If you're reading this article, then chances are you view your cat as so much more than a pet, but as much as a part of your family as any other human member. So it's totally understandable why you would want Kitty to live the longest, happiest and healthiest life possible. Sure, lifespan is partly up to the genetic lottery, but if you're willing to put in the effort, you can help stack the odds in Kitty's favor. Some tips are easy and some require a bit more time and persistence -- but every single one is worth doing!
#1 - Regular Trips To The Vet
Whether for scheduled vaccinations, regular checkups, or to find out the cause behind some troubling symptoms that you've noticed, you must take your cat to the vet. We know that this can really cut into your budget, but you can't put a price on Kitty's life. Consider pet insurance or setting aside a rainy day fund exclusively for unexpected vet bills. Expense is also something to consider before you adopt any pet, as there's no way to always ensure your critter has a clean bill of health without regular vet visits.
#2 - Opt For Keeping Kitty Indoors
Indoor-only cats are at a much lower risk of getting into fights and accidents, being poisoned, getting lost, succumbing to the elements, and suffering from infections and allergies. (This is only a short list. For dozens reasons to keep your cats inside, check out this link.) Indoor/outdoor cats may fare a bit better, but these dangers are present every time they venture outside. Outdoor-only cats, according to the ASPCA, only live on average a total of 7 years. Sorry parents of outdoor cats--this is just the cold hard truth.
If you must allow your cats outdoors (and even if you don't) remember this cat commandment: thou shalt NOT declaw! Not only is declawing painful, but it is 100% unnecessary for healthy cats. It should only be done in the case of a medical necessity (like an injured foot).
#3 - Spay/Neuter
Not only does it protect against overpopulation, but it can also help prevent reproductive cancers. A number of studies have shown that cats that are spayed and neutered live longer, on average.
#4 - Proper Nutrition
This is definitely a no-brainer. Everyone should understand the link between good nutrition and good health -- but this requires that you understand the dietary needs of cats in general and your cat in particular. As a rule of thumb, you should not feed your cat low-cost, low-quality brands. Look for foods high in protein (but not soy protein which is tough for cats to digest) and moisture content. Meat should be the first ingredient listed on the package.
Most commercial pet foods, even pricey ones that claim to be high quality, are made with synthetic vitamins and minerals that actually do very little for your cat's health. It's always best for cats to get their essential nutrients from whole, natural foods. If you've got the time, you may want to consider studying up and making your cat's food yourself with wholesome ingredients. However, don't attempt this before you've done your research! One good resource to check out is Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats.
#5 - Proper Hydration
Did you know that lots of cats don't drink enough water, even if it's made easily available to them? Many need a little bit more incentive to imbibe in adequate amounts of H2O. Here are some ways to make sure your kitty is getting enough hydration: 1) feed your cat wet food with high moisture content or add water to dry food 2) buy a pumping water fountain for pets -- cats prefer these to stagnant water sources 3) turn on a light stream of water from the faucet whenever your cat is nearby to entire her to drink.
#6 - Watch Their Weight
Just like humans, weight is important to a cat's overall health. According to research by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of U.S. cats are either obese or overweight. These extra pounds can lead to type 2 diabetes as well as a number of kidney, liver, heart, and pancreatic disease. Also, just like humans, the best way to combat extra fat is to control food portions (schedule your feeding times, don't free feed!) and engaging in regular exercise (through play).
Unsure if your cat is overweight? Try out petMD's Healthy Weight tool. If you've got a multi-cat household and not all cats are overweight, try feeding each cat separately so you can control intake for each particular cat.
Weight loss can also be a symptom of a health condition. If your cat is a senior and you you notice that she's shedding pounds, your vet will probably have senior screening lab work done to check for chronic kidney disease, feline IBS, cancer and hyperthyroidism.
#7 - Age-Appropriate Cat Care
When it comes to cat care, one method does not fit all ages. This is true for a lot of care basics (like choosing age appropriate toys and frequency of vet checkups), but it is especially important when it comes to diet. Older cats need less calories and softer, more easily digestible food (i.e. foods lower in fat and protein), as well as more fiber and fatty acids.
