How often should I take my cat to the veterinarian?
Some people say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when it comes to cats and visits to the veterinarian, that’s about the worst advice you could take.
Cats have a way (which I’ll explain in a minute), of pretending they’re not sick. By the time a cat actually looks like she needs medical attention, it could be too late. Staying on top of your cat’s health is the only way to head off problems, making them easier, and potentially less expensive, to address.
I’ll get into the nitty gritty of exactly how often you’ll need to take your cat to the vet, but in general, it’s more frequent at the beginning and end of your cat’s life. But in the middle years of your cat’s life, a single visit per year will do.
And that single visit is enough for a vet to vaccinate (when necessary), to check all of your cat’s major body systems and organs, to address budding health problems, and to get answers on any of your niggling worries, whether behavioral or health-related.
It’s not only worth it, it’s a critical part of the cat guardian job description, too.
And for those who just want the facts, here’s a quick table that shows how often to bring your cat to the vet:
How often to take your cat to the vet
KITTENS: 6-8 weeks old
Every 3-4 weeks until the kitten is 4 months old.
ADULT CATS: 1-10 years old
Once a year
SENIOR CATS: 11+ years old
Twice a year (at least)
Most people take their dogs to the vet, but not their cats. Why?
I don’t want you to read this section and think, “No one else takes their cat to the vet. Why should I?”
I want you to think, “That’s crazy! Cats are just as important as dogs!”
Unfortunately, it’s true. According to one study, 52% of cat guardians don’t take their cat to the vet for regular visits. Dogs get taken twice as often as cats. Why?
58% of respondents say that their cat “hates” visiting the vet. They’re probably right, but good cat guardians do it anyway.
38% of people get stressed out at the mere THOUGHT of taking their cat to the vet. This, too, is understandable.
But the main reason that people don’t bring their cats to the vet is because people think cats are independent, self-sufficient, and low-maintenance pets who don’t need medical care.
And about that, the survey respondents were dead wrong.
Cats are good at hiding illness
We like to think of cats as hunters. For centuries, cats were kept to manage the mouse population and protect our granaries, homes, and businesses from rodent damage. Cats are most definitely predators.
But cats are also prey animals. Cougars, wolves, and coyotes will happily have cat for dinner. Eagles, snakes, hawks, and owls also hunt cats for food.
And prey animals are extremely good at masking pain. A hurt or injured animal is the ideal target for a predator: they require less energy to catch, and they’re less likely to effectively fight back and cause injury to the predator. Consequently, prey animals do their best to appear strong and healthy, even when they’re not.
When your cat is sick, you might not know it. Your cat is programmed to hide how unwell she is feeling, even if she is an indoor cat and there are no wolves or eagles for miles.
Indoor cats don’t need to go to the vet (WRONG!)
Some people wrongly assume that an indoor cat is safe. He won’t get hit by a car. He won’t catch diseases from other cats. He won’t eat something gross (and dangerous). Why bring a perfectly healthy cat to the vet?
Even though indoor cats don’t face some of the health challenges that outdoor cats face, they are still susceptible to disease, including heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, and kidney disease, to name just a few.
You must bring your indoor cat to the vet for regular wellness visits to keep her health on the right track and help her live her best (and longest) life.
How often should I bring a kitten to the vet?
Kittens need a lot of vet appointments, mostly because they require vaccines and booster shots that need to be given at specific intervals and at specific ages.
As soon as you get a kitten, call to schedule his first appointment. Your vet will inform you about the vaccines that are required in your area and those that are recommended based on your kitten’s prospective lifestyle.
With that information, your vet will help you establish a vet-visit schedule for those critical first months of life. Typically, a kitten will see a veterinarian at least five or six times in his first year.
Why are vet visits for kittens so important?
Vaccines aside, kitten well-visits are extremely important for young kittens. Routine visits will help establish a bond between the kitten and the vet, which will reduce her fear, anxiety, and stress for all future visits for the rest of her life.
Kittens are changing every minute, and frequent vet visits help ensure that they are growing properly. Your vet will take your kitten’s temperature, listen to your kitten’s heart and lungs, will check his eyes, ears, mouth, and skin. Your vet will palpate your kitten’s abdomen and look for abnormalities. Your vet will check his stool for dangerous gastrointestinal parasites (bring a quarter-sized sample in a little plastic baggie with you).
Visiting the vet is an opportunity to address health or behavior questions that you may have. Often, your concerns will be allayed: just hearing that a behavior is normal for a kitten who is your kitten’s age can be reassuring.
