FAQs about cat health

It’s a funny stereotype that “dog people” are invested – to the point of obsession – with their dog’s health and habits, while “cat people” are more laid back and might not even know what color their cat is, much less anything about its health.

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In fact, it’s a stereotype rooted in fact – according to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), a study conducted by Bayer and the American Association of Feline Practitioners found 52 percent of cat owners avoid regular vet visits. The study also found half as many cats receive annual exams as dogs and that more than half thought their cat had never been sick or injured. Additionally, 63 percent of indoor cat owners assume their kitties are not susceptible to disease.

Does that mean cat owners love their pets less than dog owners? Of course not. It’s simply the assumption that cats are self-sufficient and don’t need as much medical attention as dogs. While it’s true that cats are quite independent, that doesn’t apply to their health!

Here are some frequently asked questions about cat health.

Q: Does my cat really need to visit the vet?
A: Yes. Your feline should receive a wellness exam every six to 12 months. The exam includes a dental evaluation, a cardiac and respiratory auscultation, a check for small or enlarged organs, a joint check, a behavioral exam, a heartworm test, and a weight check.

Why? “Cats are really good at hiding the fact that they’re sick,” says Kathryn Smith, a former veterinary technician, veterinary hospital administrator, and practice manager. She said she used to see many cat owners who brought in a very ill cat who said, “Oh, he was fine until just this week!” when really, the cat had been unwell for a long time. “They just didn’t realize it,” she said.

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Even if you’re cat isn’t hiding symptoms, some symptoms are so gradual, you don’t realize something is wrong. For instance, because weight loss or gain is gradual, a cat’s weight can change drastically before you notice if you aren’t making a regular note of the cat’s weight.

“On average, cats weigh about 10 pounds,” Smith said. “So if a cat loses a pound, that’s a tenth of its body weight, but it might not look like much. The heavier the cat is to begin with, the harder it is to notice a weight fluctuation, unless you’re tracking your cat’s weight regularly.”

An annual exam helps you track discrepancies in your cat’s health, and it helps your cat’s veterinarian catch potentially deadly diseases before they become out of control. Your veterinarian might pick up a heart murmur that allows you to manage heart disease or small kidneys that may be a sign of chronic kidney disease.

Q: Does my indoor cat need preventive medications and vaccines?
A: Yes. Even indoor cats are susceptible to disease.

Before you argue that your cat never goes outdoors, think about the last time you were annoyed by that one mosquito that snuck in through the screen or door. That mosquito could be the one that infects your cat with heartworms.

Signs of heartworm disease in cats are either very subtle or very dramatic, according to the American Heartworm Society. “Cats don’t exhibit many symptoms of heartworms, and one of the symptoms is sudden death,” Smith said.

Asthma-like symptoms may also be feline heartworm disease.  It’s vital to get your cat tested for heartworms, and to administer heartworm prevention monthly – why risk your kitty’s health? Heartworm prevention is an inexpensive way to keep your feline feelin’ fine. Cats need flea and tick prevention, too, if any pet in the house goes outside.

Your cat also should be vaccinated against rabies, as required by law. Additionally, your cat should be vaccinated against feline distemper and upper respiratory diseases. Outdoor cats should be tested for, and vaccinated against, the feline leukemia virus. Remember, your indoor-only cat could slip out at any time, even for just a minute. You don’t want to leave them vulnerable if they do.

Q: Does my indoor cat need a microchip?
A: Yes – in fact, indoor cats in particular should be microchipped
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“If an indoor cat gets outside, it has no street smarts,” Smith said. “An indoor cat will go up to people because it knows people provide food, and if the cat isn’t microchipped and isn’t wearing a collar or tags – a lot of people don’t put tags on their indoor cats – then the chances of your cat returning home are slim.”

Of course, if you have an indoor/outdoor cat, microchipping is equally as important, as your cat regularly has opportunity to leave your yard. Microchipping is often inexpensive, and it’s a quick process. It’s only mildly painful for your cat – as painful as any other vaccine shot. It’s a small price to pay if your cat slips through the door when your kids leave the door open!

Cat owners, take the time to protect your fur baby, and keep a better eye on their health. The best way to do that is with regular vet visits, but you should also keep tabs on your tabby yourself – take note of his weight, his eating habits, his grooming habits, and his play habits.

Any out of the ordinary behavior is worth a vet visit, and even if your cat’s behavior seems perfectly ordinary, don’t put off a visit to the vet – it could save your cat’s life.