Although “trip to the vet” likely ranks at the very bottom of your cat’s list of favorite things to do, cats are often very good at keeping to themselves when something is wrong. And unfortunately, some surveys suggest that less than 50 percent of cat owners take their pets to the vet annually.
Stressful though it may be, regular veterinary care is vital to your cat’s health, and there are ways to make the experience better for the both of you. Here’s how often you should take your cat to the vet and why regular cat checkups are so important.
How Often Should Cats Go to the Vet?
Pet owners often ask when and how often their cat should go to the vet, and there are multiple variables that contribute to the answer to this question. Age, health status and lifestyle will all play a role in your cat’s vet schedule. That said, the American Animal Hospital Association recommends taking your adult cat in for a checkup at least once a year.
Why It’s Important to Take Your Cat to the Vet
Regular veterinary care throughout your cat’s life is valuable for many reasons. Every veterinary visit will include a physical examination which can help your vet detect issues including skin conditions, dental disease, and even masses found in or on your cat. External parasites, such as fleas, ticks or ear mites can also be found and treated at vet visits.
And even if your cat remains an indoor companion, it is still important to keep them up to date on vaccines and annual wellness testing (which includes a physical exam, blood work and a fecal test). Routine diagnostics like these will help your veterinarian catch any abnormalities readily and early so appropriate medications or treatments can be started. Regular vaccines will also keep your cat protected and immunized from life-threatening illnesses, like rabies. And don’t forget about those monthly flea, tick, heartworm and parasite preventives!
How Often Do Cats Get Shots?
Different life stages will require different levels of veterinary care. Kittens will see the vet more often, as vaccine boosters are required quite frequently until sufficient immunity is achieved. Beginning at 6 to 8 weeks of age, a kitten will receive their first FVRCP (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis Calicivirus Panleukopenia) vaccine. This is a combination vaccine often referred to as a feline distemper vaccine. It will need to be boostered three to four weeks later, then three to four weeks after that, for a total of three vaccines. Once the final round is given, these vaccines are good for one year’s time. Kittens will also receive their first rabies vaccine between 13 and 16 weeks of age.
If your kitten is going to spend any amount of time outdoors, it may be recommended by your veterinarian that they also receive the feline leukemia vaccine. Feline leukemia is spread from cat to cat (not transmissible to humans) via bodily fluids, so it is possible for an outside cat to encounter another cat carrying the disease at some point.
After your kitten gets all of its shots, they will be spayed or neutered (around 6 months of age). Vet visits during this time will also include fecal tests to check for intestinal parasites and a monthly flea, tick and parasite preventive should begin to be given. Once your cat is spayed or neutered and has all of its shots, they should be all set with veterinary visits until their annual cat checkup.
After your cat receives their initial FVRCP and rabies vaccines, it is possible that your veterinarian will recommend a three-year version of these vaccines. That said, adult cats should still be brought in for an annual checkup to screen for any underlying health issues. A stool sample should be checked annually, as well, even if your cat does not go outside.
Once your cat hits 7 years of age, it is recommended to increase veterinary visits to every 6 months. Just like aging humans, medical conditions in senior cats can arise quickly and without notice, making regular wellness exams very important. Annual routine blood work should be run to screen for any metabolic issues and overall organ function.
If your cat is diagnosed with any illness or chronic condition throughout their lifetime, your veterinarian may recommend a different annual examination or vaccination schedule for them.
Tips for Bringing Your Cat to the Vet
Bringing a cat to the vet may not be the easiest task in the world, but there are a few things you can do to help get them there safely and happily:
Make sure your cat has a comfortable carrier. It should be large enough so that they fit comfortably, but not too large where they will feel vulnerable or jostled around in the car ride. It is helpful to leave the crate open at home for a couple of weeks before the appointment so that your cat becomes familiar with the equipment. You can put their favorite toy or an article of clothing that smells like you in the carrier with them or encourage them into the carrier with a little catnip or treats. There are also pheromone sprays that can be used as a calming agent. In addition, prop up the bottom of the crate on the car seat with a towel to level out the crate so that your cat doesn’t feel stressed by sitting lopsided.
Consider medicating your cat ahead of time. If your pet is a scaredy cat, share your concerns with your veterinarian before making your appointment, as there are medications that can help calm them down prior to the whole experience.
Make an appointment for a quiet time of day. Try to schedule your cat’s appointment for a quiet time of day at the veterinary hospital or clinic, such as mid morning or early afternoon. You can also ask for the quietest time of day or for a quiet exam room.
Try a Fear Free or cats-only clinic. There are some veterinary clinics that deal solely with cats, which may be an option depending on where you are located. And you may be interested to find out if your veterinary clinic is Fear Free Certified or uses low-stress handling techniques. This means they take every precaution to provide a calm environment for cats, as well as use minimal restraint during examinations and procedures.