Since cats have been companions and friends to people all over the world for thousands of years, they must be doing something right.
One major reason for their popularity would have to be their ability to adapt. Cats thrive anywhere people do, easily adjusting to a variety of lifestyles and living spaces. They are almost obsessively clean and fastidious and don't require much in the way of exercise. To one degree or another, they also possess some rather remarkable character traits that, for the most part, make them all the more endearing.
First, there's that legendary curiosity. Then their self-sufficiency. Absolute unpredictablity. Keen intelligence. Bravery. Independence. Aloofness. And an extrasensory perception (ESP) that suggests they may be able to feel the energy pulsing off other living things.
For all they share in common, cats can differ markedly from each other as well. For instance, some cats are natural hunters and will do anything to escape the house to stay out all night, while others like nothing better than cuddling up in bed with their owners, hardly stirring until morning. There are also finicky eaters. Timid cats who hide away all day. Cats who can't wait to go for walks with their owners. And cats who are more than content to just lie around looking pretty.
There are also physical differences. Some breeds can be large, tipping the scales at 8-10 kilograms, while others are much smaller, weighing in at a modest 2-3 kilograms. Some are long and sleek, others compact and sturdy. Some are magnifcent jumpers, others what are known as 'floor' cats. Some have a layer of fur which amounts to next to nothing, others wear thick, luxuriant coats of flowing strands which can take hours every day to maintain.
Because every cat is so individualistic, it's especially important to take the time to choose one who's right for you and your lifestyle. A cat's personality, age, and appearance, as well as the kinds of pets you already have at home, are all things you should keep in mind when making your selection.
Choosing a Breed - Roughly half of the cats we see are mixed breeds, which have become known collectively as the domestic short-hair. About all they have in common is four legs and a tail.
The other half of our feline patients are purebreds, which can be divided basically into two types: short-haired breeds and long-haired. If you go for a long-haired breed, you should bear in mind that you face hours of grooming; in some cases, many, many hours of grooming. Still, there's no denying that a well-looked-after Persian or Chinchilla can look absolutely spectacular.
People buying purebreds do so for several reasons: they just like the look of a certain variety, they want to breed or show them, or they're after certain characteristics. While it's quite correct that certain breeds do tend to share specific traits, you can't count on it. For instance, a cat of a normally mellow breed may be high-strung. Or vice versa.
Now that you've been warned, we're willing to make a few general statements to help you find the most appropriate cat for your lifestyle. If you like a highly responsive cat who enjoys interacting with you, take a look at an Oriental breed such as the Siamese or Tonkinese. If you want a cat that can be active to the point of frenetic, Siamese along with Abyssinian, Cornish Rex or Balinese could be just what you're after. If, on the other hand, you have a busy family, you should probably consider a breed that is easy-going and child-friendly like Persians or Burmese. If you are a professional person who spends long hours away from home, a cat that craves lots of attention would likely be a poor choice. Stay away from Bengals and Siamese; instead consider a Russian Blue or Birman. And if someone in your family has asthma or is allergic to cats, felines with little or no fur, such as the Cornish Rex or Devon Rex, can limit reactions in many cases.
By the way, one of the more contemporary ways to find out what cat best suits your situation is to try a few of the interactive guides found online. We strongly recommend that you fill out several forms so that you can reach a consensus. Just type 'choosing a cat' or some similar phrase into a search engine like Google or Yahoo and take it from there.
Here's a little bit more about the short-haired breeds we see most often:
Abyssinian. If you're seeking a cat with a long lineage, it would be hard to go by an Abyssinian. They're believed to be descended from the sacred cats of ancient Egypt. Although most of these sleek looking felines are brown (not unlike a wild rabbit) or coppery red, you can also find blue, silver cream or lavender variations. Whatever the colour, the eyes will be large and either hazel or greenish gold. Abyssinians have a soft miaow, are alert and intelligent, playful yet gentle. They also bond very well with their owners.
