Keeping your cat healthy and happy
Cats rely on their owners and veterinarians to identify any health issues. It is recommended that cats receive at least a routine yearly health exam from a veterinarian, increasing to twice a year for cats over the age of seven. But how can you monitor your cat’s health in the extended periods between routine health checks? We suggest taking a preventative approach to your cat’s health by performing regular at home health checks on your cat.
Follow these eight easy steps to learn how to monitor your cat’s health at home.
1. Regularly groom
Most cats enjoy regular grooming, it keeps their coat in good condition and it is a great way to notice changes in their health. Brushing your cat at least 1-2 times a week removes dirt, oil, dead skin, and dead hair from their coat, can improve blood circulation, decrease the occurrence of hairballs and help improve the overall condition of your cat’s skin and coat. Cats who have longer coats will need brushing more often, usually daily for long-haired cats. Your cat’s coat should be full and shiny, and the skin should not be dry and flaky. Dry and flaky skin could indicate a skin problem and is often accompanied by behavioural changes such as excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking.
Regular grooming also gives you the opportunity to assess your cat’s physical condition up close. Try running your hands along your cat’s entire body with gentle pressure, if your cat responds with discomfort in any one area, or if you notice lumps or bumps, take your cat to the vet. Performing these checks frequently will allow you to notice any changes and any health concerns early on which will allow the opportunity to diagnose and treat any issues earlier and improve the chances of a good outcome.
Please note: Not all cats enjoy or will tolerate being groomed. If your cat does not respond well to being groomed, please make an appointment to talk to your veterinarian.
2. Weigh your cat
Your cat’s weight can be a good indicator of their health. Weigh your cat once every two weeks by using a scale designed for babies or by weighing yourself while holding your cat and then subtracting your weight. Record these weights each time so that you can begin to see a pattern overtime. If you see fluctuations in your cat’s weight it could be due to underlying health conditions, and you should seek veterinary advice.
3. Assess your cat’s face
Your cat’s face can tell you a lot about their health, try to check the condition of your cat’s ears, eyes, nose, and mouth regularly.
Ears – Your cat’s ears should be clean and dry. Keep an eye out for redness of the skin and any discharge or odour from the ear canal as this may be a sign of infection. Also keep an eye out for any coffee-ground like brown or red discharge as this may be a sign of ear mites. Tilting the head or scratching at the ears can also indicate a problem. If you notice any of these signs, please consult your vet.
Eyes – Your cat’s eyes should appear clear and bright, with no discharge. The eyelid rim should be pink, not red, or white and your cat’s third eyelid should not be visible all the time (however, it is sometimes visible if your cat is sleepy). If you notice a little material in the corner of your cat’s eye, this may just be an accumulation of dust etc. and you can wipe this away using a damp cotton ball, always wiping away from the corner of the eye. If there is a lot of material, there is any white, green, or yellow colouration to it or your cat’s eye seems inflamed or is bothering your cat, consult your vet.
Nose – Your cat’s nose should be moist and clean, not dry and chapped and have no signs of discharge or bleeding.
Mouth – Caring for your cat’s dental health is very important, it is estimated that 8/10 cats over the age of three experience teeth and gum problems. They need regular and consistent dental care to prevent dental plaque and tartar/ build up and dental and periodontal disease. Your cat’s teeth should be a white colour, their gums should be pink, and they should have no strong odour coming from their mouth. Cats should have routine and regular dental checkups with their vet. Your vet can advise you on the best way to care for your cat’s teeth, this could include regularly brushing your cat’s teeth or a special ‘dental’ diet for cats (which can help to control plaque and tartar), a dental clean under anesthesia, or other options. Your vet is the best person to advise you on what are the best options for your cat.
Please note - Cats should never, under any circumstances, have their teeth cleaned with human toothpaste
4. Trim your cat’s claws
Trimming your cats claws can prevent them from getting caught on things, such as carpet, and breaking, while also helping to keep your furniture intact. Trimming your cat’s claws is also a great opportunity to check for any torn toenails or injuries to the paw pads.
5. Check breathing
Your cat’s breathing should be smooth and effortless and their respiratory rate should generally be between 20 to 30 breaths per minute at rest. You can calculate your cat’s respiratory rate by timing your cat’s breathing for 15 seconds and multiplying by four. If your cat is wheezing or coughing this may be a sign of serious problems and veterinary advice should be sought promptly.
6. Keep an eye out for behaviour changes
Cats are creatures of habit, so if you notice changes to their normal behaviour and routine this could indicate a health problem. Changes may not always be obvious, as every cat has a different way of showing that they’re upset or in pain. Look out for changes in appetite, drinking habits, litter box behaviour or routine, grooming, mobility and even the sound of your cat’s voice. If you notice anything unusual seek veterinary advice.
7. Know when to seek veterinary help
Veterinarians are the professional experts when it comes to your cat’s health, so if you are at all concerned for your cat’s wellbeing, seek their advice. However, vet bills can be expensive, so it is a good idea to take out pet insurance to save you from any unexpected costs. Many vets also provide healthcare packages so speak to your local vet to find out about what they offer. It is also important to keep your cat’s vaccinations up to date and have your cat desexed before they reach puberty (at four months of age) to prevent any unexpected kittens. If your cat is unwell, it is important that they are only given the medication that they are prescribed as medications for humans and other animals like dogs can be very dangerous to cats.
8. Understand your cat’s specific needs
Finally, different cat breeds are prone to different health problems, so understanding your cat’s breed can help you know what to keep an eye out for. In saying that, all cats are different physically and behaviourally so understanding your own individual cat and keeping an eye out for changes is the best way to monitor their health at home.
Interested in learning how to provide the best quality of care for your cat so that they can thrive?
Read about best practice in cat welfare, health, nutrition, and behaviour.
*These tips were compiled from resources by RSPCA and SPCA.
Read SPCA's website Keeping Your Cat Safe and Happy at Home for more paw-some tips.