Caring for your cat's health
It is recommended that cats are neutered at a young age to prevent unwanted kittens and certain serious illnesses. It is also recommended that they are vaccinated against potentially fatal diseases and that they receive regular preventive treatments for parasites such as fleas and worms. Owners should buy treatments that are appropriate and effective. Pet cats should be micro chipped to increase their chances of being reunited with their owner should they stray, and be registered with a vet. Cats should be regularly groomed and checked daily by their owner for signs of illness.
Do I need to register my cat with a vet?
When you get a new cat, you should register with a local veterinary practice straight away. Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up. Your vet can then devise a care programme for your cat. Write a list of the questions you want to ask, so everything can be covered.
Should I get my cat vaccinated?
Yes. Vaccination protects your cat against various diseases which can cause pain, distress and are often fatal.
By vaccinating your cat you have peace of mind, knowing that you have provided protection. As well as safeguarding your own pet, it also prevents diseases from being passed onto other animals.
What are vaccines?
Vaccines contain a harmless form of the virus or bacterium that causes a particular disease. They work by stimulating the body’s immune system in a safe way. If the cat then actually comes into contact with the disease, the immune system ‘remembers’ what it did to deal with the vaccine, so can fight the disease. This protects the cat.
When should I get my kitten or cat vaccinated?
Pets should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout their life.
The primary vaccination course for cats varies with the type of vaccine used. The first vaccine can sometimes be given as young as nine weeks of age, with the second usually given three to four weeks later.
Booster vaccinations are needed because the body’s immune response gradually fades over time. They are often given every year, depending on the vaccine.
Ask your vet when it is best to vaccinate your kitten or cat.
When can my kitten start to meet other animals?
Kittens should be vaccinated before they mix with other animals. It is essential for their normal development that they are allowed to socialise with other animals while they are very young, so you should get them vaccinated as soon as possible. Ask your vet when they can start meeting other animals and begin to socialise them as soon as it’s safe to do so.
Which diseases do vaccines protect against?
- cat flu
- feline chlamydia
- feline infectious enteritis
- feline leukaemia virus
Do I need to treat my cat regularly for fleas and worms?
Yes. Cats should be given regular treatments to prevent them from suffering from fleas and worms. Worms can also be harmful to cat owners, which is another reason why it’s important to prevent them. Ask your vet for advice about which products to use and how often to use them.
Should I use flea and worm treatments bought from the pet shop?
‘Over-the-counter’ flea and worm treatments bought from pet shops and supermarkets may not be as safe or effective as those from veterinary practices. Your vet will be able to advise you about which products work and which ones don’t.
NEVER use a dog flea treatment on cats, as this can be fatal.
How do I know if my cat’s got fleas?
Fleas can cause itching, chewing and licking. The skin may become red and inflamed. You might see fleas on your cat (though this is quite uncommon), or you might see small dark flecks (flea ‘dirt’) in the fur and on the skin. If you notice any of these signs, take your cat to see your vet. As well as causing severe skin irritation, fleas play a vital part in the tapeworm’s life cycle.
I think my cat’s got fleas – what should I do?
You should take your cat to your vet. If your cat has fleas it’s important to treat the house, your cat and all other pets in the household. Your vet can recommend safe and effective products to use. The house should be treated with an effective household spray after vacuuming, because flea larvae and eggs live off the animal, in places like carpets and rugs. Particular attention should be paid to areas where your cat spends time, as well as warm areas such as near to radiators.
As well as thinking about fleas, it is important to follow the worming regime recommended by your vet.
You can also download your own copy of our Fleas leaflet.
What is neutering?
Neutering is an operation carried out by a vet. In male animals, the testicles are removed – this is called ‘castration’. In female animals, the ovaries and the uterus (womb) are removed – this is called ‘spaying’.
What are the benefits of neutering?
There are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering stops animals from adding to this problem by having unwanted litters.
It also reduces the risk of our pets developing some serious diseases. This can help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
Should I get my female cat neutered (spayed)?
Spaying stops your cat from having unwanted kittens and stops her from developing cancer of the ovaries or uterus. It also stops her from coming into ‘heat’ frequently which may be upsetting for her.
When is the best time to get my female cat neutered (spayed)?
The operation is often done at around five to six months of age, but can safely be done when your cat is younger or older. Ask your vet when the best time is for your cat.
