Menu
Birdham Surgery 01243 513514
Bognor Veterinary Hospital 01243 842832
Chichester Surgery 01243 528899

COVID-19 update: Client advice on what to do during the Coronavirus pandemic

Cats

Advice on caring for your feline friends

We strive to be a cat friendly clinic providing healthcare and advice for all cats.

Our main aim is to keep your cats fit and healthy but when they get sick, we are there 24/7 to provide advice and care to make them better again.

Below is a selection of information covering some of the more common cat queries we receive.

Why not also check out our Blog page where we regularly talk about interesting feline topics?

If you have any concerns about your cat, call us on 01243 842832 and we will be very pleased to help you.

  • Cat Scratch Disease
  • Dental Disease
  • Cystitis
  • Elderly Cats
  • Feline Leukaemia
  • Miliary Dermatitis
  • Indoor Spraying
  • Neutering
  • Vaccinations
  • Toxoplasmosis

Cat Scratch Disease

What is Cat Scratch Disease and what causes it?

Cat Scratch Disease, or Cat Scratch Fever, is a disease of humans, not of cats. However, a cat scratch is often associated with the disease, although this is not believed to be the means by which infection occurs. The disease is caused by a bacterium-like organism called Bartonella henselae. The typical symptoms of the disease are mild fever, chills and lethargy accompanied by enlarged lymph nodes (usually single) and skin or conjunctival lesions. Most symptoms last for a few days only, but the enlarged lymph nodes may persist for weeks or months. In a minority of people a more severe disease may develop with high fever, weight loss, arthritis, enlarged liver or spleen, pneumonia or nervous signs. These more serious forms of the disease are often associated with underlying immunodeficiency states, such as HIV infection.

How common is this disease?

It is not possible to give accurate estimates of the prevalence of Cat Scratch Disease in this country but it is probably a fairly rare disease. Surveys carried out in the USA indicate that about 5% of the population have been exposed to infection, but only a small proportion of these reported having the disease. It is likely that many infections do not give rise to symptoms, or are of a trivial nature such as a mild ‘cold’.

How do humans become infected?

Although many cases of Cat Scratch Disease follow a cat scratch, this is not universally true and a few cases have occurred in people with no apparent contact with cats. Recent evidence suggests that the major route of infection is by flea bite. Infected cats carry the micro-organism in their blood, where it can be present in extremely high numbers. When a flea feeds on an infected cat it ingests large numbers of Bartonella, some of which may be inoculated into a human the next time the flea takes a meal. Even cats with extremely high levels of organism in their blood do not show any signs of disease. It is mainly younger cats and kittens which carry the organism. They remain infectious for a few weeks, after which the organism disappears from the blood. It is not clear whether cats can be reinfected. There are no reported cases of any human being infected more than once.

Is there a vaccine or treatment for Cat Scratch Disease?

There is no vaccine available against Cat Scratch Disease either for cats or for man.

Bartonella henselae is sensitive to a number of antibiotics, but not penicillin, ampicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline or some other commonly prescribed antibiotics. The disease is self-limiting, and mild cases will resolve without recourse to antibiotics.

Dental Disease

How common is dental disease in cats?

Dental disease is one of the most frequent ailments seen by veterinary surgeons, and can be found to some degree in the majority of cats over two years of age. The most common problems are due to periodontal disease, gingivitis and neck lesions (also called resorptive lesions or odontoclastic lesions).

What signs am I likely to see?

There are a number of signs which should alert you to the possibility of dental disease or other mouth problems being present. Your cat may show no interest in food, or approach the food bowl then be reluctant to eat, or back away. It may chew with obvious caution and discomfort, drop food from the mouth, or may swallow with difficulty. Dribbling may be seen, possibly with blood, and there may be a marked unpleasant odour to the breath. In some cases the cat may be seen pawing at their mouth or head shaking. A reluctance to eat may lead to weight loss which can become quite marked.

What usually causes dental disease?

The most common cause of dental disease in cats is due to tartar accumulation. As in humans, cats accumulate bacterial plaque on the surface of their teeth, which if not removed quickly becomes mineralised to form tartar (also called calculus). The bacterial products and decaying food stuck to tartar are one potential cause of bad breath.

Tartar is easily identified by its light or dark brown colour - it is normally first seen at the gum edge, especially on the back teeth (premolars & molars). In severe cases it may entirely cover the teeth.

The accumulation of tartar and bacteria on the teeth surfaces will, sooner or later, lead to infection and gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). If the disease is caught at this early stage then thorough professional veterinary treatment may permit a full recovery. However, if gingivitis is allowed to persist untreated, then irreversible periodontal disease will occur. During this process the bone and ligaments that support the tooth are destroyed leading to excessive tooth mobility and eventually tooth loss. Infection around the socket causes the formation of pus and a foul odour, and may spread deep into the tooth socket creating an abscess, or even more severe problems.

