Why Preventive Health Care is Important for Cats
Remember the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? Those words directly relate to the healthcare of our cats. Avoiding illness is always better than treating it, so let’s explore ways to “prevent” rather than “cure”.
Since cats age at a faster rate than humans do, they should see their doctor more often than we see ours. Cats mature very quickly during the first two years of life, so it’s generally thought a 2 year old cat equates to about 25 human years. After that, one feline year is about 4 human years which means that a 4 year old cat is about 33 years old and a 10 year old cat is about 57 years old.
“The bottom line is this:
cats age faster than we do.”
The bottom line is this: cats age faster than we do. If we get a physical exam and blood tests annually, that’s like our cats taking the same preventive health measures every 4-5 years. The rapid ageing process of cats makes preventive health care even more important.
“A preventive health plan revolves around regularly scheduled
exams to maintain optimum health”
A preventive health plan revolves around regularly scheduled exams of an apparently healthy cat in order to maintain her optimum health. To standardize wellness plans, the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) and the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) gathered medical information from various specialty groups (American Heartworm Society, American Association of Feline Practitioners, Companion Animal Parasite Council, to name a few) and devised guidelines focused on preventive healthcare for cats.
Here is an overview of some of the AAHA, AVMA recommendations for preventive care and why they are important to your cat.
- History: A discussion of your cat’s home life will give your veterinarian an overall idea of her health status. Changes in your cat’s demeanor may occur so gradually that you aren’t aware of them until you are asked specific questions. Does your cat have a good appetite and regular bowel movements? Does she strain to urinate? Does she limp? Is she slow to rise when lying down? Does she ever seem short of breath, cough, or sneeze? Is she itchy? Does she drink a lot? Your answers will guide the veterinarian along a diagnostic path that will end with your cat feeling better.
- Examinations: Even healthy cats should be examined by a veterinarian at least once a year, preferably twice. If your cat is older or has medical problems, more frequent visits may be necessary. Physical exams can detect enlarged lymph nodes, skin tumors, heart murmurs or skipped beats that require a full cardiac work -up, or abdominal tumors that may indicate cancer. They will identify enlarged or shrunken kidneys, liver, or spleen that may mean systemic disease. A look at the eyes can determine a cat’s visual capacity. An orthopedic evaluation can tell if a cat is arthritic and in need of medication to relieve pain. A dermatologic evaluation of the hair coat will determine the need for flea and tick control or diagnose skin infections (bacterial, fungal, parasitic). Hair loss may indicate systemic disease or hormonal imbalances.
- Testing: Although heartworms are more prevalent in warmer climates where mosquitoes thrive, infected dogs live in every state which puts neighboring cats at risk. Even though the incidence of feline heartworms is less than canine infection, cats suffer serious ramifications from heartworms and there is no cure for infected cats. Because of the unique nature of feline heartworms, cats in at-risk areas of the country should be tested for heartworms. Intestinal parasites can affect both cats and humans, so a stool sample should be analyzed at least once (preferably twice) a year. To detect organ malfunctions in the early stages, blood tests (CBC, Chemistry panel, thyroid screen) and urinalysis should be performed annually. If problems are diagnosed, more frequent testing may be necessary. Cats should also be screened for FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) and Feline Leukemia which are both spread around the feline community.
- Dental Care: It’s a well known fact that oral health impacts a cat’s general health. Simply put, cats with clean mouths live longer. The bacteria involved in periodontal disease don’t just stay in the mouth. These organisms invade the blood stream and travel to major organs like the kidneys and heart where they cause significant health issues. Cats usually need a dental cleaning once yearly, but cats predisposed to periodontal disease and aged cats may need their teeth cleaned twice yearly like people do. Dental radiographs will help determine the status of oral disease. And regular dental cleanings will keep your cat’s pearly whites in top condition.
- Parasite Prevention: Cats should be given medication to prevent heartworms and intestinal parasites all year long. Many medications also prevent fleas and ticks. A parasite prevention protocol can be tailored to a cat’s specific needs within her personal environment.
- Immunizations: Vaccines are divided into two groups: core vaccines and optional vaccines. All cats (without medical problems that preclude vaccination) should be immunized against Rabies, Feline Panleukopenia virus, Feline Herpesvirus 1, and Calicivirus. Cats at risk of exposure should also be vaccinated for Feline leukemia virus. Since vaccination for FIV interferes with testing, consultation with your veterinarian is advised prior to administration of this vaccine.
- Weight Maintenance: Research has shown that leaner cats live longer and have fewer health problems. Your veterinarian will assign a body condition score to your cat and give you dietary and exercise recommendations to help your cat maintain a healthy body mass index.
Diagnosing Feline Illnesses
Since cats can’t talk, veterinarians can’t ask how they are feeling or what’s bothering them. Plus, innate survival instincts make cats hide their illnesses so they don’t appear weak and vulnerable to predators. That means thorough physical exams are crucial. And since your veterinarian can’t see what’s going on inside a cat’s body, blood and urine tests are needed to complete the health picture. These preventive medicine steps will diagnose problems in the early stages when treatment is more successful and less costly and, more importantly, will help your cat live a longer, healthier life.