Getting a cat to the vet can be one of those experiences people never forget. First is the chasing, catching, and crating or leashing your kitty for the car. Then is a lovely drive accompanied by yowling, hissing, and a lot of shedding. Once at the vet, things can go either way. Kitties might be just fine once let out of the crate, content to explore a new space and possibly a treat. Other times this is simply the beginning of more chaos. We won’t talk about getting your unhappy kitty back in the crate for the ride home. This experience can make some owners ask a common question: how often do you take a cat to the vet?
Felines need regular checkups just like dogs and humans, but there is a lot of uncertainty around how often a cat should see the vet. There is a common belief that kitties are one of those pets that can fend for themselves, and along with that comes the assumption that they do not need as much veterinary care as dogs. In some cases, this leads to cats only being taken to see a veterinarian for emergency care.
Every pet is different, and some have unique needs, but there are some general guidelines purr parents can stick to regarding how often to take a cat to the vet. We jump in and get to the bottom of it in this quick guide.
Do Cats Need Yearly Vet Checkups?
Kitties should have annual checkups. Depending on the life stage, they may have to go more frequently. A general guideline is that healthy adult cats should see the veterinarian for an annual wellness check at least once a year from when they turn one until they reach about 6 or 7 years old. Some veterinarians will recommend twice-a-year visits.
These wellness visits are essential in keeping your kitty healthy and happy throughout their lives. Your vet will ensure your purr baby is up to date on all her vaccinations and discuss her eating and behavior habits and any particular concerns you may have. Throughout their lives, cats will require certain treatments and preventative care. These treatments include flea and tick treatment and prevention, dental care, weight management, and disease prevention.
Why Do Cats Need Regular Checkups?
Kitties may often give subtle signs that something is wrong, and vets can pick up on these signs during regular wellness and preventive visits. Preventative and maintenance care helps owners and veterinarians diagnose and treat medical conditions in their earlier stages. Early treatment is more effective and costs much less than emergency care or care when a condition has progressed.
A wellness check can be a good time for veterinarians to order extra tests such as urinalysis and blood tests. These help them understand what is going on internally. As much as we would love it if our sweet purr babies could talk, the reality is they cannot. Felines cannot relay to us that they do not feel well or that something is off. Owners and veterinarians must work together to ensure a cat’s long-term health and happiness.
Do not consider taking a cat to the doctor an ordeal or a chore. Think of it as a partnership between all parties to ensure that your pet is healthy, happy, and lives a long, comfortable life. Remember, it is our responsibility as owners to provide everything our pets need to keep them healthy as long as possible. This includes regular, preventative, and emergency veterinary care. Their care needs will change in different stages of life. Kittens and aging kitties will require more medical care than healthy adult cats.
When To Take A Kitten To The Vet
Kittens need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible after they are born (and rescue cats as soon as you adopt them). They should visit a doctor within the first two weeks of life (or after two weeks from bringing them home). During this first visit, a care plan will be set in place for vaccinations, spay neutering, and eventually microchipping. Veterinarians will also provide instructions on care and feeding and examine the kittens for any signs of illness or improper development.
For the first few months of life, kittens should visit the veterinarian about once a month. Some veterinarians may want to see them more often, depending on an individual kitten’s needs. Kittens will start vaccines between six and eight weeks old, depending on their specific veterinarian’s recommendations.
Some of the first vaccinations kittens will receive include calicivirus, panleukopenia (feline distemper), and rhinotracheitis (feline herpes). These are given in a combination vaccine called FVRCP. This vaccine is given in two doses, one between six and eight weeks and another around 12 weeks, along with the feline leukemia vaccine.
Rabies vaccinations start around 12 weeks or three months. Kittens will need boosters of rabies again when they reach one year. Following that, they will need them every three years. This can vary depending on the veterinarian and the brand of vaccine used.
Around five to six months of age is when kittens can be spayed and neutered. Your veterinarian will discuss this procedure with you well before this time. The exact timing of this step will vary depending on the veterinarian and the specific cat. After their first birthday, felines will need to visit the doctor once or twice a year for wellness checks.
Adult Cat Vaccines
Adult cats need regular vaccine boosters. They should see the veterinarian at least once a year, where most preventive care, including vaccines, will take place.
Vaccines adult kitties regularly receive include:
- Feline Calicivirus – Booster at one year. After that, a booster dose every three years.
- Feline Leukemia – Not all kittens get this vaccine. If they do, they may need a booster every three years.
- Distemper – Booster at one year. Boosters every three years after.
- Feline Herpes – Booster every three years.
- Rabies – Adult cats need a booster of rabies vaccine either yearly or every three years. This frequency depends on the products the veterinarian uses and the choices owners make.
