New Cat Owners

Bringing home a new cat is an exciting time for everyone. You want what is best for your new pet, but many of the websites out there are spreading bad information that can harm your cat, pet supply stores have sales people trying to get you to buy the most expensive food and products so they get a good commission, and celebrity animal trainers,  while entertaining, glib and attractive may be fun to watch, their real purpose is to sell commercial time and books and are not the best source of the latest training information that pet owners need.

As a veterinarian, I am frustrated by the amount of bad information on pet ownership that my clients are getting from the media.  I have developed this website to be the go-to source for information that is valid and useful for the pet owners I see on a daily basis. Everything on this website has been approved by me, and is information I recommend.

When bringing home a new kitten there are 9 important things to consider:

  1. Veterinary exam
  2. Vaccinations
  3. Deworming
  4. Spay or Neuter
  5. Microchip
  6. Flea/Tick/Heartworm Prevention
  7. Diet
  8. Training
  9. Health Insurance or a Veterinary Savings Account

Veterinary Exam

You need to find a veterinarian that you trust.  One of the goals of this website is to create an app that will connect veterinarians to clients based on their similar philosophies. Until that time, here are some things to consider.

A yearly veterinary exam is an important part of keeping your pet healthy. Doesyour veterinarian perform a thorough physical exam?

They should listen carefully to the heart and lungs (be sure not to talk while your veterinarian is doing this). Some animals are born with very serious heart conditions that can cause them to die suddenly if not treated. One of these conditions, known as Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA) is curable with surgery, and often animals can go on to live a normal life. However, if this condition is not detected, many animals die before one year of age.

Your veterinarian should also check the ears using an otoscope and look at the eyes with an ophthalmoscope to look for any signs of disease or infection. They should also look closely at the skin for signs of hairloss, redness, or ectoparasites such as fleas or flea dirt, ticks, lice or mites. Let your veterinarian know if you have noticed any itching in your pet, they can determine the underlying cause and get you started with treatment right away. Common causes of itching in cats are ringwormscabies and fleas.

Your veterinarian should also palpate your pet’s knees and hips to look for any evidence of orthopedic disease such as patellar luxation.

It is also important for your veterinarian to look in your pet’s mouth to check the alignment of the teeth, a malocclusion (poorly aligned teeth) can lead to substantial pain and suffering later on if not addressed. Cats often will have retained deciduous teeth that need to be removed before problems arise. Later on, your veterinarian will check for signs of gingivitis, dental calculus and fractured teeth and inform you about the best way to proceed with these issues.

Your veterinarian should also feel your pet’s abdomen to look for possible hernias, distended abdomen or excess fluid in the abdomen which needs to be addressed. If you animal has testicles, they will make sure both are descended and a normal size and shape. If they are not descended, then your pet could be a cryptorchid, and this condition will have to be treated surgically.

Your veterinarian will also palpate the lymph nodes, perform a rectal exam and check the anal glands, check the length of nails to see if they need to be trimmed, check hydration status and mucous membrane color, overall muscling and fat deposition on the animal to assess overall health.

Vaccinations

The most important core vaccinations your kitten should receive are panleukopenia, herpesvirus 1, calicivirus and rabies. Even if your cat is an indoor cat, you should also consider vaccinating for feline leukemia virus. This is because most indoor cats become outdoor cats at some point in their lives and could become exposed to feline leukemia virus.

UC Davis has a great page explaining all of the vaccines and why we use some and not others, click here.

Why might my kitten not be fully protected after all these vaccinations? One problem is the effect of maternal antibody. Antibodies they get from their mother’s early milk (colostrum) may inactivate the vaccine, but we have no way of knowing how much antibody the mom had or how much the kitten received. So they are vaccinated every 2-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age when we know statistically, they are most likely protected.

Deworming

Your cat will likely be dewormed with a roundworm dewormer when they come in for each set of vaccinations. This is important because humans are susceptible to roundworm infections, so please warn your children about safe handling of the animals and have them wash their hands after playing with the pet.

A fecal test (stool sample) is important check for other intestinal parasites such as giardia (which humans can get) or coccidia. These parasites require special dewormers that may not be routinely given. A yearly fecal test is recommended to find and treat other parasites your pet may come in contact with over the course of the year. A fecal test should be done anytime your pet has an episode of diarrhea.

Spay and Neuter

It is important to get your pet spayed or neutered. Spayed and neutered pets live longer and people with spayed and neutered pets are generally happier with their pets and less likely to abandon them at the shelter. Behaviors such as marking (urinating on things), roaming (running away), aggression and humping are reduced when you spay and neuter your dog.

Every year more than 2 million pets are euthanized in the shelter due to overpopulation. Please don’t let your pet contribute to this problem. Don’t breed or buy while shelter pets die.

