According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), cats are America’s most popular pet, yet dogs visit the veterinarian about twice as often as cats. Many cat owners surveyed felt that vet visits were stressful, and that cats are self-sufficient and don’t need preventive care. This perception may stem from the fact that cats are excellent at hiding pain and illness, but they do require regular veterinary care to keep them healthy. Palisades Veterinary Hospital follows AAHA’s feline life-stage guidelines, and recommends annual exams for all cats up to age 10, and twice yearly exams thereafter. Following are the reasons why your cat’s annual exam is vitally important to their health.
#1: Cat early disease detection
Chronic disease can sneak up on your cat at any age, and early signs are often difficult to detect without your veterinarian’s help. Subtle changes can be found on physical examination that, combined with routine blood and urine testing, may diagnose a health problem before your cat shows obvious signs. Most health conditions in cats are easier to manage and will have a more successful outcome when treatment starts in the early disease stages, rather than waiting until significant damage has occurred. For example, in chronic kidney disease, you won’t see outward illness signs until around 75% of function has been lost, but lab tests can detect disease long before this occurs, and treatment can begin early.
Common diseases in cats that can be detected with a good physical exam, complete history, and appropriate workup include cardiomyopathy (i.e., heart disease), inflammatory bowel disease, feline asthma, chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, urinary tract disease, diabetes, dental disease, arthritis, and cancer.
#2: Cat disease prevention through vaccines
Whether your cat lives indoors or out, vaccines are key to their overall health. Vaccinations protect your cat from serious diseases that have no effective treatments, including rabies, whose vaccinations are required by law. Your veterinarian will assess your cat’s lifestyle and vaccine schedule at each annual visit, and let you know if boosters are due.
#3: Cat parasite control
Fleas and ticks can be a nuisance for your cat, but they also carry deadly illnesses such as tularemia, cytauxzoonosis, and plague. Some cat diseases caused by fleas and ticks can also be transmitted to humans, so preventing parasites will keep your whole family safe. Intestinal parasites and heartworms are also preventable threats to your cat’s health. Your cat’s annual exam is the best time for your veterinarian to evaluate their parasite risk, run appropriate blood and stool screening tests, and recommend the best prevention products.
#4: Cat dental health assessment
Most pets older than 3 have dental disease, and the incidence increases with age. Cats develop a special type of dental lesion called a feline oral resorptive lesion (FORL), a painful inflammatory condition that causes teeth to slowly break down as the body dissolves and absorbs the root. FORLs can be identified on a routine veterinary exam, and your veterinarian will likely recommend a dental cleaning and extraction of the affected teeth. Remember that cats are excellent pain-hiders, so they may continue to eat and act normally, despite suffering a great deal of oral pain.
#5: Cat nutrition and weight assessment
About half of adult cats are overweight, and most pet owners either don’t recognize that their pet needs to lose weight, or don’t know how to manage the problem. Extra weight increases your cat’s chances for developing diabetes, or heart, lung, or kidney disease, so weight control is important. Each annual exam at Palisades Veterinary Hospital includes a nutrition and weight assessment, and your veterinarian can discuss diet or lifestyle changes to help your pet lose weight.
#6: Cat behavioral health assessment
Cats are complex creatures whom we still don’t completely understand. We do know that cats need enrichment to lead happy lives, and may develop behavior problems if their individual needs aren’t met. Most cats need opportunities to scratch and mark, play, forage or hunt, and explore their territory. Your cat’s annual exam offers your veterinarian the chance to assess your cat’s behavioral needs and help you meet them, especially if your cat lives indoors. They can also address new behavior problems, such as inappropriate elimination, vocalizing, or relationship issues with other pets, and help you determine if they have an underlying physical cause.
Your cat is an important family member, so protect their health by bringing them to our veterinarian at least once per year. We are experienced in feline care, and can give you tips to reduce your cat’s stress for their visit. If your cat’s last visit was a while ago, call us to schedule an appointment with your AAHA-accredited Palisades Veterinary Hospital team.