|Your Cat's Checkup Exam|
What to expect at the vet
We've all gotten those postcards in the mail reminding us that Fluffy is due for a checkup exam or vaccine boosters. We all want our pets to be healthy, so we call the clinic and make the appointment. Then, we go through the hassle of getting our cat loaded in the carrier and make the drive to the clinic. We hope to get through the visit as quickly as possible so that we can get Fluffy back home and get on with our day. Sound familiar? Let's step back for a minute and talk about what exactly is going to happen at that visit, and what we are trying to accomplish for Fluffy.
Many people get that reminder postcard and think that they need to get Fluffy in for her shots. However, the most important part of your cat's visit is not necessarily the "shots", but the physical exam. In order to stay healthy, cats should have a checkup exam every 6-12 months. This is especially important in cats that are over 6-7 years old, and these cats need to come in two times per year. This way, we can detect small problems before they turn into big problems.
An important part of the checkup exam is the history. This is the part where we ask you questions about your pets and your household. These questions may include the following:
- Does your cat go outside?
- What do you feed your cat? How much? How often?
- Do you have any other pets?
- Is your cat using the litter box normally?
- And most importantly, do you have any questions for us?
That last question is important, so take some time before your cat's visit to make a written list of any questions or concerns that you may have about your cat. This is the time to ask about that strange behavior your cat's been doing, or about the fact that she's been throwing up hairballs.
While we've been talking, Fluffy has been wandering the exam room, checking things out. Or perhaps she's been too shy and has stayed in her carrier. Now is the time for her to come out and say hi! During the exam, Dr. Lewis will perform a thorough head-to-tail check. It may look like she's just petting Fluffy, but the exam actually covers a lot of ground:
- General body condition and weight: Is Fluffy over- or under-weight?
- Is she moving about the room normally? Able to jump up and down without difficulty? Any limping? This bit is a little more difficult to assess if your cat likes to hide in the carrier.
- Are the ears clear and free of discharge?
- Do all parts of the eyes look normal?
- Any nasal discharge or congestion? Sneezing?
- Are the teeth clean? Any gingivitis? Any resorptive/cavity lesions? Any problems with the tongue or in the back of the mouth?
- Do all the lymph nodes feel normal?
- Do the heart and lungs sound normal? Any coughing?
- Does the abdomen feel normal? Can we feel 2 kidneys? Is there urine in the bladder? Is there a normal amount of stool in the colon? Do the intestines feel normal? Are there any abnormal masses that shouldn't be there? Any discomfort?
- Does the cat's rear end look normal?
- Is the cat's haircoat healthy? Any dandruff? Fleas or other external parasites? Any abnormal lumps or bumps? Any scabs, hair loss, or other skin lesions?
- Are all the claws normal and healthy? Any overgrown claws?
Now Fluffy's exam is done and she gets a passing grade! Next it's time to assess whether Fluffy needs any vaccinations, based on her age, overall health, and lifestyle. Most indoor cats need the feline distemper vaccine ("RCP") every three years. This vaccine protects against two different upper respiratory viruses and against feline distemper virus, a serious intestinal infection. Most cats also need a rabies vaccine booster every one or three years, depending on which vaccine is used. This is particularly important for indoor cats, since bats are the largest wildlife reservoir of rabies in Michigan, and bats who are sick or rabid are more likely to get disoriented and find themselves trapped inside a house. Cats who go outdoors may also need a feline leukemia virus vaccine booster. This is generally not necessary for cats who stay inside.
If your cat is healthy, but over 10-12 years of age, screening bloodwork may be recommended. This helps us to identify problems such as kidney and liver disease early, sometimes months before clinical signs would be noticed. In this way, treatment can be started before Fluffy gets sick. Fluffy stays healthy longer, and you save money!
Now Fluffy's visit is all done. You've had all your questions answered, and we've been able to check Fluffy out and make sure that she stays healthy for another year. So the next time you get that little postcard in the mail, you'll be prepared to get the most benefit out of your cat's next vet visit!