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Maintaining a Healthy Cattery

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Maintaining a healthy cattery doesn't happen by itself. The health and well being of your cats is dependant on a regular program of veterinary care, good husbandry practices and careful observation. Once your cattery facility has been established, you will want to follow a well-planned system designed to decrease illness, infectious disease and stress.

Select a Veterinarian

Veterinary care is the most essential element in maintaining your cat's health. Before you bring home your first cat, select a veterinarian with whom you feel comfortable and can communicate openly. You will routinely require the expertise of your veterinarian so it is important that both you and the veterinarian feel positive about each other and your goals.

Tell your veterinarian about your cattery, how many cats you have and what you wish to accomplish (i.e. breeding, showing, boarding etc.) Find out whether the doctor will make house calls if needed and whether or not he or she will be available for emergencies or phone consults. Ask who will cover emergencies if your doctor is unavailable or refers them after regular office hours, then take the time to locate the emergency clinic and talk to the staff so you are familiar with the clinic, hours of operation, and any fees or costs involved. It is important to take these steps to be prepared to provide for your cats in the event they need emergency care.

Your veterinarian will help you establish vaccination schedules, suggest parasite control and discuss issues of nutrition. Health programs will vary with each cattery and depend on factors such as travel (i.e. if you plan to take your cats to cat shows every weekend), where your cats are obtained, breeding programs etc. Some of the more commonly recommended vaccines include:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Calicivirus
  • Panleukopenia
  • Rabies
  • Feline leukemia
  • Feline infectious peritonitis

    If you take cats for boarding, your vet will help you formulate a series of health and vaccination screenings for boarding animals to reduce the incidence of infectious disease. Every resident in the cattery should have a thorough physical exam at least one time per year. Any new cats should be isolated from the general population for 10 to 14 days before introduction to avoid the spread of unapparent infectious disease. New cats should be tested for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus after 6 months of age. Some veterinarians recommend coronavirus testing as well.

    Husbandry

    A daily routine should be established in the cattery that include husbandry and management practices. Husbandry refers to the physical cleaning of the facility, equipment, feed bowls, etc., as well as the physical care of the cats (grooming, medicating, feeding etc.) Good husbandry is essential as many diseases are prevented just by maintaining a clean facility and careful observation of every resident. You will need to budget time every day to feed two weighed and measured meals, clean every unit or kennel, sanitize feed bowls and other kitchen equipment. Litter boxes will need to be changed every day and sanitized. Special disinfecting solutions and appropriate protective equipment will be needed for cleaning the equipment and facility.

    Longhaired cats should be brushed every day and any ongoing medical needs attended. Each cat should be identified with a collar and tag, tattoo or microchip and a record or a daily log should be kept to record things like appetite, behavior and eliminations. Any changes should be noted and reported, in case this is the possible start of an illness.

    A large part of animal husbandry is observing your cats for potential medical problems. How do you tell if your cat is sick? Being familiar with your cat's individual behavior patterns goes a long way in making that determination. While it is beyond the scope of this article to list and describe the symptoms of every feline disease, here is a general guideline of symptoms that indicate a need for medical intervention.

  • Sneezing, coughing, runny eyes
  • Rapid respirations or trouble breathing
  • Change in urine habits, i.e. urinating outside of the litter box
  • Straining to urinate
  • Decreased appetite for more than 24 hours
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Pale or yellow color of the mucus membranes
  • Any bite or scratch wounds inflicted by playmates or between aggressive cats

    If any cat shows sign of illness, isolation procedures should be employed. While it may seem hard to remove your pet from his familiar environment and friends, you must be prepared to isolate sick animals from the healthy ones. If this is not done, you risk spreading a disease through your entire cattery. Isolation also gives you a better opportunity to observe a sick individual, and to administer any medications with less stress. Many sick cats get well faster when isolated as it does reduce the stress of living in a group.

    The isolation area should be well away from the kennels and socialization areas. Preferably, the isolation area has its own air-handling unit so respiratory disease is not spread. Feeding, grooming, husbandry etc. are done for the healthy cats first, and then the ill cats are cared for. A separate set of litter boxes, bowls, etc. will be needed for the isolation area and should not be mixed with the equipment of the healthy cats. This helps decrease the chance of introducing an illness to the general population. If you have enough personnel, you may want to select one person to care only for the cats with medical needs. Always keep an accurate medical log on sick cats, noting any treatments or medications they are receiving, and how they are progressing.

    Nutrition and Feeding

    Trying to save money by cutting corners on cat food won't contribute to the health of your kitties. Be prepared to purchase a high quality cat food for the cats plus food that is formulated for special needs. If you are breeding cats, pregnant and nursing mothers require a food that is formulated to meet the demands for extra nutrition. Cats with managed medical problems often require special diets. They may have chronic cystitis or recurrent lower urinary tract disease that responds well to a prescription diet.

    Feed your cats a measured amount of food twice a day and in their separate kennels. Community feeding or large bowls of food left all the time contribute to territorial disputes and can lead to obesity. By feeding a known quantity twice a day, you can easily observe who is eating and who is not, you can size portions for weight control and you can feed specialized diets only to those cats that need it.

    And, remember, cats need more than just food and shelter. They need love, companionship and socialization. If deprived of human interaction, your cattery will no longer be the pleasant environment you intended. If not accustomed to people, cats tend to be distrusting and a feral colony can develop.

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