Cat-owners (of which I am one), are a unique bunch. We love our cats (every bit as much as dog-owners love their dogs), but we tend to be more "hands-off" with their care. This is probably because cats don't complain much, especially if allowed to stay in their routine. They tell their humans, "You do your thing and I'll do mine. I'll let you know if I need anything." And they do, especially at 6:00 AM when they are ready for us to WAKE UP! However, cats are not necessarily keen on change, even if it's for their own good. They detest going to the vet, having their food changed, meeting new cats, etc... This is another reason we cat owners are hands-off: We don't want them ticked off at us.
So cat-owners are a tough crowd for us veterinarians. When "what is best for the cat" doesn't jive with "what the cat wants", they are caught in the middle. "Do I really want to incur Garfield's wrath, just because this guy in the white coat says I should?" Trust me, I understand. But there are so many things that cat-owners could do better for their cats, that it really is worth it in the long run to make some changes. So here are my New Year's Resolutions for cat-owners:
1.Bring your cat to us at least once a year, no matter what! I know your cat hates it. I know she never goes outside. I know she seems perfectly healthy. But cats are the very best at hiding illness. It is very common for me to see an extremely sick cat, and have the owner swear that they brought her in as soon as they noticed a problem. Many of these problems have actually been chronic, and have pushed the cat to the breaking point, at which time my job becomes a lot tougher, and the outlook for the cat is much worse.
2.Put your cat on heartworm/intestinal parasite/flea medicine every month. Even indoor cats get parasites. Heartworm infection in cats is extremely difficult to diagnose, but can definitely shorten the cat's life by causing asthma-like symptoms, wasting disease, or even sudden death (I've seen it happen.) Cats can also carry intestinal worms, with no symptoms, which are contagious to her owners (gross!) Prevention is easy - there is a once-a-month topical product (no pills!) called Revolution which protects your cat against all these parasites.
3.Give your cat canned food, at least once in a while. The more we learn about feline medicine, the more we discover the value in treating many chronic conditions with certain "prescription" canned foods. The dietary therapy is often more effective than drugs (really!), and soooo much easier....as long as the cat will eat it. Yes, some of these diets also come in a dry form, but the canned food is almost always more effective. The biggest obstacle is trying to get a cat that has always eaten dry food to switch to canned (did I mention that cats hate change?) So, get your cat used to eating canned food, at least once a week or so. It may pay off later.
4.Feed your spayed/neutered adult cat about 30% less than the label says. AAFCO feeding guidelines are based on studies done mostly on non-spayed, non-neutered cats. We know that a spayed or neutered cat has about a 30% lower metabolic rate, and so needs fewer calories. Having said that, every cat is different, so the nutritional plan for your cat should be discussed with your veterinarian!
5.Play! All cats need physical and mental stimulation. They are predators by nature and are physiologically healthier if allowed to "scratch" their predatory "itch." Strings, feather toys, and laser pointers all provide the stimulation needed to help keep a cat healthy. Here is a link to a terrific website regarding environmental enrichment for indoor cats: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/.
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