  Male cats are typically attracted to a house that has a female in season.
  • Castration of your male cat markedly reduces his tendency to roam thereby reducing his chance of injury from cars, fights with other cats or dogs, or from protective homeowners.
  • Castration at a young age decreases or eliminates urine marking/spraying behavior in male cats.


Don’t let the myths about neutering your cat dissuade you from this important decision.  The procedure will not lead to obesity or laziness.  Those conditions are brought on by consumption of too many calories and having too little exercise.  There is no benefit to allowing your cat to have a first heat cycle or pregnancy before neutering.  In fact, it is medically beneficial (see above) to spay your cat prior to a heat cycle or mating.  There is also no scientific support for waiting for sexual maturity in order to reduce the likelihood of urinary problems.


We recommend that neutering be done in the age range of 4-6 months.   This provides the optimum size and age for a safe and easy procedure and rapid recovery.   If desired, surgical declawing can be done at the same time as neutering so the number of anesthetic procedures is minimized.  Our hospital utilizes surgical LASER for declaw procedures, which decreases bleeding, swelling, and pain.  This is the very latest in surgical technology available.


Nutrition and Exercise


A well balanced diet is essential to good health and growth, and is an important preventive measure itself in the health of your cat or kitten.  Table foods, dog food, or generic diets are unacceptable diets for your cat as they are not properly balanced for your cat’s nutritional needs and may lead to metabolic or nutritional deficiencies.  Poor hair coat, poor weight gain, excess weight gain (obesity), susceptibility to disease, and general weakness are all symptoms of a poor diet.  Premium brand foods are those whose ingredients are of higher quality.  Typically, the higher quality foods have nutrition more readily available to your cat because of higher digestibility and uptake than lesser quality foods have, though the guaranteed analysis may appear very similar on the label. 


Physical exercise is integral to the developing strength and overall health of your cat.  As with people, too little activity may lead to general weakness and obesity.


Dental health


Pets have teeth, too.  That may seem obvious, but approximately 80% of adult cats have neglected dental problems which may include dental tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, loose or infected teeth, cavities, and pain!  Bad breath is a common sign of dental disease which should prompt a dental examination by your veterinarian.  Prevention of dental disease, just like other diseases, is the key to preserving your cat’s dental health as advanced dental disease may necessitate extraction of teeth.  Advanced dental disease may lead to infection of the bloodstream, heart, kidneys, and liver and can shorten your cat’s life.  A proper diet, dental cleansing treats, tooth brushing, and periodic cleaning by your veterinarian are all good preventive measures to ensure good dental health.  A dental cleaning procedure can be scheduled where your cat’s teeth are ultrasonically cleaned and polished under general anesthesia.


Microchipping your cat


A microchip is an implantable medical device that safely and permanently identifies your pet.  The device, which is injected under your cat’s skin, has a unique identification number which can be read with a scanner. Most shelters and veterinary offices have scanners, and routinely check stray cats and dogs for the presence of a chip. The ideal time to have a microchip implanted is when your pet is spayed or neutered, and is under anesthesia.  It is also possible to place the chip when your pet is awake.

Human medications


Just a quick word about human medications:  very few human medications are safe to give a cat at standard doses, and can be very dangerous or even fatal.  It is best to consult your veterinarian before giving any medications at home.


Please call our office at 269-381-1570 if there are any questions you have regarding your pet’s care.