Editor’s note: Today (Aug. 22) is Take Your Cat to the Vet Day, so we’re running this guest post from Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of a group called the CATalyst Council and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Many cat owners believe their feline friends are independent, self-sufficient, and healthy. As a result, most do not believe their cats require routine veterinary care. In fact, veterinary visits for cats have decreased by 30 percent since 2001, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. As a veterinarian who has practiced feline-exclusive medicine for more than 25 years, I am committed to discrediting this dangerous misconception.
Just as humans need to visit the doctor for yearly checkups, cats need to visit a veterinarian at least once each year. The American Association of Feline Practitioners affirms that regular veterinary visits help ensure that cats lead long, happy, and healthy lives.
A survey commissioned by global pet food company Royal Canin revealed that cat owners who do not take their cats to the vet cite a variety of reasons. First, two-thirds of cat owners believe cats have fewer health issues than dogs. This assumption has led to a health-care disparity between the two animals. According to a Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, only one cat is seen by a veterinarian for every five dogs, despite the fact that 10 million more cats are owned in the United States.
The Royal Canin survey also shows that the older a cat gets, the more likely the owner is to take her to the veterinarian only when she is sick. Overall, 31 percent of those with senior cats take them to the veterinarian only when they are ill, compared with 20 percent for adult cats, 18 percent for adolescents, and 17 percent for kittens.
Because cats in familiar surroundings can seem stoic, it can be difficult for owners to tell whether and when their cats are sick or in pain. Veterinarians can help by identifying and treating the illnesses and health problems that owners might not notice. What’s more, usually the earlier a problem is identified, the better the outcome tends to be. During an annual checkup and examination, we evaluate your cat’s medical history and behavior, and we perform a physical examination to assess the following areas:
- Vital signs including temperature, heart, and respiratory rates; pain assessment; and nutritional status
- Teeth and the mouth, as tartar builds up and periodontal disease is common even in young cats
- Ears and eyes
- Lymph nodes and thyroid
- Skin and coat to check for fleas, ticks, and changes in coat quality
- Muscles, bones, and joints to check for discomfort
- Heart and lungs
- Abdominal organs including the gastrointestinal tract and kidneys and bladder
During the checkup, we also confirm that cats are up to date on vaccinations, heartworm prevention, and flea-and-tick prevention, which is important even for indoors cats.
While an annual exam is a good place to start, some cats — including senior cats and those with chronic conditions — might need to visit the veterinarian more frequently. Signs that your cat might need to visit the veterinarian again include:
- Any abnormalities on laboratory tests that indicate the need for follow-up
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in water consumption (drinking more or less water than usual)
- Changes in respiratory rate or effort of breathing
- Signs of discomfort or pain
- Lethargy or changes in activity patterns
- Changes in litter box habits
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Coughing or sneezing
- Behavioral changes including vocalization
- Any other signs that seem out of the ordinary for your cat
Veterinarians help cats lead the long, healthy and happy lives they deserve. Setting up yearly appointments with a veterinarian who knows cats is an effective step cat owners can take to maintain the well-being of their feline family members. That is why I have partnered with Royal Canin to support its Curiosity Saved the Cat campaign. The campaign supports National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day by challenging cat owners to pledge to see the vet this year. Owners can take the pledge by visiting the Curiosity Saved the Cat website. For every pledge made through Aug. 26, Royal Canin will donate a bowl of food to animal shelters across the country.
About the author: Dr Jane Brunt has been an exclusively feline vet for more than 20 years, founding two cat-only veterinary hospitals. She is executive director of the CATalyst Council, past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.