Once periodontal disease starts, the degenerative changes cannot be reversed. These changes make it easier for more plaque and tartar to collect, so resulting in further disease.

Is Gingivitis always associated with dental disease?

A slight degree of redness seen as a thin line just below the edge of the gum may be considered normal in some kittens and adult cats with no evidence of dental disease. If in doubt then please ask your vet to check your cat’s mouth.

Some cats (most commonly, but not exclusively, in pedigree breeds) develop severe gingivitis with minimal signs of accompanying dental disease. The affected areas may extend beyond the gums to other areas of the mouth, such as the throat or tongue. The cause of this disease is not yet known, but it is likely to be multi-factorial which may differ between individual cases. This condition is often very difficult to control and may require repeated or constant treatment, and its accurate diagnosis can involve extensive investigative procedures.

What are tooth neck lesions?

Neck lesions result from a progressive destruction of the tooth substance effectively resulting in slowly deepening “holes” in the teeth concerned. Once the sensitive parts of the tooth is exposed these lesions are intensely painful, and usually the only available treatment is to extract the tooth. The cause of this disease is unknown, however poor oral hygiene is suspected to play a role in the disease-process.

What should I do if my cat has signs of dental problems?

If you can see that your cat has evidence of tartar accumulation, gingivitis or is exhibiting any signs of mouth pain or discomfort then you should take it to your vet for a check-up. You will be advised of the most appropriate course of treatment, which may involve having the cat’s teeth examined and cleaned under general anaesthesia.

The rate of tartar accumulation is very variable between individual cats, and in some cases this may necessitate professional cleaning on a regular basis (every 6-12 months)

Do not try to remove tartar from the teeth yourself using any form of metallic instrument. Aside from potentially harming your cat’s mouth (or the cat harming you!), you are likely to damage the tooth surface by creating microscopic scratches, which will encourage more rapid plaque formation and cause further disease.

What can I do to help prevent dental disease in my cat?

In order to help prevent dental disease the prime aim is to keep the mouth as hygienic as possible and to reduce the rate at which tartar builds up on the teeth.

The diet should contain, in part, foodstuffs which encourage chewing, such as tough pieces of meat. The act of chewing stimulates the production of saliva, which contains natural antibacterial substances; and the mechanical action helps to scrape plaque and tartar off from the teeth.

The most effective way of reducing plaque and tartar is to brush the teeth. A number of toothpastes and brushes are available from your veterinary surgeon for use in animals. With gentleness, patience and perseverance it is possible to regularly clean some cats teeth in this way. In addition, or as an alternative to brushing if this cannot be achieved, a range of antibacterial mouth-washes and gels (which can also be applied to the fur so that the cat licks it off) can be applied to the teeth & mouth to reduce the amount of bacteria present. Please ask your vet for further details regarding the available products.

Never use human toothpaste on cats, as these are not designed to be regularly swallowed and could cause illness.

Cystitis

What is Cystits?

Cystitis is a general term referring to inflammation in the urinary bladder. The term cystitis does not imply a specific underlying cause.

In cats, diseases of the lower urinary tract (the bladder and urethra) are grouped under the term ‘feline lower urinary tract disease’ (FLUTD) as it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between diseases of the bladder and urethra, and many diseases will affect both structures.

What are the signs of FLUTD?

Typical signs in cats with FLUTD are those of inflammation and irritation of the lower urinary tract. The common signs are therefore:

  • Increased frequency and urgency of urination.
  • Difficulty in urinating (spending a long time straining on the litter tray while passing only small quantities of urine).
  • The presence of blood in the urine.
  • Occasionally complete obstruction to the passage of urine (straining persistently without producing any urine).

With the latter sign particularly (straining without the passage of any urine), it is important to seek urgent veterinary attention as complete blockage to the flow of urine can be a life-threatening complication if left untreated.

What causes FLUTD?

There are a vast number of potential causes of FLUTD, but in many cats there may be severe inflammation of the bladder and/or urethra without an identifiable underlying cause (so called ‘idiopathic' FLUTD). These idiopathic cases have to be differentiated from other potential causes of the clinical signs though so that appropriate treatment can be given. Some of the potential causes of FLUTD are listed below:

  • Idiopathic (inflammation for no known cause)
  • Urinary calculi (‘bladder stones’)
  • Bacterial infections
  • Neoplasia (tumour)
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Urethral plugs (blockage of urethra with a mixture of crystals or small calculi/stones and inflammatory material)

How is FLUTD diagnosed?

