As Benjamin Franklin put it, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is no truer than when it comes to looking after your cat. And in this case, prevention means scheduling and sticking to routine visits to your friendly local vet! The reasons they're so important are both obvious and not so obvious. For example, you probably know that you need to stick to a schedule to monitor weight gain or loss. But did you know that cats are tough wee cookies and could be in a lot of pain without giving much away? Or that their little razor teeth can be in dire need of intervention, despite a healthy appetite?
Cats can have as many issues with their health as us, and they’re aging at a lot quicker speed! You’d almost certainly need medical care at least once every few years, right? Well, for them, that’s a very long time indeed, lifespan-wise! All this is not to mention the financial cost of emergency care, or emotional cost of heartbreak if something serious is unnoticed and left untreated.
Knowing the importance of your routine check-ups is the first step to keeping your kitty in purrfect shape!
Just like a child would have a vaccination schedule, and an elderly person would visit a doctor more regularly than a 20-year-old, so it is with cats. Cats need different care at their different stages of life.
An adult cat should be booked in for a visit annually. And this means when they’re well and not counting emergency visits. After all, it’s hard to get a good picture of overall health when there’s a more urgent issue at the forefront of the appointment.
For the regal elderly kitties, twice a year is the recommended baseline. Remembering the idea of ‘cat years’, this can be from around 8 years old. Your vet can give you guidance here, as different breeds or individuals can have different needs. Hopefully, they’re good at car trips by now!
For the adorable little balls of fluff that are kittens, you’ll need to sort out a vaccination schedule for nasties like FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), Cat Flu, and Panleukopenia (AKA Feline Distemper). Starting from 6-8 weeks, there are a few ‘core’ vaccinations that your kitten will need three rounds of, around four weeks apart. These pediatric appointments are also when the vet will check that they’re putting on enough weight, and ask a broad range of questions to help you get their treatments and training on track for life.
There’s a whole lot more that goes on in a vet exam than that meets the untrained eye, so here’s what your vet is up to:
Your vet will ask you a number of questions about your cat’s diet, exercise, and behavior. These are the stepping stones from which the vet knows the next path to follow. Since your fur baby can’t talk, it’s relying on you to give as detailed and honest information as possible. Offer information if you’re not asked. And if you have skipped a worming tablet or two, ‘fess up! No judgment, but the vet needs the clearest picture possible to guide their diagnosis. There will probably be a few queries into your set up at home. These are to establish the environment the cat is living in, including any possible sources of stress. Over a number of visits, a solid picture of your cat’s habits and history is built and patterns noticed. The questions can also help you have a ‘Now that you mention it…’ moment where you notice irregularities yourself.
During this section, your vet will check over your cat thoroughly, on the look-out (or feel-out) for a range of signs. It looks like a good poking and prodding while they check things like heart rate and rhythm, muscle tone, skin and coat condition, eyes and ears, joints and spine. They will have a good feel of the abdomen to make sure organs feel the right size and shape, and for any signs of tenderness. Dental health is another big part, and kitty’s mouth, teeth, and gums will be inspected. Cats will likely need a professional clean of their pearly whites every now and then, even if they’re being looked after at home. There are problem-causing parts under the gum-line that we just can’t get at with a brush. Your kitty will also be weighed so any gains or losses can be charted, and action taken, if needed. The vet will also be noting the cat's demeanor and behavior, checking for things like alertness or excessive anxiety.
At the end of the exam, you and your vet will discuss a care plan for your puss, including any changes to diet or lifestyle that may be necessary. Adult cats have vaccination schedules to stick to too, so these can be given and recorded. There may be prescriptions that need filling, or a preventative treatment plan to update. You can ask your vet to demonstrate the correct way to administer any medications if you’re not certain, just to be sure you’re doing it right!
Some of the stuff you see the vet for is based around stopping them from getting sick. Of these, there are some you can help with at home, and one you really can’t…
Flea, tick, and worm treatments are easy enough to do at home. You just need to know the recommended schedule and keep to it. Some of these will be ‘spot’ treatments, applied externally, and some will need to be taken orally. Geography can dictate necessity, so your vet can help you arrange a plan, relevant to your area, to keep your cat healthy. They can also show you the best, hopefully, scratch-free way to give your cat its medicine. As most cat parents know, getting puss to take a pill is not an easy task!
You can book your spay or neuter during the kitten check-ups we discussed earlier. This usually happens when kitty is between 4-6 months old. If there's any chance your male kitty can sneak out during these young months, I'd recommend getting him fixed around month 4 or 5...so he doesn't sneak out and unknowingly increase the cat population in your area! These are routine operations that your vet will likely have performed hundreds of, and help to keep your cat healthier and happier throughout life. They help prevent risky wandering as an adult, reduce aggression and urine spraying in males, and wildly decrease the chances of certain common types of cancer, like breast, uterine and testicular.
It’s a no-brainer that your cat needs medical attention when it’s sick. The next step is getting it routine check-ups when it’s well, to keep it that way. Good nutrition, plenty of exercise, a safe environment, regular health checks, and lots of love. It’s a pretty simple checklist for a pretty good life. Your cat will thank you for it… or let you boop its adorable nose, same thing!