Other times, you will be glad you raised a concern, bringing an incipient problem to your vet’s attention.
What are all those kitten appointments for?
Kitten vaccines start at around six to eight weeks of age. All kittens should get the FVRCP vaccine, which is a combination injection that protects kittens against the most common diseases, including feline viral rhinotracheitis (feline herpes virus 1), calicivirus, and feline distemper (panleukopenia).
The FVRCP is repeated every three to four weeks until your kitten is four months old.
The rabies vaccine is given once at 12 to 16 weeks of age. This first vaccine is valid for one year. After that your vet may recommend either a one-year or a three-year version of the rabies shot.
Your vet may also recommend additional vaccines, such as the chlamydophila vaccine, depending upon the diseases that are prevalent in the area where you live.
If your kitten will be an outdoor cat, or will be exposed to outdoor cats, your vet should also recommend the feline leukemia vaccine (FeLV).
Many kittens are infected with intestinal worms, which they contracted either before they were born or after, from drinking their mother’s milk. Worms can cause serious illness. Depending upon what your vet finds during a microscopic examination of the stool sample you brought with you, you kitten may also need a dewormer.
Many dewormers need to be given frequently – typically every two to three weeks – to make sure that parasites are killed during the most vulnerable stage in their lifecycles. If you don’t repeat the deworming process at certain intervals, worms that weren’t killed the first time will grow up to make more worms, and the cycle will never end.
In addition to testing for parasites, your vet will likely test your kitten for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends testing all newly acquired cats for these diseases.
Kittens can have false-positive readings if they’re tested too young. This is because they could inherit antibodies from their mothers, even if they don’t actually have the disease.
Discuss the best timing for testing with your vet, and understand that you may have to retest a positive kitten when he is older and potential antibodies have started to wane.
One of the most loving things you can do for your new kitten is to microchip her.
Microchipping is an almost completely painless and risk-free procedure that inserts a tiny glass capsule under a cat’s skin. This capsule contains a unique number that can be read by a special scanner and matched to your contact information in a database.
A microchip is not a GPS and does not contain personal information about you, but it can be used to reunite you with your cat should you ever become separated. Kittens as young as eight weeks old can be microchipped.
For more information about microchipping, and to read the most amazing story about a cat named Sasha who was reunited with her family thanks to a microchip, read, “Should you microchip your cat?”
Spaying or neutering
I just finished saying that microchipping is one of the most loving things you can do for your kitten, but spaying and neutering probably tops that list.
Spaying and neutering is not only good for catkind, because it helps prevent the scourge of overpopulation and the unnecessary death of literally millions of cats every year, but it’s good for your individual cat, too.
Spaying and neutering may extend the life of your cat, will make your cat happier to be living with you, and makes a cat easier for you to live with, too. It’s an extremely safe procedure that can be performed on cats as young as six or eight weeks old.
Read all the details about spaying and neutering in this post.
How often should I bring an adult cat to the vet?A cat is considered an adult between the ages of one and 10 years old. You should bring your adult cat to see the vet once a year until she is 10.
Even if your cat seems healthy, you still need to bring him to the vet. The focus of these visits will be prevention of disease and maintaining the best possible health for your cat during these important years of his life.
What happens during an exam for an adult cat?
Your vet will examine your cat from nose to tail, looking for early signs of illness or discomfort. She will look in your cat’s ears for parasites, including ear mites. She will check your cat’s eyes for retinal health, and look in his mouth for signs of tartar, gum disease, and tooth decay. Note that 85% of cats over the age of six have periodontal disease.
Your vet will listen to your cat’s heart and lungs, check for joint pain, and examine your cat’s skin for lesions, lumps, or parasites. He will check your cat’s body condition and weight.
Your vet will give your cat her required vaccine boosters. Even indoor cats need distemper and rabies vaccine boosters.
Your vet will likely recommend simple bloodwork, include a complete blood count (CBC) to see the number, size, and shape of your cat’s blood cells, and a biochemistry profile, which provides information about the health of your cat’s organs.
By the time your cat is middle-aged (around eight years old) your vet may also begin recommending a urinalysis to see how well your cat’s kidneys are working and if there are any infections in the urinary system.
These visits are also your chance to discuss behavioral changes or problems that you’ve been experiencing, and to have all your cat questions answered.
Note that if your cat has a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease, you may need to visit the vet more often than once per year.