The initial diagnosis of FLUTD is based on the identification of signs of lower urinary tract inflammation. The clinical signs displayed by the cat are often characteristic of FLUTD, but where there is doubt, analysis of a urine sample will confirm the presence of inflammation.

Initially, a cat with uncomplicated FLUTD may be treated symptomatically by a veterinary surgeon (for example with a short course of tablets). However, if the signs do not respond to this treatment, or if there is recurrence of the clinical signs further investigation may be required to identify the underlying cause of the FLUTD.

What further investigations are required to diagnose the cause of FLUTD?

Where clinical signs are persistent or recurrent, a number of investigations may be required to differentiate idiopathic FLUTD from the other known causes of urinary tract inflammation. These investigations may include:

  • Laboratory analysis of a urine sample
  • Bacterial culture of a urine sample
  • Blood samples to look for other evidence of urinary tract disease or other systemic disease
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the bladder and urethra

The information from these investigations should help to identify a specific treatable underlying cause if one is present.

What is the treatment for FLUTD?

This depends on the underlying cause. For example:

  • Cases of idiopathic disease may respond to treatment with anti-inflammatory or analgesic (‘pain-relieving’) drugs, but it is crucial that you only use drugs specifically prescribed by your veterinary surgeon, as may human products are extremely dangerous to use in cats.
  • Bacterial infections of the lower urinary tract, although uncommon in cats, will usually respond well to antibiotic therapy.
  • If a cat develops a blocked urethra (this almost exclusively occurs in males), emergency treatment is required to remove the blockage, which may require flushing of the urethra while the cat is given a short anaesthetic.
  • If bladder stones (calculi) are present they may have to be removed surgically or, depending on their type, they may be able to be dissolved by using a special diet, or dietary additive

There is no universal treatment for FLUTD. Each case has to be investigated to determine the underlying cause, and then the treatment has to be tailored to the individual cat. Sometimes despite appropriate investigation and treatment clinical signs may still recur, requiring further therapy.

How can FLUTD be prevented?

It is impossible to completely prevent diseases of the lower urinary tract occurring. However, FLUTD is more common in cats that have a lower water consumption, and in cats that are inactive and obese. All these factors may relate, at least in part, to the frequency with which a cat urinates. Avoidance of obesity and encouraging exercise may be of some help in preventing FLUTD, and as cats tend to drink very little the feeding of at least some tinned food rather than exclusively a dry cat food product will help to maintain a higher water intake.

If a cat develops urinary calculi (stones), the feeding of special diets (available from veterinary surgeons) may help to prevent recurrence of stone formation. In most other situations there is probably little necessity to alter the cat's diet.

Elderly Cats

There are now more pet cats than dogs in Britain. Increasingly, with improved nutrition, health care and management changes, more and more of these cats are living to greater ages. In America, over the last ten years there has been a 15% increase in cats over 10 years of age and the proportion of the feline population aged 15 years or older has increased from 5% to 14%. From this we can see that elderly cats form an ever increasing group of animals that need to be cared for. With advancing age body functions change, so older cats need to be treated differently to younger cats.

As cats age, all of their body systems are affected:

Reduction in exercise may result in reduced muscle tone, which may further reduce the cat’s ability to jump, climb or exercise. This may also lead to a stiffening of the joints.

When coupled with a reduced metabolic rate (common in older individuals), lack of exercise can result in a fall in energy requirements of up to 40%. If a cat maintains a good appetite its daily food intake must therefore be reduced to prevent excessive weight gain.

Inappetance (lack of desire to eat) may be encountered, since the senses of smell and taste become dull with age, and periodontal (dental) disease is common.

Gut function and the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients are reduced in older animals.

Thirst is also decreased, causing an increased risk of dehydration, especially when combined with concurrent renal insufficiency (which is common in older cats).

Most specific nutrient requirements are not yet determined for older cats. However, it is often assumed that older cats have some degree of subclinical (underlying) disease, particularly of the kidneys, hence a diet with moderate protein restriction is usually recommended. For the same reason it is often suggested that mild phosphorus restriction may be beneficial. With advancing age medication must be given with ever increasing care.

Changes in physiology not only affect food absorption, they also affect the way many drugs are metabolised. Liver and kidney disease occur commonly in older cats. When coupled with mild dehydration these can result in reduced clearance rates and marked elevations in drug concentrations circulating within the blood. When treating geriatric patients the dose and dosing intervals of some drugs may therefore need to be altered.

Does my old cat still need to have regular booster vaccinations?

