PREVENTIVE MEDICINE: HOW TO CARE FOR A HEALTHY CAT - The Well Cat Book: The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care - Terri McGinnis

The Well Cat Book: The Classic Comprehensive Handbook of Cat Care - Terri McGinnis (1996)



Daily: Feed a balanced diet. Groom cat as demanded by coat type and cat’s habits.
Observe cat’s general external appearance, attitude, activity, and appetite. Any change may indicate a need for complete physical examination.
Clean litter pan, observe cat’s stool, and, if possible, also observe the urine. For outdoor cats, look for evidence of abnormal stool on coat or behavior that may indicate urinary obstruction. Clean teeth if necessary..

Weekly: Examine for external parasites and treat as necessary.
Examine ears.
Clean teeth if necessary.
Administer hairball preventative.

Every two weeks: Check claw length and appearance and trim, if necessary. Examine teeth if weekly cleaning is not necessary.

Monthly: Examine mammary glands.
Bathe, if necessary.

Every six months: Perform a complete physical examination if one has not been indicated earlier.
Take a fecal sample to a veterinarian, particularly if there is an internal parasite problem in your area.

Yearly: Take your cat to a veterinarian for a physical examination and booster vaccinations as necessary.

Preventive medicine is the best kind of medicine. Your veterinarian practices it when he or she vaccinates your cat for certain communicable diseases. You can practice it by giving your cat good regular care at home, as discussed in this section. If you practice preventive medicine regularly, the occasions when your cat will need the care of a veterinarian can often be limited to yearly physical examinations and booster vaccinations. In the long run, preventive medicine will save you money and result in fewer stresses on your cat’s body.


One of the best preventive medicine practices for cats is to keep them inside. This applies particularly to city cats and to cats who live in neighborhoods heavily populated with other cats, dogs, and people. Strict enclosure is not necessary; a system whereby your cat spends the most time indoors and is supervised outdoors is just about as satisfactory in health terms. However, do not allow your cat to roam without restriction or force your cat outdoors if you would like to avoid frequent trips to the veterinarian. Also be sure to provide your cat with a safe collar, an identification tag, and a collar bell if he or she is allowed outdoors. As long as their owners give them enough opportunities for physical and mental stimulation, indoor cats and cats that stick close to home when outdoors miss out on nothing necessary for a happy, healthy life; and they experience infectious disease, automobile accidents, poisoning, gunshot wounds, and cat fights much less frequently than their roaming peers. Roaming cats are responsible for serious predation of small wildlife and songbirds, so the least an owner who allows his or her cat outdoors without supervision can do is provide an effective collar bell. Make the decision whether your cat is to have access to the outdoors early, then stick to it. Cats kept indoors when young usually show little desire to roam, even when allowed outside later in life.


The training necessary to make a cat easy to live with is minimal when compared with what the average dog requires in order to become a pleasant companion. Training for many cats includes only housebreaking (housetraining) and teaching them to come in response to their names, but many other things can, and sometimes must, be taught. Cats need to learn that curtains, houseplants, tabletops, and kitchen counters are off limits. They need to learn that biting and scratching are unacceptable ways to play with people. Some cats shake hands, retrieve balls, sit on command, and do other tricks that are amusing but not necessary for good companionship. Since only a small part of this book is devoted to understanding your cat’s behavior and modifying it when necessary, you may find the following books interesting and useful:

Bohnenkamp, Gwen, Manners for the Modern Cat, Perfect Paws, P.O. Box 885214, San Francisco, Calif. 94188.

Dunbar, Ian, and Gwen Bohnenkamp, Series of behavior booklets that include Litterbox Training, Household Destruction, Social Problems, Hyperactivity and Nocturnal Activity, Biting and Scratching, and Cat Training, James and Kenneth Publishers, 2140 Shattuck Avenue, # 2406, Berkeley, Calif. 94704. Also available are a series of audiocassettes on feline behavior and a cat behavior booklist.

Fox, Michael W., Understanding Your Cat, St. Martin’s Press, N. Y., 1992.

In order to have a good relationship with your cat and to have success in any training you choose to do, you must be able to understand your cat’s body language. Failure to do so not only prevents you from really appreciating the nuances of your cat’s disposition but also can result in serious scratches and bites to you. Cats’ body language can be most easily understood if you remember that relatively subtle alterations in pupil size, body hair, ear, mouth, whisker, tail, and body position can combine with vocalization in numerous ways to indicate your cat’s mood. The following information describes only the most basic and obvious ways a cat uses his or her body to communicate.


The neutral posture is assumed by a relaxed cat calmly observing his or her environment. The cat’s mouth may be held open or closed. The tail is usually held in a relaxed, lowered position, and both ears are pointed forward.


When alert, a cat’s whole body becomes more rigid, the ears are held erect, and the tail becomes slightly raised. Often the tail twitches and the cat holds his or her mouth closed as the whiskers are brought forward. Alert cats may purr when they are relaxed with the person (or object) that draws their attention.


As an alert cat moves forward to greet you, the tail will move to the straight-up position. Although the back may be slightly arched, a friendly cat saying hello always keeps the fur lying smooth. He or she may purr and/or rub the side of his or her head against you.


Unlike the alert cat who pushes forward to give a friendly greeting, the frightened (threatened) but self-confident cat may rush forward and attack. This cat’s facial expression becomes menacing as the pupils constrict and direct eye contact is maintained. Both the ears and whiskers may be directed forward when there is a clear intention to attack. The tail may stand straight up, but most often it extends out from the body and its tip flicks back and forth, expressing disturbance with the situation. Hissing, growling, and spitting complete the threatening picture. Should you need to handle a cat exhibiting this body language, be prepared to risk a bite or severe clawing. Unless the aggressive cat can be left undisturbed for at least thirty minutes, this mood is difficult to change.


Cats who feel threatened but are less self-confident may adopt similar body language but turn their bodies to the side and fluff up their fur to appear larger than they would otherwise. They also draw their whiskers back and flatten their ears against the backs of their heads. The pupils dilate and the mouth is opened wide to display the fangs. The cat will often scream and hiss. (This is a typical Halloween cat posture.) Sometimes a cat displaying the defensive threat type of body language can be gradually calmed down with soft talking and cautious attempts at petting, but there are many gradations and variations in this body language pattern, especially if the cat is in a situation that elicits conflicted emotions. Misguided attempts to handle or calm the cat can result in injury. To complicate matters further, male cats may display similar body language in play.


Fearful cats often assume a crouched position while maintaining the ruffled fur, flattened ears, and vocalizations of a more aggressive cat. Extremely fearful cats who are willing to defend themselves may roll onto their backs with their claws unsheathed and their legs ready to kick and scratch. When fear turns to complete submission, however, the cat will become quiet, smooth his or her fur, and avoid eye contact with you. It is usually safe to handle a fearful cat once he or she has become submissive as long as you are careful not to scare the cat again.



Use your cat’s name frequently during training. Be sure to use it at pleasurable times such as during feeding, play, and when giving affection. Although you must use it as well to get your cat’s attention before correction, your cat will learn his or her name much more quickly when it has pleasant associations. If you associate it consistently with good things such as special food treats, your cat will soon come running when you call his or her name. One caution: Never punish your cat after he or she comes in response to his or her name. Your cat may think you are giving punishment for coming and learn to avoid you when called by name.


Although many cats do not seem to respond to punishment as correction for misdeeds, most do. Each time you get a new cat you will have to determine what method is best for that individual. In general, avoid physical punishment; instead get your cat to respond to gentle words and petting as positive rewards for acceptable behavior. Use a sharp “No!” when you find your cat doing something undesirable and see if this is sufficient to stop the behavior and prevent its recurrence. Be sure, however, to avoid punishing a cat after the fact for something he or she has done, since delayed correction is not only ineffective but confusing to your pet.

If harsh words are not sufficient correction, a loud hand clap is startling and sometimes quite effective. In some instances you may have to resort to picking your cat up by the scruff of the neck and giving a shake. A spank on the rump should be a last resort. Cats are intelligent creatures, and this type of physical punishment sometimes results in a cat who will “behave” when you are around, but immediately do the forbidden when you leave the room or the house. Also some cats may become aggressive toward people who administer physical punishment. A squirt from a water gun or spray bottle will often work better than punishment more directly associated with you. Keep a filled implement at hand. When your cat chews on your plants, gets into the fireplace, climbs on the curtains, jumps onto the stove or into the toilet, or does something else equally as dangerous or irritating in exploration, give a squirt to his or her face. The unwanted behavior will usually stop after a few corrections, and the squirt gun method often produces long-lasting results. Booby traps are another means of correction useful for preventing misbehavior in your absence. Ask your veterinarian and/or consult the book list for information on the use of mousetraps, deodorants, alcohol or perfume, aluminum foil, empty soda cans, motion sensors, and mothballs as aids to behavior correction.


Be sure to provide your cat with sufficient diversions at home. A bored cat is a cat who gets into trouble. Continued correction will never result in a “perfectly behaved” cat if you fail to provide permissible entertainment. Many commercial cat toys are good, but be sure to inspect them well before assuming they are safe. All cats’ toys should be big enough so that they cannot be swallowed (even with difficulty) and sturdy enough so that they cannot be torn apart and eaten. Avoid string and thread and also balls of yarn, as many cats unroll them and chew on the strands. Cats often swallow these materials, which can cause serious gastrointestinal problems including intestinal obstruction followed by perforation. A patch of fresh catnip, catnip-stuffed toys, paper bags, empty thread spools, stuffed socks, and bones that can be chewed on but not swallowed are good inexpensive toys that many cats enjoy. A cloth- or carpet-covered cat “tree” is more expensive, but is often immediately adopted as favorite perch and scratching area instead of your furniture. (For more information about scratching posts,)


If you have a choice, probably the best time to bring home a new kitten is when he or she is between eight and ten weeks of age. Although a critical period for socialization has not been firmly established for the cat as it has for the dog, there is ample evidence that kittens who do not receive normal contact with other cats when young (before six weeks of age) tend to develop abnormal behavioral patterns such as extreme shyness or aggressiveness and may never relate well to other cats. By waiting to bring your cat home until he or she is eight to ten weeks of age you allow time for proper social interaction with the littermates and the mother, while still acquiring a kitten young enough to be able to adapt well to you and to the new environment in your home.


Although this period of socialization to other cats is important, of equal importance is proper socialization to people. Since it has been shown that cats between the ages of three and seven weeks handled daily by people are generally much less aloof and more willing to accept restraint than those who have not been handled, be sure to choose a kitten that has had lots of interaction with and attention from people. Continue to handle your new kitten for at least an hour a day when you bring him or her home. Playing with your kitten with toys is not enough. Stroking, handling the feet, head, ears, and mouth and teaching your cat to accept (and even enjoy) gentle restraint is very important. Cats with naturally more confident personalities will blossom with this sort of handling even if their early socialization could have been better, and those with more timid or aggressive temperaments can usually be significantly rehabilitated with time and patience.


Unless you want to share your bed with your cat, give your kitten a place of his or her own from the first night with you. Get a cat bed or use a cardboard box and line it with a clean, washable towel or blanket. Place this bed in your cat’s special area. If your kitten does not yet know how to use a litter pan, it is probably best to choose an area that is large enough to contain your kitten’s bed, his or her food and water dishes, and a litter pan. Try to provide some significant distance between the litter pan and the feeding area. Cats prefer to eliminate away from feeding areas and will usually use the pan more consistently and effectively if it is not placed near the food. Enclose the kitten in his or her special place at night and whenever you are not around to provide supervision to avoid elimination accidents and accidental injuries. A large dog-sized shipping crate is ideal to use as a temporary enclosure, but a small room will work as well and is better when your kitten grows larger and becomes more active. A room provides plenty of space for indestructible toys, safe climbing objects, and a scratching post, all of which are necessary for proper release and channeling of a normal kitten’s activities. Be firm and consistent with any arrangement you choose in order to avoid encouraging any mischief-making habits and to reserve your bed for yourself. It’s easy to take a charming, tiny kitten to bed for a few nights; it’s just about impossible to keep an adult cat off a cozy bed once he or she has claimed it.


Because cats are instinctively fastidious about where they eliminate, housetraining (housebreaking) the average cat is usually very easy. Often a kitten will already be using a litter pan when you first bring him or her into your home. If not, you will probably be able to train your cat to use one very quickly.

Get a smooth-surfaced pan (plastic or enamel-surfaced ones are best) that can be easily cleaned and disinfected or use disposable litter boxes. Newspapers or chemically untreated sawdust or wood shavings are sanitary materials to use for litter, but commercial clay, silica, or cellulose litters are best. They are clean, absorbent, tend to reduce odors, and most cats seem to like them (especially litters with a sandlike texture). Line the pan with the litter material, then put it in a place easily accessible to your cat but not directly adjacent to food or water bowls. If you have a kitten be sure he or she doesn’t have to go too far to find the litter pan at first and be sure the sides of the pan aren’t too high to climb over easily, or you may have trouble with housebreaking. If your cat doesn’t use the litter pan correctly from the start as most cats do, you can help teach the proper behavior by placing the kitten into the pan after eating, when he or she awakens, and after play. Give praise when you see the desired result and administer correction if elimination begins in the wrong place by saying “No!” sharply and firmly and placing the cat back in the litter pan to finish.

If you choose to allow your cat free access to the outdoors, you can use the litter pan to teach your cat to eliminate outdoors. Once your cat has become accustomed to going in and out, move the litter pan gradually from its original site toward the cat’s usual exit. If at any time during this procedure your cat does not use the pan, move it back to the last place where it was used for a day or two before continuing. In a few days your cat should be using the pan right next to the exit. Then move the pan to a place just outside the exit and then to the selected outdoors spot for elimination. After your cat has been using the pan outside for a few days, remove it entirely. Most cats will continue to choose to eliminate outside. Cat feces in the garden can be a human health hazard, however. If your cat uses your garden as a toilet, wear gloves while gardening or at least wash your hands and fingernails thoroughly afterward. Children, whose habits tend to be less sanitary than adults’, should not play in areas where your cat may bury stools.

Remove stools from the litter pan daily. This is best accomplished with a spoonlike litter strainer that can be purchased at a pet store or supermarket. If you use disposable litter pan liners or completely disposable litter pans, discard them at least every fourth day. Otherwise, wash the litter pan thoroughly at least every fourth day. (Do this outdoors or in a sink not used for washing dishes or bathing.) Use hot water, detergent, and chlorine bleach, then rinse the pan well and allow it to dry before replacing the litter. Do not use disinfectants containing phenol (carbolic acid), cresols, resorcinol, or hexylresorcinol; they can be toxic to cats. Also avoid products containing ammonia; these may smell like urine to your cat and discourage him or her from using a pan because it doesn’t smell clean. If this cleaning schedule is not sufficient to keep odors at an acceptable level, baking soda is a safe product to try. Place a layer of it equal to about one third the weight of the litter in the bottom of the litter pan each time you change it.


Sometimes a litter pan acceptable to you won’t be one acceptable to your cat. Most cats do not like wet or dirty litter pans and will begin to eliminate in abnormal places when dissatisfied with their normal toilet area. So be sure to remove litter from the pan and replace soiled with fresh material whenever it becomes wet, even if this occurs more frequently than your normal cleaning schedule. The ideal schedule is to empty and clean the litter box daily. It is also important to have at least one litter pan per cat if you have two or more. In fact, it is a good idea to have two litter pans even if you have just one cat, since it has been shown that feral (wild) cats rarely urinate and defecate in the same place.

Elimination in abnormal places may also occur when the litter pan is clean and dry. Sometimes this is because you have changed litter material after using one kind for a long period of time, or sometimes the cat has developed a preference for a material such as carpet instead of cat litter. If you must change brands of litter do it gradually by mixing the new kind with the old since abrupt changes will induce as many as 50% of cats to begin to urinate (and/or defecate) outside their litter pan. A change from normal use of the litter pan to house soiling may also be caused by psychological stress. Be sure the litter pan is located away from heavy traffic areas and that your cat has not developed a behavior problem caused by separation anxiety, conflicts with other pets, or harassment by children. Since cats do not like to eliminate where they eat or sleep, confinement to a small room or a cage often encourages the use of the litter pan instead of another site and can help calm a cat that is disturbed by others in the household. Illness can also cause problems with housetraining. For more information.


Whether you will need to follow a particular grooming schedule with your cat will depend greatly upon the length and density of his or her coat, whether he or she spends the majority of time indoors or outdoors, and whether he or she self-grooms well. In general, cats who spend time outdoors will need baths and brushing more frequently in order to make them pleasant companions than cats spending all their time indoors. Indoor cats may need their nails trimmed frequently. Read this section and decide for yourself which grooming schedule you need to apply to your cat.


Although cats groom themselves, not all do it sufficiently often or sufficiently well to remain free of fleas, to keep themselves clean enough to be pleasant companions, and to have a healthy and good-looking hair coat and skin. Tomcats who spend a great deal of time outside seem to be the worst offenders, but any cat may need a bath on occasion when he or she becomes dirty, for flea control, or for other health reasons. Accustom your cat to bathing early in life so it won’t be difficult to do later when the necessity arises.


It is best to give a young cat a bath about once a month, starting around three months of age, just so he or she becomes adjusted to the bathing procedure. You can, however, bathe a kitten as young as seven or eight weeks of age if you do it quickly and prevent chilling. Bathing itself does not cause illness, but the stress of being chilled can predispose any cat, particularly a young one, to disease. Once your cat has become familiar with bathing and is cooperative, use the appearance, feel, and odor of the skin and fur as guides to bathing frequency.


