Kitten and cat health

From registering to microchipping, vaccinating to worming and neutering to grooming – all you need to know to keep your four-legged friend in fine fettle.

Kittens and Cats: Health

In this section we’ll look at:

  • The ideal health care for your kitten or cat
  • Registering your cat with a vet
  • Cat vaccinations
  • Parasites – fleas and worms
  • Cat neutering
  • Neutering (spaying) female cats
  • Neutering (castrating) male cats
  • Health care
  • Pet insurance
  • Grooming
  • Microchipping
  • Pedigree cat health
  • Research

The ideal health care for your kitten or cat

  • PDSA recommends that cats are neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, insured and registered with a vet. 

  • Neutering is important at a young age to prevent unwanted kittens, serious illnesses and potentially fatal diseases.

  • Microchipping your cat increases the chance of you being reunited with it, should it stray. 

  • We also recommend that cats have regular treatments to prevent parasites such as fleas and worms. 

  • Groom your cat regularly. Check for signs of illness every day.


Registering your 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.

  • You can register your cat with a PDSA Pet Hospital or practice if you are eligible and live within a PDSA catchment area. 

  • You can apply for PDSA support through a Special Request if you are eligible but live outside a PDSA catchment area. 

  • Find out today if PDSA can help you by visiting our Eligibility page.


Cat vaccinations

Vaccinations protect your cat against diseases which can cause pain, distress and are often fatal.

They prevent diseases from being passed onto other animals. All of which gives you peace of mind.

How do vaccines protect your cat? Vaccines contain a harmless form of the virus or bacterium that causes a particular disease. They stimulate your cat’s immune system in a safe way. If your cat then comes in to contact with the disease for real, its immune system “remembers” how it dealt with the vaccine, so it can fight the disease.

Your cat should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations throughout its 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 as 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?

Very soon. Kittens need to be vaccinated as soon as possible: your vet will advise you how long you then have to wait before it can start to mix with other animals. This socialisation of your kitten is essential for its normal development whilst it’s very young.


Which diseases do vaccines protect against?

  • Cat flu

  • Feline chlamydia

  • Feline infectious enteritis

  • Feline leukaemia virus


Parasites – fleas and worms

  • Give cats regular treatments to stop them suffering from worms and fleas. 

  • Help your cat to help you. Protect your cat from worms as they can also harm you.

  • 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?

No, it’s best not to. Choose flea and worm treatments from veterinary practices or pharmacies as they are clinically proven to be safer and more effective than ‘over-the-counter’ versions bought from pet shops and supermarkets. Ask your vet about which products work and which ones don’t.

NEVER use a dog flea treatment on cats, as this can be fatal. 

  • This is due to permethrin – a highly toxic insecticide found in some products. Some owners are also mistakenly failing to follow the on-packet guidance relating to dosage. 

  • Cats can be poisoned through contact with dogs in the same household who have been recently treated with flea spot-on products containing permethrin. 

  • Choose a dog flea treatment that doesn’t contain permethrin if you have both cats and dogs in your home. 

  • Prevent accidental poisoning. If you do use a flea treatment containing permethrin on your dog, keep it away from cats completely for 72 hours so there is no risk of cross-contamination.


How do I know if my cat’s got fleas?

Fleas can cause itching, chewing and licking. The skin may become red and inflamed. Fleas are also part of a tapeworm’s life cycle. You might see fleas on your cat – although this is quite uncommon. Or you might see small dark flecks – flea “dirt” – in the fur and on the skin. If you see any of these signs, take your cat to see your vet. 

I think my cat’s got fleas – what should I do?

  • Take your cat to see your vet. 

  • If your cat has fleas it’s important to treat your home, your cat and all your other pets. Ask your vet to recommend safe and effective products to use. 

  • Treat your home with an effective household spray after vacuuming. This helps kill flea larvae and eggs which can carry on living in places like carpets and rugs. 

  • Pay particular attention to areas where your cat spends time, as well as warm areas such as near to radiators. 


