Your A-Z of cat care

This A – Z of cat care is not a definitive document; it is merely intended as a guide to help you navigate cat parenthood. The basics, at least, are covered and we will update it from time to time, as required. Enjoy every minute of your favourite feline; a cat makes the most wonderful pet.



A cat should never be an ‘impulse’ buy. They may appear easier to care for and less needy than dogs but they are sentient beings and like all domesticated animals require a great deal of love, attention and care. If you’re adopting a kitten, ensure you have all the information you need regarding parentage and potential ailments and ensure you’re stocked with all you need to make your home cat-comfy (bedding, food, litter tray, toys etc). Be sure to check your budget to ensure that you can afford the initial vaccinations, microchipping and sterilisation. Kittens often fall ill due to their immature immune systems so be sure to have a bit extra in the budget for accidents or illnesses. Investigate medical aid as this can help a lot with the financial burden of caring for a cat.


There are several possible causes but the most common are caused by fleas. Flea allergies present as redness and scratching of the tail, rump, neck and back area.  Speak to your vet or Vetshop about a suitable flea prevention product. Cats  can also be allergic to some types of food. Look for redness and itching around the mouth, face and between the paws, or your cat may suffer from atopy, an allergic condition caused by environmental allergens. Cats with too many or too few of some hormones are prone to skin problems. Hormonal imbalances rarely cause itching but may point to more serious underlying problems that need to be identified and treated. If you have ruled out fleas, and your cat is still itching, the next step is to consult with your vet to rule out the other causes and develop a tailor-made treatment plan for your animal.


Arthritis occurs more commonly in older cats than many cat owners realise. Unfortunately, the symptoms are often mistaken as ‘normal’ ageing. Arthritic cats often become less active, sleep more, and may not be able to access perches and other elevated surfaces any longer. Sudden aggression when stroking your cat is also a sign of pain. The pain associated with arthritis can significantly alter your cat’s quality of life so if your cat shows any of the above symptoms, see your vet.



People who have never owned a cat mistakenly believe all cats are the same; aloof, independent and unaffectionate. Cat owners will tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. All domesticated animals – cats and dogs – thrive on affection and attention, but some breeds more than others. If you’re wanting to adopt/buy a specific breed, do your homework. Some breeds, like Bengals, are better suited to experienced cat owners while others, like the long-haired Maine Coons and Persians require extensive grooming and personal attention.



Although not as common in cats as in dogs, cancer still affects a number of our feline friends. And because cats have a tendency to mask illnesses, it can be harder to detect. This often leads to later diagnoses and more difficult and costly treatments. One of the most common cancers is lymphoma, which is associated with Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV); the other is breast or mammary cancer which is preventable if your female cat is spayed before the age of six months. More than 85 percent of mammary tumors in cats are malignant and they tend to grow and metastasize quickly. Like breast tumours in humans, they start as a small lump in a mammary gland. Often, more than one mammary gland is affected. Surgery is usually needed.


Black spots on your cat’s chin should not be mistaken for flea droppings or eggs; your cat may in fact have chin acne, a disorder in which excess oily material (sebum) is formed by glands in the skin of the chin. While the exact origin remains unknown, possible causes include immune system suppression, stress, allergy to plastic food dish, food allergy, viruses which suppress the immune system or environmental allergies. Your vet will recommend treatment dependant on the severity of the condition. This could include a skin scraping, daily chin cleaning or changing of food or food bowls.


Cats love climbing, and there are important physical and psychological reasons why. Cats living together use height to show their status in the family hierarchy. This prevents fighting. Cats feel safe up high which provides an escape from dogs and other dangers. Climbing keeps cats warm. Heat rises, so on cold days the perches at the top are cozy. Climbing keeps them busy. This is particularly important for cats whose parents work all day, or cats who are kept indoors.



