Month: August 2018

Ear disease in your cat

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. Most often ear disease in cats is caused by a type of mite which lives inside the ear canal.

Cats can also get diseases that affect the skin of the ear flap. Solar dermatitis is an irritation caused by sun burn on the ear tips which causes crusting and scabbing. This must be treated early as it can lead to cancer of the ears later in life if left untreated.

Owners may not notice ear disease until it is severe. Your cat may shake its head from side to side, or may be forever stopping to sit down and scratch its ears.

Ear mite infestation tends to make cats scratch at their ears and shake their heads. You may notice a very dark, almost black wax in the ear canals. Some cats produce so much wax that the ear canal becomes totally blocked. However, many cats carry ear mites without showing any signs. Ear mites should always be treated otherwise bacterial infections may develop and aggravate the problem. The lining of the ear is very delicate and a long-standing problem can cause permanent scarring.

Sometimes a cat will shake their head so much that they burst a blood vessel and develop a swelling in their ear flap – a haematoma. If this happens your cat will probably need an operation to drain the swelling.

In many types of infection there is a smelly discharge or the ear canal may be full of black wax. Ear disease can be very painful, sometimes animals with sore ears will sit with their head tilted to one side, they may be off their food or generally miserable.

Even if your cat has had problems with its ears in the past it is very important that your vet examines them each time a problem occurs. There may be damage deep within the ear, or a foreign body such as a grass seed stuck in the ear. If there is something stuck in the ear it can cause permanent damage if not removed.

To examine the ears properly your vet will need to put an instrument called an ‘otoscope’ inside the ear. However, the inside of the ear is very sensitive and many cats will not allow sore ears to be examined unless they have been sedated or even anaesthetised.

Once ear disease develops your cat will need some treatment to stop the irritation. Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the problem. Obviously a foreign body will have to be removed, and specific treatment may be required for mites or nasty infections.

When one animal is affected by ear mites it is necessary to treat all the in contact animals in the house, even if they’re not obviously affected. If these are not treated then re-infection is likely. Fortunately the treatment of ear mites in cats is simple. Application of a single ‘spot-on’ treatment to the back of the neck should be sufficient (although the dose may need to be repeated a month later in some cases.

Your vet may need to take samples from your cat’s ear to decide which is the best treatment to give. Treatment is usually with ear drops and possibly also some tablets. However, unless the ear is clean the ear drops cannot work. It may be necessary for your vet to admit your pet to the hospital and clean out its ear canals before treatment starts. In less severe cases, your vet will show you how to use an ear cleaner.

Always make sure you follow your vet’s instructions carefully. You must complete the treatment course even if the ears seem to be much better after one or two days.

No! Never put anything into your pet’s ear without first consulting your vet. Even if the drops were prescribed for your pet in the past they may do more harm than good on this occasion. Many types of ear drop deteriorate once they have been opened, or it may be that the ear problem is caused by something different this time. Remember that ear disease is very itchy and can be very painful – you must always seek veterinary treatment sooner rather than later for the sake of your pet.

It is unlikely that ear disease will get better on its own. The longer you leave it before starting treatment the harder it becomes to clear up the irritation. Each time ear disease develops, more damage is done and eventually the walls of the ear canal may become thickened. This makes further infections more likely as fresh air cannot get to the bottom of the ear canal. When ear disease keeps coming back, surgery may be needed to remove part of the wall of the ear canal so that treatment can get to the site of infection.

Unfortunately some animals are just more prone to ear problems than others. Cats with growths within the ear canal may be at risk of developing repeated infections. Animals with allergies frequently have recurring ear problems. The lining of the ear is like the skin on the rest of the body and can become itchy and inflamed in an allergic cat.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some animals. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

In most cases of ear disease the symptoms will clear up within a few days of treatment starting. Unfortunately this is not the end of the problem. It is highly likely that the problem will come back at some stage in the future and you should be on your guard for it. If the problem recurs, seek advice from your vet as soon as possible because if the disease is allowed to go untreated for any length of time, permanent damage may result.

Ear cleaning

Ear disease is quite common in cats and you should make ear examination part of a weekly health check for your pet. If your cat’s ears look red or sore on the inside, if there is a smell coming from the ears or if your pet is shaking its head excessively then contact your vet for advice. Ear disease can quickly take hold and is unlikely to get better without treatment. If left untreated it can cause permanent damage to the ear canals and make your pet more likely to have further problems in the future.

A cat’s ear is quite a different shape to ours. Humans simply have a horizontal tube that runs straight from the side of the head into the inner ear (auditory canal). In the cat, however, the outside opening of the ear canal is high on the side of the head. The canal runs vertically down the side of the head and makes a sharp right angle into the inner ear.

There are a variety of things which may irritate your cat’s ear. Foreign bodies (usually grass seeds) can get stuck in the ear canal and infections may develop. There is also a mite which lives inside ear canals and although this is very common in cats many cats live with this without it causing any problems.

Proper ear cleaning is essential in the management of ear disease. Debris and secretions can accumulate in the ear and this may prevent treatment from reaching deep inside in the ear and some medication may not work in the presence of secretions.

Many cats will not tolerate ear cleaning well unless you have trained them from a young age – if you are finding it very difficult to clean your cat’s ears do not struggle alone. If you are unable to clean your cat’s ears easily you will not do a very good job, and may in fact damage the ears more. If your cat’s ears are very sore, or if your cat is difficult to handle, your vet may need to sedate or anaesthetise your cat in order to be able to clean its ears effectively.

It is easier to restrain your cat for ear cleaning if you have someone to help you. Ask someone to hold your cat either lying down on its tummy or sitting up. The head should be held tightly against the handler’s body so that it can be held securely and there is no chance of the cat shaking its head. You may find it helpful to wrap your cat in a towel to restrain it so that it is unable to get its legs free to scratch you. Ask your vet to demonstrate the best way to restrain your cat so that you can access its ears for cleaning.

Once the cat is restrained introduce some ear cleaner into the opening of the ear. Gently massage the ear canal which runs straight down the side of the head below the opening. As you massage the ear canal you will loosen all the debris in the ear canal. If the ear canal is sore your cat might not like the massaging at first so be as gentle as you can.

