"Do cats really need regular veterinary exams?"
This is a question I get asked a lot. And there certainly are plenty of opinions and articles on both sides of the "debate." But there's at least one common thing both sides seem to agree on: vaccines. People talk and write about their necessity; the benefits or risks; or some other aspect of vaccines, vaccinations, or "shots."
While I know that a conversation about vaccines is important, I believe that the specific focus on vaccines in the discussion about routine veterinary visits is, well… out of focus. And I believe that such a focus does a great disservice not just to your cat(s), but also to you. That's because there are many (often very passionate) thoughts and opinions about vaccines themselves, whether that's over the need, frequency, or other aspects of feline vaccines. Also, vaccines are never a "one-size-fits-all" topic. So, if you don't believe in vaccinating, then any article or discussion focusing on vaccines is going to immediately lose you. The problem is that these visits are about much more than just vaccines, and your cat might never receive the many other benefits of routine veterinary exams and care.
I can assure you, as a veterinarian, that vet visits, check-ups, wellness exams, or whatever else you prefer to call them, truly are never just about vaccines. In fact, in a great many cases, they aren’t about vaccines at all!
So let's push vaccines aside for a moment and change the discussion to bring the focus back to where it should be: having a relationship with your veterinarian and working together to achieve and maintain the best possible health, happiness, comfort, and well-being for your cat.
To that end, I offer you five clear-cut, non-vaccine-related reasons why your cat 100%, unequivocally, and without doubt needs and benefits from regular veterinary evaluations. I hope that these will help you appreciate that there really is no way to overstate the importance of yearly (or in some cases twice-yearly) veterinary wellness check-ups to the health, comfort, and overall well-being of your cat. Or, for that matter, to the bond and time that you share with your cat, as well as your efforts to save time and money on your veterinary bills.
The Top 5 Non-Vaccine Reasons Why Cats Should Have Regular Vet Check-ups
These are little-discussed, but super-important reasons why all cats will have a healthier, more comfortable, better life with regular vet wellness check-ups:
Your cat is a master at hiding problems such as:
- High blood pressure
- Overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism)
- Declining kidney function
- Heart murmurs and/or arrhythmias
- Tooth problems
- And the list can go on and on...
Regular veterinary exams can help with your cat’s socialization. From new people and places to new sounds and smells, these experiences can help your cat better adapt to “your world,” decreasing their stress and anxiety and improving their fit with you, your family, and your friends in the process. This is esepcially true with kittens during their early socialization period, but it's also the case with adult and even senior cats. Of course, this only works if your cat has good, low-stress experiences at the vet. So check out these articles to see how you (and your vet) can remove the fear and anxiety from your cat's vet visits and how to help your cat love their carrier.
2: Pain, Suffering, and Disease Reduction
Regular veterinary visits will more quickly reveal hidden medical conditions that might be painful, distressing, or even potentially-fatal for your cat. And this is the case even if your cat lives alone, is exclusively indoors, or lives on the 12th floor of an apartment building.
Cats are masters of hiding a multitude of problems — certainly too many to list in their entirety here. But a few examples include pain, high blood pressure, overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), declining kidney function, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, heart murmurs and/or arrhythmias, and tooth problems, like "resorptive lesions." This is but a (very) small sample of all the problems we vets look for in our examination, history taking, and diagnostic testing. Earlier detection and diagnosis often translates to more treatment options, better prognosis, lower costs, greater peace-of-mind, and improved comfort and quality of life for your cat.
3: Emergency Prevention
Regular veterinary examinations can help prevent emergencies from developing, many of which can be expensive; debilitating; stressful; painful; and, in some cases, even fatal. For example, cats with certain types of heart conditions are at increased risk of suffering from a severe, rapid-onset, and painful condition known as “saddle thrombus” (more correctly called “Aortic Thromboembolism,” or ATE).
Similarly, undiagnosed and therefore unmanaged diabetic cats are at increased risk of developing a debilitating and fatal (if untreated) emergency condition called “Diabetic Ketoacidosis.” Cats with tooth problems that affect the dental structures below the gum line are at risk of suffering from the pain of a tooth root abscess, an infection resulting in a painful swelling that often presents as a big lump under one of their eyes. In all of these cases, and in many similarly common scenarios, these emergencies can all be avoided, but only if the underlying conditions were previously detected at a veterinary check-up and proper management was undertaken.
4: Help With and Prevention of Behavioral Problems
Regular examinations and conversations with your cat’s veterinarian are the perfect time to discuss behavioral or personality changes, which could actually have an underlying medical reason. Cat’s don’t tend to do things like pee and poop outside of their litter boxes, or turn aggressive out of spite. It’s far more likely that they’re doing so because of pain (arthritis, bladder inflammation, etc.), stress (new pet or baby in the home, family strife, etc.), or an underlying medical condition (brain tumor, high blood pressure, bladder infection, etc.). Your vet can help you and your cat by figuring out the underlying cause and presenting you with the best treatment/management options. (By the way, did you know that “behavioral problems” are one of the most common reasons why cats are surrendered to shelters, relegated to the outdoors, or sometimes even brought to the vet for euthanasia? It’s true. And it’s particularly sad because these “behavioral problems” are often the result of a treatable underlying cause.)
5: Parasite Prevention
Veterinary check-ups are the best time to discuss and check the safety and effectiveness of your cat’s flea and other parasite prevention plan. Even indoor-only cats should be on regular parasite preventatives. Being indoors doesn’t, in and of itself, fully protect your cat(s) from becoming infested with parasites such as fleas, intestinal worms, ear mites, and even heartworms (yes, cats get heartworms too!). And not only are indoor cats susceptible to these parasites, but they can be the cause — the "missing link," if you will — of a whole-home infestation when they're not on a preventative, even if your other pets are. Your veterinarian is, without a doubt, your best resource to help you determine the safest and most effective, whole-home, all-pet parasite prevention and treatment program. (PS: Did you know that several of the parasites that can affect your cats — including fleas, tapeworms, roundworms, and others — can also cause disease and debilitation in you and the other human members of your family, too? Including Plague!)
My Final Plea
Well, there they are; five reasons why your cat will benefit from yearly, or even twice-yearly, wellness check-ups with your veterinarian. This is regardless of their age, the amount of time they spend outdoors, whether they are around any other animals, and their vaccine needs. Again, my focus on non-vaccine-related benefits isn’t because vaccines are unimportant — believe me, they are very important. Instead, vaccines need not, and should not be the primary focus of a discussion about the importance and value of routine veterinary evaluations.
So, I implore you, if your cat hasn’t been seen by your veterinarian at least in the past 12 months, please call right now to set up an appointment for a check-up. Similarly, if you have a cat-owning friend, coworker, or family member who hasn’t had their cat evaluated by a veterinarian in the past year, or who doesn’t believe in the value and importance of a veterinary wellness check-up, please share this article with them. Their cat will thank you; and in the end, your friend will, too.