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Why Cats Need to See the Vet Routinely

Author: Dr. Beth Turner

Published: September 13, 2014

Updated: May 28, 2024

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tabby cat being examined at the vetAs I was working on this article, I got a phone call from my doctor’s office to remind me that I was due for an annual check-up.

At the time I could not schedule an appointment and said I would call back. But when thinking about it, whether for us or our precious kitties, how often do we actually ‘intend to’ or remember to call back the doctor’s office and make that appointment?

You are likely thinking that your kitty is completely healthy because they are eating and drinking fine and are as active as normal. But cats are ‘masters of disguise,’ and they can be silently suffering with underlying medical issues that we don’t see. Plus, since an ‘ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ there is other essential information you may gain from your veterinarian when you bring your kitty in for routine visits.

Do Cats Really Need Regular Veterinary Exams?

This is a commonly asked question. And there certainly are plenty of opinions and articles on both sides of the "debate."

In my opinion, as both a pet owner and a veterinarian, the answer to the question is ‘yes.’ It isn’t ‘yes’ because I (and other vets) want your money. It is ‘yes’ because regular veterinary check-ups cannot only potentially improve and extend your cat’s life, but in the long run, it will save you money.

Let’s go over a few reasons as to why the answer to the question is a resounding ‘yes.’

Veterinarians take notes about your cat’s history and then examine them from the tip of their nose all the way down to their tail. By doing this, your veterinarian can obtain a lot of information about your cat’s health.

Prevention And Early Detection

Did you know that 50 to 90% of cats older than four years are suffering from some form of dental disease? Another thing commonly not known by cat owners is the consequences of dental disease. Some consequences include:

  • Bone loss which can lead to jaw fractures or holes that lead from the mouth into the nose
  • Oral abscesses that result in draining tracts in the mouth or on the face
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Pain

The good news is that with routine veterinary visits and dental cleanings, many forms of this disease can be prevented or treated.

Per CareCredit, the national average for teething cleaning on cats is $314 (range of $113 to $600).  If your cat needs additional treatment, such as one or more extractions, you can look to add an additional $60 to $140 per tooth, as well as the aftercare costs. In the end, you could spend upwards of $1000 (or more) before all is said and done. Add there's the pain and suffering your cat may endure from delayed treatment.

I know you are thinking that that is just one reason. But in reality, there are so many more reasons, such as the prevention and management of obesity, which affects up to 63% of cats. Also, the early detection and management of osteoarthritis. A study showed 22% of cats over 1 year of age have radiographic signs of the disease. This could mean if cats aren’t seen routinely, they could be living in discomfort for years. That number goes up a lot as cats age, with 61% of those over 6 years of age having evidence of arthritis.

Additionally, routine veterinary visits help in the early detection of medical issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, thyroid disease, diabetes, cancer, and many more.

It is important to remember earlier detection and diagnosis often translate to more treatment options, better prognosis, lower costs, greater peace of mind, and improved comfort and quality of life for your cat.

Emergency Prevention

While it may not seem like an obvious reason, regular veterinary examinations can help prevent emergencies from developing. Many of these emergencies can be expensive (in the range of $150 to $3,000), 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.”

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.

stressed cat hiding under a bed

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.

Cats 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, which can be caused by arthritis, bladder inflammation, dental disease, stress caused by a new pet or baby in the home, family strife, etc., or an underlying medical condition such high blood pressure, bladder infection, cancer, etc.

Your vet can help you and your cat by figuring out the underlying cause and presenting you with the best treatment and management options.

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 is because of “behavioral problems.” It’s particularly sad because these behavioral problems are often the result of a treatable underlying cause that can be detected during routine veterinary exams.

two cats sitting on a window sill beside a tall leafy plant

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 plans.

There are many cases where the products appear ineffective because cat owners are buying prevention in the wrong weight range because they don’t know their cat’s actual weight. Then, there is the other side where owners are using preventives in a weight range that is over their cat’s actual weight, which can result in toxicity. Having your cat routinely weighed at the vet during their routine visit can help avoid this and save you money.

Even indoor-only cats should be on regular parasite preventatives. Being indoors doesn’t, in and of itself, fully protect your cat from becoming infested with parasites such as fleas, intestinal worms, ear mites, and even heartworms.

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.

Socialization

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 life with you and your family in the process.

This is especially 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.

Hopefully, these reasons show 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.

cat being pulled out of a carrier at the vet hospital

Frequently Asked Questions About Routine Veterinary Care

I hope you are pondering the thought of having your feline friend seen regularly by their veterinarian. And if you are, you may have a few questions. Here are some answers to common questions:

How often should you take a kitten for wellness exams?

A kitten’s first veterinary visit is usually when they are between six and eight weeks of age. They will typically begin their kitten series of vaccines at this first visit and return every 3 to 4 weeks until they are about 14 to 16 weeks of age. They should then be seen every year thereafter until they become seniors. Once they are senior, they should be seen by a veterinarian twice yearly.

This first experience needs to be as positive as possible from start to finish! Be sure your cat is acclimated with their carrier and the car prior to this visit. Work with your veterinarian to make this first visit as stress-free as possible.

How often should adolescent cats get wellness exams?

Adolescent cats should have yearly wellness exams. If your adolescent has any medical issues, such as stomatitis or a heart issue, they should have wellness visits every six months.

How often should senior cats get wellness exams?

Senior cats should have wellness visits every six months. However, for those with medical issues, such as heart disease or kidney disease, wellness visits may be recommended every three to four months.

What are some extra things a veterinarian may check for with a senior cat vs. a younger cat?