Although little is yet known about the feline immune system, it is generally assumed that with age immune function may deteriorate. This may in turn result in a reduced ability to fight infection or screen for neoplastic (cancer) cells. Regular booster vaccinations are generally recommended and prompt treatment of disease is essential.

My old cat becomes very distressed when we try to medicate her. Should we keep trying if it upsets her so much?

This is something you should discuss with your vet. There is no simple answer to this question; it depends on whether the treatment may lead to a cure, or whether it is aimed at controlling clinical signs. It also depends on how ill the cat is, and on how distressing it finds the disease for which it is being treated. Older cats are often poorly tolerant of excessive physical handling or environmental change, so while veterinary medicine may be able to offer complex therapeutic options, it is important that each case be assessed individually. Treatment should not be attempted where it will be poorly tolerated for medical or temperamental reasons. Once the patient’s quality of life can no longer be maintained it is important that euthanasia is performed as compassionately as possible, in order to prevent the cat from suffering.

What diseases do old cats suffer from?

The major diseases seen in older cats are hormonal disorders (such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus), kidney disease, neoplasia (cancer), infections (e.g. feline immunodeficiency virus [FIV]), periodontal disease and arthritis. However, older cats can also be affected by diseases more commonly seen in younger animals (such as inflammatory bowel disease), and road traffic accidents.

It is important to remember that while young animals usually have only one disorder at a time, this is often not so in older patients, where diagnosis and treatment may be complicated by the concurrence of multiple interacting disease processes.

While it is true to say that "old age is not a disease", it is important that we pay particular attention to our older cats, so that if they do develop disease we can recognise it, and treat it early, and so maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.

What can I do to make my old cat as happy as possible?

Most cats age gracefully and require few changes to their general regimen. Since older cats do not generally respond well to change, if changes must be made it is important they are introduced slowly.

Elderly cats should have easy access to a warm, draft free bed, situated where the cat can sleep safely without fear of disturbance.

It is advisable to feed older cats on a highly palatable, possibly reduced protein diet, with a high water content, on a 'little and often' basis. They should always have easy access to fresh drinking water. If they continue to want dry biscuits, a small daily helping may help to maintain their dental hygiene.

As cats’ age some show an reduced ability to control urination and the passing of bowel motions. To reduce the risk of “accidents” it may therefore be necessary to allow access to an indoor litter box.

Older cats should have regular health checks.

My vet mentioned a geriatric health care programme. What does this entail?

The aim of any geriatric health care programme is to maintain the quality of the patient’s life and to slow the progression of age-related disease. Programmes usually include regular and thorough physical examinations, blood screening for biochemical and haematological change, and testing for feline leukaemia virus infection (FeLV). Body weight should be recorded regularly and booster vaccinations should be given annually.

Feline Leukaemia

What is Feline Leukaemia Virus?

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) is one of the most important viral infections of cats, being a common cause of illness and death. In general, around 1-2% of the cat population is persistently infected with this virus, but the proportion of cats infected differs according to the geographical location, environment and the life-style of the cat. Infection is more common in colonies of cats where there is close contact between individuals, and in such situations as many as 30% of the cats may be infected with this virus.

What disease does the virus cause?

As its name implies, FeLV is able to cause neoplasia (‘cancer’) of the white blood cells (‘leukaemia’), but in addition the virus also causes the development of solid tumours (lymphomas) at various sites in the body.

Although the development of neoplasia/cancer is one common outcome in a cat infected with FeLV, more often other diseases develop. In many cats, FeLV infection results in a profound suppression of the immune system leading to increased susceptibility to a wide range of secondary infections that would not cause a problem in normal healthy cats. A variety of clinical signs of chronic and/or recurrent disease develop in these cats, and there may be a progressive deterioration in their condition over time.

Another common occurrence in FeLV-infected cats is the development of a profound and life-threatening anaemia. A variety of other FeLV-related diseases are also seen on occasions including abortion, severe enteritis (causing diarrhoea), neurological (nervous) signs, and ocular (eye) disease.

Through a variety of different ways, persistent infection with FeLV is thus an important disease of cats. It is frequently a fatal disease, and studies have shown that around 80-90% of FeLV-infected cats will die within 3 1/2 years of the diagnosis being made.

How is the virus transmitted?

The virus is fragile and cannot survive longer than a few hours outside the cat in the environment, so direct contact between cats is the way in which infection is transmitted. A cat that is permanently infected with FeLV sheds a large quantity of the virus in saliva, as well as other body secretions and excretions such as urine and faeces. However, FeLV is not a highly contagious virus, and so it generally takes a prolonged period of close contact between cats, involving activities such as mutual grooming, and sharing of litter trays and food bowls for sufficient exposure to the virus to allow transmission to a susceptible cat.

