As a lifelong pet owner and now cat owner, I know just how important it is that a cat gets proper health care–but surprisingly few of us really know how often we need to take our cat to the vet.
For some cat owners, just having their cat by their side is a miracle, and that’s the case for one New York family. In a story reminiscent of the Homeward Bound movies I grew up with, Buddy, a family cat, was stranded during an onslaught of snowstorms that blanketed the Southhold region.
Pets are not just pets, they are family. This is why it’s part of our responsibility to make sure our cats are not just happy, but also healthy. Lots of love, regular exercise, high-quality food, and of course, regular trips to the vet are some of the ways to do this.
Cats can’t tell us how they are feeling and it is in the nature of these felines to actually even hide it if something feels wrong. As part of their survival instinct, showing signs of weakness, would make them vulnerable in the wild. This is something that our domestic cats have carried on to this day. As the adage goes, prevention is better than cure and sometimes, a quick to the vet can make all the difference.
But while the family was desperate to find their beloved cat, Buddy was just as determined. Three hard weeks passed until Buddy showed at his home, having survived snowstorms and harsh conditions.
First adopted nearly 10 years ago, Buddy has become like family– and so when he showed up, against obstacles, on the family’s front door, needless to say they were ecstatic– and eager to make sure he was given the care and attention he needed.
Miracles aside, of course, it shouldn’t take a dramatic journey home or a return story to prompt you to take your cat to the vet. Even if your cat seems to be in perfect health, routine vet visits can play a big role in your cat’s well-being.
The problem? How often you take your cat to the vet is not clear cut–but depends on your cat’s individual needs.
In this article, I’ll tell you why regular vet visits are important and how often to take your cat to the vet– from regular visits to managing special health conditions.
Are regular visits to the vet important?
I get it. Taking your cat to the vet is not the most fun experience–and if you have a cat that doesn’t like its cat carrier, it can be especially challenging. But taking your cat to the visit regularly can help your cat in the long run, and even cut back on health costs.
Routine good visits for cats are important for several reasons. Routine good visits can mean the difference between your cat staying healthy and active, and ignoring potential serious problems. Ignoring cat vet visits risks also what could be preventable conditions.
Here are the top reasons you should always include routine vet visits in your schedule.
Regular Wellness Vet Examination
Very much like a regular check-up for humans, these wellness examinations for your cat include updates of shots and vaccines, physical checkups, as we well as some screenings and tests depending on the needs of your cat and the recommendation of the vet.
Emergency Vet Visit
As its name suggests, emergency vet visits should be done immediately. Scenarios that require emergency trips to the vets are when your cat has experienced an accident or trauma, fell from a high place, suddenly shows signs of distress or difficulty in breathing, unable to move, seizures or unconsciousness, non-stop vomiting, blood in poop, or orifice, or digestion of harmful chemicals like cleaners, paint, or makeup.
We all want the first type of vet visit and as much as possible, avoid the second one. This is why routine checks with your vet are important. Most especially for growing kitties, senior cats, super senior cats, and those with special needs and existing illnesses.
As mentioned, this depends on several factors, but mainly the age and health condition of your cat. Below is a quick rundown on the recommended frequency of regular wellness vet examinations for cats on their different life stages.
These take from the guidelines of vet visits as recommended by the International Society of Feline Medicine, the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and the American Animal Hospital Association.
Vaccinations are critical, especially as kittens, but even as cats. Vaccinations help protect indoor and outdoor cats against common diseases and conditions and also helps prevent your cat from spreading diseases to others. Regular vaccinations are one of the best investments that you can make.
Dental/ Oral Health
While you don’t always have to take your cat for professional cleanings, you should at least make sure you’re brushing their teeth with the best cat toothpaste. Scheduling routine visits with your vet can ensure that your cat’s teeth are being properly cleaned, and avoid conditions such as gingivitis and plaque buildup.
