(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on November 10, 2010)
I’ve been encountering some common themes in my new cat exams, so I wanted to dedicate a column for the cat lovers out there this month.
Should I keep my cat indoors?
I highly recommend keeping cats inside. They are much safer resulting in fewer medical problems. The average life expectancy of an outdoor cat is only four years old. Outdoor cats get exposed to deadly infectious diseases, predators, cars and other types of trauma and fight for their turf more frequently.
Most of your neighbors don’t appreciate your cat using their yard as their toilet. Cats that are allowed to defecate outside shed a deadly toxoplasmosis parasite into the environment, a parasite implicated as part of the decline of our sea otter population.
Some people out there don’t like cats and intentionally try to harm them as well.
An environmental note for outdoor cats: cats prey on birds. There is a dramatic drop in the bird population due to domestic cats doing what they do: killing birds.
What should I feed my cat?
Everyone has a set budget. The best food is the highest quality you can afford. The amount you feed your cat will be determined by his/her activity level. A cat with a “normal” activity level can be fed the maintenance level of food. A couch potato would require 10 to 20 percent less than maintenance. An active kitty that runs around and plays would require maintenance plus 10 percent.
You should feed a food with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement saying that the food is properly balanced for the life stage of your cat. AAFCO sets standards for animal food and this assures minimum guidelines are met.
One of the most important ingredients that cats require is an amino acid called taurine that’s found in most commercial cat foods. Without it, cats develop heart failure and eye diseases.
Lastly, cats should not be fed milk. Most cats do not have enough lactase enzyme to digest the lactose in milk. Feeding cats milk causes vomit and diarrhea.
What about the litter box?
This is my least favorite part of cat ownership. Cats are very neat and fastidious animals. They require a clean toilet. Many cases of inappropriate elimination can be traced back to this.
In general, you need 1 more litter box than cats in the house. If you have 2 cats, you should have 3 litter boxes. If you have multiple stories to your house, you need at least one litter box per floor.
Ideally, boxes should be scooped daily and washed out weekly. The type of litter you purchase may be dictated by the cat. Most cats prefer softer litters. The box should be large enough to accommodate your cat and if she/he is older, the sides should be low enough so that she/he can get in. Many older cats suffer from arthritis as we do.
Do I need to groom my cat?
Most cats rarely need a bath. However, they do require regular brushing. With a long haired cat, regular grooming is a necessity. For a shorter haired variety, running a brush over the coat regularly helps decrease the amount of shedding and furballs that end up in your house.
What about vaccines and wellness health care?
I recommend a series of vaccinations for kittens and any newly adopted cat that has an unknown vaccine history plus baseline viral testing based on the lifestyle of the cat. Every veterinary office has a recommended protocol based on the diseases seen regularly. Talk with your vet on your cat’s exposure risks and the benefits of each vaccine offered.
Even indoor cats should be using a flea and heartworm preventative based on the risks of your neighborhood. I have seen many indoor only cats with a flea infestation and evidence of exposure to heartworms.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends testing cats annually for intestinal parasites as well. I agree that this is a valuable test, as they can pass these parasites to you and your family.
Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.