Declawing is an extremely painful procedure that can be likened to tail docking – surgically altering an animal for the owner’s preference or convenience. We cannot advocate it. With declawing the end digit including the claw is removed, the sensory and motor nerves are cut, damaged and destroyed. They do not repair themselves or grow back for many months.  After surgery the cat cannot ‘rest’ his feet the way we might after a foot operation but must continue to scratch in his litter box, walk and attempt to jump as usual regardless of his pain


A scary 85% of cats over the age of three will have some degree of periodontal disease. Bacteria from the mouth can end up in the blood stream and affect the heart and other organs. A sore mouth may prevent your pet from eating, leading to anorexia, loss of weight and body condition. Daily brushing is the best way to prevent tooth decay; start when your cat is a kitten. Use only a pet toothbrush and pet-friendly paste. They’ll quickly get used to it. If it is not practical to brush your cat’s teeth regularly, be sure to offer them a dry food which helps to prevent tartar buildup. Annual check ups are essential to assess dental health.


The most common causes of diabetes in cats are obesity and ageing.  Feeding your cat too much ‘people’ food can cause inflammation of the pancreas, the location of insulin-producing cells, which can inhibit insulin production. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can also predispose the cat to diabetes. It is slightly more common in males than females and occurs most often in middle age. If your cat is drinking more water than usual, urinating more often, losing weight, vomiting or is lethargic he may have diabetes. See you vet immediately. If left untreated for long enough, your cat will develop ketoacidosis (where the body begins to break down fat as an alternative source of fuel). It will eventually slip into a coma and die. Diabetes is treatable if detected early enough. Cats will require insulin injections twice a day and will need to have diet and lifestyle changes, just like people.



No pet owner likes to contemplate the ‘what if’ but it may well be necessary at some point in your life and it’s always easier to make the decision if you’re armed with knowledge. Our advice is to have a family discussion around euthanasia, and how to make your pet’s last days dignified, before the actual decision is needed. Ask yourselves important questions like, ‘how are we going to assess our pet’s quality of life?’

There are no right or wrong answers, but it is important that the whole family agrees to prevent emotional disagreements later. There are also important questions around when it is the right time to ask for euthanasia. These include, ‘does my cat have an illness that we cannot treat, which has a poor prognosis?’, ‘has she stopped eating?’, ‘is she secluding herself?’ If you answer yes to any of these questions, set up an appointment with your vet to discuss your cat’s options. The vet may be able to suggest a different treatment plan or may then recommend euthanasia and will be there to walk you through the process.



Although FIV  is similar to HIV (the Human Immunodeficiency Virus) and causes a disease in cats similar to AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in humans, it is a highly species-specific virus that infects only cats. Biting is the most efficient means of viral transmission, so free-roaming, aggressive, unneutered male cats are the most frequently infected. Infected cats may appear normal for years but eventually immune deficiency hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. An infected cat’s health may deteriorate progressively or is characterised by recurrent illness interspersed with periods of relative health. The only sure way to protect cats is to prevent their exposure to the virus and therefore to fights with aggressive male cats that may stray onto your property. Only infection-free cats should be adopted into a household with uninfected cats


The virus is shed in very high quantities in saliva, nasal secretions and urine.  Smaller amounts of the virus are also shed in tears, faeces, and milk from infected mother cats. The most common mode of transmission occurs during mutual grooming, and infrequently from bite wounds, shared use of litter boxes and feeding dishes. Transmission can also take place from an infected mother cat to her kittens, and kittens are more susceptible to infection. Immunisation is essential and forms part of our core vaccinations Symptoms of a cat with FeLV infection include frequent or prolonged illnesses, poor appetite, lameness and neurological conditions. If one of your cats tests positive for FeLV then all the cats in the household should be tested and those that are still negative should be vaccinated against the disease…s-felv-need-know/


You may not see them but chances are they are there. Only adult fleas can be seen with the naked eye and they make up just 5% of flea infestations. Cats groom themselves constantly making it even more difficult to see the fleas. Flea prevention is essential year round. Ask your vet or Vetshop for the product best-suited to your cat (treatment is age and life-stage dependent).


Up to 2/3 of the fur pulled out during grooming is swallowed. Normally your cat’s digestive system is able to handle it but, in some instances, the fur is vomited instead or becomes dangerously lodged in the intestinal tract itself. Grooming your cat regularly is the best prevention, and there are some foods that help with digestion. Ask your vet or Vetshop for assistance.



