Research by the welfare charity, Cats Protection, has found cat owners to suffer less from stress, to relax more and have greater life satisfaction. Cats
can improve the lives of the young and the not so young. Elderly owners have been found to feel younger and be more active. A child’s self-esteem, social skills and sense of responsibility can improve by caring for a cat. Given these benefits, it is not surprising that despite the associated costs, cats live in almost a fifth of British homes.

by Jeremy Kirk, BSAVA Volunteer

Most cats in Britain are non- pedigree ‘moggies’,  classed as either ‘domestic short hair’ or ‘domestic long hair’ cats. There is also a wide variety of pedigree cats, from Abyssinian to Tonkinese, such purebred cats can look and act differently to nonpedigrees though often the differences can be fairly small. Although kittens can be obtained from several sources, buying a kitten from the internet without seeing the home environment is not recommended.

Taking on a weak, sickly or nervous kitten that you feel sorry for, is understandable but these signs can suggest health issues which are difficult to resolve. A kitten raised in a family house or a reputable charity organisation is most likely to be content in that type of environment. Ideally the household, the mother and litter-mates should all be seen. Breeders should do everything to give kittens a good start and they may not be ready to leave the home until around 12 weeks old. A home must be made safe before introducing a new pet. Inquisitive kittens love to explore and can squeeze into very small spaces, get tangled in wires, climb into a washing machine, fall into the toilet, off a balcony or even into a pond. Kittens need a safe, quiet place in which to hide and sleep. Ideally the first few days should be spent in a confined space with a bed, litter tray and toys. As the new arrival becomes more confident, they can be allowed into further secure areas. Cats are not naturally sociable and may not appreciate the companionship of other cats. If slowly introduced and if each cat feels safe in its own space, they may learn to tolerate each other and can become good friends. Cats also vary in their wish for human company, those born away from human contact are likely to remain scared of people.

FOOD AND DRINK

Kittens should be weaned before leaving their mother. It is recommended to continue with their current diet for at least a few days in the new home. Different foods should be gradually introduced in increasing proportion over a week. Although cats may prefer to eat small amounts frequently, making food constantly available often leads to obesity. The simplest way to feed a kitten is to offer a good quality complete kitten diet, this may be dry kibble, pouches or tinned food. Preparing your own cat food is possible but must be carefully researched. Cats have specific dietary requirements and will become ill if fed only dog or vegetarian food. Feeding pets raw meat-based diets has recently gained popularity. These foods may contain pathogens, some of which can be spread to humans. Freezing can kill parasites but not bacteria in raw food. Kittens must have constant access to fresh water, ideally at least one bowl per cat. Some cats prefer water to be offered away from the food bowl, others would rather drink from a running tap or special ‘cat fountain’. Many cats cannot digest milk, which gives them diarrhoea.

VETERINARY CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING

It is sensible to speak with a vet before getting a kitten. Vets will be able to discuss preventative health care and outline costs.

Whatever your distance from the vet practice, cats rarely enjoy travel. Familiarise your kitten with a secure carrier, with comfy bedding before it is needed. Having your kitten microchipped is recommended but not currently compulsory. The rice grain sized device is injected under the skin on the back of the cat’s neck. The microchip’s number is read by a hand-held scanner. Owners details corresponding to that unique number are then stored on a central database. This permanent implant provides a better means of identification than collars with tags.

Cats collars must be quick release to prevent strangulation if they get snagged. Even if a kitten is never meant to go outdoors, standard vaccinations are recommended to prevent diseases that can be accidentally transferred into the house. Additional vaccinations according to the cat’s lifestyle may be needed. Vaccines are given from around nine weeks with annual boosters. Most catteries require evidence of vaccinations.

Kittens may have intestinal worms transferred from their mother’s milk. Other parasites are transmitted by fleas, hunting or from contaminated soil. Some cat worms can be passed to humans, especially young children, and pregnant women should not handle cat faeces due to this risk. It is important to get veterinary advice on worming your kitten. Cats commonly suffer from fleas; serious irritation occurs when cats become allergic to these parasites and many humans can develop reactions to flea bites. Severe infestations in small kittens can cause anaemia. Other external parasites include ticks and mites. Mites can be very itchy, and ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme Disease. Some dog flea treatments can be dangerous to use on cats, so again veterinary advice regarding flea treatment is important.

HOME CARE

It is a good idea to establish a kitten grooming routine, especially if the kitten is long-haired. Removing dead hairs reduces the amount swallowed when the cat grooms itself and therefore the incidence of ‘hairballs/fur balls’. Time spent grooming also helps reinforce the human-cat bond and is an excellent opportunity to check other aspects of health, such as the condition of claws and teeth. Kittens first teeth erupt at around four weeks old, their adult teeth around four months. If started early it is possible to clean a cat’s teeth at home, using special cat toothpaste. Cats teeth and gums should be inspected for signs of disease or injury, especially along the gum line.

HUNTING

Despite spending 85% of their day resting, British cats manage to kill 275 million mammals every year. It is recommended that cats should be kept indoors from dusk to dawn to reduce predation on small mammals and birds.

 

PET INSURANCE

It is worth considering taking out insurance to pay vets bills before your cat has an accident or becomes ill. Preventative care is unlikely to be included and policies do vary in the extent of the cover. Cheaper insurance is less likely to provide life-long cover, so cats developing long term diseases will only be covered for the first year, it then will not be possible to claim for that condition in future. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to advise you about insurance, and although they may well not be able to recommend a specific provider, they will help you understand the difference between different policies.

FOURTEEN YEARS OF FLUFFY FUN

There are eight million cats kept in British homes because they make wonderful pets. Cats are generally clean with good bathroom habits. They can be warm and affectionate although some are quite independent. Cats look cute and can be very funny, as shown by the plethora of hilarious cat videos on social media! The average lifespan of a pet cat is 14 years.