Bengal. This long, muscular breed owes its name to its dramatic jungle-cat markings. Extremely intelligent, curious and alert, Bengals are also incredibly quick. They love attention so much they commonly follow their owners around like dogs. And, like dogs, they're natural retrievers and can be taught to sit up and roll over. Some individuals, however, can be very headstrong. They're also disinclined to forgive bad treatment. The sleek, soft coat, more like a pelt than ordinary cat fur, tends to harbour many fewer allergens, making Bengals a good choice for those with allergies.
Burmese. This very popular breed had rather inauspicious origins. Burmese are all descended from a walnut-brown female from Burma that was mated with a seal-point Siamese in San Francisco during the 1930s. Small to medium sized, they generally have a dark, satiny-textured coat (rich brown, red, blue, tortie or lilac) with a lighter coloured chest and belly. The large, expressive eyes are a yellowish gold. While vocal, Burmese are not as noisy as their Siamese cousins. They are quite outgoing, agile, loyal and into cuddling big time.
Cornish Rex. One look at the large ears, egg-shaped head with high cheekbones, washboard-wavy coat and extremely slender but muscular build and you can understand how these cats were the result of a spontaneous genetic mutation. They first appeared in a litter of barn cats in Cornwall, England, around 1950. Athletic and capable of fast starts and stops, quick turns and high jumps, the Cornish Rex is also very affectionate and people-oriented. The extremely short coat, which is soft almost beyond belief, can be any colour.
Devon Rex. Another (fairly obvious) accident of birth, the first Devon Rex appeared in 1959 in the litter of a stray cat kept by a lady in Devonshire, England. They possess huge ears and a pixie-like face with large inquisitive eyes and a short, slightly upturned nose. The strong, supple body is covered in a coat of loose, suede-like waves and curls. The Devon Rex is intelligent, inquisitive and friendly with a personality described as a cross between a cat, a monkey and Dennis the Menace. As with the Cornish Rex, some people with allergies tolerate Devons quite well; others don't.
Manx. The Manx comes from the Isle of Man and is the cat for people who think tails are superfluous. Aside from that physical characteristic, the result of a natural mutation, the Manx has a round head and stocky, compact body with a very short back. Because the hind legs are noticeably longer than the front ones, the Manx has a distinctive rabbit-like way of moving. The double coat can be any colour or pattern. Quiet and affectionate, the Manx socialises well with dogs and tends to be more obedient than most cats.
Russian Blue. Thought to have originated in northern Russia, this handsome, fine-boned cat comes in just the one colour. But each silky blue-grey hair is tipped with silver, creating a lustrous sheen that, combined with clean lines and graceful carriage, gives them a uniquely regal appearance. The large, wide-set eyes are a vivid green, the head cobra-like in shape. Although of a shy and unassuming nature, Russians are devoted and quite affectionate to their families, getting along easily with children and other pets. Russian Blues are also very intelligent.
Siamese. Originating in Siam (now Thailand), this well-known, very popular breed was introduced to the West in 1885. But there have been some changes in recent years. Unlike the Classic Siamese, aka the Applehead, with its rounder, more moderate body, the show-style Siamese championed by breeders today appears more angular. Both styles feature the traditional seal, blue, chocolate and lilac point colours and striking blue eyes. Both styles are also active, affectionate, highly intelligent and more than occasionally demanding. And both are among the most vocal breeds around.
Tonkinese. If you think this cat looks a little like a Burmese and a bit like a Siamese, well spotted; they are a cross-breed of both. The short, very silky coat lies close to the body and comes in three patterns: pointed, mink and solid. Those with the Siamese-like pointed coat are the only pedigree cats with aqua eyes. Well-muscled and deceptively heavy, Tonkinese are warm and loving, highly intelligent, with an incredible memory and senses rivaling radar. They are also strong-willed and can resist training, but are naturals at inventing and playing games.
And now the more common long-haired breeds:
Balinese. Another of those spontaneous mutations, this svelte cat is genetically linked to the Siamese, sharing the same creamy fawn colour with seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, red tabby or totiseshell points. And, of course, those distinctive clear, blue eyes. In fact, the length of the fine, silky coat is the only discernable difference between the two breeds. Like the Siamese, nearly everything about the Balinese is long: head, body, legs and tail. It is also intelligent, active, affectionate...and talkative. Unlike other longhairs, the Balinese has a single rather than double coat, making it easier to groom.
