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The Importance of Annual Physical Exams for Cats

Maybe you adopted a new cat or have had your cat for years now—in either case annual physical exams are highly recommended for maintaining the optimal health of your cat. Your cat may be low-maintenance, but that’s no reason not to take them for a wellness exam every year. This article will highlight the reasons why annual physical exams for cats are so important, how annual checkups can prevent and detect disease as early as possible, reduce factors that may be health risks,  correct or delay the progression of disease, and help to give your cat the healthiest, highest quality of life possible for as long as possible.

Cats mask when they are sick or feel bad—they can hide suffering and pain very well, it’s an evolutionary trait—so you may not know they are suffering or are in pain. And just because your cat lives indoors doesn’t mean they can’t get sick or develop a congenital or chronic disease, or a bacterial or viral infection, or severe tooth decay and gum disease, or inflammation that causes health issues, or a possible stress-related illness. All of these are very possible health issues for indoor-only cats.

Benefits of Annual Physical Exams for Cats

Annual physical exams give you peace of mind knowing the state of your cat’s overall health. Annual exams give you a baseline for what is normal for your cat’s health so you can readily see any changes from the previous year or years. Annual checkups can lengthen your cat’s life expectancy by addressing health issues early-on before they become more serious or advanced and difficult to treat. Your veterinarian will be able to detect any new health problems or chronic conditions and treat them immediately—that would otherwise have been delayed and left untreated if you waited another year. By treating your cat’s health problem and not waiting longer to diagnose and medically treat it, your cat will be more comfortable.

What to Expect at Your Cat’s Annual Exam

Annual wellness visits are considered nose-to-tail physical exams where your vet will check the following on your cat:

  • Mouth, teeth and gums for disease and tooth decay
  • Eyes and ears for infections, inflammation and any drainage
  • Nose for congestion or drainage
  • Heart for heart murmurs or abnormal sounds and rhythms
  • Lungs for respiratory congestion or abnormalities
  • Kidneys will be manually checked for pain, sensitivity and size
  • Skin will be checked for any sign of skin disease, lesions, abnormal bumps or growths
  • Fur will be checked for flea dirt and fleas, and the condition of the coat
  • Leg joints will be checked for range of movement and signs of arthritis
  • Internal organs will be palpated for any signs of abnormalities or problems

Lastly, your vet will check your cat’s bottom for any sign of infection or worms, and may do a rectal exam for any impaction and if needed, express their anal sacs.

At this time, following the exam, laboratory tests may be recommended. Your vet may want to do a Complete Blood Count or Blood Chemistry Panel for a baseline or to diagnose a particular concern. In addition, a Urinalysis may be done if your cat is older or your vet is concerned about your cat’s kidneys, possible bladder or kidney infection, or kidney disease. A Fecal Smear would be necessary only if your vet was concerned about worms and parasites, but this is not typically part of an annual exam.

Senior Cats Should Get Wellness Exams Every 6 Months

Cats under the age of 12 years old can have annual vet visits unless there’s an underlying issue, but cats older than 12 years should be evaluated every six months to be on the safe side. A 12-year-old cat is about 64 in human years and they can start to become more susceptible to developing health problems associated with aging and and their overall care.

If you have a senior or geriatric cat, it’s even more important to visit your veterinarian and run routine diagnostic blood and urine tests. Your older cat can be dealing with multiple health issues, each of which should be addressed to make your cat more comfortable, reduce any suffering and pain, and give them greater quality of life. Older cats over 12 years of age can be more prone to kidney disease, thyroid disease, diabetes if they are obese, have arthritis and joint problems, need dental work done, can be more prone to getting infections, and may have other underlying issues. The main thing is you want to alleviate their suffering and/or pain, identify any chronic illnesses they may have so you can treat them, and give them the best quality of life possible through their older years.

Vaccinations for Cats

If you adopted your cat as a kitten, check your records that kitten was properly vaccinated and received their one-year FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis Calicivirus Panleukopenia) booster. After the one-year booster, the new medical veterinary recommendations are that the FVRCP vaccine be given every three years. But if your cat is an indoor-only cat or a senior cat that is kept indoors, that may not even be necessary. However, outdoor cats are at higher risk, so adhering to this regimen is important to protect your cat. This is a “core” vaccine and an important one, but be careful about giving any other additional core or non-core vaccines that may not be necessary or needed for your cat—as there are sometimes side-effects and problems associated with giving vaccines, especially non-core and attenuated or “killed” vaccines, or adjuvanted vaccines. Adjuvanted vaccines or “killed” vaccines can cause Vaccine Site Sarcoma (VSS) or Injection Site Sarcoma (ISS), a malignant and often fatal cancer. Although the risk is low, the risk is almost completely eliminated by using “non-adjuvanted vaccines” that are specially formulated to eliminate the need for an adjuvant and allow for safe inoculation with little to no risk of tumor formation. Plus, they are just as effective as their adjuvanted equivalent. If your cat requires a vaccine, always ask your veterinarian to use a non-adjuvanted vaccine; they are available for the FVRCP, rabies and FELV vaccines for cats, and are the safest option.

Dental Care for Cats

One of the most important benefits of the annual wellness exam is checking your cat’s mouth, gums and teeth. Many serious systemic health conditions can be seen in the mouth, and also problems in the mouth can lead to other more serious health conditions. Plus, dental problems are painful for your cat, so your cat may be suffering and you may not know it. Providing veterinary dental care as often as needed is vital and important to your cat’s health, happiness and well being.

Giving your cat a well-check exam every year will certainly improve the overall quality of your cat’s health and life, and will decrease any suffering they may otherwise experience if they are not seen by a vet. Remember cats mask their pain and discomfort well, so an annual exam can make all the difference in the world for them and for their well-being.

If you don’t already have a good veterinarian, here’s information about how to find a great vet.

Get Annual Physical Exams for Cats
Get Annual Physical Exams for Cats

One thought on “The Importance of Annual Physical Exams for Cats”

  1. I am a crazy cat person. I love my cats and I hope they love me too! I don’t think most people realize that their cats and other pets need to be taken to their vet frequently. Like you mention, there are many different parts of the annual exam for your cat. I like that their teeth are checked because it is important that these remain clean and everything in their mouth is healthy. Our pets matter and they need doctors too!

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