KITTEN CARE

Having a kitten is a rewarding experience. The joys of owning are many; just gently stroking a cat can reduce your blood pressure and decrease stress. Having a kitten also entails responsibilities to ensure the kitten’s health, your sanity and your leather lounge remain in one piece.

When you first bring your kitten home, it will take them a little time to settle in. It is a good idea to have a place ready for them with a bed, food bowls and a litter tray within easy reach. Kittens are very quick learners and generally know instinctively how to use their kitty litter, though occasionally they may need encouragement! They should be kept inside completely until at least a week after they have had their last kitten vaccination (and after they have been neutered/desexed). If you would like your kitten to have time outdoors, then let them out a little at a time, initially under supervision. It is a good idea to let your kitten or cat out before mealtime, so they have a good incentive to come them inside again! Kittens should always be supervised outdoors until they are adults. All cats should be kept in at night – both for the sake of the local wildlife and for their own safety. Cats are much more likely to roam at night and therefore are much more prone to fighting and having accidents at this time.  Most cats are happy to remain indoor cats- don’t feel they need to have outdoor time, so long as they are given plenty of stimulation at home.

Provide your kitten with things to do – even a peg, a sock or a scrunched up piece of paper can be a toy! Make sure you talk to them and interact with them on a daily basis- they love being made to feel part of the family!  Scratching is natural behaviour for cats, but they need to be able to express this in an acceptable way (to protect your furniture!) – scratching posts or something similar provides their claws with good exercise.  It’s a good idea to start looking in your kitten’s mouth and playing with their feet regularly from a young age to make it easier to check their teeth and clip their claws as they get older.

Specific care for your kitten is as follows:

  • Vaccinations are for respiratory disease (‘flu’- Herpes virus and calici virus) and panleukopaenia (these three given together are known as the core F3 vaccination). Other vaccinations are available, for example against Feline Leukaemia Virus and may be recommended in certain circumstances. Paddington Cat Hospital recommends vaccinations at 6-8 weeks of age and then at 12 weeks and 16 weeks old; a vaccination booster is then needed a year later and regularly throughout your cat’s life.  An annual check up is vitally important for the vet to examine your cat for any abnormalities, and to discuss any issues that may arise.
  • Worming is mainly for the worms that affect the intestines. These worms are roundworm, hookworm and tapeworm – infection can cause diarrhoea, poor growth and even death if severe. As a kitten, worming with paste or tablets is recommended every 2 weeks until 12 weeks of age, then every 6-12 months. If your cat is having one of the spot-on flea formulas which treats intestinal worms (roundworm and hookworm) as well (eg Revolution or Advocate), then they generally only require a tablet for tapeworms. This can be given once a year or more often if advised. It is important to make sure you know your cat’s correct weight, and give the appropriate dose of intestinal wormer.
  • Heartworm can occasionally cause disease in cats. Dogs are the main species affected and the disease is spread by mosquitos. It is very difficult to detect and treat in cats and although there is a low incidence, the first sign may be sudden death. Fortunately, prevention is possible with either a monthly spot- on which covers Heartworm, or a chewable monthly Heartworm tablet.
  • We recommend using some sort of flea treatment for all kittens regardless of lifestyle- even indoor only kittens and cats can be infected with fleas. There are many products that can be used to kill fleas, however, the most effective and safest flea treatments tend to be the spot on formulas. Some of these (Revolution and Advocate) have the added advantage of treating the kitten for intestinal worms (except tapeworm), heartworm, and ear mites. Bravecto also treats ticks- this product has the added advantage of needing only 3 monthly application.
  • Your kitten’s diet should be complete and balanced – this means all the nutrients (including vitamins and minerals) are provided in the correct amounts and proportions. If not, nutritional problems can develop over a period of time. Of the complete and balanced diets, the premium diets (such as Science Diet, Royal Canin or Purina) provide a better source of protein, they have less preservatives and are better absorbed so there is less smell in the litter tray. Supermarket varieties are next best but always check the label for the words “Complete and Balanced”, as some more expensive brands are not such a healthy alternative for your cat. Kitten versions of all these diets are important since they provide higher energy and protein levels for a growing body. It is a good idea for your kitten to get used to a variety of food from an early age.  We recommend feeding mostly wet food with a small amount of dry food (3/4 wet to 1/4 dry).

