Keep your cats healthy and happy for life

Dr. Liz Ruelle, DVM, is board certified in feline medicine. She practices at the Wild  Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary.

Dr. Liz Ruelle, DVM, is board certified in feline medicine. She practices at the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary.

By Jacqueline Louie

Ensuring that a beloved cat companion enjoys good health takes awareness, prevention, and cultivating healthy habits for a lifetime. “You want to catch any disease and changes early,” says feline specialist Dr. Liz Dr. Ruelle, DVM and a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Feline Practice. That means paying close attention to your cat’s habits, and calling the vet to make an appointment when something doesn’t seem right.

Below are some of the most common health issues facing cats today broken down by age:

Ages one to seven 

In young and middle aged cats, dental disease and weight management are the top two health issues that Dr. Ruelle sees in her practice at the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary. Maintaining good dental health is a lifelong priority for kitties, she adds.

While teeth brushing is considered the gold standard of dental care, brushing your cat’s teeth is no easy task. Luckily, there are lots of alternatives, says Dr. Ruelle, who uses dental diets and treats such as dental crunchies to encourage good feline dental health.

For Dr. Ruelle, preventing and slowing down dental disease is a priority. “It’s like everything else: if you notice a change in your cat’s breath or something doesn’t seem quite right, have your vet take a look.”

Obesity is another common problem. Dr. Ruelle’s take home message, is that very little overeating can lead to weight gain. When a cat is at a healthy weight, the ribs can be easily felt but not seen, with a trim waist. An overweight cat starts to lose waist definition.

Portion control is a good starting point. If portion control fails then the next step would be looking for lower calorie foods. In more extreme cases, an owner would need to talk to a vet for advice on trying a calorie-restricted diet.

Dr. Ruelle cautions that putting a cat on a diet can sometimes lead to weight gain, because its metabolism will slow. “That’s why, just like with people, physical activity is so important,” she notes.

You can encourage your cat to get physical by playing. For instance, you can use a laser pen for your cat to chase around. Encourage them to play with feather toys and toy mice. And when you give your cat a treat, make them chase it, or use treat balls.

Dr. Stephan Porostocky, DVM, owner of Cat Vet at Home, has focused on cats for the last 20 years.

Dr. Stephan Porostocky, DVM, owner of Cat Vet at Home, has focused on cats for the last 20 years.

Dr. Stephan Porostocky, DVM and owner of Cat Vet at Home, a house call feline practice in Calgary, agrees that weight management is an important issue. “Nutrition is absolutely very, very important,” says Dr. Porostocky, whose practice has focused on cats for more than 20 years. Cat owners need to adjust their cat’s nutritional intake to their lifestyle; and they need to ensure their cat gets enough exercise.

Another major heath issue is behavioural, says Dr. Porostocky, noting that issues are often not really physical or medical concerns, but psychological. Cats can easily become bored inside the house, which typically doesn’t provide them with enough stimulation, so Dr. Porostocky recommends that guardians focus on enriching their cat’s environment.

Older cats 

Arthritis is a common problem in older kitties. “It’s guaranteed to happen,” Dr. Ruelle says, noting that 90 per cent of cats over age 12 typically suffer from arthritis, and by the time they reach 15, most cats will have arthritis.

Even so, it’s not always easy to tell. “The signs are going to be more subtle in a cat than in a dog. You can look for stiffness when your cat is getting up, and changes in jumping behavior.” There could also be changes in elimination habits, Dr. Ruelle says. For instance, defecating outside the litter box could be a sign of arthritis, since an arthritic cat might not be able to squat properly, or might not even be able to climb into the litter box. Changes in grooming habits could also indicate arthritis.

Another common ailment in older cats, is a change in kidney health. “Cats’ kidneys are their Achilles heel,” says Dr. Ruelle. “Their organs could be burning out when they start losing weight or drinking more water.”

If you see any of these signs, she says, it’s a reason to call the vet. Treatment might involve dietary changes, or using supplements to stabilize kidney function. “Trying to catch disease early is where we have the ability to offer more therapy.”

Regular visits to the vet are important. When your vet gets to know your cat, it allows the vet to establish a relationship with you and your cat — and it’s easier for the vet to determine when your feline is ill, Dr. Ruelle says.

Dr. Porostocky, too, emphasizes the importance of illness prevention and regular check ups for your cat. “Have them checked annually. An annual checkup is absolutely important,” he says. For cats over 10 years old, Dr. Porostocky advises bringing your cat to the vet every six months. “We discover subtle signs on the check up, which may even be solved with proper nutrition or proper lifestyle management,” he says.