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Subject: rec.pets.cats: Basic Health Care FAQ
This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:27 GMT
Last-modified: 13 Aug 1999
The latest versions of these FAQ's may be obtained via the Web at
The multiple posted (ASCII) parts of the FAQ are all archived at rtfm.mit.edu
(220.127.116.11) in the directory /pub/usenet/news.answers/cats-faq. These
files will also appear in other sites that mirror the RTFM archives.
Basic Health Care
Note: Please see the Table of Contents FAQ for a complete list of
Originally written 1991 & updated through 1997 by Cindy Tittle Moore.
Maintained by the Fanciers website as of July 1999.
Your cat can't tell you how it's feeling so you must familiarize
yourself with its normal behavior. A healthy cat maintains normal body
weight, level of activity, and social behavior. A significant change
in any of these is a warning sign.
Getting regular, accurate weights can detect problems early. You can
weigh yourself on a bathroom scale with (holding) and without the cat
and subtract. This is accurate only to about two pounds on most
bathroom scales. For better accuracy, modify a kitchen scale by
mounting a bigger platform on it. Train your cat to get on the
platform by placing a Pounce or similar treat on it. Any sudden weight
change, especially loss, probably means your cat is feeling sick.
Medicines for humans are often used for cats, both prescription and
non-prescription drugs (phenobarbitol, lasix, amoxicillin, cold
medications, etc.). When you hear that you should never give human
medicines to cats, it means that you should not give them without
first consulting your vet. Certain very common human drugs like
aspirin and especially tylenol (acetominophen) are deadly to cats, so
don't give them any kind of medication unless recommended by the vet
(note that aspirin can be given in very small doses, but you need to
check correct dosage and frequency of administration).
A final cautionary note about this section. This is not meant to be a
complete treatise on these various diseases. It is intended to
familiarize you with the various major diseases your cat can develop.
If your cat has any of these diseases, you should be in close contact
with your vet, who will provide you with all the information you need
On the net
Frequently there are postings such as: "My cat is doing , should I
take it to the vet?" Or even, "I can't afford to take my cat to the
vet, he is doing , what can I do?" The usual answer will be TAKE IT TO
THE VET! It is an irresponsible owner who does not consult the vet,
even by phone, at the first opportunity. And if you take on the
responsibility of owning a cat, you must budget for the vet visits to
keep it healthy.
On the other hand, if you already have a vet appointment, or have had
the vet look at it and be stumped by the symptoms, rec.pets.cats can
be a valuable resource of tips on what might be wrong, or reassurances
that the cat is not at risk of immediate death, so do not hesitate to
ask the group under these circumstances.
Home vet books
A low-cost method to ease anxieties over non-emergency kitty problems
is to get a home vet book. (See Literature.) These books also help
explain what sort of "deviant" behaviors are actually relatively
normal for cats. However, unless you yourself are a vet, these books
should never substitute for having a vet for your cat.
In the August issue of Cat Fancy, there is an article discussing
health maintenance plans for cats that is set up between your vet and
yourself and then administrated by this HMO company. The company is
called RLI Planned Services in Peoria, Illinois.
The article included a sample plan. For $75 a year, your cat receives:
BASIC HEALTH CARE
1 physical exam, no charge
1 FVRCPC booster, no charge
1 Rabies booster, no charge
1 FeLV test, no charge
50% off FeLV series
Fecal analysis, ear flush, worming, no charge
1 Pedicure, no charge
MAJOR ELECTIVE PROCEDURES:
Spay or Neuter, 40% off
Declawing, 20% off
Dental Prophylaxis, 50% off
Radiographs, 20% off
EKG, 20% off
Chemistry screen profile, 20% off
Complete blood count, 20% off
All other medical, surgical and hospital services (except
prescriptions and diets) are 10% off.
(All of these things are included in this HMO for $75/year. OR $125
for two years.) Here's the company's address:
RLI Planned Services Inc.
9025 N. Lindbergh Drive
Peoria, IL 61615
The article says to ask your vet about this program. If he/she isn't
familiar with it, they should contact the company and see about
setting up the HMO plan.
Vets also may be able to direct you to other pet insurance plans that
they know about. You may want to consider that $100/year over an
expected 15 to 20 year lifetime is $1500 to $2000. Plus whatever you
have to pay for excluded costs, coverage limits, deductibles. Pet
insurance will help with major medical problems such as FUS, cancer,
etc, or emergency care. If your pet is basically healthy, you will pay
about as much either way, for insurance or for preventative care that
keeps it healthy.
Choosing a vet
Choose a vet who you are comfortable with and who will answer your
questions. Check out the office: do animals seem just frightened or
are they also out of control? Is it bedlam, or reasonable for the
number of different animals there? Do you have local recommendations
from friends? Does the vet specialize in small animals as opposed to,
say, livestock? The best way to find a vet is word of mouth (from
someone who takes good care of their pets, of course). If that doesn't
work, here is a quick and dirty guide (written by Kay Klier,
firstname.lastname@example.org) on some ways to find a vet if you've just moved
to a new town or gotten your first pet:
* Ask your trusted former vet if s/he knows someone good in the new
town. Often you'll get an excellent referral that way (I found my
current vets because the senior partner was well known for his
excellence in surgery).
