As a cat owner, you want the very best for your pet. But what is important for your cat’s health and what is not? Here are five things that every cat needs in order to stay healthy and happy.

1. Every cat needs a high quality diet that is complete and balanced to meet all their nutritional needs.

Cats have different nutrient requirements than dogs and should never be fed dog food. They are strict carnivores and need animal-based protein in their diet. You should not feed your cat a vegan or vegetarian diet. It’s also important to make sure your cat is not overfed. Being overweight or obese will put your cat at higher risk for numerous health issues.

2. All cats should have regular veterinary care.

Just like dogs and people, cats require regular veterinary visits. Cats are masters at hiding illnesses and pain. Routine examinations can often pick up health issues that are not detectable by the average cat owner, and early detection can often make treatment of these issues much more successful, and often cheaper for you as well. Your veterinarian can also provide guidance in choosing an appropriate diet, managing your cat’s weight, and preventing parasites such as fleas, heartworms, and intestinal parasites. You’ll also want to work with your veterinarian to determine the right vaccination schedule for your cat based on your cat’s individual lifestyle.

3. Environmental enrichment is a necessity for all cats.

Enrichment is particularly important for cats that are housed indoors. Environmental enrichment can keep your cat entertained, providing not only mental stimulation but exercise as well. It can also make your cat more comfortable in the home and reduce stress, which can cause disease for your cat. Environmental enrichment includes providing your cat with perches, hiding places, toys, and more. More information about environmental enrichment and other methods of keeping your indoor cat healthy can be found at the Indoor Pet Initiative published by The Ohio State University.

4. Every cat has the need for a clean, well-kept litter box.

Litter boxes are a not so pleasant, but are a necessary part of living with a cat. A little bit of attention paid to your cat’s litter box can help prevent litter box issues that are problematic for both you and your cat. Keep your cat’s litter box clean. Use a litter that is not heavily scented. Choose a litter box that is appropriate for your cat. For instance, older, arthritic cats may require a box with lower sides to make entering and exiting the box easier. Place the box in a quiet area where your cat can use it without being harassed or interrupted. If you have a multi-cat household, provide an adequate number of boxes. The rule of thumb is one litter box for each cat plus one extra.

5. All cats require attention and care from their people.

Despite the common misconception that cats are aloof creatures that do not require social interactions, they are in reality social creatures. Most cats enjoy interaction with their care takers. My cats actually seek my attention when my concentration is elsewhere. Besides being an enjoyable experience for both of you, interacting regularly with your cat will allow you to know your cat’s individual temperament and habits. Knowing what is normal for your cat will make it easier for you to spot subtle changes that may mean your cat is experiencing a health problem.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Cat in the Box by admiller / via Flickr