Another potential source of infection is when a queen who is infected with FeLV is mated and gives birth to a litter of kittens. In this situation all the kittens will be born infected with the virus. However, this is uncommon as infection with FeLV frequently causes a queen to become infertile or results in pre-natal death of the kittens with abortion or resorption of the foetuses.

What happens when a cat is exposed to FeLV?

Not all cats exposed to FeLV will develop persistent infections and thus go on to develop FeLV-related diseases. Many cats are able to mount an immune response to the virus which is ultimately successful in eliminating the virus from the body. However these FeLV-recovered cats will sometimes experience a transient infection with the virus, and there may be a period of several weeks or months during which the virus remains dormant in the body (‘latent infections’) while the immune response is finally eliminating it completely.

Although cats even transiently infected with FeLV can sometimes subsequently develop disease as a result of this infection, it is only cats that are persistently infected with FeLV that are at a high risk of developing FeLV-related disease. Furthermore, it is the permanently infected cats that are responsible for the transmission of FeLV to other cats.

How can FeLV infection be diagnosed?

Diagnosis of FeLV infection is relatively simple. A rapid blood test can be performed which is able to detect proteins of the FeLV virus in the blood of an infected cat. In general this blood test is very reliable although occasionally a misleading result can be obtained. In some situations it may therefore be necessary to confirm infection with the virus through further blood testing at a specialist laboratory where more sophisticated tests are available.

Additionally, some cats with a transient FeLV infection will be transiently positive on the blood test, and therefore a second test performed around 8-12 weeks after the first test may be required to confirm persistent infection.

Is there any treatment for FeLV infection?

There is currently no specific treatment for FeLV infected cats (no treatment that is able to eliminate the virus from the body). However, although most FeLV-infected cats will eventually die of their infection (or have to be euthanased), many will respond to symptomatic treatment, at least for a period of time. For example, if FeLV is causing disease in an individual through immunosuppression and the development of secondary infections, these other concurrent diseases may be treatable leading to improvement of the clinical signs.

How can infection be prevented?

Vaccines are now available to protect cats against FeLV infection and their use is highly recommended in any cat that goes outside and therefore has contact with other potentially infected cats. As with other vaccines, an initial course of two injections is required, and annual boosters are necessary to maintain immunity.

Although vaccination is very helpful in controlling FeLV and preventing infection, it is not 100% reliable and therefore it is important not to deliberately expose a vaccinated cat to FeLV, for example by allowing it to mix or housing it with a known infected cat.

In larger colonies of cats, such as breeding households, it is possible to prevent FeLV infection by blood testing. If all the cats in the house are FeLV negative, and they are kept confined (not allowed to wander freely outside), exposure to the virus can be prevented by ensuring that any new cat coming in to the house is also tested and negative for FeLV. Fortunately, vaccinating a cat does not interfere with the blood test for FeLV.

Miliary Dermatitis

What is Feline Miliary Dermatitis?

Feline miliary dermatitis is a general term to describe a skin condition that usually involves an allergic response. It is a very itchy skin problem and affected cats may lick, bite and scratch at the affected skin. The cat’s response to the skin problem may lead to self-inflicted damage worsening the skin problem. The most commonly affected area is along the back and around the base of the tail, but it may be much more extensive involving the neck, flanks and belly. The fur often becomes thin in affected areas and there may be angry looking red spots. These may scab over or they may sometimes become infected. Cats may become very distracted by this problem and may seem to spend most of their time appearing to groom and attack the affected areas.

What causes Miliary Dermatitis?

The priority in investigation of miliary dermatitis is to rule out the possible involvement of fleas. Your vet may identify evidence of fleas on examining your cat’s coat. Their presence is more likely to be identified by recognising the presence of flea dirt rather than the fleas themselves. Since a single flea bite can be responsible for quite severe skin problems, it is not always possible to find evidence of the fleas on examination of the cat, as the culprit may have “visited” the cat only briefly and now left. In so many cases the suspicion of flea involvement is based more on circumstantial evidence of likely exposure to fleas. This may depend on contact with other cats and dogs. If you have other cats and dogs in your household your vet may ask to examine these for evidence of fleas.

Identification of causes of miliary dermatitis other than fleas can be difficult. This may involve collection of skin biopsies, scrapings or hair samples to check for other skin parasites. Diagnosis of allergies can be particularly difficult. Skin tests and trials with special diets aimed at minimising the risk of dietary allergies may be used.

How is Miliary Dermatitis treated?