After massaging wipe away the cleaning fluid with cotton wool. Never use cotton buds or poke anything into the ear canal – if you do you will only push debris further into the ear and may damage the ear drum. Repeat the whole procedure if necessary then rinse the whole ear canal with water to remove any residual cleaning fluid and dry with cotton wool.

Once the ear canals are clean you can apply any ear drop medications that have been prescribed by your vet. Once the drops have been applied to the ear you should gently massage the ear canal again to spread the drops over the surface of the canal.

Your vet may also prescribe some tablets to help treat the ear disease. It is important to give all the tablets that your vet has prescribed – even if you think your cat is getting better.

Unfortunately it is impossible to prevent ear disease coming back in some cats. You should check your cat’s ears regularly and contact your vet if the ears become red or sore looking. Regular ear cleaning can be helpful in removing debris and wax within the ear, but excessive cleaning may damage the inside of the ear and make infection more likely.

Regular ear examination, and cleaning when necessary, can help to keep your cat’s ears healthy. If you have any concerns about your cat’s ears you should contact your vet for further advice.

Periodontal disease and how to prevent it

Periodontal disease affects the area around the teeth and will eventually lead to tooth loss. Prevent this by brushing your cat’s teeth, using the step-by-step guide included here.

Your cat’s teeth deserve as much care as your own!

The periodontium is the structure that surrounds and supports the tooth. It comprises the periodontal ligament – which holds the tooth into the socket – and the gum (gingiva). In periodontal disease, all or part of the periodontal ligament is destroyed and the gum recedes.

Periodontal disease starts with formation of plaque, the transparent adhesive fluid made up of protein, sloughed cells and bacteria that we remove by cleaning our teeth. Plaque starts forming twelve hours after dental cleaning and, if not removed, reacts with mineral salts in the food to form hard tartar (dental calculus). Calculus irritates the gum, changing the balance of acidity to alkalinity in the mouth and allowing bacteria to grow. By-products of these bacteria “eat away” at the tooth’s periodontium leading eventually to loss of the tooth.

  1. Gingivitis: inflammation and possible swelling of the gum line.
  2. Early periodontitis: the gum bleeds when prodded and gives less support to the tooth.
  3. Established periodontitis: the gum recedes away from the tooth giving even less support.
  4. Advanced periodontitis: the tooth begins to wobble.

X-rays of the inside of your cat’s mouth give your vet different views of the teeth. Gum examination using a periodontal probe detects any soft tissue changes (periodontal pockets).

X-rays show areas of bone loss and where pockets are likely to be – but do not show pockets or their depth. If more than half the bone around a tooth has been lost, it is unlikely that the tooth can be saved. The periodontal probe, in addition to showing gum bleeding and inflammation, enables the depth and shape of any pockets to be measured.

  • Stage 1 (gingivitis) – professional teeth cleaning and home care.
  • Stage 2 & 3 (early & established periodontitis) – home care and application of an antibiotic gel.
  • Stage 4 (advanced periodontitis) – removal of the tooth or gum surgery to reduce the periodontal pocket.

Tooth brushing is the key to prevention and is an easy process with most small animals.

  1. Select a cat toothbrush: many types are available, including a minibrush that fits over your index finger.
  2. Select a cat toothpaste: the best ones contain enzymes to help control plaque, and fluoride may be included to help control bacteria. Do not use human toothpastes because they sometimes contain baking soda, detergents or salt.
  3. Brushing technique: place the toothpaste between the bristles rather than on top of them to allow the paste to spend the maximum possible time next to the teeth.

Most pets accept brushing if approached in a gentle manner. Start when they are young, if you can. It’s quite easy, but even older pets will accept the process. Start slowly, using a soft cloth to wipe the teeth, front and back, in the same way you will eventually use the toothbrush. Do this twice daily and after about two weeks your cat will have become familiar with it all. Then take the toothbrush, soak it in warm water and start brushing twice daily for several days, only adding the toothpaste once your pet accepts this brushing.

Place the toothbrush bristles at the gum edge where the teeth and gum meet and then move the brush in an oval pattern. Be sure to gently force the bristle ends into the area around the base of each tooth and also into the space between teeth. Complete ten short back-and-forth motions, covering three to four teeth at a time. Then move the brush to a new location. Pay most attention to the outside of the upper teeth.

Tooth brushing from an early age will ensure that your cat becomes used to it and is happy to have it done. It will keep plaque from forming and keep periodontal disease at bay. It will save your cat from tooth decay, toothache and eventual loss of teeth. Just as important, it will also prevent the bad breath often associated with decaying teeth.

Fainting (syncope)

Fainting (syncope) does occur in cats but is less common than in people. When a cat faints it briefly loses consciousness and falls to the ground motionless but in most cases recovers within a few moments without treatment. It is important, but often difficult, to differentiate between fainting and fitting because the causes and treatments for the two conditions are very different. In addition, some other medical problems (for example, reduced blood levels of glucose, or certain diseases of the nerves and muscles) can cause episodes of weakness or collapse. If your cat collapses for whatever reason contact your vet immediately for further advice.

Fainting occurs when there is an insufficient blood supply to the brain. When a person is standing up the head is higher than the heart and therefore blood has to be pumped uphill and so if there are any problems with the circulation it is made more obvious. In cats their head is almost in line with the heart – this is why fainting is less common in cats than people.

During a fainting episode your cat will fall to the ground, usually on its side. It may show involuntarily muscle twitching and lose control of its bladder or bowels – these features can also be seen during a seizure and this is why some owners mistake a fainting episode for a seizure. However, during a faint, the body as a whole may be limp and floppy and the tongue and gums may be much paler than normal for your cat – these features are not typically seen during a seizure.

There are a number of different causes of reduced blood supply to the brain. Generally, reduced blood supply to the brain is caused by episodes of low blood pressure. This can be caused by the heart beating at an abnormally rapid or slow heart rate, or even stopping completely for a few seconds. Low blood pressure can also result from very weak contractions of the heart or from narrowing or excessive leakage of the heart valves.