Birman. This, the sacred cat of Burma, is unrelated to the Burmese. Birmans are distinguished by blue eyes, white paws and medium-length hair of a creamy brown colour with seal, chocolate, tabby, red, blue or lilac points. The silky consistency of the coat doesn't mat as easily as other longhairs and requires very little grooming. Quietly talkative with an exceptionally balanced temperament, the Birman is intelligent, curious and bonds strongly to people. It is also noted for lying back and showing off those white paws.
Chinchilla. Named for a similarly coloured South American rodent, Chinchillas are actually a type of Persian, but with less of a pug nose. They have beautiful, black-lined emerald or blue-green eyes and each hair of the luxurious white coat is tipped with black, blue or gold. In combination, the effect can be stunning. However, keeping them stunning requires daily grooming to avoid skin problems and troublesome knots and matts. While Chinchillas like to play, they're more inclined to snuggle on a favourite chair or sofa.
Persian. There are hieroglyphic references to a longhair cat looking much like the Persian as early as 1684 B.C. Today, they're one of the most recognised and populars cats we have. Their compacted body and short, sturdy legs are covered by a thick coat of very long, glossy fur which comes in an astonishing variety of colours. As you'd expect, they need daily grooming. The slightly pushed-in face may lead to respiratory problems, as well as tear-stained fur due to malfunctioning tear ducts. Persians are gentle, non-vocal and cuddly. They also love to pose.
Ragdoll. Developed in the 1960s by a California breeder, these cats come in four patterns (bi-color, van, mitted and pointed) and six colours (seal, blue, chocolate, lilac, red and cream). Generally, however, they're seen in a Siamese colouration, which reflects their origins. Large and blue-eyed, Ragdolls are an exceptionally laid-back, affectionate cat. They're good with children, the elderly and dogs. Plus, they will bathe and groom themselves, shed very little and rarely have hairballs. The name comes from the cat's proclivity to go limp when handled.
Picking a Kitten - There are several indicators of good health and an even temperament. For starters, the cat should have clear, bright eyes with little or no tearing, and the nostrils should be clean. Runny eyes, a nasal discharge or sneezing can be signs of a respiratory infection. The inside of the ears should be clean and free of any discharge. If you see a black, tar-like discharge in the ear canal, chances are the cat has an ear-mite infestation. A pus-like discharge is evidence of a bacterial or yeast infection.
Gently peel back the lips. The mouth and gums should be pink with no indication of ulcers or sores. The coat should be glossy with no bare spots, dry skin, dandruff or any sign of external parasites. A cat that appears too thin or has a protruding belly could well have internal parasites or some other medical disorder. If possible, check whether the cat has normal, well-formed faeces.
Watch the cat or kitten interact. If it appears active, bright, responsive, rambunctious and eager to join in play, you can be reasonably sure that it's physically sound. Naturally, it should also be friendly and comfortable with people. You don't want a cat that frequently runs and hides or sleeps more than normal.
Once a kitten has been weaned from its mother (usually at about eight weeks of age), it is ready for adoption. Before accepting the new cat, you should ask questions about vaccinations, nutrition, parasite control, and grooming. As soon as possible after picking up your new kitten or cat, you should bring it to us so that we can carry out a physical examination.
When you take your new cat home, don't be surprised if the first thing yours does is scoot to the closest hiding place. Most cats introduced to a new environment tend to be shy at first. But they'll adapt in no time.
One further note here. If you are willing to take on the added responsibility of adopting a cat/kitten with special health conditions, please make sure you obtain its medical history, medications and proper treatment/care. The next step is a visit to PAH for a full examination. (You should do this even if adoptive agency doesn't insist on it.) Also, you should be aware that cats which seem extremely scared or aggressive could have been abused, tramautized or feral in the past. They could prove a real challenge.
Microchipping - Since July 2002 the NSW Government has required all cats over the age of 12 weeks to be microchipped. And before each cat turns six months, it must also be registered with the local council. You pay a flat charge and your cat instantly becomes registered for life. A much better arrangement than previously when there was no way to identify most lost or stray cats.
