It's extremely important to create environmental enrichment for indoor cats as they can develop frustration due to lack of toys or stimulation which can lead to stress-related diseases. Most people think keeping a cat strictly indoors is unfair, and although supervised or harness walks are fine, an outdoor environment can be dangerous and drastically decreases their lifespan. We've compiled a checklist and some suggestions for making changes.
Ensure you have the appropriate amount of litter boxes in your home. Our general rule is one litter box per cat plus 1 additional litter box. If you have 2 cats then 3 litter boxes is ideal. It's especially important to keep it tidy and scoop it at least twice a day, and dumping out all the litter every 1-2 weeks and cleaning it with dish soap and water. Use clumping clay or corn litter and ensure it is unscented (no baking soda or odor removers). Keep the litter box in a low-traffic area in your home and away from anything noisy (a washer/dryer).
Scratching is a natural thing for cats to do. The best way to avoid them from scratching your beloved furniture is to give them something they are allowed to scratch. A tall, vertical scratch post that is tall enough for them to scratch when they are on their hind legs is best.
Having designated areas for your kitty to feel safe or to sleep is beneficial for their mental health. Cats can become stressed very easily and usually it's due to things we wouldn't consider stressful. Having company over for dinner, going out of town, or loud noises/construction nearby can cause your kitty to develop stress-related diseases. Instead of storing their cat carrier in the garage until it's being used, try leaving it in a spare room or the corner of your living room with a comfy blanket inside it. This can turn their dreaded carrier into a positive object for future vet visits and can also benefit them as a hiding spot.
Cats like to hunt so toys are a way to bring hunting inside without a real mouse or bird. Dedicate 10 minutes each day to play with your kitty. This will not only benefit their basic need to hunt, but it can also exhaust them which means you won't wake up at 2 am to a kitty wide awake and ready to play! Laser pointers can be frustrating simply because it's not tangible like a real toy. Make sure to let your kitty win by capturing the toy. Small toys should be avoided because they can become foreign bodies quickly. Never underestimate a cat's ability to rip a feather toy to shreds when given the chance! Make sure anything string-like, with feathers, that can be chewed or small enough to be swallowed is picked up after a play session and stored out of reach. For those who have little time during the week, simply waving a string toy around while you're working at your desk can be stimulating for your cat. And don't forget catnip! Not every cat has a response to catnip, but for those who do-- sprinkling some cat nip on a toy can encourage playtime.
Asthma is a common lung condition in cats and is becoming more frequently diagnosed. In asthma, the airways within the lungs become inflamed and hyper-reactive. The resultant swelling and spasms can make breathing difficult, especially during exertion. Unfortunately, because cats are often sedentary in nature, and because they are experts at hiding illness in general, they often show few clinical signs of this potentially serious disease until the problem is quite advanced.
The most common finding seen is a dry cough where the cat lies low to the ground with his/her head and neck extended. Many owners misinterpret this as hairballs and do not seek veterinary attention as their pet often seems perfectly normal otherwise. However, left untreated, asthma can result in long term, irreversible scarring of the lungs, heart failure, herniation of abdominal organs into the chest cavity, and/or potentially fatal asthma attacks. Because the lungs become compromised, secondary infections can also occur, further impairing lung function.
Diagnosis is based on history, chest auscultation with the stethoscope, x-rays, and sometimes blood work and other testing. A video of a coughing episode, emailed or brought in to the veterinarian, can also be very helpful. Because the signs of asthma can be similar to those of other diseases, it is important to confirm the diagnosis prior to making treatment decisions.
Treatment is aimed at reducing the inflammation within the airways and minimizing any airway muscle spasming that may be occurring. Steroid inhalers (like those used for people) and sometimes, oral steroid anti-inflammatories, are necessary to address the former problem, and bronchodilating medications control the latter. Antibiotics are also prescribed if bacterial infection is suspected. Because asthma is chronic and lifelong, it must be treatment in most cases. However, it is also usually highly effective and extremely rewarding, with many owners reporting that their cats have greater energy and vitality and a happier, more interactive demeanor once their asthma is under control. Early detection and treatment, as with many diseases, greatly increase the chance of a positive outcome.
Hypertension is defined as elevated blood pressure above the normal range. Blood pressure is measured easily and is a non invasive procedure using an inflatable cuff, pressure gauge and Doppler. This is an important test recommended for all cats over the age of 8 years (senior cats) or cats that are sick. Left untreated Hypertension can cause Renal Disease, Cardiovascular Disease, Retinal detachment (blindness) and/or behaviour changes.
Feline Hyperthyroidism is a common disease in both middle-aged and senior cats. Two thyroid glands are located in the neck and produce the hormone thyroxin, which controls metabolic rate. Abnormal growth of these glands (99% of which are a benign or non cancerous enlargements) can lead to damage and harm many of the body systems. Clinical signs may include weight loss, increased appetite, vomiting, vocalization, diarrhea, increased thirst and/or change in coat. Some cats may be hyperactive but after a while they may become lethargic and often a heart murmur is detected by your veterinarian. Left untreated Hyperthyroidism can cause multiple organ failures. Treatment of Hyperthyroidism can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Feline Hypertrophic Cardiomypathy (HCM) is a term used to describe thickening of the heart muscle, and is the most common form of heart disease in cats. The heart muscle can thicken as a result of HCM, a primary (inherited) problem, or secondary to other disorders such as high blood pressure or hyperthyroidism. HCM can occur at any age. Although many cats with HCM show absolutely no clinical signs initially, some may cough, breathe rapidly/heavily, become lethargic or tolerate less exercise. HCM is usually first suspected when a heart murmur is heard by your veterinarian during routine examination. Although in some cats HCM does not worsen over time, in others it can lead to heart failure and be a fatal disease. Diagnosis and treatment options can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is the most common cause of long term vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Cats with IBD may also have changes in appetite (either increased or decreased) or changes in attitude (act lethargic, depressed); some may lose weight slowly. Although the cause of IBD is not yet fully understood, it is believed to involve a reaction or “Allergy” to certain food ingredients, parasites or bacteria. IBD can sometimes be managed simply by changing diet and ensuring kitty has no worms. Diagnosis and treatment of IBD can be discussed with your veterinarian.
Renal Disease, Renal Insufficiency and Chronic Renal Failure are terms used to describe what happens when the kidneys are no longer functioning at their best. This is seen most often in older cats. Waste products of metabolism, which the kidneys normally dispose of, begin to build up in the blood. Cats with renal disease may drink more water, urinate more, lose weight and sometimes develop nausea, vomiting or high blood pressure. Although there is no cure for the problem, there are many ways to manage it and slow its progression; these can be discussed with your veterinarian.