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Cat Advice

Looking after your cat

You have just adopted a kitten, and are looking forward to many years of shared tenderness, providing it with everything it needs. Perhaps you are already well aware, or perhaps you only somehow feel, that this little ball of fluff is replete with mystery - and you are quite right. Most of all, a cat is not a little dog! Our two most familiar pets may have the fact of being carnivorous in common, but their behaviours are very different from one another's. And if you want to make a cat happy, you need to respect its peculiarities.

A well-deserved reputation!

Rightly felt to be less demanding than dogs as far as training is concerned, cats enjoy the reputation of being clean and independent at the time of adoption. They seem to be the perfect pet: little bother, entirely able to cope with the many times when they have to stay alone, and giving love and affection while respecting the independence of their masters. But all that should not prevent the owners from getting involved in their new friend's up-bringing.

One of the first things to check is how far your kitten has got in terms of its socialisation. A very simple and useful test here is to (gently) take the kitten by the scruff of its neck and lift it up. A properly socialised kitten will respond to this kind of handling by curling up with its tail raised under its belly and a glassy look in its eyes. This is what is known as a "positive carrying reflex", and such a reaction indicates that the kitten has stayed long enough in contact with its mother to be able to be properly socialised.

If, on the contrary, the kitten begins to howl when you lift it up in this way, with its claws out and the whole body arched in hyper-extension, then its level of socialisation is very low and it is going to be difficult to make a pleasant family pet of your kitten. If, after checking this reflex out several times, you still decide to keep the kitten, do not hesitate to speak about it with your Vet, who will be able to advise you as to how to increase your new friend's contact tolerance.

Vaccinations

Your Cat is your Best Friend

We know that you care for your cat and want to ensure that he remains happy and healthy throughout his life and will do anything all you can to achieve this.

One easy way in which you can help to ensure that your cat is protected from infectious diseases is to ensure that he is vaccinated as a kitten and regularly throughout his adult life.

Why Vaccination is Important

Cats can and do become seriously ill or die from infectious diseases that could have been prevented through vaccination every year.

Regular vaccination can protect your cat from infectious diseases such as cat flu, feline leukaemia virus and feline infectious enteritis.

This site contains information on each of these diseases. By preventing these diseases you can help ensure that your cat stays healthy and happy.

Why you Need to Vaccinate your Cat Regularly

Primary Vaccination

For the first few weeks of life, kittens are usually protected against disease from the immunity they receive in their mother's milk. However, this maternal immunity may also neutralise any vaccine given at this time. Gradually this protection decreases, and the maternal immunity acquired at birth declines to a sufficiently low level for the animal to no longer be protected. This also allows the animal to respond to vaccination and so at this stage it is possible this is the best time to start the vaccination programme.

Your veterinary surgeon will suggest a programme of vaccinations to fit in with your pet's particular needs and the local disease pattern.

Annual Vaccination

Many people believe that if they have their pet vaccinated when it is a kitten the immunity it receives will protect it for the rest of its life. Unfortunately this is not the case.

After the last injection, the immune level reaches a peak and then begins to decline. After a year, the level of protection offered to your pet may no longer be sufficient.

Re-vaccination stimulates the immune response so that protection is maintained for another year. Without these yearly vaccinations, your pet's immune system may not be able to protect it from serious, often fatal disease.

How Vaccines Work

Vaccines work by training the white blood cells in your cat's body to recognise and attack the viruses or bacteria contained in the vaccine. This should prevent infection with that particular bug organism if your cat is in contact with it again.

Diseases of Cats

There are four important viruses in cats for which vaccines are available.

Feline Infectious Enteritis

Feline infectious enteritis (also known as panleucopaenia or parvovirus) is a severe disease that fortunately has become much less common thanks to highly effective vaccines.

The disease is usually seen as bloody diarrhoea in young animals, with a characteristic offensive odour and severe dehydration. Many will die within hours of the onset of symptoms.

Once a cat becomes infected by parvovirus, the virus invades the intestines and bone marrow. This leads to sudden and severe bleeding into the gut, resulting in dehydration and shock and damage to the immune system. Death is common and frequently rapid unless emergency veterinary treatment is received. Kittens born to infected mothers are weak, prone to infections and may have permanent brain damage.