When your cat is a senior (as early as 7 to 8 years of age), your veterinarian may recommend more diagnostic testing, such as chest and body X-rays, ultrasounds, echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, blood pressure checks, etc., as compared to when your cat was younger.

Are there supplements I should ask my vet about for my senior cat?

There are several supplements that may benefit senior cats, and discussing them with your veterinarian is important.

Such supplements include:

 

How often should cats with known medical conditions be seen for wellness exams? (e.g., diabetes)

Cats with known medical conditions should be seen at least twice yearly, if not more often, such as every 3 to 4 months.

 

What are the tests a veterinarian will do at a wellness exam?

During a wellness visit, your veterinarian will generally recommend the following tests:

  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal analysis
  • Heartworm test

For cats with medical issues, additional tests, such as X-rays, ultrasounds, blood pressure measurements, and specialized tests, may also be recommended.

What questions should I ask at a wellness exam?

If you have noticed any changes or anything unusual (behavior, eating, movement, etc.) with your cat, be sure to make notes prior to your visit so you can ask questions. Sharing video of behavior is very helpful as well.

Other important questions include:

  • What is the best diet and treats for my cat?

  • How much should my cat be drinking?

  • Is my cat’s weight and body condition score normal? If not, what should it be, and how do I get them there?

  • What preventive care (e.g., dental) is needed for my cat at this stage of life?

  • Is my cat current on all vaccines?

  • What preventatives, such as those for fleas, ticks, and heartworms, should my cat receive?

  • Is this behavior (state what it is) normal or abnormal?

  • What supplements would my cat benefit from?

  • How much exercise should my cat have?

  • How much and how do I provide mental enrichment for my cat?

  • How often should I schedule wellness visits?

  • Are there any diagnostic tests that are recommended for my cat?

Always remember, there are no dumb questions. It is always better to ask than not to.

What questions should I be prepared to answer at a wellness exam?

Your veterinarian will ask several questions, which can include:

  • Is your cat eating and drinking normally?

  • What are you feeding your cat? How much and how often? (Pro Tips: Take a photo of the bag/food label)

  • What preventatives is your cat on?

  • What vaccines has your cat had? (Only needed if your cat received vaccinations from another veterinarian.)

  • Is your cat active?

  • Has there been any changes in their activity or movement?

  • Have you noticed any weight loss or gain?

  • Has there been any changes to your cat’s bathroom habits?

  • Has there been any changes in your cat’s behavior?

  • Is your cat getting any medications or supplements?

  • Has there been any vomiting or diarrhea?

  • Have you noticed any symptoms of illness, such as coughing, sneezing, runny eyes, weakness, lethargy, pain, etc.?

  • Has there been any changes to your cat’s environment?

  • Have you traveled anywhere with your cat?

Your answers to these questions will likely prompt other questions from your veterinarian.

 

Are there other recommended tests you should have performed at a wellness exam?

Regardless of your cat’s age, the basic tests that should routinely be done at wellness visits include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal analysis
  • Heartworm test

For cats that go outdoors or are exposed to cats that go outdoors, tests checking for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) should be performed at wellness visits.

Senior cats should also have blood pressure checks, chest and body X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, and thyroid tests.

Do insurance plans cover the cost of wellness exams?

 Routine care may not be covered by your pet medical insurance plan unless you buy a separate pet wellness plan. Be sure to check with your pet insurance company to know what is and isn’t covered.

Are dental exams part of a wellness exam?

Basic oral evaluations are performed at wellness examinations. But for a full oral examination, which includes x-rays, cats need to be sedated. Read more on why X-rays are needed for thorough dental assessment and care.

What can I do if it seems too stressful?

There are steps you can take to make the process a lot less stressful. Read these articles for helpful tips: 

Discuss the concern with your veterinarian. They may recommend prescription medications to help calm your cat.

In some cases, it works best to have your cat seen at home by a mobile veterinarian.

Should I bring a pee and poop sample to a wellness exam?

Both pee and poop samples are welcomed gifts at a wellness visit.

Be sure that the pee is fresh, collected within 15 minutes of the visit, or kept in the fridge for no longer than a few hours. Often, it is best to collect the first-morning urine and bring it to the clinic before the visit. Read tips for collecting cat urine.

The poop should ideally have little to no litter with it and be about two tablespoons worth (the more the merrier!).

 

What kinds of things can be diagnosed at a wellness exam (what is the doctor looking for)?

There are many conditions that can be diagnosed at a wellness exam. Here are a few common things that can diagnosed:

  • Obesity
  • Arthritis
  • Dental disease
  • Ear infections
  • Skin issues
  • Behavioral issues
  • Underlying medical issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, etc.
  • And many more!

I implore you that if your cat hasn’t been seen by your veterinarian in at least the past 12 months, even if they seem happy and healthy, please call right now to set up an appointment for a check-up. Having them evaluated as well as getting routine diagnostic tests done, gives your veterinarian a baseline to know what your cat’s normal is when they are well. This is highly beneficial for a comparison of physical changes and tests when your cat isn’t feeling well. This comparison may help your veterinarian detect issues in the early stages so that treatment and management can be initiated so your cat can live a happier, healthier, and longer life.

Go ahead, make that appointment!

About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Beth Turner

Dr. Beth Turner

Beth Turner is a veterinarian with over 20 years of experience. She graduated from North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine and following graduation, she began her career as an associate veterinarian and worked closely with the local shelter.

In 2007 she accomplished her dream of practice ownership, designing and building her own clinic. Another meaningful role, while running her clinic, was serving as her county's shelter veterinarian. This gave her the opportunity to help improve the lives of many animals in her community as well as work with the rescue she loved. She sold her practice in 2019 to move across the country.