One thing not provided by these foods is exercise for the teeth. Giving raw chicken wings or necks, or strips of raw, red meat (NB see hand out on ‘pet meats’!) twice weekly (under supervision) helps to keep the teeth and gums healthy. It is best to introduce these to the diet when a kitten is young so they look forward to them.  The very best dental care is regular brushing (ideally daily but even twice weekly is helpful)- please ask us for advice at your next check.

Taking good care of your new kitten will set the foundations for a happy lifelong relationship!

FLEA CONTROL IN CATS

In our practice, up to 90% of all skin problems in cats are associated with fleas, although it is important to realise that cats (and other animals) can have fleas without showing any signs of disease. Only the adult flea lives on the animal; the rest of the life cycle (eggs, larva, pupa) lives in the environment. The female adult flea needs to feed from the animal in order to produce eggs. Once she lays the eggs (up to 200 eggs per flea per day!), they fall off the cat wherever the cat may be (eg into the floorboards or the grass). If the conditions are warm and humid enough, these eggs will hatch, and in approximately 3 weeks they will become adults themselves, ready to jump onto the nearest animal.

A few important points to bear in mind: in Sydney, although fleas are more common in the warmer months, we often see fleas all the year around; eggs can remain viable for months waiting for the right conditions before hatching; indoor cats can still get fleas (via people or other animals carrying any part of the flea life cycle into the proximity of the cat); and fleas prefer animals to humans, so if a person in the household is getting bitten, it usually means there are already a lot of fleas around.

There are a number of options for flea control, depending on the circumstances. Most people find the spot on applications very convenient, safe and effective. The newer ones tend to be more effective, as fleas can develop resistance to any given product over time. Some of these products (eg Revolution® and Advocate®) also cover for other parasites, such as heartworm (spread by mosquitoes) and most intestinal worms, meaning fewer medications are needed for their cat (and this is usually a good thing!).  Bravecto® is a spot on given every 3 months and also covers ticks.

Sometimes we recommend other products (usually Capstar® tablets which kills fleas very quickly, within 30 minutes, but only lasts for a few days), to help get rid of a large infestation of fleas, or to help with ongoing flea control in a particularly allergic cat. These will be used in conjunction with the spot on formula, and work very well together.  Another product called Comfortis® is also a (chewable) tablet, and is very effective at killing fleas quickly and for the whole month.

We can help tailor a flea control regimen to suit your individual needs.

Fleabites can cause anything from minor irritation to severe itchiness from allergy that can result in skin inflammation and infections due to self-trauma. If this happens, the cat will require veterinary attention to treat the allergy and its consequences, but the underlying fleas must also be controlled. It is important to remember that once a cat has shown signs of being allergic to fleabites, they will always be allergic and predisposed to having skin problems. It is especially important that these cats have very thorough and diligent flea control.

Once the fleas on your cat have been treated, there’s still the problem of all those flea eggs and larvae in your cat’s immediate environment. Generally a thorough vacuuming through the premises, including on and behind furniture is enough to get rid of the majority of the flea life cycle and the flea products mop up the remainder.

WHY DOESN’T MY FLEA PRODUCT WORK?

To understand why you may still see fleas on your cat despite being diligent with applying a flea product regularly, we need explain what the products are up against, that is, explain how well fleas multiply.

Each flea can lay up to 2000 eggs (a female can lay 40-50 eggs per day!) and the life cycle is only 3 weeks. Let’s assume a cat starts with only 1 flea and is somewhere that has never been exposed to fleas and that each flea lays only 100 eggs. After 3 weeks, there will be 100 fleas ready to jump on the cat. If they all hatch and infest that cat and lay 100 eggs and this cycle continues, then after 6 weeks, the cat will have 10, 000 fleas and after 9 weeks, the cat will be burdened by 1 million fleas!!!! Back in the real World, not every flea egg hatches but they can survive in the environment for years.   If your cat goes outside or is in contact with another animal that goes outside, then it will be constantly exposed to fleas.

The most commonly used products to kill fleas are the ‘spot-ons’ that are usually applied to back of the cat’s head. The newer versions of these are all effective at killing fleas and are safe for cats (DO NOT USE PRODUCTS THAT ARE FOR DOGS- SOME OF THESE ARE TOXIC FOR CATS, for example Advantix®).

The main products like this all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some of them are effective for worming and other parasites as well as fleas, and Bravecto® is licensed for use against ticks.  These products also vary in how quickly they kill fleas as well as the percentage of fleas still being killed after 4 weeks (when the next application is due).

