In This Chapter
- Deciding what, when, and how to feed your cat
- Choosing a vet and preparing for your first and subsequent visits to the veterinarian
- Protecting your cat against diseases and pests with vaccinations and pest-control products
- Grooming your cat for spectacular beauty and good health
Adopted cats may not be accustomed to premium food, regular vet visits, and daily grooming sessions, but these amenities are important for cats. Independent though your adopted cat may be, she nevertheless needs you to take good care of her. Some adopted cats may have nutritional or health problems that need to be resolved right off the bat. Others may have serious grooming issues, or maybe your cat is the picture of glowing health. Regardless of the shape and condition your cat is in today, paying attention to nutritional, health, and grooming needs can help bring your new cat back to a healthy state.
In this chapter, you find out about your cat’s nutritional needs, how to choose a good cat food and whether your cat is at a healthy weight. You also discover how to choose a good cat vet and provide basic cat health maintenance, kitten vaccinations, annual exams, and pest control. And you’ll explore how to groom your beautiful kitty, from the top of her silky head to the tip of her twitching tail, making the most of that pretty coat and those hypnotizing eyes.
Keeping Your Cat Healthy
Your cat’s good health depends on many factors, but the number-one defense against poor health is your friendly neighborhood veterinarian. Your vet provides you with information about keeping your cat healthy, from recommending a food to reminding you when your cat is due for her next vaccination, working with you from the first visit to all the follow-ups thereafter. Your vet also answers your questions, helps you choose a good flea-control product, advises you about spaying or neutering, and even recommends a trainer, so don’t neglect this valuable resource.
You’re also a key player in providing for your cat’s good health, because you’re the one who:
- Knows your cat best
- Watches your cat grow, change, and age
- Spots physical changes in your cat that can be the first signs of disease
- Notices changes in behavior, eating and drinking habits, or any limping, skin bumps, eye or teeth problems, or other problems your cat may exhibit
What you do about the changes you witness throughout your cat’s life can make all the difference, so pay attention to your cat. Her health is in your hands.
Choosing a great cat vet
A great cat vet is worth his weight in catnip. Some vets really love cats, and even specialize in them, working in cats-only clinics and hospitals, but others see all types of pets. Your job is to find a vet with whom you feel comfortable, who communicates well and generally seems to like and appreciate your cat.
Other factors that you need to consider are office location, friendliness of the staff, how long you have to wait in the waiting room, how often the vet’s office is open, whether you have access to an associated emergency clinic, and how qualified and experienced your vet is with cats. Don’t be afraid to interview a few vets if you aren’t comfortable with the first vet you find. The relationship between you, your vet, and your cat is long-term and not something you want to rush into!
The first exam
When you find a vet that you love, you need to schedule a first exam before taking your new cat home. Even though shelters sometimes have a vet examine animals before adoption, you may still want to take your new cat to the vet — your vet. The first visit with a vet is the beginning of your relationship and your joint effort to promote your new cat’s health.
During the first visit, your vet asks you for information about your new cat, such as:
- Where you got your cat
- Whether you know your cat’s age and breed
- How much you know about your cat’s health and previous vaccination history
- Whether your cat is spayed or neutered
- Whether you have any specific concerns
If you notice anything unusual about your cat, such as a lump, a problem with her coat, itching, head shaking, limping, or other strange behavior, the first visit with the vet is the time to mention it.
After these preliminary inquiries, your vet probably will give your cat a physical examination on the exam table, poking and prodding virtually every part of your cat’s body to make sure everything feels healthy. During an exam, the vet also:
- Looks at your cat’s eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, and skin
- Checks for skin and internal abnormalities
- Listens to your cat’s heart and breath sounds
- Watches your cat walk to make sure everything is moving correctly
If the exam points to anything unusual, from signs of an ear or skin infection to a crooked gait or a heart murmur, your vet may recommend conducting some tests.
Your vet probably will give your new kitten a deworming product, because most kittens are born with worms, and will give your kitten or cat her next (or first!) set of vaccinations before discussing other health-care issues with you, such as ongoing parasite prevention to protect against fleas and heartworms and when to have your cat spayed or neutered.
