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Cats can be a contented bunch, cared for and pampered by devoted owners who have their pets’ best interests at heart. Yet sometimes, our good intentions don't align with the health needs of our cats. We love a little too much in the form of overfeeding, for example, or miss subtle signs of serious illness.

What can you do to keep your cat in fine fettle? Become aware of the most common stumbling blocks for cat owners and be sure you know how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Not Getting Preventive Care

The most common health mistake owners make is not getting their cat preventive care, say the pros. Oregon veterinarian Marla J. McGeorge, DVM, says preventive care is vital to catching health problems in their early stages.

Although regular vaccinations are an important part of preventive care for cats, they're not the whole picture. A comprehensive annual exam goes much further and can include:

  • An evaluation of a cat's eyes, ears, coat, and skin
  • Blood work
  • An oral exam
  • Parasite control
  • Advice about nutrition, exercise, and enrichment

Canine Health Institute associate medical director Adrianne Brode, DVM, says, "Cats generally get less healthcare than dogs." Brode speculates that one reason may be that cats are more expert at hiding their pain -- something these small prey animals do instinctively.

"Some older house cats are pretty inactive and sleep a lot, so owners often just don’t notice problems," Brode says. Although you might not see signs of arthritis, tooth loss, or malnutrition in your cat, your vet will.

Mistake 2: Not Spaying or Neutering

Kittens are precious -- there's no doubt about it. Yet every kitten has the potential to grow into a healthy, reproducing cat. If left unchecked, one female cat and her kittens can produce as many as 420,000 cats in seven years.

"There is a huge cat overpopulation problem in the U.S.," McGeorge says. Nationwide, shelters receive up to 7 million unwanted pets each year, and more than half of them are euthanized.

That's why it's important to have cats spayed or neutered before they are old enough to reproduce, McGeorge says. Because a cat can become pregnant at 4 to 6 months of age, it should be spayed or neutered promptly. Kittens can be spayed as early as 8 weeks old.

Spaying or neutering costs less than raising a litter of kittens for a year, according to the ASPCA. Many nonprofit groups offer low-cost spay/neuter options with fees as low as $20. Talk to your vet or a local animal shelter. They may be able to recommend a low-cost spay option near you.

Mistake 3: Delaying Care

McGeorge says another important mistake pet owners make is waiting to see if a health problem gets better on its own before taking their cat to the vet.

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