If you're planning on bringing home your first feline friend, here's how to keep them fit and well.
The first port of call after your kitten or cat arrives should be the vet. Firstly, it is a good idea to register with your local vet in case your pet has any problems, and secondly, it's important to have your cat or kitten checked for any problems.
While most rescue centres will have given any cats to be rehomed a full health check and vaccinations, a new kitten will need primary jabs early in life to protect it from common cat diseases.
The initial jab can be given to a kitten at around nine weeks, with a second given three or four weeks later. These vaccinations protect your cat from flu, chlamydia, enteritis and leukaemia, all of which can be very nasty, if not fatal, for felines. Thereafter, you will need to return for yearly boosters in order to keep kitty covered.
A trip to the local rescue centre will show prospective cat owners just why neutering is essential. Failing to have your cat castrated or spayed means either you or a fellow cat owner will almost certainly end up with kittens, and the hundreds of thousands of unwanted animals in shelters across the country are reason enough to play it safe.
But if you need further persuasion, it's worth knowing that neutering will prevent your female cat from developing cancer of the ovaries or uterus, while your male moggy is less likely to fight, which could increase his chances of getting feline AIDS from a bite or scratch, and is less likely to spray in the house.
Both male and female cats can be neutered at around five or six months of age, though it is possible to operate on older or younger animals so check with your vet if you are unsure. The operation is more expensive for female cats, but both procedures are straightforward and recovery reasonably quick.
Unlike dogs, the average cat is free to wander outside, and as such, they are extremely susceptible to picking up fleas or worms. Therefore it is essential to keep on top of the parasite problem with regular flea treatment and wormer.
There are many over-the-counter treatments for both available, but many are not as effective, so it's best to speak to your vet about what and how often you should treat your pet. Most importantly, never use a dog flea treatment on your cat - the results can be fatal.
Being a true carnivore, the cat requires nutrients that are only found in meat, but making sure he or she gets exactly what they need with a homemade diet isn't easy. Happily, there is now a wide range of complete cat foods available in pet shops, and these will provide your moggy with all the nutrition he needs. There are even options for kittens and elderly cats.
Always check the feeding guidelines so that you don't feed too much or too little, and divide the daily amount into two or more regular feeds. A plentiful supply of clean, fresh water should be available at all times, particularly if you are giving a dry complete food.
There are also plenty of cat treats on the market, but obesity is a growing problem amongst the UK's pets, so if your feline is a house cat or not getting enough exercise, it's best to give treats sparingly. Instead, mix the odd little treat, such as a bit of canned tuna or cooked meat into their feed, cutting the complete food down accordingly. While your cat will happily lap up a saucer of milk, cow's milk can cause tummy upsets.
Potential health problems
Providing you keep the booster vaccinations up to date, your cat should be protected from some of the more serious conditions. However, there are telltale signs that could point to a health problem.
Watch out for frequent vomiting or diarrhoea, loss of appetite or drinking more or less than usual, lethargy, weight loss, sensitivity to touch, coughing, unusual swellings, and runny eyes or nose. Weepy eyes or the appearance of the third eyelid (where a white lid covers part of the coloured iris) can also signal an illness.
While some of these symptoms may prove to be nothing to worry about, it is always worth checking with your vet if you spot a change in your cat's behaviour or condition. If you are worried about coping with any potential illnesses during your cat's lifetime, consider getting an insurance policy to cover the cost of any pricey vet's bills.
Given the right protection, care, a ready supply of food and a warm place to sleep, a cat will reward you with his or her very own brand of purring appreciation.