Once a month is usually sufficient for an average cat with healthy skin. However, once a week may be necessary to achieve good flea control. Bathing once a week also significantly decreases the allergens in cat’s fur that are usually responsible for human allergies to cats.


Unless your cat has a specific skin problem requiring medicated shampoos recommended by a veterinarian, use a good quality cat shampoo or a gentle human shampoo (e.g., baby shampoo) for bathing. Cats generally have a skin pH of 7, so shampoos with a neutral pH are best. Avoid bar soap and dishwashing detergents since they seem to be particularly drying and very irritating to some cat’s skin and hair. A cream rinse (products for humans or for pets) can be used following shampooing to make the comb-out of longhaired cats easier.


Before the bath it is a good idea—but not absolutely necessary—to protect your cat’s ear canals and eyes from the soap and water. This can be done by placing large wads of cotton firmly inside the ears and by applying a nonmedicated ophthalmic ointment to the eyes. (To learn how to apply eye ointment.) Long-haired cats should be combed out before bathing to make grooming afterward easier.

Place your cat in a sink or bathtub and use warm water. If your cat is an adult and a little uncooperative, gain control and avoid scratches to yourself by grasping the cat with one hand around the base of the head just behind the ears or by the scruff of the neck. Then use your free hand for soaping and rinsing. If your cat is extremely insecure, a narrow nylon harness put on the cat and attached to a leash that is tied to a fixture (never a hot water faucet) will keep the cat in the tub. Never leave a cat tied in this manner alone. Better than this, though, is a window screen placed in the tub. Most cats will cling to this with their claws, remaining in the tub, leaving both your hands free for the job at hand. Praise your cat if he or she cooperates, and try to correct with a “No” if not. Another technique that can be useful is to wash the cat with his or her body placed in a nylon net bag that has a drawstring closure that can be drawn up snugly to the cat’s neck. As a last resort, your veterinarian can provide tranquilizers to use when it is necessary to bathe an extremely unmanageable cat.

Start the bath by wetting your cat thoroughly starting at the base of the skull and working toward the tail, then apply the shampoo and suds it up. Two shampoo applications may be necessary if your cat is very dirty. Follow the sudsing with a thorough rinsing, since any soap left on the skin can be irritating and any stunned parasites left on the skin may wake up later and continue their activities. Once the fur is free of shampoo apply a cream rinse, if necessary, then rinse again thoroughly. This may be followed by a flea dip. Towel drying is usually sufficient, but, if you accustom your cat to the sound, you can use a hair drier to speed the drying process.


The kind of grooming your cat’s coat needs between baths depends on its length and character. Short-haired cats usually need little grooming, but you may want to give them a bi-weekly brushing to distribute the oils of the coat and to remove loose hair, lessening the amount you find around the house and the amount they ingest while self-grooming. A grooming mitt or slicker brush works well for this. Long-haired cats usually need frequent (preferably daily) brushing to prevent matted coats and to lessen the possibility of hairball formation.


Mats of hair often develop behind the ears and under the legs, so don’t forget to brush or comb these areas thoroughly. When you find small mats, they can often be teased apart with a comb. If they become large, cut them away with scissors or clippers.


Tar, paint, and oil can be difficult substances to remove from the coat. Do not use gasoline, turpentine, kerosene, paint remover, or other similar substances in an attempt to remove them. Cut out small accumulations of tar or paint. Large amounts of tar can be removed without cutting by soaking the affected hair in vegetable or mineral oil or ointments containing the surface-active agent polyoxethylene sorbitan (polysorbate) for twenty-four hours (e.g., bandage tar-covered feet soaked in oil), then washing with soap and water. Small patches of oil on the coat can be removed by sprinkling them with cornstarch, allowing the starch to soak up the oil, then brushing it out. Large amounts can be treated with mineral oil as you would for tar. As a last resort (e.g., if your cat is covered with oil) use a gentle dishwashing detergent as a shampoo.


If your cat gets sprayed by a skunk, use shampoo and water for a bath, then follow with a milk or tomato juice soak. Pour the milk or juice on undiluted; let it sit for about ten minutes, then rinse it out. A remedy that may be more effective is to use a fresh mixture of 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon shampoo to give the cat a thorough bath followed by a copious tap water rinse. Commercial products for the removal of skunk odor are also available at pet stores.



In areas such as California where foxtails (wild barley) or other troublesome plant awns grow, longer haired cats with access to the outdoors need to have their coats examined for them daily in the late spring, summer, and fall. Although cats’ grooming habits usually prevent problems with plant awns, those not discovered and removed easily penetrate the skin, causing irritation and infection.


Cats affected with stud tail may benefit cosmetically if you apply cornstarch to the affected area every other day during the brushing process. Washing the affected area two or three times a week with a shampoo that contains benzoyl peroxide is also beneficial. Stubborn cases can often be kept under control by a daily cleansing with rubbing alcohol. Apply it by gently scrubbing the affected skin with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.


Most cats who groom themselves adequately keep their ears extremely clean and need no help from you. Small accumulations of wax are normal. If your cat doesn’t remove them you can do it easily following a bath by using a damp towel or soft cloth. Wrap the cloth over your index finger, then clean out the excess wax and dirt as far down the ear canal as your finger will reach. Any folds or crevices you cannot reach into with your finger can be cleaned using a cotton-tipped swab dry or moistened as needed with water, rubbing alcohol, or mineral oil. You cannot damage your cat’s eardrums by cleaning in this manner unless you are extremely forceful, since the canals are very narrow and deep and do not allow ready penetration by a cotton-tipped swab.

If your cat has an inflammation or infection of the ear (otitis) special ear cleaning may be necessary.




As part of their inherited behavioral tendency to groom themselves, cats condition their claws (toenails). They do this by scratching on objects that catch the outer, worn claw covering and remove it, exposing the sharp, new claw beneath. As well as sharpening the claws, the claw marks help cats visually mark their territories, and the scent glands on the feet may also mark the scratched area. This is a completely normal feline behavior. It can, however, be a problem for owners of cats confined indoors. Cats who are not provided with a scratching post or board will use rugs, furniture, and draperies for their scratching, damaging or ruining these furnishings completely. (Cats also remove their worn outer claw coverings with their teeth, but this is seen less frequently and doesn’t cause problems for owners as does scratching behavior.)


Provide your cat with a scratching post or board while he or she is very young in order to avoid problems later. You can use a commercial scratching post—horizontal or vertical posts usually covered with carpet—or you can make a scratching post yourself. A board about eight inches wide and twelve to eighteen inches long, bare or fabric covered, can be attached to the wall. It should be at a height such that your cat can rest comfortably on the rear feet while scratching and stretching, so it may have to be raised as your cat grows. A good scratching post can be made of a bare or fabriccovered board built freestanding horizontally or vertically. Many cats seem to prefer a log with the bark still on it or sisal doormats that can be hung vertically or left on the floor. Whichever scratching object you choose, be sure it is stable to prevent it from coming loose or falling over onto the cat during a vigorous scratching session.


Place the scratching object near your cat’s sleeping or resting area when first beginning training, because cats usually stretch and scratch just after awakening. Then praise and pet your cat whenever he or she uses it. Whenever your cat scratches at furniture or other undesirable objects, give a correction and take the cat to the scratching post. However, be sure to emphasize positive reinforcement by giving your cat food, play, and affection whenever he or she is scratching at the post. Too much punishment will only result in a cat who will learn never to scratch anything (including the post) in front of you. Encourage play with toys that can be dangled from the post. This will give you an opportunity to give praise for jumping and clawing at the post. With consistency and repetition your cat should soon be using the scratching article and leaving other objects alone.

If you have an adult cat whom you have failed to condition to a scratching post while young, your problem may be more difficult. The basic principles of correction and praise are the same, but it may take much longer for you to achieve the desired results. You may also have to temporarily move favored but inappropriate scratching objects, such as couches, and replace them with a scratching post and/or booby trap the areas and objects which are off-limits. Try to provide a scratching post covered with a material at least as desirable as the things your cat has been scratching on before, or you may not get far at all. Animal behaviorists feel that loosely woven rough fabrics with longitudinally oriented threads are preferred by cats, but you may have to experiment a little before finding just the right one. During the training period you may have to trim your cat’s claws in order to avoid furniture damage.


Trimmers for human nails are satisfactory for trimming cats’ claws, or you may use nail trimmers designed especially for pets, such as the White’s type. Resco trimmers, usually used for dogs’ toenails, also work fine for cats. To trim your cat’s nails, extend the claw as described. If you do this in good light and your cat’s claws are not darkly pigmented, you will be able to see the pink dermis (the quick). Cut the nail just beyond the point where you see the dermis end. If you cut into the dermis, it is painful to the animal, and some bleeding will usually occur. The bleeding stops, but the pain will make your cat reluctant to have a nail trim the next time. Pigmented nails are harder to trim, since the color obscures the quick. However, with good, intense light you can often see the quick even if the nail is dark colored. If you can’t see the dermis, the easiest rule to follow is to cut the nail just beyond the point where it starts to curve downward. If you accidentally trim the nail into the quick and the bleeding doesn’t stop quickly, you can apply a styptic powder or pencil, Monsel’s solution (ferric subsulfate, available from pharmacists), cornstarch, or a black tea bag that has been moistened then squeezed out, or you can bandage the foot firmly for about an hour.



If you have accustomed your cat to being handled at a young age, nail trimming should be a one person job. If your cat seems particularly disagreeable, try to accustom him or her to the procedure gradually, trimming a few nails at a time and correcting bad behavior before resorting to a second person for aid. Cats who are overrestrained for nail trimming will become aggressive before having a chance to learn to cooperate. An alternative to nail trimming is the application of commercially available tiny wooden or shell beads or clear plastic nail covers to the cat’s claws with adhesive. These nail protectors need to be replaced every few weeks.



Declawing (onchyectomy) is a surgical procedure that can be resorted to when nail trimming and attempts to train a cat to use a scratching post have failed. It may also be necessary for cats who are not careful to keep their claws sheathed during play. It should not, however, be a routine procedure for pet cats. It is too painful a procedure to be performed unnecessarily, and cats who have been declawed are at a disadvantage in some situations. They are unable to protect themselves well against dogs or other cats and often cannot climb as well as normal cats to escape danger. Therefore, declawed cats should not be allowed outdoors unsupervised. When you and your veterinarian agree that declawing is necessary, the surgery is performed under general anesthesia in the veterinary hospital. The front claws are removed completely so regrowth is impossible, and the feet are usually bandaged for a day or two. The rear claws can be removed if desired, but this is unnecessary, since they do not usually cause a problem in scratching behavior or accidental injury to the cat’s owner during play and are necessary for a cat to scratch him or herself. Once the bandages are removed, your cat will be able to return home and within two weeks should be free from pain.

An alternative surgery is one in which the tendons that extend the claws are cut. This procedure has not found general favor, as regular nail trimming to avoid growth of the toenails into the paw pads is required afterward.


Almost all cats need special attention given to their teeth to preserve them and to minimize mouth odors. Most cats, like most people, develop deposits called dental tartar or calculus on their teeth. When present it is most obvious on the premolars and molars as a hard yellow-brown or grayish-white deposit that cannot be removed by brushing or scraping with a fingernail. Its presence is not normal. It can cause gum disease (gingivitis, periodontitis), accompanied by discomfort and halitosis (bad breath), and can eventually lead to loss of teeth. Many cats develop mouth disease and lose teeth. Most do not develop true cavities, but many develop extensive cavitylike erosions in the tooth enamel and cementum of the tooth root (cervical line lesions, neck lesions, external odontoclastic resorption lesions). Many cats lose teeth because of these erosions and others because their owners miss the early stages of gum disease.


Once tartar is present it can only be removed properly with special instruments—either tartar scrapers (tooth scalers) or an ultrasonic tooth cleaner. Tartar is best removed by a veterinarian, since anesthesia is usually necessary to do a really thorough cleaning job, followed by polishing to provide a smooth surface that discourages new tartar formation. Tartar originates in a soft white-to yellow-colored substance on teeth called materia alba or plaque, which is material left on the teeth after eating combined with saliva, bacteria, and bacterial by-products. You can remove this plaque and prevent tartar formation in the following ways:

1. Feed your cat a large quantity of dry cat food. Feeding a hard food diet will not absolutely prevent tartar in all cats, because its formation is dependent on the biochemical conditions in each cat’s mouth. However, it has been shown experimentally that, in general, cats eating an all-dry-food diet accumulate substantially less tartar and have much less plaque than cats eating solely moist, soft food.

2. Encourage your cat to chew on (but not eat and swallow) large, hard bones. This will help remove plaque by abrasion. Although most cats will not chew on hard rubber or rawhide toys as dogs will, if you give them large hard bones with a little meat on them when they are young, cats will often develop the habit of bone chewing. Beef and lamb marrowbones are good. Keep in mind that bone chewing may cause broken teeth, and avoid bones that splinter, such as pork chop and chicken bones, to prevent stomach or intestinal perforation. Be sure to thoroughly cook any bones offered by roasting or boiling to avoid disease transmission. Some cats also enjoy chewing on freshly cooked corncobs.

3. Clean your cat’s teeth yourself a few times a week. You can use a toothbrush, but a gauze pad, rough cloth, or cotton-tipped swab will also work. Moisten the cleaning tool with water, then scrub the teeth and gums vigorously. It’s not usually necessary to do the inner tooth surfaces, because the motion of the tongue keeps the areas next to it relatively free from plaque. Dentifrices are not always necessary, but many products are available that provide additional abrasion (pastes containing calcium or silicates), an oxygenating effect (to inhibit bacteria), or antimicrobials (to inhibit bacteria). Chlorhexidine gluconate or acetate (0.1%) is an easy-to-find disinfectant that has been shown to inhibit plaque formation when brushed into the gum-tooth junction. Avoid toothpastes designed for humans as they foam excessively. If your cat’s gums bleed even though they look healthy otherwise, it is not usually because you have scrubbed too hard, but because they are in the early stages of disease. Good tooth care should cause an early problem to correct itself. If you see loose teeth, gums that are red and pulling away from the teeth (receding), or if bleeding gums do not improve with good preventive care as suggested above, you will need the help of a veterinarian to clear up the condition. Loose teeth will need to be removed and dirty ones cleaned.

You can begin treatment at home with daily gum massage. Use a cotton-tipped swab to rub gently at the tooth-gum junction. This process will help a cat get used to the type of oral manipulation that will be needed to restore a diseased mouth to health. Tooth brushing on a regular basis will be necessary to achieve a healthy mouth in any cat who has been allowed to develop periodontal disease.



For many years little was known about the domestic cat’s nutritional requirements. Now, however, nutritional research has revealed that cats have distinctive nutrient needs that probably arose in concert with their development as true carnivores. Despite research efforts, minimum requirements for all the necessary food substances have not yet been well established for cats, so deciding exactly what is the most healthful diet for your cat’s growth, adulthood, and old age can be challenging.

In selecting the right foods for your pet keep in mind that external manifestations of nutritional deprivation may not appear until months or even years of feeding an inadequate diet have passed. Once present, the physical effects of poor nutrition often can never be reversed. Use the information in this chapter and the following publication, which is revised periodically, to help you make the right feeding decisions for your cats:

National Research Council (U.S.), Nutrient Requirement of Cats, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986.

Nutrition is a complicated subject with specialized terminology. To help you understand it more fully, here are some terms that are used in the following pages.


1. “As-fed basis.” This phrase refers to foods’ nutrient and moisture contents expressed as percentages. Normally, the percentages used refer to the amounts found in a pet food product as it comes directly from the can, bag, or box. However, the values for moisture will increase if water is added to the food, thereby diluting the other nutrients on an as-fed basis. Since the moisture content of foods can vary considerably (from about 5% to about 80%) comparison of nutrients present to a nutritional chart or between products becomes difficult unless the differing moisture levels are taken into consideration (see “dry-matter basis”). However, when choosing among products of the same general moisture content (e.g., between canned foods) there will be no problems if they are compared with one another on an as-fed basis. When adding foods or supplements to preformulated products, recommendations are often given on an as-fed basis in order to facilitate addition of the item (e.g., 1 teaspoonful per pound dry food as fed).

2. “Dry-matter basis.” This phrase refers to the nutrient content of food expressed as a percentage of the food after all water is removed. For example, a food containing 20% protein and 50% water (moisture) on an as-fed basis will contain about 3 ounces (oz) (about 90 grams [g]) of protein in a pound (lb) (454 g). If all the water is removed, leaving ½ pound (227 g) dry matter, the amount of protein, 3 oz (90 g), per portion remains the same but the percentage expressed on a dry-matter basis increases to 40%. Expressing all nutrients on the same dry-matter basis (dry basis) makes comparison of different kinds of foods to one another and to charts of nutrient requirements easier. This is why requirements for certain vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats are often expressed as a percentage of the dry matter of the food, i.e., on a dry basis (see chart). (To convert an amount of nutrient from an as-fed to a dry-matter basis, use the calculation).

