Caring for a kitten

All kittens are adorable and it can be tempting to take one home without thinking of the consequences. Remember that just like children they can be destructive and very demanding. Taking on a kitten means that you are committing yourself to about 15 years of caring for a cat and some live well into their late teens and 20s.

Can I care for a cat?

To care for a cat you will need to:

  • Provide plenty of human companionship
  • Provide regular, suitable meals with a constant supply of fresh water
  • Provide a clean and comfortable bed
  • Provide the cat with outdoor access or be prepared to empty and clean a litter tray on a daily basis
  • Groom it regularly. Longhaired cats require daily grooming
  • Have it neutered between 4 and 6 months old
  • Vaccinate against the major feline diseases yearly throughout its life
  • Worm regularly and provide treatment for fleas
  • Take the cat to the vet when it shows any sign of illness – pet insurance can help offset the cost of veterinary treatment.

Bringing the kitten home

Moving to a new home is very stressful for a kitten. Give it reassurance and time to adjust to the new surroundings before making introductions to other animals in the household. Make sure all the doors and windows are closed and that there is a guard in front of the fireplace (a dark quiet chimney can be very inviting to a nervous kitten). Make sure that the kitten knows where the bed, litter tray and food bowls are.

The kittens’ bed should be a refuge to retreat to if things become too stressful. It needs to be warm, dry, comfortable and draught free. There are many types of bed to choose from or you can put some warm bedding inside a strong dry cardboard box with a hole cut in the side. Putting it in a warm secure corner (near a radiator in the winter) will make it welcoming and the kitten feel secure. On the first few nights a warm water bottle under a blanket may help to compensate for the absence of the kitten’s mother or littermates, also the use of a Feliway diffuser or spray which we always have in stock at the surgery can help the kitten settle quicker. http://www.feliway.com/gb If you happen to have, or can borrow, a large pen (a kittening pen or the type of metal pen used to hold dogs securely in the back of a car) this is ideal for providing a safe den for the kitten and can hold its litter tray and bed. It is also an excellent way to introduce other animals.

 Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus strikes approximately 1 in 400 cats, however, recent veterinary studies note that it is becoming more common lately in cats. Symptoms in cats are similar to those in humans. Diabetes in cats occurs less frequently than in dogs. 80-95% of diabetic cats experience something similar to type-2 diabetes, however are generally severely insulin-dependent by the time symptoms are diagnosed. The condition is definitely treatable, and need not shorten the animal’s life span or life quality. In type-2 cats, prompt effective treatment can even lead to diabetic remission, in which the cat no longer needs injected insulin. Untreated, the condition leads to increasingly weak legs in cats, and eventually malnutrition, ketoacidosis and/or dehydration, and death.

Therefore, it is vital that the condition is caught early, this is why we always carry out a full health check at every vaccination appointment.

Symptoms

Cats will generally show a gradual onset of the disease over a few weeks, and it may escape notice for a while. The condition is unusual in cats younger than seven years old. The first obvious symptoms are a sudden weight loss (occasionally gain), accompanied by excessive drinking and urination. For example, cats can appear to develop an obsession with water and lurk around faucets or water bowls. Appetite is suddenly either ravenous (up to three-times normal) or absent. In cats the back legs may become weak and the gait may become stilted or wobbly (peripheral neuropathy). A quick test at this point can be done on the cats urine using urine keto/glucose strips (the same as used on the Atkins diet). If the keto/glucose strips show glucose in the urine, diabetes is indicated. If a strip shows ketones in the urine, the animal should be brought to an emergency clinic right away.

Owners should watch for noticeable thinning of the skin and apparent fragility: these are also serious and indicate that the animal is metabolizing (breaking down) its own body fat and muscle to survive. Lethargy or limpness, and acetone-smelling breath are acute symptoms indicating likely ketoacidosis and/or dehydration and demand emergency care within hours.

Treatment

Diabetes can be treated but is life-threatening if left alone. Early diagnosis and treatment by a qualified vet can help, not only in preventing nerve damage, but in some cases, in cats, can even lead to remission. Cats usually seem to do best with long-lasting insulin’s and low carbohydrate diets.

Diet is a critical component of treatment, and is in some cases effective on its own. For example, a recent mini-study showed that many diabetic cats stopped needing insulin after changing to a low carbohydrate diet. The rationale is that a low carbohydrate diet reduces the amount of insulin needed and keeps the variation in blood sugar low and easier to predict. Also, fats and proteins are turned into blood glucose much more slowly and evenly than carbohydrates, reducing blood-sugar highs right after mealtimes. For this reason we recommend changing newly diagnosed cats onto Royal Canin diabetic  food as part of the stabilization process.

