How Often Do I Need to Take my Cat to the Vet?
July 17, 2021
Being a cat owner comes with responsibilities, including taking pet cats to the vet regularly. But what is meant by “regularly?” That varies based on the cat’s age, health issues, and lifestyle. Here are some basic guidelines.
Vet Visits for Kittens: The First Year
To ensure that kittens grow and develop correctly, they need to see a vet more often than an adult cat. In general, it takes cats around a year to reach full maturity – longer if it is a large breed, like a Maine Coon.
5 Weeks Old: Microchipping
Kittens that are at least five weeks old can also be microchipped, which is smart to do before the kitten goes outside for the first time. It’s a quick procedure that is typically no more painful than having blood drawn, but can make a huge difference in helping shelters and vets identify lost cats. Another option is to have the microchipping procedure done while the kitten is being spayed or neutered.
6-8 Weeks Old: Vaccinations
Vaccinations are especially important for kittens, and they typically should receive their first set of shots somewhere between the age of 6-8 weeks old, with boosters every 3-4 weeks until 4 to 6 months.
Specifically, there are three primary, or “core” vaccines that should be given at this age:
- Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR), which causes upper respiratory illness in cats and a common cause of conjunctivitis (pink eye). It is very contagious among cats, and young kittens are especially susceptible.
- Feline Calicivirus is another type of highly-contagious virus that can cause respiratory infections and oral disease in cats. While most types are curable, there are also rare, deadly strains.
- Feline Panleukopenia, also called feline distemper or feline parvo, is a highly contagious viral disease caused by the feline parvovirus, and used to be the leading cause of death among cats. Vaccines have significantly helped reduce the number of deaths.
8-12 Week Checkup
Between 8 -12 weeks, the veterinarian may recommend testing for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus, both of which are life-threatening viruses that can be transmitted by blood or saliva to kittens, and can be passed to your kitten before, during, or after birth.
3-4 Months Old: Rabies Shot
At around age 3-4 months, kittens will be ready for a rabies shot. Even if the cat will stay indoors and not be around other mammals, the law in most states requires keeping up with rabies shots because rabies, which is deadly, can be transferred to humans.
Cats are usually required to be revaccinated for rabies one year after the first vaccine, then every one to three years depending on the type of vaccine and the local laws.
During kitten veterinarian visits, the vet will take a stool sample to check for gastrointestinal parasites, which are common. The vet will also do a complete examination, which includes listening to the kitten’s heart and lungs; checking ears, eyes, skin, and mouth; feeling the abdomen; checking weight; and looking for any warning signs that something might be wrong.
6 Months Old: Spay and Neuter
At around six months, the vet will talk about spaying or neutering the kitten. For female kittens, it is recommended that she be spayed prior to her first heat.
Not only will this prevent her from getting pregnant, it will also significantly reduce her cervical cancer risk, and eliminate her ovarian cancer risk. Additionally, spaying will help prevent female cats from trying to escape while in heat.
Male kittens should also be neutered around this same age. Unneutered males tend to be more aggressive, wander more, and spray their urine to mark their territory. Having a male neutered is safer and healthier for the kitten.
Having your kittens fixed can also help prevent other diseases. Both feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline aids can spread in cats through mating. Additionally, spayed and neutered cats will be safer from injuries or diseases caused by fights.
Vet Visits for Adult Cats: Once a Year
According to the American Animal Hospital Association adult cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year. But more visits may be recommended if the cat has a health issue – even if it’s an indoor cat in a single-pet household.
During the annual wellness exam, the veterinarian will check stool samples, complete a head-to-tail physical examination, and update any needed vaccinations. The vet will also recommend having annual bloodwork taken to help provide early detection of disease.
The vet will also check your cat’s weight. If the cat is overweight, the vet may recommend special diets as being overweight can impact the cat’s health and mobility, especially as the cat ages.
Vets also usually look at the cat’s teeth to check for plaque, tarter, gum disease, or other periodontal problems. Left untreated, periodontal disease can lead to other more serious health issues, including heart disease, so veterinarians usually recommend professional feline teeth cleanings at some point. This requires putting the cat under anesthesia.
Cats may be at greater risk for some health issues based on whether they are indoor or outdoor cats. While outdoor cats are at higher risk for certain issues, indoor cats still face risks. The following are reasons why an adult cat may need to see a vet:
- Vomiting. Vomiting can be a problem, especially if the cat chews on something poisonous or inedible, including plants. Vomiting or diarrhea can also be a sign of parasites, like roundworms, hookworms, or tapeworms. Even hairballs sometimes cause problems that need to be treated.
- Urinary issues. If an indoor cat stops using the litter box, that may be a sign that something is wrong, such as a urinary tract infection.
- Breathing problems. Wheezing, sneezing, coughing, etc., may be a sign of an upper respiratory infection, allergies, or even asthma, and should be checked.
- Skin problems. Itchy or irritated skin can be a sign of allergies, fleas, or ringworm, among other possibilities. Just because a cat is an Indoor cat does not mean it will not get fleas.
- Parasites. Parasites such as fleas, lice, ear mites, lice, or ticks may cause itching or swollen ears.
- Infections. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus and Feline Leukemia are very contagious in cats, especially cats who spend time outdoors. It is important to talk with a vet about the pros and cons of vaccinating for these serious diseases.
Senior Cats Should See the Vet More Often
Typically starting somewhere in the 7-year range, cats need to start seeing the vet more often. Cats often live well into their teens or even twenties, but their biology starts to change at around age 7.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine recommends that senior cats see the vet at least once, but preferably twice a year to make it easier for veterinarians to catch health changes sooner. Senior cats usually slow down, becoming less active and sleeping more often. These are normal. However, there are some specific warning signs to watch for, such as the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Urinary and bowel issues, including diarrhea, constipation, incontinence, or changes in litter box habits.
- Lumps and bumps
- Weight changes
- Difficulty in walking or jumping
- Eye or nose issues, including pawing at eyes, excessive blinking, runny eyes or nose, or cloudy eyes, and excessive sneezing or coughing
- Excessive vocalizing
- Drinking more water
These signs and others may indicate a more serious underlying problem.
No matter a cat’s age, finding a vet that understands the unique needs of cats is important to ensuring that pet cats stay as healthy and happy as possible throughout their lifetimes.
Skipping veterinarian wellness checks may seem cost effective, but can actually lead to larger bills later on if illnesses or conditions are not caught early.
If needed, a number of organizations exist to help offset the costs of veterinary visits, and are often less expensive than expected, especially for cats.
Herpesvirus Infection in Cats (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis). VCA Hospitals.
Feline Calicivirus. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Baker Institute for Animal Health.
Feline panleukopenia. American Veterinary Medical Association.
Everything You Should Know about Microchipping Cats. The Drake Center for Veterinary Care.
Frequency of veterinary visits. American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Nov. 2014.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Cornell Feline Health Center.
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