* If there's a local humane society or shelter, see if there are
vets who volunteer their time there. Many vets who care about
animals are often trustees and/or volunteer their services.
* Check with any local breed associations: see who their members go
* Look for memberships in associations like the American Animal
Hospital Association (which has a fairly stiff inspection), Feline
Practitioners Association, American Assoc. of Vet Cardiology,
Animal Behavior Association, etc. These are usually people who
have kept up with new developments.
24 hour emergency care
A good vet will either be associated with a 24 emergency care plan or
be able to give you the number of a good place in your area. Keep this
number on your refrigerator and check with your vet when you visit
that it's still up-to-date.
Any time you bring your cat to the vet, try to bring a fresh fecal
sample. Put a small, fingernail-sized sample into a plastic bag, or
ask your vet for a supply of fecal samplers. The vet cannot always get
a fecal sample from the cat, and this saves you extra trips to return
the sample and then bring the cat in if the tests are positive. If you
are afraid your cat will not cooperate and give you a fresh sample
before you need to go in, within 18-12 hours before a sample can be
placed in the refrigerator. Samples over 18 hours hold, however, will
probably not be of use.
Cats largely dislike being taken to the vet. They hate riding in the
car most of all, and the smell of fear and other animals in the office
often distresses them further. Get a pet carrier. A plain cardboard
one will do for infrequent trips; get a stronger fiberglass one for
more travel or destructive cats. Carriers keep your cat under control
at the vet's and prevent accidents in the car en route. Popular
suggestions to reduce your cat's anxiety during vet visits:
* Make sure to drive your cat around (WITHOUT going to the vet) to
get it used to the car.
* Use the relaxant acepromazine.
* Find a "cats only" vet.
* Find a vet who will make housecalls.
* Find a vet who manages the lobby efficiently to reduce waiting
* Keep your cat away from dogs in the waiting room.
* Keep your cat in a pillowcase rather than a carrier or box.
From kittenhood, accustom your cat to being handled. Look into its
ears (clean, white and light pink), eyes (clear, no runniness, inner
eyelids may blink but should remain open), nose (clean and pink (or
its normal color) and mouth (clean, light pink gums) regularly. Hold
it still and look at its anus; pick up its paws and look at the pads
and claws. This will have the added benefit that you will notice any
changes from normal quickly and be able to call up your vet if
something is wrong.
Do arrange for the kitten to meet plenty of people; this will
socialize your cat and it will not hide from people when adult.
You should be prepared to handle routine costs from year to year
incurred by yearly physical exams, occassional fecal samples (and
worming medication), plus yearly vaccinations. However, accidents and
major illnesses can happen. Sometimes, pet health care insurance is
one way people use to control these costs. Other times you might try
vet schools which may give you reduced rates for their students to
have the opportunity to work with your cat, especially if the problem
is rare or uncommon.
You might be able to negotiate a monthy payment toward a large bill,
or a slightly reduced one in exchange for a bit of labor or other work
(for example, one accountant prepared his vet's taxes in exchange for
reducing the cost of surgery that his dog had had).
The humane society may know of lower-cost clinics or vets who are
prepared to cut prices for people who are not particularly well off.
It can't hurt to call around and ask.
But as other posters have mentioned, being a vet is a business, too,
and vets tend not to have high incomes. They also have many of the
same expenses as an MD (equipment, office staff) and the additional
expenses of running their own pharmacy (and animal medicine is just as
expensive as people medicine).
Human-Cat Disease Transmission (Zoonoses)
Some diseases can be transmitted from cats to people (zoonoses). Most
cannot. For example, you absolutely cannot contract AIDS from a cat
with FIV or FeLV, although the diseases are related (all are
retroviruses). This misconception led to the tragic deaths of hundreds
of cats as panicked owners got rid of them.
Anyone with an impaired immune system is at risk of exposure to germs
and other things from cats that healthy people would not contract;
this is regardless of the health of the cat.
You are more likely to contract diseases from other people than your
pets. Transmission of disease generally requires close contact between
susceptible people and animals or their oral, nasal, ocular or
digestive excretions. Use common sense and practice good hygiene to
reduce your risks.
From the Cornell Book of Cats:
* Viral diseases transmitted by cats are rabies and cowpox, usually
through biting or direct contact.
* Ringworm is a fungus infection affecting the hair, skin, and
nails. Humans contract it either by direct contact with the cat or
by the spores shed from an infected animal.
* Cat bites can cause a variety of diseases and infections,
including pasteurella and tetanus.
* Campylobacter enteritis, a disease of the small intestine, can be
caused by contact with contaminated cat feces.
* Cat scratch fever is an infection caused by a bacterial agent
transmitted to the human via a cat scratch.
