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Malcolm Downes

Is your cat in pain?

Cats evolved as hunters. 

Their ability to survive and compete depended on their ability to avoid appearing weak or vulnerable. They are masters at suppressing and masking the signs of pain and different breeds have different tolerances to pain.
But your cat will give signs that it is in pain by changes from its normal behaviour.

Here are nine things to watch out for

1. A change in eating habits. Cats in pain may lose interest in eating or drinking, or they may overeat as a coping mechanism.

2. A change in grooming. Cats are obsessively clean so you notice your cat grooming less frequently or avoiding certain areas of their body, it could indicate discomfort in those areas.

3. A change in behaviour. A cat in pain may become more lethargic and reluctant to engage in usual activities such as playing or exploring or they may become restless or agitated, pacing or seeking isolation.

4. Unusual posture. Cats may hunch over, keep their body tense, or favour certain limbs or body parts if they are in pain They may limp.

5. Some may meow, cry, or growl more than usual. Watch for unusual vocalisations, especially during movement or when being touched.

6. Hiding away in unusual places or avoiding social interaction.

7. Behaviour in the litter try. Pain can affect a cat’s ability to wee or poo comfortably. Look for signs of straining in the litter tray, changes in litter tray habits or vocalising when the are doing their business.

8. Irritability or aggression, especially when touched or handled in sensitive areas. They may hiss or growl or even lash out unexpectedly.

9. Panting or rapid breathing. This can be a sign of underlying medical issues requiring immediate attention

What can you do?

Never give your cat over-the-counter pain medications meant for humans. They can be toxic to cats and cause severe side effects.

Take a note of all of the behaviour changes and take your cat to your vet. A cat’s behaviour might change due to the stress of being in the vet’s clinic so observations of your cat’s behaviour at home will be valuable.


Vets will make their own observations and tests. They have some tools such as the Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index (FMPI) and the Feline Grimace Scale (see the illustration at the top of this post) to help them assess what pain your cat is feeling.

In the first instance vets will try to treat the underlying cause of the pain. They may also prescribe a pain medication specially approved for cats. If the condition is not curable, they may recommend changes to your cat’s home environment to provide comfort, relief and distraction to ease your cat’s discomfort.

By instinct, your cat will silently ‘tough it out’ but your observations of their changes in behaviour can speak volumes on their behalf.

For a deep dive into the issue of cat pain, check out Recognising signs of pain in cats.

Also see our related post on Osteoarthritis in cats.

Is your cat in pain? Read More »

Are cat curfews the way of the future?

The Mannigham Council, northeast of Melbourne, will be the latest to apply a 24 hour curfew to domestic cats when new rules come into force in April 2024.

The trend in recent years to restrict cat freedom is mainly driven by :

  • a desire to protect native birds and small animals from cat predation
  • neighbour complaints such as noise, damage to property and fouling of gardens and play areas
  • concerns for the health of free-roaming cats which have a shorter lifespan and greater exposure to disease.

The 2022 report, Australian Government response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy report: Tackling the feral cat pandemic also provided a new impetus to the control of domestic cats. It reported that they were a significant contributor to wildlife loss and recommended curfew and containment programs.(1)

Action from local governments have been mixed. While micro-chipping is almost universal and registration is common, regulations to contain cats within household boundaries apply in only about one-quarter of councils.

State governments have also failed to pass legislation that supports the adoption of curfews. While some States are keen to get on, others, notably Queensland, are badly lagging.

When it applies its 24 hour curfew, Manningham will join, for example, the ACT, Adelaide Hills Council (SA), Knox City Council (VIC), Bruny Island (TAS) and Kangaroo Island (SA).

About one-third of owners already contain their cats full time but resistance by other cats owners can be strong.  Cats have traditionally been an easy option for pet ownership, sometimes just feed and forget. The extra thought and expense required to contain cats and then provide the necessary stimulation and exercise to keep them healthy can be a major change.

The Manningham Council will be attempting to bring the community along with it.

“We will be focused on community awareness and education on the benefits of cat confinement prior to and during the amnesty period before moving towards compliance and enforcement” said Manningham Mayor, Councillor Carli Lange.

As well as an extended amnesty and review period, the Council is engaging in an extensive information campaign and providing web resources for cat owners facing the transition.

Hopefully we can look to to a future where care for our cats can live alongside our care for native animals.