Many of the medical conditions that can cause fainting are more prevalent in older cats. In younger animals fainting is occasionally associated with congenital heart disease. However, it is important to stress that some animals can faint at any age in the absence of underlying heart disease. This often happens following excitement or a specific set of circumstances. In cats the most common cause of fainting is cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease).

Some drugs can increase the likelihood of your pet fainting. If your pet is taking any medication be sure to mention it to your vet, even if you think they will already know about it.

Your vet will first want to be sure that your pet is fainting and not having a seizure. First your vet will want to know about the episodes – when they happen and what the cat is doing at the time. Although it can be very frightening the first time your pet faints you should try to stay calm and record as much information as you can to pass on to your vet.

Try to time how long your cat is unconscious (it always seems much longer than it really is) and what your cat was doing before and immediately after the episode. In between fainting episodes most animals are completely normal and so your vet may be unable to detect anything on clinical examination. If you are able to capture one of the episodes on video (for example, on your mobile phone) this can be useful for the vet.

There are enough different causes of fainting that your vet will not usually be able to tell what is wrong with your cat just by looking at them. Cardiac testing will normally be required and an ECG recording (electrical recording of the heart beat) is a vital component of this, often accompanied by ultrasound and sometimes x-rays of the heart. It is likely that blood tests will also be required.

Tests can sometimes go on for weeks or months, depending on how often your pet is fainting. In some cases your vet may arrange for your pet to be fitted with a heart monitor to wear at home. In some cases nothing abnormal will ever show up on the tests, offering reassurance that it is unlikely that a serious medical or cardiac problem was causing the fainting.

The treatment for fainting depends on the underlying cause. In some cases there is no treatment and cats may continue to have intermittent fainting episodes throughout their lives. It may be possible to determine when attacks are likely to occur (e.g. a cat may always have an attack when it gets very excited) and it might then be possible to avoid circumstances likely to trigger episodes.

In specific cases drug treatment may be available which will help minimise the problem and some conditions may require a surgical procedure (for example, implantation of a pacemaker) to stop the problem.

However, the good news is that many fainting episodes are not linked to serious underlying disease and in these cats the frequency of episodes can often be reduced by careful management. When they do occur the episodes last less than a minute with a rapid full recovery to normal behaviour almost immediately. The biggest concern is to rule out any serious underlying disease that may be a threat to your pet and for your vet to be able to recommend the best treatment in individual cases.

If you have any concerns about your cat contact your own vet for further advice.

Epilepsy treatment

If your cat has recently been diagnosed as having epilepsy you may be concerned about the future. Discuss your concerns with your vet – it is important that you fully understand the goals of treatment right from the start.

Epileptic animals are born with the condition and cannot be cured. The aim of treatment is to ‘control’ their seizures. Whilst anti-epileptic drugs will make some animals seizure-free, for most treatment is judged to be successful if the frequency and severity of the seizures is reduced with few side-effects. You must understand that, if your cat is epileptic, they are likely to continue to have some seizures despite being on treatment. It is not possible to achieve seizure control in some cats despite adequate therapy.

Once treatment for epilepsy starts it is likely to be continued lifelong. Many cats only have a single seizure episode, and so it is not sensible to put all these animals on permanent treatment (when many would not have another seizure anyway). Some vets recommend starting treatment of seizures after a second seizure episode. Other vets are more cautious and like to balance the benefits of treatment with its potential adverse effects.

You should consider treatment for your pet if:

  • They are having more than one seizure a month and/or you find the frequency distressing
  • They have a very severe seizure or cluster of seizures, whatever the frequency
  • Their seizures are increasing in frequency or severity
  • Underlying brain disease has been identified as the cause of the seizures

Many drugs used in people with epilepsy are either toxic to pets or are removed from the body so quickly that good ‘control’ of seizures cannot be achieved. The first treatment in cats is usually either phenobarbitone, diazepam (ValiumR), gabapentin (NeurotinR) or levetiracetam (KeppraR).

Individual animals respond in different ways to anti-epileptic treatment. It is not the number of tablets given that is important but the level of drug in the body. The blood level of drug determines not only the good effects (also known as therapeutic effects) but also the toxic effects. Blood levels of phenobarbitone can be measured to ensure that they are within a certain range (therapeutic range) that controls seizures with minimal side-effects.

A blood test can help your vet decide whether your cat should receive more of less medication. Some animals have seizures controlled with blood levels of drug at the low end of the therapeutic range while others will need higher drug levels to experience beneficial effects.

Blood levels of phenobarbitone should be measured:

  • 2 weeks after starting treatment or changing the dosage.
  • If the seizures seems to be occurring more often.
  • Every 3 to 6 months to check that blood concentration does not drift out of the intended range.
  • When drug-related side effects are suspected.

Occasionally the side effects of drugs used in the management of epileptic seizures can be worse than the seizures themselves. Mild side effects are common when treatment is first started (or the dose is increased). Phenobarbitone can cause increased thirst and appetite, more frequent urination, mild sedation and mild wobbliness in the back legs.

More serious side effects are rarely seen with phenobarbitone but include liver toxicity and blood abnormalities (low red blood cells, low platelets and low white blood cell count). Liver toxicity is mainly seen in cats on diazepam. Complete blood profiles (liver function tests and haematology) are recommended on a six monthly basis to monitor to such potential side-effects.

There are many reasons why an animal may not respond to treatment:

  • Incorrect diagnosis of epilepsy (if there is an underlying cause for the seizures).
  • Insufficient dose of medication.
  • Development of ‘resistance’ to the effect of the drug (also known refractory epilepsy).

If the quality of life of an epileptic animal is compromised by frequent and/or severe seizures despite appropriate choice and blood concentration of drug, they can be classified as having refractory epilepsy.

The first choice for treatment of refractory epilepsy in cats receiving phenobarbitone treatment is to add diazepam or one of the newer (and more expensive) human anti-epileptic drugs, eg gabapentin (NeurotinR) or levetiracetam (KeppraR).

