Keeping Your Feline Friend Happy and Healthy
Your cat is considered an adult once they are fully grown, from 6 to 12 months of age, depending on their size and breed. Many of your adult cat’s needs are the same as they were during kittenhood, but others will change as your cat matures. If you recently welcomed an adult cat into your household, acclimating them to their new home will be much the same as adopting a new kitten. Whether your adult cat has been by your side for years, or is a new addition, caring for them properly will ensure years of happiness and good health.
Integrating an adult cat into your household
If you have recently adopted an adult cat, they may take some time to fully relax and understand they are in their new forever home. If you adopted your cat from a shelter, they may have bounced between several temporary homes, and possibly the street, before having the good fortune of landing at your house, and they may need time to discover that your home is wonderful, and let their true personality shine. Be patient as your new pet navigates this transition, and support them as they grow in confidence.
Cats have all personality types—some will be eager to meet new people and animals, and others will hide under the bed when they encounter strangers. Watch your cat’s body language, and let them approach people and other pets at their own pace. That being said, exposing your new cat to as many different people, animals, sights, and sounds as possible is vital. Although the critical socialization period—3 weeks to 3 months of age—has passed, socialization is a lifelong journey, and can help them become more confident and social. Ensure you make each introduction a positive experience, so your cat associates positive feelings with new situations. For example, while you restrain your cat, or run the vacuum cleaner, feed high-value treats to help your cat form positive associations with these situations that can often cause anxiety.
A new cat will likely be curious about your pets, but your other cats may not immediately take to a newcomer. To introduce your new cat to your existing feline companion, allow them to meet on opposite sides of a closed door with a gap underneath, if possible. This way, the cats can smell one another, and extend a paw under the door. Once each cat seems comfortable, you can crack the door, and allow them to interact with supervision.
When introducing your new cat to your dog, leash your dog and allow your cat to approach as they feel comfortable. If your dog is too boisterous, acts aggressively, or chases the cat, you will need to supervise all interactions, and separate them when you are not around. Provide your cat with plenty of hiding spaces where they can escape when they do not wish to interact with your other pets or family members.
Feeding your adult cat
With so many options, choosing a diet for your cat can be overwhelming. Diets are specifically formulated with nutrient amounts that are appropriate for different life stages and lifestyles, so ensure the food you choose is appropriate for an adult cat. For example, kitten food contains higher calorie and fat levels for growth, and continuing to give your cat that food after they have grown will result in excess weight gain. If you are not sure which food to choose, a veterinarian is the best source of advice. Talk to a veterinarian now.
Pet obesity is a growing problem, and excess weight will be detrimental to your pet’s overall health. Ideally, you should establish healthy eating habits early to prevent obesity in your adult cat. If your pet is already overweight, consult with a veterinarian for the best weight-loss plan to return your cat to a healthy weight.
Many pet food companies overestimate the amount you should feed your pet, so ask a veterinarian to help you determine an appropriate daily calorie allotment. Cats are grazers, and prefer to eat many small meals throughout the day and night, but you should divide your cat’s daily calorie allotment into meals, instead of filling their bowl only once a day. This way, they won’t eat all their food by noon and beg for more. For example, if you plan to feed your cat twice per day, divide their total daily calorie allotment by two, and use the calories per cup on the food label to calculate how many cups of food to give your pet. At meal time, measure your cat’s food with a measuring cup to ensure they receive the proper amount. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water for your cat at all times.
Litter box training your adult cat
Training a cat to eliminate in the proper location is much easier than house training a new dog. Show your cat where their litter boxes are located, and put them inside so they can feel the litter under their feet. Cats prefer to bury their urine and feces, and will understand this is where they should eliminate. If your cat does not take to their litter box quickly, you can use a product such as Dr. Elsey’s Ultra Litter Attractant, which contains a pet-safe herbal mixture that encourages cats to use the litter box.
Inappropriate elimination is the most common reason pet owners abandon their cats, so ensuring your cat has good litter box habits is essential. To encourage your cat to always use their litter box, follow these tips:
- Provide one litter box for each cat in your household, plus one extra.
- Place litter boxes in different locations and on different levels of your home.
- Choose quiet, private locations—for example, do not place litter boxes near loud appliances, such as the washing machine.
- Choose a sand-based, unscented litter.
- Do not change litter types, as cats are often picky about their litter.
- Do not use harsh, scented chemicals to clean your cat’s litter box.
- Scoop your cat’s litter at least once each day.
- Once a week, completely dump the old litter, clean the box, and fill it with fresh litter.
- Minimize stress in your cat’s life, as anxiety is a leading cause of chronic bladder inflammation and inappropriate elimination in cats.