Feline Upper Respiratory Disease

This is caused by two important viruses and may be complicated by secondary bacteria. The two viruses are called feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, and together they form the disease commonly called "cat flu".

Feline herpesvirus will infect most cats in their lifetime, and most cats will become lifelong carriers. They may excrete the virus when they become stressed or ill, causing repeated bouts of illness. Vaccination protects cats from disease, but the immunity does not last long and needs regular boosters for the best possible protection.

The virus attacks the eyes, mouth and lungs, causing severe symptoms such as fever, eye ulcers and pneumonia. The infection is often made worse by secondary bacterial infections. Infected mothers give birth to small, weak kittens.

Feline calicivirus is also very common. It is generally less severe, but causes painful ulcers of the mouth and tongue, and may again be complicated by bacterial infections. Vaccination is highly effective at protecting cats from disease, but regular boosters are required.

Feline Leukaemia Virus

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is the biggest killer of cats in the UK apart from after car accidents. Infected animals may not show any signs for months or even years, so many more cats may be infected before the warning signs are seen.

It is easily spread in saliva and blood, so cats are infected when grooming each other, sharing food bowls and litter trays and when fighting.

Animals are usually infected in the first months of life, but any age of animal including adults and unborn kittens may become infected.

FeLV attacks the white blood cells and bone marrow. This makes the cat vulnerable to secondary infections. It also causes anaemia and cancer of the blood, intestines and other parts of the body.

One in three cats that catch the virus will develop the disease. Only early vaccination and regular boosters can protect your cat from the virus.

Rabies Vaccination and the Pets Travel Scheme (PETS)

Rabies is a fatal disease, which affects both cats and humans. Rabies was eradicated from this country many years ago and strict systems are in place to make sure that it is never seen again.

If you are intending to take your cat to another European country and return to the UK with it you must ensure that it is protected by having it vaccinated against rabies.

Your cat must be at least 3 months old before it can be vaccinated against rabies. It can then be vaccinated any time after it has been fitted with a microchip. Before vaccinating your cat, the vet will check its microchip number and enter it onto your pet´s vaccination record.

If your cat is vaccinated against rabies before it was fitted with a microchip, it will have to be fitted with a microchip and vaccinated again. This is to make sure that your pet is correctly identified when it is vaccinated.

Booster Vaccinations

After your pet has been vaccinated, it will need regular booster vaccinations to ensure it remains protected.

Remember, for the PETS Scheme you must make sure that your pet is given its booster on time otherwise it will not meet the conditions of the scheme and would have to be vaccinated and blood tested again. It would have to wait another six months before being able to enter the UK.

In order to prevent future complications please discuss the PETS Scheme in advance with your veterinary surgeon.

Please discuss with your vet all aspects of vaccination of your kitten and cat throughout its life, the important infectious diseases and how you can ensure help keep your cat remains healthy and happy.

Attachment, socialisation, familiarisation

A cat's entire capacity for socialisation depends upon the quality of the attachment it has formed with its mother, and on the degree of socialisation of the mother herself.

A cat develops much faster than a dog: where a dog takes about six months to become autonomous, the key period for a kitten to grow up into a well-balanced cat lies in the sixth week of life.

Of course, all is not lost, and it is still possible to enhance socialisation at the usual age of adoption: e.g., around two months. But it needs to be borne in mind that cats are not always necessarily social creatures, and that certain cats which have gone back to their wild state are capable of spending their whole life without any social interaction at all outside of mating seasons.

In the life of a cat, the first period of attachment is primordial, and this capacity for attachment, which is a juvenile characteristic, needs to be preserved. If this first attachment is of a quality such as to allow your cat to feel confident with all the humans and often the other species of animal (such as dogs) which it may encounter, then it will be relaxed and glad to be with you. Otherwise, it will become familiar with just one or with just a few persons, and hide away whenever a stranger appears; it will always be chary of the unknown, although your presence can reassure it. This is the distinction between a social and a merely familiar cat.

