Cat being examined by veterinarian
Your cat may be young in years, but when you’re thinking about her health, it’s important to remember that she’s aging faster than you are. A good rule of thumb is to consider the first two years of a cat’s life to be equivalent to 24 human years, and after that, each additional feline year is equal to four human years. For this reason, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that healthy adult cats should have a complete veterinary examination once a year, and healthy senior cats have one every six months. A lot can happen in a year, especially when your cat can’t — or won’t — tell you about little aches and pains.

Before you go to your appointment, write down any concerns or changes you want to mention, such as coughing, diarrhea, lethargy, limping, vomiting, eating more or less than usual, weight gain or loss, drinking and urinating more than usual, itching, irritability, hiding or other behavioral changes, running into things, head shaking, or lack of coordination. Your veterinarian will ask you about your cat’s health history, if you have any concerns about her health and if you’ve noticed any changes in her.

Getting Started

It’s common for your cat’s exam to start with a veterinary technician obtaining a history from you and performing the preliminary examination, which typically includes weight, temperature, pulse and respiration rate. Any changes or abnormalities found during this preliminary exam will be reported to the veterinarian, when she comes in to complete your cat’s exam.

At some point during your visit, the veterinary technician may also collect a blood sample. The blood may be used to test for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses or for other conditions. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel may also be recommended. Among other things, the CBC can detect anemia and the presence of many infections, while the chemistry panel can detect problems with many internal organs, including the liver and kidneys. Unless there’s a rush, the veterinarian may suggest sending the blood out to a laboratory for this test; it can take a few days for the results to return.

If you did not bring a stool sample, the technician may use a special instrument to collect one from the cat. This specimen will be checked for evidence of intestinal parasites. If kidney disease, diabetes or other conditions are suspected, the veterinarian may also want to examine a urine sample.

Checking Your Cat Out, From Head to Tail

The veterinary exam often goes from head to tail, starting with the nose and mouth. She will check your cat’s nose for abnormal discharge or signs of obstructed breathing. She’ll check the gums, teeth, tongue, palate and throat, making note of gum color; tartar accumulation; painful, loose or broken teeth; growths; and any other abnormalities. She’ll move on to the ears, possibly peering inside the canal with an otoscope, looking for debris and discharge that could indicate mites or infection. She’ll look at the eyes, making note of discharge, corneal irregularities, signs of vision loss or lid abnormalities. She’ll examine the conjunctiva and possibly look inside the eye using an ophthalmoscope to search for lens or retinal problems.

The veterinarian will then move on to the rest of the body, perhaps next with the hair and skin. She’ll part the hair looking for signs of parasites or skin disease. Then she’ll feel along the body, including the mammary glands, looking for abnormal growths. She’ll palpate the abdomen, feeling for abnormalities in internal organs, including the intestines, kidneys, liver and spleen. She’ll check the thyroid and the lymph nodes for abnormal size. Finally, she’ll use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal heart and lung sounds.

The veterinarian will check your cat’s vaccination history and may suggest you bring any overdue vaccines up to date. She may also discuss particular vaccines that may be recommended for your particular cat based on his lifestyle and geographic location. She may also discuss spaying or neutering, nutrition, exercise, behavior and any other subjects that can impact your cat’s health.

Senior Cat Concerns

Older cats — especially those in the last 25 percent of their predicted life spans — should typically have a blood panel and urinalysis performed. If your older cat is losing weight or showing other potential signs of illness, more specific tests, such as a thyroid test or senior panel, may be recommended.

Because of the frequency of kidney disease in older cats, the veterinarian may pay special attention to checking the kidney function. Your veterinarian may also want to check your older cat’s blood pressure. Often, an older cat may need a chest radiograph to check the heart and lungs, and osteoarthritis check, in which the veterinarian will move all the joints, checking for pain or other abnormalities.

No matter how old your cat is, if your veterinarian finds anything suspicious, she may suggest additional testing (blood tests, radiographs, an electrocardiogram, ultrasound, cultures, skin scrapings or several other procedures). She may even refer your cat to a specialist.

In the ideal world, though, your vet will not see anything out of the ordinary, and you will leave the office with increased peace of mind. With regular checkups, any problems your cat has are more likely to be discovered early, which can facilitate earlier intervention and a better overall quality of life for your cat.

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