Spaying or neutering your cat
Considering the hundreds of thousands of unwanted cats in the world today, spaying or neutering your new cat as soon as possible makes sense. Spaying or neutering your cat not only prevents an accidental litter of kittens, but it also proves to be good for your cat’s overall health. Not only are female cats spared the health risks of pregnancy and delivering a litter of kittens, they no longer run the risk of developing uterine or ovarian cancer — because those organs have been removed. Spayed cats also have a lower risk of breast cancer. Male cats, on the other hand, won’t develop testicular cancer, won’t go wandering off looking for female cats, and are less likely to spray in the house to mark territory. Female and male cats alike may be calmer and more affectionate after they’re spayed or neutered.
Although sterilization surgery can be relatively expensive, many shelters and rescue groups have partnered with local vets to offer deep discounts or even free surgeries. Some shelters have promotional events during which the service is free. Ask your shelter how you can pay less for this important procedure.
Vaccines and deworming
Vaccinations are a controversial subject. Not everyone agrees how often older cats need to be vaccinated, particularly because cats sometimes develop cancerous tumors near the sites of their vaccinations. On the other hand, vaccinations can prevent some very serious, even fatal diseases. Clearly vaccinations have a place. The question simply is how often they’re needed.
The law dictates how often cats must be treated with a rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccine is important, especially for cats. More cats get rabies than do dogs, because cats are more likely to wander around outside and come into contact with wildlife. However, even inside cats need to get a rabies vaccination. You never know when your cat may sneak outside or when a raccoon may get into your house — it happens more often than you may think.
Most vets agree that a series of vaccinations during the first year of life are important for building up your kitten’s immune system between weaning and maturity. The typical vaccination schedule for a kitten varies somewhat according to the vet’s preference, your cat’s exposure and age, and where you live. Table 10-1 shows a fairly common vaccination schedule, including a series of FVRCP vaccinations. The FVRCP stands for: feline viral rhinotracheitis (an upper respiratory infection), calicivirus (an upper respiratory infection), and panleukopenia (an intestinal virus). Kittens also need a feline leukemia vaccination, if they test negative for the disease, and a rabies vaccination, which is required by law. If you adopt an adult cat, and you don’t know anything about his vaccination history, he needs to have an FVRCP vaccination and a feline leukemia vaccination (if the test for the disease is negative) and then another of each vaccination two or three weeks later. Your cat also needs to have a rabies vaccination.
Kitten Vaccination Schedule
from 18 months
yearly (or as required)
The real controversy comes after the first year. Talk to your vet about how often you need to vaccinate your cat, which vaccinations are important for your cat, and whether your cat may be prone to vaccination-site sarcoma. Some vets recommend annual booster vaccinations for the FVRCP, feline leukemia virus, and rabies, but other vets prefer a less frequent vaccination schedule, depending to some extent on your cat’s health and how often he is outside.
Dealing with fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes
Your new friend may have picked up a few unwanted friends without knowing it while wandering the streets on her own or living with other strays at the shelter. Fleas, ticks, mites, flies, and even worms transmitted by mosquitoes can all afflict adopted cats. Your vet will examine your new cat for these pests and recommend treatment and/or prevention strategies, especially for cats that spend any time outside, even on a leash or in a fenced yard. Even indoor cats can get fleas. These pests show up just about anywhere, and often live in carpets and furniture. Your vet may recommend heartworm preventive and monthly spot-on flea control even for outside cats, and may have additional recommendations for cats that spend time outdoors.
Many convenient products exist to control pests, but the best and safest come from your veterinarian, so get your pest control products there. Although they may cost a little more, the extra pennies are worth the additional product effectiveness for the health of your cat. Some people choose to buy these products online at reduced prices, although most vets don’t recommend that practice because they prefer to see your cat and be involved in what medications and products you’re using on the cat.