If you’d like to read more, check out The management of cats by local governments in Australia: summary of national survey results

(1) CSIRO research reports that, on average, each roaming, hunting pet cat in Australia kills 40 native reptiles, 38 native birds and 32 native mammals per year.

Are cat curfews the way of the future? Read More »

How to travel with your cat

We are deep in the holiday season now and you may be thinking about taking your cat with you for a short or even a long trip. Cats are generally most comfortable in their familiar environment but many can travel well with a few considerations.

Here are our ten top tips:

  1. Schedule a visit to your vet to ensure your cat is healthy and up-to-date on vaccinations. For cats that are anxious travellers, your vet may be able to prescribe medication.
  2. Make sure your cat has proper identification, including a collar with an ID tag containing your contact information in addition to being micro-chipped.
  3. Invest in a well-ventilated and secure cat carrier that has enough space for your cat to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Familiarise them with the carrier before the trip. Secure the carrier with a seat belt to prevent it from moving around. Don’t let your cat roam freely in the car – it can be dangerous for cat and driver.
  4. Pack your cat’s favourite blanket, pillow, or a piece of clothing that carries your scent. Familiar smells can help comfort your cat and make the new environment less intimidating. Pheromone sprays or wipes work for some cats. If your cat enjoys catnip, consider bringing along a catnip-infused toy or a small pouch of dried catnip.
  5. Offer your cat small treats during the journey to encourage calm behaviour. Choose known favourites and ones that are easy to handle while on the move.
  6. If your cat enjoys being groomed, bring a grooming brush. Gently brushing your cat can be a soothing and bonding activity.
  7. Gradually introduce your cat to the concept of travel by taking short trips around the neighbourhood before embarking on a longer journey.
  8. Ensure a comfortable temperature for your cat. Place the carrier where there is a good flow of fresh or air-conditioned air. Never leave your cat alone in a parked car.
  9. Plan regular breaks during your journey to allow your cat to stretch, use the litter box, and stay hydrated. Keep the carrier covered to reduce stimuli that may stress your cat.
  10. Bring a portable litter box and provide access to it during breaks. Familiarise your cat with the portable litter box before the trip.

Remember, your cat is unique so be especially attentive during travel and adjust your plans accordingly.

Happy travels!

How to travel with your cat Read More »

Kittens get priority in the face of vaccine shortage

five kittens

There is a shortage of feline vaccines in Australia due to supply problems triggered by the COVID outbreak.

Kittens and previously un-vaccinated adult cats are at most risk.

The annual F3 vaccination, which protects cats from parvovirus, feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus, is in short supply across the country triggering fear of an outbreak of these preventable diseases.

On the plus side, cats that have previously been vaccinated as kittens and have had boosters are at lower risk of disease because they have an extended duration of immunity. Vets may decide to give kittens two vaccines rather than three and keeping them in a safe environment until they receive a final vaccine in 16 weeks.

One result has been that shelters may stop accepting strays and relinquished cats. Another difficulty has been that catteries may choose not to accept un-vaccinated cats and, in some jurisdictions, are forbidden to by mandatory codes of practice.

It is expected that vaccine supply should return to normal early in 2024.

In the meantime, the key message from the Australian Veterinary Association is to “prioritise kittens and delay adult boosters if possible.”

For more information check out this paper developed by the expert working group.

To get the latest advice about your own situation, contact your vet.

Kittens get priority in the face of vaccine shortage Read More »

Three ways to tell if your cat is the right weight

fat cat sitting on bathroom scales

Cats vary so much across and within breeds and between male and female that it is impossible to give a definitive weight for any given cat.

Your vet will use the Body Condition Score (BCS). The BCS is a scale ranging from 1 to 9, where 1 indicates a severely underweight cat, while 9 suggests obesity.

The ideal range for most cats is typically between 4 and 5, where the cat has a well-proportioned body without an excessive, layer of fat.

Fortunately, you can monitor your cat’ s condition by assessing three key areas of the cat’s body:


Run your hands along your cat’s sides. In a cat with a healthy BCS, you should be able to feel the ribs without pressing too hard. If the ribs and spine are easily felt or are visible, the cat might be underweight, while difficulty feeling the ribs suggests overweight.


View your cat from above. A cat with an ideal BCS will have a discernible waistline between the ribcage and hips. A lack of a defined waistline could indicate excess weight.


