Rabies Vaccinations for Cats

Vaccinations are a tricky business. Most cats are either over-vaccinated or under-vaccinated. Dex P. writes:

I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Would you recommend rabies vaccination for the cats who do not go outside? Can rabies be transmitted if the outdoor guys are vaccinated? Thank you!

Rabies vaccinations are a matter of law in most states, so cats living in those states should follow the laws, whether they go outside or not. That said, there is no reason to vaccinate a cat with a modern three-year rabies vaccine more often than every three years. In most cases the three-year and one-year vaccines are identical, so the one-year vaccine is automatically overkill.

There are some cats who develop injection site sarcomas so the best protocol for vaccinating is to do the least that's necessary to remain effective. We recommend voicing your concerns to your veterinarian and developing a plan with them.

If you'd like to get "into the weeds" on this issue, there's a very good interview between Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Ronald Schultz on the subject. Dr. Schultz is an expert in immunology and vaccinology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and he's come out in favor of fewer vaccinations. Links to the subsequent sections of the interview appear at the end of this video.

Dr. Becker is a favorite of ours and she has another good video on general vaccine advice here that we wholeheartedly agree with: 

The bottom line is less is more. If possible, find a vet who will titer a pet instead of re-vaccinating automatically. This may require an additional form from your vet depending on the laws of your state, but we feel that it's worth the extra effort to avoid over-vaccinating.

We wish you and your kitties all the best, Dex!

Flea Control for Cats

Fleas are one of the most successful parasites on Earth, so they're a problem in many temperate climates. With over 2,500 species, it's no surprise than many of them want to feed on our feline friends. Dex P. writes:

Which flea & tick medicine do you think is best? There are so many out there. I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Thank you!

Dex, we don't particularly care for any of the commercially available topical flea treatments because the chemicals used often have side effects, some of which can be disastrous for individual cats. There's just no way to know who will have a reaction and who won't.

We recommend a more organic approach. Organic flea control is best achieved when the little nasties are attacked on multiple fronts.

First, you should make sure all the cats are healthy and are being fed a species-appropriate diet. Given a choice, fleas will be drawn to the least healthy hosts. See our top food recommendations here.

 
 

Next, use a flea comb to go through your cats' fur on a regular basis. To be most effective, slowly run the comb through their fur and then dip it into a glass of soapy water to clear it. If you find fleas, they'll end up in the water which you can then flush away.

 
 

Finally, use a deterrent product like food grade diatomaceous earth directly on your cats' fur. Massage it in and, in the case of DE, avoid dusting it to make sure that kitty won't breathe it in. These all-natural products will kill fleas and keep them away but will need repeat applications to remain effective. You can also use a little diatomaceous earth as a barrier for other insects at entryways and under baseboards.

Dex, we're confident that the organic approach can be just as effective as the chemical bombardment method, but it does take diligence and works best before a major infestation takes place. Of course, the best solution is to keep all of your cats indoors. We wish you and your cats all the best!

Should I Toilet Train My Cat?

There are lots of litter boxes on the market today, all of which are vying for the attention of cat lovers. However, when choosing a litter box, it's much more important to get the approval of the cat (see our litter box & litter recommendations here). Litter boxes with hoods and motors and tumblers may seem super cool to us humans, but they aren't always welcomed by our feline friends. And then there's the toilet. Maggie S. writes:

I’ve seen videos and reports online that say that cats can be trained to use a toilet instead of a litter box. How can I teach my cat, Baxter, to do this?

It sounds great, doesn't it, Maggie? Baxter could just perch up on the toilet seat, do his business, and be on his way without all the muss and fuss of keeping up a litter box! No sweeping up or vacuuming. No more lugging 25 pound boxes of litter home from the store. No more odor. It sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? That's because it is.

While it is possible to teach a smart cat like Baxter to use the toilet, it's not such a good idea for him in the long run. The reason? It introduces stress to an activity that's ingrained in your cat's biology. Over thousands of years, cats learned to cover their waste to keep from being detected by predators and prey. When this is forcibly changed, a large number of behavior issues can be the result. It's just not worth it for you or for your cat.

These are the key reasons not to toilet train a cat:

  1. It goes against a cat's instinct to dig and bury their waste.
  2. Litter box odors reinforce a cat's claim over their territory.
  3. As Baxter ages, he'll no longer be able to nimbly perch atop the toilet seat and is more likely to fall in.
  4. When he's boarded or kept in veterinary care, a litter box will be the only option.
  5. You can't move a toilet. The location of Baxter's litter box is critical to his elimination behaviors.
  6. If you have more than one cat, you should have one more litter box than the total number of cats. That doesn't really work with toilets.
  7. It makes it impossible for you to monitor urine output. Changes in urine output are key indicators to medical conditions like bladder stones and urinary tract infections.

