Ask a Vet: How Often Do I Need to Take My Cat to the Veterinarian?

Did you know that cat veterinary visits have fallen by 30 percent1 since 2001?  In fact, only one cat is seen at veterinary hospitals per every five dogs,2 despite the fact that more cats are owned as pets than dogs.  The decline in veterinary visits for cats is likely due to a large number of factors, including difficulty recognizing when cats are sick and a misunderstanding that indoor cats do not need to visit the vet.  

So how often do cat owners need to take their cats to the veterinarian?  

All cats need to visit the vet at least once a year.  

Just like humans go in for a yearly check-up, our feline family members need yearly check-ups as well! 
Cats are stoic animals, so it can be difficult for owners to tell when their cats are not feeling well. Bringing your cat to the veterinarian yearly can help identify problems before they become serious.  

What to Expect at the Vet

Your veterinarian will work with you to make sure your cat is in top health by asking you questions about your cat’s medical history and behaviors, performing a physical examination and recommending the necessary tests.

During the physical examination, your veterinarian will evaluate the following areas to make sure your cat is healthy:
  • Vital signs to check for any abnormalities in temperature, heart rate, or respiratory rate
  • Teeth and the mouth; tartar build-up and periodontal disease is common in cats, especially as they get older
  • Nutritional assessment including body weight and body condition score; more than 50% of cats in America are overweight3
  • Eyes and ears
  • Lymph nodes to check for enlargement
  • Abdominal palpation to check for any masses or organ abnormalities
  • Skin and coat to look for fleas, ticks, and changes in coat quality
  • Heart and lung sounds to make sure these organs are healthy
  • Muscles, bones, and joints to check for discomfort

Your veterinarian can also make sure your cat is up-to-date on all important vaccines, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick prevention. 

Once is Not Always Enough

While the yearly check-up is a good place to start, some cats need to visit the veterinarian even more frequently than once a year.  Signs that your cat may need a check-up before his or her yearly visit 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
  • Lethargy or changes in activity patterns
  • Changes in litter box habits
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Behavioral changes
  • Any other signs that seem out of the ordinary for your cat
  • Visiting the Vet

Your vet is a key partner in helping your cat be its healthiest self. Partner with your veterinarian to set up yearly appointments and for other proactive steps to maintain your cat’s health.

Learn more about feline veterinary visits at the American Association of Feline Practitioners.  For the latest information on cat health and behavior, sign up for our newsletter.


References

1. AAHA Pets Matter, August 19, 2015

2. Banfield State of Pet Health Report, 2016

3. Association for Pet Obesity Prevention Survey, 2015