Don’t forget: as well as thinking about fleas, it is important that your cat follows the worming regime recommended by your vet.


Cat 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’.

  • PDSA recommend cats are neutered from four months of age as they can get pregnant from this time. Ask your vet when the best time is for your cat. 

  • Many people do not realise that brothers and sisters will produce kittens if they live together unneutered. 

  • In the UK there are hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in need of homes. Neutering your cat stops it from adding to this problem

  • Neutering can help your cat to live longer and enjoy a better quality of life. It also reduces the risk of them developing some serious diseases – see Pedigree Cat Health, below.

  • Click www.cats.org.uk to find a local vet practice that neuters kittens at four months.


Neutering (spaying) female cats

  • Spaying stops your cat from having unwanted kittens and stops her from developing cancer of the ovaries or uterus. 

  • It stops her from coming into ‘heat’ frequently which can be frustrating for her.


“Myth Buster” Should my female cat have a litter before she’s neutered (spayed)?
No. This doesn’t benefit your cat. By delaying getting her spayed you increase her risk of having an unwanted litter. There is currently a cat population crisis in the UK, because there are too many cats and not enough homes for them.


Neutering (castrating) male cats

  • Castrating your cat prevents him from fathering unwanted kittens.

  • It reduces his chances of getting feline AIDS (FIV) – which is spread by bites – as he is less likely to fight.

  • He will be safer: his chances of being hit by a car are reduced as he is less likely to roam.

  • He will be less likely to spray urine in your home.


Healthcare

You should check your cat each day for any signs of illness. These might include the following:

  • Sickness or diarrhoea

  • Significant weight change – either up or down – 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

  • Limping

  • Coughing

  • Unusual bleeding

  • Signs of pain, such as sensitivity to touch

  • Runny eyes or nose


Be alert to any change in your cat’s behaviour as this could point to the possibility of illness.


What should I do if I think my cat is ill?
It’s always best to contact your local veterinary practice.


Pet Insurance

At PDSA we recommend you take out pet insurance to save thousands of pounds should the worst happen. While most cat owners will have considered routine costs, such as vaccinations and worming, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that can catch you out. You could spend thousands of pounds on treatment for a road accident. So taking out pet insurance helps you budget for the unexpected. Third-party insurance is included in most policies. This is essential to avoid large payments should your cat cause an accident.

Shop around for the best policy for you. There are plenty of organisations whose pet insurance has built-in third party insurance – including PDSA's own Pet Insurance.


Grooming

All cats need regular grooming, but long-haired cats need more coat care than short-haired cats.
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.


  • All cats need regular grooming. 

  • Long-haired cats need more coat care than short-haired cats.

  • Comb and brush a long-haired cat once a day.

  • Brush a short-haired cat twice a week. 

  • Buy a brush and comb that are suited to your cat’s hair type.


Microchipping

PDSA vets strongly recommend microchipping. If your cat becomes lost, microchipping greatly increases both the chances and speed of you being reunited.

How does microchipping work for your cat? A microchip is a tiny radio chip, about the size of a grain of rice, injected under your cat’s skin between its shoulder blades. If found, your cat 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, so you can be reunited with your cat. The chip is made of non-reactive material so doesn’t cause your cat any problems throughout its life.


Pedigree Cat Health

Owners are, understandably, upset when their cat develops a health problem linked to its breed. Often they wish they had known what problems the breed was prone to have. Some medical conditions are very common in certain breeds, causing pain and distress for a large number of cats. At PDSA we know that there are risks with all cats. PDSA vets advise that with the following breeds, there is a risk that they will develop one or more of these common medical conditions. By knowing the information, it will help you decide which type of cat is right for you.

Bengal
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult. Cats with hip dysplasia are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Patellar luxation
A condition in which the patella (kneecap) moves out of its normal location, resulting in limping or difficulty walking on the back legs. Severely affected cats require surgery to be treated. Cats with patellar luxation are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
This infectious condition is usually fatal. Bengal cats are more likely to develop this than non-pedigree cats.

