Dog at veterinarian

Routine Vet Exams for Cats

When you think of showing love for your cat, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Maybe it is a belly rub or an extra treat, it probably isn’t a routine visit to the vet. But, taking your cat to the vet is actually one of the most loving things you can do.

Routine vet visits play an important role in the overall wellbeing of your cat. It's are one of the many ways you can help provide a full and healthy life for them.

Why are vet visits so important? And what can you expect when you take your cat to the vet? To help break down routine vet visits, we talked to Petco’s Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Whitney Miller. Dr. Miller shared some important insights into why vet visits are integral to your cat’s health and how you can prepare for your next visit.

A meeting with the vet

Do cats need regular vet visits?

Whether you just welcomed a new cat into your home, or you have been the proud parent of a fierce feline for a while now, you may wonder, "does my cat need to see a vet?"

After all, if your cat is healthy, why take them to the vet?

The reality is that, yes, every cat needs regular visits to the vet—even cats that appear to be healthy and fine.

Proactive care can allow your cat to have the best health possible by catching issues early and potentially preempting any issues before they become serious.

And as Dr. Miller puts it, “Regular vet exams are essential to giving your pet the best care. Even if your pet seems healthy and happy, cats are masters at hiding illnesses and pain. This makes routine exams and diagnostics critically important, so your vet can identify changes in their health early when issues are easier to treat and possibly cure.”

What happens at a cat’s vet visit?

Before you head down to the local vet, it can be helpful to know what to expect from your visit. During a routine exam, your vet will conduct a “nose-to-tail” physical and visual exam. This will help your vet review your cat’s whole health.

We’ve broken down this nose-to-tail approach into a few key exams.

Upon arrival at the vet, your veterinarian will take your cat’s weight. They will also visually assess your cat’s body condition to determine whether your cat is at an ideal weight.

What is your cat’s ideal weight? That can depend on a lot of factors, including breed, age and size. You can learn more about your cat’s ideal weight in our guide to cat obesity. Additionally, during your cat’s routine exam, you can ask your vet about indications that show that your cat needs to gain or lose weight.

During your cat’s visit to the vet, your veterinarian will listen to their heart and lungs to ensure a healthy rhythm and good air movement with no abnormalities.

They will also take your cat’s temperature. A normal temperature can indicate healthy blood flow, normal metabolism and a lower risk of infection occurring.

As your vet continues to examine your cat, they will inspect their eyes, nose and ears. During this visual exam, your vet will be looking for any discharge, smells or growth that could indicate an issue.

Your cat’s teeth play a big role in their overall health. During their exam, your vet will do a visual check of your cat’s mouth to inspect the health of their teeth and gums. In some cases, your vet may recommend x-rays or anesthetized cleaning if needed.

Your cat’s coat and skin say a lot about their overall health, which is why your vet will do a visual inspection of both. During this inspection, they will be looking for any signs of a thinning coat, which could be an indication of a pest concern. They will also take note of any concerning bumps or lumps on their skin.

Next, your vet will do a thorough inspection of your cat’s body. They will feel your cat’s lymph nodes to check their size and shape. They will gently touch your cat’s abdomen to feel for organ enlargement, fluid buildup and other changes. Finally, they will do a quick exam of your cat’s thyroid glands.

During your cat’s head-to-tail exam, your vet will check for any swelling, lumps or changes that may affect their ability to urinate. They will palpate the size and feel of their bladder and will check their prostate and rectum for enlargements or masses.

A key to your cat’s health is their ability to be active. As such, your vet will want to watch how your pet walks and moves around to ensure they aren’t experiencing any mobility concerns. They will check your cat’s joints for any pain or difficulty with movement and note any muscle tone loss.

Overall behavior assessment

During your cat’s exam, you can also expect to be asked about your cat’s behavior. Your vet will ask these questions to help ensure that nothing has drastically changed, which could indicate an underlying health issue.

You will also be asked about your cat’s home environment. This will help your vet identify any risks or factors that might contribute to their wellbeing based on whether they are an indoor-only cat or if they venture outside.

What additional kind of wellness screenings might be a part of a routine vet exam for cats?

In addition to the above head-to-tail exam, your vet might also recommend additional wellness screenings based on your cat’s individual health needs. These could include one or more of the following:

  • Blood work and urine test
  • X-rays for any concerns or routine screening for diseases, such as certain cancers
  • Infectious disease screening for common diseases, such as feline leukemia, feline AIDS and heartworm disease
  • Refills or recommendations on pest control and disease prevention

It's also important to note that routine or wellness exams for kittens and senior cats might include additional items targeting their specific age-related health needs.

A meeting with the vet

Additional kitten screenings

During the first year of your cat’s life, they will need special medical exams and care. This might include any of the following:

Additional Senior Cat Screenings

For senior cats—cats 12 years and older—it's recommended that you schedule routine exams twice per year.

During this bi-annual cat exam, your vet will look for issues that become more prevalent in older cats, such as the following:

  • Urinary and kidney issues
  • Thyroid disease
  • Dental issues
  • Cancer
  • Weight gain/loss
  • Arthritis and joint issues

How can you prepare your cat for a vet visit?

While taking your cat to the vet is one of the most loving things you can do as a cat parent, it can also feel overwhelming. Not all cats are eager to hop into a carrier and head to the vet. But, as their pet parent, you can help your cat prepare for their next visit to the vet.

Try out a few of the following tactics.

1. Help your cat become accustomed to their carrier ahead of time to reduce stress.

Don’t wait until the day of your cat’s vet visit to place them in their carrier. Instead, start warming them up to their carrier over time.

You can do this by creating a comfortable space in their carrier with blankets and favorite toys. Start with short periods in their carrier in the comfort of home. You can use treats to help reward time spent in their carrier, increasing the amount of time they are comfortable spending in the carrier slowly.

Make sure to never force your cat into their carrier, as this can cause them to associate the space with feeling stressed.

2. Practice short drives ahead of time to reduce stress.

Once your cat is comfortable spending time in their carrier, practice short drives around the neighborhood to help them grow accustomed to leaving the house. Keep the drives short at first, only going a block before turning around. And, make sure to keep rewarding your cat with treats to create a positive association with car rides. Over time, you can slowly increase your distance until your cat remains calm on longer drives.

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Making vet visits a routine part of your cat’s life

Vet visits should be a routine part of your cat’s life. Not only can you help contribute to your cat’s health by scheduling ongoing visits, but you can also tackle any questions or concerns you might have as their pet parent.