3. “As a percentage of calories.” The biological availability of certain nutrients, especially protein, is affected by calorie intake. In instances where the amount of a nutrient needed will be affected by the energy (calories) provided by the diet, nutrient content or requirements are often expressed as a percentage of calories provided by the diet. Although nutritionally correct, this concept is difficult for most people who are not professional nutritionists to apply, and information presented in this form is kept to a minimum in this book.

4. “Per pound (or kiliogram) of body weight.” The simpliest, but sometimes less technically correct means to express the amount of any nutrient needed is to give the requirement as a unit per pound (or kilogram) of body weight. By convention, nutrients are expressed in various units such as international units (IU), milligrams (mg), or micrograms (µg).


1. “Digestibility.” This is the relationship between the amount of a nutrient or food eaten and the amount absorbed expressed as a percentage. For example, a cat consuming a pound (454 g) of a food that is 80% digestible has only 12.8 oz (384 g) (16 oz [454 g] X 80%) available to the body for actual use. The difference in the two amounts represents the waste matter that is excreted.

2. “Utilization.” This term expresses the relationship between the quantity of a nutrient or food eaten and the actual amount retained by the body. Like digestibility, the ratio is expressed as a percentage. Food utilization is the best overall way to determine the actual nutritional value of a food. Scientific analysis of food disposition in the body can provide this information. However, since food utilization figures are often not readily available to pet owners, food digestibility is often substituted for it in discussions of nutrition.

3. “Metabolizable energy” (ME). This term represents the number of calories available to the body from food. It is conventional among nutritionists to specify nutrient concentration requirements for pet foods as quantities needed per each 1,000 calories of metabolizable energy (Kcal ME) provided by the food, since some nutrient requirements change when the calories available from a given quantity of food increase or decrease. When comparing calories provided by food to calories required by the animal, it is important to be sure that both are expressed in the same energy units. Metabolizable energy units specify the actual energy available. Other units such as gross energy or digestible energy are less accurate measures of the actual calories provided by food.


Cats meet their nutritional requirements by ingesting proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and water just as people do.

Proteins are essential substances for growth and repair of body tissues. They cannot be synthesized in the body from dietary constituents other than protein. Therefore, they are extremely important to nutrition. Cats also use protein for energy. When used in this way proteins supply about 3.5 calories for each gram consumed. Unlike dogs and humans who can adapt to using carbohydrates or fats in place of protein to supply calories, domestic cats must always use a portion of the protein they eat for energy. This is one important reason why cats must have diets high in protein. When well-balanced proteins supply at least 25% of the diet’s calories most cats’ needs will be met. The minimum needed can range from 15% to 29% of calories depending on protein source and life stage.

Proteins are composed of amino acids, and they vary widely in the kinds and proportions of amino acids present. Essential amino acids cannot be synthesized in the cat’s body and must be supplied by the diet in special proportions for optimum use. Proteins that supply the essential amino acids in nearly optimum quantities are given a high biological value because they are used most completely and efficiently by the body. Proteins with a high biological value are the best ones to feed and provide the best bases for commercial cat foods. Examples of such proteins are eggs, muscle meat, fish meal, and soybeans. In general, the higher the biological value the lower the actual requirement for the protein in the diet. Cats, however, have requirements for certain amino acids that also influence exactly how much protein must be supplied.

Taurine is the most notable essential amino acid for cats. One important use for it is for detoxification in their livers. Unlike dogs and other less carnivorous mammals, cats cannot synthesize enough taurine from other sulfur-containing amino acids to meet detoxification needs and maintain adequate body reserves. Taurine is found only in proteins of animal origin. Cats fed diets deficient in taurine develop retinal degeneration (feline central retinal degeneration, FCR) that causes reduced vision and dilated pupils, and may progress to complete blindness. Taurine deficiency may also induce a fatal heart muscle disease (feline dilated cardiomyopathy), immune system dysfunction, and blood clotting disorder. Kittens from taurine-deficient mothers are undersized, may die or grow slowly, and have abnormal skeleton and brain development resulting in impaired locomotion. Taurine levels are not adequate in plant products such as soybeans, normally considered valuable in formulating pet foods. The increased dietary fiber provided by plant products used in many commercial foods requires increased taurine intake, and heat processing of the food also reduces taurine levels. To avoid deficiency, foods for cats must contain a good source of animal protein and/or be supplemented with pure taurine. Never feed cats foods designed for dogs. Cats have become taurine deficient when fed cereal-based dog foods, and cats need on average at least twice as much protein as dogs.

Eggs are an excellent source of protein (one egg = 7 g protein) of generally high biological value. They contain taurine, although less taurine than meat on an ounce-for-ounce basis. If you feed your cat eggs frequently, be sure they are cooked because raw egg white is not digested well. It also contains a substance called avidin that binds biotin, an important B vitamin, preventing its absorption from the gut. Additionally, raw eggs may contain Salmonellabacteria that may infect cats who eat raw eggs, causing illness and occasionally death.

Milk and milk products such as cottage cheese or yogurt are high in protein, calcium, and phosphorous, but cannot provide complete protein for cats without the addition of taurine or in combination with meat, eggs, or fish. Many cats develop diarrhea when fed any milk products; others develop diarrhea only when fed large amounts. Diarrhea associated with the ingestion of milk products occurs when the lactose (milk sugar) in them is not digested. Undigested lactose promotes bacterial fermention and attracts water into the intestine, causing diarrhea. So provide milk and milk products as supplements to your cat’s diet with care. If loose stools develop when milk is fed, stop it immediately and wait for the stool to return to normal before trying new milk products. Cats who cannot drink milk without developing diarrhea can often eat cottage cheese, which has a much lower lactose content.


Fats provide the most concentrated source of energy (9 calories/g) of any of the necessary dietary components. They carry fat-soluble vitamins (D, E, A, K) and supply linoleic acid (linoleate) and arachidonic acid (arachidonate) that are essential to health in cats. Cats deficient in essential fatty acids grow poorly, have dry hair and dandruff, and may be listless and have increased susceptibility to infection. Diets lacking arachidonate will not support reproduction and adversely affect blood platelet function.

Unlike dogs, cats cannot convert linoleate to arachidonate, a characteristic they share with other strictly carnivorous animals. Therefore, both linoleic acid (found in plant oils and animal fats) and arachidonic acid (found only in animal tissues) must be supplied preformed in the diet of the cat. A diet that derives about 2.5% of its calories from linoleic acid and at least 0.04% of its calories from arachidonic acid will provide adequate levels of fatty acids and enough fat for absorption of the essential fat-soluble vitamins.

Although diets higher in fat are not essential to cats’ health, cats are able to digest and metabolize fats extremely well, and very high-fat diets are not detrimental to them, providing proper levels of protein, vitamins, and minerals are also consumed. Moreover, fat (especially animal fat) increases the palatability of food to cats by affecting its texture (most important) and flavor. Cats generally prefer diets containing at least 15% fat as dry matter. Many commercial foods, especially dry and semimoist forms, provide lower fat levels. To improve palatability or supplement a diet you may think is fat deficient, add up to 1 tablespoon poultry fat, pork fat (lard), or corn oil for each 8-ounce (240 ml) measuring cup of dry or semimoist foods. Avoid hydrogenated coconut oils, as they can cause fatty liver disease in cats. Scaly skin and/or dry hair coat associated with inadequate levels of essential fatty acids should improve within one or two months after beginning supplementation.

A better approach to treating unhealthy skin resulting from dietary deficiencies is to switch to commercial foods known to be nutritionally adequate and to discuss the problem with your veterinarian, since skin and coat problems are often caused by diseases not related to diet.


Carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and cellulose) are not required by cats in their diet. The digestible carbohydrates (sugars and starch), however, can be used as energy sources, providing 3.5 calories for each gram consumed. Cooking and/or fine grinding of carbohydrate sources (e.g., cereal grains, potatoes, vegetables) greatly improves their utilization and allows pet food manufacturers to formulate dry and semimoist foods based on these plant products that are not a major part of any cat’s natural diet. Products containing as much as 35% carbohydrate on a dry-matter basis can be utilized well and still provide room for adequate levels of other nutrients.

Cellulose, an indigestible carbohydrate, is a source of dietary fiber. Fiber is not considered essential for simple stomached carnivorous mammals like domestic cats. Fiber-containing foods are useful, however, in preventing constipation in older cats with reduced intestinal function and to reduce the caloric density of diets for cats who tend to become fat when allowed to eat without restriction. Except for diets designed for special purposes such as weight reduction, diets for cats should contain no more than 5% fiber dry matter.


Cats require about 1 ounce (30 ml) of water per pound of body weight daily. They obtain this water in the food they eat and the liquids they drink. Water is also a by-product of metabolism; fat metabolism, in particular, is of great importance. The importance of foods in supplying the water requirements of cats is so great, in fact, that a cat on a moist food diet (which contains about 75% water) can easily be thought not to drink at all. Cats on other diets, however, do drink frequently, and the actual amount of liquid a cat must drink daily is influenced by many factors in addition to diet, among them exercise, environmental temperature, and the presence of fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. Lactation also increases the required water intake. So the best solution to the problem of water intake is to be sure that your cat has access to clean water at all times. (Milk may be provided as an additional water source if it does not cause diarrhea.) Do not give your cat water considered unfit for human consumption, and, if for some reason you are unable to give your cat free water access, be sure to offer water at least three times a day.

A cat can go without food for days and lose 30% to 40% of his or her normal body weight without dying, but a water loss of 10% to 15% can be fatal. When cats stop eating (as they do frequently when sick) they must drink more water to make up for the decreased intake of food and in the amount provided by metabolism and for possible increases in need. To find out about providing water for your cat during illness.


Although the required levels of all the essential vitamins that should be included in cats’ diets have not been firmly established, many important facts about vitamins in the cat’s diet are known and should be heeded when selecting a diet for your pet. The table shows the currently recommended amounts of vitamins that should be fully available to a cat from his or her food. As with other nutrients, these levels will generally be lower than those actually present in commercial foods, since manufacturers must include higher levels when the food is formulated and first mixed to make up for nutrients that are not fully bioavailable from foods and losses caused by processing or storage.


Cats cannot convert beta carotene (found in green vegetables) to vitamin A as can dogs and people, so you must be sure that other sources of fully formed vitamin A (found in animal tissues) are provided in the diet to prevent a deficiency that can result in skin, eye, and reproductive changes. On the other hand, too much vitamin A in the diet can result in proliferative gingivitis, skeletal deformities, and crippling. In order to prevent vitamin A deficiency or excess, use a complete commercial cat food with vitamin A added as a basis for feeding and use liver, which is high in vitamin A, only as a supplement to your cat’s diet, not as a major part of it. Feed an average-sized adult cat no more than 1 ounce (30 g) of beef liver twice weekly. If necessary, balanced vitamin-mineral preparations may also be used as dietary supplements, but avoid giving unbalanced supplements such as cod liver oil to cats, since 1 teaspoonful can contain more than 5000 IU vitamin A. Use only balanced vitamin-mineral supplements recommended by your veterinarian and follow directions for their use carefully.


It is doubtful whether under normal feeding conditions vitamin E deficiency or excess will occur. There have been, however, many cases of vitamin E deficiency in cats because the need for vitamin E is significantly influenced by diet composition. Cases of vitamin E deficiency have resulted from an abnormal feeding practice considered normal by poorly informed owners: the feeding of excessive quantities of red meat tuna. It has also occasionally followed the feeding of other fish diets, fish oils (e.g., cod liver oil), or large quantities of liver.

Vitamin E deficiency results in oxidation of body fat and a generalized inflammation called pansteatitis (steatitis). Its signs include lack of appetite, fever, and pain accompanied by reluctance to move. It can eventually end in death. Vitamin E deficiency should be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian, but, more important, you can prevent its occurrence. Use a complete commercial cat food as your cat’s basic diet and avoid frequent feeding of red meat tuna. Any tuna fed should be clearly marked—supplemented with vitamin E. Do not use fish oils (e.g., cod liver oil) as dietary supplements and feed liver only as previously recommended.


Cats have relatively high requirements for B vitamins in their diets. Foods for cats must contain at least twice the amounts of many B vitamins found in diets adequate for dogs—another good reason not to feed cats dog food. Several B vitamins are destroyed by heating, a process used in making commercial cat foods, so all good processed foods must be supplemented with B vitamins. One heat-sensitive B vitamin, thiamine, is also destroyed by enzymes found in certain raw fish and in raw soybeans. Deficiency manifested by lack of appetite and neurologic disorders including seizures followed by weakness and death may develop in cats fed inadequately cooked fish or soy-based food and/or cooked products inadequately supplemented with thiamine.

Several B vitamins are synthesized by bacteria in the intestines of healthy cats. Intestinal problems, e.g., diarrhea, can eliminate this source, and antibiotics may also interfere with it. Vitamin supplementation is often necessary during prolonged illnesses involving the intestine or during prolonged antibiotic treatment.


Although few studies have been done that establish the mineral requirements of cats, it seems unlikely that a cat who eats a diet well balanced in other respects would become deficient in minerals. Unsuspecting cat owners can more easily provide improper rather than inadequate mineral supplies for their pets, since the relationship among the various minerals in the diet is as important as deficiency or excess. A good example of this problem is the interrelationship among the minerals calcium and phosphorus and vitamin D. These relationships are often upset by oversupplementation and/or by catering to a cat’s food preferences instead of his or her needs.


Calcium and phosphorus should be present in the diet of cats in a ratio of about 1 to 1. If an adequate amount of each of these minerals is present but the ratio is incorrect, abnormal mineralization of bone occurs in the growing kitten and in the adult cat as well. If adequate amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the proper ratio are provided but without sufficient vitamin D, abnormalities of bone result again. Insufficient levels of vitamin D interfere with calcium absorption in the intestine. Excessive amounts of vitamin D in the presence of adequate levels of calcium and phosphorus may result in excessive mineralization of bone, abnormal teeth, and calcification of the soft tissues of the body. The delicacy of these relationships is remarkable.

Unthinking or uninformed owners most often distort the calcium-phosphorus balance of their cat’s diet by feeding a diet consisting almost exclusively of muscle meat or organ meats such as liver, heart, or kidney. All of these meats contain phosphorus but are devoid of calcium, which results in a calcium-phosphorus ratio of 1 to 15 or greater. Prolonged feeding of such a diet results in severe demineralization of bones, pain, and sometimes fractures or paralysis, a condition called nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism. An adult cat may exist on such a diet for years without showing signs of disease, but the body changes are occurring nevertheless. A cat’s requirement for vitamin D is low, so that health problems relating to this nutrient are best avoided by preventing oversupplementation. Remember that the wild ancestors and living relatives of the domestic cat relied on a variety of foods. Follow the dietary recommendations set out previously and on the following pages and/or follow the advice of a knowledgeable veterinarian to prevent nutrition-induced disease in your cat.






Linoleic acid



Arachidonic acid





















Methionine plus cystine (total sulfur amino acids)






Phenylalanine plus tyrosine
























































Vitamin A (retinol)


1 (3333 IU)

Vitamin D (cholecalciferol)


12.5 (500 IU)

Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)


30 (30 IU)

Vitamin Kd (phylloquinone)









Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)






Pantothenic acid



Folacin (folic acidd)






Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)








Requirement unknown; all experimental diets have included 150-200

a Based on a diet with a metabolizable energy concentration of 5.0 kcal/g dry matter. Since diet processing may destroy or impair the availability of some nutrients, and since some nutrients, especially the trace minerals, are less available from some natural feedstuffs than from purified diets, increased amounts of these nutrients should be included in commercial diets to ensure that the minimum requirements are met. The minimum requirements presented in this table assume availabilities similar to those present in purified experimental diets.

b No requirement for fat is known apart from the need for essential fatty acids and as a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins. Some fat normally enhances the palatability of the diet.

c Assuming that all the minimum essential amino acid requirements are met.

d These vitamins may not be required in the diet unless antimicrobial agents or antivitamin compounds are present in the diet.

e Choline is not essential in the diet but if this quantity of choline is not present the methionine requirement should be increased to provide the same quantity of methyl groups.

NOTE: The minimum requirements of all the nutrients are not known for the adult cat at maintenance. It is known that these levels of nutrients are adequate and that protein and methionine can be reduced to 140 and 3 g/kg diet, respectively. It is likely that the minimum requirements of all the other nutrients are also lower for maintenance than for the growing kitten.

The minimum requirements of all the nutrients are not known for reproduction for the adult male or female cat. It is probable that the minimum requirements for growing kittens in this table would satisfy all requirements for reproduction if the following were modified as shown: vitamin A, 6000 IU/kg diet, and taurine, 500 mg/kg diet.

Adapted with permission from: Nutrient Requirements of Cats, National Research Council (U.S.), Subcommittee on Cat Nutrition, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1986


Commercial rations for cats are sold as dry foods, semimoist (soft-moist) foods, and canned foods. Each type of product can provide complete nutrition for your pet if it is formulated correctly.


In general it is most economical to use dry food (about 10% moisture content) as a cat’s basic diet. Its low moisture content allows it to be left out for a cat to consume at will without its spoiling in all but the most humid climates. Its crunchy texture helps keep a cat’s teeth clean, which is very important since many cats are subject to dental disease. However, dry foods, even well balanced, cannot mimic the foods a cat would eat naturally. They contain much larger amounts of vegetable material than a cat would naturally consume, and some products contain artificial flavors, coloring agents, and preservatives to which some cats are intolerant. Cats also consume less total water (around 50% less) when eating dry foods compared to canned food although they drink more. This can become a health issue for older cats with kidney disease and/or constipation, or for cats who have urinary tract disease. Dry foods may become deficient in essential fatty acids when stored, especially when the weather is warm and humid. Their physical composition allows less fat to be incorporated initially, and contact with the oxygen in the air makes the fat present turn rancid. Do not store dry foods at room temperature for longer than six months; purchase them from dealers who have a rapid food turnover.

