Cat Care & Education
***Disclaimer: This information is compiled from past personal experience, personal veterinary advice, and various veterinary articles. We do not claim to be licensed veterinarians and our information should not be used as an alternative to veterinary advice and care. We encourage conversation and consulting multiple resources for all illnesses, especially from licensed veterinary specialists.***
Information on Common Cat Illnesses
Feline Leukemia (FELV)
Feline Leukemia (FELV)- All cats and kittens in Rafiki’s rescue have been tested for both FELV and FIV. Unless otherwise specified, they tested negative. FELV is an autoimmune disease spread by bodily fluids. This is a rather serious virus that effects a cats immune system their entire lives. It is very important to keep these cats on a high quality diet incorporating immune boosters. All cats, but these cats especially, should never be let outdoors, as they are very susceptible to illnesses. While this disease can shorten their lifespan due to their body’s inability to heal well, if managed properly, they can still live long, healthy lives. We recommend against having FELV + and FELV - cats intermingle or coexist. However, there are many cases where households keep vaccinated negative cats together with positive cats successfully. We personally do not recommend this.
There is a vaccination for FELV, however, an indoor cat who is only interacting with other FIV/FELV negative cats poses no risk of contracting it. Therefore, we personally do not recommend this vaccination.
Feline AIDS (FIV)
Feline AIDS (FIV)- All cats in Rafiki’s Rescue have been tested for both FELV and FIV. Unless otherwise specified, they tested negative. FIV is an autoimmune disease spread through deep bite wounds which almost exclusively occur through territorial fighting between unaltered outdoor cats. This virus is similar to FELV, but far more manageable. FIV + cats can coexist and intermingle with FIV - cats. FIV is very similar to human AIDS and we recommend a high quality diet with immune boosters. All cats, but these cats especially, should never be let outdoors as they are very susceptible to illnesses. While this disease can shorten their lifespan due to their body/s inability to heal properly, if managed properly, they can still live long, healthy lives.
There is a vaccination for FIV, but it is not very effective and an indoor cat poses no risk of contracting it. It is also very difficult to catch, so we do not recommend this vaccination. Please note that by vaccinating for FIV, your cat will test positive there after if tested for the virus.
The FVRCP Vaccination
The FVRCP Vaccination is a core vaccination and the only one we incorporate (and truly believe in its importance) into our cats & kittens vetting at Rafiki’s Rescue. This vaccination protects against the most common and contagious viruses a cat or kitten can come into contact with, even at the vet’s office. This vaccine protects against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), Calicivirus (C), and Panleukopenia (P). Our cats and kittens all receive 2-3 FVRCP vaccinations (depending on the age in which they entered the rescue) each 3-4 weeks apart. After their final vaccination, we recommend getting a booster in one years time. After this initial booster, we recommend vaccinating every 3 years for the average, indoor cat household. Foster homes and other higher risk environments should have resident cats be vaccinated yearly.
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR/Feline Herpes Virus)
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR/Feline Herpes Virus)- Most often referred to as Feline Herpes Virus, this is the most common cause in upper respiratory infections in both cats and kittens. An estimated 80-90% of cats and kittens carry this virus dormant in their system, but it can be reactivated due to stress and illness. Luckily, this is in most cases very easily treatable.
Feline Calicivirus- This virus will often cause stubborn upper respiratory infections and ulcers in the mouth. They can become lethargic and or have difficulty eating if ulcer development becomes too painful. Certain strains will cause lameness or limping in some joints. In some strains, the only symptom may be this limping or lameness with no sign of an upper respiratory infection. While the more common, mild strains are very treatable, there are many varying degrees of infection and illness when a cat develops Calicivirus. The most severe strain having a 67% death rate, although this strain is rare. Once recovered from calicivirus, it is possible for a cat to carry the virus dormant in their system for life. Therefore, vaccination to protect against this virus is very important.
Feline Panleukopenia Virus
Feline Panleukopenia Virus- Feline panleukopenia comes from the parvovirus family, the same Parvo you may commonly hear of infecting dogs. Panleuokopenia, or feline distemper, is a cat specific strain of the Parvo virus, however it is far more deadly than the one you hear of in dogs. Panleukopenia is a very contagious virus that attacks the white blood cells, leaving the body completely defenseless against infections. By destroying these cells, the intestinal tract is often first to be affected and show symptoms. The most common symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Because the cat is left with no immune defenses, they most often die from secondary, bacterial infection. Treatment involves aggressive supportive care, antibiotics, and hospitalization. A newer treatment involves a drug called Neupogen, which helps to rebuild those white blood cells. Even when treated properly, kittens have approximately a 70% mortality rate. Adults have much higher odds with only a 10-20% mortality rate. This is the most important virus that your cat or kitten is protected against with the FVRCP vaccination.
