September is Happy, Healthy Cat Month, so there’s no better time to consider all the ways we can keep our feline friends happy and healthy. From scheduling routine veterinary visits to providing plenty of opportunities for your cat to play, there are lots of ways to help your cat live a long, healthy life.
“Cats may not be human, but they need many of the same things you or I might to have a well-rounded and good quality of life—like good nutrition, environmental stimulation like play in the form of toys or treat puzzles, clean water, and clean toileting facilities,” asserts Dr. Lauren Demos, board member and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).
Here are five ways to ensure your kitty lives a happy, healthy life.
Schedule Vet Visits
First and foremost, the best way to keep your cat healthy is to schedule those routine vet visits. According to Dr. Erick Mears, a board certified veterinarian in internal medicine and the Tampa Bay Medical Director for BluePearl Veterinary Partners, annual visits to the vet—or even biannual as your cat gets a little bit older—are crucial when it comes to identifying underlying issues. “Cats are really good at masking when something is wrong, so having bloodwork done or checking their weight or blood pressure is so important to determining any health issues your cat may be hiding,” he says.
According to Demos, another concern is that so many feline illnesses look like “normal” things at first—for example, one of the early signs of hyperthyroidism is simply a “good appetite,” she says, while chronic kidney disease can cause large urine balls in your cat’s litter box that many cat owners assume means their cat is well hydrated. “If I can catch a disease process when it starts, I am much more likely to help make your cat feel her best…early detection allows us to be proactive, rather than reactive,” she adds.
Another reason to go through the trouble of getting your cat to the vet—which is not always an easy feat— is ensuring that your cat stays up-to-date on vaccines. “While all cats should be vaccinated against rabies, your veterinarian will determine the best vaccine and schedule based on your individual cat and their lifestyle, such as whether they are an indoor cat or spend some any time outdoors,” Mears adds, noting that it’s now recommended for cats to receive fewer vaccines as they get older. Demos notes that flea and heartworm preventives are also underutilized in cats, so cat owners should be sure to speak with their veterinarian about their recommendations.
Know Proper Litter Box Maintenance
Mears notes that one of the most important ways to keep your cat both happy and healthy is to practice proper litter box maintenance. “You’ll obviously want to keep the litter box clean, but also be sure that you have enough litter boxes, particularly if you share your home with multiple cats,” he says. Be sure to place litter boxes in areas of the home that aren’t heavily trafficked, and have at least one more litter box than you have cats. “You’ll also want to clean the box at least daily,” Demos adds. “You wouldn’t like to use a toilet that hadn’t been flushed in a week.”
Engage in Play Time
Just because cats aren’t going to want to play fetch or chase a tennis ball around the backyard doesn’t mean that it’s not important for them to have opportunities to play and interact with members of their family (both human and feline), both for their physical and emotional well-being.
“It’s important for cats to have opportunities to play, particularly because cats tend to be more sedentary and getting that little bit of exercise can help them ward off obesity and other health issues,” Mears notes. Providing scratching posts and cat trees and towers, treat puzzles, or even just having more than one cat so there’s always someone to play with can go a long way when it comes to helping your cat lead a healthy, happy life.
Keep Them Safe
Even if you have an indoor/outdoor cat, responsible cat owners have to take precautions to keep their cat safe. Demos warns that permanent identification like a microchip is extremely important, as well as never letting your cat roam the outdoors at night. Mears advises being mindful about hazards to your cat outdoors, such as other wildlife or cats, as well as inside the home, such as potentially toxic plants like poinsettias or lily plants.
Understand Feline Body Language
While dogs tend to be expressive when it comes to their emotions, it’s often more difficult to “read” a cat. But according to Demos, a key way to help keep your cat happy is to develop a better understanding of his or her personality as well as to know how to interpret basic cat behaviors.
“The triggers we look for in a happy dog are not the same in a cat. A cat wagging a tail, for instance, is not a happy cat: either they’re conflicted, annoyed, or angry,” she explains.” You’ll also want to be wary of how you interact and engage with your cat, as some behaviors will actually irritate or upset them. “Many cats don’t appreciate belly rubs; a cat might show you their belly as a sign of affection, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are inviting you to pet that area…and many cats find touching the top of the head to be an act inciting play or aggression, whereas most dogs tolerate this well,” she explains.
Demos also warns that, unlike dogs, cats do not require baths. “It’s funny how often I hear this [question] for people…but cats definitely do not need baths. It will make for a happier you, and for a happier cat,” she concludes.