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Cats

Starting off with your new cat/kitten

Cats are incredible and sharing your home with a cat can be the most amazing experience. Cats make wonderful companions, but sometimes our lives can be in conflict with their natural behaviour, please read the “understanding your cat better” section on this website for an insight into what makes these complex and charismatic creatures tick.

Choosing your cat carefully will help you to ensure that you will get along fine. Ask at the breeder or adoption centre in detail about the background and personality of any cat you are planning to adopt. Don’t take on a shy cat which is used to living on his or her own if you have a family with lots of children, other cats and/or dogs. Spend as much time as possible getting to know the cat to see how you get on before you take him or her home. Please come and talk to us or email us for advice on choosing a cat.

It is never a good idea to expect more than one adult cat to share a cat-carrier. Even if they have got on well at their previous home, breeders or rescue centre, travelling is stressful to cats and they may become hostile to one another with potentially damaging consequences.

Do not expect your new cat to settle in immediately and make sure they have a quiet safe-haven to go to where they won’t be bothered by anyone. This safe haven should have all of the resources needed- food, water a clean litter tray a comfy bed and plenty of hiding places (cardboard boxes with bedding in the bottom are ideal for this).

If you have dogs or other cats, do not expect your new arrival to get on with them immediately and start by introducing them to one another for short periods (away from the safe-haven). Always allow them to “escape” from the situation if they choose and immediately separate them as quietly and calmly as possible if they are aggressive toward one-another. NEVER leave them together unsupervised until you are sure they are going to get along. Not only could they come to harm, if they fight they will reinforce negative feelings towards one another, causing stress and making matters worse. The introduction process could take as little as a couple of days, or as much as a couple of months depending on your cat’s personality. The idea that “they will sort out who is the boss between themselves” is not the right approach.

Young kittens are able to learn to adapt more quickly than adults. However they can still be shy and should have a safe haven as described above so they can explore their new home at their own pace.

Feeding your cat

Cats have evolved to eat small creatures that they have hunted. It would be very difficult ethically and practically to feed a ready supply of live or freshly-killed birds or small rodents free of parasites, poisons or other disease causing agents.

Thanks to the work of many nutritional scientists, commercially produced diets provide a good balanced diet for cats.

Cats should ideally be fed three or more small meals daily, preferably after they have been out exercising by patrolling their territory, or after a session of play. If left with an unlimited supply of food on-demand, cats may over eat and become severely overweight and may then suffer with obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.

Please book an appointment with one of our trained pet health councillors for advice on which food would suit your cat best.

Exercise

Many people assume that cats look after themselves in respect of exercise. Outdoor cats can get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They may amuse themselves by hunting small creatures, chasing leaves and checking out what is going on in their neighbourhood. Indoor cats can get bored easily and any cat that does not get enough exercise will not enjoy the best physical and mental health.

As well as being good for your cat, a few minutes spent playing with your cat with a sponge-ball or toy on a piece of string will raise a smile even on the dullest or most difficult days. Try to play with your cat at least twice daily, it will improve both of your lives!

Healthcare

Signs of illness or injury in cats may be harder to spot than in dogs. When a cat is ill he or she may appear just to be having an extra snooze, when they are actually resting because they have pain, fever, nausea or other problems. Make sure you get in the habit of checking that your cat has eaten and is willing to have a play or a grooming-session at least twice a day. Cats with outdoor access may be involved in accidents or be injured in fights with dogs or other cats which we know nothing about. Outdoor cats usually prefer to toilet outside and their human companions may be unaware of changes in their urine or faeces. It is even more important to check your cat if they have not come home when you expected them to. We are here to help and please call us if you are in doubt as to whether your cat is ill. The following advice is intended to help you to recognise and respond to the most important signs of illness:

Young kittens (those less than 16 weeks) and elderly cats have less resistance to infection and reduced capacity to resist dehydration, starvation, heat and cold. Advice should always be sought more quickly if they show signs of ill-health.

The following signs should be treated as urgent and an emergency appointment or advice should be sought immediately:

Breathing difficulties (including choking), severe pain (anywhere), unproductively straining to vomit, inability to pass urine, seizures (also referred “fits” or “convulsions”), significant bleeding, severe lethargy (difficulty walking, weakness, lack of energy, sleepiness which the cat cannot be woken from), abnormal bulging of one or both eyes, passing lots of fresh red or dark black blood in the stools (more than just a few specks).

