Jul 9, 2020

Ask the Cat Specialist - Part 3

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Part 3 of our series answering your questions about cat care.

1) I’m adopting my first cat. How do I decide what kind of food to feed them?

This is a great conversation to have with your vet! When it comes to your cat's diet, the first and most important thing to know is that they’re obligate carnivores. This means their bodies require nutrients that would be found in prey animals: high amounts of protein, moderate amounts of fat and minimal carbs. When looking at the overwhelming options of dry food at the pet store, check out the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order of decreasing proportional weight in the food. Dry foods with meat, meat by-products, or seafood listed in the top five ingredients usually mean the food has enough prey-source ingredients to keep your cat healthy. Compared to canned food, dry food is higher in calories, so consider how much you’re offering your cat every day. Canned food is a valid option for your cat’s diet, as well. It has a moisture content of at least 75% or more, which is a good way to ensure your cat is staying hydrated. Canned food tends to be tastier than dry food, so it’s a good option for a cat who is picky about what they eat. If you have a cat struggling to lose weight, adding canned food to their diet could help in their weight-loss journey. Want more information about your cat's nutritional needs? Check out this resource.

2) How do I trim my cat’s nails? Wouldn’t it be easier to just declaw them?

Trimming your cat’s nails can be really easy! If you live in a household with at least 2 adults, it’s easy to have one person restrain your cat in a towel wrap and/or by scruffing them (I promise, it doesn’t hurt them) with the extra skin on their neck. That way, you have one “restrainer” and one “clipper”, and you can get the job done pretty quickly.

For a single cat parent, there are some tricks you can use to ease your cat into feeling comfortable with handling their feet. First, you can do some positive association with touching/holding their feet. You can offer a treat every time and work up to holding their foot slightly longer. Start with gentle touching, then holding the foot, then gently flexing the paw pads so the nail is exposed. If your cat is very food motivated, smear some canned food on a paper plate (smearing makes it harder to eat quickly) and clip their nails while they’re distracted. The more frequently you do this and reward your cat, the easier it’ll become over time. When physically clipping the nail itself, you should be able to see where the blood pocket begins when the cat’s nail is fully flexed out. Cat nails are usually clear, so you should see a dark blob about halfway down. Try not to clip too close to that spot, it can be painful for your cat if you do!

Declawing is a surgery where the first knuckle on each paw pad is removed. It can be a painful recovery for your cat and has the potential to be painful for the rest of their life. Having nails is a natural part of a cat’s life; they use their nails to help bury their potty in the litter box. Removing those nails can make using the litter box uncomfortable and potentially painful for your cat, which can lead to litter box problems down the road. Cats also use their nails as a line of defense, both during playtime and when they feel threatened. Declawing your cat could lead to more bitey behavior due to their teeth now being their only way of defending themselves. It’s also just plain cheaper to buy a scratch post, double-stick tape, and a pair of cat nail clippers! Learn more about trimming cat claws and encouraging your cat to scratch on appropriate surfaces.

3) Do I need to bathe my cat the way I bathe my dog?

Cats are actually the complete opposite of dogs in this way! The best person to bathe your cat is your cat. Cats do a wonderful job of grooming themselves and it’s almost always enough to keep them clean. The only exception to this rule is if your cat needs to be bathed for medical reasons, or if they’ve made a mess of themselves with some canned food or with diarrhea and litter. Bigger messes are harder for a cat to groom away on their own, so they may need some help from you. Otherwise, just leave your cat to it!

If your cat has developed an odd odor that’s just driving you crazy, a good compromise might be brushing in some cat-safe no-rinse shampoo. This way, they just think they’re getting a nice brushing, and you’re helping them to smell like flowers. Brushing, in general, is always a good way to help your cat maintain its coat. It can help reduce the amount of shedding hair they’re ingesting (which means fewer hairballs), help get rid of dandruff and keep them from developing mats. Just make sure you choose the appropriate brush for what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, a Furminator is meant to get as much loose hair as possible off your cat, while a comb is more helpful in untangling mats. A bristle brush helps more with dandruff or brushing in no-rinse shampoo. Just like with nail clipping, try to make brushing as positive of an experience as possible. If you sense any hesitation in your cat, use treats or other pets to help them relax. For more information on helping your cat stay well-groomed, check out this resource from the ASPCA.

4) Should I let my cat loose outside?

It might feel normal to let your cat outside because you’ve seen feral cats or loose farm cats, but it’s safest for your cat to stay inside. It’s true, cats do enjoy the enrichment the outdoors provides: watching prey animals, different smells and exploring new places. However, the potential negative outcomes (disease, becoming wounded or killed, disappearing completely) outweigh all the fun you think your cat might have. Plus, a lot of that enrichment can be supplemented inside your house. Playing with your cat using a wand toy makes your cat feel like they’re hunting prey. A leash walk gives them the chance to get their outdoor sniffs, but eliminates the chance that they might run away. You can also build or buy cat trees, toys and shelving to help make the indoors as exciting as possible.

The City of Madison and Dane County have very specific leash laws that need to be followed by owners and their animals (more information on that here). Animals, both cats, and dogs are not allowed to run at large, which means alone and not under the control of the owner. If found and returned to the owner, you can be fined. Overall, it’s just less worry and hassle to keep your cats inside with you!

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