Examine your cat’s belly. A cat with a healthy BCS will have a slight tuck-up in the abdomen. An overweight cat may have a rounded or sagging belly, while an underweight cat may have a visible tuck-up.

What does this mean?

Being underweight in a cat that is properly nourished and free from stress can indicate a variety of serious health conditions such as parasites and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes, dental issues, kidney disease and cancer so you should consult your vet.

Being overweight can bring on a long list of serious conditions:

diabetes – Excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, making it more challenging for the body to regulate blood sugar levels.

increased stress on a cat’s joints, which can lead to arthritis and decreased mobility. Joint problems can result in pain and a reduced quality of life for the cat.

increased risk of heart disease – The heart has to work harder to pump blood through the additional body fat, leading to potential cardiovascular issues.

difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity. This can contribute to respiratory issues and compromise their overall lung function.

Fatty Liver Disease (hepatic lipidosis) a serious liver disorder that can occur when the body breaks down fat stores too rapidly.

compromised immune system, making overweight cats more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

urinary tract problems, including urinary tract infections and a condition called feline lower urinary tract disease.

digestive problems in cats, including constipation and an increased risk of developing hairballs.

What to do with an overweight cat

 If your cat is severely overweight, consult with your vet. They can assess your cat’s overall health, determine an appropriate target weight, and provide tailored advice. They may recommend transitioning your cat to a nutritionally balanced, high-quality cat food formulated for weight management.

 If your cat is tending towards becoming overweight, this can be headed off with a regime of eat less – move more.

Eat less

Instead of free-feeding, establish a consistent meal-feeding schedule. Portion control is crucial. Divide the daily food allowance into several small meals throughout the day.

Reduce treats or substitute for healthier alternatives.

Be gradual, crash diets can actually bring on fatty liver disease, a serious condition.

 Move more

Encourage your cat to work for their food by using interactive feeders or puzzle toys. This not only provides mental stimulation but also slows down their eating, helping them feel more satisfied.

Engage your cat in regular play sessions using toys that encourage movement. Interactive toys, laser pointers, feather wands, and climbing structures can all promote physical activity. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of play.

Enrich your cat’s environment with scratching posts, climbing structures, and window perches. This provides mental stimulation and encourages natural behaviours, contributing to overall well-being.

This article is for general advice only and if in any doubts about your cat’s health, check in with your vet.

But, with a some careful observation and, perhaps, a little tough love, you can see your cat on the right weight track.

The research and education work of the Feline Health Research Fund in entirely supported by cat loving organisations and individuals.  Your support would be appreciated.

Three ways to tell if your cat is the right weight Read More »

Could you feed your cat on a vegan diet?

Increasing numbers of people are making the shift to vegetarian or vegan diets for health, cost or animal kindness reasons or to decrease the burden on our planet.

But is it safe, healthy and practical to take your domestic cat down the vegan path?

The short answer is maybe, but go carefully.

Cats are carnivores. Their bodies have evolved to thrive on a diet primarily composed of animal-based proteins and the other nutrients associated with meat. While humans can adapt to various diets, cats have specific nutritional requirements that make a vegetarian or vegan diet potentially risky.


Unlike dogs, cats cannot efficiently synthesise essential nutrients like taurine and vitamin A from plant sources alone. Taurine deficiency, for instance, can lead to severe health issues, including heart problems and vision impairments. To address this, commercial vegetarian and vegan cat foods are often supplemented with synthetic nutrients.


Cats require high-quality protein, and the amino acids in animal proteins are essential for their overall well-being. Protein deficiency can lead to muscle wasting and other health complications. Additionally, cats need certain fats found in animal tissues for energy and the maintenance of a healthy coat.


Transitioning a cat to a vegetarian or vegan diet can be difficult. Their preferences are strongly inclined towards meat. Some cats may outright reject plant-based foods, leading to potential malnutrition. Owners may also face difficulties in sourcing and preparing balanced vegetarian or vegan meals for their pets. There might also be laws in your area that have something to say about feeding a suitable and adequate diet to animals in your care.

What does the science say?