So, while it seems like a great idea from the point of view of us humans, Maggie, toilet training Baxter will probably cause him great stress. It's better to focus your time with him on playing games and giving him positive reinforcement that increases your bond. You might even like to try clicker training. We wish both of you all the best!

Should I brush My Cat's Teeth?

Dental treatments for companion animals are becoming more and more common. Marsha F. writes:

How important is it to brush my cats teeth?

Marsha, it can be very important. In the wild, cats rarely have issues because, on average, they only live for three to five years. Living in our homes, cats can live more than 20 years so there's a greater likelihood of dental issues. Of course, just like humans, genetics can play a major role. Some have a greater predisposition to problems than others.

Diet also has a tremendous effect on dental health. The myth that dry food helps clean teeth is just that - a myth. In fact, dry food and treats can actually cause more problems than wet food (Think of how Cheetos get stuck in your own teeth). Cats who eat a raw diet tend to have much healthier teeth and gums because they're getting better, more complete nutrition.

The big issue with brushing is whether or not your feline friend will tolerate it. If they're trained early to accept your fingers along their gums, they'll usually accept brushing. If they have difficulty with it, we suggest you begin by using a soft hair brush along the sides of their mouths since most cats really enjoy that. Once they've accepted the hair brush, introduce them to a plain toothbrush. We like the finger brushes as opposed to the long-handled brushes because you know exactly where the brush is in the cat's mouth.

You don't have to use toothpaste, though brushing is more effective with it. Never use human toothpaste, though. Gently brush the outside of the teeth along the gum line where tartar is most likely to form. If your patient becomes restless, offer a treat and let them go on their way. You can always do a little bit at a time over several days. Whatever you do, don't force it. You want your cat to associate brushing with positive feelings.

As to veterinary dental care, be aware that some of the corporate veterinary chains use dental treatments as a new way to make extra money. While a cat will benefit from an occasional cleaning, the anesthesia can be risky for some individuals. It's up to you and a veterinarian you trust to determine whether or not the risk is worth the benefit. 

Help, My Cat is Losing Weight!

When a cat experiences unexpected weight loss, there's good cause for concern. Elizabeth T. writes:

I have a 12 year old cat named Jade who has always been small. Her usual weight is 6 pounds. She is down to 4 (was even lighter a month ago). I have been feeding her baby food and wet kitten food and while it has helped, she has only gained less than half a pound in the last month. I have taken her to the vet and they can’t find any problems. Is there something better I can feed her to help her gain weight?

Elizabeth, this is an extremely complex problem and one that should be solved with the input of a qualified veterinarian. Since we can't even see Jade or her test results, it's difficult to draw conclusions, but we can give you some general advice on seeking an answer for her problem.

It's unusual for a 12 year old cat to have weight loss without an underlying medical cause. Our first thought is that Jade might be diabetic, but surely your veterinarian tested for that. It might be worth getting a second opinion from another vet. Many veterinarians are very dog-centric because that's what pays the bills. Since many cat caregivers rarely take their cats in for checkups and most cats are very good at hiding their maladies, some vets rarely see cats at all.

Common medical causes for weight loss in cats include diabetes, hyperthyroidism, feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) & parasites. Jade should be tested for all of these.

Once you're confident that there's not an obvious medical cause, it's time to look for more subtle causes. 

  • If Jade is having sinus problems, she will not be able to smell her food and will probably not eat.
  • If she has dental pain, she won't want to eat.
  • If there are other cats in the household and she's being bullied, she may not eat. 
  • If one of her companions has died recently, she may go through a grieving period and not eat.
  • If she's on medications, she may have gastric issues caused by the medicine.

You see what we're getting at. You need to put on your detective hat. A cat with abdominal pain may lay on her side in a way she doesn't usually like. She may respond to gentle abdominal pressure with a hiss that goes beyond her ordinary reaction. Look for changes in her behavior, however subtle, as clues to her problem. 

Getting her to eat depends on the root cause of her lack of appetite. For example, if her problem is sinus related, you may need to help her clear her sinuses. (See this post: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/treating-chronic-rhinosinusitis )

 
 

If she has diarrhea or is constipated, she may be having gastric issues. The best treatment for those is a good probiotic like FortiFlora and a teaspoon of canned 100% pumpkin puree added to each meal. These two ingredients combined will sort out a huge variety of intestinal issues. The FortiFlora has the additional benefit of having an irresistible flavor to most cats.

Finding the cause is key here, Elizabeth. It just takes perseverance. Feeding her high-calorie kitten and baby food is a good way to keep her weight up in the interim. There really are no higher calorie food sources to consider. As I mentioned above, adding FortiFlora to her food may make her more interested in it until you can diagnose her real issue.

We wish you and Jade all the best!