Adult Cat's Annual Veterinary Exam

Annual "Well-Check" for all Adult Cats is Highly Recommended

Photo of Veterinarian Examining Cat
Veterinarian Examining Cat. Getty Images

Contrary to some opinions, cats are not low-maintenance pets. They require the same loving care as dogs, pet birds, and exotic pets. All adult cats should be seen by their veterinarian, at least once a year, for a routine "well-check" examination. An annual veterinary check draws a baseline of the cat's normal physical condition, so that, should illness or emergencies arise, the veterinarian can more easily spot the differences in the cat's condition.

Yet a study conducted in 2010 indicated that one-third of owned cats had not been seen by a veterinarian in the past year. Three factors for this trend caught my attention:

  • The Economy and Rising Veterinary Costs
    Financially strapped cat owners simply can't afford routine veterinary care.
  • Cats' Resistance
    Some cats are either too fearful, stressed, aggressive when it's "cage time," and owners delay visits as a result.
  • The "Helpful" Internet
    According to one +survey, "39 percent look online before consulting a vet if a pet is sick or injured."

The shame of these trends is that treatment is often delayed until the pet's condition has worsened considerably, and treatment costs rise, as a result.

What Happens At the Annual Well-Check?

Usually, a vet tech or vet assistant will first weigh your cat. Some veterinary clinics have a scale built into the examination table. Next, the vet tech will take kitty's temperature with a rectal thermometer.

You may be asked to assist with this by holding the cat's front end steady.

The veterinarian will then come in and manually examine your cat.

  • Eyes and Nose
    He will check his eyes for clearness and signs of inflammation or tearing; then the nostrils for signs of congestion.
  • Mouth and Teeth
    He will examine the mouth and teeth for gum inflammation, signs of excess tartar, and/or any tooth abnormalities or breakage.
  • Ears
    Kitty's ears will be checked for signs of inflammation, redness, or drainage around the ear canal, and mites.
  • Heart and Lungs
    Your vet will listen to kitty's heart and lungs with a stethoscope, listening for any heart murmurs or any other abnormal sounds, such as respiratory congestion.
  • Fur
    The vet will comb the cat's fur with a flea comb, looking for signs of "flea dirt."
  • Paws and Feel
    Next, your veterinarian will examine kitty's paws and feet, looking for broken/damaged claws and cuts or injury to the pad leather.
  • Kitty's Butt
    His anus will be checked for visual evidence of worms, and the anal gland for potential signs of infection or impaction.

Last, your veterinarian will carefully palpate with his fingers all your cat's internal organs, feeling for signs of abnormalities, such as swelling or lumps and bumps. This is one of the most important parts of the wellness check, as your vet's fingers have the magical ability to remember how a particular cat feels normally. This makes it easy to pinpoint potential problems at future visits.

Laboratory Tests

If this is your cat's first vet visit as an adult, or is a recently acquired adult cat, your veterinarian will probably run a series of lab tests.

These tests will establish a "baseline" of your cat's normal health, and will make it easier to spot changes during the cat's next vet appointment. #These tests will commonly include:

  • CBC (Complete Blood Count)
    This tests measures and evaluates the type of cells circulating in the blood, including red cells, white cells and platelets. In some cases, the CBC might also isolate other microorganisms and parasites. The CBC is useful for detecting anemia. leukemia, or infections, or other conditions affecting your cat's health.
  • Blood Chemistry Panel
    The blood chemistry panel measures your cat’s electrolytes, enzymes and chemical elements of his blood such as calcium and phosphorous levels.
  • Urinalysis (UA)
    Your veterinarian may suggest this test, or you may request it, if you have cause to suspect a UTI. A urinalysis will help your veterinarian detect the presence of specific substances that normally do not appear in urine, including protein, sugar, white blood cells or blood. It may help in the diagnosis of certain diseases.
  • Fecal Smear
    A slide of fecal material will be examined for evidence of worms.

Annual Vaccinations

The only vaccines given routinely are the Core Vaccines. Any Non-Core Vaccines will only be given to cats at high risk. In recent years there has been some question as to how many years are necessary for continuing to vaccinate healthy cats. Even among those who disagree with annual vaccinations, it is generally accepted that a three year period between "shots" is acceptable. This is a subject only you and your veterinarian can decide, after discussing the pros and cons. Also, since Rabies vaccines are subject to state laws, that will be a factor in your decision.

Location of Core Vaccines Injection

Prior to the VASTF recommendations, it was common practice to give all vaccinations in the scruff of the neck. However, because of fears of VAS (Vaccine-Associated-Sarcoma, the protocols have changed. Now, the recommendations for Core Vaccines are:

  • Panleukopenia, feline herpesvirus I, feline calicivirus (or 3-way): Right fore region (shoulder)
  • Rabies: Right rear leg, as distally (far from the hip joint) as possible.

The reasoning behind these changes, unpleasant as it may sound, is that a VAS tumor on the leg can be treated by amputation, allowing affected cats to survive. Cats are wonderfully adaptive and usually adjust quite quickly to navigating on three legs.

At the conclusion of your appointment, your veterinarian will discuss the findings from the physical examination and give you medications, such as worming medicine, when indicated. You will receive the results of the lab tests, usually by phone, a few days later, and any necessary follow-up appointments will be scheduled at that time.

Your kitty is now "home free" for another year, unless health situations arise that indicate another veterinary appointment.

+The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study

#AAHA (American Animal Hospitals Association