Why Preventive Health Care is Important for Cats
Since cats age at a faster rate than humans do, they should see their doctor more often than we see ours.
Cats mature very quickly during the first two years of life. It is generally thought a 2 year old cat is equivalent to about a 25 year-old human. After that, one feline year is equalt to about 4 human years.
The bottom line is this: cats age faster than we do.
If we get a physical exam and blood tests annually, that’s like our cats taking the same preventive health measures every 4-5 years. The rapid ageing process of cats makes preventive health care even more important.
A preventive health plan revolves around regularly scheduled exams of an apparently healthy cat in order to maintain her optimum health.
To standardize wellness plans, the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) gathered medical information from various specialty groups (American Heartworm Society, American Association of Feline Practitioners, and Companion Animal Parasite Council, to name a few) and devised guidelines focused on preventive healthcare for cats.
Here is an overview of some of the AAHA and AVMA recommendations for preventive care and why they are important to your cat.
- History: A discussion of your cat’s home life will give your veterinarian an overall idea of her health status. Changes in your cat’s demeanor may occur so gradually that you aren’t aware of them until you are asked specific questions. Your answers will guide the veterinarian along a diagnostic path that will end with your cat feeling better.
- Examinations: Even healthy cats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, sometimes twice. If your cat is older or has medical problems, more frequent visits may be necessary. Physical exams can detect enlarged lymph nodes, tumors, heart murmurs or skipped beats, enlarged or shrunken kidneys, liver, or spleen, visual capacity, arthritis, skin infections, and many other changes. These changes can indicate disease processes or the need for medications such as pain relief or flea and tick preventatives.
- Testing: Although heartworm disease is more prevalent in dogs than cats, cats can suffer serious disease due to heartworm infecdtion and there is no cure for infected cats. Heartworm disease is more prevalent in warmer climates where mosquitoes thrive, but infected dogs live in every state, which puts neighboring cats at risk. Because of the unique nature of feline heartworms, cats in at-risk areas of the country should be tested for heartworms. Intestinal parasites can effect both cats and humans, so a stool sample should be analyzed at least once (preferably twice) a year. To detect organ malfunctions in the early stages, blood tests (CBC, Chemistry panel, thyroid screen) and urinalysis should be performed annually. If problems are diagnosed, more frequent testing may be necessary. Cats should also be screened for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and Feline Leukemia which are both spread around the feline community.
- Dental Care: It’s a well known fact that oral health impacts a cat’s general health. The bacteria involved in periodontal disease invade the blood stream and travel to major organs like the kidneys and heart where they can cause significant health issues. Cats usually need a dental cleaning once yearly, but cats predisposed to periodontal disease and aged cats may need their teeth cleaned twice yearly like people do. Dental radiographs will help determine the status of oral disease. Regular dental cleanings will keep your cat’s pearly whites in top condition and help your cat live longer.
- Parasite Prevention: Cats should be given medication to prevent heartworms and intestinal parasites all year long. Many medications also prevent fleas and ticks. A parasite prevention protocol can be tailored to a cat’s specific needs within her personal environment.
- Immunizations: Vaccines are divided into two groups: core vaccines and optional vaccines. All cats (without medical problems that preclude vaccination) should be immunized against Rabies, Feline Panleukopenia virus, Feline Herpesvirus 1, and Calicivirus. Cats at risk of exposure should also be vaccinated for Feline leukemia virus. Since vaccination for FIV interferes with testing, consultation with your veterinarian is advised prior to administration of this vaccine.
- Weight Maintenance: Research has shown that leaner cats live longer and have fewer health problems. Your veterinarian will assign a body condition score to your cat and give you dietary and exercise recommendations to help your cat maintain a healthy body mass index.
Diagnosing Feline Illnesses
Since cats can’t talk, veterinarians can’t ask how they are feeling or what’s bothering them. Plus, innate survival instincts make cats hide their illnesses so they don’t appear weak and vulnerable to predators. That means thorough physical exams are crucial. And since your veterinarian can’t see what’s going on inside a cat’s body, blood and urine tests are needed to complete the health picture. These preventive medicine steps will help diagnose problems in the early stages when treatment is more successful and less costly and, more importantly, will help your cat live a longer, healthier life.