* Conjunctivitis in humans can be caused by contact with the nasal
and ocular discharges of cats infected with feline chlamydiosis.
* Humans can become infected by Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain
Spotted Fever when a cat brings home ticks. If the cat becomes
infected with plague, it can also infect humans directly.
* Salmonella organisms, which are shed in discharges from the mouth,
eyes, and in the feces, can cause intestinal disease in humans.
* Toxoplasmosis is transmitted by contact with the feces of an
infected cat. Although it is well-known that cats can transmit
toxoplasmosis, many do not know that humans are more commonly
infected by eating incompletely cooked meat.
* Other parasites which can be acquired by humans are hookworms,
roundworms, and tapeworms: usually by direct or indirect contact
with contaminated feces, or ingestion of contaminated fleas.
If you are not planning to breed your cat or put it to stud service,
you will want to neuter it. Technically, the general term for either
sex is neutering; female cats are spayed and male cats are castrated.
However, general usage is that female cats are spayed or neutered and
male cats are neutered.
Male cats are castrated. A local anesthetic is administered and
several stitches are used to close it up. You will want to neuter the
male cat after its testicles descend but before its urine odor
changes. This is typically around 6 months of age. By neutering
earlier, you prevent spraying (if it has started spraying, it may not
stop after neutering, even though it is no longer hormonally driven).
Neutering later has been thought to help reduce the chances of FUS,
but many studies have shown that there is no difference in urinary
tract development or predisposition to FUS between early-neutered cats
(as early as 7 weeks!) and late-neutered cats. As soon as the
testicles have descended is just fine. As of 1993, this is now the
official position of the AVMA. If surgery must be done on an
undescended testicle (sometimes a testicle will not descend and then
it needs to be removed) then the cost and risk increase.
Some male cats may have undescended testicles. These must be
surgically removed, as they often turn cancerous later. This is a more
serious (and expensive) surgery than the usual castration, as the vet
will have to use a general anesthetic and exploratory surgery to find
the undescended testicle and remove it.
An intact male cat (a "tom") will spray a foul-smelling urine to mark
his territory, he will roam widely, and he will be involved in more
fights. Often, he will be more aggressive. He will be at higher risk
for certain diseases, such as cancer; he will also be more prone to
infection from the injuries in fights. A neutered male cat will lose
the foul-smelling odor in his urine (but may still spray); he will not
roam as widely nor fight as often. You will be able to keep him
indoors if you wish. Contrary to popular opinion, he will not become
more lazy or fat. Laziness and fatness depend on cat temperament and
how much you feed him.
Female cats are spayed; this is an ovario-hysterectomy (uterus and
ovaries are removed). There are two methods: ventral entry which is
through the stomach muscles in the belly (where a large patch of fur
will be shaved to prevent later irritation of the incision), and the
lateral entry which is through a small incision in the cat's side.
Ventral entry is less expensive, lateral entry has a quicker recovery
time. You may have to bring your cat back in after ventral entry to
remove stitches; lateral entry uses internal sutures which dissolve.
Ventral entry is much more commonly employed; lateral entry is
relatively rare, and not all vets may know how to do it.
The cat must be put under general anesthesia. There is always an
element of risk in general anesthesia and while it is rare, a few
rec.pets.cats readers have had their cats die under anesthesia. The
earlier the female cat is spayed, the better. Any time after four
months is good, preferably before the heat cyles start. Heat cycles
may begin as five months.. On occasion, a female cat will not have all
of her ovaries removed. The ovaries produce the hormones that induce
heat: if your cat still goes through heat after being spayed, you may
have to take her in for exploratory surgery to find the missed ovary,
or even piece of ovary.
An intact female cat (a "queen") will go through heat which can be as
frequent as every other week, and may last eight to ten days at a
time. It may even appear as though she remains in heat constantly. You
must keep her confined to prevent breeding, and she will do her best
to escape. During her heat, she may "spray" a strong smelling urine
just as tomcats do. Many cats will meow loudly for long periods of
time. She will twitch her tail to the side and display her vulva. If
she becomes pregnant, she will undergo all the risks and expenses
associated with pregnancy (extra visits to the vet and extra food).
Male cats will try very hard to get at her; there are documented
cases, for example, of male cats entering homes through the chimney.
An unbred, intact queen has a much higher risk of developing cancer of
the reproductive system. Queens also risk pyometra (a life threatening
infection of the uterus). Spayed cats have a much lower risk of cancer
and will not contract pyometra.
Female cats may come into estrus within a few days of giving birth. If
you have a queen that you want to stop from having more litters, try
to get her spayed as soon as possible after the kittens are born.