It is very likely that your pet will have to stay on treatment for the rest of its life. It is important not to alter or stop your pet’s treatment without veterinary advice. Dosage reduction should only be considered if your pet has had no seizures for at least a year. Sudden changes in the blood levels of anti-epileptic drugs can trigger seizures. If drug doses are reduced this should be done very gradually over many months. However, if your pet is not experiencing significant side-effects, you should not be concerned that they need to remain on treatment.

Kitten care

Cats are now our most popular domestic pet. Some people acquire a cat almost by accident but if you make a conscious decision to get one you should think carefully about what sort of cat you want – short or long haired, pedigree or ordinary ‘moggie’, etc. Although obtaining a kitten may be a particularly attractive proposition because of its playful and endearing personality, taking on a young cat also involves extra responsibilities.

If you decide that you want to get a pedigree kitten, you need to find a breeder (your vet may be able to supply a list of breeders or contact details) and be prepared to pay a substantial sum of money. If your vet does not feel able to ‘recommend’ a suitable breeder you can contact the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF).

Non-pedigree kittens can often be obtained free, or at least for a nominal amount. Animal welfare charities may ask you to make a donation towards their running costs. Other places to look for kittens are the advertisement board in your veterinary practice, newspapers and your local post office or newsagents shop. If you know of a friendly good natured cat in the locality that is about to have kittens it may be worthwhile waiting until they are available.

It is not a good idea to obtain a kitten from a pet shop as they often carry diseases and can be very stressed. Try to see a kitten with its mother and brothers and sisters as it is easier to judge its temperament in a natural setting.

If you get a kitten that is already carrying a disease, it may never recover full health and the treatment may be expensive. A healthy kitten will have clear bright eyes, clean nostrils and ears and a shiny coat. If your kitten has runny eyes, sneezing or a nasal discharge it may have a severe respiratory infection. Being able to see the third eyelid (a membrane in the corner of its eyes nearest the nose) or a dull coat are also signs of ill health. Avoid taking on a kitten with dirty ears which may be infected with bacteria or ear mites or an animal which is thin and has a pot-belly as it may be heavily infected with worms.

If you are in any doubt, ask to have the kitten examined by your vet before agreeing to take it on. In any case, make an appointment for any new kitten to be examined by your vet on the second or third day in your care. Your vet will check that your kitten is healthy, and give you advice on feeding your kitten, vaccination, worming and neutering.

A normal kitten should be active, playful and comfortable with people. It is a bad sign if the kitten runs away and hides or appears sleepy all the time. However, normal kittens do sleep for long periods and it is worthwhile watching it for some time or visiting on several occasions before reaching a decision on whether you want to take it home. Normal kittens suddenly change from being playful to being tired or hungry.

A kitten that has interacted with people and other animals in the first eight weeks of life will be able to deal with new situations and owners more easily than one that has been kept in quiet isolation. Early experiences are important for a confident, well balanced cat. Avoid nervous kittens as they seldom become the outgoing friendly cat that most people want. Choose the kitten to suit your lifestyle. If you have children and dogs try and find a kitten that has previous experience of these.

Before taking a kitten home find out about the type of care it was getting. Kittens can leave their mothers from about the age of eight weeks and most ‘moggies’ will not be vaccinated (inoculated) by then. If you are buying a pedigree kitten it will not be able to leave the breeder until it is 12 weeks old and will usually have had some, or all, of it’s vaccinations. Ask which vaccinations it has received and you should be given a vaccination record signed by a vet (with details of the kitten’s identity).

You also need to know whether your kitten has been treated for fleas or worms and what sort of food it has been eating. Feed the same food for a few days and reintroduce new foods gradually (if you need to) so that your kitten’s system does not get too much of a shock.

Have all the necessary equipment ready before bringing a new kitten into your house. You should have the following:

  • a carrying box
  • food and water bowls
  • food
  • a comfortable bed
  • a litter tray with litter (preferably the same brand that the kitten has been using so far)
  • a grooming brush or comb
  • a collar with name and address tag.

Make sure the collar is not so tough that it will not snap if your kitten gets caught by it. It may also be a good idea to have some toys to keep the kitten amused and a scratching post so that it does not exercise its claws on your furniture. Sometimes nail clippers can be helpful in trimming your kitten’s claws but these are not recommended for anyone who is not used to handling cats.

The first days away from its mother and littermates are understandably stressful for most kittens. Bouts of diarrhoea are common and should not cause too much alarm. Your kitten will need plenty of love and attention until it settles into its new home. Show it the litter tray and its food/water bowls that should not be too close to the litter tray. If there are young children in the house they must not become overexcited or treat the kitten like a toy. All doors, windows and cat flaps should be shut and the kitten should not be allowed outside for at least 2-3 weeks, until it has completed all its necessary vaccinations.

Until it is fully protected against the common preventable diseases of cats, your kitten should only mix with cats that are already fully vaccinated and known to be healthy. If you have other pet cats or a dog these should be introduced gradually to the kitten. During the first meetings the kitten should be safe inside a cage that allows the other pets to see and smell but not touch it. Later your kitten may also need a ‘bolt hole’, where it can escape if the other pets become aggressive or overly playful. Your old and new pets may never become the best of friends but with care and time they should learn to tolerate each other.

One of the attractions of cats is that they require very little maintenance. A kitten will have to be wormed approximately every two weeks from four to sixteen weeks and older cats approximately every three months. Once your kitten has had its first course of vaccinations it will need an annual booster vaccination.

Regular daily grooming for long-haired cats is recommended to keep their coat in good condition and short-haired breeds will also benefit from grooming, particularly when they are moulting. Brushing its coat, and teeth to prevent dental disease, is easier if your kitten is used to it from an early age. Your vet may be able to supply you with a finger toothbrush that is often easier to use in cats. The eyes and nose of long-haired breeds may also need to be wiped occasionally with damp cotton wool.

Kittens can be neutered from a young age but this is usually done between the ages of four and six months. Some females can be fertile at six months so make sure you arrange to have your kitten neutered promptly to avoid adding to the mountain of unwanted kittens, which are produced every year.

