Cat Wellness Exams
Annual and Semi-Annual Exams for Cat Wellness
We know you want to keep your favorite feline as healthy as possible, which is surely why you've turned to the internet to find out more about cat wellness. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from respected veterinarians and not from “Dr. Google", as anyone with a computer can share information these days. This misinformation could spell disaster for your precious cat. That’s why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on cat wellness, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you the reliable information you need to keep your cat healthy.
While we've sourced all of the cat wellness information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.
A cat wellness exam is a routine physical that we do regularly, whether it’s biannual or annually, to make sure that your kitty is staying nice and healthy and ensure they have a good, long life. We examine their teeth, eyes, ears, musculoskeletal system, neurologic system; we feel their abdomen, check their skin under their tail, and make sure we do not see any abnormal lumps or bumps on the body. It’s a complete exam and discussion with the clients to make sure their cat is doing well. Sometimes the cat may also need a vaccine or vaccines at these well appointments.
The first thing most veterinarians will do during a cat wellness exam is to ask the owner many questions about appetite, nutrition, water consumption, litter box use, typical behaviors, how the cat has been at home, and if there's been anything unusual happening. This is what we refer to as the history portion.
The next portion is an examination, where we’ll often start with my ophthalmoscope to look in both of the cat’s eyes to make sure that they're bright and shiny. We then turn that into an otoscope to see down into their ears to make sure there's not any buildup of wax, debris, polyps, bleeding, or anything unusual in the ears.
We then conduct an oral exam and look at the cat’s teeth. Cats do not like it, so we try to take quick looks at the outside of the teeth, their tongue, underneath the tongue, and at the roof of their mouths. Everything in there should be nice, pink, and moist, and the teeth should be clean. And we rate the teeth based on a score of one to four. One is the very best healthy teeth. The next thing we typically do is feel their lymph nodes—we don't want to feel their lymph nodes, per se, but we’re making sure that they're not large and prominent.
We also listen to their heart and lungs with a stethoscope on both the left-hand and right-hand side, and we take a heart rate. A heart rate in a cat can be anywhere between 150 and 200 beats per minute and be normal. We also listen to the rhythm to ensure there's not a heart murmur. The other thing we do is we do take their body temperature with either a rectal or ear thermometer. If the cat has a newer microchip, this will also indicate their body temperature.
Lastly, we feel their tummies, bladders, kidneys, and intestines to make sure they're not uncomfortable. We make sure we can feel the organs that are supposed to be there and nothing else. And then we look at the way they hold themselves. We rate them on their body score—with one being too skinny and nine being too heavy. And five is right in the middle.
That depends on your pet's age and lifestyle. For example, kittens need a fecal or stool test to check for parasites. Sometimes they need to be screened for leukemia or FIV, which are pretty common feline diseases. As they age, annual blood work is essential for cats for early detection of certain issues. And as they get into their senior years, we use x-rays to look at their hearts, lungs, and joints. Some veterinarians will give their clients the option to run an early detection profile. That's a CBC chemistry and thyroid test. We hope it's normal every year, but if we find something that's not normal, it gives us a chance to get started and research that before it becomes a medical issue.
The more often we see your cat, the more likely we will find something at an early stage or an early-onset disease versus more severe. Coming in more frequently and having those wellness checkups allows us to see what’s wrong, and the prognosis is almost always better the sooner we diagnose that. Our goal is prevention rather than treating something after it's already occurred, mainly so we can avoid the stress for your kitty cat and the stress we go through seeing them get sick. Wellness exams ensure that we're catching these things that could shorten their life early to increase their quality and length of life. The longer you keep them free of diseases and internal and external parasites, enlist ample nutrition, keep them at the right body weight, ensure good dental care, and perhaps pick up a heart murmur or something and address it right away, the longer your cat will live.
The AAHA has a helpful guide that goes into the level of care for each stage in your cat's life.
If it's a kitten, you want to bring them in right away, but also, if it's an older cat that you're adopting from some other source, bring that cat in right away as well. We recommend a physical exam directly after you get the pet to see if there are any problems.
When they're kittens, they need to come to a series of appointments at eight weeks, 12 weeks, and 16 weeks. And then they'll also likely come in to be spayed or neutered. But after that, an annual exam is typically sufficient. When they're older, we’ll probably ask for two visits a year with blood work and perhaps blood pressure because cats can get hypertension. Sometimes we’ll ask you to bring a fecal in. So we're always going to run a fecal, we're going to run some blood work, and we may take blood pressure.
Of course, all cats are different, but there are some common things that we tend to see when a cat isn't feeling well.
Some common symptoms that we see in a cat that's ill are:
- Not eating
- Straining to urinate
- Not grooming themselves
- Feeling listless or lethargic
Increased water consumption can indicate diabetes. A cat that’s not feeling well is probably not doing what they would typically do, so behavioral changes will occur. Your kitty may not be jumping up onto their favorite resting place. Hiding is a significant sign that your cat isn’t feeling well, too—a cat that's usually very social is now under the bed. Also, cats don’t typically pant, so if you ever see your cat open mouth breathing or panting, take them to your vet immediately.
The number one environmental factor is whether they're indoor-outdoor, as indoor kitties have less exposure to disease than outdoor kitties. That does not mean they're not exposed, though, because an outside kitty can meet your inside kitty at the screen door, and they can still transmit some disease via screen through respiratory aerosols. Also, just as in dogs, some cats get seasonal allergies. If yours is an outdoor cat and you don't have a place for shade or a proper amount of water when the temperatures rise, they can get heatstroke issues. Depending on where you live, outdoor cats might be at risk for rattlesnake bites, internal parasites, fleas and ticks, coyote attacks, and other contagious diseases. However, as mentioned, indoor cats can get some of these things from outdoor cats, and there is always a risk that your indoor cat could get out through an open door or window. Talk to your veterinarian about getting your cat on a good preventative plan that accounts for these risk factors.
While many don’t think of this as an environmental factor, overfeeding is something that many cat owners inadvertently do. If you’re feeding your cat too much, they could get overweight. Or the opposite can occur if they're not getting enough nutrition. Consult with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat is getting enough food and, if they are overweight, ask your vet how to counteract this. Overweight cats are more prone to illnesses such as arthritis and diabetes.
Early detection is vital because if you find an issue during its initial stages, you can potentially get ahead of it without it becoming something so full-blown that now you're trying to catch up to cure the illness. Early detection and prevention are the mainstays for cat wellness and longevity. Also, cats are the masters of disguise. They love to pretend they're okay until they can't hide it anymore. Many times we can't pick up on these things until the disease is advanced. Regular cat wellness exams might help us detect something at the earlier stage, and the prognosis would be much better.