Never ever use a pest control product that’s intended for a dog on your cat! Many such products are toxic to cats and can even kill them. Even products made for cats can be toxic if used incorrectly, so follow the directions to the letter.
Remaining on the lookout for health problems
Every cat can be injured, develop a chronic disease, and catch fleas, but adopted cats are particularly susceptible to these problems. If a cat was injured in the past — in a fight or struck by a car — he may have a particularly vulnerable spot you don’t know about. Sudden limping or pain can be a flare-up of a past injury. Cats new to the shelter may still be recovering from injuries, skin rashes, hair loss, heartworms, or flea infestations. These conditions range from mild to life-threatening.
Older adopted cats also are susceptible to diseases of aging, and the cats that didn’t receive good healthcare in their younger years may be more susceptible than healthy cats that were fed well and were under a vet’s care. These diseases and conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, urinary tract problems, thyroid problems, heart disease, and cancer. Animal shelters and pet rescue groups check their cats for serious problems, but some adopted cats may not show signs of these chronic conditions. You may discover them later, which is why taking note of any physical or behavioral changes in your adopted cat is so important — so you can alert your vet. The sooner your vet diagnoses a health problem, the easier it can be resolved or managed.
Adopted cats that haven’t been vaccinated but have been exposed to wildlife and other cats as they wandered as strays may have contracted serious diseases like feline leukemia (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, sometimes called feline AIDs).
– Feline leukemia (FeLV): FeLV is the most common cause of illness and death in pet cats today. This dangerous retrovirus suppresses your cat’s immune system so he cannot fight off infection. FeLV is easy to contract, not only through wounds but also by sharing a food or water dish with another cat. Humans and dogs are not at risk for contracting this disease, but other cats are at a high risk. Signs of FeLV include weight loss and lack of appetite, low energy and weakness, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and strange behavior. Some cats show no signs.
The test for feline leukemia is simple, but sometimes it can give a false positive, so retest in two months if you can, or test twice if you’re trying to decide about adopting the cat. For FeLV-free cats, a vaccine exists that is usually successful in preventing this disease. Indoor cats that are never exposed to other cats may not require this vaccine. Ask your vet for advice about whether your cat needs this vaccine.
If you discover your new adopted cat has FeLV and you have no other cats, you may decide to keep the cat anyway. Adult cats with FeLV have about a 33 percent chance of actually mounting an immune response to the virus and getting rid of it. About half the cats with FeLV never get sick from it, although they should not interact with other cats, because they can pass the disease along. Half of the cats with FeLV die within three years from related complications, but because humans aren’t at risk, you still can give your FeLV-positive cat a good, happy, fulfilling life for a few years, or if your cat is one of the lucky ones, for many years to come.
Some vets may not want to deal with FeLV patients, but if you’re willing to keep a cat with this virus and your vet recommends euthanasia when your cat shows any symptoms, consider looking for a different vet who is more open to the option of caring for FeLV-positive cats.
– Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) — feline AIDs: Feline AIDs is similar to the AIDs virus in humans, but it is not the same and is not transmissible to humans. Cats transmit it to each other, usually through blood and saliva exchanged during fights, so outdoor cats — especially unneutered cats that are likely to fight — are at high risk. Signs of FIV include wounds and sores that won’t heal, gum infections, respiratory infections, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, and a messy-looking coat.
Feline AIDs has no cure. A vaccine is available, but it causes subsequent FIV tests to show up positive, which can be problematic, because vaccinated cats look no different to a vet than cats with the virus. Some vets tattoo the cat’s ear with “FIV vacc’d,” but many vets don’t recommend the vaccine because of this problem.
An easy test determines whether your new adopted cat has FIV. Although cats can live for many years with FIV, they usually eventually contract fatal secondary infections caused by their compromised immune function. Even so, the years they do have are often happy, and the cats do not suffer. At one point, vets thought FIV was as contagious as feline leukemia, but they now realize it isn’t. FIV-positive cats can live safely with other cats, as long as they don’t fight. Playing, grooming, and sharing food and water dishes do not transmit the virus. If you decide to keep an FIV cat, you can enjoy many happy years together until the cat finally starts to show signs of ill health.