Clean up any accidents quickly with an enzyme-based cleaner that will completely eliminate the odor, so your cat will not be tempted to use the same spot again. Accidents are expected when training a new pet, and you should never punish your cat for having an accident.
Providing activity for your adult cat
You likely won’t take your cat outside for play sessions and daily walks as you would a dog, but cats, particularly young adults, have lots of energy, and require frequent play and activity. Although they are domesticated, cats retain an instinctual desire to hunt, stalk, and pounce, and encouraging your cat’s inner lion is important to keep them fit and trim, and prevent obesity. Without mental stimulation, your indoor cat will become bored and stressed, which can lead to behavior and medical problems. Activities that will keep your cat busy include:
- Chasing a feather toy or robotic mouse
- Perching at the window to watch birds and other wildlife
- Climbing a cat tree
- Surveying household activity from a high vantage point
- Solving food puzzles that require them to “work” for their food
- Finding treats or food pieces hidden throughout your house
- Playing with another pet
Keeping your adult cat healthy and safe
Regular veterinary care is critical to keeping your cat healthy throughout their life. Establish and follow a regular health care routine to help keep your cat up to date on vaccines, parasite prevention, and routine health screenings that can save their life. Despite the best care, however, accidents, injuries, and health problems can occur, and recognizing common health problems and seeking immediate veterinary care is the best way to ensure as many years as possible with your best friend.
Regular veterinary visits for your adult cat
Your adult cat should visit a veterinarian at least yearly for routine wellness and preventive care. During this visit, a veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, oral health assessment, and lifestyle risk assessment. Routine screening tests, such as a fecal analysis, are typically performed to detect dangerous parasites that can impact your pet’s health. A veterinarian may also perform blood work to evaluate your cat’s blood cell counts and organ function, and to gain baseline values for comparison with future blood work. If you have recently adopted an adult cat, they should visit a veterinarian for a thorough health screening and viral testing during their first week of adoption.
Vaccines for your adult cat
Your cat will require annual vaccines to protect them against life-threatening infectious diseases. If you have adopted an adult cat with an unknown vaccine history, assume they have not had prior vaccines, and ask a veterinarian to determine their best catch-up schedule. A veterinarian will base your cat’s vaccines on their lifestyle and exposure risk to specific diseases, although all cats will receive core vaccines. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and American Association for Feline Practitioners (AAFP), all adult cats should receive the following core vaccines:
- Rabies — The rabies virus is spread mainly by wildlife, and transmitted via bite wounds. Rabies affects a pet’s nervous system and is always fatal, making vaccination critical. The disease can also be transmitted to people, and is typically fatal.
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) — Caused by a herpesvirus, FVR can cause lifelong infection in cats. The disease, which is spread by respiratory secretions, causes a respiratory infection that can become severe in young kittens, and lead to life-threatening pneumonia. Chronic infections can cause respiratory flare-ups and corneal ulcers, which can cause scarring and vision problems.
- Calicivirus — Calicivirus also causes a respiratory infection, characterized by painful oral and nasal ulcers. Severely affected kittens often stop eating, and can develop pneumonia. The virus is shed in respiratory secretions, and spreads when sick cats cough and sneeze.
- Panleukopenia — Panleukopenia is caused by a feline parvovirus similar to the virus that causes parvo in puppies. The feline parvovirus causes severe vomiting, diarrhea, and white blood cell deficiencies in infected cats, and is often fatal.
- Feline leukemia — Feline leukemia is mainly spread via saliva, when cats groom one another, or share food bowls. The disease can cause lifelong infection, and can lead to blood cell deficiencies, gastrointestinal cancer, and immunodeficiency.
Optional vaccines that may be administered, based on your adult cat’s lifestyle and risk, include:
- Feline leukemia — Feline leukemia is mainly spread via saliva, when cats groom one another, or share food bowls. The disease can cause lifelong infection, and can lead to blood cell deficiencies, gastrointestinal cancer, and immunodeficiency. Adult cats who go outside, or have opportunities to contact other cats are at risk, should be vaccinated.
- Chlamydia — Chlamydia felis is a bacteria that causes an upper respiratory infection and ocular inflammation. Severe infections can cause a cat’s eyes to swell and mat closed, and can lead to permanent ocular damage. Chlamydia felis is spread via respiratory and ocular secretions, and infection is common among cats who come in contact with other cats, such as those who visit boarding or grooming facilities.
- Bordetella — Bordetella bronchiseptica, the bacteria that causes canine kennel cough, can also cause a respiratory infection in cats. Cats who come in contact with other cats are most at risk for infection, and should be vaccinated.
