Pet Health Topic
Cats' Health and Happiness

Here we piece together a variety of cat-related informational items.


Keep Your Cat Away from Houseplants

When cats are outside, part of their normal behavior is to take an occasional nibble of grass and other greens. It should come as no surprise, then, that from your cat's point of view, it’s perfectly natural to take a bite now and then from your indoor houseplants. However, in addition to taking a toll on your plants, such behavior can be extremely harmful to your pet. Many common houseplants can be poisonous or noxious to cats. These include the azalea, philodendron, cherry laurel, oleander, ivy, mistletoe, and poinsettia. (Visit the Animal Poison Control Center for more information.)

Tips: Spray plant foliage with a nasty-tasting mix of hot pepper and water to discourage plant snacking. Spritz the cat with plain water if the animal is caught in the act. Put pine cones or orange peels in potted plant soil to discourage cats from using it as a litterbox.

Getting Along Like Cats and Dogs

How many times have you heard the phrase "fighting like cats and dogs?" Probably enough to expect these two common house pets to be natural born enemies. The truth is, however, that cats and dogs get along much more that they have problems with one another. If you make a prudent introduction (see below), there is likely to be a good bit of hissing and sniffing around, but if they are allowed, the pets usually work things out on their own.

Tips: The easiest way to ensure happy dog-cat relations may be to bring the two pets into the household at about the same time and when both are still young. Another good option is to bring in a second animal that is younger than the established pet, such as introducing a kitten to a more mature dog.

Litter Boxes

You’ve met with success when you find a litter box that your cat will use. There are many styles, as well as options for keeping the box odor-free and clean. Many cats seem to prefer open litter boxes because they can see their surroundings. Open boxes can be stored in kitchen cupboards or closets to give the cat privacy and prevent dogs and  young children from getting into it. Ideally, a single cat will have one litter box for urine and one for feces, or one very large box. An extra box should be kept for each additional cat in the home. Place the box close to where the cat can usually be found, but not near its food and water.

While you may like one litter because it’s easy to scoop, can be flushed, or absorbs odor well,  your cat may prefer another kind. The final decision-maker is usually the cat. Regular clay-based litter requires owners to scoop out solid matter, change the entire litter at least weekly, and use litter box liners. Odor can also be an issue with clay litter, but hooded boxes and filters can help. Scoopable litter, treated with a chemical that dissolves in urine, creates clumps that can be easily removed with feces. Instead of changing the entire litter, owners replace only what has been removed. Clumping litter does track easily, but special mats placed near the litter box can help reduce this problem

Tips: Avoid perfumed or scented litters, as most cats dislike them. Consider clumping litter, which has a texture cats seem to prefer over the non-clumping kind.

Feline Cognitive Dysfunction

Feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD) in aging cats may be compared to senile dementia, or Alzheimer's disease, in humans. The condition is characterized by persistent, sometimes sudden changes in behavior. The cat may urinate or defecate outside its litter box, meow or howl during its normally quiet times, become disoriented or aggressive, or alter its level of responsiveness. A friendly cat may become distant, while an aloof cat may suddenly become clingy to its owner. FCD is sometimes seen in cats aged seven to eleven, but is more common in older cats. When FCD is suspected, other conditions - cancer, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, hearing or vision loss, or trauma - need to be ruled out first, as the condition shares symptoms with several others.

Tip: Whatever your pet’s age age, whenever you notice a change in your cat’s behavior you need to visit your veterinarian.

Your Pregnant Cat

To help ensure a healthy pregnancy for your cat, get an early diagnosis. Caring for a pregnant cat ("queen") involves feeding her a well-balanced diet while not overfeeding. Commercial cat food suppliers offer feeding recommendations for pregnant and nursing cats and your veterinarian can provide advice. Talk to the veterinarian before supplementing the queen's diet with vitamins, high proteins, or fats. Encourage your cat to get regular, gentle daily exercise to stay in shape for queening. Avoid all medications, vaccinations, and worming during pregnancy. Signs of impending birth include an enlarged mammary gland and the presence of milk. A cat may begin nesting about 12-24 hours before giving birth.

Tip: About 10 days before queening is expected, create a nesting space using a large box that is clean, warm, dry, and secluded.

Feline Fight Wounds

Cats fight to establish territory or protect their existing territory. Male cats fight more than females, while un-neutered males are the most prone to battles. Fight wounds on felines typically occur on the face, legs, back, tail, and rump. The most common complication of fight wounds is infection. Infections develop because cat bites create small puncture wounds in the skin that quickly close and disappear. Bacteria from the biting cat's mouth enter the victim's skin and multiply rapidly. An abscess (pocket of pus) forms if loose skin surrounds the bite site. A cellulitis infection occurs on less fleshy areas, such as the foot or tail. In both cases, trapped pus causes swelling and pain. Antibiotics given within 24 hours of a cat fight often will prevent infection. Fight wounds and infections can usually heal within a few days with proper treatment. If a cat is bitten by a cat with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus, it could contract these illnesses.

Tip: Seek veterinary treatment for your cat if you know it has been fighting because wound infections can make the cat seriously ill.

Many thanks to MVMA members Dr. Mark Reilly and Dr. Barbara Kmiecik of Mid-Cape Animal Hospital in Marstons Mills, MA, for permission to use client education materials from their website. We shamelessly raided their Veterinary Tips for this column.