Chances are, if you buy a cat from a breeder or pet store, it will already be microchipped. If not, it will only take us about five minutes to embed a tiny microchip ID (about the size of a grain of rice) under your new cat's skin between the shoulders. The process is not unlike getting an immunisation shot. In fact, it's usually less distressing.
When your cat leaves, it will be possible for councils, vets and animal welfare organisations to identify him or her simply by using a scanner. For the full story, click Department of Local Government - Companion Animals Act.
Vaccinations - When you purchase your cat, you should receive a vaccination certificate signed by a veterinarian. If your cat or kitten has had no previous vaccinations or if you are unsure whether it has been vaccinated, you should bring it to us to receive a health check and routine vaccinations for Feline Enteritis, Feline Flu (Calici and Rhinotracheitis virus, see below). While additional vaccines for Chlamydia and Feline Leukaemia viruses are available, these are not high-risk diseases in one- or two-cat suburban households.
To protect your cat against the more common viruses, you should ensure it has its first vaccination between six and eight weeks of age with the second and third at 12 and 16 weeks respectively. From then on, all cats require a 'booster' vaccination every 12 months to keep antibody levels up. Such protection is absolutely essential if your cat spends any time in a boarding cattery.
In case you're wondering, we rarely see are reactions to these vaccinations. It's possible that your cat could feel a little 'off colour' for a day or two, and you might notice some local swelling at the injection site. None of this is cause for concern, but if you see more serious signs, call us ASAP.
Fleas & Ticks - Fleas and ticks are often a problem during the warmer months. Though often treated with the same products, there's a big difference between the two. Fleas are annoying, ticks can be deadly.
There's no social stigma attached to fleas becoming attached to your cat. Any cat with a social nature can pick up fleas. Fortunately, you can easily rid your cat of fleas by using a 'spot-on' formulation, which is usually just a matter of squeezing a few drop on the back of your cat's neck. For complete flea eradication, you will also have to treat your other pets and also the environment, especially your cat's bedding. (See the appropriate Fact Sheet.) Incidentally, powders, rinses and flea collars are no longer effective in killing fleas and thus cannot be recommended.
However, even closely following the precautions and directions on the packaging of the flea control products might not be enough. You'll find several Fact Sheets that deal with these persistent pests.
Paralysis ticks, which are a particular problem on the Northern Beaches, can be fatal to cats. During the warmer months you should check your cat daily and remove any ticks. If you do find a tick and your cat is affected, call us.
For more about this dangerous pest, see the relevant Fact Sheets and the dedicated page, Tick Advice.
Worms - Cats need to be wormed regularly to control roundworms, hookworms and tapeworms which live in the intestine. This is easily done by using one of the many available preparations, either as tablets or spot-on preparations. You should worm kittens frequently (weekly to monthly) until they're six month old, then every three months for the rest of their lives. The exception would be mature cats who seldom stray from the yard. In this instance, an annual worming should be sufficient.
Feeding - To maintain your cat's health and well being it must have a balanced diet of dry food, raw meat and bones. Kittens have different nutritional requirements to adult cats and for this reason it is essential to feed your kitten with specially formulated growth food. This will ensure they receive sufficient protein and calcium.
In general, kittens should be fed three times daily from six to 12 weeks, then twice daily until they're six months old. From then on once or twice a day will be fine. Additionally, we would suggest you train your cat from an early age to eat raw meaty pieces such as chicken necks to maintain good dental health.
Any changes to diet should be made gradually over several days.
Water is essential to your cat's well-being and clean water must be available at all times. Your cat should have its own sturdy food and water bowls which should be placed near the sleeping area and cleaned regularly.
De-sexing - If you don't want to use your cat for breeding, either he or she should be de-sexed around six months of age. Males become increasingly interested in females as they mature. If there's one nearby on heat, he'll leave evidence of his feelings in the form of foul-smelling urine sprayed around the house.
Females are even more enthusiastic when it comes to their sex lives, copulating with more than one partner during heat periods. While cats' sexual affairs are over fairly quickly, they're accompanied by rather noisy yowling from both partners. Females on heat also roll around, making 'crying' sounds and acting like they're in pain.
Cats are 'seasonally polyoestrus' and unless mated will come back on heat every three weeks for two to three months during autumn and spring. Naturally, successful mating will stop the process. But not for long. Many cats come back on heat within just three to four weeks of having a litter.
