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5 Ways to Help Your Cat Stay Healthy Longer

Bev O'Shea  |  July 1, 2022

Here’s what vet experts suggest to help keep our feline companions purring happily for a long time to come.

Cats tend to be less expensive as pets than dogs, and may need less attention when you leave them to go to work or on vacation . . . and they don’t keep you on a walking schedule as most dogs do. Aside from making it crystal-clear that they are deigning to live with you and should be worshiped, they don’t necessarily ask for a lot of attention.

Obviously, it’s important to make sure a cat’s environment is, well, fit for a finicky royal. Cats like to hunt, so you want toys they can chase. They also need to feel safe, which, if you don’t want them jumping up on the fridge (they can jump about five times their height), may mean getting a cat tree. They are nature lovers, too, and a “catio,” a screened enclosure that allows your cat to safely be outdoors, can be an option. Advantage: Neighborhood birds are safe, and kitty still gets some outdoor time. Kitty also needs a place where it’s acceptable to sharpen claws. Cats also need litter boxes. But you can’t just get them equipment, even extremely cool electronic toys they can chase, and try hard to believe they are low-maintenance. 

“I like to say that cats are adorable little aliens,” says Autumn McBride Vetter, DVM, clinical assistant professor at the University of Georgia Pet Health Center associated with the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s up to us to notice, and, ahem, cater to their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and to be aware of when their “normal” changes.

We asked vets who specialize in cat care how best to keep our feline friends overlords healthy for a good, long time. Here are five recommendations: 

Feed wet (and dry!), nutritional food

Nutrition matters, and not all foods meet the same standards. Vetter recommends Hill’s, Purina and Royal Canin (Canin, really? Not Felin?)  because those brands go through trials with veterinary nutritionists and are more highly regulated than some smaller companies are. 

She also recommends giving your cat both dry and wet food. While wet food contributes a bit to liquid intake, that’s not why Vetter recommends it. Some prescription foods are offered as only wet or only dry. If a cat is already in some discomfort because of illness, having to change the type of food eaten adds to an already stressful situation. 

Michelle Meyer, DVM, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, also suggests using puzzle feeders to mimic the hunting experience when you feed your cat. 

Focus on prevention and early detection

Your cat’s annual exam should include blood tests. Lab results can reveal illness long before symptoms develop. “With early detection, health conditions can be managed or cured before they become painful or more costly,” notes Meyer. And treatment that begins early may have a better shot at delaying or preventing big problems, says Vetter. Changes in the color of gums or teeth can also alert you that something is amiss. Brushing her teeth can also help her stay healthier. And any new lumps or bumps or bones that didn’t used to be so prominent should be brought to your vet’s attention.

Buy pet insurance

Vetter says she advises “every single person that I bump into on the street. . . to get pet insurance.” She says it’s almost inevitable that something will happen — whether it’s a chronic condition, stroke or need for surgery. If and when it happens, “pet insurance can really help with that, and that will certainly help extend the life and the quality of life of your cat.” 

The cost may be less than you think. I checked the price for my 8-year-old rescue. She could be insured for $18.24 a month, with a $750 deductible and 70% reimbursement with Healthy Paws. That doesn’t cover routine visits or pre-existing conditions (she doesn’t yet have any that we know of, but she’s a cat — thyroid problems, diabetes and kidney problems are a risk as she ages). Insuring a younger cat is cheaper.

Note changes in behavior.

“Cats are masters at hiding disease,” says Meyer, who suggests going as far as keeping a journal noting your cat’s “normal” behavior and preferences, food/water intake and routine so that you can look back and compare. 

A change in temperament is worth noting too, Vetter says. “If your cat is normally very friendly and then suddenly they start hiding under the bed all the time, that is often a cat’s response to being in pain or being uncomfortable in some way,” and it may be worth a visit to the vet.

Also watch your kitty’s water intake. You want to be sure he’s drinking enough. Watch to see if he is rushing to drink out of faucets or licking the shower drain. Suddenly wanting more water can also be a reason to see the vet. Keep clean, fresh water available. And, if you’ve seen your cat drinking from a faucet, consider getting a fountain, Vetter says. Moving water is more appealing to some cats.

Clean the litter box daily.

Nobody wants to. That’s why there are all sorts of litters that say they suppress odors the longest or automatic (though imperfect) automatic litter boxes. 

“You really should be cleaning the litter boxes every single day, so that you know so you can keep them clean but also so that you know what your cat’s baseline is,” Vetter says. “Monitoring their urine output is one of the biggest things that you can do to watch out for those things.”

The litter box is also where you can pick up on poop that is more liquid or very hard . . . the vet will want to know about that.

(I know, I know. We listed it last for a reason.)

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