You may not always know whether a limp, a twitch, or a strange cry warrants a call or a trip to the vet. The better and longer you know your cat, the more you’ll develop a good sense of what is and is not normal for him, but in general, a few signs point to cats that may have serious conditions.
In an emergency, you may not have time to figure out what to do, so before that emergency strikes, post your veterinarian’s phone number, the number for the ASPCA Poison Control Center — 888-426-4435 (a $50 consultation fee may apply) — and phone number and address of the nearest 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic in an accessible spot. Even if everything turns out to be just fine, give your vet a call whenever your cat displays any of the following possible symptoms of an emergency condition:
- Signs of a seizure: These signs include loss of consciousness, uncontrolled jerky movements, stiffened body, glazed stare, or nonresponsiveness.
- Uncontrolled bleeding: If your cat is injured beyond a little scratch and you can’t stop the bleeding, see the vet right away. If you can stop the bleeding but the wound looks serious or infected with pus or redness and swelling, call your vet.
- Continual vomiting, vomiting blood: Cats with hairballs will cough and gag and upchuck a hairball, but repeated vomiting and any sign of blood in the vomit warrant immediate veterinary attention.
- Signs of extreme pain: These signs may include yowling, hiding, shaking, or dramatic behavioral changes.
- Uncontrolled movement: The signs include staggering, falling over, or loss of consciousness.
- Evidence that your cat ingested a poisonous substance: Any of the above symptoms can be signs of poisoning.
- Evidence of serious injury: Your cat shows signs of serious injury if he is struck by a car, falls from a high perch, or is struck hard by some other object.
- Frequent visits to the litter box, or sitting or lying in the litter box. Frequent potty stops can be a sign of urinary blockage. Total blockage is a true emergency and requires immediate medical attention.
Making time for an annual exam
Even though your adult cat isn’t going to need a vaccine booster every year, taking her to the vet for an annual checkup is important. Yes, even though she’s perfectly healthy! No, this isn’t a waste of money. Cats are susceptible to many of the same diseases of aging as humans — cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis, to name a few. Regular vet checkups keep you and your vet in close touch with your cat’s health. They enable your vet to keep an eye and two hands on your cat once a year to check for early warning signs of chronic diseases in addition to general symptoms of aging.
Veterinarians have plenty of resources at their disposal for reducing suffering, including pain and discomfort. They also rely on therapies that can actually cure diseases, or at least slow down their progression, giving your cat a longer, healthier, happier life and more time with you. Don’t neglect these important checkups. Remember, your cat’s life is in your hands.
Some adopted cats came from homes where they received good nutrition, but many were fed low-quality diets or had to fend for themselves while wandering. Your adopted cat now has a permanent home and the opportunity to thrive, so feed her the best diet possible to give her a better chance at having a strong, healthy body. The sections that follow provide the nutritional information you need to know.
Choosing the right food for your cat
Cats are carnivores, and their unique biology results in some specific nutritional requirements. Cats need:
- Meat protein.
- The amino acid taurine, which is found in muscle meat. Insufficient taurine in a cat’s diet can result in blindness and/or heart disease.
- Vitamin A from organ meat sources (because they can’t digest vitamin A from plants).
- More niacin from meat sources than other pets because of unique feline enzyme activity.
- Certain essential fatty acids that are found only in animal fat. Insufficient amounts of fatty acids can result in skin and coat problems.
Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies can cause problems that range from sores in the mouth and a poor, pathetically ragged coat to a suppressed immune system. Kittens born to malnourished mothers may have birth defects.
No, your cat should not eat a vegetarian diet, unless your vet recommends it for a specific health problem. No, your cat should not eat dog food, which contains more plant matter than cat food. Cats need cat food, or an extremely carefully constructed, supervised homemade diet. If you’re like most pet owners, commercial cat food is the easiest and most convenient choice.
