Only 47% of cat owners took their cat to the veterinarian in 2016, compared with 79% of dog owners, according to the 2017-2018 American Veterinary Medical Association Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook. In the same year, less than half of cat owners took their pet to the veterinarian for routine or preventive health care, compared with almost 80% of dog owners.
Cat owners often assume that cats are not at risk for diseases because they don’t go outdoors or tag along on family outings. Unfortunately, people and other pets can bring pathogens and parasites into your home that can infect your cat, and many diseases aren’t caught from other animals or the environment. Cats have as many health problems as dogs, but are masterful at hiding clinical signs until they are seriously ill. Therefore, routine veterinary care for cats is critical to prevent many diseases and to detect others in their early stages, when treatment may be possible.
Vaccination for your cat
Every cat should receive vaccines for common feline diseases—preventing deadly diseases is much easier than trying to treat them once they develop. Ideally, kitten vaccines should be given at 6 weeks of age, and repeated every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age for immune system development. After the initial series, booster vaccines should be administered to adult cats every 12 months. If you adopt an adult cat with an unknown vaccine history, we will typically need only two vaccines to bring her up to date and ensure she is protected. Diseases feline vaccines protect against include:
- Feline viral rhinotracheitis
- Chlamydia psittaci
Parasite prevention for your cat
Your cat may not go outdoors, but a number of parasites can still be transmitted to indoor pets. Some parasites live on your pet’s fur and skin, while others can live inside her body. External parasites include fleas and ticks. If your cat is an only pet who does not go outside, or if no other household animals go outside, she is at low risk of becoming infested with these pesky parasites. If other pets go outside, however, they can bring these hitchhikers into your home. Cats who go outdoors, and those who live with other pets who go outdoors, should receive a monthly flea and tick medication to prevent infestation.
Internal parasites that can infect your cat include:
Your cat can be exposed to intestinal parasites if she contacts feces from an infected animal or drinks from a contaminated water source, such as a puddle, pond, or lake. Heartworms, which live in the heart and lung vessels, can be transmitted to cats through a mosquito bite. Many of the monthly medications available for heartworm prevention also protect your cat against common intestinal parasites.
Castration or ovariohysterectomy for your cat
Spaying or neutering your cat at the right age has a number of benefits. Sterilization reduces the unwanted pet population, prevents some behavioral problems, and decreases reproductive-related diseases, such as mammary cancer. Most cats should be spayed or neutered at around 6 months of age before they go into heat. Neutering male cats before this age may increase the likelihood of future urinary problems, and should be avoided.
Regular wellness visits for your cat
Every cat should visit our veterinary team at least yearly for a routine wellness exam. In addition to receiving vaccine boosters, we will perform a thorough physical exam to evaluate your cat’s body systems and check for illness signs that are not obvious. Cats are at risk of developing many systemic diseases, including:
- Kidney failure
- Heart disease
- Urinary problems
- Liver disease
During your cat’s wellness visit, we will also perform a fecal analysis to screen for intestinal parasites, and a blood test to check for heartworms. We may prescribe other tests, based on our physical exam findings. The veterinarian will discuss any medical, behavioral, or nutritional concerns you may have about your pet.
Senior care for your cat
Once your cat is 8 years old, she is considered geriatric, and her disease risk increases. Wellness visits should increase to every six months at this point to screen for diseases your cat may be hiding, because cats often show no external illness signs until a disease has advanced to a stage that is difficult to treat. During your cat’s senior wellness visits, our team will perform routine blood work to evaluate organ function and screen for silent diseases. Unfortunately, many diseases go undiagnosed during their early stages, when treatment could be helpful, so regular wellness exams, especially for senior pets, are critical.
Many cats develop arthritis as they age. Decreased activity and irritability that many owners attribute to normal aging changes are actually caused by inflammation and pain that is treatable. We will evaluate your senior pet for discomfort that may indicate arthritis, and may need to take X-rays for a diagnosis. If your cat does have arthritis, pain medications can often be prescribed to make her more comfortable and increase her activity level.
If you have questions about your cat’s health care, or need to schedule an appointment for her wellness visit, contact us.