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TIMELINE OF MEDICAL CARE

It's a snap to keep kitty healthy when you know what kind of care she needs at different ages.

Of course you realize your cat needs nutritious food, shelter, exercise and lots of love to stay healthy. But do you also know your cat needs regular physical exams, vaccinations, dental cleanings and other preventive health care throughout her life?

Here's guidance on her medical needs from kittenhood to the senior years.

Up to 6 Months Old

You and your pet will get to know your veterinarian right away with three or four "kitten" visits. During these checkups, your kitten will get critical vaccinations, and you'll learn the importance of a balanced diet, spaying or neutering and preventing parasites such as intestinal worms and fleas.

Remember your veterinarian is also your ally in addressing undesirable behaviors. He or she can advise you on preventing or resolving common problems like litter box aversion, biting and destroying furniture - so you can train your kitten to be a considerate roommate and a fun companion.

6 Months to 8 Years Old

By now you and your cat have reached a truce - you've probably surrendered your bed, your recliner and any hope of reading the Sunday paper without help.

Your adult pet doesn't need quite as much medical attention, although complete annual examinations are critical to catching any health issues early. During her annual exams, she should get any necessary vaccinations and parasite evaluations, and your vet should check her teeth and gums and recommend dental care if needed.

If you have a concern about your pet's health, nutrition or behavior, be sure to consult your veterinarian during your cat's annual visit. And if you want to breed your cat, ask your pet's doctor to perform a pre-breeding exam and to provide guidance through your cat's breeding, pregnancy and birthing process.

8 Years or Older

You may not want to admit it, but you've got a senior citizen purring on your lap.

With age comes the need for more frequent doctor visits. Your cat should now get checkups at least twice a year so your veterinarian can catch any age-related diseases early. Your kitty should still receive her annual vaccinations and parasite evaluations as well.

What's more, it's time to reevaluate her nutritional requirements and make sure she isn't becoming too sedentary. She also may need more frequent dental care to keep her teeth and mouth healthy.

At this stage, your veterinarian may also do a complete blood count, blood chemistry profile, urinalysis and may perform other tests such as an ECG, radiography or blood pressure monitoring at least once a year to check for otherwise undetectable health complications, including heart disease, tumors and hypertension.