A recent review showed there was not much high quality research and the conclusions were sometimes contradictory. They concluded

…there is little evidence of adverse effects arising in dogs and cats on vegan diets…some of the evidence on adverse health impacts is contradicted in other studies…there is some evidence of benefits, particularly arising from guardians’ perceptions of the diets…a cautious approach is recommended. If guardians wish to implement a vegan diet, it is recommended that commercial foods are used.1

Four takeouts
  1. Talk to your vet before making major dietary changes

  2. Use commercially prepared vegan foods formulated to meet cats’s dietary needs

  3. Monitor your own cat for signs of food rejection or dietary deficiencies

  4. Accept that, for some cats, it may be possible to incorporate only limited plant-based ingredients without risking the cat’s health.

1The Impact of Vegan Diets on Indicators of Health in Dogs and Cats: A Systematic Review Adriana Domínguez-Oliva, Daniel Mota-Rojas, Ines Semendric and Alexandra L. Whittaker

Could you feed your cat on a vegan diet? Read More »

Feline health grants for 2023 are now open

This is our Secretary’s cat Lily to let you know that applications for this year’s Feline Health Research Fund grants are now open.

The Feline Health Research Fund each year calls for relevant research proposals from scientists, veterinarians and post-graduate students from Australian universities and research institutes.

Thanks to the work of these scientists, vets and post-graduate students our domestic cats, like Lily, will live longer and healthier lives.

Find out more about the grants by visiting the FHRF Grants Page.

This round closes on Friday 1 September 2023.

Grants are solely funded by donations and bequests from individual cat lovers and organisations devoted to cat welfare. Find out how you can support this work by visiting the Support Feline Health Page.

Please feel free to forward this information to colleagues and associates with an interest in feline health research.

Happy International Cat Day!


Feline health grants for 2023 are now open Read More »

Your quick guide to cat vaccination

picuture of cat with syringe

Common vaccinations provide protection from major cat diseases such as enteritis (feline panleukopaenia) and cat flu (feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus). Vaccinations are usually given by an injection under the skin, and they are designed to provide protection against specific infectious diseases. This vaccination combination is commonly known as the F3 vaccination. Cats with an unknown vaccination history and all kittens should be vaccinated.

Kitten vaccination starts when they are 6 to 8 weeks of age. Kittens require a series of vaccinations, every 2 to 4 weeks until they are around 16 weeks of age. If an adult feline has an unknown vaccination history or is having vaccinations for the first time, they will usually require two injections around 3 to 4 weeks apart.

Currently, first-year kitten vaccines will cost you $170 to $200 and average annual cat vaccines are between $60 to $80 for the F3 vaccine.

While vaccinations are generally safe, some cats may experience mild side effects such as temporary soreness at the injection site or slight lethargy. Serious adverse reactions are rare but can occur. Monitor your cat after vaccination and inform your vet if you notice any concerning symptoms.

There are two types of vaccines, sometimes referred to as core and non-core. Core vaccines are those that all unvaccinated cats and cats with an unknown vaccination history should receive to protect them against key diseases. This is the the F3 vaccination.

Non-core vaccines are those that should only be given to cats in specific risk categories based on an individual assessment, lifestyle, and risk of exposure to the infection of the individual cat. Examples of non-core vaccines include those for feline leukaemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and Chlamydia felis.

It’s worthwhile to consult with your vet who can provide guidance tailored to your cat’s specific needs. They will consider factors such as your cat’s age, lifestyle, and overall health to determine the most appropriate vaccination protocol.

Deciding on whether it is worth vaccination beyond the F3 can depend on factors like location and lifestyle. For example FeLV and FIV are more common in Western Australia. Diseases can enter the cat’s system via bodily fluids or injection into the bloodstream via bites so if your cat roams freely they are more prone to contracting FeLV and FIV.

Cats entering your household with an unknown vaccination history should be considered a risk and they, and your other cats, should be vaccinated accordingly.

There are other benefits too. Some local councils and boarding facilities may require proof of vaccination before admitting cats so keeping your cat’s vaccinations up to date will make sure you have the necessary documentation when needed.

Vaccination not only protects your cat but also contributes to all of our efforts to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. It helps maintain herd immunity and protects vulnerable cats that may be unable to receive vaccines due to health reasons.

Here are some resources with more detailed information that you might find useful.

What vaccinations should my cat receive? – RSPCA Knowledge base

Cost of Cat Vaccinations in Australia – Forbes Advisor Australia


Your quick guide to cat vaccination Read More »

Can my cat get asthma?