Cats can make valuable additions to the household and generally require much less maintenance than dogs, providing they are healthy and happy.

Register your new pet with your vet as soon as possible and visit the practice to get advice on routine health care and neutering before problems develop.

Introducing your new baby to your cat

Bringing a new born baby into the home can be a stressful and exciting time for parents. Spare a thought for your cat for whom it will seem that their whole life has been turned upside down. Not only will your cat be exposed to the baby’s crying and smells, but it will also have to tolerate physical changes to its environment, i.e. new baby equipment and furniture. Inevitably, once the baby is born, you will not have the same time to give to your cat.

Cats can react in different ways to the introduction of a baby. Those that have had previous experience of babies may take the new addition in their stride. However, others may hide all day or spend more time outside in order to avoid the ‘horrors’ associated with a new baby. Others may start to show inappropriate behaviour, such as persistent attention seeking, or even more upsetting stress-related behaviours such as aggression or house-soiling.

Cats that enjoy their owner’s attention may suffer most from the change in their routine. If your cat is an attention seeker you can start to get it used to less attention even before the baby is born. Ignore any attempt made by your cat to get attention but when they are resting or amusing themselves, reward this independent behaviour with attention and play. This will teach your cat that there is no point coming to you for attention but that you will fuss it when you have time.

There are, of course, many changes created by the presence of a baby. In advance of the baby’s arrival, purchase or make a recording of baby sounds, e.g. crying and gurgling. This can be played quietly to your cat when they are eating or playing. Very slowly turn the volume of the recording up, all the time rewarding your cat’s relaxed behaviour with play or food rewards. If your cat seems anxious about hearing the baby sounds then stop the recording and play it again later but at a lower volume so that your cat learns to associate the sounds with a positive experience.

If you know anyone that has just had a baby, ask to borrow a used baby blanket and leave it lying around your house so that your cat can experience the smells of a new baby in an unthreatening way.

It is important not to rush things. If you carefully introduce the different aspects of a new baby in the house your cat will slowly accept this change to its environment. Try to buy new furniture and equipment over a period of time, rather than all at once. This way your cat will get used to the presence and smell of each new item on its own, rather than being overwhelmed by everything at once.

It is important that you introduce your cat to the disruption caused by bringing home a new baby in a gradual and staged manner. If you gradually expose your cat to the changes, preferably before the baby arrives, your cat will cope much more easily. You will then be able to enjoy many happy family moments with your baby and your cat together.

Injecting your cat

Administration of medicine by injection is often referred to as giving drugs by the parenteral route. The other main means of administering treatment is via the mouth and digestive system – the oral route. Effective administration of medicine is a key part of most veterinary treatments and many medications are most effective when given by injection. Administration of medicine by injection is also essential for some drugs that are destroyed by acids in the stomach, e.g. insulin.

Injections can be given into:

  • muscle (intramuscular injection)
  • tissue under the skin (subcutaneous injection)
  • veins (intravenous injection)
  • skin (intradermal injection)
  • body cavities, i.e. the abdominal cavity (known as intraperitoneal injection) or thoracic cavity (known as intrapleural injection)
  • bone (intraosseous injection).

Abbreviations are often used for injection routes, e.g. IM for intramuscular; SC or SQ for subcutaneous, and so on. This factsheet will only consider the intramuscular and subcutaneous routes as these are the techniques most likely to be encountered by cat owners.

Clean techniques should always be used when administering injections. If the coat is very dirty it should be clipped and cleaned. Skin should be swabbed with alcohol. Never administer an injection through dirty or infected skin.

Different formulations of injection are used for the different routes and it is particularly important not to administer an injection directly into the blood unless it is specifically recommended for this route.

This is the route used for administration of most injections and vaccinations/boosters. Domestic animals have plenty of loose skin so it is very simple to lift a flap of skin and insert a needle into the subcutaneous tissue. There are very few important (or easily damaged) structures under the skin so this is a safe route of medicine administration; it is also usually quite painless.

Owners can easily be taught to give injections in this way, e.g. owners of diabetic animals are taught how to administer insulin subcutaneously so that they can give regular injections to their pet at home. This route is not suitable for administration of irritant medications as they may cause severe skin reaction and damage.

Drugs given into muscles are absorbed very quickly because there is a good blood supply to muscle tissue. Injection into muscle is not without some risk since there are many important structures e.g. arteries, veins and nerves running through the muscle tissue. It is important to check that the needle has not accidentally been placed in a blood vessel (particularly an artery) in the muscle, before giving the injection.

Once the needle has been inserted into the muscle, gentle suction should be applied to the syringe to ensure that blood does not flow back into the needle. If blood does flow back, a different injection site should be chosen. This technique can also be used for subcutaneous injections, though penetration of a blood vessel is far less likely to occur here.

Appropriate sites for intramuscular injection are:

  • the quadriceps (muscle on the front of the thigh)
  • lumbodorsal muscles (muscles either side of the lumbar spine)
  • the triceps muscle (behind the humerus (arm bone) in the front leg).

The hamstrings (muscles at the back of the thigh) should generally be avoided due to the possibility of damage to the important sciatic nerve that runs in this area. Volumes of injection should not be more than 2 ml in cats.

Intramuscular injections are more painful than subcutaneous ones. Good technique minimizes this but even so, many animals will react to the injection. A positive action for insertion of needles into muscles reduces muscle damage and pain and massaging the site after injection disperses the injection and may help to reduce pain. Use of a fine needle minimizes discomfort. Owners are not often called upon to give intramuscular injections but they may be asked to hold their pet while it receives one.

Some drugs are specially formulated so that they are more slowly absorbed and can sit in the muscle, being absorbed gradually over many months and producing a long-acting effect (so called ‘depot injections’).

The other injection routes mentioned above are mainly used in hospitalized animals and are given by those professionally trained to do so. These routes may be used for specific purposes – often because a very fast reaction to the drug being administered is sought, as in intravenous injections of anaesthetics. Shaved or clipped areas on the cat’s leg usually show where an intravenous injection has been given.