Rabies- Lucky for us, we live in an area where rabies is not prevalent and, when a cat is kept solely indoor, the risk of contracting it is miniscule. This is why we choose not to vaccinate for this virus unless required by law. If you move to an area where the numbers of rabies cases in wildlife are far higher, we do recommend getting this vaccination for protection in the event that your cat ever gets loose outside. Rabies is contracted primarily through bite wounds and is most commonly carried by raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. Rabies is a nearly always fatal virus that causes obvious temperament changes prior to death. We leave the decision to vaccinate for this up to the adopter and recommend discussing with your veterinarian. Please note that the vaccination of FVRCP is the most important vaccination for your cats health while Rabies is required by law in many places in order to primarily protect human health, as it is a zoonotic disease.
Mycoplasmosis- This was previously a very uncommon disease that is sadly on the rise in our feline companions. Mycoplasma is a bacteria that attacks the red blood cells, causing anemia. It can also cause chronic URI symptoms, which is typically how we first diagnose this disease. This bacteria is sadly incredibly hard to completely rid of in the body, even when following proper treatment. A typical month long course of antibiotics will be prescribed in effort to eliminate the bacteria completely, but more often than not, it will linger in the body lifelong. So long as treated in a timely manner when symptoms periodically arise, these cats can live long, healthy lives. When untreated, this is when severe anemia can develop and become a real threat. This disease can cause a weakened immune system, so daily immune boosters are recommended. The mycoplasma bacteria lives in infected environments and can be contracted by direct contract. Testing for this involves a PCR test where your veterinarian will collect a sample and send off to a lab to study.
Interested in another cat illness not listed here? Please do not hesitate to reach out for information. We are happy to share what we know in conjunction with your licensed veterinarian’s advice!
Information on Common Cat Parasites
Giardia- Giardia is an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats and dogs. All cats and dogs in Rafiki’s Rescue are tested & treated for this parasite. Additionally, we test again 2 weeks after intake to allow for incubation time if the pet had been recently exposed prior to intake. Giardia is commonly found outdoors and in contaminated water sources. This parasite can cause diarrhea and, if not treated, dehydration, weight loss, and lethargy. Luckily, it is very easily treated by a licensed veterinarian.
Coccidia- Coccidia is an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats and dogs. All cats and dogs in Rafiki’s Rescue are tested & treated for this parasite. Additionally, we test again 2 weeks after intake to allow for incubation time if the pet had been recently exposed prior to intake. Coccidia is commonly found outdoors in contaminated areas, water sources, or small rodents. This parasite can cause diarrhea and, if not treated, dehydration, weight loss, and lethargy. Luckily, although often more stubborn than Giardia, this is very easily treated by a licensed veterinarian.
Tapeworms- Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats and dogs. They live in the small intestine and can cause weight loss and illness in severe infestations. Tapeworm eggs are introduced to the body when an infected flea is ingested. Therefore, flea preventative is the best tapeworm prevention. We use Revolution. In a tapeworm infestation, tapeworm specific dewormers will be prescribed by your veterinarian. All of our dogs and cats are dewormed for all parasitic worms prior to adoption.
Roundworms- Roundworms are an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats and dogs. Instead of attaching to the wall of the intestine, they live freely in the intestinal tract. Bad infestations of roundworms can cause bloating, lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Animals are infected with roundworms when they swallow the egg that may be present in infected feces, cockroaches, crickets, small rodents, and other small insects & mammals. In a roundworm infestation, roundworm specific dewormers will be prescribed by your veterinarian. All of our cats and dogs are dewormed for all parasitic worms prior to adoption.
Hookworms- Hookworms are an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats and dogs. They hook themselves to the lining of the intestinal wall and feed on the tissue fluids and blood. Hookworms are very small and rarely visible. Hookworms eggs are passed via stool and can then live in soil for months. Exposure to these eggs followed by grooming is a common source of contraction. Hookworms can cause anemia, lethargy, and weight loss. In a hookworm infestation, hookworm specific dewormers will be prescribed by your veterinarian. All of our cats and dogs are dewormed for all parasitic worms prior to adoption.
Heartworm Disease- Lucky for us, heartworm disease is not as prevalent in our area as it is in hotter, more humid climates. However, it still poses a risk in any environment. Heartworms are a a blood-borne parasite that reside in the heart and are passed through mosquitoes. They cannot be transmitted from cat to cat or dog to dog.
This parasite is far more common in dogs than it is cats, however, dogs will often show symptoms far earlier than cats will. Dogs are also far easier to test accurately for their presence. This gives dogs a better chance of successful treatment. Still, symptoms are not always obvious and it is difficult to diagnose in most any cases. There are two tests for heart worms, an antigen and an antibody. The antibody test will determine if the immune system has been exposed, but it cannot determine if the infection is currently present. An antigen test will test for the presence of adult female heartworms. This test will not detect the presence of males and requires the presence of two or more adult females in order to detect. Because it requires adults, it is important to retest in approximately 6 months time, giving the parasites time to mature, for a more accurate negative result. Heart worm disease is serious and involves a complicated, lengthy treatment. Therefore, a monthly preventative is recommended (even for indoor cats). We use Revolution for both our dogs and cats which protects against fleas, heartworms, and ticks.
Interested in another cat parasites not listed here? Please do not hesitate to reach out for information. We are happy to share what we know in conjunction with your licensed veterinarian’s advice!