Although many dry products provide excellent complete nutrition and many cats do well eating dry foods alone, the most healthful diet for a cat should include some other foods as well.


Semimoist cat foods are intermediate in moisture content (about 25% to 35%) and are usually designed to be nutritionally complete. Semimoist foods are considerably more expensive than dry foods if the additional water they contain is taken into consideration when calculating the cost per feeding. Chemical humectants (e.g., propylene glycol), corn syrup, salts, sugar, and acids are used to hold water in these products and keep them soft and free from spoilage. Also semimoist products often contain artificial flavors and colors. They are generally quite palatable to cats and convenient for their owners, since such foods can be stored for months at room temperature if unopened and they are often sold in single-feeding pouches.

Unfortunately, semimoist foods give none of the tooth-cleaning benefit of dry foods, and they cannot begin to approach the more natural quality of the best canned foods. Propylene glycol, a common preservative and energy source used in semimoist food for years causes oxidative damage to cats’ red blood cells and will be required by law to be eliminated from cat foods sold in the United States by the end of 1993. Reserve semimoist foods for snacks.


Canned products tend to be the most expensive way to feed cats since you pay for about 75% water. They are, however, safe to store for prolonged periods and highly palatable to cats. Their formulation allows the best manufacturers to include ingredients such as meat and liver and high levels of fat that mimic the components of a diet a cat might naturally prey upon. Complete canned foods are a desirable part of a cat’s diet, but you must be careful to read package labels (see chart) to be sure your cat is getting products intended to be fed as complete diets. Incomplete “gourmet” products should be fed only as dietary supplements. If the label does not make it clear that the food is intended to be complete in itself, use the product only in addition to a wide variety of other foods.

Heat processing destroys important vitamins (e.g., thiamine) and other nutrients (e.g., taurine), so all complete canned products will show evidence of supplementation in the list of ingredients on their labels. Some canned products contain artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives such as sodium nitrite. Like propylene glycol, sodium nitrite has been shown to induce oxidative damage to cats’ red blood cells. To feed the most natural diet to your cat, avoid canned products that contain such additives.

Federal law requires that all cat foods in interstate commerce carry a listing of ingredients in decreasing order of predominance. Other regulations require a guaranteed analysis, listing minimum or maximum levels of certain nutrients present on an as-fed basis (i.e., not corrected for the amount of moisture present). Unfortunately, the required labels do not contain enough information to enable you to compare cat foods adequately with one another. The guaranteed analysis gives no indication of the quality of the nutrients present, nor does it give the exact quantities present. Companies are restricted from misrepresenting their products, however, and certain large manufacturers of cat foods have conducted extensive research and feeding trials in order to produce nutritious diets that need no supplementation. These foods carry labels that indicate their nutritional adequacy based on calculation, chemical analysis, or feeding trials (the best). The following rules of thumb will help you choose a cat food:

1. Look at the food. This is a fairly effective way of evaluating many canned foods. If you see pieces of bone, discolored meat, and poorly digestible items such as blood vessels and skin, it’s a pretty good indication of poor quality food.

2. Consider the price. Cheap cat foods often contain cheap ingredients—poor quality protein and poorly digestible nutrients that pass through your cat unused. “Gourmet”-type cat foods, on the other hand, may contain high-quality ingredients but are often relatively overpriced.

3. Well-known manufacturers noted for their research generally produce good-quality cat foods you can trust.

4. See what kind of effect the food has when eaten. If your cat gets diarrhea or becomes flatulent on a food, it’s not the diet you should continue to feed. Voluminous stools following feeding of certain brands of food often indicate excessive amounts of fiber or other indigestible substances. Good products are 75% to 80% absorbed by the gut unless specifically formulated to be therapeutic high-fiber foods.

5. Read the label and choose only products that have label claims of complete nutrition. Those that indicate they are adequate for all life stages based on feeding trials are the products that have stood up to the most rigorous testing. Calculation or chemical analysis cannot measure exactly how the product will be utilized by the cat.

6. Calculate the cost per feeding, since the price per bag, can, or box may be misleading. Record the cost per package and the purchase date. When empty, divide the price by the number of days it took to finish the product. The most “expensive” foods per package are often less expensive to feed per day than the apparently cheaper brands, as less volume is needed to provide proper nutrition.

7. Write or call the food manufacturer to obtain any additional information you might need. For example, the protein and dry-matter digestibility of good foods usually exceeds 80%. This information, however, is often not available on the food label. Reputable food manufacturers are happy to provide the customer with information and often provide toll-free numbers for this purpose.


Pet food labels are legal documents that must include the following information unless they are intended to be used solely as treats or snacks and are labeled as such:

1. Name of product

2. Animal species for which it is to be used

3. Net weight of the product

4. Ingredient list in descending order of content of the ingredients

5. Guaranteed analysis listing protein, fat (minimum), and fiber and moisture (maximum) content

6. Manufacturer’s name and address

7. Nutritional adequacy claim

An example: Complete (contains adequate levels of all required nutrients) and balanced (contains the proper proportions of required nutrients) for all life stages (will support kitten growth, pregnancy, and nursing, in addition to maintaining the adult cat).

Nutritionally incomplete products not labeled as snacks or treats must carry a statement that the “product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.”

To understand lists of ingredients fully, consult another reference, since pet food manufacturers use a language of their own. For example: A beef-flavored product does not have to contain any actual beef muscle meat. The best reference is the Manual of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which is published annually.

To compare foods adequately to one another, differences due to water content must be eliminated. To do this, first calculate the percentage of dry matter:

100% - moisture = percentage total dry matter

To calculate the amount of nutrient present on a dry basis (e.g., percent protein on a dry-matter basis):

guaranteed percent of nutrient as fed/percent dry matter X 100 = percent nutrient present on dry basis


Once you have evaluated the commercial foods available as to their suitability as basic parts of your cat’s diet, the next step is to actually formulate a diet for your cat. Complete foods that have undergone feeding trials should be adequate alone, but because expert nutritionists have not fully established the nutritional requirements of cats, it is probably best not to assume that any single commercial product will be adequate to fulfill all your cat’s needs and best not to rely solely on cat food companies’ honesty and expertise in evaluating feeding trials. Another reason not to use a single commercial food as the only means of feeding your cat is that cats develop narrow food preferences easily.


If you provide only one or a few kinds of food or always indulge your cat’s food preferences he or she will often refuse to consume other nutritious foods and will tend to be reluctant to try new foods. This can easily lead to nutritional disease, since it has been scientifically proven that cats given free choice of foods will not always select a diet that fulfills their nutritional requirements. Contrary to what advertisements would lead us to believe, cats are not naturally finicky eaters and palatability is not an indication of the nutritional adequacy of a food. Avoid producing nutritional inadequacies, imbalances, and “picky eaters” by feeding a varied diet from the time your cat is very young. A nutritionally complete and adequately varied diet should resemble the following:

Feed Daily

Complete and balanced commercial dry cat food. If needed, add cooking oil (e.g., corn oil) poultry fat, or lard. Use no more than 1 tablespoonful per 8 ounce (240 ml) cupful dry food. Feed once daily about ½ cup (53 g) per adult cat or allow free access. Complete and balanced canned foods—offer about one 6-ounce (180 g) can per 5 pounds body weight. Canned foods containing less than 5% fat as fed need fat added. Vary flavors frequently to avoid the development of food preferences and possible accompanying deficiencies.

Feed Twice a Week

Cooked beef liver—no more than 1 ounce (30 g) per adult cat. Excessive liver feeding can produce vitamin A excess, diarrhea, and dark-colored stools. Organ meats (spleen, heart, kidney) can be substituted for liver, but fail to provide the high level of vitamins and minerals that liver does. Cooking meat products properly helps prevent parasite transmission without completely destroying important vitamins.

Feed Occasionally(Limit to less than 20% of the diet’s calories)

Cheese, yogurt, sour cream, milk, cooked vegetables, cooked eggs, soups, cooked cereals, baby foods, brewer’s yeast, cooked clams or fish. (Some raw fish contains thiaminase, an enzyme that destroys thiamine, and if fed to comprise more than 10% of the diet may cause thiamine deficiency.) Cats may also have other “people foods” such as fruits, uncooked vegetables, sweets, and condiments as treats if they do not cause digestive upsets; just remember that such foods do not contribute significantly to a cat’s nutrition. Onions contain compounds (disulphides) that cause oxidative damage to cat red blood cells and may induce anema. Avoid feeding them. Chocolate (cocoa) may also cause poisoning.


If you feed your cat a varied diet with good quality complete rations at its base, vitamin-mineral supplements are probably not necessary on a daily basis. In fact, oversupplementation can lead to nutritional diseases every bit as serious as those resulting from nutritional deficiencies. There are, however, times when vitamin-mineral supplements that provide vitamins and minerals in proper amounts and proportions to meet known or estimated daily requirements can be beneficial to a cat’s diet. Just remember to rely on balanced supplements available through your veterinarian or pet stores and to follow your veterinarian’s or the package’s instructions carefully. Avoid routine use of unbalanced dietary supplements such as bone meal, wheat germ, or cod liver oil. Not only can such products be expensive, on a cost-per-unit nutrient basis, but unbalanced products may easily result in oversupplementation. Cod liver oil, for example, is a substance that is frequently misused as a dietary supplement for cats.

One-half teaspoonful of NF (National Formulary) cod liver oil contains about 156 IU of vitamin D. A mere teaspoonful of cod liver oil daily could result in vitamin D excess for a cat, accompanied by bone and soft tissue abnormalities, since the cat’s requirement for this vitamin is low. No more than 50 to 100 international units are recommended as a daily allowance.

Balanced vitamin-mineral preparations are probably best used to supplement the diet of sick, pregnant or lactating, or older cats. They are also recommended for any cat (growing or adult) who is not fed a varied diet similar to the sample one provided here.


In order to meet a kitten’s nutritional requirements for proper growth and development you not only have to provide all the nutrients necessary to maintain an adult cat, but also must provide about two to three times as many calories on a per-pound (per-kg) body-weight basis as for adults and about 50% more calories from protein as well. Frequent feedings will allow a kitten to meet the caloric requirement if the diet is energy dense (providing at least 4.5 calories for each gram dry matter). Protein requirements are most easily filled by selecting high-quality complete commercial rations containing 34% or more protein on a dry-weight basis. It is very important to provide the proper protein content, as kittens will not automatically select a diet that provides optimum quantities of protein.

High-quality protein foods can be used to supplement the basic diet. Although modern commercial foods make it unnecessary to supplement a kitten’s diet for nutritional reasons, feeding tiny amounts of other foods as diet supplements to kittens is invaluable in avoiding the development of narrow food preferences later. Cats should eat a variety of novel foods after weaning but before six months of age, or they may never willingly eat new foods. Eggs, milk and milk products such as cottage cheese, sour cream, or yogurt are high-quality proteins that are useful as diet supplements for cats. Be sure, however, to avoid any milk product that causes diarrhea when fed. Small amounts of cooked fish, muscle meat, and beef liver [about 1 teaspoonful per pound body weight (about 3 g/kg) per week] are also good protein supplements that can be introduced.


Be sure to find out what your kitten has been eating before you bring him or her home. If your kitten has not already been started on a well-balanced diet with quality complete foods as a basis, continue his or her original diet for a day or two, then gradually introduce the new foods that are to comprise the diet. Start with a single food, increasing the quantities of the new food gradually and decreasing the original until the kitten is consuming the new diet well. Then introduce other new foods in small portions one at a time to avoid digestive upsets. Kittens older than six weeks have all the teeth necessary to eat dry as well as canned products, and special dry foods sized just for kittens are sold in grocery and pet stores.


It is physically impossible for a small kitten to consume enough food (even of the highest quality) at one sitting to meet his or her daily caloric requirement. The most convenient method to assure yourself that your kitten is consuming enough to meet his or her caloric needs is to allow self-feeding. In this method food is left out where the kitten has free access to it, and the food is changed as necessary to keep it fresh. Most kittens do not overeat with this system. It may help prevent boredom, and it is more typical of natural feeding patterns. Experiments have shown that when given free access to food, cats prefer to eat ten to eighteen small meals randomly spaced in a twenty-four-hour period. Self-feeding must be abandoned or the portions reduced if the cat tends to become too fat.

Scheduled feeding (feeding by hand) is the system whereby you provide your kitten with several meals daily. It usually results in a cat who is anxious and ready to eat at mealtimes, making it easy for you to determine when his or her appetite is not normal. It can, however, result in a cat who is too attuned to food with a tendency to gorge at mealtime and a tendency to fatness. If you choose the scheduled-feeding method, provide your kitten with four or five meals a day until twelve weeks of age, three meals a day until six months of age, then offer food twice a day. Be sure to offer food warmed at least to room temperature, since cats find warm foods more palatable than chilled ones.

A combination of self-and scheduled feeding may be used. Many people successfully leave out a variety of commercial complete foods for their cat’s free choice feeding and use supplementary foods as “treats” or scheduled meals.


You can use the caloric table as a rough guide to estimating your kitten’s daily needs. Information on the cat food packages can also be used as feeding guides. But remember, each cat is an individual and as such has individualized caloric requirements that may vary as much as 20% more or less from the average. Your kitten’s (or adult cat’s) appearance can be used as a gauge of the adequacy of the diet fed. Look at and feel your kitten. A glossy coat, free of dandruff, a steady weight gain, and good health and activity are all signs that tend to indicate that an adequate diet is being fed. Poor growth, a poor coat, or frequent illness could mean that your kitten’s diet is inadequate.

If you are using scheduled feeding, each meal should comfortably fill the kitten. If his or her stomach is distended and taut following a meal, or if he or she vomits shortly after eating, too much may be being eaten at one time. More frequent, smaller meals may be necessary.

Any dietary problems with kittens not quickly resolved at home (within twenty-four to thirty-six hours) should be discussed with a veterinarian. Because of their rapid growth, small size, and relatively high metabolic rate, what sometimes appears to be minor dietary problems can cause kittens to develop severe illnesses quickly.




190 (418)


125 (275)


100 (220)


65 (143)


50 (110)

Adult (female or neutered male)

about 30-40 (65-85)*

Adult tomcat

50 (110)

Adult pregnant

50 (110)

Adult lactating

125 (275)

For calorie content of various types of foods.

* Depends on body size, activity level, and individual


Although most adult cats require around 40 calories per pound body weight per day, each cat has his or her own individual requirements, and package information can be used only as a guide to feeding. Active cats require more calories than sedentary ones; uncastrated males, in particular, require more calories than neutered ones. Obesity in most cats, as in most people, usually indicates that you are feeding too much. Use whatever feeding method seems most convenient for you and your cat as long as you provide all the nutrients your cat needs. Most cats seem happiest if provided with at least two scheduled meals daily, free access to food, or a combination of free access and supplemental meals, since multiple meals are compatible with their natural tendencies. Of course, free access to food will have to be limited if you notice your cat becoming overweight. It has been proven that underfeeding does not encourage a cat’s hunting tendencies, so cats kept for rodent control should be fed normally.


Cats undergo aging changes as do humans and may require special diets for maximum health and activity in old age. In general, older animals require fewer calories per pound body weight than when they were young; the amount of food given must usually be decreased or the kind of food fed changed to one with lower calorie density to avoid obesity as a cat ages. Body changes can result in decreased utilization of nutrients, and, additionally, intestinal absorption of nutrients may be impaired. There is then a rationale for using balanced vitamin-mineral preparations to supplement the older cat’s diet. Certain conditions, such as recurrent constipation, or heart or kidney failure, which tend to occur more often in older animals, require special diets. The presence of such conditions should be determined by a veterinarian, however, before any special diet is used.


Although it is not necessary to a cat’s diet, many cats enjoy eating catnip (Nepeta cataria), also called catmint, catswort, or nep. This member of the mint family contains a biologically active compound called nepetalactone that causes behavior changes in about two-thirds of all adult cats who eat it. (Cats younger than six to eight months usually don’t respond to catnip but actively avoid it.) Usually the cat sniffs, then licks and chews the catnip. Headshaking and chin and cheek rubbing follow, and later total body rubbing and head-over-heels rolls are seen. The whole episode usually lasts less than fifteen minutes and will not be repeated before an hour or more passes even if more catnip is consumed immediately. Catnip provides a harmless entertainment for cats who are responders, and a pot-grown plant can be used to divert your cat’s attention from houseplants. There is no evidence that catnip is toxic or addicting, and it can be offered freely since cats regulate their own indulgence in it.

If your cat does not care for catnip, you might try growing small pots of wheat, oat, or rye grass as substitutes. Although grasses do not provide the stimulation of catnip, many cats enjoy eating them, and they also help divert attention from houseplants.

For more information on feeding during pregnancy and lactation.

For information on feeding orphan kittens.

For information on feeding sick animals.



