February is National Cat Health Month
It’s National Cat Health Month, so as a practicing holistic veterinarian, I’ve got much to say about the means by which owners should best care for their feline friends.
I first have to state that owners must make their cat’s health a daily priority. This means that efforts should be made each day to prevent and reduce bodily ailments; even if doing so may be inconvenient or require effort or expense.
As so many cats suffer from otherwise preventative diseases, owners who commit themselves to proactively preventing such conditions will have healthier companions who will likely live longer, have a better quality of life, and incur fewer veterinary expenses.
Here are my Top Five Feline Health Tips for National Cat Health Month
1. Be aware of and prevent obesity
In 2014, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) conducted its annual National Pet Obesity Awareness Day Survey which established that 58% of cats (and 53% of dogs) in the U.S. are overweight or obese. That’s nearly 100,000,000 cats and dogs, which is an unacceptable reflection of how Americans treat our pets.
So many owners aren’t even aware that their cat may be overweight or obese. Some even feel that their fat cats are cute. Many potentially irreversible diseases, none of which are “cute,” are associated with being overweight or obese. Diabetes, arthritis, constipation, skin irritation and infection, heart/lung/blood vessel diseases, and others can be prevented, which can save your cat from suffering bouts of illness and numerous trips to the veterinarian..
The simple concepts of restricting calories and promoting daily exercise can help to keep your cat slim and healthy. Schedule an examination with your cat’s veterinarian so that it can be determined if his weight and body condition score (BCS, according to The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine Body Condition Scoring Chart) qualify him as overweight, underweight, or just right. Your veterinarian can also calculate the number of calories your cat needs to eat per day to achieve an ideal body weight and advise you the quantity of his current foods that equates to the caloric recommendation.
I recommend my feline patients eat whole-food diets having real meat protein with minimal to no grains, as cats are obligate carnivores (meaning they only need meat to thrive) and have no metabolic requirement to eat carbohydrates such as grains and grain by-products that are commonly included in most commercially-available dry (kibble) and canned diets.
2. Partner with your veterinarian to create a periodontal care plan
Let’s face it, cleaning a cat’s teeth doesn’t sound like a fun pastime to the owner nor feline. Yet, taking care of your cat’s mouth can be a ritualistic process that promotes the bond between owner and feline.
Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) estimates that “more than 80 percent of pets in the U.S. experience gum disease by age three.” Like obesity, periodontal disease is also a preventable condition that can potentially have irreversible and life-threatening consequences.
Periodontal disease has many negative health implications for the internal organs, including the heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas and the immune system.
The best practice is to prevent periodontal disease from happening instead of addressing it once bad breath, decreased appetite, difficulty chewing, tooth loss, lethargy, other associated health issues occur.
This takes dedication and consistency on behalf of the owner in collaboration with guidance from the overseeing veterinarian in determining the daily home dental care that bests suits the cat’s needs and if anesthetic dental cleaning is needed.
For my feline patients, I suggest making the home dental care experience a tasty one by starting with a finger dipped into meat broth (onion and garlic-free, of course) that’s then rubbed onto the teeth and gums. You can gradually progress to a finger brush, gauze square, or soft-bristle toothbrush lacking the broth. Yet, if a bit of broth on the toothbrush is needed to make brushing tolerable to your cat then stick with the broth.
3. Minimize exposure to household and environmental toxins
Smoking is a harmful habit both to the smoker and the people and pets exposed to second-hand smoke. Besides the irritants and chemicals all creatures sharing the smoke-filled environment end up breathing, beds, blankets, clothes, floors, and furniture (i.e. third-hand smoke) collect toxic residues which pose serious health risks to our animal companions.
By the simple act of self-grooming, toxins will be ingested when cats clean their fur or paw pads with their mouths. Additionally, cats are more likely than humans to lick the floor or other environmental surfaces and will absorb toxins to which humans may not orally ingest.
Most cats live indoor-only lives and are more affected by the noxious effects of smoking, especially when it comes to cancer, as compared to animals that also spend time outside. Cats living in smoking households are more prone to oral squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, and mammary cancer.
4. Perform antibody titers as an alternative to booster vaccinations
Vaccinations are important to prevent life-threatening diseases affecting cats like Feline Leukemia, Panleukopenia, Rabies, and others. Yet, sometimes vaccines are given without any consideration of the cat’s current level of immunity and can cause health problems.
There was even a time when cats developed malignant skeletal muscle cancers called feline injection-site sarcomas (FISS) when injected with Feline Leukemia vaccine that included aluminum-based adjuvants, which help to promote the immune system to better produce antibodies against the Feline Leukemia virus. Unfortunately, such adjuvants caused some cats to develop malignant and fatal cancer. Fortunately, awareness of this potential has been increased and feline-specific vaccines no longer contain aluminum-based adjuvants, which has led to safer vaccinations for our feline friends.
After your cat receives his kitten vaccinations, there’s likelihood he may still have residual immunity when it comes time to provide a vaccine booster. Consult with your veterinarian about performing a blood test called an antibody titer to determine your cat’s immunity to his prior vaccinations. If the titer is at a level at or above a protective threshold, your cat will likely be able to fight off infection by the microorganism (bacteria, virus, etc.) for which he’s been previously vaccinated. If the titer is below the protective threshold, then your veterinarian can advise you if a booster vaccine is needed.
A cat’s lifestyle should be considered when making any decisions about vaccinations. For example, cats that live 100% indoor lives by themselves or with other exclusively indoor cats that have also been appropriately vaccinated and are free from transmissible diseases have low potential to be exposed to infectious organisms. Such felines are good candidates to have titer testing performed instead of simply giving a booster vaccination “because it is due.”
Owners can learn more about FISS via the AVMA’s Vaccines and Sarcomas: A Concern for Cat Owners.
5. Improve your mental state and overall health by bonding with your feline friend
Cats can provide owners with a variety of mental health benefits, including emotional and social well-being, a sense of attachment, and decreased feelings of isolation occurring during psychiatric illness. There’s a term for this effect: zooeyia, which refers to beneficial effects companion animals have on human health. Zooeyia is comes from the Greek roots of zoion (animals) and hygeia (health).
Although our feline friends don’t require us to get outside and exercise (walk, typically) simply to serve their elimination needs like their canine counterparts, cat ownership “significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated death.” A positive health benefit of cat ownership is the blood pressure-lowering and calming effect that comes with gently and repeatedly stroking your furry friend’s back.
Have a pleasant and productive National Cat Health Month by always prioritizing the best interests of your feline friends in your day-to-day activities and home environment.