Vet Talk

Top 10 Cat Mistakes

What are the top ten mistakes made by owners of cats?

September 15, 2014 (published)

Someone recently asked me for a list of the top ten mistakes that I think owners of cats make. Here it is, for a little light reading.

10. Hand jive
Lots of owners with a new kitten get caught up in all the cute and use their hands for toys with the new furball – batting at them, letting the kitten chew fingers off, etc. You can usually spot these folks a mile away as they’re the ones who look like they fished a spoon out of the garbage disposal with it still running. You need your hands for important things like eating and writing; don’t let the mini-tiger shred them! Find an acceptable substitute like a laser pointer, feather cat toy or your mother-in-law’s expensive hand made table doily.

9. Declaw?
We’re not going to solve the ages-old and contentious issue of declawing here, but it deserves some thought before you take a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stance on it. Some folks think it’s just one of those things you do when you get a cat, like buying a litter box or dyeing its hair purple or feeding it, and nothing could be further form the truth! It should be reserved for only those cases where the cat’s actual life is in danger due to the damage they can cause, and only after you have exhausted every other option available. Bored cats with nothing to do shred the couch, just like bored teenagers indulge in pranks. Get them plenty of acceptable things to shred (such as a scratch post liberally doused with catnip), keep them active and stimulated and the chances of destruction go way down. Declawing involves removing some of the bones of the fingers as well as the claws, and is best avoided unless there is no other option and the cat’s life is in danger.

8. Lilies
Pretty and pretty deadly. That about sums them up. No one knows what the toxin is in lilies that makes them deadly, but they can cause sudden kidney failure in cats with only a tiny nibble of a leaf. All parts of the lilies are toxic. Make sure you have no lilies that your cats can access, and never send bouquets containing lilies to your cat-owning friends. Here's more information on which types are toxic.

7. Tylenol
You think you have a headache now? Wait until you get the vet bill for treating a case of feline acetaminophen toxicity! Tylenol (active ingredient acetaminophen) is deadly, deadly toxic to cats. I have treated many cases of this toxicity where the well-intentioned but misguided owners gave this medication to their cat. It causes anemia and severe liver failure – never, under any circumstances, give any to your cat! A single capsule is more than enough to kill them dead many times over.

6. Overvaccinating
Can of worms…open! Another issue that loves to polarize people. There are now vaccines for just about every ailment known to man, including bad taste in curtains, inability to rollerblade and a love of David Hasselhoff. While there are many diseases that vaccines have prevented in cats over the years (preventing untold millions of illnesses and deaths), a growing body of evidence is indicating that, in some cases, they can cause harm. Young cats absolutely need them to prevent serious conditions like feline distemper and rabies, but have a conversation with your veterinarian about which ones your cat needs and which ones are optional as they age. The old rubric of “yearly shots” went out of style along with bell bottoms and Pong. New data suggests that vaccinating cats every 3 years provides sufficient coverage for most cats. Some of the worst offenders; the FIP vaccine and the feline leukemia vaccine in indoor cats.

5. Not insuring them
Once the stuff of jokes, pet insurance is now the real deal. It is becoming more and more available, and can take the sting out of ever-growing vet bills. I regularly have to euthanize cats that could be fixed if only the owners could afford the therapy, and insurance helps to make sure this doesn’t happen. There are headaches that arise from time to time with insurance, and you usually have to pay the vet and get reimbursed, but many lives have been saved when pet owners had their pets insured. Vet bills run into the thousands for serious illnesses, and many folks don’t have the savings to cover the unexpected.

4. Outdoors
I love the outdoors. There’s air, and sun, and…stuff. Wind, maybe? Things like that. But for a cat, it’s full of wonder and danger. Cats love to explore the neighborhood and make little kitty friends, but along with all the positives for them come a handful of hazards; dogs, infectious diseases like feline leukemia, antifreeze, and flying pig bats (that might have been just a dream I had after eating some tainted clams). I’m not advocating for every cat to live a life of quiet introspection indoors (it just isn’t possible with some cats) but if you do let your cat outside, make sure you know the neighborhood and consider supervised trips outside. The average lifespan for an outside cat is about 1/4 the average of an indoor cat.

3. Silly names
Studies have shown that people shy away from naming their children things like Mr. Wuffy Little Furry Bottom Pooper Pants but for a cat, sadly the same standards do not apply. I have to admit that my own cats have silly names (Crispy and Cupid – see, it really actually makes sense because Crispy was once set on fire by some malignant idiot and Cupid was shot with an arrow by another troglodyte, but I digress), so this is one rule that you can just toss out the window. In general, avoid Lucky. Go ahead and give them silly names – it’s not like you have to worry about other cats making fun of them.

2. Halloween costumes
Along the same theme, cats are prone to having their self esteem seriously violated by placing them in ballerina and pirate costumes, regardless of gender. I treated a cat for clinical depression once, and it was only after months of intense therapy that we have discovered that it was due to the fat Elvis costume that Mrs. Whizzy Sprinkle Buzzbox was forced to wear last Halloween.

1. Ignoring them
Enough with the silliness – this one’s for real. Cats, by their nature, are self-sufficient and have an independent streak a mile wide. They don’t typically come up to you like dogs do and say “Hey, Phil, I’m not feeling so keen today. Why don’t you take me to the vet for a looksee?” Cats love to hide when they are not well, and illnesses and injuries can go undetected for days. Add to this that cats are masters at hiding under a disguise of ‘I am doing perfectly fine, thanks very much’ and looking totally normal while bad things brew under the surface and you can see how problems can develop and get worse before anyone notices. I constantly hear “But he was fine yesterday” from pet owners, when we know we’re dealing with diseases that take weeks, if not months, to develop. Touch, stroke and feel your cat every day (at least once a week) and make sure they are active, bright eyed and not losing weight. Monitor water intake and litterbox output. If you notice anything amiss, have your vet do a good physical and run lab tests (like blood tests, X-rays and urinalysis, among others) to get to the root of the problem early. Hopefully insurance will foot the bill!

That rounds out the top 10 list of cat nono’s. A dog version will be coming soon, and in a future post I’ll also expand on that last point about pets’ amazing ability to hide illness until it seems like they just got sick overnight. Now, go get that spoon out of the garbage disposal, but make sure you turn it off first.

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