National Cat Day – Learn More About Well-being & Health For Our Feline Friends

National Cat Day – Learn More About Well-being & Health For Our Feline Friends

National Cat Day
By:  Dr. Leslie Brooks

National Cat Day is October 29th, right before Halloween. I remember being a kid and my mom making sure our black cat was kept inside the week of Halloween for fear people may harm him since black cats had been historically considered bad luck and were to be feared on Halloween.  Regardless of the historical myths surrounding cats, cats are unique and oftentimes misunderstood. They are much more independent creatures than dogs and have more subtleties in their means of expression.  This can make it very difficult to know when a cat may be in pain. They often hide injuries and illnesses. Yet, they can suffer from all the medical conditions humans and dogs do.  And even though it may seem like having a cat for a pet is easier than having a dog, it is still important to do the research before getting a cat and make sure you are dedicated to training them, taking care of their health, and learning cat behavior.  With all of this in mind, this article touches on various things to consider in regards to our cats’ well-being and health as we celebrate National Cat Day.

Veterinary Visits

Since cats are so good at hiding any sickness, having your cat checked out by their vet every year is the best way to make sure they are healthy. Some cats do just fine being taken into a clinic, while others may do better having a vet visit them in the comfort of their home.  You know your cat best, and we want you to know there are options! If you feel your cat would benefit from a house call, ask your vet if they offer that service or if they know of a house call vet in your area. House calls are becoming more popular these days and they are great for those poor kitties who get so stressed out being taken to a vet clinic.  Your vet will do a thorough physical exam, listen to their heart and lungs, feel their lymph nodes, and examine their mouth to alert you to any subtle health changes that may be occurring with your cat. The vet can also provide you with updates on your cat’s weight year after year, as an objective way to make sure they aren’t packing on the pounds and to monitor for any unintentional weight loss.

Enrichment & Mental Stimulation

Behavioral issues, such as urinating outside of the litter box and scratching on inappropriate household items, are so common among our indoor cats. Cats are prone to stress and anxiety, do not like change, and often require much patience at times. Cats are also natural hunters and need to scratch things in order to release tension and stress.  As we attempt to live harmoniously with cats in an indoor environment, with shared resources, we cannot forget these natural needs of cats. Health is not limited to physical health alone, but also includes mental, emotional, and behavioral health as well.

Some things you can provide your cat to enrich their lives include:

  • Scratching Posts
    Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and helps them stretch, release tension, and shed the outer layer of their nails. Make sure to have at least one tall, sturdy scratching post for your cat to be able to extend the full length of their body on. It is also best to keep it in the most active room of the home, as your cat will want to use it during times of social interactions. Some cats prefer vertical ones while others prefer flat scratching posts that lie on the ground. It’s a good idea to give your cat options and have a few varieties available for them to choose from.
  • Appropriate Litter Box Placement
    The rule of thumb with litter boxes is that you should have one per cat plus one. So, if you have two cats, you should have three litter boxes. Even though they can be unsightly, having multiple litter boxes will be one of the best ways to decrease the chances your cat will start urinating or defecating outside of the box. It is also important to keep the litter boxes in an area that is always accessible to your cat. Do not keep it tucked away in a back closet or in a room where someone may close the door and block your cat’s access to it. If your cat is not able to get to their litter box, they may hold their urine for too long and this can lead to development of a urinary tract infection. Equally important is keeping the litter box in a quiet space. If the box is by the furnace or a loud washing machine, your cat may not want to use it.
  • Safe Spaces
    Cats need a safe space in the home that they can have all to themselves. Cats love to jump up on things, hide, and sleep on elevated spots. If there are dogs in the home, your cat needs to have a place they can get into or onto to give them some space and quiet time away from the dog.
  • Playtime
    Even though many cats may seem content to just sit or lie by themselves, most cats need dedicated play time with you every day. This may be in the form of throwing and chasing a toy, running on a cat wheel, or just running around the house. The amount of play and type of play will depend on your individual cat and their particular preferences and capabilities, but intentional playtime with you is very important nonetheless.  The Indoor Pet Initiative has many more great resources for ways to keep your cat’s indoor environment mentally stimulating.
  • Maintaining a Healthy Weight
    While keeping an indoor cat in good physical shape can be very challenging, there are ways to prevent them from getting overweight or obese. As mentioned above, play with your cat every day. Regular exercise will keep your cat healthy both physically and mentally. Feeding puzzles are a great way to slow down how fast they eat, making them work for the food, and to simulate a hunt. You can find cat food puzzle balls or puzzle bowls at pet stores or online. Alternatively, you could hide small amounts of their food in different places around the house so they have to find it themselves (just make sure you remember where you put it!). As difficult as this may be, try to avoid feeding your cat any table scraps or food from your plate. Also, adult cats do not need to drink milk, and many cats’ intestines can’t even tolerate it. So, avoid giving your cat any leftover milk from your cereal bowl or licks from your vanilla ice cream. Example of a food puzzle for cats: CAT FOOD PUZZLE
  • Fresh Water
    Cats need fresh water to be available and easily accessible at all times. This is so important to prevent them from becoming dehydrated, which can lead to other problems. As cats get older, they are very prone to developing kidney disease. So, keeping fresh water available at all times and in easily accessible locations is key to keeping them healthy.
  • Food Appropriate for Life Stage
    Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat protein from a meat source to get all the nutrients they need.  It is very important to not feed cats a vegetarian diet, as they will develop nutritional deficiencies. If you have any specific concerns, or want to make sure your cat is eating a good food, talk with your veterinarian so they can provide you with the brands they recommend. It is also important to look at the bag of food and make sure it is appropriate for your cat’s life stage. Each bag of cat food should say on the side label if it is manufactured for kittens, adult cats, senior cats, or cats of all life stages. Dry, crunchy food is good to help maintain teeth health in cats. However, since some cats do not drink enough water, it is also okay to provide them with canned/moist food a few times a week to help with hydration. 

  • A Note on Grain-Free Foods
    Even though grain-free foods have become very popular, it is best to stay away from them for now. Recent evidence indicates that some grain-free foods can possibly cause heart disease in cats. Until further information comes forth, it is best to avoid grain-free food and just feed regular cat food with grains in it. Grains are not harmful to cats and, as of yet, we have not determined that cats are allergic to grains. If cats have a food allergy, it is typically to the protein source within the food.