Although cats do not travel in automobiles with their owners as frequently as dogs do, trips to the veterinarian, to vacation spots, or to new residences are frequent enough that real benefits are gained by accustoming your cat to travel when he or she is young. Not only are cats who become accustomed to car riding and to confinement when young more relaxed when traveling, they often come to enjoy it. Many cats have become seasoned travelers, and some have even learned to go car camping, because of their early training.

Take your cat on frequent short rides at first, then gradually lengthen them. Confine your cat to a carrier (particularly at first) while riding. This gives the cat a secure place of his or her own in which to ride and a portable refuge in strange places (e.g., hotel rooms, veterinarian’s offices). It also prevents the annoying and sometime dangerous movements of a cat who is uneasy about traveling. Although you may eventually become confident that your cat will cause no problems when traveling, it is best to continue to confine your cat to a carrier while riding to avoid problems that might arise unpredictably and to avoid injury to the cat in case of an accident. At the least, a cat loose in a car should be restrained by a harness and leash.


The following items may help you when traveling with or shipping your cat on commercial carriers:

1. Airlines require a health certificate signed by an accredited veterinarian for shipping, and other commercial carriers may also require one. Be sure to check with the shipper well before the departure date so you have time to obtain the necessary documents. Each state and foreign country has its own entry requirements for cats. Most states have no special requirements, but check with your veterinarian before traveling to be sure. Individual consulates are the best sources of current information for each foreign country.

2. Your veterinarian can prescribe safe tranquilizers for your cat if he or she seems particularly apprehensive about strange people and sounds. Some cats react unpredictably to tranquilizers, however, and become extremely wild and excitable. Cats accustomed to a carrier or traveling cage at home before the trip (preferably while young) usually travel well without tranquilization, and this is most desirable. Special arrangements may often be made for a cat to travel with you in the passenger area, so investigate this possibility if you think your cat will travel poorly in baggage.

3. A traveling crate should be strong, well-ventilated, and have enough room to enable your cat to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Federal regulations specify which crates are permissible for shipping with commercial carriers. Since they may change from time to time it is best to check with the shipper before purchasing a crate. A towel or other soft and absorbent bedding such as diapers can be placed inside. A small box containing litter and a few familiar toys can be provided but these items are not absolutely necessary and on short trips often result in more mess than they’re worth.

4. Attach an identification tag to both the crate and the cat, stating the owner’s name, the cat’s name, the home address, and the destination. Also indicate the date and time of last food and water.

5. Do not feed your cat immediately prior to shipping.

6. Avoid giving water within about two hours of shipping time unless absolutely necessary (e.g., for health reasons or high environmental temperature).

7. Do not place food or water bowls loose in the crate. A healthy cat can go twenty-four hours without water, unless the environmental temperature is high, and much longer without food. If the trip is going to take longer than twenty-four hours, if the age and health of the cat or environmental temperature warrants it, be sure special arrangements are made for feeding, watering, and exercise. Cats can be trained to lick water from special bottles that can be attached to shipping crates to be sure water is available at all times.


Once a cat arrives at his or her destination special care is needed. Cats removed from their homes frequently try to return to them if they are allowed free access to the outdoors shortly after arrival. Confine your cat to a single room with food and water bowls, litter pan, and a bed until it is clear that he or she is calm. The more familiar the items you place in the room from your cat’s old home the quicker the adjustment process will be. Open the door to the room and allow the cat to explore the rest of the new home on his or her own terms only after your cat seems completely at ease in the smaller space. Be sure free access to the original room is available in case your cat becomes frightened and agitated. Leaving the travel crate in the room with the door open provides a safe haven that many cats seem to appreciate while adapting to their new abodes.

Do not force introductions among cats already on the premises and the newcomer. Left to their own devices most cats work out appropriate territory sharing without engaging in serious battles despite many episodes of snarling, growling, hissing, spitting, and caterwauling. It is extremely important to provide each cat with his or her own litter pan and food and water bowl to avoid permanent and serious territory battles. If necessary, a veterinarian can provide both the newcomer and the previously resident cats with tranquilizers to calm them and help with the initial adjustment. However, tranquilizers are usually needed for a very few days, if at all, since most cats adapt well if handled with sensitivity.

Do not allow a newly moved cat to roam outdoors without close supervision. Keep your cat indoors for at least one to two weeks to discourage attempts to return to the previous home territory. Then allow outdoor access gradually and with caution. A cat must gradually become familiar with his or her new outdoor territory to avoid becoming lost if startled and to avoid battles with neighborhood cats. Some cats have traveled hundreds of miles in order to successfully return to their previous homes when they were lost in transit or were allowed outdoors before complete adaptation to the new environment. Most cats in this situation are lost forever.

For more information about traveling with a cat, consult:

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Traveling with Your Pet, available for a fee from the ASPCA Education Department, 441 E. 92 Street, New York, N.Y. 10028. Nicholas, Barbara, The Portable Pet: How to Travel Anywhere with Your Dog or Cat, Harvard Common Press, Boston, 1984.


Although many owners would prefer to travel with their pets, cats unaccustomed to travel when young are best left at home. Should you anticipate frequent trips to places where your cat would be welcome, be sure to start taking your cat with you when he or she is a kitten to avoid adaptation problems later. It is often said that cats are very place oriented and resist change in environment. However, cats who are accustomed to being left for a few hours at the veterinary hospital or grooming parlor when young will soon learn to adapt to this situation without exhibiting signs of fear. Likewise, if you leave your cat overnight at the veterinary hospital or a boarding kennel while he or she is still young, the boarding situation becomes familiar. Adult cats will also usually learn to adapt, although the process may take longer. Should you anticipate frequent trips that will prevent you from leaving your cat at home, it is wise to arrange for a few overnight stays before boarding your cat for long periods of time. Once your cat is fully vaccinated many veterinarians are happy to provide this service, and it is a good way to help your pet learn that a night in the veterinary hospital need not be frightening. Should you anticipate frequent, long (five days or more) separations, be sure the veterinary hospital provides facilities separate from sick animals appropriate for healthy, active pets or select a boarding kennel that will provide adequate supervision and exercise for long stays.

Avoid any boarding operation (including veterinary hospitals) whose proprietors will not allow you to visit the animals’ quarters at an appropriate time. Unscheduled visits are often disruptive to the kennel’s schedule, but it is entirely reasonable to expect a request for a scheduled visit to be honored. Kennel employees should have good rapport with the animals. Good kennels look clean, smell fresh, are regularly disinfected, and provide safe and secure individual housing for each animal that prevents nose-to-nose contact with other boarders. Cats carry many infectious diseases that are easily transmitted from one cat to another unless the most strict procedures are followed. For health reasons it is often best to mix both cats and dogs in a kennel—a situation many cats unfamiliar with dogs find distressing at first. However, most adapt well if they cannot see or be seen by a dog. Proper housing is also adequately lighted, well ventilated, heated or cooled to avoid temperature extremes, and designed to protect boarders from exposure to the elements.

Owners of reputable boarding kennels will require certificates of vaccination against infectious diseases. They should also inquire about the pet’s usual diet and be willing to feed your pet familiar foods. Drinking water, of course, should be provided at all times. It is also customary to administer medications normally given at home. Kennel policy about toys and bedding brought from home varies; so inquire about it should your cat need some comfort from home.

Another good sign is inspection of your pet for fleas before admission and the requirement that flea-infested pets be defleaed before entry to the kennel. This is an indication that the kennel makes every effort to keep the facility free from parasites.

Finally, the kennel operator should take note of your pet’s veterinarian’s name and telephone number, your instructions for care in case of an emergency, and where you or your legal representative can be reached should a problem arise.

Members of the American Boarding Kennels Association (ABKA), a nonprofit trade organization, pledge to operate their kennels in a manner that meets high standards. If the kennel you select is not only a member but accredited as well, it has had to pass an inspection.

Professional pet-sitting services have developed in many areas as an alternative to boarding kennels. Also many veterinary clinics have staff members who pet-sit part-time. When the cost is not prohibitive, use of these services is an excellent way to leave a pet at home when you must be away. Even if well adapted to boarding, many pets are happier in the familiar surroundings of home. Also, home stays avoid the ever-present danger of acquiring infection or parasites in a boarding kennel, even a well-run one. Ask your veterinarian for names of reputable pet-sitting services in your area.


There are several major infectious diseases for which safe and effective vaccines are available: among them rabies, feline panleukopenia (feline enteritis, feline “distemper”), and viral respiratory infections (rhinotracheitis, calicivirus). Each of these diseases can easily cause death in an unprotected cat. We are very fortunate to be able to prevent such serious illnesses with a procedure as technically simple as vaccination. (For more information on vaccines available for cats).


Antigens are molecules with particular areas on their surfaces that are recognized as foreign to the body. Antibodies are protein substances produced in the body that are responsible for recognizing these antigens. They are produced by cells called lymphocytes that originate in the bone marrow and multiply in the thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes. When lymphocytes recognize that a foreign substance (antigen), such as a virus or bacterium, has entered the body, they begin copious production of antibodies specific for the invader. Lymphocytes capable of antibody production against the invader multiply to produce progeny cells capable of producing the same antibodies. Some of these progeny cells immediately begin producing antibodies, while others become resting cells that serve as the body’s “memory” of the invader. If the same (or a very similar) invader makes an appearance again later, these cells are able to respond quickly to its presence.

Vaccination introduces a modified disease agent into the body. Common methods of altering an organism’s ability to produce disease are by chemical killing and by “breeding” to an innocuous state. Biotechnology can also produce vaccines that consist of harmless immunity-inducing portions of agents that cause disease when they enter the body intact. Modified viruses or bacteria are able to induce lymphocytes to produce antibodies capable of protecting the body against disease without actually producing illness. Frequently the body produces a higher (usually more protective) level of antibodies that are more specific to a disease agent on the second exposure to a vaccine, but different vaccines vary in their ability to produce a protective antibody level on first exposure. The duration of the body’s immunological memory for different viruses and bacteria also varies. These are two reasons why the number of original vaccinations necessary for protection and the frequency of booster vaccinations vary with each disease.


Additional factors influence the vaccinations of a young animal. Cats and dogs receive a small amount of antibodies across the placenta (the organ that communicates between mother and fetus before birth). They receive a much greater amount in the colostrum (first milk) and milk when they are nursing. Kittens are capable of absorbing some antibodies through their gut for several days following birth, but the first twenty-four hours are most important. The amount of antibody received against each particular disease is dependent on the level of circulating antibody in the mother. The antibody received from the mother serves primarily to protect the kitten against disease for the first few weeks of life. Whether or not a nursing kitten receives a protective level of antibody depends on how recently the mother was exposed to the disease in question or how recently she was vaccinated. The antibody a cat receives can be a disadvantage as well as being useful since it can interfere with vaccination by tying up the vaccination-introduced antigen before it can stimulate the kitten’s immune system. The protection kittens receive early in life against feline distemper is an example.

Some kittens lose their protective immunity against panleukopenia (feline “distemper”) acquired in nursing as early as six weeks of age, others as late as four months after birth. Therefore, the ideal vaccination schedule is individualized for each cat, and the last vaccination is given after twelve to sixteen weeks of age. There are tests for determining the level of antibody against panleukopenia in each cat, but, in general, they are too expensive and time-consuming for routine use.

The techniques of vaccination are relatively simple. Knowledge of the proper handling of vaccines and of the physiology of the immune response is what makes it important to have your cat vaccinated by a veterinarian who is interested in each animal as an individual. Vaccination by a good veterinarian also insures that your cat gets a physical examination when he or she is young, and then also later, which may reveal important changes you have missed. Regular visits during the initial kitten vaccination series also provide a time to discuss any behavior or training problems you may have with your pet and allows a young animal to become well adjusted to visits to an animal hospital. If a veterinarian vaccinates your cat without taking a thorough history or performing a thorough physical examination and discussing your pet with you, something is amiss!



The rabies virus can infect any warm-blooded animal, including humans. It causes a disease of the nervous system often manifested by changes in behavior followed by paralysis and death. The principal reservoirs of rabies in the United States are skunks, raccoons, bats, and foxes. Bats and skunks may shed (secrete) rabies virus in their saliva without exhibiting behavior that would arouse suspicion of infection. Any wild animal that allows you to get close enough to handle it should certainly be suspected of rabies and left alone. Cats should be supervised when outdoors to prevent exposure to rabid wildlife, especially during the night.


Rabies is usually spread when a rabid animal bites another, depositing virus from its saliva into the bite wound. However, the rabies virus can enter the body through any break in the skin, through the mucous membranes of the mouth, and probably those of the nose and eyes as well. After entering the body the rabies virus attaches to nervous tissue where it multiplies. Signs of rabies usually begin between about two to ten weeks following infection, but cases have developed more than one year after contact.


Rabid cats usually first show changes in their temperament. At this time rabies can be particularly difficult to diagnose because the signs are so variable. A cat may become restless, apprehensive, overly affectionate, or shy. A cat will often have a tendency to hide at this stage. Some cats may be febrile (have a fever) and may have dilated pupils. Following these early signs the animal often becomes extremely ferocious, biting or clawing at objects without provocation. This is often referred to as the furious form of rabies. These animals become insensible to pain, and, if confined, may bite or slash at the bars of their cages. Partial paralysis of the vocal cords results in a change in voice. Convulsions may be seen and may cause death.

The dumb form of rabies may follow the furious form or may be seen by itself. It is mainly characterized by paralysis. A cat’s mouth may hang open and saliva may drip from it. Since rabid cats cannot ingest food or water they become quite dehydrated. More often, however, cats with the dumb form of rabies develop difficulty walking and then paralysis of the rear legs. Eventually total paralysis occurs.


Recovery from rabies is so extremely rare that animals suspected of being infected are usually euthanized and tested for infection after death. Protect your cat from rabies so you will never have to deal with the problem of owning a rabid animal. Cats should first be vaccinated against rabies when they are three to four months of age. There are several types of vaccine available. The most commonly used types contain inactivated virus. The vaccine is administered by intramuscular (in the muscle) injection into one of the hindlegs or subcutaneously (under the skin), usually near the shoulder blades. Protection against rabies is reached within one month after primary immunization. Vaccination against rabies is required by state law, and the same law regulates the frequency of booster vaccinations as well. The current recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control vary with the type of vaccine administered. In general, a booster shot is given one year following the original vaccination, then booster doses are given every one to three years depending on the product used.

If you or your cat is exposed to a rabies suspect, that animal should be confined if possible and turned over to a public health officer for rabies quarantine or euthanasia. All bite wounds should be thoroughly washed with large quantities of soap and water and flushed with 70% ethyl alcohol, which kills rabies virus. Whether or not your cat will be quarantined following exposure to a rabies suspect will depend on state and local regulations. However, it is recommended that exposed, currently vaccinated cats be revaccinated immediately and confined for observation for ninety days.


Pseudorabies, a herpesvirus-induced disease of swine that is fatal when transmitted to cat or dogs, may be confused with rabies infection. Although aggressive behavior has not been reported, the fever, lack of appetite, restlessness, drooling, and self-mutilation that often accompany this disease can look similar to signs of rabies. Since no treatment is successful, the affected animals must be euthanized. Prevent this infection by not feeding your cat raw pork.


Feline panleukopenia is an extremely common, very contagious, and often fatal viral disease that occurs in cats (both domestic and wild) and raccoons and other members of the raccoon family. The panleukopenia virus attacks rapidly growing body cells such as those in the bone marrow and the intestinal lining. As a result, the white blood count is lowered when the bone marrow is infected, the bowel becomes damaged, and the cat may die from secondary bacterial infection and/or dehydration. Although this disease is commonly called distemper, it is not at all related to canine distemper which often occurs in young dogs. Other common names for panleukopenia are feline infectious enteritis, cat or show fever, and cat plague.


The incubation period (time from exposure to first signs of disease) for panleukopenia is usually about seven days, although it may vary from two to ten days. In young cats (under six months) in particular, the disease can be so severe and of such rapid onset that death occurs before an owner is truly aware that signs of illness are present. More often the first signs are fever (frequently 104 to 105°F), listlessness, lack of appetite, and vomiting usually accompanied by extreme dehydration. A cat may seem interested in drinking (some sit with their heads over or near their water bowls) but often will not drink or vomits soon after doing so. Diarrhea may accompany the first signs, but often seems to develop later. The stool is usually very watery and may contain pieces of intestinal lining and sometimes blood.


The procedure for initial immunization against panleukopenia varies depending on, among other things, the immune status of your kitten and on your ability to isolate your cat from exposure to the virus before vaccination is complete. Every effort should be made to keep your kitten away from cats who might be shedding the virus and away from panleukopenia-contaminated environments until vaccination is complete. The “panleuk” virus is shed in all bodily secretions and excretions and can be transmitted from cat to cat easily without bodily contact with the infected carrier cat. It is one of the most resistant viruses and can remain alive and a source of infection for susceptible cats for several months even after premises have been cleaned thoroughly. Only 0.5% formalin or hypochlorite, a 1:32 dilution of household bleach in water, can kill this virus. The best policy to follow is not to introduce a susceptible cat into premises where a cat has had panleukopenia for three to four months following the episode even if the area has been disinfected. Do not allow an unvaccinated cat to associate with strange cats. Keep him or her indoors if necessary until vaccination is complete. Keep your kitten in your lap or in a carrier and out of contact with possibly sick cats while at your veterinarian’s office.


Take your kitten to a veterinarian for his or her first vaccination at six to ten weeks of age. A good veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination before administering the vaccine. At this time he or she will also be able to answer any questions you may have about the care of your cat. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; no question is “dumb” and you may learn something very important by asking.