You will need to watch to make sure your cat does not try to pull out
its stitches. Consult your vet if your cat starts pulling at its
stitches. You might, in persistent cases, need to get an elizabethan
collar to prevent the cat from reaching the stitches. Puffiness,
redness, or oozing around the stiches should be also reported to the
Some stitches "dissolve" on their own; others require a return to the
vet for removal. Some vets, especially with male cats, may use "glue"
instead, which works as well in most cases and does not require later
You should note that male cats will take some time to flush all
testosterone and semen out of their systems. There have been recorded
cases of "neutered" cats impregnating female cats shortly after their
operation. Three to four weeks is sufficient time for neutered toms to
The cost can vary widely, depending on where you get it done. There
are many pet-adoption places that will offer low-cost or even free
neutering services, sometimes as a condition of adoption. Local animal
clinics will often offer low-cost neutering. Be aware that spaying
will always cost more than castrating at any given place since spaying
is a more complex operation. Vets almost always charge more than
clinics, partly because of overhead, but also because they often keep
the animal overnight for observation and will do free followup on any
later complications (a consideration in the case of missed ovaries).
In the US, there is at least one group, "Friends of Animals"
(1-800-321-7387) that will give you information on low-cost
spay/neutering places, or do it themselves. They often have
price-reduction certificates that your vet may accept.
Quoting actual prices may or may not give you an idea of the cost for
you in your area. Costs can range from US$10 for castration at a
clinic to US$100 for spaying at the vet's. This is money well spent.
One pair of cats, allowed to breed, and with 2 litters a year and 2.8
surviving kittens per litter, will account for 80,000 cats in 10
Early neutering is increasingly an option, especually used by human
societies and shelters to ensure that the cats they adopt out will not
produce any more kittens. Studies have shown that there are no adverse
effects to neutering kittens at 7 weeks of age. See the CFA's
position on this issue.
Matted fur is a perfect breeding ground for parasites and encourages
inflammatory skin diseases. If your cat has matted fur, do not try to
cut it off as you may injure the cat. Mats are difficult to comb out
and may be painful. You may have to have the vet sedate and shave the
cat. Do groom it regularly to prevent mats.
Often caused by itching and irritation of some sort. Fleas, allergies,
eczema, and ringworm are all possible culprits. Sometimes it is simply
stress; Vets may prescribe hormone shots or even tranquilizers to
control the scratching.
If ringworm is indicated, you must take care not to get it yourself.
It is a fungus just like athletes foot. Tresaderm and similar
medications are used to treat this. Since ringworm spreads by spores,
you can reduce transmission and spreading by cleaning everything you
can with bleach (save the cat itself), and washing bedding and
clothing in hot water. It may take some time (like several months) to
get ringworm under control.
If the cat is scratching its ears and you can see black grit, that's
probably earmites. Consult your vet for appropriate ear drops. Ear
mites stay in the ears, but can be passed from cat to cat, especially
if they groom each other. The life cycle of an ear mite is entirely
within the ear, so you do not have to worry about ridding your house
of them the way you do fleas. Cats typically shake their heads when
given the medication; unless the medication actually comes back out,
that is OK. An additional step to take is to soak a cotton ball or pad
in mineral oil (baby oil is fine), and clean out the outer ear (do not
poke into the canal). That rids the upper ear of any ear mites lodged
higher up than the canal, and makes it difficult for the ear mites to
Scratching and a discharge from the ears means a bacterial or fungal
infection and the vet should be immediately consulted. Other possible
causes of scratching include fleas, lice, eczema, allergies, or stud
tail (in male cats).
Cats can develop acne just as humans do. Usually it is only on the
chin. It will appear as small black spots. The reasons for feline acne
are as complex as it is for humans. Sometimes a food allegery (such as
chocolate with humans or milk with cats) can cause it or sometimes the
cat does not clean its chin properly.
Tips on caring for feline acne
It is important to keep food dishes clean. Acne has bacteria
associated with it. The cat's chin comes in contact with the edge of
the food/water bowl, leaving bacteria. The next time the cat uses the
bowl, it can come in contact with this bacteria and spread it on the
* Use glass or metal food/water dishes. It is next to impossible to
remove the bacteria from acne from plastic dishes.
* Wash the food and water dishes daily. This removes the bacteria
from the dishes and helps to keep the problem from getting worse.
Also, in multi-cat households, it will help reduce the chance of
others breaking out with it.
* Bathe the cat's chin daily with a disinfectant soap/solution from
the vet. Nolvasan, Xenodine, Betadine soaps are a few of the ones
to try. More severe cases may need to be washed twice a day. DO
NOT USE HUMAN ACNE SOLUTIONS, these are too strong for cats and
may cause serious problems. Don't try to pick the spots off, just
clean it well.
Visit the vet if you can't get the acne to clear up within a week or
two or if the acne is severe or infected. The vet may prescribe
antibiotics for these cats or other acne treatments.
Once the acne is cleared up, keep an eye out for reoccurances. Washing
the cat's chin once a week is a good preventative measure.
Cats, like humans, have tartar buildup on their teeth called plaque.
