"Owner's Guide to Cat Health"

Pros: Detailed, thorough, useful suggestions, covers everything
Cons: Some information is presumably out of date by now
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 9/6/2001

A few weeks ago I began my quest for a good book to buy when you’re preparing to take a kitten or cat home. As those who read my first couple of related reviews can attest to, this was not as simple a thing as it seemed. I found arrogant, snotty writers with obnoxious attitudes. I found writers who really didn’t seem to know what they were talking about or what someone who’s taking a new cat home would want to know.

Then I found “Guide to a Well-Behaved Cat.” It didn’t cover everything a first-time cat-owner would want to know, but it did cover some awfully necessary subjects, and very well at that. It was the catalyst for my realization that cats are more important than drapes.

I know, that sounds so self-evident when you put it that way, doesn’t it? But I think we all learn attitudes from the people around us through osmosis. My unintentional lesson was that cats must be prevented from climbing drapes, clawing couches, and so on. Then I read that book I just mentioned, and all the material about the difference between normal cat behaviors and “misbehaviors,” and also the bit about the most well-behaved cat being the one with the fewest opportunities to misbehave. I took it to heart, and finally learned what should have been an obvious lesson. Cats really are more important than drapes.

But it still didn’t quite fulfill my desire to find the perfect book for the first-time cat owner. I guess you could say I’d found the second half of my perfect book. Now, I’m happy to report, I’ve found the first half of that perfect book!

Timing, Cover, and Privileges

The “Owner’s Guide to Cat Health” was written in 1996, so some of the medical material in it is bound to be out of date by now. However, it does a fantastic job of explaining many of the underlying issues, so at the very least it will enable you to make more informed decisions. It may also give you enough knowledge to go do a web search or talk to your vet to catch up with modern techniques.

The cover and title of this book are a little misleading. I got it because I care about taking care of our cats, so having a book on cat health seemed like such a good thing. There are lots of (fairly ugly) pictures on the front cover of things like corneal ulcers, mange, and hookworms. This all gives the impression of a very injury- and illness-centered book. That’s only part of it, though. This book goes into a great deal of basic information for cat owners, from weaning to socialization, acclimation to a new home to nutrition and diet, reproduction, population control, dental care, flea control, and much much more. I never would have expected that this was the ideal book for a first-time (or 11th-time!) cat owner, and yet it is!

The editor of the book stresses that having a pet is a privilege, not a right, something that you’ll find echoed in that other amazing cat book. It’s important to remember that our cats deserve to be cared for.

Each chapter is written by a different author or authors, and the qualifications of these authors are clearly spelled out. The chapters have a feel slightly reminiscent of technical papers in their format and their tendency to refer to the authors in the third person. They include lists of papers and books for further reading. They are not inaccessible, however, as this description might seem to indicate. The articles are aimed at the intelligent lay-person, not at a veterinarian. And if you want to skip the more technical and medical chapters toward the end, you could put more of the emphasis on “lay-person” and less on “intelligent.”

Obligatory warning: there are quite a few grotesque photos in here. At first I wondered if they were going to scare away their potential audience with these photos. But then I realized maybe there was method to their madness: how could anyone, for example, see the photos of what various diseases do to cats, and then refuse to get them vaccinated for at least the most important stuff? There are also plenty of beautiful photos of perfectly healthy cats.

Chapter 1: Looking for a Best Friend

This chapter goes into detail on looking for the cat you’re going to take home. There’s plenty of information on ways to find cats, and their various pros and cons. There’s a list of dos and don’ts regarding how you choose your feline companion, and information to help you figure out what role you want your cat to play in your life.

Chapter 2: Social Development and Behavior

This chapter covers socialization, simple body postures and what they mean, how to acclimate your cat to its new home, how to introduce new cats to old pets, how quickly to allow exploration of your home, multiple-cat households and the issue of territory, and so on. This chapter is invaluable for understanding what sort of home your new cat wants.

Chapter 3: Nutrition, Diet, and Feeding

This chapter will help you to understand the nutrition labels on the food you buy, and it will explain testing standards and statements. Finally, you’ll also find obesity information that doesn’t tell you that all cats will conveniently eat the exact right amount for themselves! (Of the four cats my mother has had two have been overweight, and she wasn’t particularly stuffing them with high-fat foods.) You’ll have a better understanding of cats’ nutritional needs (and why you shouldn’t feed them dog food!), including vitamin and mineral supplementation issues (hint: most feeding problems seen by vets involve excessive nutrient intakes, not deficiencies). The chapter even covers the possibilities of vegetarian diets – which, by the way, are not generally a good idea. Cats are carnivorous by nature.