The lining of the respiratory tract is thin and vascular and absorption of some drugs from this site can be very rapid. Intranasal vaccines, e.g. for kennel cough in dogs, are given into the nose and the live virus is able to penetrate the lining of the nose. Nebulised drugs can be used for the treatment of respiratory disease and administration by this route allows rapid penetration to the local site where they are to have their action. However, the use of nebulised drugs means that the patient must breathe air containing the drug. Nebulised drugs can be delivered via a face mask although many conscious patients will not tolerate a face mask, so a special nebulisation chamber is often required.

In cardiac arrest, adrenaline is sometimes administered through the endotracheal tube and absorption via this route is rapid and the technique is much safer than the alternative, intracardiac adrenaline injection.

This may happen when you are learning to give injections, especially when using the very fine ultra-sharp needles used for insulin administration. It is easy to penetrate two layers of skin so that the drug ends up on the coat instead of under the skin. If you are absolutely sure the cat received no drug, it is safe to repeat the injection. If some may have been received, the safest course of action is to give no more. Contact your vet for advice.

After use it is very important that needles have their protective caps securely replaced to prevent someone becoming injured. The used needles and syringes should then be carefully stored in a sealed container or ‘sharps’ box and returned to the veterinary practice for safe disposal.

Wearing disposable gloves is a useful measure for giving injections. Your veterinary practice may be able to order large boxes of these for you, which is more economical than buying from a pharmacy, etc. Some owners prefer not to wear gloves as they feel it is more awkward.

First cap the needle and syringe carefully and put it out of harm’s way. Then thoroughly wash your finger with soap and water for 5 minutes, preferably using a soft nail brush on the affected area. Dry the skin and apply a bandage. You should contact both your veterinarian and your doctor for advice. Note that any lasting harm is very unlikely indeed.

Indoor cats

Cats are increasingly being kept indoors, for many reasons. Owners may want to protect their cats from road traffic accidents, from sustaining injuries from fights with neighbouring cats, and theft. Alternatively, some owners may wish to prevent their cats preying on local wildlife. Despite increasing the average life expectancy of cats, can an indoor life lead to ill health and mental suffering?

Cats have specific needs which are not always satisfied in an indoor-only environment. On average, feral domestic cats spend approximately 8 hours hunting every day and therefore spend a lot of their mental and physical energy engaged in gaining enough to eat. Because hunting is such an important activity for cats, pet cats that have free access to the outdoors often engage in hunting activity even though they are also fed by their owner.

In contrast, cats that don’t go outside, or have restricted access to the outside, are unable to display their full range of normal behaviours and may become inactive and depressed, or show signs of frustration. A monotonous and predictable indoor environment will exacerbate this. Therefore, by keeping our cats indoors, we keep them safe from physical dangers but we also challenge their ability to perform natural behaviours.

At the most basic level, indoor cats require access to an appropriate toileting site such as a litter tray, food, water bowls/fountains, and a comfortable sleeping area. These resources should be placed in separate areas as cats generally do not like to eat or sleep near where they toilet and often prefer to drink away from their feeding area.

They must also be in private, quiet locations away from any noisy household appliances that might come on unexpectedly and scare the cat, such as the washing machine, and any disturbances from other pets or family members.

It is important to provide indoor cats with suitable levels of stimulation by providing an environment that promotes natural behaviours such as chasing and pouncing, climbing and scratching, hiding, and more natural feeding opportunities.

As cats are highly motivated to hunt, owners should encourage hunting-type behaviours indoors. Toys that mimic prey in texture and movement will attract the cat’s attention and stimulate chasing and pouncing behaviours. Being able to catch the toy is very important to prevent frustration, for example, chasing the light from a laser light pen can be frustrating for the cat if it cannot actually catch the light.

Owners should interact with their cat using fishing rod-type toys but should also provide toys that the cat can play with independently. Cat nip toys are suitable for most cats but some do not respond at all and others may become aggressive.

Cats wouldn’t naturally eat just once or twice a day, rather they would have several small meals. Providing the cat with foraging opportunities where they can find small meals in various locations is more natural. Food challenges can be made increasingly more difficult by using bought or home-made puzzle feeders.

Scratching posts should be provided to allow the cat to sharpen its claws. These can be incorporated into climbing and activity centres which encourage the cat to perform natural climbing and jumping behaviours. This also provides much needed exercise. Cats also like to observe and rest on elevated surfaces so make the most of vertical space by providing beds at the top of these climbing trees or on top of wardrobes.

Visual stimulation can easily be provided via a window sill allowing the cat to look outside onto a garden, or a DVD specially designed for the enrichment of cats. However, visual stimulation should be provided with caution as the cat may become frustrated if it cannot access the source of stimulation, for example chase a bird it can see outside.

Outdoor enclosures can provide a cat with the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors but with less of the risks. Ideally, free access should be provided from the house via a cat flap allowing the cat control over its use of the enclosure. The enclosure needs to provide shelter from the elements and a place to hide from other cats if it cannot return to the house by itself. Again the vertical space should be utilised by proving shelves, ramps and climbing trees. Cat friendly plants can be provided and there should always be fresh water and litter tray provided if the cat cannot choose to return inside.

Owners can also provide mental and physical stimulation in the form of positive reward training. Initially, simple, desirable behaviours can be rewarded with small food treats but these can become more complex as the cat gets the hang of it!

Indoor cats are predisposed to developing cystitis because of the stress associated with their lifestyle so make sure they are encouraged to drink by providing clean, fresh drinking water away from their food and in a number of different receptacles.

Cats lead a less active life when kept indoors and so are at risk of becoming obese and developing related medical problems such as diabetes. Therefore, owners should consider feeding the cat a low calorie diet. Owners should also consider providing grass for the cat to eat, this will aid digestion. Puzzle feeders will also extend the cat’s feeding times and reduce the amount consumed. Opportunities for exercise should be provided, such as play and climbing.

Although indoor cats are less likely to be exposed to viral and bacterial infections as outdoor cats they are still at risk from both infections and parasites, especially if they are in contact with other animals in the household that go outdoors or they themselves have restricted access via an outdoor enclosure or from a stay at a cattery. Therefore, vaccinations, internal and external parasite prevention is still important.