Growth and Development
This is the case for kittens: kittens tend to be healthy, but it’s good to monitor their health especially as they are growing. By monitoring kitten conditions early in life, and even monitoring their weight to ensure you’re feeding the best kitten food for them, more frequent visits are a good idea to get your cat’s health on the right track from the beginning.
Special Health Conditions
Special health conditions, from diabetes to kidney diseases to cancers and even skin conditions all require regular visits for treatment management. Without vet supervision, even mild conditions can greatly cause a decline in your cat’s health and quality of life. Special conditions that are mild to moderate can often be treated at home, but they still require fairly regular visits.
Lifestyle changes– or even a move to a new home– may be causes for you to check in with your vet more frequently. That can include a change in their diet or eating habits; a changing in litter box habits; changes in energy or mood; or even just a cat adjusting to a new member of the household.
Cats are sensitive to environmental changes of any kind, so it’s best practice to check in with a vet even if it’s just their surroundings that are different. A vet can guide you to the best pet supplies that can make your cat comfortable in their new home, and help them adjust more readily.
While this should be the least important factor, a final reason to invest in visiting your vet on a routine basis is cost. While you don’t want to go more often than you have to, delaying visits can actually rack up healthcare costs in the long run–for what could have been taken care of with routine care.
How often do you take your cat to the vet?
Now that you know all of the top reasons you should make sure you’re taking your cat to the vet regularly, now you need to know how often to take the cat to the vet. Knowing how often to take your cat to the vet can reduce costs in the long run– while also saving you unnecessary trips. Here’s how often to take your feline friend to the vet, for different scenarios.
Vaccinations, of course, are a key part of kitten’s care, but also adult cats. For kittens, I recommend starting to ask about vaccinations around 7 weeks of age. These initial vaccinations are especially important and should be followed by booster shots a year after.
While kittens require shots every month for the first vaccinations, adult cats usually only need to come in for vaccinations every year to three years–which varies by the vaccine type.
Important vaccinations include: feline calicivirus, feline viral rhinotracheitis, rabies, and feline distemper.
Regular Wellness Visits
Regular wellness visits are recommended for all adult cats. These visits are simply meant to ensure they stay healthy and protect against health conditions. For these visits, you should take your cat to see your vet no less than once a year, though I recommend twice a year for most healthy cats. These routine wellness visits should include physical examinations, as well as a testing stool for parasites, and any lab work your vet deems appropriate.
You should also vet your cat’s dental health and weight to see if any lifestyle changes are needed. While more than twice a year may not be necessary for these visits, it’s always good to follow your vet’s recommendations.
For older cats, or those over 9 years of age, I recommend twice to three times a year. Senior cats are more liable to health conditions and should also get regular blood work, as well at a urinalysis.
Dental/ Oral Health
For dental and oral health, regular wellness checks for most cats should suffice. If you’re not brushing your cat’s teeth, however, you could consider professional cleaning. However, if you see any signs of gum inflammation, if your cat is expressing trouble eating or pain, or if you notice any changes in teeth coloration, you should schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
If you move homes, you don’t need to schedule a visit to your vet right away–unless, of course, you have to change vets. In those cases, it’s a good idea to schedule an initial appointment as soon as possible.
But if changes in the environment cause your cat distress, then you should visit your vet as soon as possible. These changes include changes in litter box habits, dietary habits, and mood. You should continue these visits until the issue is resolved.
Aside from changes in your cat’s eating habits, if you’ve recently changed cat food, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s the best cat food for them. If your cat was weight problems– whether it’s overweight or underweight– your vet may recommend either healthy high-calorie cat food or low calorie cat food–and coming in for more regular weight checks, a few times a year, maybe a good idea until your cat reaches a healthy weight range and a feeding routine for them.
Rescued/adopted kitten/cat. How soon should I bring him/her to the vet?