The injection is usually given under the skin (subcutaneously) in the back between the shoulder blades and as with most vaccines, seems pretty painless; many kittens act as if they don’t realize they are being vaccinated. Your veterinarian will ask you to bring your kitten back for a second vaccination in three weeks or more. In the meantime be sure to keep your kitten well isolated from exposure to disease. In general, two or three vaccinations are given before immunity is complete. Because there are various kinds of vaccines and variations in cats’ ages at the time of first vaccination, fewer or more vaccinations may be necessary. The important thing to remember is that no matter how young when vaccination is begun, kittens should finish their vaccines after twelve to sixteen weeks of age. If you think the series is finished or have been told that the series is finished before your kitten is this age, bring him or her back to the veterinarian for another shot.


If your cat contracts panleukopenia, it is important to have immediate examination by a veterinarian and to get intensive treatment started early. A complete blood count is necessary to help confirm the disease (the virus causes a marked decrease in the number of white blood cells present), and hospitalization is often necessary for successful treatment. You may, however, be able to work with your veterinarian on treatment at home. Treatment consists of appropriate antibiotics, vitamins, and supportive care including fluids, hand-feeding, and antidiarrheal medication. Heroic measures such as blood transfusions have been necessary in some cases.

Although panleukopenia is often fatal, there is no reason to give up at the first sign of disease. Many cats have survived severe cases to live out normal, healthy lives.


Parasites are creatures that at some point during their life cycle are dependent on a host (e.g., your cat). Not all parasites are harmful. In fact, in most well-cared-for small animals, owners overrate parasites as causes of illness. Under specific circumstances, certain parasites do cause disease; however, don’t assume that because your cat is sick he or she has worms or that because he or she is scratching fleas must be present.


If you think your cat has a parasite problem, look for the signs in the Index of Signs. (Remember, though, not all animals with parasite infections show signs.) If you find the signs, turn to the appropriate pages and use the information there to help you decide whether or not you need to consult a veterinarian. In most cases of internal parasite infection you will need professional help (see the following pages). Many times you can correct an external parasite problem yourself.

If you don’t think your cat has a parasite problem, it’s a good idea to read or skim this section anyway to complete your knowledge of preventive medicine. The information is included here in the preventive medicine pages because the key to a successful fight against parasites is good prevention and control, which require good daily care. If you fail in your general daily care to take into account the life cycle of certain parasites, you may continue to have a problem even though you have administered treatment against the parasite to your cat. Learning about the different parasites discussed below will help you provide a healthy environment for your cat, thus preventing serious infection and reinfection of your pet as well as preventing human infection with certain parasites.

Internal parasites: Protozoans, flukes, typeworms, and the following roundworms: ascarids, hookworms, whipworms, threadworms, stomach worms, eyeworms, lungworms, heartworms. External parasites: Fleas, ticks, lice, mites, flies.

Internal Parasites (Endoparasites) The endoparasites consist of protozoa, trematodes (flukes), cestodes (typeworms), and nematodes (roundworms). For the most part, the adults of these parasites live in the intestines. They may be present with or without causing illness, and you may or may not see them in your cat’s stools. Only if your cat is infected with one of the larger forms may you be able actually to see the parasites. If you think your cat has intestinal parasites but can’t be sure because you have not seen them or if you have a new cat, take a fecal sample to your veterinarian. (A tablespoonful is plenty.) It should be as fresh as possible, in any case not more than twenty-four hours old even if kept under refrigeration. Veterinarians use special procedures to separate the parasites and/or their eggs from the stool and look for evidence of infection microscopically. A variety of drugs is used to treat internal parasites. Most can be administered orally by you at home. The products mentioned here are generally designated by their chemical generic name.


There are few intestinal protozoans that cause illness in cats. Signs of infection, if present, are variable but often include diarrhea not responsive to home treatment. There is no method to diagnose or treat these parasites at home, so you as an owner must rely on the help of a veterinarian, who can diagnose their presence microscopically or with special lab tests and prescribe proper medication.

The most common intestinal protozoal infections of cats are by coccidia or Giardia organisms, and most are self-limiting and asymptomatic. However, kittens that are raised in dirty environments highly contaminated by parasites may become ill and develop diarrhea (sometimes bloody) when infected with coccidia or Giardia.


One coccidia of special interest is Toxoplasma gondii. This microscopic organism is found in all parts of the world. Like other members of its class it is able to produce signs of intestinal disease (e.g., diarrhea) in cats, but it also has a tissue phase that can produce serious generalized disease. At times it can become a human health hazard.


Cats and other mammals, including humans, may acquire Toxoplasma before birth when the mother becomes newly infected during pregnancy or when a previously acquired but quiescent infection becomes reactivated. The more likely sources of infection for a pet cat are the consumption of undercooked or raw meat (including wild caught rodents or birds) containing the infective tissue stages of the disease. These oocysts can contaminate soil where they can be picked up by the feet or fur of a passing cat or other mammal and later ingested while grooming. Infected soil can contaminate food products such as milk or vegetables, and oocysts can be transported by flies and cockroaches from contaminated soil or oocyst-infected cat stool to surfaces where they may be accidentally ingested.



After infection, signs of disease may or may not be seen depending on many factors including age, the presence of concurrent infections (e.g., feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus) and general state of health. In general, signs of illness are most likely to develop in kittens, very old cats, or others who have weakened immune systems. If signs do develop, they may be as simple as diarrhea or so complex as to mimic many other diseases. Signs that have been seen include fever, lack of appetite, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, weight loss, coughing and difficulty breathing, signs of pancreas and/or bowel inflammation (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea), signs of liver disease including vomiting and yellowish gums, and eye or nervous system problems. Nervous system signs can result in almost any disorder including personality changes, seizures, loss of bowel and/or bladder control to difficulty walking or even heightened sensitivity to touch. Pregnant cats may abort. Because of the many possibilities involved, diagnosis must be made with the help of a veterinarian who will use laboratory tests to confirm the infection.


Alarmist articles concerning toxoplasmosis in people and in cats have appeared in newspapers and popular magazines. They have often emphasized the congenital type of transmission from pregnant women to their unborn children, which can result in severe birth defects and infant death, and they have often dwelt on the possibility of acquiring infection from cat stool. In fact, birth defects due to Toxoplasma infection are relatively rare, and the disease in healthy adult humans is commonly so mild that it passes undiagnosed. Research indicates that 30 to 60% of adults in the United States have had toxoplasmosis; in other countries the incidence is much higher. It is now known that toxoplasmosis in humans is a common infection but a rare cause of disease. (The exception is the individual with a weakened immune system such as the AIDS patient or transplant recipient.) Although human infection can be acquired from material contaminated with infected cat feces, adults are more likely to contract toxoplasmosis from eating raw or undercooked meat than by contact with cats. (Infection rates of more than 80% have been found in people who eat raw meat, especially those eating undercooked lamb and pork.) Children, on the other hand, are most likely to become infected by coming into contact with soil that has been contaminated with cat feces containing Toxoplasma. This is because children are more likely to put contaminated soil or other dirty objects in their mouths, and they are much less likely than adults to wash their hands and fingernails after playing in the dirt.

Since cats (both wild and domestic) are the only animals that shed the infective stages of Toxoplasma in their stools, it is important to control toxoplasmosis in cats to break the cycle of transmission to other animals and to people.


Toxoplasmosis can be easily prevented in your cat by observing the folowing rules:

1. Feed only pasteurized dairy products, commercial cat foods that have been subjected to heat during processing, or thoroughly cooked meat (heat through to 140°F, [60°C]). (Meat frozen to temperatures below - 68°F (—20°C) and thawed before feeding is safe, but most home freezers cannot meet these requirements, and it is, therefore, unsafe to feed any uncooked meat to your cat.)

2. Confine your cat to prevent capture and consumption of Toxoplasma-infected birds or rodents and to prevent contact with the feces of infected carrier animals. Bell cats who cannot be confined indoors to limit any successful hunting.

Blood tests are available through physicians for individuals who would like to find out whether they have been previously infected by Toxoplasma and are, therefore, immune to further infection. Human infections can be minimized by strictly following the recommendations listed below. Pregnant women or women contemplating pregnancy who have not been previously infected with toxoplasma should be particularly careful to follow these guidelines.

1. Avoid eating unpasteurized dairy products or raw or undercooked meat of any type (heat through to 140°F, [60°C]). Wash your hands after handling raw meat.

2. Take cats showing signs of illness to be examined by a veterinarian who can perform a fecal examination for Toxoplasma organisms. Cats shedding oocysts should be hospitalized or isolated in some other manner until the shedding stops (in about ten to fourteen days) to prevent further transmission of the organism.

3. Follow the rules for preventing Toxoplasma infection of cats.

4. Avoid careless handling of stools of cats that are allowed to contact sources of Toxoplasma infection. In rural areas, cats should not be allowed to defecate in hay racks, feeding troughs, or other areas where farm animals may eat. Provide litter boxes for them which will encourage defecation in relatively controlled sites. Remove stool from the litter box daily (organisms in stool take two to four days at average room temperatures to become infective), and use disposable pan liners or disposable cat boxes if possible. Nondisposable cat litter pans should be scalded with water heated to 131°F, (50°C) or disinfected with 10% ammonia solution whenever the litter is replaced. Dispose of cat litter and stool by flushing it down the toilet or burning it. Wear disposable gloves while cleaning the litter pan.

5. Wear gloves while gardening to prevent contact with Toxoplasma-contaminated soil.

6. Cover children’s sandboxes when not in use to prevent fecal contamination.

7. Control cockroaches, flies, rodents, and stray cats, which can act as transport hosts and carriers of the Toxoplasma organism.

8. Avoid handling or holding free-roaming cats close to your mouth in order to prevent contact with feet or fur that could have touched infected soil. Keep free-roaming cats off bedding, tables, and counter tops.

9. Wash all uncooked, possibly soil-contaminated vegetables thoroughly before eating.

10. Make thorough handwashing and nail scrubbing a part of each child’s and adult’s daily routine, especially following contact with free-roaming cats, farm animals, soil, unpasteurized dairy products, and uncooked meat or vegetables.


Like protozoans, trematode parasites are uncommon causes of disease in cats. One fluke, Paragonimus, can cause cysts in the lungs of both cats and dogs, leading to a chronic cough and pneumonia. Infection can be prevented by keeping your pet from eating raw crayfish or from drinking water contaminated with infective stages of the fluke. Infection can be diagnosed by finding the microscopic fluke eggs in the stool or lung secretions. Treatment is with praziquantel or fenbendazole. There are several other kinds of these flatworms which parasitize different parts of the body including the lungs, liver, and small intestine. Signs of infection vary greatly and diagnosis must be made by a veterinarian. You can prevent infection of your cat by restricting hunting since infection is usually acquired by ingesting prey, including raw fish, certain crayfish or crabs, frogs, reptiles, or snails, and rats.


Cats acquire tapeworms by eating any of three types of infected materials: 1) prey, offal (discarded animal parts), or uncooked meat; 2) raw, freshwater fish; or 3) infected fleas or biting lice. The common tapeworms (Taenia species and Dipylidium caninum) are acquired by ingesting prey or infected fleas and have similar life cycles.

The adult tapeworm has a head with hooks and suckers that attach to the host’s intestinal wall and a body consisting of a series of reproductive segments. It obtains nourishment by absorbing the nutrients in the host’s digestive tract directly through the cuticle that covers each body segment of the worm. Eggs produced by the adult tapeworm pass out with the cat’s feces and are eaten by an intermediate host (such as a rabbit, rodent for Taenia species, or flea for Dipylidiuim caninum) in whom they grow into an infective stage commonly called a bladderworm. When the cat eats an intermediate host, this immature form completes its life cycle by becoming an adult tapeworm in the cat. The life cycle of tapeworms acquired from fish is more complex.



Although heavy tapeworm infestation can cause poor growth, coat changes, variable appetite, or gastrointestinal disturbances, in general you will have no reason to suspect infection until you see tapeworm segments clinging to the hair or skin around the anus or in a fresh bowel movement. Fresh tapeworm segments are opaque white or pinkish white, flat, and somewhat rectangularly shaped. They often move with a stretching out and shrinking back motion. When dry, the segments become yellow or off-white, translucent, and shaped somewhat like grains of rice. Tapeworm segments are not always present with tapeworm infection. When absent, diagnosis may possibly be made through microscopic fecal examination.


In most cases it is easy to rid a cat of tapeworms. If you demonstrate that your cat has tapeworms, most veterinarians will supply you with safe, tapeworm-killing medication that can be administered at home without unpleasant side effects such as vomiting or diarrhea. Praziquantel or epsiprantel are common veterinary prescribed antitapeworm drugs. Sometimes, however, the deworming must be done in the veterinary hospital.

Avoid using antitapeworm drugs available in pet stores. Most are ineffective. Effective over-the-counter drugs containing arecoline can be dangerous. They may cause excessive vomiting, severe diarrhea, and sometimes convulsions followed by death; they are not recommended for use in cats. After deworming with a product recommended by your veterinarian, make an effort to prevent your cat from re-exposure to sources of tapeworm infection (e.g., flea control is very important). If you don’t, deworming may have to be repeated several times a year.


Can people get tapeworms from their cats? In general, the answer is no, but in certain cases tapeworms can pose a health hazard. Small children have sometimes gotten a tapeworm following accidental ingestion of a flea. The tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis, which is mainly an intestinal parasite of coyotes, wolves, and foxes but may also affect domestic dogs, can also pose a health hazard. Cats can acquire Echinococcus infection by eating infected raw meat. Sheep, cows, horses, pigs, deer, moose, and rodents may all carry the infective stages, so these tapeworms are a problem mainly in rural areas. The tapeworms mature in infected cats and dogs, and their eggs are passed out in the stool, where they contaminate the soil and infect intermediate hosts such as sheep or humans. Humans may be infected by direct contact with the eggs whether they are on the dog or cat, the stool or soil, or on unwashed vegetables contaminated with infective soil. When the bladderworm forms in human body tissues, severe disease can occur. If you live in a rural area, it is important to have your cat’s stool examined periodically by a veterinarian; do not allow your cats to scavenge raw meat or hunt. Practice good hygiene to prevent infection: Hands, utensils, or food that may have come into contact with infective eggs on the cat or in the soil should always be washed before contact with your mouth. If your cat must be used for rodent control in areas where Echinococcus multilocularis is a problem, he or she should be dewormed monthly with antitapeworm medications (e.g., praziquantel), and you should keep in mind the risk of toxoplasmosis.


Although most people are aware that roundworm infections occur in cats, many are unaware that, like the other classes of internal parasites, there are several kinds of roundworms. Common ones are covered in the following pages.


Ascarids are the type of roundworms commonly seen in the stool of kittens. They are white, cylindrical, and pointed at both ends. They may be relatively small and threadlike in appearance or as long as 3 or 4 inches (around 7 to 10 cm), somewhat resembling small white earthworms. Adult ascarids live in the small intestine and get their nourishment by absorbing nutrients in the digestive juices through their cuticle (outer covering). Mature ascarids produce eggs that pass out in the cat’s stool. After about one to four weeks the eggs become infective and contain larval worms. If the infective eggs are ingested by an appropriate host, they complete their life cycle, eventually becoming adult worms in the host’s intestine. If they are eaten by an inappropriate host, such as a rodent or cockroach, the larval worms encycst in the tissues of the host where they remain unless a cat or other animal eats the abnormal host and through digestion releases the larvae.



Larvae of the common cat roundworm, Toxocara cati, can be transmitted from an adult female cat through her milk to nursing kittens, so infection may be found in very young cats. It is impossible to prevent this early infection by deworming the female before she gives birth. Therefore, it is probably easiest and best in terms of possible effects on human health to assume that all kittens have ascarid infections and to deworm them routinely.


Ascarids do not usually cause apparent disease in adult cats, however, heavy infections with Toxocara cati in kittens in particular, can lead to death. This roundworm migrates through the lungs en route to the intestine and can cause a cough or even pneumonia. More commonly, vomiting (of worms, sometimes), diarrhea, and progressive weakness are seen. Severely infected kittens may have dull coats and potbellies on a thin frame, and some may even develop bowel obstruction or rupture from impaction with ascarid roundworms.


The drugs piperazine (at a dose of 50 mg/lb body weight base, 110 mg/kg body weight base) and pyrantel pamoate (9 mg/lb, 20 mg/kg) are used to remove adult ascarids from the intestines. Both are very safe and effective drugs that you can obtain from your veterinarian or a pet shop; both drugs can be administered at home. There is no need to make your cat fast before administering the dewormers, and they do not usually cause vomiting or diarrhea. Avoid over-the-counter products containing dichlorophene and/or toluene since these have been associated with toxicity. Other drugs used to kill ascarids may be available only with a prescription from a veterinarian. These include febantel, fenbendazole, dichlorvos, and ivermectin. Kittens can be dewormed as early as four weeks after birth in order to remove ascarids before they start shedding eggs into the stool, resulting in environmental contamination. Public health authorities strongly recommend this procedure. Deworming should be repeated at least once two to four weeks later to remove any adult worms that were immature and not killed at the first dosing. For extremely heavy infections, deworming may have to be repeated several times before all worms present are killed. Therefore, it is common to deworm kittens every two to three weeks until they are three months of age.