An accumulation of plaque can lead to peridontal (gum) problems, and
the eventual loss of teeth. Plaque is a whitish-yellow deposit. Cats
seem to accumulate plaque primarily on the exterior face of their
upper teeth. Reddened gum lines can indicate irritation from plaque.
Some cats are more prone to plaque buildup than others. Some never
need dental care, others need to have their teeth cleaned at regular
intervals. Many vets encourage you to bring your cat in annually for
teeth cleaning, using a general anesthetic. The cost, which can be
considerable, and the risk of the anesthesia itself are both good
incentives for doing some cat dental care at home.
If you must have the vet clean your cat's teeth, see if your vet is
willing to try a mild sedative (rather than putting the cat under
entirely) first when cleaning the teeth. If your cat is an older cat
(5 years or more) and it must be put under, see if the vet will use a
gas anesthesia rather than an injected form.
What you can do:
Brush your cat's teeth once a week. Use little cat toothbrushes, or
soft child-size toothbrushes, and edible cat toothpaste (available
at most vets or pet stores). Cats often hate to have their teeth
brushed, so you may have to use a bathtowel straightjacket and a
helper. If you are skilled and have a compliant cat, you can clean
its teeth using the same type of tool the human dentist does.
Cavities in cat teeth often occur just at or under the gum line. If
your cat has an infected tooth, you will have to have root work done
on it. It is typical to do x-rays after such a procedure to ensure
that all of the roots have reabsorbed. If the roots haven't done so,
then the infection can easily continue on up to the sinus and nasal
passages and from there to the lungs. Such infections require
If your cat has smelly breath, there are various possible causes.
* Teething: at about 6 months of age, cats will lose their baby
teeth and get permanent ones. If the gums are red and puffy and
you can see the points of teeth breaking through here and there,
the cat is just teething and the odor will subside as the teeth
* Gingivitus: if the gums appear red and puffy and you've ruled
teething out, your cat may have a gum infection of some sort. Take
the cat to the vet.
* Diet: certain foods, usually canned foods or prescription foods,
can make your cat's breath smell. If possible, try changing your
* Abscessed tooth: may show no symptoms other than smelly breath.
Drooling sometimes occurs in conjunction. The cat must be taken to
the vet to have the abscess drained and possibly the teeth
involved removed. If this is not done, the infection can easily
spread to the sinuses and cause the face to swell, especially just
under the eyes.
Declawing is the surgical removal of the claw and the surrounding
tissue that it retracts into. Usually the claws on the front feet only
are removed, but sometimes the digits are as well. This is sometimes
used as a last resort with inveterate scratchers of furniture, carpet,
etc. However, if trained in kittenhood, most cats are very good about
scratching only allowable items such as scratching posts (see
Scratching). Britain and a few other countries have made declawing
illegal. Show cats may not be shown declawed. Many vets will refuse to
do this procedure.
Declawed cats often compensate with their rear claws; many can still
climb well, although their ability to defend themselves is often
impaired and they should not be allowed outside without supervision.
Many declawed cats become biters when they find that their claws no
longer work; others develop displays of growling. Scratching is one
way of marking territory (there are scent glands among the paw pads),
so declawed cats will still "scratch" things even though there are no
claws to sharpen.
Alternatives are trimming the claws (see section on Trimming Claws) or
"Soft Paws". These are soft plastic covers for the cat's claws.
Generally, the vet will put them on, but cat owners can do so
themselves if shown how. They will last about a month despite efforts
to remove them. Check the July 1992 issue of Animal Sense. There is an
informative article titled "Fake Fingernails for Felines?" by Dr.
Marilyn Hayes at the Rowley Animal Hospital in Rowley, MA. They can
make a useful training tool if used in conjuction with techniques to
redirect clawing and scratching to approved items.
Pills, Dosing and Medication
Kneel on floor and put cat between knees (cat facing forwards). Cross
your ankles behind so cat can't escape backwards; press your knees
together so cat can't escape forwards. Make sure your cat's front legs
are tucked in between your knees so it can't claw you. Put the palm of
your hand on top of its head and thumb and index finger on either side
of its mouth; the mouth will fall open as you tilt the head back. If
it doesn't, gently push down on the cat's lower front teeth eith your
middle finger of your other hand (the first two fingers are to hold
the pill). You may wish to stop at this point and use a flashlight to
examine the cat's mouth to see what you are doing. You want to drop
the pill in on *top* of the tongue as far *back* as you can. Keep the
head tilted back and stroke its throat until pill is swallowed. Then
let your cat escape.
Another trick is to buy a bottle of gelatin capsules. Take the capsule
apart, dump the contents, put the pill in the empty capsule (in pieces
if it won't otherwise fit) and reassemble the two capsule halves. Some
places, especially natural food stores, will sell empty gelatin
capsules, try and get size "00". This makes the administration of
small pills much easier, and can also allow you to give more than one
pill at one time, if they're sufficiently small. The capsule itself
just dissolves away harmlessly. Do NOT use capsules which have been
filled with any other substance but plain gelatin, since the residue
may not agree with your pet!