Castration will prevent both roaming and that strong urine odour. Removing a female's ovaries and uterus (spaying) will eliminate both her heat cycles and prowling toms. Just call us to make an appointment.
Dental Hygiene - By the time they reach three years of age, many cats have gum disease. You might notice persistent bad breath, red, inflamed gums and a brown and yellow discolouration on the teeth - particularly the molars.
If left unchecked, it will cause the gums to recede, weakening the supporting structure of the teeth and leading to infections and tooth loss. Even worse, bacteria released into the bloodstream can end up in the kidneys and heart valves where they affect the general health of your cat.
To help prevent gum disease you should provide your cat uncooked bones to chew. If bones cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea, you can try raw meaty chunks, Greenies, pigs' ears or chew toys such as Dental Kongs.
While dry food is better than tinned, it won't completely clean your cat's teeth. Fortunately, new prescription diets (which we sell at PAH) have either a specially designed kibble which helps clean the tooth surfaces (Hills T/D Diet) or added enzymes to reduce plaque build-up (Eukanuba).
Cats with dirty, inflamed teeth due to tartar and gingivitus should be treated with a prophylactic scale and polish. Doing so can often save their teeth and extend their life span, but only if regular cleaning then becomes part of the regimen. By the way, do NOT use human toothpaste; if swallowed it can irritate your cat's stomach.
Infected or damaged teeth need to be extracted. Thankfully, we have both the equipment and skills to make it all happen with minimal discomfort for your cat. Most of our dental patients feel much better within days of having sore teeth removed.
In extreme cases requiring tooth-capping and/or root canal work, you may have to take your cat to a specialised veterinary dentist. (Who will likely charge a specialist-sized fee.)
Cat flu - Cats catch colds too, complete with snuffles and sneezes. The difference is that most upper respiratory tract infections suffered by cats are caused by feline herpes virus or feline calicivirus. Because the vaccines we use include both these viruses, cat flu generally affects only unvaccinated cats.
If you notice eye discharges, mouth ulcers and coughing, listlessness and a reluctance to eat and/or dehydration, your cat could have the flu. As with most viruses, the weaker the immune system, the more susceptible the cat. So young kittens, older debilitated cats and, of course, those that haven't been vaccinated are most at risk. In fact, young, unvaccinated kittens can die from so-called cat flu.
In the absence of treatments that will kill these viruses, we'll use antibiotics when secondary bacterial infections are present. Otherwise, we can prescribe appetite-stimulating drugs, decongestants, multivitamins as well as fluids to prevent or address dehydration. You could also put your cat in a steamy environment (a small bathroom with the hot tap on will do nicely) to help nasal decongestion. Feeding highly flavoured foods like warmed sardines is a good way to encourage your cat to eat.
Happily, if your cat is otherwise in good health, its immune system should overcome its cold fairly quickly. However, after recovery many cats become virus carriers, shedding the microorganisms either continuously or intermittently when stressed. They are 'chronic snufflers' and exhibit signs such as nasal discharge and sneezing, something that may have to be looked after for years.
Feline Chlamydia - This is another respiratory infection, most commonly seen in kittens from five to nine months of age. It causes conjunctivitis and occasional sneezing or snuffling for one to three months. If detected, all cats in the household should be treated with antibiotics.
Also, there is now a vaccine that we recommend for cats in breeding colonies or otherwise coming in contact with large numbers of fellow felines.
Vomiting - In most cases when your cat throws up, it's nothing to be overly concerned about, especially when the vomitus contains grass or hair balls. You'll also probably see several abdominal contractions preceding the vomiting, but this too is normal. (Just ask Puss In Boots from Shrek 2.)
Sometimes eating too quickly or dining on cockroaches or old, rotten meat will cause inflammation in the stomach, resulting in vomiting. But the problem usually goes away all by itself.
As long as the vomiting has been going on for less than 24 hours and your cat seems otherwise well and is eating, you can often treat at home. First, don't offer any food for the next 24 hours to give the gut a chance to recover, then feed a low-fat, highly digestible diet for a few days. We suggest mixing small amounts of boiled or steamed chicken with rice for two to three days, then adding your cat's normal diet in gradually increasing proportions over the following three to four days.
