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FAQ: Cat Care and the Top-Ten Questions

1. How should I introduce a new cat to the other cats in my household?

A. In a word, slowly. Keep your new feline in a separate room for a few days, with its own food, water, and litter box. Only let your new cat out with the others under your supervision. Some cats get along immediately and others need some time to work things out. Be patient and leave your new cat unattended when you are sure there won’t be any problems.

2. At what age should I spay or neuter my cat?

The ideal time to neuter a male cat is by 10 months of age - before he acquires the spraying habit associated with marking his territory. For a female, to avoid her first heat, you should spay at 5 to 6 months of age. Your veterinarian will tell you when your cat is ready for this simple but extremely important procedure. Altering your cat not only prevents unwanted litters of kittens, but also greatly reduces potential health problems, such as cancer and infections, in both males and females.

3. What kind of food should I feed my cats?

Proper nutrition is a must for keeping your cat healthy and protecting them from potential infections. Most veterinarians recommend a well-balanced diet of dry food supplemented with a bit of canned food. Foods with beef, turkey, and chicken are best as they contain less ash and magnesium than fish-based foods (which can trigger urinary-tract problems). Always make fresh water available for your cat.

Kittens need a richer food than adult cats and should be fed more often, usually three times a day until they are six months old. Let your kitten or young cat tell you how much food it needs. To feed canned food, start with a teaspoon and if your kitten eats all of it immediately, give it a bit more until you can gauge a one-sitting amount.

4. I know that de-clawing is painful for a cat but how else can I protect my furniture?

De-clawing is very painful and is similar to having the tips of your fingers removed up to the first knuckle. Many veterinarians are now refusing to de-claw cats.

Most cats can be trained not to claw furniture. Provide plenty of scratching posts around your home and sprinkle the posts with catnip to attract your cat in their direction. Also keep a spray bottle of water handy and lightly spritz (don’t saturate!) your cat, saying NO loudly, whenever the cat starts to use the couch as a scratching post.

5. Why has my cat suddenly stopped using the litter box?

The reason could be simple: clean the litter more often; replace the litter more often; move the location of the box; add another box to the house; or try a new type of litter. Other contributing factors include a change in your cat’s regular routine, such as adding a new cat or other pet to your home.

The most common medical reason for this change is due to a urinary-tract infection. Your veterinarian can quickly indicate if this is the case, and they can prescribe antibiotics to eliminate the infection.

6. Is it really best to keep my cat indoors?

There are many good reasons for keeping your cat indoors. First, indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. They aren’t exposed to other animals that may carry diseases, they won’t be eating wildlife that could give them parasites or disease, and your cat won’t become food for wild predators (foxes, coyotes, etc.). No matter where you live, cars are always a threat to outdoor cats.

7. Can I take my cat on vacation with me?

Absolutely! Many people travel successfully with their feline companions. It’s best to first take your cat on short car trips around the neighborhood to see how they handle traveling. Use a carrier large enough for your cat to feel safe and comfortable. If the cat seems stressed, speak with your veterinarian about possible stress-relieving options, some of which are herbal and not chemical.

On long car trips, stop often so your cat has a chance to eat, drink water, and use the litter box. Use a harness and leash to exercise your cat while taking breaks and while exercising at your destination. A collar and identification tag with your phone number is a must in case the cat gets lost.

8. Are cats dangerous to pregnant women and newborns?

Cats do not pose any danger to pregnant women. It’s always best, though, to have someone else clean the litter box to avoid coming into contact with any parasites.

Cats are not inherently a danger to newborns. Because cats do enjoy curling up next to soft, warm bodies, you should supervise your cat when they are in the presence of your baby. Some people install screen doors in the nursery so they can hear their baby while keeping the cat outside of the nursery. Another idea is to place a net over the playpen, crib, and stroller to keep curious cats out of the baby’s environment.

9. How do I care for newborn kittens?

If the kittens are with the mother cat, your job is easy. The mom will do the work, and you only need to provide soft bedding, a quiet environment, and nutritious food. It’s a good idea to feed nursing mothers kitten food (because of the extra vitamins and protein) a few times a day. If her milk has come in, she’ll be able to nurse her kittens easily.

If the kittens are without the mother cat, you will need to help the kittens. The kittens will need KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) which can be found in pet stores and grocery stores as ready-to-use liquid or in a powder form to mix with water. Do not give cow’s milk to kittens-they cannot digest this milk! If they are really small, you may have to use a dropper to feed each kitten every three or four hours. Older kittens may be able to drink the KMR from a shallow saucer.

To replace the mother cat’s job of helping the kittens to eliminate, gently rub a soft cloth, dampened with warm water, over their genital areas after they eat. It will be a few weeks before newborn kittens are able to eliminate without stimulation.

Kittens must also be kept warm. Place a hot-water bottle under a towel or blanket in the kitten box. Be careful that the water isn’t too hot.

Call your local animal shelter for any additional advice.

10. How often do I need to take my cat to the veterinarian?

Once your cat reaches the age of 7 months, it should have received all of the vaccinations that kittens need to begin a healthy life. It is recommended that your cat visits the veterinarian annually for a routine checkup and examination which will include: vaccinations (rabies, distemper, etc.); check vital signs, heart, and lungs; check coat, eyes, ears; check for any swelling; and complete a dental examination as periodontal disease is very harmful to a cat’s heart, liver, kidneys, and other organs. Bring a stool sample so it can be checked for parasites. Most cats receive their first rabies vaccination  at the time of their spay/neuter, and your cat should be inoculated against feline leukemia. Your veterinarian will notify you of the shots your cat will need at its annual visit.

Always contact your veterinarian in the case of any health emergency. Certain medical conditions–such as kidney infections–come on very quickly in cats. If your cat acts lethargic, isn’t eating or drinking, or seems otherwise out of sorts, call your veterinarian for advice.

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