Ascarid eggs are very resistant to environmental stresses. They can remain alive and infective for months or years once they have contaminated soil. These factors make it very important to practice good sanitation to prevent reinfection of your cat as well as infection of other cats and humans. Roundworm eggs cannot survive on surfaces that dry completely and that are exposed to sunlight as much as possible. Surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned with iodine-based disinfectants containing 120 parts per million free iodine. A 1% sodium hypochlorite solution (3 cups liquid chlorine laundry bleach to 1 gallon water) will damage but not kill roundworm eggs as an aid to removal. Rodents and cockroaches, which may serve as intermediate hosts for the worms, should be controlled.


Although feline ascarids do not occur in human intestines, their larve may cause visceral larva migrans, a rare condition in which roundworm larvae migrate throughout the body. Visceral larva migrans may cause anything from no signs of illness to severe signs, including blindness. The condition occurs most often in young children who play in soil infested with the eggs of the common dog roundworm, Toxocara canis, and put their contaminated hands in their mouths. But Toxocara cati has been incriminated in some cases. Although complete recovery is the rule, the possibility of human infection is a significant reason for good ascarid control and for good general hygiene.



Hookworms (Ancylostoma and Uncinaria species) are small intestinal parasites (about one-fourth to one-half inch long, 0.6 to 1.25 cm) that attach to the wall of the small intestine and suck blood. Cats may become infected by ingesting infective larval worms off the ground, eating a transport host such as a mouse, or by penetration of their skin by infective larvae. Kittens may become infected before birth by larvae migrating through the mother’s body tissues and shortly after birth by larvae passed in colostrum and milk.

Migration of hookworm larvae through the skin can cause itching reflected by scratching, redness, and sometimes bumps and scabs on the skin. Hookworms living in the intestine can cause diarrhea, severe anemia, weakness, and emaciation leading to death. Infection in young animals sometimes causes anemia and death even before hookworm eggs are detectable in the stool.


Hookworms cannot be diagnosed and treated effectively without the aid of a veterinarian. Hookworms are small enough to be overlooked even when they are passed in the stool. Signs of illness caused by hookworm infection can be caused by other diseases as well. The safest and most effective compounds for treatment are available only through veterinarians. If your cat has to be treated for hookworms your veterinarian will probably use a drug called pyrantel pamoate (9 mg/lb, 20 mg/kg) that you may be able to administer at home. Other kinds of effective drugs include febantel, disophenol, dichlorvos, and ivermectin.


Hookworms are a problem only in areas that provide an environment suitable for the development of infective larvae. The preinfective stages require moderate temperatures (between about 73°F and 86°F, [22.8° to 30°C]) and moisture for development. Prevent reinfection or spread of hookworms by keeping your cat indoors and having him or her use a litter pan that is thoroughly cleaned at least weekly (preferably daily) until your cat is diagnosed as hookworm free. Cage areas should be washed daily and allowed to dry, and outdoor areas where stool may have been deposited must be kept dry for three weeks to kill larvae. In areas of gravel, dirt, sand, or bark, concentrated sodium chloride solution (irritating to cat’s feet) or sodium borate (borax, 10 pounds per 100 square feet, broadcast dry, raked lightly, and moistened) must be applied to kill the larvae. Repeat the application monthly.


Stomach worms infect both cats and dogs and occur mainly in the southeastern United States. They frequently cause vomiting and cannot be differentiated from other causes of vomiting without examination of a fecal sample and the aid of a veterinarian. You can prevent infection of your cat by preventing the ingestion of cockroaches, crickets, and beetles, which serve as intermediate hosts for the development of one type of stomach worm (Physaloptera), as well as the ingestion of vomitus from other infected animals, which may carry a worm called Ollulanus tricuspis. Piperazine salts, pyrantel pamoate, dichlorvos, or fenbendazole is used for treatment.


The threadworms, Strongyloides stercoralis, is a roundworm parasite of cats, dogs, and humans. Infection with this species and other kinds of threadworms is acquired most commonly when infective larvae penetrate the skin. This can cause red lumps, crusts, and scratching. And during their migration through the body the larvae can produce signs of respiratory disease, such as a cough. Cats can also become infected by ingestion of infective larvae. Threadworms are very small worms and will not be seen in the stool. When diagnosis is established by a veterinarian, thiabendazole is often used for treatment. Prevent Strongyloides infection by providing your cat with a clean, dry environment since the infective larvae cannot survive without a moist environment.


Lungworms, as their name implies, are small (about one-fourth-inch, 0.6 cm long) roundworms who as adults live in the lungs of cats. The more common lungworm, Aelurostrongylus abstrusus, infects cats who have eaten snails, slugs, rodents, frogs, lizards, or birds carrying infective larvae of the worm. These intermediate and transfer hosts become infected when they ingest larvae that have been coughed up and then swallowed and passed in the stool of affected cats. Although infection is uncommon, lungworms do occur in many areas all over the United States and Europe, so an informed cat owner should be aware of their occurrence.


The first sign of lungworm infection is usually a persistant cough, often accompanied by a gradual weight loss. Other signs in addition to cough can be fever, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, and sneezing. Therefore, it is easy to confuse this disease with other causes of respiratory distress.


Diagnosis and treatment of lungworm disease may be difficult and must be done by a veterinarian. Veterinarians look for lungworm larvae (or eggs, in certain cases) in the stool (or sputum) of infected cats, so it can be helpful to bring a stool sample when you take your cat to be examined. There are few effective drug treatments; they include ivermectin and fenbendazole. Prevent infection with the common lungworm by restricting your cat from hunting.


Whipworms (Trichuris species) are intestinal roundworms that are known to occur in the cecum (part of the large intestine) and sometimes cause diarrhea and weight loss. Although once thought not to occur in cats, whipworms have been rarely diagnosed in them. Infection is acquired directly by ingesting infective larvae from contaminated soil. Diagnosis must usually be made by a veterinarian since infection is often symptomless. Ask your veterinarian if you live in an area where whipworms are found. If you do, consider having a stool sample examined semi-annually for evidence of whipworm infection.


Eyeworms are small roundworms (less than one half inch [1.25 cm] long) that live in the conjunctival sac of the infected cat. They cause reddening and irritation of the conjuctiva, discharge from the eye, and, sometimes, damage to the eyeball itself. Eyeworms occur in North America (especially the western United States) and Asia and are transmitted through the mouthparts of flies that feed on secretions from the eye. You or your veterinarian can eliminate infection with these worms if you find them by removing them with a pair of fine forceps or tweezers.


Heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis) are roundworm parasites ranging from 6 to 12 inches long (15 to 30 cm) that are found in the hearts, pulmonary arteries, and venae cavae of infected dogs. They can cause serious, even life-threatening disease in dogs, and they may also cause health problems in cats, although much more rarely. These worms are transmitted by mosquitoes that feed on infected animals and ingest immature forms (larvae) of the heartworm along with their blood meal. After a period in which the larvae mature the mosquito transmits the larvae that cause infection to a new host when it takes another blood meal.

There are areas all over the world where heartworm infection is likely to occur. In the United States, infection in dogs is particularly common along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, in the Mississippi Valley, and in Hawaii. However, heartworm infection is also found in the Midwest, Pacific far west, and Alaska. If you live in an endemic area and your cat spends a great deal of time outdoors, he or she is at risk of heartworm infection.

Cats are more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs. When infection does occur there are fewer worms, they do not grow as large, and they usually die spontaneously in about two years. Since cats are not the normal host for the heartworm, larvae may often travel to other areas of the body such as the brain, spinal cord, and tissues under the skin instead of the heart. Signs of heartworms in infected cats may not be visible at all, or they may be very nonspecific such as loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss. On the other hand, the course of illness can be rapid, resulting in a sudden, unexpected death due to obstruction of the arteries of the lung (pulmonary embolization). More chronic cases may be marked by sporadic coughing or difficulty breathing and thereby be confused with feline asthma. Sometimes the main sign of infection is bouts of vomiting; in areas of high heartworm incidence, infection must always be considered as a possible cause of unexplained vomiting by cats who may have been exposed to infected mosquitoes.

Adult heartworms in cats do not readily produce the young larval forms that are usually found in the blood of infected dogs and that are most often used to diagnose infection in them. This fact coupled with the fact that heartworm infection in cats can mimic many other diseases often makes diagnosis difficult. A veterinarian who suspects heartworm infection in your cat can perform blood tests, chest radiographs (X-ray pictures), heart and blood vessel evaluation, and other specialized tests as needed to determine the presence and severity of heartworm-induced disease. When diagnosis is confirmed, he or she can give you the best advice as to whether treatment is advisable, since the drugs used for treatment may be associated with serious, even life-threatening, side effects themselves.

Prevent heartworm infection in your cat by keeping your pet indoors during mosquito season. Consult your veterinarian about prevention in high-risk areas.


In answer to a common question: cats, like dogs, do not get or spread pinworms. The human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, occurs only in humans and higher primates such as chimpanzees.


Trichinosis is a roundworm infection that occurs when larval forms of Trichinella spiralis are eaten and encyst in the muscle tissue. This disease affects humans, pigs, and other mammals, including cats, dogs, and rats. Vomiting, diarrhea (bloody), and signs of muscle involvement including stiffness and weakness, and signs of pain have occurred in affected cats. Although cats are among the animals most susceptible to trichinosis, infection is not frequently recognized. Prevent trichinosis by not feeding raw or undercooked pork and by restricting hunting (to prevent cat’s preying on possibly infected rodents). This will also prevent pseudorabies infection.

External Parasites External parasites of cats are arthropods (hardcoated insects and insectlike animals) that live on cat skin, feeding on blood, tissue fluid, or the skin itself.


Fleas are probably the most prevalent external parasite of cats. Fleas are wingless, small dark brown insects capable of jumping great distances relative to their body size. They obtain nourishment by sucking blood. Fleas are not very host-specific. In spite of the fact that there are several flea species, cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) can be found on dogs, dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis) can be found on cats, and cat and dog fleas will feed on humans. Human fleas (Pulex irritans) also feed on dogs and occasionally on cats. The important thing is not the kind of flea present, but that a cat should not have fleas at all. A single flea on a pet is a cause for concern. Flea infestation should not be considered a normal or natural condition, and just a few fleas can sometimes be responsible for significant loss of blood in kittens, old animals, or any weakened cat. This blood loss (anemia) can result in death, particularly in young cats. Fleas are carriers of disease, including the organism that causes human bubonic plague and also tapeworms. Allergic dermatitis is also commonly caused by fleas.


Optimum Environmental Conditions for Development 65-85°F (18-27°C) 75-85% Humidity


Female fleas lay their eggs only after consuming a blood meal. They may lay them directly on the host, but because the eggs aren’t sticky, they usually drop off. Flea eggs are white and about the size of a small grain of salt. If a cat is heavily infested with fleas, eggs may be found in his or her coat mixed with flea feces (partially digested blood), which are about the same size but colored black. (Moistening suspected flea excreta should produce a blood red spot.) The eggs hatch into larvae anytime from two days to two weeks after being laid. Mature flea larvae resemble very small fly maggots. They are about one-quarter (about 6 mm) inch long and white to creamy yellow in color. They are usually found in cracks in floors, under carpets, in pet bedding, and other similar places. The larvae feed only a little, eating adult flea excreta or other organic debris in the environment. Then they spin cocoons in which they develop into adult fleas. Depending on environmental conditions, larvae may take from about ten days to several months to become adult fleas. They are very sensitive to drying; therefore, they prefer an environment that is uniformly moist but not wet, a condition that is often found in sandy areas outdoors. Once larval fleas enter their cocoons, they are called pupae. Pupae are extremely resistant to any chemical or physical means of destruction and may survive for up to twenty months before emerging as adult fleas. After hatching, adult fleas can live up to twelve months without feeding, just waiting to jump on your pet.

Since a major part of the flea life cycle takes place off the cat, flea control on a single host is not sufficient to get rid of fleas completely. Fastidious housekeeping is essential, and flea control must be practiced on all pets living in a single house. Existing fleas must be removed from the premises (including from vehicles in which fleainfested pets have been transported) so that the pet can be used as a sentinel to alert you to any potential reinfestations.

Washing or burning infested bedding and thorough vacuuming can be sufficient to get rid of small numbers of fleas providing the cleaning routine is kept up weekly year-round and providing that all pets in the household are kept scrupulously clean. In the case of a moderate to heavy infestation, houses, yards, and catteries must be sprayed or fumigated with commercial insecticides, or the services of professional exterminators must be obtained.


Two ways to detect fleas in your environment are the white handkerchief and white sock techniques. In the first, a white linen handkerchief is inserted between the end of the vacuum cleaner hose and its coupling to the power source. After vacuuming the pet’s sleeping area, the carpet, and other areas (even the cat), remove the handkerchief and place it quickly and carefully into a plastic bag. Then seal it. With a magnifying glass, it is easy to detect flea eggs, larvae, pupae, and even adult fleas trapped in the handkerchief.

The white sock technique detects adult fleas in a suspected area. Put on a pair of white knee socks and walk briskly around the suspected area for five minutes. Fleas respond to vibrations in the environment, body heat, and exhaled carbon dioxide and often jump onto the socks, where they can be seen. Any flea observed is significant, as one adult female flea can lay up to forty eggs per day and a breeding pair of fleas can easily produce 600 offspring in a month!


Products for treating premises that have fleas include insecticides, insect growth regulators, and a few noninsecticidal products. Insecticides are available as liquids to be sprayed in- or outdoors or as indoor foggers (“bombs”) that release a fine mist into the air when activated. Any good veterinary clinic should be able to help you select a product, but be sure to read the labels on any products you choose and ask any questions that may come to mind. It is very important to select insecticidal products that have the lowest possible toxicity to species other than the flea and that are nonpersistent in the environment (see chart). Most products that meet these requirements need repeated application to the infested area (usually every two weeks for at least three or four applications) to eliminate adult fleas, which will continue to emerge from the pesticide-resistant cocoon stage as the previously applied pesticide degrades.

Insect growth regulators (e.g., methoprene, fenoxycarb) are biochemicals that mimic the insect hormone necessary for proper flea development, thus disrupting the early flea life stages and causing them to die. These products can provide about two to five months of persistent flea control when applied to areas harboring only flea eggs and larvae. They cannot kill pupae or adult fleas. Although these relatively environmentally safe chemicals cannot by themselves provide full flea control, they can lessen the amount of pesticide that has to be applied to the environment over time in order to kill adult fleas by eliminating fleas in the earlier life stages. Insect growth regulators are included in various premise sprays, foggers, and pet sprays in combination with a variety of insecticides. Nematodes that disrupt the flea life cycle by killing flea larvae and pupae are contained in some other products used for premise flea control. Read the labels and, if necessary, ask your veterinarian for advice on how to find the best product for your circumstances, as more than 300 products are available for the control of fleas on pets and premises.

Nonchemical methods of flea control are important to the success of any program using chemicals and for continuing good flea control once fleas are eliminated from the premises. Before using flea-control products, thorough cleaning of washable floor surfaces and vacuuming of carpets (a vacuum equipped with a beater bar is best) and furniture is critical. Special attention should be given to baseboards, sheltered areas under furniture, and the spaces around and under furniture cushions. Burn the vacuum cleaner bags after use. Pieces of flea collars, or flea powders placed in vacuum cleaner bags will also kill emerging adult fleas. However, they may also result in additional aerosol environmental contamination by pesticides, and this is not an approved use of insecticides by the Environmental Protection Agency. Also avoid using napthalene moth crystals (moth balls) in vacuum cleaner bags to kill fleas since they can generate explosive gas. Area rugs should be washed regularly, and steam cleaning of wall-to-wall carpets will kill all flea life stages if done properly. Various insecticides and larvacidal products can be applied in carpet-washing solutions if necessary, and drying products that kill fleas by desiccation can be sprinkled on carpets. The major key to good flea control is absolute cleanliness in the environment and on the pet.


If your cat has fleas, the first thing to do is to give him or her a good bath. You can use a gentle human shampoo or a commercial shampoo containing insecticides to kill fleas. If you use a regular shampoo, remember that you are only removing fleas mechanically. If you don’t rinse your cat’s coat well, fleas stunned by the water will wake up as the coat dries and still be around to cause trouble. Insecticidal shampoos have no significant residual action, but they do help kill fleas during the bath. A bath once a week followed by a cream rinse can be sufficient for flea control in low-flea-density areas. (Certain bath oils and cream rinses designed for people seem to have flearepelling effects. Ask your veterinarian for instructions for using a specific product on your cat.) Once your cat is clean, use any of the following for continued flea control.


Dips are insecticides that are applied to the cat’s coat as a liquid and allowed to dry. It is easiest to sponge on a dip while the cat is still wet following a bath. It is not necessary to immerse a cat in the dipping liquid. Avoid applying insecticides around the cat’s eyes, nose, and mouth (even if directed to do so by the label). Dips containing pyrethrins or synthetic pyrethrins (see chart) are generally less toxic and less environmentally persistent than those containing other insecticides, and they can provide very effective flea control if applied regularly. Some dips contain insect growth regulators. In areas with a major flea problem, it is desirable to switch between product categories periodically to avoid the possible emergence of a strain of flea resistant to any single insecticide group.


