Happy New Year! May 2017 be a happy and healthy year for us all, including our pets.

Historically, although cats outnumber dogs in the United States, they receive medical care less frequently than their barking counterparts. Let’s change that this year. Start with committing to an annual or semi-annual visit to your veterinarian. This allows for screening to keep Fluffy healthy and potentially identify problems that can be addressed before your cat feels really unwell. Remember that, in the wild, cats are both predators and small enough to be prey, so they are adept at hiding illness until they are very sick. They do not want to be easy pickings for a larger predator, like a coyote.

In addition to regular checkups, physical health can be improved significantly in many ways by keeping cats indoors 100 percent of the time. They avoid exposure to infectious diseases, as well as trauma inflicted by other animals or vehicles. Keeping your cat indoors also protects local wildlife from predation.

However, while Fluffy undoubtedly will be safer indoors, she will lose opportunities to “act like a cat,” such as hunting and marking her territory, which can be stressful for her. Stress decreases quality of life and also can manifest as undesirable behaviors, such as soiling outside of the litter box. Unfortunately, indoor cats are also typically less active and therefore at increased risk for obesity, which predisposes them to numerous undesirable health issues, such as diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis and arthritis.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners has five pillars of a healthy indoor feline environment, which, when instituted, provide opportunities for exercise, expressing normal behaviors and avoiding stress. Following these recommendations greatly increase your probability of having a happy and healthy indoor cat.

» Providing a safe resting place. Cats prefer to observe their environments from a safe location to avoid confrontation. This can be as simple as a box to hide in, a shelf on a bookcase, or a cat tree.

» Easy access to important resources, including: food, water and litter boxes. There should be multiple sites for eating and drinking, especially in a multi-cat household, as cats are not inherently social eaters and prefer to dine alone. The litter box should be located away from food bowls, because who wants eat right next to where they are eliminating?

» Provide opportunity for playing and predatory instincts. Spending time one-on-one with your cat with a feather toy or a laser pointer can be fun for both of you and can be a great stress reliever. Also, the exercise will keep your couch potato more fit. Be sure to let your kitty “catch” the prey occasionally to prevent frustration. Just like a teenager, a cat can get bored, so rotating out different toys can help keep him engaged. Feeding also can be an opportunity for activity by having your cat eat from food-dispensing toys, chase down kibble that you throw for her or finding food you have hidden around the house so your cat has to spend time “hunting” for her meal.

» Provide consistent, positive interactions with your cat. Cats like routines, so try to keep your feeding and interactions with your cats as regular as possible. This also means cuddling or petting, but on his or her terms. Let them start the snuggle session and choose when it is over as well.

» Respecting your cat’s sense of smell. Cats have excellent sense of smell and use chemical signals to mark their territories. Rubbing their cheeks on items and scratching behaviors leave pheromones declaring, “This is mine.” Providing appropriate scratching posts or logs will allow your cat to claim your house as her own without ruining your couches.

Whether your kitty is already inside much of the time, or if 2017 is the year that you decide to try making Fluffy a 100 percent indoor kitty, hopefully these tips will help keep everyone happier and make for a wonderful new year for all.

Dr. Emily Whitmore works at Albemarle Veterinary Health Care Center on Westfield Road, which is an AAFP-Certified Feline Friendly Practice. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, soft tissue surgery and training to be a certified veterinary acupuncturist. In her free time she enjoys hiking and then relaxing with her hound mix, Kona.

For Pets’ Sake

For Pets’ Sake is written by the members of the Jefferson Area Veterinary Medical Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the health and wellbeing of all area pets. Visit javma.net for more pet health information, or to find the perfect veterinarian for your pet.

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