Is it time to take your cat to the vet for a checkup?
"I think people sometimes don't go [to the vet] because they think their cat's shots aren't due. But cats should be seen at least once a year," says veterinarian Brian Collins, DVM, lecturer at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine's Companion Animal Hospital. "I like to check them every 6 months if possible."
When Jennifer Paterno of Belleville, N.J., learned that her 8-month-old Labrador retriever mix had let herself out of their new home and slipped a neighbor's grip on a frigid day last January, she did what experts advise panicked pet owners to do: She got busy, fast.
Paterno quickly made and distributed flyers with Jersey's photo and identifying information to area businesses, local police departments, and shelters. She posted notices on her Facebook page and on various online lost-and-found pets...
At "well-cat" visits, probably the most important thing is for your cat to get a "nose to tail" physical exam, Collins says.
During the appointment, which can last from 15 to 30 minutes, your veterinarian will check all over your cat's body, looking for signs of disease or anything unusual. For example, he will examine the cat's ears for parasites, such as ear mites. He'll look at the eyes for general retinal health, peer inside your cat's mouth to look for signs of tartar or gum disease, listen to the cat's heart and lungs, and survey the skin for any lesions or bumps. "Basically, we're just looking to see if everything is normal," Collins says.
The vet will also weigh your cat and assign a body conditioning number from 1 to 9 (or 1 to 5, depending on the scale your vet uses). "The higher the number, the fatter the cat," Collins says.
Ideally, you want your cat to score in the middle range, or a 5 on the 1 to 9 scale, which means the cat is at the appropriate weight. "The problems we tend to see most with cats are obesity and dental disease," says Collins, who notes that obesity is usually more of a problem with older, indoor cats.
Your cat may get vaccinations during the visit, depending partly on its age, Collins says.
Kittens usually get a series of vaccinations for distemper, upper respiratory disease, and rabies. But cats are not necessarily routinely vaccinated for other infectious diseases, such as feline leukemia. "It sort of depends on the lifestyle of the cat," Collins says. Even cats that go outdoors are not necessarily at greater risk for the disease. "They have to have pretty much direct prolonged contact with other cats to get leukemia," Collins says.