Flea sprays, roll-ons, and powders (dust) are made from a large variety of insecticides, insecticide potentiators, and sometimes insect growth inhibitors in an alcohol or water carrier (sprays, roll-ons) or a diatomaceous earth or silica carrier (powders). In general, the same considerations about toxicity, environmental persistence, and flea resistance apply to the selection of a spray or powder as to a dip. You may want to ask your veterinarian what is currently recommended in your area. In general, powders, sprays, and roll-ons must be applied frequently—often daily—to provide good flea control. Many animals and owners object to this process. It is important to apply most powders and sprays moderately and regularly, rather than infrequently and heavily, if good flea control is to be achieved. The legs, back, tail, and rump of the cat are the most important areas to cover, and it is essential to apply these products near the skin by pushing the hair against its direction of growth and rubbing the product in. It is often helpful to apply sprays or powders just before a pet is allowed outdoors. This allows any fleas that jump on during outdoor activity to be killed immediately (and not brought back indoors!), as well as allowing sprays to dry and excess powder to fall out of the fur.

Avoid applying sprays or powders to irritated or raw skin. Insecticides are more readily absorbed systemically from areas where the skin has been broken. Alcohol can be irritating to sensitive skin, and the drying action of the carriers in flea powders—which itself helps kill fleas—can also be irritating to both normal and abnormal skin.


Many flea collars contain organophosphate or carbamate insecticides incorporated into a plastic base that allows their slow release. These chemicals kill fleas directly. Their action in flea collars is not due to absorption by the cat and ingestion by the parasite with a blood meal. Some collars contain insect growth regulators that prevent flea eggs laid on the pet from hatching. A false sense of security may arise when a pet wears a flea collar, and this can result in infested premises if early evidence of collar failure is not noticed. Collars should be replaced on a regular schedule well before the stated expiration date on the package. Pets wearing flea collars should be bathed frequently and examined often for fleas. Any evidence of fleas on a pet who is wearing a flea collar is grounds for reevaluation of the full flea control program with special attention to the premises.

Flea collars can be used safely on healthy cats as young as two months of age, but package directions to the contrary should be heeded. Flea collars should be applied so they can move freely on the cat’s neck, and wetting should be avoided to prevent premature loss of the antiflea effect. Other insecticides should not be applied in the presence of a flea collar unless advised by a veterinarian.


A few cats are sensitive to insecticides and develop contact dermatitis when a flea collar is applied. The dermatitis often first appears as hair loss and reddening of the neck skin under the flea collar. If the collar is not removed, the skin condition can progress to large raw areas, sometimes secondarily infected with bacteria, that can be difficult to clear up and need the attention of a veterinarian. Flea collar dermatitis can sometimes be prevented by airing the collar for two or three days before putting it on the cat. Cats who cannot wear flea collars should not have similar insecticides applied to their skin in the form of dips, sprays, or powders.


Removal of fleas by hand or with a flea comb is an extremely inefficient method of flea control. To ensure a flea-free animal, the entire coat must be combed by hand for at least forty-five minutes daily, a process few people will routinely undertake. Of course, if you see a flea, you should remove it, but don’t rely on this as a means of routine control if other methods can be used. If they cannot be, be sure to combine combing with regular bathing and extremely fastidious housekeeping. And consider purchasing a flea-comb unit that can attach to your vacuum cleaner. Suction increases the effectiveness of the combing process.


Scientific experiments have been unable to substantiate the effectiveness of home remedies against fleas, such as applying ultrasonic collars or eucalyptus bud- or pennyroyal oil-impregnated collars or feeding cats garlic or brewer’s yeast. Flea traps that consist of a light source suspended over sticky paper have been shown by scientific experiment to catch no more than 2% of fleas released into a controlled environment. If you want to stick to such remedies, examine your cat thoroughly and frequently for evidence of fleas. If any are present, immediately reevaluate your means of flea control.


Organophosphate insecticides have been developed that are designed to kill fleas only after they have taken a blood meal from a pet. These products were developed for dogs and can be extremely dangerous to cats. They have a potent ability to lower an animal’s blood level of cholinesterase, an enzyme that is important to normal nervous system function. They can result in significant drug interactions when other drugs with similar effects are administered in the course of anesthesia or disease treatment and are readily toxic themselves to cats, causing vomiting, muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, drooling, diarrhea, and death. Common names of systemic flea control drugs are cythionate and fenthion. Avoid them in cats.

Lufenuron, an orally administered insect growth regulator, prevents eggs from fleas that have fed on treated cats from hatching. Although it is a relatively safe drug, it cannot kill adult fleas and is best used only with a full understanding of your cat’s flea control needs.


The sticktight flea Echidnophaga gallinacea is mainly a parasite of poultry, but it can attack cats. You can recognize sticktight fleas easily because the adults stick tightly to the cat’s skin and don’t run off when approached. They are voracious blood suckers and, if found, should be removed by the use of a flea dip followed by routine means of environmental flea control.


In the Middle Ages it was common for humans, dogs, and cats to be infested with fleas. Modern standards of cleanliness have made human infestation with fleas rare and unacceptable in normal, clean environments. This state is maintained without antiflea dips, sprays, and powders as part of one’s daily toilette. A similar state exists for cats who are kept clean and who live in clean households surrounded by neighbors who set the same high standards for their pets. Flea infestation could be a thing of the past for pets if all cats and dogs had owners who gave them good care.






pyrethrin (Sectrol*)

Rapid kill; usually
safe; degrade rapidly
after application;
short residual action


aldicarb (Temik*)
bendiocarb (Fibam*)
carbaryl (Sevin*)
(Furandan*, Bay70142*)
(Sendran*, Baygon*)

Slow environmental degradation; more potentially toxic than pyrethroids, less so than organophosphates; longer residual activity; flea resistance reported in certain geographic areas

Growth regulators

fenoxycarb (Tenocide*, Torus*)
lufenuron (Program*)
methoprene (Precor*, Siphotrol*)

Usually very safe; target immature insect stages; do not kill adult fleas


chlordecone (Kepone*)
endosulfan (Thiodan*)

Good residual action; persist in the environment; toxic to wildlife


chlorpyrifos (Dursban*)
coumaphos (Coral*)
cruformate (Ruelene*)
cythionate (Proban*)
diazinon (Spectracide*)
dichlorvos (DDVP*, Vapona*, Task*)
dimethoate (Cygon*)
disulfoton (Di-Syston*)
famphur (Warbex*)
fenthion (Pro-Spot*, Spotton*)
fonofos (Dyfonate*)
malathion (Malamar*, MLT* Zithiol*, Cythion*)
naled (Dibrom*)
parathion (Baldan*)
phorate (Thimet*)
phosmet (Prolate*, Kemolate*, Imidan*)
propetamphos (Safrotin*)
ronnel (Korlan*, Nankor*, Ectoral*, Etrolene*, Trolene*),
temephos, (Abate*)
tetrachlorvinphos (Rabon*, Gardona*)
trichlorfon (Dipterex*, Neguvon*)

Potent nerve toxins (cholinesterase inhibitors) with high potential for acute toxicity, suspected chronic toxicity for some products; good residual activity; broad spectrum of external and internal parasite- and “pest”-killing activity

Pyrethroids (Synthetic pyrethrins)

allethrin (Pynamin*)
d-trans allethrin
fenvalerate (Ectrin*)
permethrin (Expar*)
resmethrin (SBP-1382*)
tetramethrin (Neo-pynamin*)

Rapid kill; usually safe; moderately rapid degradation in environment and on animal; longer residual activity

* Trade name

Common ingredient in flea control products


Ticks are not commonly found on cats, probably because cats habitually groom themselves thoroughly. If you live in a woodsy or rural area and your cat goes outside, you may occasionally find a tick. Adult female ticks look different before and after they have taken a blood meal (see illustration); male ticks don’t swell with feeding. The most serious damage ticks usually do is cause an area of skin inflammation at the site of attachment, but their presence should never be ignored. Heavy tick infestation can cause anemia in kittens or weakened adult cats; ticks can transmit diseases and can sometimes cause paralysis by releasing substances toxic to nerves while feeding. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease* can be transmitted by ticks to humans, cats, and dogs.



Since cats rarely have more than one or two ticks on their bodies, the easiest way to remove them is by hand. Using forceps, tweezers, or your thumb and index finger protected by tissue or disposable gloves, grasp the tick as close as possible to where its mouthparts insert into the cat’s skin. Then exert a firm but gentle, constant pull. (There’s no need to twist.) If you’ve pulled just right and gotten the tick at the optimum time after attachment, the entire tick will detach. If the mouthparts are left embedded, don’t worry. The tick never grows back, the mouthparts fall out naturally, and only rarely does a tick bite become infected. The site of the tick bite usually becomes red and thickened in reaction to a substance secreted in the tick’s saliva, but it usually heals in about two weeks. Do not try to burn off ticks with a match, or apply kerosene, gasoline, or other similar petroleum products. If you feel you must apply something to the tick, use a drop of concentrated flea or tick dip or alcohol, apply it only to the tick, not to the surrounding skin or hair. Wait for a few minutes, then pull the tick out. Always avoid contact with the body fluids of ticks to avoid infection of yourself by disease-causing organisms (the Lyme disease spirochete bacterium can penetrate the skin directly), and always wash your hands with soap and water after removing a tick.


LOUSE (Felicola)

Lice are much less commonly seen than fleas or ticks on wellcared-for cats. Adult lice are pale colored and about one tenth inch (2.5 mm) or less in length. They spend their entire life on one host and attach their tiny white eggs to the hair. Cat lice (Felicola subrostratus) eat skin scales and hair. They can cause signs of itching, dandruff, and a rough hair coat. Some cats develop tiny scabs all over their skin. Lice can also carry certain tapeworm larvae. Kill lice with a thorough bath followed by a spray or dip for cats effective against ticks and fleas. Repeat the treatment weekly for three to four weeks and include all cats living with or exposed to the infested cat.


Mange is a general term for infestation with mites. It is not any single disease in itself. The mites discussed here are ear mites, Cheyletiella mites, head mites, and trombiculid mites. Other mite infestations of cats (e.g., Demodex and Sarcoptes) are rare.



Ear mites, Otodectes cynotis, live in the ear canal of cats and dogs and feed on skin debris, blood, and tissue fluids. They are the most common mites that infest cats. Ear mites cause the formation of large amounts of dark black to reddish brown wax in the ear. An infected cat may hold his or her ears in an abnormally flattened manner and shake his or her head or scratch his or her ears with unusual vigor.

EAR MITES (Otodectes)

If you think your cat has ear mites, remove some of the discharge from the ear canal with a cotton swab. You may be able to see the mites by examining the waxy material in a bright light or by putting it on a piece of black paper. (A magnifying glass may help you.) Live ear mites look like moving white specks about the size of the point of a dressmaker’s pin.


If you have seen mites and there is not much ear discharge, you may be able to treat the condition at home. Do not attempt home treatment unless you have seen the mites. Other ear problems can cause similar discharges and may be complicated by the use of an ear mite preparation. Treatment consists of cleaning out the ears and instilling insecticide liquid with an eyedropper or dropper bottle. How often this must be done depends on the product used. However, no matter which topical product is selected, the full treatment period must extend over a total of thirty days in order to kill all stages in the mite life cycle. It is also advisable to clean the premises thoroughly and to bathe the cat and apply topical insecticides to the cat’s coat, as ear mites are occasionally found in the fur or in the environment, where they may survive for months. It is important to treat all cats and dogs in the household to avoid reinfestation. Bathe, spray, and/or dip the animals in antiflea preparations once a week for three to four weeks to kill any mites that may be found in the fur. Whether or not you will need to see a veterinarian to obtain an effective ear mite preparation depends on the area in which you live, as some states control over-the-counter sale of insecticides more closely than others. Effective preparations often contain one or more of the following: rotenone, pyrethrins, piperonyl butoxide, thiabendazole, dichlorophene, methoxychlor, or ivermectin. Veterinarians may also administer some injectable drugs to kill the mites.


Cheyletiella are off-white or yellowish large mites that most commonly infest young kittens brought up in dirty environments. They cause a dandrufflike condition and mild signs of itching. This mite can be seen with the naked eye if an infested cat is carefully examined. Control is easily achieved by cleansing with insecticidal shampoo or using insecticidal dips, sprays, or powders (e.g., pyrethrins, carbaryl, lime-sulfur) once a week for three weeks on allanimals on the premises. Cheyletiella mites are capable of infesting dogs, foxes, rabbits, and humans as well as cats. Infection of people with the common “walking dandruff” mite of cats (Cheyletiella blakei) is usually only transient and, if necessary, can be treated with insecticidal shampoos. Premises should be treated with insecticides (see flea control) as a few female mites may live off the host for as long as ten days. If topical treatment is not possible, some veterinarians may administer antimite drugs by injection.



Head mites, Notoedres cati, are microscopic mites that infest cats and that can transiently infest human beings and dogs. These mites burrow beneath the horny layers of the skin causing intense signs of itching followed by hair loss. Because these mites seem to prefer the skin of the head and ears, thickened, wrinkled skin and gray crusts and scales are usually first seen in these areas and on the back of the neck. In neglected cases lesions of this appearance may be found on the feet and under the tail. Notoedres infestation is easily spread from cat to cat.


If you suspect that your cat has head mange, infection can only be confirmed by microscopic examination of a skin scraping. Therefore, it is advisable to have your cat examined by a veterinarian before beginning treatment for the mites. Not only can he or she confirm the presence of mites and give you detailed information on the use of a proper insecticide to prevent toxicity to your cat, but a veterinarian can also administer corticosteroid drugs, if necessary, to help relieve the itching until the mites are completely gone, and antibiotics in cases of secondary bacterial infection.


If you cannot obtain the services of a veterinarian and choose to begin treatment yourself, be sure to pick an insecticide marked clearly as safe for cats and follow the directions on it carefully. Treatment must include all cats in contact with the infected one. It consists of clipping hair on affected areas on long-haired cats, bathing, and applying a dip which kills Notoedres at least twice at 7- to 10-day intervals. Dips reported effective against Notoredres and safe for cats include 2.5% dilution of lime sulfur (orchard spray available at garden stores), and 0.2% malathion. Dipping must often continue for four to eight treatments. Veterinarians may treat cases of head mite infestation with antimite drugs administered by injection.


Trombiculid mites (chiggers, harvest mites) are red, orange, or yellowish mites that have larvae that feed on the tissue fluids of cats and other mammals. (The nymphs and adults feed on plants or invertebrates.) The larvae are often found on the head and neck, particularly in and around the ears, but can infest any part of the body, causing scratching which is sometimes very severe. Look for red, orange, or yellowish specks about the size of the point of a dressmaker’s pin in affected areas. Use a magnifying glass if necessary. If you cannot find the mites, diagnosis may have to be made by an examination of a skin scraping performed by a veterinarian. Mites found solely in the ear can be eliminated by the treatments for ear mites. Mites on other body areas can be controlled with dips or other preparations effective against head mites. Prevent reinfestation by keeping your cat indoors, away from woodsy semiwild areas where the mites are found most often.


Adult flies are not normally parasitic on cats. Some types of adult flies lay their eggs in raw or infected wounds. When the eggs hatch, the maggots feed on the tissue present, producing a condition called myiasis. Maggots are frequently found in infected ears as well as in neglected skin wounds and under matted hair. To treat myiasis, all the maggots must be removed manually, the areas washed with an antibacterial soap (e.g., povidone-iodine), and a topical antibiotic cream or ointment applied to treat any secondary bacterial infection that may be present. It is extremely important to treat the predisposing condition or myiasis is likely to recur.

A particular kind of bot fly of the Cuterebra species, whose maggot (larva) is a natural parasite of rodents, may occasionally infest cats that snoop around rodent burrows. These larvae penetrate the skin, then become surrounded by thickened tissue and are connected to the skin surface by a breathing pore. These areas are often found on the head and neck and sometimes they become infected, causing an abscess to form. Removing the maggot from the pocket will cure the problem. This can be done by gently enlarging the pore with tweezers and carefully removing the whole larva. Crushing the larva can cause a serious allergic reaction, so if you suspect Cuterebra infections in your cat, you should consider contacting your veterinarian for help.


Begin to practice preventive medicine as soon as you take a new cat into your home. In a short time the proper way to care for a healthy cat will become second nature to you. The effects of poor preventive medicine early in a cat’s life can sometimes never be reversed. On the other hand, a cat that is fed well, groomed regularly, and kept in a clean and parasite-free environment will have a good start on a long and healthy life. Combine these things with love and proper training and a yearly visit to a veterinarian for booster shots and examination, and you should find that living with your cat is a simple, enjoyable, and rewarding experience.

* There is no clear relationship between evidence of exposure to Borrelia burgdorferi (blood tests positive for antibody to the bacterium) and signs of any disease in cats. Signs of Lyme disease in humans or dogs may include fever, swollen lymph nodes, heart conditions, neurologic abnormalities, eye inflammation, arthritis and/or kidney inflammation. When other diseases are ruled out, suspected infections with Lyme bacteria can be treated with antibiotics (usually a penicillin- or tetracycline-family drug). Since any relationship between tick exposure and Lyme disease in cats is unclear, the best way to prevent problems is to keep your cat away from brushy areas, which may be tick infested, apply tick-killing insecticides to the cat’s fur frequently, and/or remove ticks daily. Infection of humans or dogs does not occur until the tick has been attached and feeding for several hours, and this is probably true for any transmission to cats as well.