Chapter 4: Veterinarians and Veterinary Care

Ever wondered what sort of health care schedule you’re in for with your new cat? There’s a sample one here that covers kittenhood to old age. The information starts with health care for kittens, moving on to adults and geriatric pets. It covers veterinary training and specialists. (There’s a great photo in here of a young cat getting a check-up. He’s staring at the camera with a distinct put-upon “do you mind?” expression on his face.) You’ll find out what spaying and neutering entails and the age issues involved. Declawing is covered, as well as the alternatives. There are photos showing how to put nail caps on your cat as an alternative to declawing.

Chapter 5: Reproduction and Population Control

Abandondment and neglect are described as a “plague” that kills 15% of the cat population each year. Ouch. Those are some high numbers. Finally there’s a book that covers not only the social implications of fixing your cats (that plague mentioned above), but also the behavioral and medical reasons for doing so. Maybe this will help to convince those people who don’t care about the wider social implications of their actions that spaying and neutering are necessary. The chapter also covers anaesthetic issues. The specifics may well be out of date by now for all I know, but it explains the issues well enough that you’ll be able to talk to your vet and understand what he says.

Chapter 6: Feline Dental Care

I bet you think this one is a non-issue, right? I certainly did; I’d always heard that eating dry food was enough to clean a cat’s teeth. Not so! Dental problems are actually quite common among cats, and can cause real difficulties (periodontal disease can drive bacteria into your cat’s blood, which can damage all sorts of internal organs). Luckily this chapter, like the rest in this book, provides practical and detailed solutions instead of just presenting you with a problem. All sorts of dental cleaning products for pets are discussed, and the frequency and extent to which they should be made use of.

Chapter 7: Feline Emergencies

Finally – some idea of how serious various things are, and when you should take your cat to the vet! What I learned from this chapter can, in large part, be summed up thusly: Pay attention to your cat’s patterns of behavior (activity level, feeding habits, etc.). When they change, call the vet. This is often the only sign that something is wrong. Cat health issues tend to go from bad to deadly in a very short amount of time. Don’t delay taking your cat to the vet if something seems wrong. Most injuries and illnesses happen to outdoor cats. If you really want your cats to be healthy, make sure that they’re indoor cats.

There are still some other things to be learned here, such as relative severity of various things. There’s the difference between when you should take your cat to your vet the next morning, and when you should go find an emergency clinic right this minute. You’ll also find common household things that are poisonous to cats.

Chapter 8: Infectious Diseases and Vaccines

There are a lot of nasty photos in this chapter to teach you what you’re looking at. Yuck. Useful, though. This chapter is in some cases not easy to look at if you love cats. On the plus side, I think that only someone who doesn’t love cats could go through this chapter and then choose not to have their cat vaccinated for at least the most common diseases out there. You’ll find out here what vaccines are, how they work, how they’re given, how well they protect cats, why cats get a series of vaccines instead of just one, why some shots are yearly, and so on.

Chapter 9: Internal Parasites of Cats

Ugh. Another nasty chapter to go through. On the other hand, I’d be surprised if you could read through this and then choose to let your new kitten grow up to be an outdoor cat.

Chapter 10: Fleas and Ticks

This is a great chapter that covers everything from the life cycle of the flea, to how to remove a tick from your pet, to the signs of flea bite hypersensitivity, to various insecticides (indoor and outdoor) and flea treatments, to those flea-control practices that are totally ineffective. Again the specific treatment information might well be out of date by now, but the article does give you a great handle on the issues.

Chapter 11: Zoonotic Conditions and Chapter 12: Ringworm and Other Fungal Infections

These two chapters overlap heavily. Zoonotic conditions are those that can be passed from cat to human, and ringworm falls under this heading. These chapters explain which conditions can be passed, how they can be recognized, and how you can reduce the incidence of transmission. Chapter 12 has great suggestions for how you can disinfect your environment from top to bottom.

As you can see, there’s a lot to this book. It explains everything thoroughly so that you’ll understand the underlying issues. It also gives you practical, useful suggestions for how you can solve all the problems it raises. If you love your cat, buy this book and “Guide to a Well-Behaved Cat.” You’ll more than get your money’s worth.


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