If possible, ASAP. If the circumstances do not allow this, the maximum would be one week. The more you don’t know about your rescue cat, the more important it is to have a vet examine it.
This is because cats living on the streets may have been exposed to parasites or viruses that need immediate treatment. Stray cats might also carry diseases that are harmful to humans including the following:
- Bacterial Diseases: salmonella, Q fever, cat scratch disease, campylobacter??
- Parasitic Diseases: toxoplasmosis?, tapeworm, roundworm, hookworm
- Viral Diseases?: rabies
- Fungal Diseases: ringworm
There are also instances wherein rescue cats are not in the best shape, so an immediate visit to the vet is highly recommended.
For rescue cats from shelters or adoptions from people you know, they might be able to provide more information about the overall health of your new cat. A vet visit is still due, but having medical information and medical history at hand would surely during your vet visit.
How Often Should I Take my Cat to The Vet (by Age Group)
Kittens (0 – 6 months)
Kittens need to be taken regularly to the vet, at least in the first year of their life. In the first 20 weeks, I recommend taking kittens every month, or as frequently as every three weeks. During this time, kittens get vaccinations and wellness checks to make sure that they’re developing properly.
Kittens almost always require stool and occasional urine samples to be examined. Stool samples are analyzed to make sure they aren’t developing parasites. Early kitten health visits are also a great time to ask for any tests they may need for chronic health conditions common in cats, such as feline immunodeficiency viruses, kidney conditions, and even skin or eye ailments.
Your vet can even be a great resource for litter box training or helping you select the best cat litter and the best cat litter box for them. And pet owners should also consider spaying and neutering their kittenss within the first year.
Much like humans and other baby animals, trips to the clinics are very important to ensure all is well and fine as the baby grows. For initial health check up after birth, kittens can be brought to the vet around 6 or 8 weeks.
This is usually the time as well when kittens are scheduled for deworming, then repeat deworming at 8, 10, and 12 weeks of age, followed by monthly deworming schedules, up until the kitten is 6 months of age. Vitamins boosts are also given to kittens to provide them with additional nutrients along with medications for ticks or fleas, when necessary.
The core vaccines are usually administered between 12 to 16 weeks of age and would start at the first booster. These include vaccinations for cat flu, feline calicivirus (FCV), feline herpesvirus (fHV), and Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV). These shots are very important to protect your kitty from contagious viruses and infectious diseases that may be exposed to. A couple of more vaccines are needed after this, followed by annual regular boosters.
Rabies vaccines for cats are given to kittens in between 12 to 16 weeks as well. Depending on the vaccine your vet uses, rabies shots are usually done on an annual basis or every three (3) years. Yes, even if your cat is a purely indoor cat, they must receive the rabies vaccine too. This is one of the shots that is very critical not to miss.
At 4 months, cats are usually recommended for spaying and neutering, as this is the time where they start to mature sexually. When left unchecked, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies might happen, especially with households with multiple pets of the opposite gender.
Junior Cat (7 months to 2 years old)
Contrary to popular belief, cats age faster than most people think. There is a notion that each human year is equal to seven (7) years in a cat’s lifespan. The truth is that cats grow fast as kittens and as they reach their first year, this is almost equivalent to a teenager of around 15 or 16 years old. As they reach their second year, your cat’s maturity starts to slow down, putting them in their mid-20s if we convert to human years.
Cats at this age are considered Junior Cats and would recommend vet visits ideally every six (6) months. Since your cat is still growing, it is important to keep their health in check too. Around this time, these vet visits include vaccination updates, nutrition checks, weight management, parasite control, and behavioral health check.
Adult Cat (3 to 7 years old)
Past its junior stage, a cat reaches its full adulthood at its 3-year-old mark. In most breeds, this is also the stage wherein your cat has reached its full physical growth and size
. For generally healthy cats, once a year is recommended covering both the annual vaccinations and shots, as well as physical checkups. The focus of these examinations now is to ensure your cat is in optimum health and should there be present underlying discomforts or illnesses, it can get treated right away.