 Fleas

It is upsetting to find that your pet has fleas, it is understandable, but it is a fact that the vast majority of pets will get fleas at some point during their life. Fleas are the most common parasite in dogs and cats.

The cat flea is a small, sucking, insect of the order Siphonoptera. Adults range from 1-2 mm long and are usually a reddish-brown colour, although this can vary. The cat flea, and all other fleas, are compressed laterally, resulting in an extremely thin insect that can be quite hard to find in an animal’s coat. The cat flea’s primary host is the domestic cat, but the cat flea is also the primary flea infesting dogs in most of the world. The cat flea can also maintain its life cycle on other carnivores and  omnivores. Humans can be bitten, though a long-term population of cat fleas cannot be sustained and infest people. However, if the female flea is allowed to feed for twelve consecutive hours on a human, it can lay viable eggs.

Although they feed on the blood of dogs and cats, they sometimes bite humans. They can live without food for several months, but females must have a blood meal before they can produce eggs.

They can lay about 4000 eggs. The eggs go through four lifecycle stages: embryo, larva, pupa, and imago (adult). This whole life cycle from egg to adult takes from two to three weeks, although this depends on the temperature. It may take longer in cool conditions.

Fleas are unpleasant and can carry one type of tapeworm and can cause skin conditions in cats, a veterinary recommended preventative treatment is essential in ensuring that your pet does not contract fleas. Please discuss your preventative care with your vet or one of our nurses.

Heart disease

Cardiomyopathy literally means disease of the heart muscle.

Where the cause of the hypertrophy (enlargement) of the heart muscle is known, it is called secondary myocardial hypertrophy. There are a number of well recognised diseases which cause changes in the heart muscle, including taurine deficiency, (which can lead to dilation of the heart), and hyperthyroidism, which is usually associated with hypertrophy of the heart muscle. Therapy in these cases is directed towards short term support of heart function while the primary disease is being treated.

Most cases can be classified under one of three headings.

Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

This condition is characterised by enlargement of the heart chambers and weakening of the heart muscle. When this occurs the heart is no longer able to pump the blood out of the heart in sufficient quantities to meet demand.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)

Restrictive cardiomyopathy (RCM)

Both of these conditions are characterised by impaired relaxation of the heart muscle. In HCM inward thickening of the heart muscle results in a reduction in chamber volume thereby reducing the volume of blood that the heart can pump with each contraction. In RCM fibrosis (scarring) of the heart muscle results in a chamber that can no longer expand in the normal way.

Although the underlying disease process is important (because it affects the choice of drugs that can be used to treat the cat) the presentation of disease is similar. Most commonly cats will present in heart failure, but thromboembolic (blocking of a blood vessel by a blood clot) disease can also be responsible for the cat’s clinical signs.

Congestive heart failure

Unlike dogs, coughing is not a major sign of heart failure in cats. Most frequently, breathlessness, lethargy and a loss of appetite are the first problems noticed. These signs can appear quite quickly, typically over a few hours/days. However, it is important to remember that the underlying heart disease has usually been present for a considerable period of time. Heart failure becomes obvious when the heart is no longer able to meet the demands for pumping blood around the body. In cats, the signs of heart failure arise due to an increase in venous pressures leading to fluid leaking into the lung tissue (pulmonary oedema) or around the lungs (pleural effusion). Both of these processes prevent the lungs from functioning normally, leading to the breathlessness and lethargy.

Thromboembolic disease

As the enlarged heart is no longer able to pump efficiently, stasis of the blood occurs resulting in activation of the clotting system. This results in the formation of an embolus (or clot) usually in the left atrium. Small pieces of the embolus can break off and travel through the circulation, becoming trapped in smaller arteries. The most common place for the embolus to be trapped is at the point at which the blood supply to each of the hind legs and the tail branches (aortic trifurcation). The resulting obstruction causes sudden loss of use of both hind legs and the tail, which become cold, hard and painful. This sudden event can sometimes be mistaken for a cat that has been in a road traffic accident. Although some cats may recover full function of their limbs with appropriate treatment, their longer term outlook is often bleak due to the underlying heart disease and the possibility of other clots occurring.