Fountains are wonderful because they encourage cats to drink more water than they otherwise would. Cats naturally will get most of their moisture from their food and do not always drink an adequate amount of water outside of this. This is another reason we choose to only feed wet food and to forgo dry kibble, aside from the added preservatives that come in dry kibble.This will also help to prevent UTIs.
Some great brands of cat food include Nulo, Wellness, Tiki Cat, Merick, and Weruva. These are our tried and true. You are always welcome to reach out to us for more food recommendations but we ask that you keep your pet on a high quality, grain free food. Please be mindful of the ingredients as well because, while a brand may be labeled high end and “grain free,” the ingredients replacing grains may be more unnecessary, unhealthy fillers, often known to cause heart disease and other various medical conditions. Please always be sure to note the amount of recalls a company has had. Good, quality food is what will keep you out of the vets office!
Raw food- at Rafiki’s Rescue, we are huge believers in a raw diet, but understand that this is not practical for everyone. However, raw diets can come in pre-made packages so all you have to do is thaw out and feed! We have seen the benefits of a raw diet time and time again and use it for some of our more sensitive fosters that need the extra nutrients and immune support. Our favorite brand is Small Batch and we are happy to discuss the benefits if you are interested in feeding raw. We are happy to clear up any common concerns or misconceptions you may have and show you the true quality of a raw fed diet.
We love our veterinarians, but please remember that they are not nutritionalists and to do your own research regarding food!
As a basic daily routine, 250mg of L-Lysine as a daily supplement added to the wet food is recommended… it helps reduce the risks for common viruses. It is best in granules and it can be ordered on Amazon.com. We use the Tomlyn brand. Just sprinkle it on one of the meals 1x day.
We also use ModucareVET by Thorne which you can also purchase on amazon. 1/2 a capsule once daily is adequate and we tend to use this as an immune booster if any allergies should flare up at certain points in the year.
Another great additive to your pets diet is a probiotic. While we typically recommend one for tummy or bowel issues, or if your pet is currently undergoing a course of antibiotics, it is never a bad idea to incorporate regularly. We use Spunky by Animal Health Solutions which you can purchase on chewy.com.
Upset tummy? Slippery elm is a wonderful additive to have on hand and has worked wonders for our littles undergoing treatment for internal parasites. You can purchase slippery elm at your local health food store. Another wonderful option is Kochi Free & Kitty DT by Amber Natural. These are also some of our staples and can be purchased on Amazon.
You can view more natural remedies under the 'Homeopathy' tab.
Cats have an innate sense to naturally use a litter box, however, they can also be very particular. We have had the best luck with clumping, sand litter. Once you have found your cats preferred litter, we must also be mindful about their sensitive, cleanly nature.
It is recommended to have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. If you have a multi-story home, we recommend having one on each story. When introducing a new cat to your home, make sure the boxes are easily accessible while they are learning their new environment.
Cats who are struggling to use the litter box are normally trying to tell us something. The very first thing you should do is schedule a vet visit ASAP to check for UTI's, blockages, or any other medical concerns. Blockages can be fatal within 24 hours, so it is important that we are monitoring our cats litter box usage. If medically cleared, there are ways to correct this behavioral problem. More often than not, it's not the cat's problem but something in the environment that they do not respond well to.
Cats are smart and sensitive. If they don't like the box, they wont use it. If it has a lid, they might want it off. If the litter has not been scooped, they may not want to step inside. If there were any changes in the home, your cat could be telling you that they are not happy with them. Misuse of a litter box can be your cats way of communicating with you something that they do not like. It is important that we respect an animals likes and dislikes just as we would another human. You may have to go through a process of elimination to get to the source and find a solution, but there near always is one!
Stimulation & Enrichment
Stimulation & enrichment is a crucial part of caring for a feline friend. They are active, social animals and need to have adequate mental stimulation in order to thrive. Behavioral problems can arise if enrichment is lacking. Toys and cat trees are a must! We have a plethora of options for the kitties in our care. Cats are natural predators, so they prefer to climb high and watch from above. The more you can provide to keep them active the better! We provide trees, cat shelving, toys, scratching posts, enclosed catios, and more for our intakes. We also strongly believe in the importance of adopting kittens either in pairs or into a home with another feline companion. Having a playmate will benefit this social, active nature greatly! Our special needs kitties have specialized routines and ways to keep them both entertained & safe! These particular methods vary case by case.
Declawing - NO!!!
Declawing poses major risk both medically and behaviorally. This is one of the most cruel practices we can subject a cat or kitten to. We have referenced an incredible non-profit organization, The Paw Project, to help give some insight into this procedure and the consequences.
The surgical procedure involves amputating the last bone of each of the ten toes. During this amputation, the tendons, nerves, and ligaments that enable normal function and movement of the paw are severed. This can in turn cause chronic pain and, consequently, many behavioral troubles. This procedure takes away their natural first line of defense, their ability to climb, and deprives them of their instinct to mark territory using the scent glands in their paws.
We encourage you to follow The Paw Project and the amazing work they do. Their FAQ page is a wonderful source for further information on this subject.
***More Coming Soon!***