Caring for a cat takes more than just the love you have for your feline friend. You have to make the effort to learn about and prepare for health-related issues that you may encounter. You also need to get in the habit of practicing preventive care, and you must be ready (and have the means) to take your cat to your veterinarian when emergency care is required.

Mother cat and kitten © ANURAK PONGPATIMET/

A startup kit for kittens and adult cats

Whether you’re adopting a playful kitten or a full-grown cat, you want to welcome your new feline friend to his or her new home by having all the essentials already in place. The following list contains the basic items you need to have on hand before you bring kitty home. (Any extra treats or toys will surely be appreciated.)

  • Brush and comb
  • High-quality food, as recommended by a veterinarian
  • Toys
  • Nail trimmer and Kwik Stop powder
  • Dishwasher-safe bowls, one for water, one for food
  • Litter box, litter, scoop
  • Enzymatic cleaner for pet stains
  • Travel carrier
  • Soft cat collar (with elastic insert for safety) and an ID tag and a microchip (make sure to register the chip!)
  • Scratching post or cat tree
  • Treats!

Cat vaccinations

Call them “shots” if you want, but vaccinations deserve a lot of respect for cutting the rates of infectious disease in cats. A series of vaccines for kittens and annual vaccines for cats are still believed to be one of the best ways to ensure good health for your cat.

Be aware of the need for boosters beyond the initial kitten series. The law dictates what must be followed for rabies in each state. Discuss your cat’s lifestyle, including if she’s allowed outside, or has any other potential means of interaction with other cats, or dogs or wild animals. This will determine which vaccines your cat needs to protect her health.

Vaccines work by putting a tiny amount of a protein that either mimics or contains inactivated disease-causing virus into your cat, challenging her immune system to create disease-fighting organisms. Should your pet ever come in contact with the actual disease, her system can recognize it and is prepared to fight it.

An occasional cat will develop an “allergic” reaction to a vaccine, and this condition usually becomes apparent quickly and is managed by your veterinarian. To ensure that this very uncommon complication does not become serious, keep your cat confined and observe her for 12 to 24 hours after the vaccine is given. If you have any questions or concerns, call or return to your veterinarian.

Another concern about vaccines: Some cats may develop a malignant tumor at the site where certain shots are given (generally in the area between the shoulder blades) The incidence of this complication is extremely low, however.

Remember the following regarding vaccines:

  • Do not use cancer or allergic reactions as a reason to avoid getting your cat vaccinated. You are much more likely to lose your unvaccinated cat to one of the diseases you should vaccinate against than you are to ever see a tumor in your cat because of vaccination.
  • Pay special attention to your kittens. Young cats are especially fragile, so do not even consider skipping the kitten series and first annual booster.

Preventive healthcare for your cat

Preventive care for your cat — just like for you — is more cost-effective than crisis care, and it’s easier on both your pet and your bank account in the long run. The following sections give you some preventive care guidelines.

Talk to your veterinarian to find out what is best for your pet.

Kitten veterinary care

  • Initial exam and feline leukemia test within 48 hours of adoption and prior to introduction to other cats.
  • Three combination vaccinations at three- to four-week intervals, starting at the age of six to nine weeks. Feline leukemia vaccination after initial testing; if test is positive, discuss lifestyle limitations with your veterinarian. Rabies vaccination at 12 to 16 weeks, or as required by law.
  • Wormings as prescribed by your veterinarian, with annual screening for intestinal parasites thereafter.
  • Spaying or neutering, as recommended by your veterinarian.

Adult cat veterinary care

  • Annual examination, which may include blood work, a blood pressure check and urinalysis, especially for older pets and prior to procedures requiring anesthesia.
  • Vaccines as recommended by your veterinarian. Rabies vaccination as recommended by your veterinarian or as required by local law.
  • Comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment. Dental cleaning and scaling under anesthesia, as recommended by your veterinarian.

Adult cat home care

  • Brush teeth or use dental-specific diets.
  • Trim nails monthly.
  • Regular grooming; bathing as required (usually not).
  • Weekly home exam, including checking for lumps, bumps, injuries, and weight loss.
  • Monthly parasite prevention, as dictated by your cat’s lifestyle, your geographic location and your veterinarian’s recommendation.

How to control cat parasites

Cats pick up all kinds of parasites — both internal pests, such as worms, and external ones, such as fleas and ear mites. Your veterinarian may ask you to bring in a fresh stool sample to check for the presence of worms. If parasites are present, the veterinarian can prescribe medication to eliminate them.

Heartworms are something that only dog owners had to worry about previously, but now preventive medication is out there for cats too. What gives?

Cats are at risk for heartworm disease. The confusing news is that much controversy exists over whether the amount of attention given to this problem is good medicine or good marketing. The good news (driving the marketing) is that there is now effective medication that, given monthly, prevents heartworms from living inside a cat’s body.

