Preventive medicine for feline patients provides link to comprehensive care

Preventive medicine for feline patients provides link to comprehensive care

May 01, 2003

Physical examinations are the foundation of well-health care for cats.
Veterinarians are busy individuals who multi-task with fervor. How else can we accomplish all that we must during the normal workday? We have to play the role of internist, pharmacist, radiologist, dentist, animal behaviorist, practice manager, human relations expert, environmental protection engineer, chief financial officer and employee/client counselor all rolled into one. Our job description is quite daunting and sometimes it helps to focus on our most important task at hand - keeping animals healthy. Here are the two most basic rules of veterinary practice.

  • Rule 1: Prevent animal illnesses wherever possible.
  • Rule 2: Treat illnesses when rule number one doesn't work.

We will examine rule number one in relation to feline medicine. Preventing feline illness requires a regimented preventive medicine program that must be comprehensive and involve every member of the veterinary hospital team from the receptionist to the technician to the kennel worker. The veterinarian is the leader of the team and must educate the other members on the essentials of feline healthcare. But first, there must be a written preventive medicine program.

Routine testing for parasites and retroviruses is an essential part of keeping a cat healthy, with additional testing such as CBC, chemistry profile, thyroid testing, and urinalysis performed as warranted.
Developing a pro-active approach So, how do we develop a feline preventive medicine program? We should start with the very basic requirements for life - food and water. Good nutrition is the foundation of overall health - no cat can survive without food. Cats are natural carnivores and usually require meat-based diets. Luckily, cat owners can choose from a plethora of Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) certified diets that are either commercially available from veterinarians or over the counter. Pet food manufacturers spend huge sums of money touting the benefits of their products and the feeding trials conducted by AAFCO verify that their pet foods meet quality standards. As veterinarians, we, along with our staff, must sift through the multitudes of dietary choices and decide which ones to suggest our clients feed their cats.

Nutritional needs vary with the cat's age and health status. Kittens should consume growth diets until they reach approximately 9 months of age and can graduate to adult food. In-clinic client education on nutrition can explain how clients should feed adult food in gradually increasing increments over several days to ease the transition from kitten food to an adult diet. Cats entering their golden years should transition to senior cat food in a similar manner. Specialty diets that address dental disease and hairballs are good preventive medicine diets that help avoid these health problems in susceptible cats. All cats should have their weights recorded with each office visit and special attention paid to any significant increase or decrease in weight.

Disease prevention Preventive medicine programs always include vaccinations. Immunization protocols need to be carefully evaluated taking into consideration risk of exposure, disease implications, difficulty of treatment and potential vaccine reactions. Feline immunization is a complex topic and differing views abound pertaining to which vaccines should be administered and the frequency of administration. From a practitioner's standpoint, we should review the basic feline infectious diseases that are addressed by currently available vaccines.

Table 1: Feline Preventive Medicine Program Age Related Exam Room Protocols
Rabies is the grandfather of viruses and should be incorporated into every immunization program. Rabies is a rhabdovirus transmitted by bite wounds and vaccination protocols are often dictated by state or municipal regulations. Vaccinating cats establishes an important buffer zone that decreases the potential for zoonotic transmission to humans. Remember that rabies is a reportable disease. Vaccination is advised either annually or every three years depending on local laws and the type of vaccine used.

Feline panleukopenia is caused by a parvovirus which is spread by fecal-oral routes. This virus survives for months to years on fomites which favors its transmissibility. Since maternal antibodies interfere with immunizations, a series of vaccinations is given to kittens followed by revaccination a year later, and then every three years thereafter according to AAFP guidelines. Some veterinarians are more comfortable following the vaccine manufacturers' recommendations advising continuous annual re-vaccination.

Good feline preventive medicine programs begin with the basics, such as proper nutrition for the cat's age and health status.
Feline viral rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus are common viruses that cause approximately 90 percent of feline upper respiratory disease. These viruses are spread directly from cat to cat through respiratory secretions. Sneezing cats are great transmitters of these upper respiratory viruses that cause medical problems in catteries, animal control facilities and boarding kennels. AAFP vaccinination recommendations follow the same guidelines as for feline panleukopenia.

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a retrovirus transmitted via respiratory secretions often through the sharing of food and water bowls or litter boxes. Signs of feline leukemia virus are often related to the immunosuppression caused by the virus, although a plethora of symptoms are possible since the virus can lead a host of other problems such as blood disorders and tumors. Vaccination recommendations are based on the age of the cat and the risk of exposure. Cats younger than 4 months of age are more susceptible to infection. Young cats that wander outdoors or kittens living with FeLV positive cats may benefit from vaccination. Since many "strictly indoor" cats eventually find their way outdoors, many veterinarians include FeLV as a routine part of their annual vaccination protocols.