(Frequently Asked Questions)
How old does my cat have to be to get spayed or neutered?
Historically, veterinarians have recommended 6 to 12 months as the minimum age. This was mostly due to anesthetic medications that were not well tolerated by young animals. Our 21st century collection of anesthetic agents is much more effective and safe than those of even 25 years ago, so the risk of anesthetic death gets closer and closer to zero every few years.
The entire medical staff at Tacoma Cat Hospital continues to train in the latest and greatest anesthesia protocols, and age is no longer a legitimate concern. Rather, we base our decision on body weight of the patient, having found that there is a certain size that seems to be less stressful (from the cat’s point of view) for inducing and maintaining safe anesthesia for surgery. We currently recommend that three (3) pounds body weight is the minimum for spays and neuters. This typically reached sometime between 3 and 4 months of age.
What kind of vaccines does my cat need?
We try to tailor our vaccination recommendations to each cat as an individual, based on the cat’s lifestyle. In all cases, however, we recommend a solid foundation of a 4-way Distemper/Upper Respiratory Virus combination and Rabies within the first six months. It is best to start vaccination at around age 7 or 8 weeks in kittens, with a single booster inoculation 3 to 6 weeks later.
At the one year anniversary, the cat should receive a second Rabies, which is then good for three years, and you should discuss with the doctor which vaccines (if any) should be boostered yearly. Strictly indoor cats need fewer vaccines than cats going outside, and even those cats have various requirements that are not always crystal clear. Good sources of vaccine information can be found in Dr. Smith’s podcasts on The New Beginning, Feline Distemper, and Feline Leukemia & FIV.
What should I feed my cat?
Good evidence exists that cats are healthier if they eat a combination of dry and canned products throughout their lives. Higher proportions of canned foods seem to healthier in the early as well as the later years. Tacoma Cat Hospital receives no kickbacks for brand recommendations, but the food manufacturers that seem to produce the highest quality dry diets overall are (in no particular order): Purina, Science Diet, IAMS, and Royal Canin. Cats that eat these brands spend very little time in our facility, other than for regular check-ups.
As for the canned foods, there does not seem to be any kind of significant brand difference; all the important information can be found in the ingredients. For information on how to read a pet food label, and other nutritional information, listen to Dr. Smith’s podcast entitled Feed Me. In general, we recommend that you primarily feed canned products derived from poultry sources (chicken, turkey, duck), and try to minimize exposure to protein from the ocean (salmon, tuna, shrimp, etc.)
How do I know if my cat is in heat?
A lot of experienced veterinary professionals claim that female cats over 4 months of age are either in heat, or they are pregnant. It certainly seems that way during the peak estrus season from mid-January to late March (in the northern hemisphere). The typical female cat experiencing estrus is talkative (but not yelling), rubbing on things, rolling all over the floor, and holding her tail pointed high in the air. Sometimes, you will see blood spots in her bedding, or even blood in the urine. Most of them REALLY enjoy firm petting along the back, especially over the pelvis and hip region.
These cats emit pheromones that can be sensed by tomcats that are miles away, and a number of them will answer the call, so to speak. While in estrus, a female will accept coitus from multiple male cats, sometimes over the span of 3 to 5 days. Under most circumstances, there are no additional fees for spaying a cat that is in heat.
Can my male cat impregnate his mother or sisters?
What is all the fuss over feline heartworms?
Historically, heartworms were not believed to be a significant parasite of cats. True, some cats suffered sudden death or heart disease in regions known for heartworms and were subsequently found to have heartworms on a post-mortem examination. Even so, actual clinical heartworm disease was not believed to be an issue for cats, compared to dogs. In fact, heartworms cannot reproduce in cats, so cats are considered a dead end host anyway.
Recent studies indicate that cats can develop heartworm associated disease, but it is NOT similar to heartworm disease in the dog. Whereas dogs develop signs associated with heart failure (due to a large number of worms inside of the canine heart), cats display signs associated with lung problems (due to destruction and/or inflammation of the lung tissue from migrating heartworm larvae).
The main lesson to remember, however, is this: Heartworms are endemic in certain parts of the world, and depending on a cat’s lifestyle in those areas, he or she may benefit from regular heartworm preventative medication.
Can my cat get a disease from my dog?
The simplest answer is “Probably not.” Although there are few parasites (fleas, ear mites, certain worms, coccidia, etc.) that have the potential to go from a dog to a cat, it is not terribly common to see in the real world.
Some bacterial diseases have been suspected of crossing over as well, the most popular one being Bordetella bronchiseptica, the main agent involved in the canine kennel cough syndrome. Although cats are certainly susceptible to this disease, it is still pretty rare, and under most circumstances, self-limiting. Cats also seem to develop lifelong immunity to the bacterium after the illness. It should also be understood that there is absolutely NO scientific evidence supporting the use of any kind of Bordetella vaccine in cats.
As for viruses, the only one that is known to go from a dog to a cat is Rabies, and then only if a rabid dog actually bites the cat. This is a potential problem in many parts of the world, developed and undeveloped as well. Any cat that goes outdoors at any time should be receiving Rabies vaccinations at appropriate intervals for the region.
What is an emergency?
True emergencies are any one of three situations:
1) Active bleeding or severe blood loss. Certain injuries have the potential to damage arteries, resulting in rapid blood loss. This rapid loss will then lead to shock, stupor, and eventually death. First aid directed at providing pressure to the bleeding region is the best way to handle this situation while you get the cat to a veterinary center.
2) Struggling to breathe. Respiratory distress is not only life-threatening; most cats will go crazy in their effort to obtain oxygen. They forget where they are, who they are, and in almost all cases, who their people are. Well-intentioned efforts to comfort a cat in this condition will often result in a nasty bite, so it is best to use a thick towel to push the cat into a cat carrier for immediate transport for veterinary attention.
3) Unrelenting pain. The source of the pain is irrelevant; a tumor, a fracture, an intestinal blockage, or a blocked bladder are all conditions requiring prompt veterinary care. If your cat is howling, writhing, or in a near comatose state, severe pain is a distinct possibility and needs to be addressed.
In all these situations, using a sturdy cat carrier for transport is always better than a lap or your arms. Animals in these conditions are operating on instinct, and you could end up in the emergency room yourself if you do not take appropriate precautions. For more details, listen to Dr. Smith’s podcast entitled When To Call.