Cats are social but they would naturally only live in social groups under very specific conditions of resource abundance and distribution, relatedness to each other, and where there is no competition for resources such as food, water, toileting sites and access outdoors. If these conditions are not met then living in close proximity to other cats can be very stressful. If there is more than one cat in the house, all of these resources need to be provided for each cat and placed in different locations so no cat has to ‘queue’ to access food or the litter tray. These resources should not be placed in areas where one cat can block access to or from these resources by another cat.

Feliway, a synthetic copy of the facial pheromone used by cats to mark areas of their territory to make them feel safer, can be used to reduce stress and increase their feeling of security in areas of the home that may prove challenging to the cat.

Giving medicines to your cat

For most veterinary treatments it is important that medicines are given correctly. In the hospital, trained staff give medicines and it is important to ensure that you are able to continue to give the medicines once your cat has been sent home. If you have any doubts about how to give the medicine your pet has been prescribed, ask your vet or a nurse to show you.

To be effective, most treatments have to be given regularly and for the right length of time. If medicines are not given correctly the active part may be lost or poorly absorbed. This reduces the dose that the patient receives and may delay recovery from illness or early recurrence of disease.

There are several important elements to giving medicine:

  • Ensure treatment is given correctly, i.e. the patient receives the correct dose, as and when needed.
  • Ensure safety of both the patient and the personnel involved in the procedure. In almost all cases, it is easier to administer treatment effectively if an assistant is able to help: one person restrains the cat and the other gives the treatment. However, it is usually possible for experienced owners to give medication by most routes to a reasonably co-operative and obedient cat.
  • Ensure medicine is stored correctly and handled according to instructions supplied.
  • Any untoward effects of medicines should be reported to the veterinary clinic or hospital. Adverse effects are rare, but possible.

Many medicines are designed to be given by mouth – largely because this is a convenient route for home treatment. Oral medicines can be given as tablets, capsules, liquids and pastes. Most medicines given by mouth enter the stomach and pass through into the intestine where they are absorbed into the blood.

The presence of food in the stomach helps absorption of some drugs but hinders the absorption of others. It can therefore be important when you give oral medicines in relation to feeding and you should follow any specific instructions your vet gives you.

Direct oral administration of medication obviously involves dealing with the animal’s mouth. This may be a real problem in aggressive patients and alternative routes of medicine administration (or mixing of medication with food) may be needed if there is a significant safety risk.

Tablets and capsules

Tablets are made from compacted, powdered drug (usually mixed with something like chalk to make the tablet the right size, and often with a flavour to make it more palatable). Capsules contain powdered drug inside a gelatine case – once inside the gastrointestinal tract the gelatine dissolves to release the drug. Some tablets have special coatings to protect the drug from the action of acid in the stomach – the coating is dissolved in the stomach and the drug released once the tablet is in the intestine.

Tablets are often crushed and put into food, but the fussy cat may refuse to eat the medicated food. Keeping the cat slightly hungry before tablet administration and offering the powdered tablet disguised in a small amount of especially tasty food, may get round this problem. The rest of the meal is given only once the medication has been taken. You can buy special treats to hide tablets in, or else you can improvise using, e.g. soft cheese.

This can work quite well but if an animal bites into the tablet they are likely to spit it out and will be reluctant to be fooled by the same trick again. The most certain way is to give the tablet directly into the mouth (see below: “Oral administration”). If the tablet is swallowed you know the whole dose has been taken.

Pastes

Drugs mixed into pastes can be particularly useful for use in cats. The sticky paste is smeared onto the tongue and the cat is unable to spit it out so has no alternative but to swallow. Some of these medications can be smeared onto an area of fur for the cat to lick off while grooming.

Liquid formulation

Liquids can be very tricky to administer effectively to cats unless they can be mixed with food. If they are mixed with food it is important to ensure that the medicine is thoroughly mixed in and that the patient eats all the food containing the medication. Some liquid medications taste unpleasant so need to be mixed with quite a large volume of strongly flavoured food to disguise them. Animals will often refuse to eat contaminated food or eat around bits of food containing the drug if it has not been mixed in well.

Liquid medications are usually administered directly into the mouth using a syringe. It is very easy for cats to refuse to swallow liquid medications and to dribble it from their mouths. When giving liquids by mouth, great care must be taken, to ensure that the patient swallows the medication and does not breathe it in. Oily medications e.g. liquid paraffin in the lungs can cause severe pneumonia.

Topical (on the body surface) application of medicine can be used to treat specific areas, such as patches of skin, or as a simple way of giving medicine to a patient because some drugs are taken up through the skin into the body. A lot of drugs are readily absorbed through the skin and if given frequently, or for prolonged periods, can build up in the body, causing side effects. For example, steroids put onto the skin can eventually cause signs of a condition called Cushing’s disease.

Most cats will lick off any medication on the skin if they can reach. it This should be prevented by the use of dressings, Elizabethan collars or other protective devices.

Topical treatment for local effect

Ocular (eye) treatment

Eye conditions are quite common in domestic pets and are often best treated by topical therapy. Eye treatments come as drops or creams/ointments. Drops can be easy to apply to the eye (see below; “Ocular administration”) but are washed out quickly and may need to be given many times daily. Ointments and creams persist in the eye for longer and some only need to be given once daily.

Aural (ear) treatment

The inside surface of the ear canal is just a special type of skin. However, this is a very sensitive area, so only treatments specially made for use in the ear area should be used. Drops or creams can be used effectively (see below; “Aural administration”).

Skin treatment

To be effective, a topical treatment must come into contact with the skin. If necessary, hair should be removed from the area to which the treatment is being applied. The skin surface should be cleaned to remove grease, previously applied medication and any build up of crusting or secretions.

Medication for topical application can be mixed with oily or water-based carriers to produce gels, ointments or creams. Creams or ointments are massaged gently over the skin surface until they are absorbed into the skin. Alternatively, application may be by means of washes or shampoos. Remember when treating skin problems that the area being treated may be sore to touch, so be gentle and ensure that the patient is adequately restrained.