If such a lack of socialisation is making your cat aggressive, do not hesitate to consult your vet.

It is possible to detect disturbances in the process of detachment by means of the carrying reflex referred to above. One also often finds cats which go on trying to breast-feed, using pieces of cloth or, more commonly, their owner for this. From time to time, the animal forcibly seeks contact, settling on or against its master and taking a finger or some hair in its mouth to suck on for a fairly long time. In itself, this behaviour has nothing necessarily pathological about it, but you should talk to your Vet about it if it is associated with other signs (such as fearfulness, growling or spitting on contact, or on the other hand too quiet a cat).

Training

During the period of development, the mother cat teaches her kittens certain "self-control mechanisms": e.g., how to regulate and co-ordinate their movements and the action of their teeth and claws.

A well brought-up kitten will always be careful with others' faces, for example during games in which it is liable to scratch. If your kitten has not yet acquired this ability, you will need to teach it, and for this of course you will have to make use of behaviour patterns which it is familiar with. The techniques classically recommended as far as dogs are concerned- picking it up by the scruff of the neck, or pinning it to the ground do not work with cats.

If we observe a mother cat with her litter, we can see two means of correcting a kitten, and we can copy them with a little adaptation. Firstly, she paws the muzzle, claws retracted, when the kitten loses control. You can copy this by giving a fairly sharp tap on the muzzle with your finger to stop any unwanted behaviour, with no risk of hurting the kitten.

If the kitten is really turbulent, the mother sometimes grips it between her fore-paws and pounds its belly with her rear paws. Here again, if you lay the kitten down on its side and hold it there with one hand and scratch its belly with the other, you should succeed in inhibiting any movement.

It is important to understand that these two techniques are meant to teach self-control to the little cat and are not intended to achieve submission: in fact, the idea of submission and dominance does not apply in the everyday life of a cat.

If you suspect that a reaction is due to a vaccination you should consult your vet. Your vet may in turn report it to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate who gather information on possible side effects of veterinary products.

Territory organisation

While cats may not always be social animals, they most certainly are always territorial. For your cat to be emotionally well-balanced, harmonious territorial structure is essential, and the feline approach to organisation is most particular and a far cry from human or even dogs' ideas on the subject. Cats divide their territory up into a certain number of areas, each with its own specific function.

The isolation field is an area which the cat does not wish to share, unless it be with extremely familiar individuals, and then only when it so chooses. It is often a raised position, where the cat can feel perfectly safe. Activity fields may, on the other hand, be shared and are devoted to some particular occupation (bird-watching, hunting, playing or feeding, etc.).

These various fields are all inter-linked by pathways which are always the same, and which the cat traces with pheromonal markers whenever it takes them. When you see a cat rubbing up against a piece of furniture, it is placing its familiarity markers there which will act as reassuring landmarks for it afterwards. This very strict and most particular organisation is necessary if a cat is to be emotionally well-balanced.

There are practical repercussions to this for you when you adopt a kitten.

Right from the very first day, you should give it its isolation field: a place where no-one will come and disturb it when it is asleep.

The children and the dog of the household will quite naturally want to make contact with the new-comer; but, if your kitten is to develop peacefully, it has to have its own private place- which it may later on decide to change.

You should not systematically remove all the marks made by the cat rubbing itself against things in its new home. It is very important for it to be able to find its pheromones if it is not to develop an anxiety state.

Uncleanliness and marking

Cats are toilet-trained from very early on, and one is often struck by the sight of a little kitten three weeks old struggling to get up into its cat-litter to relieve itself there.

This reputation is a well founded one, and so it is only all the more disappointing for a cat-owner to find that his or her cat is not clean. To avoid this, there are a few precautions to take. The elimination field should have certain features, and, however self-evident some of these may be, in practice experience shows that they are not always fully respected. The cat-box with the litter in it needs to be constantly accessible, including at night. Remember that cats were originally nocturnal animals. By dint of living with humans, they may focus on daytime activity, but they still may well keep certain times during the night for specific occupations. The place you choose has to enable your cat to relieve itself without any problems.

