Thursday, February 4, 2016

Your Cat's Annual Veterinary Exam

Your Cat's Annual Veterinary Exam

February is National Cat Health Month, so we're examining all the aspects of keeping our kitties healthy this month!

Many of us dread taking our cats to the vet. It's obvious that they don't like to go. They hide under the bed, in a back corner of the closet, or some other hidey-hole they've found that we haven't discovered yet. When we get them out, they try their best to stay out of the carrier. Once we've treated our injuries with a little first aid, we finally get them in the car and accomplish the deed. After returning home, kitty sulks for a while before finally forgiving us. Pretty much sums it up, right?

But the difficulty involved is no reason to forgo an annual veterinary exam for your cat. Around a third of all cats in the USA don't get an annual visit to their vet. Even if you're doing monthly wellness checks on your cat at home, kitty still needs to be examined by a pro at least once a year. Geriatric cats and those with chronic diseases may need more frequent visits, usually every six months.

Some of us may have financial difficulties that we feel necessitate postponing kitty's wellness visit. But the cost of treating certain diseases or conditions that are left undiscovered can be far beyond what we would have spent on an annual wellness visit. Even researching your cat's condition online is no substitute for the trained opinion of a veterinarian. Scrape together that money from somewhere, and get your cat to the vet!

More Reasons for an Annual Feline Wellness Exam

Even indoor-only cats need an annual wellness exam. Here are several things your vet can do that you can't:
  • Weigh your cat on accurate scales
  • Do an extensive physical exam of your cat with a trained eye and hands, including areas like the anal glands you'd probably rather not explore
  • Taking your cat's temperature, which normally runs from 101-102.5, to check for a potential hidden infection
  • Listen to your cat's heartbeat to check for irregularities
  • Update any outdated vaccinations to protect your cat from disease
  • Pull bloodwork to test for abnormal cells, parasites, sugar balance, and other issues
  • Check for progression of any previously identified health issues
  • Run a urine check to test for healthy renal function
  • Do a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites
  • Handle any indications of dental or gum disease
  • Take X-rays and perform other medical tests requiring specialized equipment
  • Spay or neuter kitty, if this hasn't already been done
  • Prescribe heartworm preventative
  • Monitor the effectiveness of long-term medications
When you visit the vet with your cat, try not to just drop off kitty on the way to work and pick him up at the end of the day. If you're with your cat in the examination room, it not only helps calm kitty, but gives you an opportunity to discuss anything you've observed in your monthly home health checks. Make notes on anything you find during those checks and take that list with you so you can remember to ask the vet about them.

Are Cat Vaccinations Safe?

While there is a growing movement opposing vaccinations, they can save your cat's life. Their benefits far outweigh any negatives about them. Your city or town likely has a law governing rabies vaccinations for pets, including cats. An annual booster for this should be fine; it's the multi-year variety that has been associated with cancerous lesions developing at the injection site. If you're concerned about this, ask that your cat receive the rabies injection in the leg if possible. Most vets have adopted this practice by default.

Every cat should be vaccinated when young with these core vaccines:
  • Feline panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calici virus
  • Rabies
Additional optional vaccinations that could protect your cat from serious illness include:
  • Feline leukemia (FeLV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Ringworm
There has been some debate over the effectiveness of the FIP vaccine, and it is generally not recommended. Having lost a cat to that terrible disease, however, I can say that if there's a chance it works, it would be worth getting. Your vet should have the latest information on it, so that advice is a better source. The ringworm vaccine is also not generally recommended, so ask your vet whether there's a genuine need for that one. 

Your cat's lifestyle, general health, and environment are all considerations in what vaccines to give. Boosters recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners to be given every three years include:
  • Feline panleukopenia
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calici virus

Special Tests for Senior Kitties

If your cat is getting up in years, many vets like to run a senior panel of tests on them. These check for issues like diabetes, proper kidney function, and hormonal conditions like hyperthyroidism that frequently affect older cats. When identified early, many of these conditions can be treated to minimize damage to your cat's body and provide not only more longevity but a better quality of life.

Just as with us humans, older cats also suffer from gum disease and dental problems more frequently as they age. Many of them also develop cataracts in the eyes, osteoarthritis, or impaired hearing. If they get old enough, some even develop a form of feline dementia. Your vet's trained eye can spot these more readily than you can in your home wellness checks.

Any notes you've made during your monthly health exams at home should be discussed with your vet during your senior kitty's appointment, as well. These may include observations about litter box avoidance issues, changes in eating or drinking habits, and difficulties with mobility.

How do you know if your cat is old enough for these tests? The latest Feline Life Stage Guidelines compiled by the Feline Advisory Bureau of the American Association of Feline Practitioners refers to cats 7-10 years old as "Mature", 11-14 years old as "Senior" and 15-25 years as "Geriatric." Mature cats are the equivalent of a human from ages 44-56. Senior cats are like humans from ages 60-72, and geriatric cats most similar to humans 76-116 years old.

Whatever your cat's life stage, your veterinarian is an important partner in making sure your cat lives the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible.

Next up: A Less Stressful Vet Visit!

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