The key to successful treatment is identifying the underlying cause and dealing with this. If evidence of flea infestation is found, treatment will probably be directed initially at eliminating fleas. A separate leaflet is available giving information about flea control. The key points in brief are that in addition to killing fleas on the affected cat, other cats and dogs in the household should be treated and measures are needed to try to kill any fleas that the cat is likely to be exposed to in the environment to avoid re-infestation. Since a single flea bite may be enough to induce the skin problem, the flea control needs to be rigorous. The newer flea treatments are much more effective and convenient to use which enables flea control to be achieved much more effectively.

The lack of evidence of flea infestation does not necessarily discount the possibility of fleas being responsible. Your veterinary surgeon may therefore decide that flea control is the most appropriate first step, particularly if there is circumstantial evidence of a risk of exposure to fleas.

Indoor Spraying

What is Spraying?

Urine spraying is part of the cat's normal scent-marking behavioural repertoire which also includes scratching, rubbing, chinning, bunting (depositing secretions from head glands on twigs etc., and middening (leaving faeces uncovered). Using these scent markers cats can deter others from their range and cats which share a hunting range can avoid one another without coming into direct conflict. Spraying is also designed to help females in oestrus ('in season' or 'on heat') to attract males for breeding. When spraying the cat stands with its tail vertical (often quivering at the tip) while it delivers a squirt of urine backwards onto a vertical surface. This spray probably contains information about sex, age, hormonal state, assertiveness and general health.

Why do cats spray?

Cats may spray when frustrated, upset or subject to competition or challenge and spraying can be interpreted as the cat increasing its own sense of security by surrounding itself with signals of its own occupancy in its territory. The more anxious the individual, the more he or she will need familiar odours for comfort.

Do only tom cats spray?

No, all cats, male or female, neutered or not, may spray, usually outside where we may not see them. Unneutered toms and queens in oestrus will spray more.

Why do cats spray indoors?

Most neutered pet cats feel sufficiently relaxed in their own home and do not spray. They identify it by rubbing scent from their body and do not need to mark by spraying, scratching or middening. The most common sites for indoor spraying are near entrances to the house or room, curtains and new items brought into the house, e.g., plastic bags, new furniture etc., although individuals may have their own idiosyncratic targets such as washing machines, video players or even certain people! As with most behavioural problems a little detective work may be needed to get to the root of the behaviour problem. While there may be no 'quick fix' solution in some cases, helping to find and understand the motivation for the behaviour will help while you work towards a solution.

There can be many triggers for a cat marking indoors:

  • The arrival of a new cat, dog or person in the family, or a bereavement.
  • Changes in the home area such as furniture or new carpets. Disruptions such as building work.
  • Installation of a cat flap which can make the cat feel insecure indoors
  • In rare cases, spraying can be a learned attention-getting behaviour.

Occasionally urine marking may be carried out from a squatting position usually on the floor, but often on bedcovers or chairs. The cat may still use the litter tray for eliminating larger volumes of urine. This often occurs when owners leave their cat at home but in their neighbour's care when they go on holiday and may be a form of 'associative 'marking - the cat feeling anxious because it is alone, is relieved when it associates its smell with that of the owner - usually in a spot where the owner's smell is concentrated such as on the bed or armchair.

Can the problem be treated?

Cats marking indoors clearly require a clear and extensive approach to diagnosis of cause(s) and careful development of treatment which will not unsettle them even more! It is vital to discover under which situations the problems occur as treatment often depends on defining any specific anxiety-inducing trigger(s) for the behaviour.

It is useful to know the following:

  • When did the problem first occur?
  • Which people or other animals are normally present in the house. What are the attitudes of all the family towards the cat. What are they doing before, during and after the problem occurs.
  • Are there any other behaviour problems in the cat or its feline housemates and is it receiving any medical treatment?
  • Where is the marking occurring? The layout of the house and even the garden may be important. Are there rival cats outside?
  • What is the cat's daily routine? Does it have free access to outside? Where does it eat and sleep, how much time is spent interacting with the owner and what do they do together.
  • What methods have already been tried to solve the problem? How are the marks cleaned?

The main aim of treatment is to reduce the perceived threat to the cat and make it feel more secure in its home territory, thus reducing its levels of arousal and curtailing the need to scent mark. Identifiable sources of stress should be removed, e.g., by excluding local rival cats from entering the home by blocking the cat flap or replacing it with a selective one. Carefully introduced friendly routines of handling, feeding and playing will help provide reassurance, providing such contact does not further alarm the cat at any stage. In many cases there may be no single obvious threat and the cat's behaviour may be the result of the cumulative effect of several influences. If such sources of stress cannot be removed or even fully identified the cat should be provided with a safe haven of a small core territory of one room in the house to which it can safely retreat or be placed to relax without fear of disturbance for regular periods and where it should only feel the need to mark normally by rubbing and bunting.

