By Colleen Cancio, Animal Planet
Cats are magnificent creatures. With grace, refinement and a permanent look of haughty disdain on their faces, their charms are impossible to resist. On the other hand, cats are also quite mysterious, which is why taking care of them isn’t always easy.
What constitutes “normal” behavior for a cat? How do you know when to take your cat to the veterinarian? How do cats cope with stress in their environment, and what are some of the symptoms of serious illness in a cat? Check out our list of the top 10 cat health questions to learn about the domestic cat’s most common quirks and health concerns.
10. Is it normal for cats to mark their territory?
Cats are some of the most territorial creatures on the planet. Every time your cat rubs his cheeks against you, he’s marking you with his scent. It’s his way of saying “back off — this one’s taken.”
When it comes to territory marking in house cats, the biggest problem for owners is urine spraying, that unfortunate tomcat tendency to pee on drapes, furniture and other household items. Spraying is different from the elimination of urine for physiological reasons. When cats spray, it’s meant to be a “keep out” sign for other animals.
Spraying is common among felines that live in multi-cat households or those that are experiencing stress. If your cat is spraying, thoroughly clean the marked area with products designed to neutralize odor. You should also do your best to create and maintain a stress-free environment for your feline friend.
No. 1 Cleaning Tip
When cleaning cat spray with household products, avoid using those that are ammonia-based. Ammonia smells like urine and may cause the cat to spray more in order to cover it up.
9. What are the recommended shots for cats?
Vaccines are very important for domestic cats, both indoor and outdoor. But it may not always be clear which vaccines to give your bewhiskered buddy. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the types of shots your cat needs depend on several factors, including whether he goes outside and his age and overall health.
As a general rule, all cats should be vaccinated for feline distemper, feline herpes virus and rabies. Outdoor cats require vaccines for additional diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukemia virus, the number one viral killer of cats. Each of these may be given on a particular schedule, depending on the age of your pet. When planning for your veterinary visit, be prepared to discuss your cat’s environment, lifestyle and medical history, as these will factor into the decisions about vaccination.
Receiving vaccinations may cause your cat to retreat to a favorite hiding spot for a day or two. This is normal. However, if he does not return to his normal behavior within 48 hours, talk to your veterinarian about the problem.
8. What if your cat has a runny nose?
Cats are prone to runny noses for a variety of reasons, including allergies, nasal mites, infections and the common cold, all of which are treatable conditions. For each of these, there would be discharge coming from both of your cat’s nostrils.
If your cat has discharge coming from only one nostril, there may be something in the nasal passage that’s irritating the lining and causing fluid to run out. For example, grass, dust or pollen may become stuck in your cat’s nose. If this is the cause, most often it will work itself out.
According to Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, discharge from one nostril in cats may also indicate a nasal tumor, especially if it is accompanied by blood. If you notice these symptoms, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
A cleft palate in kittens that are still nursing can result in milk running through the nose. This condition is often treatable, especially in cases of small clefts.
7. What causes hair loss in cats?
Seasoned cat owners know that a certain amount of hair loss in cats is normal, and they have a house full of hair-covered furniture to prove it. However, excessive or patchy hair loss in cats is not normal, especially when accompanied by inflamed skin.
Hair loss in cats is often caused by excessive scratching due to flea infestation, allergies or other skin irritants. Hyperthyroidism is another cause of hair loss in cats, especially older cats. Once these underlying conditions are treated, the hair loss should stop.
In some cases, hair loss in cats coincides with a change in the animal’s environment. Excessive grooming caused by stress can also cause hair to fall out. No matter what the cause, if the problem persists, talk to your veterinarian about the problem.
Like fur, a cat’s whiskers periodically fall out and grow back. But you should never cut them. Whiskers serve several important functions for cats, including helping them to navigate through their environment.
6. What if your cat vomits a lot?
Seeing your cat vomit can be upsetting. But try not to worry — vomiting is quite common and usually inconsequential in our feline friends. These naturally inquisitive creatures often consume some pretty unsavory “snacks,” and vomiting is nature’s way of getting rid of the offending morsels. Vomiting may also be caused by hairballs, which are normal byproducts of grooming.