Should my female cat have a litter before she’s neutered (spayed)?
There’s no benefit to your cat, and by delaying getting her spayed you increase her risk of having an unwanted litter.
Should I get my male cat neutered (castrated)?
Castrating your cat prevents him from fathering unwanted kittens when he’s away from your house. It also makes him less likely to fight, so reduces his chances of getting feline AIDS (FIV) (which is spread by bites).
Castration also makes your cat less likely to roam, which can reduce his chances of getting hit by a car, and he is less likely to spray urine in the house.
When is the best time to get my male cat neutered (castrated)?
The operation is often done at five to six months of age, but can safely be done when a cat is younger or older. Ask your vet when the best time is for your cat.
How do I know if my cat is ill?
You should check your cat each day for any signs of illness. These might include the following:
- Sickness or diarrhoea
- Significant weight change (in either direction) over a short period
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking much more or less than normal
- Lack of energy/sleeping more than usual
- Unusual swellings
- Skin conditions
- Unusual bleeding
- Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch
- Runny eyes or nose
There could be other signs of illness, not on this list, and any change in your cat’s behaviour should alert you to the possibility of illness.
What should I do if I think my cat is ill?
If you are worried about the health of your cat it is always best to contact your local veterinary practice.
Should I take out pet insurance?
While most cat owners will have considered routine costs, such as vaccinations and worming, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that you may not be prepared for. The treatment associated with a road accident can run into thousands of pounds. Many cat owners now take out pet insurance, which helps you budget for the unexpected. There are plenty of organisations around that offer this, including PDSA's own Pet Insurance, so shop around for the best policy for you.
Do I need to groom my cat?
All cats need regular grooming, but long-haired cats need more coat care than short-haired cats.
How often should I groom my cat?
A long-haired cat should be combed and brushed once a day while a cat with short hair will usually only need brushing twice a week. Get a brush and comb that are suited to the hair type of your cat.
Should I get my cat microchipped?
PDSA vets strongly recommend microchipping, which increases the chances of a cat being reunited with the owner, should they become separated.
What is a microchip and how does it reunite cats with their owners?
A microchip is a tiny radio chip, about the size of a grain of rice, injected under the skin between the shoulder blades. Missing cats when found can be scanned and the chip can be read. It contains a unique identification number, logged on a national database, which can be matched against your contact details. The chip is made of non-reactive material so doesn’t cause any problems sitting beneath the skin throughout your cat’s life.
PDSA has produced the first ever comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK, revealing the state of our pet nation - The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.
Over 11,000 pet owners were surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for - below are the findings for cats and their health care.
A high percentage of cats are neutered, which is encouraging. However, those owners who have not yet ‘got around to it’ or haven’t thought about it should consider the benefits of neutering for feline health and welfare – it helps to reduce the problem of unwanted litters and has important health benefits.
Only a minority of cats are micro chipped and insured. The simple act of micro chipping can help reunite the many cats that go missing each year with their owners, and pet insurance helps people budget for unexpected veterinary costs if their cat becomes sick or injured.
Over 3.3 million cats are not vaccinated, making them susceptible to potentially fatal diseases.
- 89% of cat owners have had their pet neutered; this is considerably higher than is the case for owners of dogs and rabbits. When asked about other preventive treatments it was found that 72% of pet cats have been vaccinated with a primary course and 61% with their boosters. 79% have been wormed and 78% treated for fleas at some point.
- 54% of cats (over half) are not micro chipped.
- Among the 11% of owners who have not neutered their cat only 4% would like to breed from it. The most common answers for not having their cat neutered are that they have not got around to it (10%) or that they have not thought about it (8%).
- 83% of owners say their cat is registered with a vet.
- 20% of owners only brush their cat monthly – 16% of owners say they never brush or groom their cat. Grooming is an important way of reinforcing the bond between a cat and its owner, as well as ensuring good coat condition and providing an opportunity to check for signs of fleas and other problems.
- 60% of owners do not check their cat for fleas frequently enough (at least weekly), and 33% do not treat their cat for worms on a frequent enough basis (at least every six months).
“I would like to see a much higher proportion of cat’s micro chipped – there’s nothing more frustrating than having an injured cat brought to the surgery and not being able to trace its owner.”
Jacqui Molyneux President, Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS)
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