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ANNUAL EXAMINATIONS

When the pet carrier makes an appearance, your cat probably disappears under the bed, well aware it's time to go to the V-E-T. Despite her objections, an annual checkup is an important step toward maximizing your feline's health and a great opportunity to ask questions about your cat's health.

What to Expect

Your cat's doctor should first examine her from nose to tail to evaluate her general physical state. He or she should also check for such symptoms as nasal or eye discharge or sneezing and congestion, all of which can indicate an infectious illness such as an upper respiratory infection.

If your pampered pussycat has put on a few pounds, your veterinarian may offer some nutritional guidance and recommend an exercise regime.

If you recently adopted your adult cat, your vet may recommend some diagnostic tests. Your new cat should undergo a blood test to screen for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), two common viral infections. Both conditions can cause chronic and sometimes fatal infections, tumors or anemia because they suppress the immune system. Unfortunately, cats can catch these viruses easily through contact with an infected cat's blood, urine or saliva, so this test is important for multiple-cat households.

Your pet's doctor may also test for intestinal parasites with a fecal exam.

Your cat will likely endure a vaccination during the visit. Although it may hurt a little, you'll be forgiven shortly after you return her to the comforts of home.

Preventive Care

Once your kitty passes these tests with flying colors, your veterinarian will explain ways you can keep your cat healthy and happy. These may include feeding her a nutritious diet, keeping her vaccinations up to date, spaying or neutering, keeping her teeth clean, checking periodically for intestinal parasites and keeping her free of external parasites like fleas and ticks.

Your veterinarian is also your ally in preventing behavioral problems. During the annual visit, he or she may discuss common problems like spraying and scratching.

Don't hold back if you have questions. How can you prevent hairballs? Was that a dream or a seizure when she started running in her sleep? A vet visit is your chance to find out everything you want and need to know about your cat.

Keeping Your Cat Healthy

After, or perhaps during the exam, your vet will likely talk to you about your pet's overall condition and explain anything he or she noticed in particular. If your kitty has any health problems, you'll talk about how to treat them. You may also discuss common symptoms and diseases in cats.

For example, diarrhea in adult cats is a common sign of intestinal parasite infection, hairball gastritis or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Waxy debris in the ears may be evidence of ear mites. Hair loss in patches or scratching can indicate a flea infestation, allergies or ringworm, a common fungal infection.

If your cat's gums are red or bleeding, if she has tartar buildup or bad breath, or if she's reluctant to eat dry food, it's probably time to schedule a dental cleaning. Ask your vet to describe the procedure and to explain why it's important to keep your cat's pearly whites clean and in good condition.