Daily brushing and/or combing removes much of your cat’s loose hair before it can be ingested. It also keeps your cat’s skin healthy as it stimulates the oils in the skin and the circulation. Check out the wide variety of brushes and combs available at EberVet Vetshops and clinics like the Zoom Groom that attracts hair like a magnet. Undercoat rakes are good for detangling long haired coats (favoured by Maine Coon breeders).



Cats are fastidious about hygiene. Allow them the time and space to clean themselves in peace. Keep the litter box clean, always. Ensure their toilet is cleared of faeces and wet litter every day and is odour free. Ensure that their food and water bowls are cleaned regularly and that they always have clean, fresh water available.



We always recommend pet insurance as veterinary fees can become expensive and there is no way of predicting what medical assistance your pet might need in the future. There is a wide range of plans on offer; ask your vet for advice.



Rivalry and jealousy take place more often with the introduction of new cats to the household.  Often the best solution is to introduce them slowly and in a safe manner and then give them to sort things out on their own. Cats have a wonderful way of working things out. Reduce the need to compete for resources by ensuring that you have water and food bowls placed in different areas in the house. Ensure you have enough litter boxes: you need one for each cat plus one extra. And then make sure you have enough cat scratch posts and places for cats to hide to prevent stress.



One in three cats is likely to suffer chronic kidney disease (CKD) as they get older.  It remains one of the most common diseases among ageing cats. Yet because symptoms rarely show up until the disease is advanced, most pets don’t survive long after diagnosis.

Until now, veterinarians have relied on urine and blood tests to help isolate kidney ailments but the IDEXX SDMA, launched globally last year, is more targeted and less impacted by other diseases. Since the new test became available more than 350 000 pets worldwide have been diagnosed with kidney disease that traditional tests might have missed.

The test can detect kidney disease in cats up to four years earlier than before and up to two years earlier in dogs. Early detection allows for prompt intervention which can extend and improve the quality of a pet’s life. If you  have an ageing cat (over the age of 7) consult your vet.

If your cat is drinking more water than usual, urinating more than usual or urinating in strange places and is losing weight, they need to have their kidneys checked. Don’t delay, the earlier it is detected the better the response to treatment.



This is a very important consideration when adopting as cats can live up to 20 years or more so be absolutely sure you can take a cat into your home for up to two decades. The average lifespan of a domesticated cat is 15 years.



Microchipping is the best way of ensuring that strayed pets and their owners have an excellent chance of being reunited. It is inexpensive, painless and quick to perform; similar to a standard inoculation done in your vet’s surgery and it takes just a few minutes. The microchip has a unique number which is linked to a database to get the owner’s details when the animal is found. When the lost cat is picked up, any number of animal welfare organisations and vet clinics will be able to scan the microchip for owner contact numbers. Be sure to update your details on the database on a regular basis.



What you feed your cat has a significant impact on his long-term health and wellness. And please remember, cheap isn’t always cheerful. Many bulk-bought supermarket foods contain poor quality ingredients that are contributors to ailments like skin allergies and kidney diseases. Always buy the best food you can afford (with premium quality food you feed less too!). Cat food is never a one-size-fits-all option; kittens have totally different nutritional requirements to adults and ageing cats. Cats with allergies, certain breeds and older cats may need a specialist diet. Consult your vet or Vetshop about your cat’s specific nutritional needs. The best thing about feeding your cat properly from day one is that you’re helping to protect him against disease later on, thereby saving significantly on vet’s bills.



Many people believe cats deserve the freedom, fresh air, and sunshine of an outdoor life, while many others can offer proof that cats can be very happy and healthy living totally indoors. Fortunately, there are compromises that will give you and your cat the best of both worlds, while keeping him safe and happy.



If your cat is peeing in odd places in the house – against furniture, in the bath, on your bed – he may be suffering from bladder stones or a bladder infection. These cause severe inflammation and an urge to urinate whenever and wherever they are. See your vet immediately. Changes within the household may also be responsible – a new baby, a dog or cat, or even moving to a new home – can trigger house soiling. Routine is essential to a cat’s comfort; any break from that can cause stress and anxiety. Your litter box could also be a problem. Check the location: a busy passage or alongside a noisy appliance like a dishwasher is disturbing your cat’s toilet time. Move the box to a quieter location. If you have more than one cat, you need more one litter box for each cat, plus one extra and they should be in different areas on the house to reduce competition for the litter box. . Some cats object to the litter itself, so experimenting with different types is a good idea to establish what your cat’s preference is.