How often should I bring my senior cat to the vet?
Cats become seniors at 11 years old. Some people refer to cats who are 15 years or older as “super seniors.” I just say, “Congratulations.”
By age 11, most veterinarians recommend bringing your cat in to see them twice per year. This gives them a chance to address arthritis, obesity, kidney, and liver issues, which become more common in older cats, on a more real-time basis.
Your vet will conduct an exam similar to the adult-cat exam. The idea is that older cats are more prone to developing age-related illnesses and early detection is the key to a higher quality and longer life for your cat.
What can you do before your cat’s exam?
When you look at your cat every day (or every minute of every day), it can actually be hard to “notice” what your cat is doing.
But before bringing your cat to his senior wellness visit with your vet, try to be really observant. How is your cat walking? What does she look like when she starts to move after a nap? Can she still climb? Leap in or out of the litter box? Does she seem stiff or reluctant to jump?
How to make taking your cat to the vet easier
The survey respondents who said that they got anxious just thinking about bringing their cats to the vet weren’t being dramatic. It can be a stressful experience for both you and your kitty. But there are ways to make it less stressful.
Choose the right vet
There are vets who care about this problem as much as you do. In fact, there are programs out there designed to teach vets and their staff how to make vet visits less stressful for cats.
Fear Free Pets was founded by “America’s Veterinarian,” Dr. Marty Becker. Fear-free-certified vet clinics use low-stress cat handling techniques. They design “feline-centric” exam rooms, and cat-friendly waiting areas. They train their staff to recognize when a cat is exhibiting early signs of fear or anxiety, and they know how to quickly adapt when cats are getting stressed.
You can visit Fear Free Pets to learn more about the program and to find a certified vet.
Cat Friendly Practices is a similar program. You can learn more about Cat Friendly Practices and find a certified vet near you by visiting Cat Friendly Practices.
Choose the right carrier
Make sure you choose a comfortable carrier. It should be somewhat roomy, but not so large that your cat feels vulnerable, or gets jostled on the car ride over.
The perfect carrier opens from both the front and the top. The top opening is helpful because it means a cat doesn’t have to be dumped or pulled from the carrier for the exam. In fact, with the top open, much, if not all, of the exam can be conducted without removing him.
(*Note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualified purchases.)
The best carrier is also easy for you to carry. It will feel sturdy and secure. Consider this more structured carrier by Petseek, or this soft-sided one by Vceoa. But don’t just go by me – try it out on your cat, and try carrying it with your cat in it, before deciding whether it’s right for the two of you.
Get your cat used to the carrier
The day to introduce your cat to the carrier is not the day you take her to the vet.
Leave the carrier out with the door open and the top open, too, for a week or more before your vet appointment.
Don’t put your cat in the carrier. Don’t make a big deal about the carrier. Don’t say “yay!” when your cat sniffs the carrier, or sticks his head in the carrier. The carrier, this week, is the most boring thing in the whole wide world, and you don’t care a whit if your cat goes inside.
Periodically walk by the carrier, however, and throw in a treat. Don’t point out that you have thrown a treat in there. Let the carrier be the source of happy surprises.
Make the carrier as comfortable as possible. Put a blanket or towel inside, so she feels enveloped in coziness and the comforting smells of home.
Put a blanket or towel underneath the carrier, too, so it doesn’t tilt on the car seat.
Wrap a seatbelt around the carrier for safety, and to minimize movement while you navigate turns and lane changes.
Get your cat used to car rides
I have written an entire blog post about making car rides fun (or at least not terrible) for cats. Read Road Trip! How to take my cat on a trip in the car, for step-by-step instructions and advice on acclimating cats to cars.
Like the carrier, don’t wait until an hour before your vet appointment to introduce your cat to the “joys” of riding in the car.
How to make bringing your cat home from the vet easier
If you have a multi-cat household, it can be dangerous to bring one cat home from the vet and dump her from the carrier directly into the kitty fray.
Cats know each other by smell, and the just-vetted cat now smells like someone or something else. As far as they’re concerned, there is an interloper in the house. Depending upon the kinds of cats they are, this interloper might have to be "dealt with."
First, bring the returning cat home and leave him in the shelter. Let the other cats approach and see how they react. If you sense a war brewing, take the vetted cat in the carrier and put her in a separate room, with her own litter box and food and water dishes. You can safely open the door to the carrier (let her exit on her own time) once you’re behind closed doors.
Give him 24 hours or so to start smelling like home again.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
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