Microchip

There is no excuse not to microchip your pet and keep the information updated. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and it is implanted, via a needle, under your dogs skin. If your pet ever goes missing and ends up in a vet hospital or a shelter, they will scan your pet, plug the microchip number into a database, find your information and be able to contact you. This microchip also serves as a permanent form of identification for traveling.

Flea/Tick/Heartworm Prevention

Heartworm is a deadly but preventable disease that affects both cats and dogs. To check the risk of heartworm in your area visit capcvet.org for up to date statistics. You can visit the American Heartworm Society for more information and current recommendations.

Fleas and ticks also spread disease and cause discomfort to your pet. We are finding that over the counter flea and tick preventatives are losing their efficacy. Many off-brand over the counter flea and tick preventions can be very toxic to dogs and cats. It is best to discuss flea and tick prevention with your veterinarian and they can help you select the product that will work best in your situation and also demonstrate how to properly use it. 

Diet

That 18 year old store clerk wearing the apron in a pet food store is not a nutrition expert, despite what their name tag says. Pet food store employees will try to sell you either the diet of the week, or the food that gets them the biggest commission.

Here are some things you need to remember:

You should look for a diet that has an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement on the label saying that the diets have undergone animal feeding trials for the appropriate life stage. These are generally preferable to diets that are formulated, by computer, to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for that life stage.

Recently, many new pet food companies have come on the market to try to make a profit in this space. Each new company has their own niche: raw, grain-free, holistic, organic etc… all to try to differentiate themselves from the rest. However, it is best to stay with the pet food companies that have been around a long time, that have board certified veterinary nutritionists formulating their diets, and have performed extensive testing on their diets. These older diets have been feed to millions of pets, and when problems arise they can be thoroughly addressed.

Your pet probably does not need a grain-free diet. Some dogs develop food allergies around 1.5 years of age. The most common food allergies in dogs in descending order are beef, dairy, wheat, egg, chicken, lamb/mutton, soy, pork, rabbit and fish. The most common food allergies in cats are beef, dairy, fish, lamb, poultry and barley/wheat (in equal numbers), egg and rabbit.

Since dogs and cats develop food allergies over time, I like to start off animals on a diet based on the most common meats; chicken or beef. If they do develop a food allergy to these common proteins, it is easy to switch them over to a novel protein. Some people feel good about offering their pets a variety of different flavors: lamb, rabbit, venison… and now a days all of these varieties are available at the pet food store. The problem is, then if the dog is prone to develop food allergies, they will develop an allergy to all of these proteins and it is difficult to find a novel protein diet to start them on.

You should not model your pet’s diet based on what you think their ancestors ate in the wild. New evidence shows that dog’s evolved to eat starch. And consider this, the purpose of dogs in the wild is to breed while they are young and die early so as not to use up the resources of the younger, better generation. The purpose of your dog is to hang out on the couch with you, not breed and live a long healthy life. You do not want your dog to live like a wild dog!

Obesity is a huge problem in pets. The fact is, people overfeed their pets and do not exercise them enough. Regularly look at your pet and compare their shape to this chart. The ideal body condition score is a 4 or 5 out of 9.  Obese pets develop a variety of expensive health problems and their lifespan is shortened by 2 years. 

Make sure they get enough exercise. 

Here are some great websites that have all the information you need on choosing a good pet food:

Weeth Nutrition

WSAVA Nutrition Toolkit

AAFCO Talks Pet Food

Training

Positive reinforcement using food rewards is simply the fastest, most effective way to train your pet. Stay away from dominance based training techniques. The “Alpha Wolf” philosophy is an outdated one. Aggression is one of the most common problems veterinary behaviorists see, but this aggression is mostly fear-based.

One of the greatest animal behaviorists was Dr. Sophia Yin who unfortunately passed away far too young. However, she left behind an wonderful website loaded with articles and videos. Her books should be required reading for all new pet owners. Spend some time everyday looking through her articles and videos.

Visit her website here: Dr. Sophia Yin

Other great resources include:

Patricia McConnell, PhD

Victoria Stilwell

Health Insurance or a Veterinary Savings Account

While veterinary care is quite the bargain compared to human medicine, the unexpected cost in the event of an emergency, often catches people off guard. Some people just walk out the door and don’t pay their veterinarian, and this means that everyone else has to pay a little more to keep the doors open.

Many people are just used to just paying a $50 copay at the doctor’s office or emergency room and medical insurance covers the rest, which can be thousands of dollars.

In veterinary school, I was helping patients with extensive medical issues that racked up bills of $30-$50,000 in some cases. Luckily, there is medical insurance for your pet! I currently insure my dog through Trupanion. I have the $1,000 deductible plan. You do have to pay the veterinary bill out of pocket and then they reimburse you, so it is important to have a savings account or a credit card you can use incase of an emergency. There are other plans where you do not have to pay out of pocket, and they also offer lower deductibles but these come at a higher monthly expense. They do not cover pre-existing conditions so it is best to start insuring your pet when they are young and healthy.