You bet! Cats have thousands of tiny airways in their lungs that extract oxygen from the air.  Like us, those airways can become obstructed causing shortness of breath, distress and even death.


The most obvious and immediate of symptom of asthma is difficulty in breathing. You may notice a wheezing or a high-pitched whistling sound that is caused by a narrowing of the airways. You may notice short, shallow breathing or a hacking cough, especially after exercise.  In the longer term, you may also notice a general decline in energy and a loss of appetite.  In severe cases you may observe a bluish tint to their gums and tongue due to a lack of oxygen. In this situation it is essential to get your cat to the vet immediately.


One of the most common causes of asthma in is exposure to environmental allergens such as dust, pollen, and mould. These can trigger an allergic reaction, causing inflammation and closing of the airways.

Genetics may also have a role. Some breeds of cats, such as Siamese and Himalayans, may be more predisposed to developing asthma and cats that have a family history of asthma may be more at risk too.

If you cat has become stressed by moving to a new home, by the addition of a new pet or family member, or changes in their routine, this can trigger asthma symptoms.

If your cat is overweight, this can put added stress on the respiratory system, making it more difficult for them to breathe and potentially contributing to the development of asthma.

Diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis of asthma in cats will, typically, involve a physical exam by a vet, blood tests, and x-rays or ultrasound. Treatments may include medications that open the airways (bronchodilators) and corticosteroids that reduce the inflammation.

Other solutions

The best long-term solution may be identifying and removing the causes in the cat’s environment. The list of likely candidates will be familiar to human asthma sufferers.  They include cigarette and wood smoke, cleaning products, scented aerosols, perfume, pollen, mould, grass and dust mites.

A trip to your vet to check out your cat’s breathing problems might also eliminate other potential causes of lung issues such as food allergies, parasitic infections, heartworm and bacterial infections.

As always, watching out for any obvious changes in your cat’s usual behaviour is your best alert that something might be amiss. Take a careful note of what you are seeing and report it to your vet.

If you’d like to find out more about feline asthma, have a look at this page from Cat Health.com

If you found this post useful, you might like to encourage your friends to sign up for this free cat health bulletin by the link on our front page.  No spam, no advertising – ever.

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FIP is no longer a death sentence

Feline coronavirus is common in cats and shares that scary name with COVID-19.  Fortunately it doesn’t affect humans and causes negligible, if any, symptoms in cats aside from mild diarrhoea.

But when the feline coronavirus changes to a specific strain of the coronavirus, Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) can develop. In about 10 percent of cats infected, the virus will multiply and mutate, resulting in an FIP virus infection that spreads throughout the cat’s body. It can cause an extreme inflammatory reaction in the tissues surrounding the abdomen, chest, kidney, eyes or brain.

Until recently, a diagnosis of FIP was a death sentence for a feline patient. But that notion has been turned on its head over the last few years as new methods of diagnosis and treatment have been developed.

Now veterinarians are in a position to successfully treat 80 percent or more of cats with FIP. But the treatment can be expensive.

Over the last year, successful treatments have made use of injections of the COVID-19 treatment drug remdesivir (GS 5734) and an antiviral drug GS 441524.

The manufacturer that developed GS-441524, has not developed the drug for use in cats so various laboratories in China and eastern Europe started manufacturing GS-441524 and selling it on the black-market.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, Vet Boards and Border Force have made it difficult to import GS-441524. Vets who made use of the black-market drugs to treat FIP were warned off.

Fortunately it is legal for the drug to be compounded for cats by a compounding pharmacy. The company BOVA Australia is compounding GS441524 in tuna-flavoured tablets.

A less expensive option, mefloquine (commercial name Lariam) is a human antimalarial drug that has antiviral affects and has been used to treat FIP. In several cats where owners were unable to afford a full course of remdesivir, mefloquine has achieved a clinical cure.

The search for cheaper and easier remedies for FIP goes on. Sydney University PhD student, Sally Coggins, is studying these drugs for the treatment of FIP, making use of data from Australian vets who are treating FIP cases in their practices.

For more detailed information read this article on a current treatment protocol. 

Although treatments can be expensive, the situation continues to evolve.  As we usually recommend, early detection and following the advice of your vet is the best course.

FIP is no longer a death sentence Read More »