In summary, Advocate® and Comfortis® kills fleas the quickest but Advocate® has the least effect in the last week of the month. With Revolution®, it takes longer to kill the fleas, but is still effective near the end of the month.  Bravecto® is given only every 3 months and also covers ticks.  If you are using one of these products but your cat is still bothered by fleas, then Capstar® tablets can be given as often as every two days.

HOMECARE NOTES: VOMITING AND DIARRHOEA

  • Many cases of vomiting or diarrhoea in cats are caused by a simple infection of the stomach or intestines from catching an insect or from fresh or tinned food left out too long. Other causes are from toxins (eg lilies are VERY dangerous to cats), having a blockage (eg a toy or string), food allergies, cancers or even secondary to another problem like kidney or liver disease.

It is best for your cat to be assessed by a veterinarian in the first instance to ensure there aren’t more severe underlying problems (eg jaundice or dehydration) that need immediate investigations.

Home Care (in an otherwise well cat):

  • Fast your cat for 24 hours but ensure water is available since there is loss of fluid from the vomiting or diarrhoea. Once this initial 24 hours is over, you may introduce your cat to bland food.
  • Initially, cooked white meat of a chicken is the best bland food to reintroduce your cat to. We find that using the white meat (no skin or fat) from barbeque chicken to work in most cases as the smell and warm meat help to stimulate your cat’s appetite. Steamed or boiled chicken breast is also fine.
  • After a few days on the cooked chicken, we recommend transitioning to a special prescription diet for gastro-intestinal problems.  There are a few options available- Royal Canin Sensitivity, Hills i/d, or Purina EN which are available as wet or dry forms.
  •  Wet food is strongly recommended as it ensures your cat is taking in water among other reasons.
  • If all goes well, this diet of bland food should be fed in small amounts for a week or more before gradually returning to your cat’s usual diet. Give a little more of their usual diet each day and a little less of the bland food (ie 25% normal/75% bland food the first day, 50%/50% the next etc,) until they are weaned entirely back to their normal diet. This is to prevent any further vomiting or diarrhoea that can occur when changing a cat’s diet.If your cat:
  • Continues to vomit or the diarrhoea persists
  • Refuses to eat
  • Shows any other signs of being unwell (like sluggishness)

then it is very important to call us to organise an appointment. We can assess if your cat needs further investigations (for example, with blood tests or ultrasound), and if they need to be admitted to hospital for IV fluids (a drip) and more specialised care.

HOMECARE NOTES: DIABETES

Your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.
Usually this means that not enough insulin is being produced by the pancreas to let glucose (‘blood sugar’) be transported from the bloodstream into cells around the body for energy.

Without insulin, the glucose is left in the bloodstream, where it builds up to very high levels. If this remains untreated, a diabetic cat will lose weight and eventually starve to death even if eating more than usual.

Some of this excess glucose is extracted from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. This excess glucose in the urine draws lots of water with it, which will cause increased urination. To compensate for this loss, the uncontrolled diabetic cat must drink more water.

You will need to give insulin injections to your cat twice a day. Many people initially feel uneasy about needles but ALL of our clients with diabetic cats agree that giving injections is easier than giving tablets!

To regulate the insulin and blood sugar levels, insulin and food must be provided at strict intervals and in strict amounts.

Your cat will have an initial stabilisation period to determine the correct dose of insulin to start off with. A routine will be established for the medication and feeding.

You will choose times that you will be able to consistently medicate and feed your cat twice daily at approximately the same time each day (for example, 7am and 7pm).

It’s important to re-assess cats regularly to begin with, then three monthly. The rechecks are important since insulin requirements can vary. Sometimes extra rechecks are indicated.  We can usually teach owners to do these checks themselves at home, but we still need to have a vet check every 6 months.

REMEMBER:

* Keep the insulin in the fridge
* Shake the bottle gently before use
* Inject just under a pinch of skin (ie subcutaneously)

IMPORTANT:
If you are unsure whether you gave the insulin injection correctly DO NOT RE-ADMINISTER IT. Don’t worry, just feed your cat as normal.
If you forget to give the insulin injection, don’t worry. Just miss that injection and re-administer as usual 12 hours later.

Call us immediately if your cat shows any of the following signs: weakness, depression, seizures, stops eating, or increases drinking and urination. This may mean that your cat’s blood sugar may be too low or too high.

Of course, call us about any other concerns you may have.

TOXOPLASMOSIS


Out of all the zoonotic diseases which humans can get from cats, Toxoplasmosis is the most well known and publicised one. However, there is a huge amount of misunderstanding about this disease and about the role in which the cat plays in causing human disease.

Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease caused by an organism called Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can infect almost any warm-blooded animal (including birds and humans) though cats are the only animals that can spread this organism through faeces (droppings). If a cat does become infected, it will only shed eggs for around 2-3 weeks in the cat’s life. Cats develop immunity against the parasite, which usually prevents reinfection and further shedding. Eggs that have been shed in faeces need to be exposed to air for 1 to 5 days before they become infective to people or other animals though they can remain infective for up to 18 months in the soil.

When other animals and humans become infected with this parasite through ingestion of this parasite, cysts can be formed in their tissues (muscle, brain, etc.), but no adult parasites develop in their intestinal tract.  Infection is widespread throughout the world but T gondii is a very well adapted parasite, meaning it rarely causes significant disease in an infected host.

How do people or animals become infected?

Infection is caused by

  • Ingestion of infective cysts in tissues by eating or handling raw or undercooked meat (of any potentially infected animal such as beef, lamb, pork, chicken) or unpasteurised milk.  This is by far the most common way of becoming infected.
  • Ingestion of food (eg fruits and vegetables) or water contaminated with infective eggs (that have been shed greater than 24 hours prior) from cat faeces (for example home gardens).What are the symptoms and treatment in humans?

    Most healthy people develop minimal or no symptoms. If symptoms occur they usually resemble the flu; eg fever, enlarged lymph nodes, fatigue, headache and sore throat. Once exposed to the parasite, immunity usually develops, preventing re-infection. Most people require no treatment. People showing symptoms of toxoplasmosis are generally treated with antibiotics. Treatment for pregnant women is more complex.

    People likely to develop symptoms are children and people with compromised immune systems. Pregnant women who become infected with toxoplasmosis risk affecting their unborn baby.

    Toxoplasmosis and Pregnancy

    When a previously non-infected woman becomes infected during pregnancy with T. gondii, there may be no clinical signs, however there is a chance that the unborn baby may become infected as well. The effect on the baby depends heavily on the stage of pregnancy but is most severe during the first half of the pregnancy. Infection may result in stillbirths, spontaneous abortions, or the development of permanent birth defects such as malformations, mental retardation, impaired vision, and deafness.

    Before becoming pregnant it is a good idea to find out whether you have been previously infected with Toxoplasma gondii by having a blood test. If previously infected, your baby is not at risk from a new infection. It is important to remember that the only way to catch Toxoplasma in relation to your cat is from ingesting faeces exposed to air for greater than a day from a cat infected for the first time.

    Toxoplasmosis and the Immunocompromised

    Once inside the body, the Toxoplasma parasite never leaves it. Although in healthy people the parasite remains inactive, it can “reactivate” in immunocompromised people. There is no additional danger of transmission of the parasite from their cat. However, toxoplasmosis in the immunocompromised is a more serious disease, with the most common manifestation being encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

    What are the signs in animals?

    When symptoms are apparent, they usually include vague signs like diarrhoea, weight loss, decreased appetite, depression and fever. Measurement of antibodies to T. gondii in the blood is the best method to diagnose toxoplasmosis. It may be a good idea to check for some viruses, since usually only immunocompromised cats will show signs of Toxoplasma. Cats with this disease can be cured with antibiotics.

    In cats, infection with T gondii is much more common in outdoor cats that are active hunters, and in cats that are fed undercooked or raw meat.

    How can I prevent my pet from becoming infected?

  • Keep cats indoors to prevent them from hunting and eating wild rodents and birds.
  • Feed cats only commercially prepared food or well-cooked meat; never raw meat or raw meat products.
  • Do not let your cat drink unpasteurised milk
  • Faeces should be removed from the litter box daily and disposed of properly. Clean the litter boxes regularly with boiling or scalding water.

How can I prevent myself from becoming infected?

  • Wash hands, cutting boards, sink tops, knives and other utensils thoroughly with soap and water after handling undercooked meat and before eating.
  • Cook meat thoroughly to 151 degrees F (66 degrees C) for 20 minutes to destroy any parasites that might be present. Avoid tasting while cooking.
  • Wash vegetables thoroughly before eating to remove soil that may be contaminated with cat faeces.
  • Do not drink unpasteurised milk
  • Dispose of cat litter every day before any eggs have time to become infective and sanitise litter boxes with boiling water. (Many disinfectants are ineffective against T. gondii)
  • Wear gloves while gardening, especially where cats may have defaecated