Mature Cat (7 to 10 years old)
Again, much like humans, as cats age, they require more frequent medical checks and attention, usually twice a year. It is also around this time that common age-related diseases come to the surface. On top of the regular shots and checkups, your vet might recommend more tests and screenings to ensure your mature cat remains healthy and happy.
Senior Cat (11 to 14 years old)
Cats past their 10th birthday are considered senior cats and those that are over 14 years old are super-senior cats. At their old age, your cat’s behavior and personality might undergo some changes. It is important to know whether these changes are mainly just due to their maturity or if there are unknown discomforts or health issues.
At this point, senior and super senior cats are recommended to be checked by their vets every six months or twice a year to continuously monitor their health. Along with the standard health check and shots routine, your vet might also include blood and urine tests to see if the health of your cat’s internal organs is all well. Depending on the findings of the vet, more regular vet examinations might be required for senior and super-senior cats.
How to Prepare For Your Cat’s First Vet Visit
If you are a first-time pet owner, a visit to the vet might leave you a bit lost and confused. Worry not. We’ve compiled some notes for you to remember and prepare, along with things to expect during your cat’s first trip to the vet.
- Give the animal clinic a quick call and set up an appointment with your veterinarian. Not sure which clinic to go to? Ask for personal recommendations from family and friends. You can also search online for the highly suggested vet clinics in your area. Check for customer reviews and testimonials too.
- Ask for instructions regarding your cat’s diet or if they need to fast hours before the visit. Depending on the purpose of the visit, the clinic might ask for a stool sample from your cat as well.
- Prepare your cat and its carrier. Cats should be in their carriers when traveling outdoors, as there are so many unexpected situations that can cause bigger problems than convincing Kitty to be in the carrier. For one, the clinic’s waiting area will be filled with other cats and other animals, usually dogs. Outdoors, cats might get too excited or scared as well and might runoff.
- As you prepare for the day of your vet visit, be there on time for your cat’s appointment. Be prepared for delays, as some ‘patients’ take longer than others.
- Prepare all the documents that you have related to your cat.
- Know as much information as you can about your cat, including the following
- Shots and vaccines received
- Diet including specific brand, type, amount, and frequency of feeding
- Medications provided to the cat
- Observations on your cat’s general behavior and demeanor including eating, sleeping, and toilet habits
- Travel history, if any.
- Upon arrival at the clinic, you will be asked to fill out a form including all the information regarding your cat. When this is done, the next step is to wait for the nurse or veterinary technician.
- On your turn, the veterinary technician will be asking questions about your cat, taking their weight, checking their heart and breathing rate, along with a rectal temperature check.
- Time to meet the vet! The vet will be asking lots of questions about your cats, including origin, history, behavior, habits, and if you have observed some health concerns. They will also provide recommendations depending on your cat’s overall health and condition. After this interview, the vet will perform a head-to-tail assessment of your cat. We’ll discuss more of this below.
- After the vet visit, give your cat a treat for a job well done. If all was well your cat should be pretty relaxed and back to the comfort of your home. If there are recommended follow-ups or medications, be sure to follow through on these.
What happens at a cat’s first vet visit?
For routine or wellness examinations, vets usually do a head-to-tail assessment with cats, including general observations especially on the physical condition of your cat, auscultation which is using a stethoscope to listen to your cat’s heartbeat and lungs, as well as palpation which is feeling the specific areas of your cat’s body to check for pulse rate, swelling, lumps, and more.
A general observation will check
- The alertness of the cat and interest in its surroundings, including a few steps as the cat walks and moves in the examination table
- General body condition including weight and size
- Muscle condition
- Condition of the coat and skin including excessive shedding, dandruff, severe oiliness, or hair loss
- Up Close inspection of the eyes to check for redness, excessive tearing, discharge, cloudiness on the eyes, and abnormal lumps among others
- Up Close inspection of ears for discharges or thickening
- Up Close inspection of the nose and face for breathing, skin folds, discharges, and more
- Your cat’s teeth and if there are signs of broken teeth, gum diseases, infection, baby teeth, tartar build-up, ulcers, and excessive salivation, to name a few.