In many skin diseases, a combination of topical and systemic treatment is used, e.g. shampoo and a course of antibiotic tablets.

Topical treatment for systemic (whole body) effect

One advantage of giving medicines by the topical route is that they do not have to pass through the gastrointestinal tract. This makes it a useful way to give drugs that would be destroyed by acids in the stomach. Some drugs can enter the body through the skin and affect organs and tissues far away from the site of original application.

Flea treatment

Some of the topically applied flea treatments are absorbed through the skin and then enter the bloodstream. Spot-on treatments are dropped onto an area of the coat that the cat cannot reach when it grooms itself, usually the back of the neck/scruff area. The active ingredient is absorbed through the skin and enters the cat’s blood. Fleas or other parasites receive a dose of the drug when they next bite the cat and are killed.

Heart treatment

Nitroglycerine cream is used to manage heart disease and is more commonly used in cats than dogs. It causes blood vessels to relax, helping to reduce the workload for the heart. It is applied as a cream on a hairless area of skin (usually the inside of the ear flap) from where it is rapidly absorbed, entering the bloodstream and affecting blood vessels throughout the body.

Pain relief

Sticky patches containing powerful analgesics (pain killers) are now available. These can be applied to hairless areas of skin during the recovery from anaesthesia and slowly release small doses of the drug over several hours or days. This gives the patient a pain-free recovery from surgery, without the need for further injections. These pain-relieving patches are only currently used in hospitalised patients.

Remember that drugs can be absorbed very easily through hairless human skin so gloves should always be worn when handling topical treatments.

  • The handler restrains the patient in a sitting position on a non-slip surface so that it feels secure (preferably with its back to a corner). It is often easier to restrain cats at a working height so place a towel or blanket on a table. If a cat struggles a lot or tries to scratch it may be necessary to wrap it in a towel.
  • The person giving the medicine takes the correct dose of tablets in their dominant hand.
  • The patient should be approached from the side and the other hand used to grasp the top of the muzzle firmly but gently.
  • The upper jaw is grasped just behind the level of the canine teeth and the head pulled upwards until the mouth falls open naturally.
  • A finger of the dominant hand can be used to press down on the lower incisor teeth to open the mouth a little more.
  • The tablets are placed at the back of the tongue and the jaw is allowed to close.
  • The mouth should be held shut until the patient has swallowed. Gentle stroking of the throat area might encourage the patient to swallow. Licking of the nose indicates that swallowing has occurred.
  • The patient should be watched closely immediately after medicine administration to ensure the tablets are not spat out!
  • The handler restrains the patient in a sitting position on a non-slip surface so that it feels secure (preferably with its back to a corner). It is often easier to restrain cats at a working height so place a towel or blanket on a table. If a cat struggles a lot or tries to scratch it may be necessary to wrap it in a towel.
  • The handler grips the head of the cat from underneath. Now they can tilt the cat’s nose upwards using one hand (it may be possible for them to hold the eyelids open with the thumb and forefinger of the other hand when doing this).
  • Alternatively, with one hand on the top of the head and another under the jaw the eyelids can be gently held apart and the head steadied at a suitable angle.
  • The person applying the eye drops opens the bottle or tube and holds it in their dominant hand.
  • They use the thumb and forefinger of their other hand to hold the eyelid open (if necessary).
  • Holding the bottle or dropper above the eye, it is gently squeezed so that the correct amount of medication falls into the eye. Take care not to touch the surface of the eye with the nozzle as this can contaminate the contents and damage the eye.
  • Resting the side of the hand against the muzzle whilst holding the applicator between thumb and forefinger helps to steady the applicator away from the eye and gives good control.
  • When applying creams or ointments it may be necessary to trail the ‘worm’ of ointment against the lower eyelid to detach it from the tube.
  • Keep the cat restrained for a few seconds to allow the treatment to spread over the eye surface – then allow them to blink before releasing them.
  • The handler restrains the cat in a sitting position on a non-slip surface so that it feels secure (preferably with its back to a corner). It is often easier to restrain cats at a working height so place a towel or blanket on a table. If a cat struggles a lot or tries to scratch it may be necessary to wrap it in a towel.
  • The handler restrains the patient from the side ‘cuddling’ it to them with a hand placed over the muzzle pushing the muzzle down and holding the head firmly against their body.
  • The person giving the drops lifts the ear flap to expose the ear canal.
  • The ear canal is cleaned to remove any discharges or previously applied medication before putting in new treatment. Use a large piece of dampened cotton wool.
  • Do not insert cotton buds, instruments or small ‘twirled’ pieces of cotton wool into the ear canal. Only material easily visible at the surface should be gently wiped away.
  • The nozzle of the treatment applicator is held next to the opening of the ear canal and drops or cream are applied into the canal. The nozzle is withdrawn and the vertical ear canal gently massaged from the outside to disperse the treatment (whilst the patient is still restrained).
  • Take care as you release the patient as they are likely to indulge in vigorous head shaking.

In many cases, a missed dose is corrected by giving the dose as soon as you remember and then giving the following one when it would have been due anyway. This applies to most ear and eye treatments, and to many tablets. However because some medication should not be repeated too soon, it is always best to check with your veterinary surgeon as to what to do. Note that intervals of 1-2 hours either side of the specified time are unlikely to make much difference. If it is not possible to contact the veterinary surgeon, then the safest course is to skip the missed dose and just give the next one when it would have been due.

Always contact the veterinary practice for advice. Some tablets have a tendency to do this – the dosing may need to be altered or else an alternative drug may need to be found. Stop the tablets in the meantime.

No, your other cat needs a veterinary check-up first. It could be a different condition that just looks the same, or your other cat could have individual problems that require a different approach. If you used the same product, you would not anyway have enough to complete the course of the first cat’s treatment.

It depends on the problem and the policy of the cattery. Most reputable catteries can cope with routine treatment for problems such as arthritis, heart conditions and skin conditions. Experienced catteries can also handle more complex medical conditions such as the daily injections and treatment for diabetic animals. Speak to both your veterinary surgeon and the cattery in plenty of time.