More serious causes of vomiting include viral infections, intestinal obstructions, kidney disease, diseases of the digestive system and various types of cancer. In most cases, vomiting that lasts less than a few days doesn’t need to be treated, though you may want to withhold food for 24 hours. If your cat is vomiting for more than 48 hours, or if the vomit contains blood, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Help for Hairballs
To keep hair balls under control, try brushing your cat on a regular basis. It’ll keep the hairballs in check and foster bonding between you and your feline friend.
5. Why would a cat refuse to eat and drink?
Having a pet that refuses food and water can be pretty alarming, and rightfully so, considering that not many creatures last long without these basic staples. But keep in mind that cats are extremely finicky creatures. Changing their food or feeding routines can cause them to refuse food and water for a short time. Cats may also go on brief hunger strikes in response to environmental stressors, such as the presence of guests in your home. If this is the case, don’t worry. Your furry friend will be grazing again in no time.
However, there are also many illnesses that can cause an animal to refuse food and water, including dental infections and intestinal disease. If your cat goes more than 48 hours without eating or drinking, contact your veterinarian immediately.
4. What can cause weight loss in a cat?
There is no shortage of portly pets in the world these days, mainly due to the abundance of owners who overfeed and under-exercise their four-legged friends. These animals could use a good weight loss program. However, weight loss in an animal that is not on a diet is generally a cause for concern.
Some of the most common causes of weight loss in cats are intestinal parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms or tapeworms. Fortunately, these are relatively easy to treat — one or two doses of medication will usually do the trick.
More serious potential causes of weight loss in cats include cancer, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease and dental infections. No matter what the cause, any unexplained weight loss in your cat should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Litter Box Basics
Intestinal parasites are very common in cats, with infection rates as high as 45 percent, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. The best way to avoid recurring infections is to scoop feces from cat litter boxes daily and regularly clean them with a bleach solution.
3. Should you be worried if your cat has diarrhea?
Despite its inherent unpleasantness, diarrhea serves a critical function in all animals, including cats. It is nature’s way of quickly getting rid of anything in the digestive tract that has the potential to do harm. It’s normal for cats to have occasional diarrhea, and it’s usually a short-lived problem.
Sometimes, however, diarrhea indicates a more serious condition in cats, such as intestinal infections or tumors. If your cat’s diarrhea persists for more than 48 hours, contains blood or is accompanied by vomiting or fever, make an appointment to see your veterinarian immediately. You should also see your veterinarian if your cat shows signs of dehydration, which include sunken eyes, lethargy, and a dry mouth and nose.
A cat that has diarrhea may also refuse to eat or drink during the episode. However, dehydration is a serious concern for cats. If your pet is experiencing diarrhea, encourage him to drink at least small amounts of water.
2. How do you know if your cat is too fat?
To find out if your feline is fit or fat, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is there just a thin layer of fat over the bones of his rib cage and tail?
- Looking from above, does your cat’s waistline narrow behind the ribs?
- Looking at your cat from the side, does his abdomen tuck upward just behind the ribs?
If you answered “no” to one or more of these, there’s a good chance your cat is fat. To maintain a healthy weight in your pet, offer him a food that is appropriate for his stage of life and for his particular health concerns. You should also be sure to feed him according to your vet’s instructions. Overfeeding is the main cause of feline obesity, which can shorten your cat’s lifespan.
A great way to help your cat shed unwanted pounds is to play with him in the house. But don’t worry about buying fancy cat toys — a crumpled up piece of paper tossed playfully across the room is all your pudgy pet needs to get moving.
1. What if your cat has seizures?
The word seizure refers to a sudden uncontrollable firing of nerves in the brain. In mild cases, a seizure may cause your cat to simply pause for a moment with a far-away look in his eyes. In more severe cases, a seizure can cause a cat to fall to the ground, twitching, convulsing, and urinating or defecating uncontrollably. These episodes may last a minute or more, and are usually followed by a period of disorientation. They are among the most difficult health issues a cat owner can face.
Seizures can be caused by many factors, including infections, hypoglycemia, kidney disease, tumors, exposure to toxins and epilepsy. If your cat is experiencing seizures, it is important to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Once the vet determines the underlying cause of the seizures, they can often treat them successfully.
Holding cats during seizures
There is no need to pick up your cat or move him during a seizure unless he is in danger of hitting a wall or other hard object. Just stay with him and speak to him in a reassuring voice. He’ll need you to comfort him when it’s over.