Kittens need worming against roundworm every two weeks from six-16 weeks old. Check that the product is appropriate for the age and weight of the kitten. Adult cats should be wormed regularly, and when feeding kittens. Recommended frequency depends on whether good quality flea treatment is given regularly, and if the cat is able to hunt. It is probably sensible to treat most cats at least four times a year.
Some tapeworms – which look like grains of rice in the faeces (excrement) – are caught from fleas, so a good quality programme for flea control is essential – consult your vet.
A single treatment for all worms can be purchased from your vet. “Spot on” treatments are available for cats that won't take tablets. With pet shop products, use the correct dose for your pet’s body weight, and check which worms they control.
Toxoplasma is a microscopic parasite which lives in the bowel and can be present in cat faeces. Infection cannot be prevented, though the chance can be reduced by discouraging hunting and not feeding raw meat. It can be harmful if passed to pregnant women, but is usually caught from handling or eating raw meat. Contact with cat faeces should obviously be avoided.
Teeth are important and, just like people, animals benefit from regular dental care. Teeth that are bad and heavily coated in plaque (containing bacteria) are a potential source of infection of other parts of the body, and can also spoil your pet's appetite.
Dirty teeth develop infections at the gum line. The gums recede, the teeth loosen, and the mouth becomes foul smelling. Daily brushing can prevent this process.
Before starting, look inside your pet's mouth. The teeth should be evenly white or off-white. If they are grey or brown it may indicate plaque accumulation. Is there an unpleasant odour? Are the gums pink where they meet the teeth or red and inflamed? Do the surfaces of the teeth look clean, or is there a grey-brown coating which looks like kettle scale?
Unless the teeth look clean, or your pet is under a year of age, it is best to get your pet's mouth examined by the vet. Plaque in animals is hardened by saliva, forming a concrete-like coating. Brushing will not remove this, and it will contribute to the accumulation of further plaque. An anaesthetic will be needed so your pet remains still. Plaque is then removed using an ultrasonic de-scaler. The vet will also fully examine your cat’s mouth, and remove any problem teeth which need to come out.
Start the habit of brushing whilst your kitten is young – although you can train an older cat to accept it. Wait until your pet is in a relaxed mood before your first attempt. Keep initial sessions short. You will need a special brush from the vet or pet shop. Toothpaste designed for humans cannot be used; it is too frothy, and can cause stomach irritation. You may clean your cat's teeth without using toothpaste, but a nice tasting toothpaste helps to make the procedure more acceptable. Some toothpastes contain chemicals which may slow down the accumulation of plaque, however, the mechanical effect of brushing is probably more effective. At first, just put a little toothpaste on the cat's nose or lips and let them lick it off. Repeat this daily for three to four days.
Then start to combine this with holding your cat in a position suitable for brushing. Be as calm and relaxed as possible. It is best if the cat is on a surface at a suitable height so that you can stand or sit comfortably. Face the cat away from you, and use your body to prevent backing away. Lean forward over the cat and position your forearms so that they are pressing on the sides of the cat to restrict wriggling. Spread your left hand (if your cat is struggling, you may be holding too tight). Practice moving the cat's upper and lower lips with your other hand. Be careful not to be bitten. At the end of each session, give a tasty treat, such as a small piece of prawn.
Spend three to four days practising putting the cat in position, and applying toothpaste to the lips. Don't progress too fast – your cat needs to feel comfortable with each stage of the procedure before you move on.
Finally, you can start to brush the teeth. You do not need to open the mouth. Put a little toothpaste on a cotton bud and pass it between and under the lips to the teeth, then start to brush with a circular motion. It's usually best to start with the back teeth. Do this for just a few seconds, and then let your cat go. Give a treat.
Gradually extend the time period until you are brushing all the teeth. Pay special attention to the area where the tooth meets the gum, as this is where plaque tends to build up. Once your cat is comfortable with the procedure, you can move on to using a toothbrush. Aim to brush daily and to do about a minute on each side of the mouth. Do not worry if there is sometimes a little bleeding when the tooth is brushed. Always give a treat after each brushing session.
Other ways of trying to reduce plaque formation are not as effective as daily brushing. Gels and mouthwashes do reduce plaque formation to some extent and are useful for cats who will not accept toothbrushing.
A special diet is another possibility. It is often said that dried foods and biscuits are good for the teeth and gums (although this might surprise our own dentist!), but few have been studied to see if they really reduce plaque long-term. One or two of these foods, on which studies have been conducted, are available through your vet. Some have a higher fibre content which acts like a brush on the teeth as they are chewed, whilst others create an antibacterial coating on the teeth which slows the accumulation of plaque. Ask your vet's advice.
Dental chews may be helpful. Select something tough and chewy and large enough that your cat definitely has to chew it. Cats are adept at swallowing small biscuits complete – they are not “designed” for chewing. Avoid things which are too hard as there is a risk of damage to the teeth.
Daily brushing, however, is still the best course of action.