Yes, Even Indoor Cats Need Wellness Vet Visits. Here's What Every Cat Parent Needs to Know
September 24, 2019
Cats have a well-earned reputation of self-reliance. However, self-reliant is not the same as maintenance-free, and feline medical problems are often masked until they become serious. If kitty isn’t already going in for annual wellness visits (twice yearly for senior cats aged 10 and older, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center), there’s no time like the present to get started.
Why do cats need wellness visits?
Though pet parents are wild about their cats, they may not be getting kitty to the vet as often as she needs. One thing that gets in the way is the dreaded task of wrangling a cranky cat into the carrier. (More about that later!) Also, with an increasing number of cats living indoors, some pet parents may be lulled into a false sense of security. That’s because outdoor cats are at increased risk of injury, along with exposure to fleas and pathogens, and severe medical conditions like feline leukemia and fatal feline diseases.
While indoor living often means longer, healthier lives for cats, they still need regular vet visits, and here are a few reasons why.
- An annual wellness visit creates a relationship between your vet and your cat. Consistent records give the vet a baseline on your pet’s health and well-being. When physical and behavioral changes manifest, it will be easier for your vet to catch problems early.
- While elder cats are prone to dental disease, it can also show up in felines as young as 2-3 years of age. Without ongoing treatment and monitoring, your cat could spend her senior years with missing teeth.
- A cat’s lifespan is shorter than a human’s, so naturally, age-related issues can show up quickly. A vet has the training and expertise to spot these issues early and help you keep kitty healthy and comfortable during their later years.
During the visit: What to expect?
During the annual vet visit, your feline gets a thorough examination. Don't forget to bring your cat’s stool sample so that the vet can test for the presence of intestinal parasites and other pathogens. During the remainder of the visit, here are the core things that come with a feline wellness visit.
- Basic measurements of your cat, including weight, temp, pulse and breathing rate.
- The vet will examine the nose and mouth, looking for signs of discharges and obstructions, along with the condition of the gums, teeth, tongue and throat.
- An examination of the eyes and ears for signs of irregularities, discharge and infection.
- A head-to-tail look at the cat’s hair and skin for signs of parasites and skin disease.
- An examination of the abdomen, feeling internal organs, such as the intestines, kidneys and liver, for signs of abnormalities.
- A check for normal-sized lymph nodes.
- Analysis of the cat’s urine sample for kidney disease and diabetes.
Finally, the vet will take a blood sample to check for markers of anemia, infections, issues with the internal organs, or serious conditions like feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus.
In between vet visits, if your cat displays any of the changes below, you’ll want to schedule an appointment with the vet. The exam may reveal nothing, but these are often the early warning signs that something more serious is going on.
- Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.
- Changes in behavior such as increased aggression (hissing, biting and scratching), which may be a reaction to pain.
- Changes in litter box behaviors, like misses or going to the bathroom in new areas of the house.
- Changes in energy levels, such as lethargy.
Why senior cats benefit from twice-annual vet visits
Starting at age 10, your cat will benefit from more frequent vet visits, one every six months. In addition to the full annual checkup complete with bloodwork, your older cat would go in six months later for a shorter exam. Here are a few things to think about as your cat ages.
- Arthritis strikes in 90% of cats over the age of 12, causing mobility issues. Less active cats are more susceptible to obesity, which comes with many secondary, serious conditions. (Learn more how obesity harms your cat.) Guidance and care from your vet, however, can help you manage your pet’s pain.
- Tooth pain from feline dental disease can lead to tooth loss. If your cat is avoiding food and losing weight, a vet can rule this out.
- Older cats are susceptible to many other diseases that affect the kidneys, thyroid, liver and heart. Unexplained weight loss and house soiling can be early symptoms. Again, when you see physical and behavioral changes in your cat at any age, schedule an exam with your vet.
How to help a cat enter the carrier – peacefully
If you’ve avoided vet visits because your cat freaks out every time you try to put her in the carrier, you’re not alone. Chances are, they’re displaying the following aggressive responses to fear:
- Ears flattened against the head
- Baring teeth
- Tucked tail
- Fur standing up
- Scratching and biting
Unlike other instances of fear-triggering aggression, you can’t eliminate vet visits from your cat’s life. What you’ll want to do is desensitize your cat to being placed in the carrier and taken from the house, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center.
To prepare your cat for the next wellness visit, here are some tips to gently teach your cat that the carrier is not a bad thing.
- Make sure your response to the cat’s fear-induced aggression isn’t inadvertently rewarding the unwanted cat behavior. Don’t pet and console your cat, or back off in fear. Remain calm ... stoic, even.
- Keep the carrier out. Instead of packing it away in the closet, make the carrier part of the cat furniture. Cats like hiding in dark, enclosed spaces and a carrier can easily serve that purpose.
- In between vet visits, use the time to make kitty comfortable with the idea of spending time with the carrier. Make it cozy by lining it with a soft towel or blanket. Then, do what you can to encourage kitty to step inside and eventually, enter voluntarily for a nap. During playtime, direct the beam of the laser pointer right inside the entrance. Other pet parents have had success with dropping treats inside the carrier, or gradually placing the food bowl farther and farther inside.
- Once your cat is comfortable inside the cat carrier, get kitty used to the idea of being transported following these three steps.
- Start by closing the door and shutting your cat inside for a few seconds. Reopen the door and offer treats and praise.
- Once the cat responds calmly to the closed door, practice picking up the carrier and taking a walk around the room, then around the house, before setting it down. Once the cat accepts being carried around the house in her carrier, proceed to brief car trips.
- Finally, practice picking up the cat and placing her inside the carrier.
As always, reward calm, non-aggressive feline behavior with treats and praise. After following the above steps, your cat will be well-prepared for the next trip to the vet.
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