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Cat owners who are interested in keeping their cats healthy should focus in large part on wellness and preventive measures. As with humans, it is easier to prevent problems by promoting health than to treat them once they occur, especially in a city where cold weather and mosquitoes can mean the end for your furry friend. John Simon, a veterinarian at Woodside Animal Clinic in Royal Oak, offers these tips to keep cats healthy.

Schedule Regular Wellness Examinations
Healthy cats should see their veterinarians for a wellness check-up once or twice a year. The exam should include a physical, blood and urine tests, and a stool sample to check for internal parasites. Annual heartworm testing is also recommended because Detroit’s mosquitoes can carry the deadly parasites. Between vet visits, owners can perform weekly home wellness exams to detect early signs of illness or problems. The home exam involves a quick but thorough nose-to-tail evaluation of the cat, including an assessment of the pet’s carriage, behavior, eating, drinking and waste elimination. Maintaining a wellness journal with a record of each examination may prove invaluable if a problem does occur.

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Perform Routine Home Dental Care
Keeping a cat’s teeth clean is one of the most important tasks owners can do at home to promote good health. Plaque and tartar accumulation can lead to gum disease, painful cavities, tooth decay and loss, and, in extreme cases, infections or organ damage. A cat is never too old to learn to have its teeth brushed, but start out very slowly and keep sessions short and positive. Regular brushing combined with an annual veterinary cleaning and polishing can keep a cat’s teeth and gums clean and healthy.

Maintain an Ideal Weight
Cats tend to put on weight easily and quickly become obese, which can lead to health problems, including heart disease. Extra weight is also tough on the bones and joints, and can cause arthritis pain. Keeping a cat on the lean side will promote good health and longevity. Don’t overlook exercise for a cat; some will walk on a leash and harness, and many cats enjoy a game of fetch. As a general rule of thumb, slightly lean is healthier than slightly too fat.

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Minimize Environmental Toxins
Cats are subjected to environmental toxins in the daily course of their lives. Even the air, water and soil contain toxins, especially in urban areas, which can have a detrimental effect on cats over the long term. Outdoor cats have an increased risk of coming into contact with these toxins. To reduce a cat’s exposure, use all-natural cleaning agents, avoid chemical pesticides and fertilizers in areas where the cat walks, don’t allow smoking in the house — cats get cancer, too — and keep toxic plants out of the reach of cats. And, most importantly, keep cats indoors to keep them away from unknown toxins and freezing, killer winters in Detroit.

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Feed an Appropriate Diet
A high-quality diet is the cornerstone of good health for any living being. As obligate carnivores, cats have strict dietary requirements, which can change as a cat ages or its lifestyle changes. Nutritious dry and canned foods based on meats with limited whole grains are adequate for most cats. A home-prepared diet gives owners more control over the amount and quality of the ingredients in their cat’s food, but care must be taken to ensure the cat’s nutritional requirements are met. Being overweight kills pets as well as people. Don’t let your pet fall victim to Detroit’s obesity epidemic.

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Jennifer Walker is a freelance writer living in Detroit. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University. Her work can be found at