The time to worry is when vomiting continues past 24 hours, accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, restlessness and/or pain. Weight loss, repeated vomiting of fluid or bile, blood or diarrhoea are all signs of a more serious condition where it would be wise to call us.
We will determine your cat's history and conduct a thorough examination. In less severe cases we'll likely treat your cat symptomatically with drugs to help control the vomiting and advise a low-fat diet. However, if we detect other signs of illness or the vomiting has become chronic, we will need to do further testing, starting with a blood work-up and X-rays. Occasionally, the inside of the stomach and intestines will have to be examined through an endoscope and a biospy taken. If we suspect a foreign body is obstructing the gastrointestinal tract, we will have to operate to remove it.
We also may have to hospitalise your cat in order to control vomiting, combat dehydration and/or treat any other underlying disease.
Constipation - If your cat is straining and/or in obvious pain while defecating or passes either small amounts of faeces or a diarrhoea-like fluid, it's almost certainly constipated. (Obstipation is when no defecation occurs.) If left untreated, your cat will become disinterested in food, lethargic and depressed. Other symptoms can include vomiting and dehydration.
The most important thing to do is determine the cause of the constipation. It could be any of the following:
Treatment depends on the cause, frequently beginning with adding fibre (psyllium) to your cat's diet. This softens the faeces and helps prevent recurrent episodes. Sometimes the faeces must be removed from the colon by use of enemas, laxatives or drug therapy. In more serious cases we may have to sedate or anaesthetise your cat to manually break down the hard faeces after administering an enema of soapy water. If the condition has progressed to obstipation, we will have to repeat this procedure daily until all of the obstruction has been passed.
Occasionally, obstipation requires surgical removal of a damaged part of the colon.
Coughing - Cats cough for a number of reasons, some serious, others less so. Sometimes the larynx and trachea are involved, other times the lungs.
Here are the most common causes:
In particular, Burmese and Siamese cats seem to be especially susceptible to allergic bronchial disease, commonly known as 'feline asthma.' An allergen will cause a hypersensitivity reaction which, in turn, causes inflammation of the airway walls leading to constriction and the production of mucus. Common allergens include cigarette and fireplace smoke; carpet-cleaning agents; perfumes, deodorants and other aerosol products. Although X-rays are generally necessary to diagnose this disease, it's rarely life threatening.
Whatever the cause of the coughing, when you bring your cat to us, we'll start by compiling a history, much of which we may already have in our computer files. We'll be particularly interested in abnormal signs you have noticed such as loss of appetite, weight loss and whether the cough is dry or accompanied by any discharge, especially blood. In addition to a thorough physical examination, we may recommend an X-ray. If we see a mass on the X-ray or if fluid buildup impedes our diagnosis, we may advise an ultrasound.
As well, blood tests and specimens of cells and microorganisms from the airways could be necessary for us to make an accurate evaluation. To obtain these specimens, we will anaesthetise your cat and pass sterile water into the lungs. The recovered water usually contains clues to the cause of the coughing. If results prove inconclusive, we may move to a brochoscopy, heartworm tests or look for signs of heart disease.
Naturally, treatment varies with the cause. We could prescribe anything from drugs to combat lungworm to antibiotics. Therapy for allergic bronchial asthma may involve cortisone, antibiotics, drugs to reduce airway constriction and sometimes an antihistamine.
Converting Cat Years - If you're like most cat owners, you're probably a little curious about how old your cat is compared to us humans. Many conversion tables use a very simple, if not simplistic, calculation: one cat year equals seven human years. But it's a bit more complicated than that. To find out more, just click Calculating a Cat's Life Span.
Euthanasia - Because most cats live 15 to 19 years, you'll likely be faced with the decision of when to say goodbye to a cherished part of your life. Though you'll probably sense when the time is right, it will still be one of the hardest decisions you'll ever make. And you'll naturally want to be sure you're doing the right thing. To find out more about the process, please see the Fact Sheet titled 'Euthanasia.'
If after reading it, you still have further questions about euthanasia, we urge you to contact us.