Using a stethoscope, the vet will listen to your cat’s heart rate and heart rhythm, as well as its lungs and breath sounds.
With their hands and fingers, the vet will also be checking your cat’s pulse in the hind legs, the lymph nodes in the neck, head, and limbs, as well as the throat. The vet will also check the legs of your cat including its paws and toenails. Abdominal checkups are done too, feeling around your cat’s body and checking their internal organs such as the bladder, kidney, intestines, liver, stomach, and spleen.
Depending on the results, your vet might request additional tests which can be divided into urinalysis, complete blood count (CBC), thyroid hormone test, and biochemistry profile. Some cats might also need x-rays of their internal organs or skeletal systems. The latter is more common in senior cats, wherein age-related health concerns tend to manifest.
If your cat has a special health condition, your vet will likely recommend more frequent visits to monitor treatment. Some minor conditions, like skin conditions, may only require an extra visit a year, while more chronic conditions, like chronic kidney disease, and even diabetes, may require more regular monitoring.
After being diagnosed with diabetes, it’s essential you work with your vet’s treatment and management plan. While some of this can be done at home, you’ll need to take your cat to the vet as often as is needed to receive additional doses of insulin. Insulin usually is given with syringes twice a day– and it’s vital you don’t reuse syringes. Plan ahead and visit your vet when you’re starting to run low.
After initially being diagnosed, you and your cat may need to visit your vet on a regular basis until it’s deemed that your cat is receiving the right dosage for them. Your cat’s blood sugar levels will need to be monitored, and dosages may initially need to be changed as frequently as every three to seven days. Even after that, regular blood sugar monitoring is vital; your vet will recommend routine visits to check blood sugar curves and trends to ensure your cat’s blood sugar levels are being properly managed.
Other parts of treatment– including regular exercise and diabetic-friendly cat food– are also vital. While these do not necessarily require frequent visits to the vet, they do mean you need to be vigilant and in regular communication.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Unfortunately, one of the most common health conditions for cats, especially senior cats, the face is urinary issues. Some are milder than others, such as benign cysts, while others are potentially fatal. Kidney issues of any kind are often treated in part with urinary tract health cat food– as well as low phosphorus cat food.
For chronic kidney disease, however, there are more treatment options– none of which can be taken care of at home. Treatment options vary in efficacy from cat to cat, as much is still being researched in the area of managing and treating kidney disease in cats.
One of the main goals of treatment is to both reduce the level of protein lost through urine and manage issues of hypertension. Medication can be taken orally and combined with enzyme inhibitors, vitamin supplements, and even antioxidants. Some cats will also develop anemia, which typically may require therapies such as blood transfusions and/ or replacing lost blood cells with compounds.
In other words: for simple urinary tract infections, an initial visit and follow-up to your vet will usually suffice. For chronic kidney disease, however, I highly recommend following your vet’s advice. Nothing so serious can be managed with cat home treatments, and it’s vital to come frequently as your vet deems necessary.
The same is true for any form of cancer. Cancer is among the leading causes of mortality in senior cats– though, of course, younger cats can get cancers as well. As is the case with any human, cancers can range quite a bit in terms of how aggressive they are, and when they are diagnosed can make a dramatic difference in prognosis (which is why routine visits to your vet really are important).
Signs of cancer are often ambiguous– from bowel changes to eating changes– but, of course, can also be connected to more tell-tale signs, such as tumors, sores, bleeding, or notable weight loss. While it’s good not to assume the worst, it’s also important to be cautious and set up a visit with your vet if notice changes for more than a few days– or immediately in the case of serious issues like bloody discharge.