Often people simply become 'over-catted' - they enjoy their feline housemates and because one extra takes up little more physical space and is no more effort to feed, they will continue to collect more. This may be fine until a certain mix of characters just doesn't gel and relations within the group become strained and spraying begins. Careful introductions can help but sometimes certain individuals simply cannot share a home without stress and it is better to rehome one or more. Although this may not be a popular decision, it may be the only option if home hygiene is to be maintained as trying to manage the problems can be very difficult with a number of cats and associated variables.

All forms of punishment should be discontinued (even if the cat is 'caught in the act') as this is only likely to raise the cat's level of arousal and anxiety. You may feel often angry and want to react if you catch the cat 'in the act', however, stopping all punishment and threatening behaviour is an essential first step towards improvement.

Placing food (dry food is best) or a bed at the base of spraying sites is often helpful at protecting those particular areas as cats are extremely reluctant to spray their own key resources, although they may simply move to other areas and mark there instead. Food and beds are also reassuring and may reduce anxiety.

Spraying can be triggered by the smell of previous marks so marked areas should be thoroughly cleaned (not with ammonia-based products as ammonia is a constitutent of cat urine). A damp cloth should be used to remove any fresh urine marks and while some commercially available 'urine digester' products remove the smell (to the sensitivity of the human nose at least), no data has been published on relative efficacies. An enzymatic or biological washing powder or liquid may be just as effective at removing residues. Follow with agitation using a light brush with a low grade alcohol (test the colour fastness of material/carpets first).

It is unlikely that spraying will be effectively resolved with drugs without trying to ascertain the cause of the problem and without employing management changes and behaviour modifications. Some drugs are available but their use should be based on sound understanding of the problem cat and the effects of the drug on the feline physiology. Drugs should alter a cat's mood to enable it to learn new forms of behaviour and the drugs should then be withdrawn.

Neutering

Here at AlphaPet we are strong believers in preventative healthcare. Prevention is always better than cure! One of the most important things we can do to aid with this motto is to neuter cats at an early age, if they are not being used for breeding.

In the UK we have a huge problem with unwanted cats, many awaiting new homes in rescue centres. By neutering our cats at a young age, we remove the chances of another litter of kittens being added to this ever growing problem.

In both toms and queens we recommend neutering from 4 months of age (minimum weight of 2 kilograms.)

In queens, early neutering has the following benefits:

  • Removes the risk of pregnancy
  • Minimises the likelihood of contracting Feline Leukaemia and other diseases spread by sexual behaviours
  • Reduces the risk of certain tumours in older age
  • Allowing your cat to get pregnant at a young age can stunt her growth and have health consequences for her as well as her kittens.

Entire queens are likely to get pregnant again and again due to the way they ovulate. Hence a single queen can be responsible for up to 20,000 descendants in just 5 years!!

In toms, neutering has the following benefits:

  • Reduces the risk of contacting Feline Leukaemia and other diseases spread by sexual behaviour and fighting
  • Reduces the risk of cat bite abscesses caused by fighting with other cats
  • Minimises the risk of indoor spraying
  • Shrinks the cat's core territory, so he won't wander so far away from home.

 In most cases the operations are done as a day patient surgery. They are admitted during the morning and go home the same evening. Occasionally queens will stay in overnight for additional pain relief if this is felt necessary by the vet.

They will need to take life easy for approximately 10 days after their surgery.

Post surgery we recommend close monitoring of your cat's weight, since a neutered animal's calorific needs are less than that of an entire animal and failure to monitor this can lead to weight gain.

For further advice please contact the surgery to arrange an appointment to discuss with a nurse or veterinary surgeon.

Vaccinations

Recent advances in medical science have resulted in an increase in the number and type of vaccines that are available for use in cats. Currently cats can be vaccinated against six different diseases:

  • Feline panleukopenia (= feline infectious enteritis; feline parvovirus)
  • Feline herpes virus type 1 (= FHV-1; feline rhinotracheitis virus)
  • Feline calicivirus (= FCV)
  • Feline chlamydial infection
  • Feline leukaemia virus (= FeLV)
  • Rabies

(Rabies vaccine is, however, reserved for those cats that are travelling abroad or have entered the UK from abroad.)

Toxoplasmosis

What is Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by infection with the organism called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), a microscopic single-cell organism which is one of the most common parasites of animals. Although virtually all warm-blooded animals, including man, can be infected with this organism, it is an extremely well adapted parasite and rarely causes significant disease to the individuals which it infects.

