By Rizal Lopez, DVM 

Health is a priority all year long, but this month we’re focusing specifically on the health of our feline companions. Some pet owners mistakenly believe that cats aren’t exposed to dangers and diseases since they live mainly indoors. For that reason, it’s common to overlook scheduling annual checkups and regular visits for cats.  

Regular checkups and annual exams are important for health considerations such as maintaining a healthy weight, preventing disease and keeping teeth and gums healthy. Missing these appointments can cause you and your vet to miss important warning signs of underlying health issues. Start scheduling your cat’s appointments now to help avoid any surprises in the future. 

Here are some prevention and health monitoring tasks that you can expect at your cat’s check-up:  

Vaccines: If you have a kitten, they need multiple vaccinations at an early age in order to boost their immune system. All cats require a current rabies vaccination since this fatal disease can be transmitted to people. Adult cats can also undergo changes in lifestyle or circumstances that require new vaccines they may not have previously had. For instance, if your cat has always stayed indoors, but eventually you start to let them outside, your vet will recommend different vaccines, such as feline leukemia. Feline Leukemia is a dangerous communicable disease for cats that are likely to come into contact with unfamiliar and possibly unhealthy cats. Regular visits and conversations with your veterinarian can help you identify any lifestyle changes that would require new vaccines. 

Heartworm prevention: All cats, even an indoor cat, need a monthly preventive to guard against heartworm and fleas. It just takes one bite from a mosquito that has entered an open door to cause heartworm, so it’s essential your cat sees the vet each year to stay up-to-date on heartworm prevention. Often heartworm disease is undetected and can contribute to a number of issues such as blood clots or kidney disease.  

Spay or neuter: Cats can become pregnant as young as 5 months old, so it’s important to spay or neuter them at a young age. Kittens should be at least three months old (12 weeks) and weigh 2 pounds or more before being spayed or neutered. It’s never too late to spay or neuter adult animals. Additional tests may be recommended for senior pets undergoing a surgical procedure.  

Weight: It’s common for cats to have weight issues and your vet can detect increases in weight more quickly if he or she sees your cat annually. Techniques for weight loss are available. Excess weight gain can put stress on your cat and contribute to diseases like diabetes or arthritis. 

Dental care: Cats may accumulate tartar and plaque build-up on their teeth, just like humans. This can lead to gum disease and tooth decay, which can be uncomfortable and cause things like gingivitis, tooth decay, discomfort and lack of appetite. Your vet can recommend ways to support your cat’s dental care at home, like special food or pet-friendly toothpaste, or provide dental cleanings during your visit. If your cat develops an oral disease, your vet will recommend the necessary medical care, like prescriptions or tooth extractions. 

Health concerns in older cats: When your cat reaches middle age, your vet can use your medical history and blood tests/imaging to determine if your cat is at risk for medical problems like kidney or thyroid disease. Our goal is to identify and manage diseases earlier rather than later, including using diet and medications that can greatly reduce the progression of disease. Symptoms can be vague and hard to catch, but your veterinarian is specially trained to recognize signs as they start to appear and guide you with care.  

Lopez_Rizal thumbAbout The Author: Rizal Lopez, DVM, is Chief Veterinary Officer for SPCA Tampa Bay. He and his staff have completed over 8,000 procedures since opening the St. Pete Veterinary Center in late 2016. Dr. Lopez, since joining the organization in 2011, has performed over 20,000 spay/neuter procedures for the community. He held several positions with the organization before taking the lead veterinary role at the center.