Cats that aren’t neutered, cats living in multiple cat households and bored or lonely cats vying for their owner’s attention are likely to quarrel with each other or with other pets and you! Cats are territorial creatures and and will compete for resources if they are not in abundance. Once you have reduced competition for resources, your problems should be resolved but if the fighting continues (and you’ve neutered and spayed) consult your vet or an animal behaviourist. If a neighbour’s cat is coming onto your property and fighting with your cat, the chances are their cat has not been sterilised. Talk to them about the advantages of sterilisation or ask your local animal welfare organisation for advice. Fighting cats increases the risk of contracting FIV or FeLV. Sometimes you need to establish a ‘time-share’ system to reduce fighting, i.e. your cat is allowed out between 7:00 – 12:00 and their cat is allowed out from 12:00-19:00.



The worms or parasites found in our pets include the roundworm, parasitic tapeworm, and the hookworm. Only two are commonly seen in the stool with the unaided eye, roundworms and tapeworms. Some infestations cause few or no symptoms; some worm eggs or larvae can be dormant in the pet’s body and activated only in times of stress, or in the case of roundworms and hookworms, until the later stages of pregnancy when they activate and infest the soon-to-be-born kittens. There are several anti-worm medications available but take advice from your vet or Vetshop before administering as not all are suitable for all cats. Kittens should be dewormed every two weeks until the age of three months then once a month until the age of six months; for pets six months and older, every three months is sufficient, unless your cat roams outdoors frequently and often catches mice or birds. In that case monthly deworming is recommended.



Sterilising your cat not only prevents unwanted litters, it also protects against life-threatening diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). The two main ways of transmitting this disease is through mating and fighting. By sterilising your cat you reduce the risk dramatically. Sterilisation also cuts the risk of Feline Leukaemia Virus (FELV) as the more cats you have in an area the more likely it is to spread. By sterilising you also decrease the incidence of uterine and mammary carcinoma (cancer). Unspayed cats are 3 times more likely to get mammary cancer than spayed cats. Unsterilised male cats mark their territory with urine due to hormones; make sure your male cats are neutered early to prevent this becoming a habit.


Changes in the household (a new baby, a dog, moving house), visits to the vet, multiple cat households, your being away from them for long periods and loud noises all contribute to cats’ stress levels and they react in various ways. If you’re unsure why your cat is acting the way she is, speak with your vet or an animal behaviourist. Calming remedies are available from EberVet Vetshops and your vet.



Cats are territorial by nature.They have scent glands along the tail, on each side of their forehead, on their lips, chin and on the underside of their front paws. They use these glands to scent mark their territory. Every time your cat passes by a cupboard or the sofa and rubs up against it, he is saying, “This is mine. This belongs here. I belong with these things.” When your cat scratches your furniture or his scratching post, he is also leaving his scent there from the glands in his paws. Your cat will rub up against you and other companion pets for a scent exchange. While depositing his scent on you, he is also picking up your scent, which he will carefully lick and taste off his fur. If a cat feels threatened (new home, intruder cat), he may use an extreme form of scent marking – urine marking.
If you’re moving house, ensure that familiar scents are in the new home before you move your cat in (his blanket and bed, a chair he loves) and if you’re taking him to the vet, rub him down with his blanket or, if you have other cats, their bedding, before taking him home. That will take the hospital smell off him and prevent the others from rejecting him.


Ticks can carry diseases that pose a threat not only for your cat but for you and your family as well. It is possible for your cat to transport disease-carrying ticks into your home or yard, where these ticks may then attach to you or your family members, spreading diseases which, in some cases, can be quite serious. Ticks are most commonly seen around the face, neck, ears, feet, and legs of your cat. However, they can attach anywhere on your cat’s body. Though ticks are most commonly encountered in spring and summer, in the Western Cape the flourish during the rainy season. Consult your vet or EberVet Vetshop about the best tick prevention for your cat. Follow application instructions carefully and never use a product that doesn’t specifically state for use on cats. Many tick products for dogs are dangerous for cats.