Every adopted cat needs to be checked by a vet for health problems. (For more information, see the earlier sections on “Choosing a great cat vet” and “The first exam.”) If your vet has specific nutritional recommendations for your cat, by all means, follow them. To address chronic disease, your vet may even write a prescription for a specific kind of food that’s only available through the vet. For a healthy cat with issues that can be easily resolved with treatment, however, all you need to do is switch your cat to a high-quality premium cat food.
The first thing you need to know about choosing a food for your new cat is what your cat was eating before you adopted her, how much she was eating, and whether she had any particular eating habits, preferences, or finicky mealtime behaviors. The shelter or rescue group should be able to provide some insight into your new pet’s eating habits. From that information, you can decide whether to continue your cat’s feeding regimen or try a different one.
If you decide to change your cat’s food, don’t be overwhelmed by the many pet foods available today. Keep the following simple tips in mind when choosing the best quality food you can afford:
- Read the label. Cats need real meat protein in their diets. Cat foods that meet nutritional requirements for cats and are approved by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) are packaged with an official statement on their labels that confirms these factors. All premium foods have this statement.
- Price often is an indicator of quality. The cheapest foods don’t contain the same high-quality ingredients as the most expensive foods. Generic or store brands usually are lower in quality, while premium brands made by companies like Purina, Iams (Eukanuba), Hills (Science Diet), Nutro, and Waltham usually use better ingredients in the form of more digestible proteins and denser nutrients.
- Dry kibble is fine for many cats. Dry kibble is cheaper and lasts longer than canned cat food. Other cats prefer canned food because they like the taste (and it looks more like real meat). Many pet owners like to moisten dry kibble with a little tasty canned food for the best of both worlds. The choice is up to you.
- Organic, natural, holistic foods generally are pricier and contain ingredients that manufacturers believe are the highest quality and closest to what cats would eat in the wild. Some of these terms are regulated (like “organic”), and others aren’t (like “holistic”), so buyer beware. Nevertheless people who choose organic food for themselves often prefer these foods and believe them to be well worth the price for their cats.
- Raw diets — either homemade or frozen and packaged — are controversial. These diets consist of raw meat along with other components like ground vegetables and bone meal, which some people believe mimics what a cat would eat in the wild. Others believe this kind of diet can put a cat at risk for infection from pathogens from the raw meat or incomplete nutrition. Talk to your vet if you’re curious whether a raw diet is best for your cat.
Avoiding harmful foods
The occasional bit of boiled chicken, grilled salmon, or filet mignon will probably make your cat happy (not to mention motivated to follow your training cues), but cats cannot and should not eat all the food people eat. Food that isn’t good for humans certainly isn’t good for pets. Fried foods, high-fat foods, and foods containing sugar like cookies and candy are not only void of any helpful nutrition, but they also can fill up your cat so he doesn’t eat his nutritious food, thus resulting in malnutrition. These foods also contribute to obesity and digestive upset. If you thought your table scraps looked relatively tasty when you gave them to your cat, you probably won’t feel the same about them when they come back up — or run right through.
Some foods do more than disagree with your cat; they can be toxic. For the sake of your cat’s good health and safety, never feed your cat:
- Onions or garlic, which can cause anemia.
- Green, or unripe, tomatoes or their leaves and stems, or the green parts of potatoes, which contain a poison.
- Chocolate, which contains theobromine, a stimulant to which some cats are extremely sensitive.
- Coffee, coffee beans, coffee grounds, tea bags, or anything containing caffeine (including chocolate, see above).
- Grapes or raisins, which have been proven poisonous so far only to dogs but which may also be poisonous to cats. No point in risking it.
- Alcohol, which can poison any pet.
- The seeds or stones in apples, peaches, apricots, and plums.
If you decide to switch your cat’s food from the brand she was eating at the shelter, buy a small bag of the old food and a small bag of the new food, and then gradually phase in the new food. At first, combine new and old food at a ratio of about one part new to three parts old. After a few days, feed about half new and half old. After a few more days, feed three parts new to one part old, and then after a few more days, feed your cat the new food exclusively. If your cat starts having digestive problems like vomiting or diarrhea, slow down the transition, gradually increasing the amount of new food over the course of a week or two.
