Debunking Common Misconceptions About Cat Health
As much as we’d all like it to be true, cats don’t actually have 9 lives. Though they’re fiercely independent, cats are just like any other pet that needs our love, attention, and care to live a long, happy, and healthy life. Recent studies have shown that only 50% of Australian cats have a regular date with their vet - a rather startling statistic considering just how much we love our companions. In a bid to better understand our feline friends and their particular health needs, we spoke to Royal Canin veterinarian, Dr Chantelle McGowan, to break down some of the most common myths and misconceptions about cat health.
Myth: Cats love cows milk
While some cats might happily lap up cow’s milk if you put it in front of them, most will react adversely after consuming it. “Cats lack the enzyme ‘lactase’ to digest cow’s milk and are likely to experience gastrointestinal upsets from consuming it,” explains McGowan. Even if it appears that your cat can handle a bowl of milk every now and then, a kitty who’s already on a nutritionally balanced diet doesn’t need the extra fat, calcium, and protein from the milk.
Myth: You don’t need to brush a cat’s teeth
“Brushing teeth is equally important in cats as it is in people,” says McGowan, who recommends starting your feline friend on a good
tooth brushing routine as early on in their lives as possible. “It can be hard to train a cat to comply with teeth brushing, but it shouldn’t be a traumatic experience”. Cats require a good daily brush with pet-friendly toothpaste to help remove plaque that can cause gingivitis and tooth decay. If you’re having trouble getting your cat into the new routine, speak to your vet about alternatives like the specially formulated Royal Canin dental diet. Products such as the ‘Oral Care’ feed can actually help reduce the risk of tartar and plaque build-up without having to brush every day.
Myth: Cats are low maintenance pets that don’t need much care
Though they often give us the impression they'd prefer some space, McGowan couldn’t be more confident in saying that “cats absolutely deserve as much maintenance and care as other pets”. A happy and healthy cat requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation. “Cats have unique requirements as they’re both predators and prey. An outlet for natural, predatory behaviour in the form of play is essential for their mental wellbeing. Ability to rest elevated is a way for cats to feel safe, so a strategically cleared bookshelf, or elevated resting perch, is usually very well appreciated”. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking your cat to the vet regularly either - it’s essential if you want to see your cat live a long and happy life.
Myth: You can’t train a cat
Though cat training isn’t spoken about all that much, it’s entirely doable - you just have to understand how your cat is motivated. “Not all cats are motivated by food rewards, but positive affirmations can go a long way,” explains McGowan, who’s spent a considerable amount of time training her own cats, Mittens and Louis (who you can find at @rescutie_patooties). “I’ve even managed to train Louis to walk on a lead so we can take him out on outings here and there, and Mittens does an excellent high five.” If you’re interested in learning more about training your cat, McGowan recommends following Karen Pryor’s ‘Clicker Training for Cats’, ‘Naughty No More’ by Marilyn Krieger, or ‘Decoding Your Cat’, a co-authored book by multiple specialists from the American College of Veterinary Behaviourists.
Myth: Indoor cats don’t get sick
Despite not having direct contact with the outside world, indoor cats are just as susceptible to illness as outdoor cats. Cats are a prey species which means they instinctively hide illness or weakness and, as such, McGowan advises cat owners to maintain “close observation for even slight changes in behaviour at home”. Even if your cat appears well, it’s important to take them to the vet for regular checkups so that any illness can be picked up in its early stages. The best way to safeguard your cat from illness is to get them immunised. Your vet will run you through what to immunise against, as well as when you’ll need to bring your kitty back in for boosters and follow up shots.
Myth: Home-cooked diets are better than pre- packaged diets
“There may be many opinions on this topic, but let’s stick to facts. Over 95% of home-prepared diets are missing essential vitamins and nutrients, meaning they're not complete and balanced,” says McGowan. That means that unless you meticulously measure out the ingredients, vitamins, and supplements in your home-cooked meals, your cat will be missing out on essential nutrition for life. A recent Royal Canin study found that one in two cats were considered overweight or obese, a result that all too often stems from not eating a nutritionally balanced diet.
“There’s a wide variation in the quality of pre-packaged diets [and] there are some poor quality diets on the market, especially in places like Australia where there’s minimal regulation. Generally, science- based brands such as Royal Canin are among some of the safest and most nutritious foods you can find.” To ensure your fluffy friend is getting the most nutritious diet possible, McGowan recommends doing some research with the World Small Animal Veterinary Association toolkit and consulting your veterinarian.
Understanding your cat's unique health requirements is just the first step in ensuring they're by your side for a long time to come. Feeding them a nutritionally balanced diet, showering them with love and attention, and taking them to see the vet regularly will ensure they live a long, happy, and healthy life.