Annual Health Care

Although cats are said to have nine lives, they only have one, and you can help that one along. In the wild cats do a good job of taking care of themselves,but housecats live much longer than their wild cousins. The quality and length of a cat’s life can be extended by routine health care.By making sure your cat receives regular veterinary examinations,needed vaccines,dental care and parasite control,you can offer your cat the best preventive health care.

Cat owners often ask me what they can do to provide the best possible care for their pet.I tell them two things:keep him indoors and be sure a veterinarian examines him at least once a year.Good owners can be very observant about their cats and notice important changes,but a veterinarian can objectively evaluate the animal regularly.It is difficult for owners to assess subtle changes,such as weight loss that occurs gradually over a period of time, but a veterinarian can consult records and monitor trends.

What’s Involved in an Annual Exam?

A veterinarian should examine a cat annually, from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Each doctor may have their own routine when conducting a full physical exam, but the best exams are thorough exams.A full physical exam should include:
• Measurement of body weight

• Measurement of body temperature

• Evaluation of the eyes,ears and nose

• Opening the mouth and assessing the teeth and gums

• Palpation of external lymph nodes

• Evaluation of the coat and skin

• Evaluation of muscle tone and body condition

• Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope

• Examination of the legs,paws and claws

• Palpation of the abdomen

• Examination of the rectum and genitalia

• Examination of the tail
Depending on the individual cat and how cooperative he is and the skill of the veterinarian,this examination can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes. In most situations, a veterinarian can conduct the exam without help,but when the patient is wiggly,scared or aggressive,more hands are needed.

When cats are hot or frightened, they are only able to sweat from their feet, because the footpads are the only body parts that contain moisture-secreting sweat glands.If you notice damp footprints on your veterinarian’s exam table,you will know why.
Does It Hurt?

A routine physical exam is not painful to your cat. If the cat squawks and squirms, he is probably just resisting restraint rather than showing discomfort.Animals who have not been fully examined before by a veterinarian are generally less cooperative than those who previously have been examined, but some cats are so frightened that they act worse at each successive veterinary visit.

Let the professional veterinary staff handle your cat during any veterinary visit.Many animals become scared and defensive when they are outside their own homes and become fractious.Owners are often bitten or scratched by their own cats when they try to help hold the animal during an exam.Experienced animal assistants and veterinarians are trained to manage these situations.The best way you can assist is by talking to your pet in a calm,reassuring voice. At the end of a physical exam the veterinarian should discuss any abnormal findings and assess the general health of the cat.If you do not understand what the doctor has told you,be sure to ask questions.I like it when clients ask me questions, because then I know that they are paying attention to what I have told them. I also like it when clients come to the physical exam appointment armed with questions.A veterinarian and her staff should be a resource for information on all aspects of caring for your cat, including nutrition and behavior.Write down any questions you have on these issues and bring them along to discuss during your cat’s annual physical exam.This prevents you from going home and wishing you had asked the doctor something about your cat that you forgot during the appointment.

Testing for the feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency (FIV) viruses may be part of an annual exam.Your cat’s status regarding these two viruses should be known.There is an in-clinic screening test for these viruses,and it only takes a few drops of blood and 10 minutes

to get results.If the result is positive,blood is sent to a laboratory for a confirming test.There are false positive results,especially for FeLV,so no decisions should be made about a cat until a second test proves or disproves the first result. Cats most at risk for these viruses are strays, pet cats who go outdoors and cats who live in households with FeLV– or FIV–positive cats, since fighting and direct contact are the main routes of transmission. Although vaccination helps protect cats, those with a high risk for exposure should be regularly tested.

Vaccines are an important aspect of preventive health care. However, many people wrongly believe that vaccines are more important than the hands-on exam by the doctor.Low-cost vaccine clinics have flourished on this premise, and as a consequence many cats do not receive adequate health care. For years,owners have mistakenly believed that vaccinating their cat every year was the best they could do in terms of health care, but this is not the case.Studies show that vaccinating cats annually may not be necessary. Some cats have adverse reactions to vaccines and are better off without annual boosters.Vaccinations are a complex subject and will be discussed in Chapter 9.

In a perfect world, cats would brush their teeth every day just like we do.The reality is that cats cannot brush their own teeth,and many owners are not willing, too busy or don’t know how to brush their cat’s teeth.Like humans,cats develop dental disease as plaque and tartar build up on their teeth.This can progress to gingivitis,which is inflammation of the gums.

As dental disease progresses, it can cause bacteria to enter the cat’s bloodstream and affect other parts of the body.Some experts attribute the frequent occurrence of kidney disease in senior cats to long-term exposure to bacteria in the blood. Dental abscesses and infected jawbones may also be a result of dental disease.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth

You can brush your cat’s teeth, and there are many different products to use on cats. If you are able to brush your cat’s teeth at least once a week, it will deter plaque and tartar buildup and therefore decrease dental disease. Here are some tips to follow for brushing your cat’s teeth:
• Start brushing your cat’s teeth at a young age to get the cat used to it.

• Use a small bristled pet toothbrush or fingerbrush without toothpaste during your first attempts.

• Try to rub the cat’s teeth at the gum line two or three times a side,both upper and lower teeth.

• Add a pet toothpaste to the brush if you are meeting with success.
Do not use toothpaste made for humans on cats.Toothpaste for humans is not meant to be swallowed. Pet toothpaste can be swallowed and will not cause problems when ingested. Oral rinses or wiping with enzymatic pads are alternative methods of home dental care.