Deciding between free feeding and meal feeding
Some cats can be free-fed, meaning their food dish sits out all day and they can nibble on their kibble whenever they choose. This feeding arrangement works well for cats at a healthy weight that are not food-obsessed, but it isn’t usually a good idea for overweight cats. They may eat their entire daily allowance of food at once and then beg for more. Free feeding is an especially bad choice if you’re likely to give in to that begging and overfeed your cat. It also doesn’t work well when you have a dog (or another cat) that eats the cat food. You won’t be able to tell how much each cat is eating, and one cat (or the dog) may be scoring all the chow.
The other option is feeding your cat at appointed mealtimes and then taking up any food that remains after she walks away from her bowl. Young kittens need to eat three or four times a day, with their daily allowance of food divided among these feedings. Adult cats may be able to get by with being fed just once a day, but most prefer two daily meals, an approach that keeps your cat from getting too hungry.
Don’t give in to the beggar, or you risk contributing to a weight problem. Feed your cat according to her weight. The cat-food package (can or bag) tells you how much to feed. Then, if your cat starts looking too heavy, you can decrease the amount slightly. If she looks too thin, increase the amount slightly. Many pet-food companies overestimate the amount of food a pet really needs to stay healthy, so start by feeding your cat in the lower range suggested on the petfood label or ask your vet how much you should feed you cat.
Do you have a fat cat or a scrawny kitty?
Because so many adopted cats are either too thin or too fat, you need to get a clear picture of whether your cat needs to eat a little more than usual until he reaches a healthy weight, or whether you need to limit your cat’s meals and treats to help him get back down to a healthy weight — no matter how much he begs.
Adopted cats may have additional nutritional issues. Many cats in animal shelters were picked up off the streets where they were living on their own or in substandard conditions. These cats can be underweight and malnourished and may be suffering from problems caused by nutritional deficiencies (see earlier section on “Choosing the right food for your cat”).
Some adopted cats have the opposite problem. They’ve been in a home where they were overfed and now are overweight or obese. In fact, so many pet cats in America are obese that many vets consider the problem an epidemic. They get that way because their owners feed them too much, leave food out all day and don’t monitor their intake, and because they don’t get very much exercise. Obesity puts extra stress on all your cat’s internal organs and can aggravate arthritis in senior cats.
Pet owners tend to be in denial about weight problems their pets may have; they don’t want to admit their cats are too fat. They are, however, more willing, in general, to admit their cats are too thin. However, many people who have cats of a normal, healthy weight believe their cats are too thin. Well-meaning pet owners tend to want to nurture their new pets with food and treats, but doing so can quickly backfire when an underweight cat blows right past normal to become an overweight cat.
If you have any doubts whether your cat is overweight or underweight, your vet can make the call for you and advise you about how to correct the problem. You can also tell by looking at Figure 10-1. How does your cat look? What’s the verdict?
Administering the body evaluation test
Take a good hard look at your cat. Look at her from the top and from the side, and feel her ribs. Can you feel those ribs, or are they so covered with flesh that you can’t even tell where they are? What about the top view? Your cat should show a graceful waist tuck. From the side, her abdomen should tuck up slightly.
If you not only feel but also see your cat’s ribs — if her bones protrude sharply, and she looks like the first picture in Figure 10-1 — your cat is underweight. If your cat looks like the last picture, with a belly hanging pendulously toward the floor — if you can feel no sign whatsoever of ribs, and if her torso looks more like a beach ball than a slender hourglass — your cat is too heavy. Many adult cats have pendulous skin on their bellies with just a small amount of subcutaneous fat, so even a too-thin cat looks fat from the side, and you need to check other criteria to be sure.
Figure 10-1: Is your cat too thin? Too fat? Just right? Use these pictures to help determine whether your cat needs to cut back on calories, put on a few pounds, or stay just the way she is.