How is toxoplasma transmitted?

Cats are usually infected by eating the organism present in the tissues (meat) of another infected animal (an ‘intermediate host’), which is usually a rodent. The organism replicates locally in the intestinal tract of the cat, and also replicates within the body. The replication in the intestinal tract results in shedding of oocysts (eggs) in the faeces, but an immune response rapidly develops which halts both shedding of eggs and replication of the organism in the body. Despite the immune response, infection still persists in the form of microscopic cysts present in some tissues of the body, although this does not usually result in any disease.

The oocysts (eggs) shed in the faeces are very resistant, and can contaminate the environment for several years. Other animals become infected by eating these eggs and then, as with cats, the organism replicates in the body and cysts develop within certain tissues. Cats are particularly important, as they are the only animal in which T. gondii replicates in the intestinal tract resulting in shedding of eggs in the faeces, and therefore cats are essential to the life-cycle of the organism.

While cats are usually infected by preying on infected rodents (or more rarely by ingestion of oocysts from the environment), humans are most commonly infected through the food chain. Sheep, cattle and pigs grazing on contaminated pastures, or fed oocyst-contaminated food, can also develop the encysted form of the organism in body tissues and if infected meat is not cooked adequately enough, or poor hygiene precautions are adopted during handling of uncooked meat, humans can become infected. Ingestion of oocysts, for example during gardening in contaminated soil, is a less common source of human infection.

How common is toxoplasma in cats?

The proportion of cats infected with Toxoplasma varies according to their life-style. Because of the way in which the organism is transmitted, infection is much more common in stray, feral, farm cats, and others which engage in a lot of hunting or are fed a lot of raw meat. As many as 60% of these cats may be infected with Toxoplasma. In contrast, infection is uncommon in pet cats which do little or no hunting, and which are fed primarily or exclusively commercial cat foods.

What disease does toxoplasma cause in cats?

Although Toxoplasma is a relatively common infection, it usually causes no disease in infected cats. Rarely, cats fail to develop an adequate immune response to the organism which may allow it to continue to replicate and cause damage to tissues. When this happens a variety of different clinical signs can develop including ocular (eye) disease, respiratory disease, diarrhoea, hepatitis and nervous signs. It is important to remember that Toxoplasma is a rare cause of disease though.

How can you diagnose and treat Toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is difficult to diagnose in cats. Blood tests are available which will show whether a cat has been exposed to the organism, but these tests do not necessarily mean that Toxoplasma is the cause of any disease (as most exposed cats do not develop disease). When toxoplasmosis is suspected in a cat, this can be treated with a course of an appropriate antibiotic.

How important is toxoplasma in man?

Around 30% of the adult population in the UK have been exposed to Toxoplasma. As with infection in cats, the vast majority of people infected with this organism experience no clinical disease at all, or possibly just mild and transient ‘flu’-like signs. However, as with cats there are also some individuals where significant disease does occur and one situation is particularly important. If a pregnant woman acquires Toxoplasma infection during her pregnancy, the infection may be transmitted to the foetus, and sometimes causes severe damage. This is only a risk though, if the woman acquires the infection during her pregnancy. A woman who has previously been exposed to the organism caries no risk of transmission to a foetus if she subsequently becomes pregnant.

How can human infection be avoided?

Although cats are essential to complete the life-cycle of T. gondii, numerous surveys have shown that people who own cats are not themselves at a higher risk of acquiring infection. There are several reasons for this:-

  • Many pet cats will never be exposed to Toxoplasma and therefore cannot pass infection on to humans.
  • Even if a cat does become infected with Toxoplasma, it will only shed the oocysts (eggs) in its faeces for a short period (approximately 10 days) after initial exposure. Following this there is no further significant oocyst shedding and therefore again no further risk to humans.
  • Although humans can be infected through exposure to, and ingestion of oocysts in the environment, a more common source of infection appears to be infected meat.

Following a few sensible environmental and meat hygiene measures can greatly reduce the risk of human infection:

  • Cook all meat thoroughly to at least 70°C throughout.
  • Wash hands, utensils and surfaces carefully after handling raw meat.
  • Wash all vegetables carefully.
  • Wear gloves when gardening in soil potentially contaminated by cat faeces.
  • Discourage pet cats from hunting, and avoid feeding them raw/undercooked meat.
  • Cover any children's sand pits/boxes to prevent cats using them as a litter tray.
  • Empty cat litter trays daily, dispose of litter carefully, and disinfect with boiling water. If this is done every day, even if a cat is excreting oocysts, they will not have become infectious (which takes more than 24 hours from when they are passed in the faeces) by the time the litter is changed.
Return to Pet Advice