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Our forgotten friends

What you need to know about cats

ASK THE VET By Dr Lisa Silk

I’ve written so many articles and realized I’ve never dedicated an article to our feline friends. Cats have some specific considerations living on Guam.

Cats really love being outside, roaming, stalking, climbing and exploring. But on Guam, they need to be monitored and that can be difficult.

Many people take care of stray cats that stay outside. But house cats are safer to be inside. There are so many stray dogs and cats. If your cat is outside, it may be considered as being in their territory and a target for attack. This can lead to death, painful and dangerous infections and abscesses and the spread of the feline viruses, feline AIDS and feline leukemia.

These viruses are common on Guam and in the stray population and are spread by pregnant mothers to their kittens.

Of course, there is always the risk of being hit by a car. I treat these accidents weekly. I’ve also seen two brown tree snakes on the street large enough to kill and eat a kitten or a puppy.

I’ve also written about overheating on Guam. While I mostly see this in dogs, I can’t say if this is because it happens more in dogs, or people just bring their dogs in more for this condition.

The heat and humidity make it very difficult for animals to stay cool outside, even cats. Cats don’t have the ability to sweat, so if you see your cat panting, it is very serious. They may be having heat exhaustion or are in extreme stress.

Cats need fresh, clean filtered water accessible at all times. Drinking water that has been sitting outside can lead to infections from organisms like leptospirosis and giardia. These infections can lead to kidney failure, vomit and diarrhea and even death.

There are also many parasites on Guam that are infectious to cats, such as ticks, fleas, lice, ear mites and mosquitos. These parasites can cause anemia due to blood loss and clotting problems. They cause skin irritation and infections.

Heartworm in cats is also quite serious and shows how the stray populations and mosquitos are being reservoirs for diseases. Heartworm is not supposed to infect cats.

Outdoor cats are also exposed to internal parasites from hunting and grooming after walking in the grass. They get hookworms, coccidia and tapeworms from fleas. These parasites cause bloating, vomiting and diarrhea and weight loss. Small kittens can even die from these infections.

As hunters, cats are obligate carnivores. This means their diet must include meat in order to survive. They don’t digest plants very well and they don’t have the ability to break down food and make certain vitamins and amino acid chains.

Their digestive tract is shorter and designed to process protein and fat more efficiently.

Cats do need carbohydrates, but in much smaller amounts than other animals.

This is why most over-the-counter cat foods such as Friskies and Pedigree are not good for cats. Anything with mainly corn, soy wheat or fillers is not good for cats. They cannot process this food properly and end up being overweight while being malnourished at the same time.

When cats become overweight, they are very susceptible to many diseases, especially diabetes and liver disease. It also causes cancer, gall bladder disease and pancreatitis. If your cat is overweight, it is very important to talk to your veterinarian about a weight loss plan. Rapid weight loss in cats leads to fatty liver syndrome and can be deadly.

Cats also need a lot of water. As obligate carnivores, their diet is higher protein than other animals and it strains the kidneys to get rid of the by-products it produces by the breakdown of protein.

Lack of water leads to bladder infections, stones and obstructions. I always advise filtered water to remove any contaminants and minerals. A simple home Britta system is enough to use for your pets.

I do not advise giving cats only dry food. They need at least some canned, and none of the food should have corn, wheat soy or other fillers. Dry food will increase the body’s need for fluid, as well, in Guam’s high heat and humidity. This is another cause for constipation and vomiting in cats.

Cats can also become overweight because they are hunters. They expend a lot of energy stalking and hunting. In a home setting, it’s a good idea to use food “toys” that your cat interacts with in order to get food or treats.

Cats also require scratching posts. Contrary to people’s beliefs, cats do not “sharpen” their nails on posts or tree trunks. Their nails actually grow differently than other animals. They have an outer “sheath” that needs to be removed so the new, growing nail can grow out.

Some cats prefer different materials for this. Some like vertical scratching, while others prefer horizontal. You can experiment with handmade scratchers using an old rug, corrugated cardboard or buy scratching posts or mats.

People also think cats are not social and don’t like other cats. This isn’t quite true. Cats enjoy being with each other, but their social structure is very different from dogs. While dogs live in packs, cats are more solitary.

Cats interact, but they need their own space. Each cat should have its own litter box and sleeping area. Separate feeding and water bowls are good, too. It will decrease the stress with each other and the cats will get along better.

It is important for cats to see a veterinarian. The first year of life is the busiest. At seven to eight weeks, we start their first vaccines, which is followed by boosters three to four weeks later. They need to be checked for worms and external parasites. It is also advisable to test for the feline viruses, feline leukemia and feline AIDS.

Before six months of age, it is very important to get your cat spayed or neutered. Unneutered cats have a very pungent urine smell for marking and will start spraying everywhere in and out of the house. They will also leave home for weeks, which is dangerous and leads to fighting and more unwanted kittens.

Female cats do not have heat cycles like other species. They are induced ovulators, which means they will never go “out” of heat. The signs will wax and wane, but the uterus will continually be supplied with blood until they get pregnant. This leads to anemia and uterus infections. Cats also can get breast cancer if not spayed.

We do annual checks for organ function, dental health and parasites. I highly recommend keeping your cat on topical Revolution. It kills ear mites, lice and prevents tick, fleas and heartworm.

Even if your cat stays strictly indoors, I recommend applying a dose every few months due to mosquitos having access indoors.

So now you know your feline friends much better and can keep them healthier and happy on Guam.

Dr. Lisa Silk is the owner and primary veterinarian at Isla Veterinary Clinic. Send feedback to or call 477-7879.

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