From an official diagnosis, you’ll need to work with your vet hand and hand for treatment. Depending on cancer, stage, and severity, possible treatments include something as simple as a medication you can give at home, surgery to remove tumors, chemotherapy, radiation treatment, and even alternative treatments like acupuncture and dietary supplements.
I can’t tell you how often you’ll need to visit your vet if your cat is diagnosed with cancer because the course of treatment is variable to a high degree. As you might imagine, your best vet is to follow your vet’s guidelines as much as possible- and, of course, make sure your cat is comfortable at home, with a clean environment and a comfortable cat bed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: Even if your cat is healthy, you should take your cat to the vet every year. Routine wellness visits ensure that your cat is at their optimal health, and allows you to make any adjustments you may not know you need to address, such as brushing their teeth at home with cat toothpaste or making changes to their diet. Even more importantly, routine visits may catch diseases or health concerns early on (and prevent some conditions possible, such as diabetes), leading to a longer life for your cat.
Answer: Routine visits usually are not excessively expensive– a yearly visit costs an average of $50, though you’ll have to pay extra for heartworm tests and fecal exams– meaning an average bill could run more around $100. Cat teeth cleaning, on the other hand (not included with a routine visit) can cost a few hundred dollars.
Answer: This depends on several factors including your cat’s overall health conditions, the rate of the vet clinic you are visiting, and the types of examinations that need to be done. Roughly, a routine check up for a healthy cat starts at $45, with vaccinations ranging from $15 to $30. For kittens, their first dose of vaccines are around $80. For spay or neuter, average price ranges from $35 to $200.
Answer: The frequency of the vet visits required for a cat varies on the cat’s health, age, and condition. For regular checkups and vaccines, at least once a year is the ideal.
Answer: Yes. Indoor cats need the same amount of medical attention including vaccines and health monitoring.
Answer: Cats all have unique health conditions and in different stages. For healthy cats, the recommended frequency is monthly for kittens, twice a year for junior cats, once a year for adult cats, and at least twice a year as well for mature, senior, and super senior cats
The overall health of our cat depends largely on us as their human. With this, it is definitely part of our responsibility to ensure the well-being of our feline companions. As your cat progresses through the different stages of its life, its need for medical attention varies too.
As a quick re-cap, kittens are recommended to go for monthly visits to the vet, junior cats can be checked twice a year, while adult cats in good health can go for annual visits to the vet. As the cat reaches its seven (7) year mark, it is considered a mature cat, and for over 10 years, a senior cat. Those who are more than 14 years old are super-senior cats. At this age, these cats would need at least twice a year check-up with their vets, possibly with additional tests and health screens.
Keep in mind your cat’s scheduled vet visits, when the next visit is due, and the instructions and recommendations from the veterinarian including medications. Maintaining your cat’s medical record is very important too and administered shots and vaccines are often recorded in your cat’s medical book.
Communicating your concerns to the vet is important too. Do not be shy to ask questions, no matter how basic you might think it is. After all, they are animal experts. They will be more than happy to help you learn more about your cat. For budget concerns, you can mention this to the veterinary technician or the vet as well. Some tests can get expensive, so being prepared financially is important too. Do not hesitate to bring this up, as they will surely understand and can provide professional advice, with possibly some alternatives.
Frequent vet visits also help you develop a relationship with your local vet and clinic staff. The more that they know your cat, they will be more familiar with him/her and will be better at spotting health issues that may not be very obvious. Being familiar with the medical history of your cat also helps the vet in monitoring its health for the long term.
For your cat, they will also appreciate having a vet that they already know. This makes vet visits stress-free for everyone. And most importantly, your cat remains in its best healthy self, which is the priority.
Taking your cat to the vet a minimum of once a year is key to ensuring your cat stays happy and healthy– but many of us may worry about costs. Always discuss options with your vet.
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