Correcting a weight problem
If your cat has a weight problem, work in cooperation with your vet to solve the problem. Underweight cats need to eat a nutrient-dense diet in the form of a premium food — dry, canned, or a combination of both — and can probably be free-fed, so they have access to food whenever they need it, unless, of course, you have other cats (or a dog) that have access to the food bowl (see the section on “Deciding between free feeding and meal feeding” earlier in this chapter).
Treats for training or good behavior can be rich and nutrient dense, such as small chunks of boiled chicken or fish, or healthy treats made just for cats, but they shouldn’t be full of processed ingredients and sugar.
If your cat is overweight, cut back slightly on meal portions. To keep your cat from getting too hungry, you may want to divide the daily allowance of food into several small meals, and/or switch (gradually) to a reduced-calorie food. Reduce or eliminate food treats, replacing them with the treat of your attention and affection. Moreover, help your cat get more exercise. Put the food bowl and the litter box on different floors of your house, play active games with your cat, or take her outside on a leash for a stroll around the yard.
Helping Your Cat Practice Good Feline Hygiene
Grooming is important to cats. You can tell by the way they’re always cleaning themselves so fastidiously. In spite of all that effort, your cat needs help keeping herself healthy and beautiful, even if she won’t quite admit it. All cats need to be brushed and combed and have their nails clipped. Long-haired cats also need a bath every month or two.
The trick to grooming a cat is getting her used to the process from the beginning. Brush and comb your kitten every day, and clip just the tips of her nails off at least once a week. Bathe long-haired kittens within about a month of bringing them home, and keep bathing them monthly. Pretty soon your kitty just assumes that this kind of personal hygiene is part of the normal routine . . . and indeed, it is.
Grooming disguised as a health-care checkup
Grooming does more than make your cat look pretty. Every grooming session gives you an opportunity to feel all over your cat’s body for anything unusual.
Look at her eyes, ears, nose, mouth, teeth, and under her tail for signs of infection, parasites, or anything unusual. You may be the first one to catch the first signs of a health problem, and the sooner you catch it, the better your cat’s chances for effective treatment. Be observant about your cat’s body and behavior, and you’ll be acting as an advocate for her good health and long life.
Brushing and combing basics
Brushing and combing your cat every day not only minimizes the amount of cat hair in the house and keeps long coats tangle-free, it also affords you a better chance of noticing any fleas that decided to hitch a ride. A small, soft, natural-bristle brush works for almost any cat. Brush the cat all over from head to tail, paying special attention to areas where the coat is longer and can become tangled. Then, using a small, fine-toothed steel comb, go through the entire coat, combing all the way down to the skin. As you comb, look for any signs of fleas or skin problems like rashes, sores, discoloration, or lumps. Cats with extremely short coats can even be rubbed down with a chamois cloth, instead of a brush, for a lustrous finish.
Most cats enjoy the feeling of being brushed and combed, but if yours doesn’t, don’t give in and quit. Your cat needs to find out that brushing is an important part of the regular routine. Just start out brushing a tiny bit each day for just a minute or so. As your cat learns to tolerate brushing more easily, you can increase the time.
Whenever your cat has a tangle or a mat, she may enjoy the grooming process even less. Don’t cut out tangles or mats with scissors — it’s easy to slip and cut your cat’s delicate, thin skin. Besides, you’ll leave an ugly hole in your cat’s coat. Instead, work the tangle out a tiny bit at a time with a steel comb, starting at the outer edge. If you can’t untangle the matted fur, take your cat to a groomer. If you insist on doing it yourself, cut tiny slits in the tangle, using extreme caution, and then work out each tiny piece. The slits should be parallel to the hair but perpendicular to your cat’s body.
Some owners of long-haired cats have them shaved or cut down every summer. This option is warranted especially when the cat’s fur is extremely matted — but you won’t let it get to that point, will you? Some cats enjoy this newfound short-haired freedom, but others act embarrassed or seem to feel naked. Part of the joy of owning a long-haired cat is that the cat has, well . . . long hair, and not a buzz cut! Keeping that long coat tangle-free means your cat can stay looking the way she was meant to look.