You can try babyfood as a deception: get some pureed baby food meat,
dip your finger in the jar, and sort of nestle the pill in the baby
food. Offer it to your cat and it may lick it up. Be warned, some cats
are very good at licking up everything BUT the pill.
You can get a pill plunger from your vet. This is a syringe-like tool
that takes the pill on one end and lets you "inject" the pill. You can
insert the pill deep down the cat's throat this way.
To administer liquid medication if the cat will not lick it up: use
the same procedure for pilling, but (using a needle-less syringe that
you can obtain from your vet) squirt the medicine down its throat
instead of dropping the pill. Cats do not choke on inhaled liquids
like humans because they rarely breath through their mouths.
Cats can vomit easily, so keep an eye on them for a while after
they've been dosed: it's not impossible that they'll run off to a
corner and upchuck the medicine. Giving them a pet treat after dosage
may help prevent this.
If your cat has an affected *area* that you must clean or swab or
otherwise handle, try this strategy, especially if the cat is
Start with lots of handling. At first don't handle the affected area,
at all or for long. Gradually increase the amount of handling of the
affected area. Move closer to it day by day, spend more time near it
or on it. Talk to the cat while you're handling it. At the same time
you're handling the affected area, pet the cat in an area it likes to
be handled. After handling the affected area, praise the cat, pet the
cat, give the cat a food treat, do things the cat likes.
As long as the medical problem you're treating isn't acute, don't
restrain the cat to apply treatment. Gradually working up to a
tolerable if not pleasant approach is much better in the long run.
If you must restrain the cat, grab the fur on the back of the neck
with one hand, holding the head down, and clean/medicate with the
other hand. Have your vet show you how. Sometimes wrapping the cat in
a towel helps too.
This information is condensed from Taylor.
* Roundworms: can cause diarrhea, constipation, anemia, potbellies,
general poor condition. They are present in the intestines and
feed on the digesting food.
* Whipworms and threadworms: fairly rare, can cause diarrhea, loss
of weight, or anemia. Whipworms burrow into the large intestine;
threadworms into the small. Both may cause internal bleeding.
* Hookworms: can cause (often bloody) diarrhea, weakness and anemia.
They enter through the mouth or the skin and migrate to the small
* Tapeworms: look for small "rice grains" or irritation around the
anus. They live in the intestines and share the cat's food.
Tapeworms are commonly transmitted through fleas. If you cat has
fleas or hashad fleas, it may have tapeworms.
* Flukes: can cause digestive upsets, jaundice, diarrhea, or anemia.
They are found in the small intestine, pancreas and bile ducts.
If you suspect worms in your cat, take it (and a fresh fecal sample)
to the vet. Do not try over the counter products: you may not have
diagnosed your cat correctly or correctly identified the worm and
administer the wrong remedy. In addition, your vet can give you
specific advice on how to prevent reinfestation.
General tips on preventing worm infestation: stop your cat from eating
wild life; groom regularly; keep flea-free; keep bedding clean; and
get regular vet examination for worms.
Note that a fecal exam may not be enough to determine if a cat has
worms. In particular, tapeworms are often not visible in a fecal exam.
Actually, you can have fleas and ticks in your home even without pets.
But having pets does increase the odds you will have to deal with
either or both of these pests. There is a FAQ on fleas and ticks
available via ftp to rtfm.mit.edu under
pub/usenet/news.answers/pets/fleas-ticks. If you do not have ftp
access, send email to email@example.com with "send
usenet/news.answers/pets/fleas-ticks" in the body of the message.
Leave the subject line empty, and don't include the quotes in the send
Poisons (incl. plants, food & household chemicals)
The information in this section is mostly condensed from Carlson &
Giffins. The list of poisons is not intended to be conclusive. Nor are
the treatments intended to be sufficient: call your vet in the event
of any internal poisoning.
In particular, notice that the list of problematic plants cannot be
all inclusive. There are many plants with multiple names and even a
botanist can't come up with a conclusive list. This is why you will
almost never see identical lists put out by different organizations.
When in doubt, try to go by the most regional information you can
find, which is the most likely to use names current in your regions.
Treatment after ingestion
To induce vomiting in cats:
* Hydrogen peroxide 3% (most effective): One teaspoon every ten
minutes; repeat three times.
* One-fourth teaspoonful of salt, placed at the back of the tongue.
* Syrup of Ipecac (one teaspoonful per ten pounds of body weight).
Do NOT induce vomiting when the cat
* has swallowed an acid, alkali, solvent, heavy duty cleaner,
petroleum product, tranquilizers, or a sharp object (i.e.,
something that will cause as much or more damage coming back up)
* is severely depressed or comatose
* swallowed the substance more than two hours ago
You will also want to coat the digestive tract and speed up
elimination to help rid the cat of the substances: To delay or prevent
* Mix activated charcoal with water (5 grams to 20 cc.). Give one
teaspoonful per two pounds body weight.