British Shorthair
Polycystic Kidney Disease
Multiple cysts (fluid filled sacs) develop on both kidneys, which gradually enlarge with age and eventually cause kidney failure. The cat often suffers from vomiting, weight loss and a lack of appetite before death.

Burmese
Diabetes Mellitus
High blood sugar (glucose) levels. It can cause weakness, blindness, excessive appetite and excessive thirst. Burmese is the most common cat breed to develop this condition.

Devon Rex
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult. Cats with hip dysplasia are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Patellar luxation
A condition in which the patella (kneecap) moves out of its normal location, resulting in limping or difficulty walking on the back legs. Severely affected cats require surgery to be treated. Cats with patellar luxation are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Maine Coon
Hip dysplasia
An abnormality of the hip joints. It causes lameness in the hind legs and can make walking difficult. Cats with hip dysplasia are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Patellar luxation
A condition in which the patella (kneecap) moves out of its normal location, resulting in limping or difficulty walking on the back legs. Severely affected cats require surgery to be treated. Cats with patellar luxation are more likely to get osteoarthritis.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Persian
Brachycephalic airway syndrome
“Brachycephalic” means “short face”. Because of their short face, Persian cats struggle to breathe properly. Many get short of breath quickly and suffer from inflammation and swelling in their airways.

Primary seborrhoea
Causes scaling and greasy skin which can affect the whole body.

Dermatophytosis (ringworm)
Persian cats are very susceptible to this fungal condition, which causes itching, fur loss and crusting and scaling of the skin. It can be transmitted to people.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (heart disease)
This can cause fainting, tiredness and other signs of heart disease.

Polycystic Kidney Disease
Multiple cysts (fluid filled sacs) develop on both kidneys, which gradually enlarge with age and eventually cause kidney failure. The cat often suffers from vomiting, weight loss and lack of appetite before death.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
This infectious condition is usually fatal. Persian cats are more likely to develop this than non-pedigree cats.

Cryptorchidism
One or both of the testicles stays in the body rather than going in to the scrotum. This makes the testicle(s) more likely to develop cancer.

Siamese
Mediastinal/thymic lymphoma This cancer typically causes fluid to accumulate around the lungs, causing coughing and breathing difficulties.


Research

PDSA reveals the state of our pet nation each year in a comprehensive measure of animal wellbeing in the UK – The PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report.

Since 2011, over 21,000 pet owners, veterinary professionals and children have been surveyed to find out how dogs, cats and rabbits are cared for. Here are the findings for cats and their health care:


Overview

A high percentage of cats are neutered, which is encouraging. Owners should consider the benefits: neutering stops their cat from having unwanted litters and gives their cat important health benefits. Only a minority of cats are microchipped and insured. Microchipping is quick and easy and helps reunite owners with the many cats that go missing each year. Pet insurance helps people budget for unexpected veterinary costs if their cat becomes sick or injured.

Read our PAW Report here

Key findings from our most recent report: 

Over 2.3 million cats are not vaccinated, making them susceptible to potentially fatal diseases.

  • 93% of cat owners have had their pet neutered. This is considerably higher than for dogs and rabbits. 75% of cats have been vaccinated with a primary course and 62% with their boosters. 80% have been wormed and 85% treated for fleas at some point.

  • 48% of cats are not microchipped.

  • 7% of owners have not neutered their cats. Of these, 9% would like it to breed. The most common answers for not having their cat neutered are that they don’t believe in it (16%) or that they have not thought about it (16%).

  • 85% of owners say their cat is registered with a vet.

  • 19% of owners only brush their cat monthly – 18% of owners say they never brush or groom their cat. Grooming reinforces the bond between you, it keeps your cat’s coat in good coat condition and lets you check for signs of fleas and other problems.


“I would like to see a much higher proportion of cat’s microchipped – 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).

Diet
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