By Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM

Are you thinking of getting a new pet, perhaps a cat?

If you are, starting off on the right foot with the care for your feline friend is crucial for having a long-lived relationship.  So, before you bring Morris or Felix home to stay, please take note of a few suggestions for raising a healthy cat.

First, when you acquire your new cat or kitten, brush it daily. Not only does this allow you to bond with your feline friend, it is helpful in reducing the potential for hairball ingestion, as well as minimizing allergens in the air and keeping your cat’s coat healthy. If you feed your cat while you brush him or her, this can help associate the brushing with a “positive” experience.

Second, be conscious of what you feed your pet. Minimize the volume of dry food in your cat’s diet, as dry food is composed of plant originating carbohydrates, which have been proven to cause obesity resulting in  Type 2 Diabetes in cats. Unlike dogs, cats get a large portion of their daily water intake thru their diet, thus wet food increases the daily moisture intake, keeping your cat healthier longer. Especially as cats age, appropriate water intake is critical to daily health.

Third, be aware of your cat’s water intake. Watch and take note of your cat’s daily water consumption, as well as their urination.  As cats age, diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism all cause cats to drink excessive amounts of water, so the more conscious a pet owner is to their cat’s daily water intake and output, the quicker a diagnosis and treatment plan can be made.

Fourth, have plenty of litter boxes in your home. As a rule of thumb, cats require one box plus one additional per cat in the household. Put the boxes in easily accessible areas, so a cat is not going to be tempted to start bad habits such as urinating in inappropriate places in the home. Clean the litter daily as well, and be sure the box is not too high for an aging cat to get in an out of, as well as be aware that some of the clumping cat litter can adhere to cat’s paws and cause them to ingest large volumes of clay. Furthermore, dusty and scented litter can trigger allergies as well as asthma in some cats, so again, be aware of the types of boxes you have and the litter you put in them.

Fifth, don’t assume if your cat is urinating around the house it is “behavioral.”

Many male cats on high ash commercial diets are prone to a syndrome called Feline Urological Syndrome, resulting in life threatening bladder infections and stones which can block the ability of a male cat to urinate, leading to renal failure and death. Thus, be sure your veterinarian does a complete exam on your cat as well as a urinealysis to rule out underlying disease before you assume the problem is behavioral.

Sixth, be sure you spay and neuter your pets. In addition to this helping to control the pet population, unneutered cats tend to “spray” to mark their territory which can result in unnecessary odors in the home. In addition, they are more prone to cat fights resulting in more trips to the veterinarian. Female cats can be prone to developing breast cancer later in life if not spayed.

Finally, be cognizcent of your pet’s exposure to disease and ask your veterinarian to tailor your pet’s vaccinations to what their individual needs are. For example, an indoor pet may require fewer vaccinations than an outdoor pet that is continually exposed to feral cats and wild animals.

Most of all, enjoy your new pet and best of luck with your new family member!

Sheila Fitzpatrick, DVM, is a graduate of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and owns Mountain Mobile Veterinary Service in Eagle and Vail, CO. She’s a 1983 graduate of Ellicottville Central School and a frequent visitor to Ellicottville to see family. She provides this column as a public service.