* Thirty minutes later, give sodium sulphate (glauber's salt), one
teaspoon per ten pounds body weight, or Milk of Magnesia, one
teaspoon per five pounds body weight.
* In the absence of any of these agents, coat the bowel with milk,
egg whites, vegetable oil and give a warm water enema.
If your cat has a poisonous substance on its skin or coat, wash it off
before your cat licks the substance off and poisons itself. Use soap
and water or give it a complete bath in lukewarm (not cold) water.
Plants from commercial greenhouses may be sprayed with systemics to
control pests. Some are fairly nasty and long-lasting. More
enlightened greenhouses use integrated pest management techniques and
vastly reduce the costs of pest control, and costs to the environment.
You'll need to ask about what the sprays are, how often, etc. They
should have MSDS (material safety data sheets) on hand for everything
they use. Many greenhouses also buy foliage plants (esp.) from
commercial growers in southern states, rather than raising their own
plants, so you need to ask about that too.
* Gives a rash after contact: chrysanthemum; creeping fig; weeping
fig; pot mum; spider mum.
* Irritating; the mouth gets swollen; tongue pain; sore lips --
potentially fatal, these plants have large calcium oxalate
crystals and when chewed, esophageal swelling may result,
resulting in death unless an immediate tracheotomy is done:
Arrowhead vine; Boston ivy; caladium; dumbcane (highly fatal);
Emerald Duke; heart leaf (philodendrum); Marble Queen; majesty;
neththyis; parlor ivy; pathos; red princess; saddle leaf
(philodendron); split leaf (philodendron).
* Generally toxic; wide variety of poisons; usually cause vomiting,
abdominal pain, cramps; some cause tremors, heart and respiratory
and/or kidney problems (difficult for you to interpret):
Amaryllis; azalea; bird of paradise; crown of thorns; elephant
ears; glocal ivy; heart ivy; ivy; Jerusalem cherry; needlepoint
ivy; pot mum; ripple ivy; spider mum; umbrella plant.
* Vomiting and diarrhea in some cases: Delphinium; daffodil; castor
bean; Indian turnip; skunk cabbage; poke weed; bittersweet; ground
cherry; foxglove; larkspur; Indian tobacco; wisteria; soap berry.
* Poisonous and may produce vomiting, abdominal pain, sometimes
diarrhea: horse chestnut/buckeye; rain tree/monkey pod; American
yew; English yew; Western yew; English holly; privet; mock orange;
bird of paradise bush; apricot & almond; peach & cherry; wild
cherry; Japanese plum; balsam pear; black locust.
* Various toxic effects: rhubarb; spinach; sunburned potatoes; loco
weed; lupine; Halogeton; buttercup; nightshade; poison hemlock;
pig weed; water hemlock; mushrooms; moonseed; May apple;
Dutchman's breeches; Angel's trumpet; jasmine; matrimony vine.
* Hallucinogens: marijuana; morning glory; nutmeg; periwinkle;
peyote; loco weed.
* Convulsions: china berry; coriaria; moonweed; nux vomica; water
So what plants can cats nibble on with abandon?
To start with, you can assume anything with square stems (in
cross-section) and opposite leaves is OK. That's the hallmark of the
mint family, which includes catnip, _Nepeta_ and _Coleus_. Catnip can
be grown in a bright window in the winter, but the cats may knock it
off the sill. Coleus is easy, and kind of bright and cheerful with its
colored leaves. Swedish Ivy, _Plectranthus_, is also in this family
and incredibly easy to grow. Good hanging basket plant. Tolerates
* Tulips are OK, daffodils and lily of the valley are not.
* Miniature roses.
* Cyclamens, the genus _Cyclamen_, seem to be OK.
* African violet, Saintpaulia; Hanging African Violet (=Flame
Violet), Episcia; gloxinia, Sinningia; goldfish plant, Hypoestes;
and lipstick vine, Aeschynanthus are all members of the african
violet family, the Gesneriaceae.
* All the cacti are fine -- but not all succulents are cactus. Make
sure it has spines like a prickly pear or an old-man cactus. There
are some look-alike foolers that are not good to eat! (But they
don't have spines). (One cactus, Lophophora (peyote) will get you
* Airplane plant, also called spider plant, Chlorophytum, is pretty
commonly available and easy to grow. They come in solid green or
green and white striped leaves, usually grown in hanging baskets.
* Wax begonias, Begonia semperflorens are easy and non-toxic. These
are the little begonias you see in shady areas outside now in the
north; in the southern states, they're often grown as winter
outdoor plants. The other begonia species are OK too, but tougher
* Sweet potatoes, Ipomoea, if you can find some that haven't been
treated to prevent sprouting! Looks like common philodendron at
* Shrimp plant, Beleperone guttata.
* Prayer plant, Maranta (needs humidity).
* Burn plant, Aloe vera.
* Grape ivy, Cissus (several different leaf shapes).
* Asparagus fern, Asparagus (several species).
