Cats have nine lives, so we don’t really need to worry about them, right? Wrong. While felines are known for their resiliency and independence, they still rely on us for their basic needs. And, since cats are experts at hiding pain and illness, regular veterinary care is essential for catching diseases early, preventing avoidable issues, and keeping your cat feeling their best. If you are lucky enough to share your home with a beloved feline friend, refer to the following guide—you may find you had some of the same questions.

Question: My cat seems healthy, so why do I need to bring them to the veterinarian?

Answer: This is a common question from cat owners. After all, veterinarians are meant to treat sick pets, right? Yes, but one essential part of our job is preventive care, which has nothing to do with treating illness, and everything to do with making sure your pet doesn’t get sick. As a pet owner, wouldn’t you rather help your pet avoid sickness? Preventive care involves annual or bi-annual examinations, regular immunizations, and laboratory tests, depending on your cat’s lifestyle and any underlying conditions. You may be surprised that routine lab work often suggests pre-diabetes or early kidney disease, two conditions that can be slowed or prevented with early intervention. Annual checkups also give our veterinary team the opportunity to discuss your pet’s diet, behavior, and weight, and provide recommendations for improvement.

Q: Does my cat really need parasite prevention?

A: Parasite prevention is a means of treating and avoiding small organisms that feed off your pet’s blood or tissues. Parasites can be external, such as fleas, ticks, lice, mites, and mosquitoes, or internal, such as roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, and heartworms. All these pests are a nuisance, many carry diseases, and some cause internal bleeding or respiratory problems. Additionally, many parasites are transmissible to humans, and are a pain to get rid of once they’ve invaded the home. Any domestic cat who spends time outdoors should receive routine parasite prevention to avoid these unpleasant scenarios. And, indoor cats? Cats who never step outside can fall victim to pesky blood-suckers that hitch a ride on a human or canine family member who returns inside. Don’t risk your cat’s health—or the bothersome cleanup—and keep your pet on regular prevention medication. Many broad-spectrum products are available, and our veterinary team can help you choose the right one for your furry friend. 

Q: What common health conditions should I monitor in my cat at home?

A: The feline species has a tendency to conceal signs or behaviors that may suggest they are ill, a protective mechanism common in many wild animals to avoid predation. Despite this, we know our cats well, and are attune to their quirks and habits. Keep a watchful eye on your cat’s day-to-day activity so you catch subtle signs that something could be wrong. Here are some red flags:

  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty eating
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation (e.g., outside the litter box)
  • Straining to urinate, or spending more time in the litter box
  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Sneezing and/or nasal or eye discharge
  • Changes in sleep habits (e.g., waking more at night, vocalizing)

The above signs could indicate one of many common conditions in domestic cats, such as:

  • Hyperactive thyroid (i.e., hyperthyroidism)
  • Dental diseases
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Nasopharyngeal polyp
  • Cancer

Q: What type of food should I feed my cat?

A: There are a slew of options when it comes to pet food, and we understand that choosing one can seem daunting. The best food for your cat depends on a variety of factors.

  • Life stage — Choosing a food according to your cat’s life stage is the first rule of thumb. For instance, all kittens should eat a diet formulated specifically for juvenile cats, to ensure they receive the proper nutrient proportion. In general, you can feed this until your kitten reaches 1 year of age, and then transition to adult food. As your cat ages, a senior formula may be a good fit.
  • Reputation — Second, choose a well-known, well-researched brand that has undergone appropriate food trials. All cats benefit from a well-balanced diet, which many reputable commercial foods readily provide.
  • Preference — Third, consider your cat’s attributes and preferences. Are they overweight? Do they stay indoors? Do they have any underlying conditions? Knowing this information can help you and our veterinary team decide the specific foods that may be a good fit. We recommend feeding your cat a combination of dry and wet or canned foods, unless otherwise directed by our veterinarian.

We realize this one blog post may not answer all of your feline-related questions, but our University Veterinary Hospital team is always here for all your questions and concerns, so don’t hesitate to contact us or schedule an appointment for your cat, or to discuss a topic further. In the meantime, this American Animal Hospital Association resource helps pet owners like you understand your feline friends through all their life stages. Remember, regular veterinary care could add years to your cat’s life—isn’t that what it’s all about?