Clipping nails down to size, not the quick
Cats don’t usually like to have their nails clipped. Yet, keeping the tips of your cat’s claws blunt is important, so they don’t pierce your skin when they knead your lap or pat your cheek. Clipping nails also minimizes damage to carpets and furniture whenever your cat sneaks in a few scratches on these non-scratching-post items. If you adopt an adult cat that resists having his nails done, you may want to have a professional groomer or the vet do the job. However, doing it yourself is much easier and cheaper, so get your kitten used to this simple task right away.
You can use the same nail clipper for your cat that you use on yourself, but for cats who aren’t used to having their nails trimmed, don’t wield those clippers right away. First you need to be able to touch her paws. While brushing and combing your cat, pick them up, squeeze the paw pads gently, and touch her nails. Do this paw exercise only a little bit at a time if she’s resistant. When she accepts these actions, let her sniff and examine the nail clipper. Then, while acting calm and cheerful, clip off just the tip of one nail. Don’t act anxious or worried. Your cat will pick up on your emotions and think something is wrong!
If you have to clip just one nail every few days at first, that’s fine. Slow progress is more likely to result in your cat’s eventual acceptance of this grooming ritual. After your cat is willing to let you proceed, here’s what you do:
1. Take your cat’s paw in your hand, gently pressing the paw pad under the first nail with your index finger and just above the nail on the top of the toe with your thumb.
Doing so makes the nail pop out. See Figure 10-2 for an example of how to do this.
2. Look for the pink vein that runs down the center of the nail, called the quick.
You do not want to clip into the quick because it hurts, and you may turn your cat off of nail clipping forever. If your cat has black nails, and you can’t see the quick, just clip right at where the nail starts to curve down, or slightly past that point (toward the nail’s tip) if you are nervous about cutting too much off.
3. Clip off only the sharp tip.
If you clip your cat’s nails every week, you’ll never have to clip off much, and that’s easier and safer for everyone.
If you accidentally cut too far and the kitty bleeds, just use firm pressure at the area for a few minutes. You can also pack cornstarch at the tip, use a powder product you can buy at the pet store for this purpose, or just wait. No normal cat has ever died from a bleeding nail.
4. Praise your cat for being so patient.
Don’t forget to offer him a reward, like a small yummy treat or lots of attention.
Figure 10-2: Press on both sides of your cat’s toe to push out the claw; clip off just the sharp tip, being careful not to cut the quick.
Giving a cat a bath
If your cat has a long coat, bathing is an important part of grooming. Long coats can pick up dirt and bacteria, and they can hide skin problems. Keep your cat’s coat and skin clean and healthy. Here’s what to do:
1. Thoroughly brush and comb your cat’s coat.
Any remaining tangles will tighten if they get wet, so be sure to get out all the tangles.
2. Gather all your supplies together and have them ready, because you won’t be able to let go of your cat during the bathing process.
Shampoo and conditioner made for cats, a sprayer or cup for rinsing, and a big soft towel are the essentials.
3. Run warm but not hot water in the bathtub or sink.
Using a sink may be easier because it’s smaller, less intimidating, and you don’t have to bend down or stand on your knees to bathe your cat.
4. Put a collar on your cat (if she doesn’t already have one), so you can hold on to her.
Holding on is made even easier when you enlist someone to help you.
5. Gently wet down your cat’s fur, all the way to the skin, and then work in the shampoo and rinse thoroughly before applying conditioner. Rinse again.
Always rinse longer than you think you need to, because shampoo residue can cause tangles and attract dirt.
6. Scoop up your cat in that big soft towel after she’s completely rinsed and gently dry her.
By this time, your cat probably looks pretty pathetic, all wet and bedraggled. Funny how cats just don’t look like they were meant to be wet, isn’t it? Keep her out of drafts and cold until she’s completely dry.
7. Blow-dry the coat on the cool setting while brushing it.
This step is essential for long-haired cats, but it also works for shorthaired cats. In only a few minutes, you’ll have your clean, soft, fluffy beauty back again.
by Eve Adamson