If your cat is bright and affectionate, eating well and wanting to play or go out as normal, then symptoms like mild diarrhoea, occasional mild vomiting, limping or scratching are not cause for immediate concern. If however, symptoms are persistent for more than a few hours then it is preferable to get an appointment sooner rather than later.

Unexpected changes in behaviour, thirst, appetite or toileting patterns may be a sign of illness and should be investigated. It is useful to bring a sample of your cat’s urine with you to their appointment if their level of thirst has increased or their pattern of urination has changed significantly. Please ask for one of our special cat litters for urine sampling to help with this potentially difficult task!

If your cat has swallowed a solid, indigestible object (wood, plastic, metal stone, string etc) or something potentially poisonous, please call immediately for an appointment.

Burns and scalds should be treated immediately by rinsing with large amounts of clean cold water as this reduces the damage to the skin and underlying tissues. As soon as this has been done an emergency appointment should be sought.

If your cat has been hit by a vehicle, fallen for a significant distance (more than 3 metres) or had any other significant trauma, even if he or she seems unharmed please get veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Vaccinations

All cats should be vaccinated to protect them against Herpes and Calicivirus (which cause cat flu) and panleukopaenia virus (which causes enteritis, which can be fatal). Humans cannot be infected by these viruses. Even for lone indoor cats vaccination is recommended because almost all UK cats are born carrying the genetic code for the cat flu viruses in their own DNA. Vaccination for cat flu produces antibodies that prevent a cat from becoming ill, rather than preventing infection occurring. Panleukopaenia virus is very tough and survives for more than a year outside a cat’s body. Owners may unknowingly bring panleukopaenia virus in to a household on their shoes or clothing.

Cats with any outdoor access should also be vaccinated against the leukaemia virus, which can cause illness and death in a variety of ways. Cats can catch the leukaemia virus from contact with the urine, faeces, saliva or blood of an infected cat, so even shy cats who do go outdoors but do not come into direct contact with other cats are at risk. Humans cannot catch the feline leukaemia virus.

We recommend that previously unvaccinated cats or kittens have a course of two vaccinations 3-4 weeks apart as this has been shown to greatly increase the level of antibodies produced, providing your cat with better protection. Kittens can have their first vaccination not earlier than 8 weeks of age and should have their second vaccination not earlier than 12 weeks old.

It essential that unvaccinated cats of any age are not exposed to the risk of infection by mixing with other unvaccinated cats or being allowed outside.

Cats travelling overseas may need to be vaccinated for a variety of other diseases dependent on their destination. Please refer to the DEFRA website for information on this and other legal requirements to allow a cat to travel.

Parasite control

There are many different parasites that can infest cats in the UK, some of which can cause illness in cats or humans. We can prescribe safe, effective treatments to deal with these “unwelcome visitors”. Please telephone to book a free flea and worming consultation.

Reproduction and neutering

Cats become sexually mature and able to mate and produce kittens from approximately 5 months of age. Interestingly cats are not sexually active throughout the year, only during the spring, summer and autumn months.

During the breeding season female cats come “on heat” approximately every 3 weeks and will continue to do so until they are pregnant or the breeding season is over. When they are on heat female cats start “calling” for a mate. This involves lots of rolling around, crying loudly (it can sound absolutely terrible!) and pushing their rear end at anyone. Females will only allow mating to occur whilst they are on heat and will only ovulate if they are mated. Once mated by a fertile male pregnancy will last approximately 9 weeks.

When a male becomes sexually mature they will start to actively seek a mate and may show aggression towards other male cats. They will also start to produce a very distinctively unpleasant smelling mix of urine and fluid from the prostate with which to mark their territory. Please note that all cats regardless of age, sex or whether or not they have been neutered may spray urine to mark their territory.

In males neutering is referred to as castration and involves the surgical removal of both testes. This stops a male cats’ sexual behaviour and prevents them from fathering any kittens.

In females neutering is referred to as spaying and involves the surgical removal of both ovaries and the womb. Once spayed a female will no longer come on heat and is not capable of becoming pregnant.

Because cats tend to give birth to several kittens at a time and are capable of becoming pregnant again within 3 weeks of giving birth, a single female can give birth to more than 10 kittens every year. Kittens born early in the breading season are capable of giving birth to kittens later on in the breeding season. Therefore this one female could be mother and grandmother to a huge number of kittens in just one year! If we did not neuter out cats there would soon be a massive explosion in cat numbers and it would be impossible to look after all of them.

Remember it you let your cat out before neutering, males may get involved in fighting with other males and females are very likely to become pregnant. If you have taken on kittens of different sexes from the same litter, they are likely to mate as soon as they reach sexual maturity.