For example from year 1 - 7, the first tendencies toward age-related disease begin to show, such as feline diabetes, arthritis, or heart disease -- so pay close attention to your cat's behavior and seek veterinary attention quickly in order to catch them early.
#8 - Physical and Mental Fitness
To encourage physical exercise, play with your cat often. Buy toys and cat furniture that encourage your feline to get frisky. Rotate toys often to keep her entertained.
Bored cats get stressed, depressed, or act out. To stimulate her mentally, allow her access to the sights, sounds and smells of nature without letting her roam outside. Push a piece of furniture up near a window and allow your cat to sit atop it, or create a comfy window perch for her. Make sure you also provide ledges to more than one window, so that she has a variety of views. How would you like watching the same TV show over and over again?
#9 - Don't Ignore Dental Hygiene
You may not consider periodontal (gum) disease may not seem life threatening, but this common feline health condition can lead to serious complications. Besides tooth pain and loss, the bacteria in plaque can invade your cat's bloodstream and damage internal organs. Don't neglect your cat's oral health!
#10 - Pay Close Attention To Any Irregularities
Cats tend to be creatures of habit -- it's just the way they've been programmed -- so if you notice something different about they way they do things, don't ignore it. Of course, they don't make it easy for us figure out if something's not right with them, as they're very adept at hiding symptoms of illness or injury. Log changes in appetite, eating habits, and how easy or difficult it appears for your cat to move around. Hairballs may be normal for your cat, but changes in the frequency or type of vomit (more foamy than usual for example) can be a sign of a problem.
#11 - Make Your Home Cat Safe
Just because you've got an indoor cat doesn't mean she's free from all danger. There could be hazards lurking around your home that you may not even be aware of. If you haven't already done so, take a look around to see if there are any adjustments you can make around the house to reduce the risk of Kitty being poisoned or injured. For example:
- Use non toxic cleaning products.
- Ensure that your houseplants are not poisonous to cats by checking out ASPCA's list of toxic plants - Secure pet doors/close sliding doors at night to block intruders from entering. Coyotes and other wild critters have been known to enter homes and can be a threat to household pets.
#12 - Take Time to Bond
Don't be fooled. Even the most aloof cat can want a bit of love and attention every now and then! Take the time to emotionally bond with your cat. This is mutually stress relieving for both you and your feline -- and we all know that stress can aggravate (or even cause) health problems. So how do you bond? Through play, stroking, grooming, and the occasional treat among other activities.
#13 - Regular Grooming
Though cats naturally groom themselves, indoor cats especially may end up with extra hair that then shows up in hairballs. Regular brushing to remove shed fur can cut down on excess hair both in your house and in your cat's stomach.
#14 - Possible Health-Promoting Supernutrients to Consider
A 7-year Feline Longevity Study which tested the possible health effects of antioxidants, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and prebiotics in feline diets (with 70 healthy senior cats from the ages of seven to 17 as their subjects) yielded the following results:
Cats that were fed a commercial "complete and balanced" cat food formulated for seniors plus antioxidants, a blend of oils (for Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids), and prebiotics (whole chicory root) enjoyed the following benefits as opposed to cats who were fed only a commercial diet as well as cats on a commercial diet and supplemental fatty acid oils:
- Lost less lean muscle mass
- Improved weight, skin thickness and red cell quality
- Less incidence of disease
- Significantly increased lifespan
Find out the Top 5 Cat-Safe Foods High in Antioxidants.
#15 - Educate Yourself!
Learn what a healthy and unhealthy cat looks like and pay attention to the latest findings in feline health research. Check out these signs of a healthy cat to make sure that your furball fits under this category. If something seems awry, don't delay that trip to the vet. A vast number of feline health issues can be avoided with early detection and targeted care.
By Maya Marin, Cuteness Editor