Parasite prevention for your adult cat
A number of internal and external parasites can threaten your cat’s health, and require regular prevention and screening.
- Fleas — Fleas ingest a small amount of a pet’s blood each time they bite, and can cause life-threatening anemia in cats. Regular flea prevention is important to prevent infestation of your cat and home.
- Ear mites — Ear mites are microscopic mites that can live inside a cat’s ear canals, and cause intense itching and inflammation.
- Heartworms — Heartworms, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, cause progressive lung inflammation that can become fatal. Unfortunately, safe treatment is unavailable for cats, and year-round preventive administration is critical to prevent this deadly parasite from invading your cat’s body.
- Gastrointestinal parasites — Gastrointestinal parasites, including roundworms, tapeworms, and coccidia, are common in cats, and can cause diarrhea and vomiting. Severe cases can lead to life-threatening dehydration. Routine fecal analysis should be performed to screen cats for parasitic infections.
Reproductive health for your adult cat
Cats who are not intended for breeding should be spayed or neutered. The AAFP recommends that all cats be spayed or neutered by 5 months of age to prevent unwanted pregnancies, health problems, and behavior issues. However, if your adult cat is intact, they can still be spayed or neutered, to remove the hormones that can lead to health and behavior problems, such as reproductive infections and cancers, urine marking, roaming, and unwanted pregnancies.
Permanent identification for your adult cat
The American Humane Association estimates that one in three pets will go missing in their lifetime. A microchip is a permanent identification device that can help reunite you and your cat, should they dart through an open door and become lost. The size of a rice grain, a microchip can be injected under your pet’s skin during a routine veterinary visit without sedation. However, many cat owners opt to have their pet microchipped during their spay or neuter surgery to prevent the minimal discomfort caused by the injection. After the microchip is registered, its unique number will be linked to your contact information. Should a Good Samaritan take your lost cat to an animal shelter or veterinary hospital, an employee can scan the microchip and you can be contacted. If your cat has a microchip, always ensure your contact information is up to date so you can be contacted quickly, and reunited with your lost pet.
Dental care for your adult cat
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), dental disease is the most common medical problem of pets, and without regular dental care, most pets will develop dental disease by 3 years of age. Regular dental care consists of daily toothbrushing combined with regular dental exams and professional veterinary cleanings. Most cats accept toothbrushing well, but a veterinary professional can demonstrate how to correctly brush your pet’s teeth, if you need help. Cats usually require annual dental exams and cleanings, although some may need more frequent care.
Common adult cat health concerns
Most adult cats who are kept up to date on vaccines and parasite preventives remain relatively healthy; however, health conditions can occasionally develop. The most common health concerns of adult cats include:
- Obesity — According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of U.S. cats are overweight or obese, making obesity one of the most prevalent feline health concerns. Obesity leads to many secondary health conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.
- Urinary problems — Feline urologic syndrome (FUS) causes chronic bladder inflammation that leads to painful urination, blood in the urine, and urination outside the litter box. Severe cases can lead to a life-threatening urethral blockage, particularly in male cats. The cause is unknown, although stress and lack of mental stimulation seem to play roles in disease development, making indoor enrichment critical.
- Gastrointestinal (GI) upset — Although cats don’t typically dig through the trash for leftovers like dogs, they may still ingest items that cause stomach and intestinal inflammation. Ingestion of a non-food item (i.e., foreign body), such as string—a feline favorite—can cause a life-threatening GI blockage.
- Infectious diseases — Infectious diseases, such as panleukopenia and feline leukemia, most commonly affect unvaccinated cats, and can be life-threatening. Keeping your cat’s vaccines current will minimize their risk; however, no effective vaccines are available for other infectious diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). To protect your cat from these life-threatening diseases, you must keep them inside your home, and prevent contact with other cats.
- Parasites — Regular preventive administration will prevent the most common feline parasites, but your cat can be exposed to other, less common parasites. And, if you forget your cat’s regular parasite preventive dose, you will leave them vulnerable to a flea infestation or heartworm infection.
Common adult cat behavior problems
Behavior problems typically stem from environmental stress or medical issues. Common behavior problems to watch for include:
- Aggression — If your cat regularly hisses, scratches, or bites your family members, speak to a veterinarian about possible behavior or medical issues that may be causing their aggressive behavior. Also, consider that your cat may be bored, and provide enrichment activities as an outlet for their pent-up energy.
- Urinating outside the litter box — Inappropriate elimination is the most common reason cats are abandoned or taken to shelters. Most cases are related to stress and boredom, and cats often improve with environmental enrichment and regular mental stimulation.