Annual exams for cats: Is it really necessary?

taffycamoTaffy says yes!

            This topic is one that is very near and dear to my heart. I love cats. I grew up with three amazing cats who tolerated my constant need to carry them, pet them and dress them up in doll clothes with a grace you don’t find in many felines. When I moved out on my own, I made it less than a week before I adopted a cat of my own, which quickly grew to more. I know my experience is not unique, and that most cat owners feel this connection to, and love for, their pets. The fact you have decided to take the time to read this blog post, and get some answers about why we at the Guelph Animal Hospital believe it is important to bring your cat in for a yearly exam, proves to me that you care about your cat and their health. Before I get into the facts, I want to share a personal story with you about one of my own cats, Taffy.

About three years ago, during a routine wellness blood screen, Dr. Smolkin discovered that my cat, Taffy, had diabetes. He did not yet have any obvious symptoms of diabetes, or any illness for that matter. If asked, I would have said he was “perfectly healthy”, despite the fact his pancreas was not functioning properly. He was put on insulin and a special diet immediately to manage his illness. Luckily for Taffy (and for me), because his diabetes was found so early we were actually able to discontinue the insulin after a few short months. Three years later, routine screening shows his diabetes is still being managed by food alone. Bringing Taffy in for an annual exam, even though he seemed to be a completely healthy indoor cat who was up to date on vaccines, saved him from more serious complications due to his diabetes and saved me ongoing (and costly) treatments.

This is why I am so passionate about spreading the word to other cat lovers about the importance of regular exams for your feline friends. With that in mind, let’s talk cats!

Vaccines: Aren’t they only required for outdoor cats?

Absolutely not! I decided to start with this as it is probably the most common question I get with respect to bringing cats in for an annual visit. A very common misconception about vaccines is that they are only required for cats that are allowed outdoors. Which vaccines are recommended for your cat should be assessed by your veterinarian during a comprehensive physical examination. The age and health of your cat, as well as your lifestyle (and that of your cat) are all factors in determining which vaccines are best for your cat.

Did you know that even indoor cats are susceptible to contracting the rabies virus? It’s true! Many of us have had the misfortune of hearing a fluttering in the house and finding that a bat has wandered into our home through a chimney, open window, etc. Bats are one of the foremost carriers of rabies in our region, and if they come into contact with your unsuspecting feline they can transmit the disease to your indoor-only pet. In addition, an up to date rabies vaccination is required by law in Ontario and would be recommended for the majority of healthy, adult felines.

Depending on your household, and the conversation you have with your veterinarian, additional vaccines/medications (FVRCP, Feline Leukemia, deworming, flea/parasite control) may be recommended. Some questions to consider are:

  • Do you foster kittens for a humane society or rescue?
  • Do you have visiting cats/dogs/pets coming into your home?
  • Are you going to be boarding your cat?
  • Is your cat indoor or outdoor?
  • Is your cat an escape artist who occasionally sneaks out?
  • Is your cat allowed outdoors on a leash?

Cats are Masters of Disguise

We often hear from clients that they don’t feel their cat needs to come in for an examination because they seem to be fine/healthy. Unfortunately, your cat may have more in common with Dana Carvey’s very “turtle-ish” character than you may realize. Cats have a natural instinct to hide signs of illness or weakness. This means that often, by the time your cat is showing signs of illness, it has progressed into a more severe issue that may require more long term/costly treatments. By bringing your cat in for a yearly physical, your veterinarian may be able to detect these issues early and help to prevent them from becoming worse.

Did you know that 85% of pets over the age of one year have some degree of dental disease? During an annual exam, your veterinarian will assess your cat’s dental health, allowing them to detect common dental issues early. Often times a change in diet and/or routine allows us to slow the progression of dental disease which, if left untreated, can cause complications elsewhere (i.e. the heart, kidneys, liver).

As part of your feline’s physical, your veterinarian will also assess your cat’s body condition and provide recommendations to keep them at an ideal weight. Obesity in cats is common and is often a precursor to more serious health issues as your feline friend ages. Complications from obesity include, but are not limited to, urinary crystals, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

Advanced Aging

Fantastic care for our feline friends (including advances in medicine, better foods and the shift towards keeping our cats safely indoors) has led to a longer average life span for our furry family members. It is not uncommon to see cats live well into their late teens and early twenties. While this progress and longer lifespan are positive steps forward, they have also led to an increase in the number of age related illnesses we see in elderly pets. Each year of our cat’s life is equivalent to about four years of aging for us. This means that your cat’s health can change drastically in a number of months. This is another reason yearly examinations are highly recommended, even for apparently healthy cats. For our more senior cats (over 8 years of age), veterinarians often recommend examinations every 6 months so that any new issues can be detected early.

A yearly wellness blood screen can also provide invaluable information about the overall health of your cat and is a key tool in detecting issues in major organs/organ systems early. One common issue in older cats is kidney disease (10% of cats over 10 years of age develop kidney disease and this number increases to 33% of cats over 12 years of age). Catching reduced functionality in an organ early allows us to provide supportive care BEFORE the organ fails and obvious symptoms occur. Take, for instance, my earlier story about my cat, Taffy. Had I waited for him to appear ill before bringing him in for a physical examination, it is likely that his diabetes would have become a much more advanced (and expensive) issue.

Thank you so much for reading, and we hope to see you in with your favourite feline soon!

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