Does your cat need heartworm prevention medication? Ask your veterinarian. The answer may hinge on your cat’s lifestyle and where you live. No one likes to give unnecessary medications. However, in this case, the cost of not erring on the side of giving medications may be high. Although heartworm infestation is rare in cats, it is also not easily treated. In most cases where heartworms are present in cats, veterinarians choose to not treat and simply let the disease take its course because the risks of treating are high.

Fleas and ticks are more easily treated now with effective medications that may be additionally include compounds to treat other parasites as well. Talk to your veterinarian to find out what’s most effective in your area.

Don’t bother with worming medications sold at pet supply stores; they may not treat the kind of parasites that your cat has. You should have your veterinarian accurately diagnose and treat your cat rather than subject your pet to medication that doesn’t fix the problem. This sort of thing is false economy!

Maintain the perfect cat diet

If cats ran the pet-food industry, the recipe for a good, nutritious meal would read as follows:

“Take one small mouse from the freezer. Thaw. Put in blender and purée. Serve at feline body temperature on a clean plate.”

Yuck, you say. That’s probably why you’re going to give your cat a dry food, where the label lists the first five ingredients as corn gluten meal, ground yellow corn, chicken, brewers rice, and wheat flour. Or you’re going to feed him a canned food that lists wheat gluten and brewers rice just a notch or two below turkey.

Rice? Wheat? Corn? What gives? Are cats carnivores or aren’t they? Yes, but not all their needs must be met by animal-based food, as they would in the wild. The commercial pet-food industry has managed to provide a diet with a high percentage of plant material that, nonetheless, keeps an obligate carnivore well fed. This balance of convenience, nutrition, and aesthetics (appealing to both human and feline tastes) has to be considered one of the great marvels of living in a modern age — and it keeps getting better, as our knowledge of nutrition increases.

A lot of different elements (about 60) go into keeping your cat healthy. These nutrients each play a role in keeping your cat’s body functioning well. The following sections explain the most important components of the feline diet.

Protein, essential for a cat’s diet

As part of their animal-consuming design, cats naturally have high protein requirements — more than double the amount per pound of body weight than dogs or humans do. Kittens need even more: about quarter again as much to support their rapid growth into adults.

Protein comes from both animal and plant material, and varies in digestibility. Meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs are highly digestible to a cat and are therefore high-quality sources of protein; some other parts of animals, such as feathers, beaks, and bones, are not as highly digestible. Grains are somewhere in the middle in terms of digestibility.

Carbohydrates in a cat’s diet

Carbohydrates — sugars and starches — are a source of energy, but not one that cats need in their diets to survive. Of all the ingredients in prepared cat foods, carbohydrates are farthest from what they would acquire naturally.

This is not to say that cats don’t use the carbohydrates in commercial cat foods. Enzymes in cats’ bodies break down and convert the sugars and more complex carbohydrates into products they can use. The fiber in commercial foods serves another function: It aids in keeping waste products moving through the digestive system and helps prevent constipation.

Fats, part of a cat’s diet

As people, we worry endlessly about the amount of fat in our diets, which experts say is too high. But again, we must realize that cats are not people, and their dietary needs are different concerning fats. As such, commercial cat foods have a fairly high percentage of fat.

Fat from animal sources carries essential fatty acids that cats can’t derive from vegetable sources. Fat also is essential for the absorption and movement around the body of certain vitamins, and it also appeals to the feline nose and palate, thus stimulating the desire to eat.

Vitamins cats need

Vitamins are divided into two categories — water-soluble and fat-soluble. Both are important to your cat’s health, and the lack of any of them in your cat’s diet can have dire effects. Water-soluble vitamins include the B vitamins, niacin, panthothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, choline, and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Oil-based hairball remedies can tie up the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, which is why you shouldn’t be giving them. They can also lure you into ignoring symptoms of a bigger health issue.

Minerals cats need

Your cat needs minerals, including potassium, magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and others. Like vitamins, they make up a small part of your cat’s diet, but in the correct amounts, they’re essential for good health.

The important thing to know about vitamins and minerals is that your cat needs the correct amount — but not more. The notion that “if a little is good, a lot must be better” simply doesn’t apply in the case of vitamins — or most other nutrients.

Water and cats

Don’t forget that what your cat drinks is just as important to her well being as what she eats. Water — clean, fresh, and ever-present — is essential to nearly every process of your cat’s body. Because so many cats suffer from chronic dehydration, we recommend a diet high in water, typically canned.

A cat can go without eating for weeks if need be (please don’t test this fact though), but without water, she’ll die in days.

Always make sure to supply your cat with water and encourage her to drink by keeping the dish clean and the water fresh. Some cats prefer running water, and some owners oblige by opening taps to drip for their pets. Some manufacturers even sell pet fountains that constantly recycle water to make it seem fresh to a finicky feline.

Do cats need to drink cow’s milk? Not at all, although in most cases, a little dose of the white stuff is much appreciated — unless they are lactose-intolerant.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

Gina Spadafori is an award-winning veterinary medical writer. She is the coauthor of Cats For Dummies and Birds For Dummies.

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

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