Editor’s note: Today is the first day of 2015, so we’re republishing this post by Dr. Barchas so you can read and comment on it.

As Jan. 1 approaches each year, I am asked what sort of new year’s resolutions I recommend for cat owners. This year is no exception — in fact, my editor at Catster asked me to write about the subject. (I’ve written the same thing for dogs on Dogster.)

1. Improve dental health

If you’ve read the dog article, you saw me rant about tooth brushing and dental disease in dogs. Well, it turns out that dental disease is also by far the most common health problem in cats. So I recommend that cat owners resolve to make 2013 the year that they try to brush their cat’s teeth.

Note that I said try. Almost every dog can be trained to tolerate tooth brushing. Such a claim cannot be made for cats. However, most people are surprised by how many cats will, in fact, allow their teeth to be brushed. The stakes are high. It’s worth trying.

Cats whose teeth aren’t brushed develop bacterial infections on their teeth and in their gums with shocking frequency. Bacterial byproducts (called calculus, also known as tartar) build up on the teeth, and in turn harbor ever larger numbers of bacteria. Over time, the infection causes pain, bad breath, and damage to tooth roots and the bones of the face. Advanced dental disease requires treatment with general anesthesia for scaling, root planing, and often extractions or other advanced periodontal procedures.

This can be largely prevented with tooth brushing.

Most people report good results using a fingertip toothbrush with either no toothpaste or veterinary-specific feline toothpaste. Do not use human toothpaste — it contains fluoride and is not safe to swallow. Some people also have reported success using gauze (with no toothpaste) rather than a toothbrush. The teeth should be brushed gently once daily. Use a circular motion, focusing on the gum line. The outsides of all the teeth should be brushed. Only adults who are comfortable handling their cat’s mouth should perform the procedure, because if it is not done properly there is a risk of being accidentally (or intentionally) bitten.

2. Make (or keep) your cat an indoor pet

If your cat roams around outside, I recommend that you resolve to keep him or her indoors in 2013. I confess that some cats really enjoy going outside — just like some sailors really enjoy getting drunk and going to brothels. Going outside is simply too dangerous to be worth it. Outdoor cats routinely suffer trauma after being struck by cars or attacked by dogs or predators. They get into fights with other cats, whether they want to or not (every neighborhood has its share of bullies who go around picking fights). They can contract FIV/feline AIDS and the feline leukemia virus. The owners of outdoor cats, by the way, can expect to pay far more in veterinary bills than people who keep their cats indoors.

3. Get regular checkups

Speaking of vets, it turns out that a lot of cats don’t go to the vet at all unless they are clearly sick. This is not a good thing for them, and I recommend that you resolve for your cat to get a physical in 2013. Regular physical exams can detect conditions such as dental disease and thyroid disease that are much more treatable when they are caught early. If your cat hates going to the vet, consider using a housecall service. Housecall veterinarians are becoming more common, and they can save you and your cat the stress of the car trip — and the presence of barking dogs.

4. Revisit vaccination schedule

Finally, for those of you at the opposite extreme, I recommend you make 2013 the year that you rethink your cat’s vaccination schedule. A surprising number of cats are still being vaccinated for multiple diseases every year despite current recommndations for triennial vaccination in most cases. Some vaccines have been linked to tumors in cats. Talk to your vet about which vaccines, if any, are appropriate for your cat given age, lifestyle, and geographical location.

Best wishes for a happy new year to all!

Read more on cats and health:

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and your topic might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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