Is it once a year for their annual vaccination or do you visit only if they get sick? Or do you have an older cat and visit at least twice a year?
The truth is annual health checks are an important part of keeping your cat healthy. And it’s not just about preventative care such as deworming and vaccinations (important as these are) but about spotting problems in the early stages, because early intervention extends life.
But, you say, “I know my cat and I know when they’re not right. Then I’d be at the vet’s doorstep faster than you can say “Cute kitten.” The trouble with this approach, however well-intentioned, is that when you’re with your pet every day it’s easy to miss subtle clues that something is wrong.
Think of Your Vet as a Detective
OK, let’s say your cat is slowly losing weight. It happens so gradually that you don’t notice their tummy is less rounded (or if you do, you’re secretly pleased your cat has shed those pounds the vet nagged you about.)
At their annual check-up the vet weighs your cat. Last year they weighed 5 kg (11 lbs), this year they’re 4.5 kg (9.9 lbs). Your cat is still a respectable size and not “thin”, but that half-a-kilo actually represents a loss of 10% of your cat’s body weight.
If this doesn’t mean much to you, think of it in human terms. It’s equivalent to a 80 kg (176 lbs) person losing 8 kg (17.6 lbs), which if you’re not on a diet, means something is wrong. How hard is it to lose weight? Very!! Weight loss on this scale doesn’t happen for no reason.
The point is: Subtle changes may be significant.
The detective part comes in because the vet now looks for problems that can cause weight loss, including bad teeth, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, overactive thyroid glands, parasites, and behavioural problems. The vet will feel your cat’s tummy carefully to check for lumps and bumps, and if that’s normal perhaps suggest blood or urine tests.
Remember, problems that are detected early are easier to cure, control, or slow down the progression.
An annual health check allows the vet to trouble shoot for problems such as sore teeth or stiff joints. Cats are masters at hiding discomfort but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer the soreness of arthritis. The annual check-up is a great opportunity for someone objective to watch how your cat moves and check their joints, to see if supplements or medications are needed.
Even if your cat gets a clean bill of health (and hopefully they do) the trip is not wasted. The vet builds up a database of information about what’s normal for your pet. For example they’ll record your cat’s heart and respiratory rate, their weight, and body condition. This is an important reference in case your cat develops a heart murmur or breathing difficulties sometime in the future.
That annual check-up is an important trip, even for a healthy animal, because it’s a chance to ensure you are up to date with preventative healthcare and check that:
- vaccinations are current
- their microchip is working
- they have adequate parasite control in place
- deworming is up to date
- vital signs are recorded.
It also gives your cat and your vet a chance to get better acquainted. If you only ever visit when your cat is sick, they’ll associate the vet clinic with injections and pain. Also, if you see the same vet regularly, they become more familiar with your cat which makes it easier to spot when they’re not quite right.
Check Ups for Older Cats
If you thought once a year was frequent, then you may be surprised by the recommendation that older cats should be checked at least twice a year. This is because senior cats are at greater risk of common problems such as kidney disease (one in two cats over the age of 15) and high blood pressure.
Things change more quickly in an older cat and 12 months is simply too long between checks. Indeed, their visits could do with being more in-depth and include basic blood tests, urine analysis, and blood pressure measurements.
Get the Most Out of the Check Up
To get the most out of the check up, watch your cat closely for a few days beforehand. Notice how they cope jumping up onto a favourite window ledge, and if there is any stiffness or loss of agility. If so, mention this to your vet, who can pay extra attention.
Watch your cat eating. Have they become fussy, preferring canned food over dry, or are they a messy eater, scattering food over the floor. These can be signs of dental discomfort, and relevant if your vet suspects your cat needs dental attention.
What about your cat’s litter box habits? Do you find yourself scooping out more wets puddles than previously – an indication your cat is drinking more. And, how often are you filling up the water bowl? Increased thirst is a warning sign of several health problems that respond well to early intervention, so it’s well worth mentioning this to your vet.
Does your cat behave normally, or have they become hyperactive or lethargic. Again, this is information your vet will be keen to hear.
And lastly, if you want to go to the top of the class about being proactive about your cat’s health, collect a sample of their urine. This ‘liquid gold’ gives your vet important information about your cat’s general health, including kidney function, and can help confirm or rule out diabetes.
How often do you take your cat to the vet for a check up? Is is yearly, or more or less often? We’d love to hear your views.