Cats are very good at hiding pain and illness; it’s a coping mechanism built into their nature to help them avoid predators in the wild. By the time cats exhibit physical symptoms (lethargy, lack of appetite/overeating, vomiting, not drinking enough/drinking too much, urinating too much/too little/not at all, loose stool/diarrhea/constipation, sudden weight loss/gain, excessive licking, fur pulling, aggression/biting, hiding, etc.), it may be too late to help them (or too much time may have been lost).
This is why annual physical exams, including lab work (blood work and a urinalysis), are so important for our feline companions. If a problem is caught early, there is often much that can be done to effectively manage a health condition (or in some cases, even reverse it). Healthy cats under 8 should have annual vet visits, and healthy cats over 8 should have vet visits 1-2 times per year. Cats with health concerns may need more frequent visits. Many vets offer annual wellness packages that include an exam and lab work at a discounted price.
Read more about the importance of regular vet visits and how you and your vet can make vet visits less stressful for your cat here.
A note about vaccines:
There are differing schools of thought regarding the types and frequency of vaccinations for cats. A rabies vaccine is required by law by most state and local governments. While one rabies vaccine has been shown to be effective for many years through titer testing, most municipalities will not accept titer testing in lieu of an updated rabies vaccine. There are rabies vaccines labelled for one year or three years; it is recommended that whichever you choose (the less you stick a cat, the better), opt for a non-adjuvanted version of the vaccine (adjuvanted vaccines carry a higher risk of injection site sarcoma). We recommend the Merial Purevax three year non-adjuvanted rabies vaccine for cats, which came out in 2014 (not all vets carry it).
The FVRCP vaccine, while not required by law, is also an important vaccine, as it protects against deadly panleukopenia and gives some protection against the herpes and calici viruses (which are responsible for upper respiratory infections). Studies show that the initial vaccination likely gives lifetime protection against panleukopenia. Although the vaccine is labelled for annual administration, the American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends administering it no more often than every three years. There are many manufacturers offering a non-adjuvanted form of this vaccine.
Non-core vaccines offered by some vets include the FIV vaccine and the FeLV (feline leukemia) vaccine. The FIV vaccine is not recommended because a cat who is vaccinated for the disease will always test positive for the disease (which becomes an issue if your cat is picked up by animal control and tested; many animal controls will put down cats who test positive). It also only protects against certain strains of the virus, and it is an adjuvanted vaccine. Most FeLV vaccines are also adjuvanted (the PureVax FeLV vaccine is not), give limited protection, and both of these vaccines are unnecessary in low risk populations (i.e. indoor cats). Discuss your cat’s risk factors with your veterinarian when deciding whether to give these vaccines.
Please note that vaccines should only be given to healthy pets. Talk with your veterinarian about whether your cat is healthy enough for vaccines or whether a health waiver might be an option.
Click here for more information regarding vaccines.
Regardless of your cat’s vaccine schedule, they should see the vet for an annual physical exam. Early detection is the best treatment!