It’s that time again… you’ve received the reminder card from your veterinarian’s office… time to pack up your kitty (who just LOVES – total sarcasm – getting into the carrier) and head to see your veterinarian for its yearly physical exam and vaccines. We understand the vaccine part. We want our cats to remain immune to disease.
But why the exam? Especially in an outwardly appearing healthy cat…..
A physical exam is one of the most valuable things you can do for your cat.
Let’s break it down.
Won’t I Be Able To Tell If My Cat Is Sick?
Cats are stoic creatures. They will not show signs of pain, discomfort or illness until the illness is advanced. By that point it may be too late to intervene. How many of us kitty lovers have had a healthy cat one day who becomes a critically ill cat the next? Signs of illness mean weakness and in a cat’s world survival is contingent on not showing weakness. It makes sense in the animal world but makes it tough for the humans who love them. How do we know if anything is going on with them? Especially when they won’t complain?
Because our cats cannot talk to us and will hide signs of illness, the physical exam is the best first step in the process of evaluating your cat’s health. Prior to the exam your veterinarian or technician will ask you a series of questions about your cat- we call this a ‘history’. If you know ahead of time the things to look for you can be a valuable help in assessing your cat’s health. Have you noticed any changes in your cat’s behavior, appetite, thirst, or litter box habits? Is your cat doing anything out of the ordinary or unusual? The history of your cat is the first important step in evaluating your cat’s health.
What Happens During a Physical Exam
During the exam your vet will carefully observe, listen and feel your cat. Many illnesses including heart conditions, skin conditions, and dental disease can be diagnosed on physical exam.
Although many people think that only older pets need regular trips to the vet, it’s important that cats of all ages have an annual physical exam! Our cats can’t tell us when something’s wrong. In fact, cats–being the stoic creatures they are–will often hide signs of discomfort until the problem is advanced. While you may be aware of the problems that can develop in old age, there are also many things to look out for while your kitten is still young, including:
- Ear mites: this is a common problem that is easily fixed. Ear mites are parasites that live in the ear canal. If you notice that your kitten has a dark earwax resembling coffee grounds with ears that are itchy and smelly, bring them in right away! This is especially important, as ear mites can spread to other pets, and, in worst case scenarios, can cause an infection that, if left untreated, can result in your cat losing their hearing.
- Fleas: this is another common problem that can spread to other pets but can also be easily remedied. The risk to young kittens is that unchecked fleas could cause life-threatening anemia.
- Worms: roundworms are intestinal parasites that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Hookworms and heartworms are less common, but they can also cause serious trouble for a young kitten.
- Feline Viral Rhinopneumonitis: also known as “feline herpes”, this is a common upper respiratory infection in cats. This virus is extremely contagious, so if you have other cats in the household, it’s important that your new kitten is tested for Feline Viral Rhinopneumonitis. Symptoms are heavy sneezing, eye discharge, eye lesions, fever, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
- Conjunctivitis: this is when a kitten’s eye becomes swollen with a watery discharge. Conjunctivitis is contagious, but it is also easily treatable.
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We all want the same thing- a happy healthy cat for as many years as possible. Please bring your kitty to the vet at least once a year (senior kitty’s should go twice a year) for a routine physical exam. This one little step may be what it takes to enable your cat to live longer and healthier.