If you’re taking your cat to the vet, a boarding kennel or a new home, it is always best to invest in a good quality cat carrier that is the right size for your cat to be comfortable yet feel secure. There is nothing more stressful or frightening (for you or your cat) – than wrestling him into a flimsy cardboard box or trying to wrap him in a towel. If flying with your cat check with the airline regarding carrier dimensions and travel requirements. Airlines are very strict about animal transport.



These are one of the most common illnesses veterinarians diagnose in young kittens. Characterised by sneezing, runny eyes, runny nose, lack of appetite, and lethargy, these infections are extremely contagious and easily passed from one kitten to another. Adult cats may be infected as well, particularly if they are stressed or housed in close contact with one another, but the symptoms are generally most severe in kittens. Many kittens will recover from an upper respiratory infection within a week or two with good nursing care (rest, encouraging them to eat and drink, wiping discharge from their eyes and nose with a warm damp cloth, etc.). But, if your kitten stops eating or her symptoms fail to improve, make an appointment with your veterinarian.



This is an annual must! Vaccinations protect against a host of deadly diseases like FeLV, Feline panleukopenia, Feline herpes virus infection, Feline calicivirus infection and Rabies. Kitten vaccinations start at six to eight weeks (depending on the mother’s vaccination status). Ask your vet for advice. The first vaccination is called a 5-in-1, a vaccination that covers five core diseases.  A second round of vaccinations is required at 10-12 weeks, a third at 12-16 weeks and then once a year thereafter. Always make sure your pet is vaccinated by a qualified veterinarian at a veterinary surgery as vaccines are very volatile and a strict cold chain protocol must be adhered to in order for the vaccine to be effective.


Another annual to-do! Good pet owners know that cat care must include vet checkups. By having your cat vet-checked once a year, you’re helping to protect against illnesses that are not always easily detectable. Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness until it’s too late. A thorough vet check will pick up early signs of disease, and that saves you money too. Senior pets need more regular check ups and we recommend six-monthly checks to assess their weight, dental health and to look for early signs of arthritis as well as any other disease related to senior pets.



Fat cats are best left in Parliament. Overweight cats have a significantly shorter lifespan, with excess body fat placing strain on the bones and joints, the digestive and respiratory organs. Obesity usually occurs in middle-aged cats and the causes are myriad: lack of physical activity, overfeeding, changes in metabolism after sterilisation, or hypothyroidism. Ask your vet for a weight check, and if your cat is overweight, your vet can devise a suitable weight loss plan.



Cat care has progressed in leaps and bounds and these days includes sophisticated imaging which helps vets to diagnose difficult to detect diseases. X-rays and ultrasound are vital tools to help us look inside the body. X-rays are generally used to assess the bones and ultrasound is used for internal organs such as the heart and abdominal organs. Ultrasound and x-rays are needed to assess heart disease. Ultrasounds give additional information on the inside of the heart, including the heart chambers, valves, arteries and veins. Various parts of the heart can also accurately measured; changes in these measurements will point out early problems that can be missed on a clinical examination and x-rays. The sooner a problem is detected, the easier and more successful the treatment.



Kittens meow to their mothers when they’re hungry, cold, or scared. But once cats get older, they use other vocalisations — such as yowling, hissing, and growling — to communicate with each other. Meowing is reserved for their communications with people.  If your cat isn’t spayed or neutered, then you’re going to hear a lot more noise. Females yowl when in heat, and males yowl when they smell a female in heat. Both can be maddening to live with. Getting your pet spayed or neutered will prevent this.



Cats sleep a lot! On average 15 hours a day though kittens and older cats will sleep even longer. As most are active between dusk and dawn, sleep time occurs mostly during your waking hours. They have the physiology of a predator and hunting prey takes an amazing amount of energy so all that sleep is reserve energy for running, pouncing, climbing and stalking. And just like us, cats like to sleep when it’s cold and rainy.