* If you've got the humidity, any of the true ferns are OK,
including maidenhair, Adaiantum, Boston fern (lots of variants!)
Nephrolepis, Victorian Table Fern, Pteris...
* Wandering jew, Zebrina, and its close relatives that are often
called "Moses in the boat" -- the flowers are in a pair of
* Impatiens, or patience plant, Impatiens.
* Common geranium, Pelargonium, in any of the many leaf forms and
* AVOID anything with a milky juice or colored sap. Almost
guaranteed toxic (wild lettuce and dandelion are the two major
* Poinsettas: Many books continue to indicate that poinsettias are
poisonous to animals and children. The Ohio State University
conducted some tests and confirms that they are NOT poisonous to
children or animals. The furor was because of a story about a
child who ate a bunch of poinsettia leaves and died. According to
Norsworthy's 1993 Feline Practice (thanks to Kay Klier), eating
leaves will give a cat an upset stomach and maybe some diarrhea
that can be cured with Kaopectate.
* Strychnine, Sodium fluoroacetate, Phosphorus, Zinc Phosphide:
rat/mouse/mole/roach poisons, rodents killed by same. Phosphorus
is also found in fireworks, matches, matchboxes, and fertilizer.
* Arsenic, Metaldehyde, Lead: slug/snail bait; some ant poisons,
weed killers and insecticides; arsenic is a common impurity found
in many chemicals. Commercial paints, linoleum, batteries are
sources of lead.
* Warfarin (Decon; Pindone): grain feeds used as rat/mouse poison,
Also used as a prescription anti-coagulant for humans, various
brand names, such as coumadin. The animal bleeds to death.
Vitamin-K is antidote: look for purplish spots on white of eyes
and gums (at this point animal is VERY sick).
* Antifreeze (ethylene glycol): from cars. Wash down any from your
driveway as this is "good tasting" but highly toxic to most
* Organophosphates and Carbamates (Dichlorvos, Ectoral, Malathion,
Sevin (in high percentages) etc), Chlorinated Hydrocarbons
(Chloradane, Toxaphene, Lindane, Methoxychlor: flea/parasite
* Petroleum products: gasoline, kerosene, turpentine.
* Corrosives (acid and alkali): household cleaners; drain
decloggers; commercial solvents.
* Many household cleaning products. Pine-oil products are very toxic
and should be avoided or rinsed thoroughly (bleach is a better
alternative). In particular, avoid items containing Phenol.
* Garbage (food poisoning): carrion; decomposing foods; animal
* People Medicines: antihistamines, pain relievers (esp. aspirin),
sleeping pills, diet pills, heart preparations and vitamins.
Anything smelling of wintergreen or having methyl salicylate as an
ingredient. Tylenol (acetominophen) will kill cats.
Chocolate: theobromine, which is found in chocolate is toxic to cats.
The darker and more bitter the chocolate is, the more theobromine it
has. More information can be found in the Summer 1992 edition of Cat
Caffeine: can cause problems for your cat. Do not feed it coffee, Coco
Cola, or other foods containing caffeine.
(From Norsworthy, 1993:)
Medications that cats should NEVER be given:
* Acetominophen (=tylenol, paracetamol) (1 tablet can be fatal to an
* Benzocaine (the topical anaesthetic) (available in spray and cream
forms--- Lanacaine and several hemhherrhoid preparations have lots
* Benzyl alcohol
* Chlorinated hydrocarbons (like lindane, chlordane, etc.)
* Hexachlorophene (found in pHiso-Hex soap, among others)
* Methylene Blue (used to be used for urinary infections, many cats
cannot tolerate it)
* Phenazopyridine (used in combination with sulfa as AzoGantrisin:
fine for humans, deadly for cats)
* Phenytoin (=Dilantin) often used for seizures in other species
* Phosphate enemas (including Fleet (tm) enemas): may be fatal
Medications that can be used in certain cats with restrictions, and
ONLY on the advice of a vet
* Aspirin: but not more than 1 baby aspirin (1/4 regular tablet) in
* Chloramphenicol: generally safe at doses of less than 50-100 mg
* Griseofulvin (=fulvicin)
* Lidocaine: another topical anaesthetic
* Megestrol acetate (Ovaban, Megace) may cause behavioral changes,
breast cancer, diabetes. Extremely useful for some conditions, so
use needs to be monitored.
* Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Agents (things like ibuprofen)--
tend to cause perforated ulcers. Banamine and aspirin are the best
tolerated of this class of drugs
* Pepto-bismol: too high in salicylates
* Smooth muscle relaxants (like Lomotil): strange behavior
* Tetracycline: may cause fever, diarrhea, depression; better
* Thiacetarsamide (Caparsolate) used to treat heartworm in dogs
* Thiamylal sodium (Biotal) used for brief surgeries. Animals become
sensitized after repeat exposures. If you change vets, be SURE to
get your records so that the new vet can tell if this drug has
been used previously.
* Urinary acidifiers; be careful of dosage.
Basic Health Care FAQ