Your cat is young and healthy, or even older but seems perfectly fine. Do you really need to take her to the vet, even if nothing is wrong? The answer is a resounding yes, and here’s why: Catching a problem early is the best chance you have for keeping your cat happy and healthy well into old age.
You visit your doctor once a year for a check-up, and your cat needs to do the same. When you see your doctor each year, she exams you, and orders blood work and other tests that are appropriate for your situation. Your cat’s veterinarian does the same for his feline patients.
An annual veterinary checkup is crucially important for cats for another important reason: Cats are good at hiding their problems. You’ve no doubt heard how stoic cats can be. This is most true when they aren’t feeling 100 percent. Your cat may have a health issue and be hiding it. You may have no idea your cat is ailing unless your vet takes a close look.
What to Expect
So what exactly will your vet be checking for when you take your cat in for a wellness exam? Whether your cat is a kitten or a senior, the exam will include the following:
- A weight, temperature, pulse and respiration check, usually performed by a veterinary technician. The readings are noted by the technician and then provided to the veterinarian.
- An examination of the nose and inside of the mouth, including the condition of your cat’s teeth. The vet will check for missing or loose teeth, gum disease, tartar build-up and infection.
- An examination of your cat’s ears using an instrument called an otoscope, which allows the veterinarian to look deep into the ear. The vet is checking for bacterial or parasitic infections.
- An examination of your cat’s eyes with an opthtlamoscope to looks for retina issues and any indications of sight loss. The vet will also examine the outside of the eye for discharge and eyelid problems.
- A close look at your cat’s fur and skin. A thorough examination will include a search for fleas and ticks, and any type of skin infection.
- An examination of your cat’s internal organs, conducted through palpation. Your vet will feel your cat’s abdomen to make sure the intestines, liver, spleen and kidney are normal shape and size. If your cat is a female, the vet will also check the underside of the abdomen to make sure the mammary glands feel normal.
- Palpation of your cat’s neck area to make sure the thyroid glands are normal in size.
After (or during) the physical exam, your veterinarian will discuss your cat’s habits with you. He will ask about your cat’s appetite, what you are feeding her, and whether she has normal bowel movements or diarrhea. He will also ask about your cat’s vaccine status.
Based on your answers to these questions and what the vet discovered during the exam, he will make recommendations for diet changes, if necessary. He will also suggest vaccines that are necessary for your cat based on your cat’s lifestyle (indoors or outdoors) and age.
If the physical exam revealed a possible issue with your cat’s health, the vet will likely suggest tests to help him determine an exact diagnosis and treatment plan. If the vet found signs of gum disease or tartar build-up during the oral exam, he will likely recommend a dental cleaning for your cat.
If your cat is above the age of 10 years old, your veterinary team will likely advise you to get a senior blood panel and urinalysis. The blood test will include a thyroid panel, along with a complete blood count and biochemistry profile. The results will indicate the health of your cat’s vital organs, including her heart, liver and kidneys. The urinalysis will show the health of your cat’s bladder and kidneys, and can detect diabetes.
If you are thinking this all sounds like a good way to keep your cat healthy, you are right. But trips to the vet can also be stressful for cats. Unlike most dogs, cats don’t appreciate drastic changes in their environment. Being placed in a carrier, loaded into the car and transported to a strange smelling place with a lot of unfamiliar people can be a cat’s worst nightmare. Fortunately, you can do a lot to make this experience less traumatic for your cat.
You’ll need to start a desensitizing process a few weeks before your cat’s vet visit. The first trauma for many cats is being stuffed into a carrier. Letting your cat get used to the carrier—and even learn to like it—can go a long way toward reducing your cat’s stress.
Start by leaving the carrier out where your cat can see it. If your cat already associates carriers with a traumatic visit to the vet, she may run and hide the minute she sees it. Leave it out and give her a few days to get used to it. She will soon discover that it is harmless.
Once your cat starts ignoring the carrier, it’s time to make it into a good square. Get some of your cat’s favorite treats and place them inside the carrier, just near the door. The goal is to get your cat to eat the treats while just poking her head inside.
Each day, gradually move the treats farther into the carrier. Your eventually want your cat to go all the way inside the carrier to get the treats. This will take days or even weeks, depending on your cat’s fear level. If you move the treats to a certain point in the carrier and your cat refuses to go in, go back to the previous step. Stay at this point for a few days, and then try to move the treats farther inside.
Next, start feeding your cat her meals in the carrier. You want her to willingly go inside the carrier to get her food, and to stay there while she eats. Once you have achieved several days of this, you can start closing the carrier door for short periods of time.
When you first start closing the carrier door, leave it shut for only a few minutes at a time. Don’t latch the door at this stage. You want your cat to feel like she can leave the carrier whenever she wants to.
Gradually leave the door closed for longer and longer periods of time. If you are patient and go very slow, you’ll eventually have a cat who is completely comfortable with the carrier.
Once you’ve reached this milestone, you can start taking your cat for short rides in the car. The first ride should only be 5 minutes long, just around the block. Gradually increase this over a period of time. Eventually your cat will think riding in the car is no big deal—and doesn’t always end at the vet’s office!
Eventually, the day will come for your cat’s appointment. Just know that once you arrive at the vet’s office, all bets are off. The smells and sounds of the waiting room alone are bound to stress out your cat. You can do a few things to help ease her anxiety, like covering the carrier with a towel so she can’t see out of it. Also be sure to sit far away from any dogs in the waiting room. Even if your cat lives with a dog, strange dogs at the vet’s office are still pretty scary.
When you get called into the exam room, talk to your cat and let her know everything is okay. Maintaining a calm and soothing voice throughout your entire visit will help your cat feel more secure. Having your cat examined on a yearly basis is one of the most important actions you can take to keep her happy and healthy. Your veterinarian’s office will likely send you a reminder when it’s time for your cat’s annual visit. Be sure to pay attention to that reminder and make the appointment. Both you and your cat will be glad you did.