by Erin Quigley, DVM
I can’t count the times where I have been treating a pet parent’s dog for an extended period of time and then out of the blue I find out they have a cat. What? Why has this not come up before? Are you ashamed of this family member? When I try to investigate why they have never brought their cat to see me the common response is that he or she lives inside and has never had a problem. Now while it may be true that cat has lived a healthy life, what is a myth is that anything that lives indoors does not experience disease or is not at risk for infection.
Let’s start with kittens and various disease that your new pet should be screened for and protected against. Two things that a kitten may contract from its mother that is not easy to detect is 1. Feline Leukemia Virus and 2. Roundworms.
Feline Leukemia virus is passed from mother to kitten in the womb. It is a virus that can cause a compromised immune system (similar to HIV in people) and due to this weak immune system may significantly shorten the life of the cat. This virus is also contagious to other cats. Particularly over time if they live in the same household. There is a screening test that can be performed at the kitten’s first visit to determine if this infection is present.
Roundworms are intestinal parasites the mother passes to the kitten in the womb. These intestinal parasites eggs (microscopic) are consistently shed in the kittens feces and can infect others that are exposed (cats, dogs, children). Most people believe that if worms are present they will visually detect them in their pets stool, but in actuality 90% of the time when parasites are present you cannot see them in stool. It requires a fecal exam (fecal centrifugation and flotation) that your vet can perform at the kitten’s first visit.
Due to the fact that both of these infections could be present in your new kitten, I recommend that the kitten have a separate litter box that other cats in the home and that children and canine family members do not have access. I would also recommend separating the new kitten from your current feline family members until after your first vet visit.
Other conditions that we look for at your kitten’s first visit: ear mites/ear infections, upper respiratory infections, coccidian, fleas, heart murmurs, and many congenital abnormalities. It is common to see a couple of these ailments at the first visit but they can be easily cleared up to give your new pet relief from discomfort.
We recommend a series (3 vaccines, 2-3 weeks apart) of Feline Distemper vaccines to prevent common upper respiratory tract infections. Once the kitten tests negative for Feline Leukemia there is a vaccine to prevent exposure to it; one vaccine and a booster is given during the kitten series. A rabies vaccine, yes cats get rabies vaccines, is given at the last visit usually around 16 weeks of age.
Adults – Outdoor
A cat companion that spends time outdoors is at increased risk for certain conditions. When consistently exposed to other cats they could contract feline leukemia virus, and that is why your veterinarian will recommend vaccinating if your cat spends time outside. Another virus that your cat could be exposed to is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (very similar HIV). It is transmitted by bites and scratches by an infected cat. It your cat comes indoors with evidence of a cat fight, first have him or her treated for the wounds and infection associated and in 6 months your cat can be tested for FIV. Unfortunately there is not an effective vaccine or treatment for FIV.
Outdoor cats also have an increased risk for parasite exposure; fleas, intestinal parasites and heartworms. Yes cats do get heartworm. It is not commonly known because it is difficult to detect and if clinical signs are present it resembles asthma. For any outdoor cat I recommend a topical preventative that protects against fleas, heartworms and intestinal parasites in one.
Indoor cats still have risk of much of the above if they have exposure to stray cats. For example if they are nose to nose with cats through an open window they can be exposed to respiratory viruses. I have many clients that tell me they only go out in the yard. The exposure to fleas and intestinal parasites can occur. Also if you have a family dog, fleas can be carried on the dog into the house and transferred to the cat. It is not uncommon that I will see a completely indoor cat that has tapeworms which are from ingesting an adult flea. Also dogs and cats share intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms. In order to protect your cat and give you peace of mind I would still recommend the same preventative as we discussed above.
When it comes to preventative care and vaccines all cats are legally required to have a rabies vaccine. I realize your cat may have limited to no exposure to wildlife but your county sets the law to protect not just your pet but your family. The County I practice in does require both dogs and cats to have up to date rabies vaccines. If a family member or visitor would be bitten by your family cat or dog, it is reportable and your pet would be put under quarantine restrictions set by the county, also you could be put at legal risk. Due to common exposure of feline respiratory viruses, indoor cats are vaccinated yearly.
More importantly while providing yearly protection from viruses and screening for intestinal parasites your vet can give a full physical exam and gain important history that may help him or her catch disease processes early.
Common diseases that can affect your feline companion in adulthood include but are not limited to: Dental disease, Urinary tract disease, inflammatory bowel disease, skin allergies, obesity, Hyperthyroidism and Diabetes.
Your veterinarian with exam, history and screening tests can detect many of these diseases early and help minimize or eliminate discomfort in your pet.
When your cat reaches or exceeds the age of seven years old they are considered seniors. Diet changes and regular veterinary exams can aid in helping your cat live to lifetime expectations of 15 years plus. An important fact to know about your cat is as a species they instinctually hide disease. Regularly I see cats that have severe gum/teeth infections that give no indication to the owner, or kidney disease is caught too late to make any difference when it comes to comfort and longevity.
Additional conditions that should be routinely screened in older cats are hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney disease, cancers, and increasing thyroid hormones. At their yearly visit a blood panel and blood pressure can be performed by your veterinarian. Many of these conditions can be minimized with diet and medications that can help you cat live many more years if caught early.
So although cats are relatively low key and independent (aka they don’t want to be bothered) their health is important and many things can be going on internally that they will not give you any indication of, in contrast to our ever in our face canine friends. They are different and can be afflicted by different diseases that your veterinarian can help you prevent or manage.
So although it gives us anxiety just like it gives our cat to put them in a box and drive them to the vet, in the long run it is for their good and the longevity of our relationship with them.
About the Author
Erin Quigley, DVM, Member of AVMA, MVMA, grew up in Florissant, MO, and received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Missouri State University. After college she worked as a receptionist at Rock Road Animal Hospital, a zookeeper at the St. Louis Zoo and a veterinary assistant at Howdershell Animal Hospital until attendingVeterinary School at University of Missouri-Columbia. Dr. Quigley graduated with her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine and worked as a veterinarian in Troy, Wentzville, and Florissant, MO, until purchasing Animal Medical Center of Wentzville in 2010. She lives with her husband, two children and boxer dog Finnegan in Lake St. Louis/O’Fallon. When my husband and
I have free time from the clinic, we enjoy spending time with our dog, family and friends. Our hobbies include attending Cardinal baseball and Mizzou football games. We also enjoy the outdoors biking, boating and horseback riding.