If children are playing in the same room, or the dog is liable to come over and sniff the cat on its litter, then the conditions are not the best possible and accidents may ensue.

The litter should be changed frequently.

Finally, do not confuse uncleanliness and marking.

Some cats use urinary marking, and the sequence here is highly characteristic. The cat stands up straight on its legs, rather than crouching down as it does to relieve itself, and sends shots of urine on to vertical supports. This is highly typical of a cat whose territory has been disrupted and who is failing to find its familiarity landmarks.

As between uncleanliness, elimination and marking, the easiest and most effective thing to do is to talk with your Vet about it right away. He or she will be able to distinguish between the different hypotheses and to suggest a solution to you. One way or the other, do not delay. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the result. And if any of this does happen to you, do not get depressed about it: despite their reputation for cleanliness, a survey has shown that 30% of cats fail to be clean at one time or another in their lives.

Playing and Hunting

No doubt being more naturally a predator than dogs are, cats need to play, miming hunting and predation. Puppies focus on social games, whereas your kitten will spend hours chasing paper or cloth prey.

It is very important that you should join in these games so as to check your kitten's self-control mechanisms. It is by playing with you that it can learn to control its biting and scratching and to be careful with certain parts of your body.

But it is equally necessary to let your kitten have plenty of opportunity to play at hunting.

Balls of tin-foil which catch the light, and any kind of mobile hanging on a string and which can move in the slightest breeze or draught, help make a rich environment and are vital to your kitten's harmonious development.

A lack of stimuli and of imaginary prey can cause the animal to show aggression to the sole mobile features to be found in its environment: e.g., its owners' feet and hands. If you encounter this problem - especially with a cat living in what is a favourable environment - do not hesitate to speak about it with your Vet.

Cats are fascinating animals, with behaviour which is both familiar and wild. It is a daily joy to share one's home with a happy cat. Recent knowledge concerning a means of communication greatly used by cats - pheromones - lets us better understand them and provide them with a suitable habitat. The quality of the affective bond we can form with a cat is a source of peace and well-being. The sight of its games and postural mimicry will delight you. And, if even so your cat has strange or unwelcome behaviour, be sure not to wait until things get critical before talking about it to your vet.

Help Your Cat Cope With Stress

There are many circumstnces in which cats will exhibit signs of stress and anxiety and as a result may show inappropriate behaviour such as spraying.

Changes in their environment; interaction with other cats or with dogs; fireworks and loud noises; being transported to the vets or cattery are the main causes. Use of the Feliway Spray or Diffuser can help alleviate the signs leaving you cat calm and laid-back. The Diffuser is plugged into the normal electrical wall socket and releases a natural Pheromone which has a calming effect. Feliway Spray is also available for use when transporting your cat to the Vets Surgery or cattery. 

Feliway can also help in the treatment and prevention of Idiopathic Cystitis. Cats with cystitis often urinate in inappropriate places and more frequently than normal. There may be blood in the urine. You should talk to your Vet if your cat is showing symptoms as some cases may require antibiotics and special diets.

Prevent the unwanted intrusion of feral, stray or neighbours cats with Sureflap Microchip Cat Flap

Recommended Retail Price £79.99 - Limited offer in Surgery £66.98 while stocks last

The SureFlap microchip cat flap identifies cats using their unique identification microchip, unlocking only for your pet and preventing strays and neighbourhood cats from entering your home.

  • Learns your cat's existing identification microchip
  • Compatible with all common microchip types
  • No need for a collar or tag which can become lost or snagged
  • Simple one-button programming learns your cat's chip number in seconds
  • Quick and easy to install into doors, windows and walls
  • Fits into the hole left by most existing cat flaps
  • Battery operated - typical battery life up to 12 months
  • Stores up to 32 cats in memory

Free Delivery in Blackburn, Darwen, Clayton-Le-Moors and Rishton. Or collect from the Surgery. Allow up to 5 working days for Free Delivery available 9:00am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday only.

Practice information

Town and Country Vets - Blackburn

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Town and Country Vets - Clayton-le-Moors

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Town and Country Vets - Whalley

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