When To Take A Senior Cat To the Vet
Senior cats require medical treatment and preventative measures more often than healthy adult cats. A kitty is not considered a senior until about 11 years old. However, some vets will want to start seeing your kitty more often once she reaches around seven years old. This is about when more diagnostic tests start needing to happen, and issues like hip dysplasia, digestive problems, kidney disease, diabetes, and other health concerns can begin to impact your pet’s life.
When cats reach their senior years, the veterinary focus becomes heavily directed to preventive care and taking proactive steps. For this reason, seeing the veterinarian every six months is expected.
Emergencies will happen, and when they do, cats will require immediate veterinary attention. Pet emergencies can happen at any time. They are not always something owners can prepare for. True emergencies for felines are situations in which they are in grave danger from injury or illness.
Cats are unusual creatures and behave in unusual ways. Sometimes these strange behaviors are actually indicators that they are facing a medical emergency. Sudden changes in a cat’s behavior, energy level, eating habits, weight changes, sleeping habits, and litter box habits can signal there is something serious going on. Owners concerned about a pet’s immediate health or safety should immediately contact their veterinarian for emergency treatment.
Common Feline Medical Emergencies Include:
- Uncontrollable or large amounts of vomiting. Occasionally vomiting is not an emergency, but if your purr baby is throwing up all over the house and cannot stop, is bloated, in distress, or repeatedly gagging, requires immediate medical attention.
- Cats who are having trouble breathing or experiencing any kind of respiratory distress will need emergency treatment. If owners notice that their cat’s mouth, including gums and tongue, start to turn blue, or they are wheezing heavily, gasping for air, or cannot stop coughing, this may be an emergency.
- Cats who are extremely lethargic or have lost consciousness and collapsed need immediate medical attention.
- Heatstroke and dehydration can be so severe that kitties must have emergency care. Both can be fatal if not treated quickly.
- Repeated seizures, especially in a short amount of time, are an emergency, and cats should be taken to the nearest veterinarian as soon as possible.
- Kitties who are experiencing pain, bleeding, or extreme discomfort during urination should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Urinary blockages need immediate treatment.
- Any time an owner suspects their pet has gotten into poison or toxic substances, they should seek emergency veterinary services.
- Felines experiencing any kind of paralysis should be taken for immediate medical attention.
- Cats in extreme or severe pain should be seen as soon as possible, especially if it impacts their ability to move.
- Kitties that have experienced trauma are seriously hurt, got hit by a car, or any kind of significant injury or traumatic event should be treated as a medical emergency. Cats that have gotten in a fight, especially with a dog or wild animal, must be taken to the nearest veterinary emergency room.
Signs Your Cat May Be Sick
Cats are remarkably good at hiding symptoms of sickness or injury until they are in extreme distress. This, along with their sometimes-odd behavior, can make it hard for owners to realize they are missing a sign something is wrong.
Signs and symptoms that a kitty may be sick include:
- Aggression or sudden change in behavior. Cats that are ordinarily sweet that are suddenly aggressive may be reacting to illness or injury. While it is not an emergency, it is good to have checked out very soon.
- Increase or loss of appetite. Sudden changes in weight or eating habits often are a sign a kitty is not feeling well.
- Excessive thirst can be a sign of underlying kidney malfunction.
- Dehydration can be life-threatening for felines. Symptoms include weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased appetite, dry noses, sunken eyes, and lethargy. Many serious diseases can cause dehydration, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease.
- Urinary and bowel changes often are an early sign a pet is not feeling well. Owners who notice changes that last more than a day or two or whose cats are in distress or pain should seek medical attention soon.
- Discharge from the ears, eyes, and nose can be an indicator of allergy or illness.
- Changes in skin and coat health. Losing hair, saggy skin, and overgrooming can all be signs of an illness. Irritated skin, sores, and excessive scratching are all signs a dog has something going on.
- Drooling, coughing, and sneezing are all signs a kitty has something going on. Drooling is not normal for cats, so this should always be checked out by a vet.
- Bad breath, dental disease, and gum issues. Dental care is often overlooked in felines. Not taking care of it can lead to disease and trouble eating later in life. Vets will examine your kitty’s mouth and teeth at checkups and can offer cleaning services as well.
Cat insurance is something purr parents may want to investigate. It can help with both regular care and emergencies. This is something that may be very beneficial for older kitties as they often require more treatment and may have medical concerns that require treatment. Insurance can give owners peace of mind, make treatment easier to afford, and can help extend a purr baby’s life. Some major providers even offer discounts and multi-pet plans. There are even dental insurance plans for kitties. Learn more about cat insurance, what it covers, and how to pick the right plan in our cat insurance guide.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I bring with me to the vet appointment?
It is a good idea to bring your cat’s medical records, including any previous test results or diagnoses, to the vet appointment. You should also bring any medications that your cat is currently taking, as well as a list of any allergies or sensitivities that your cat has. If you have any specific concerns or questions about your cat’s health, it is helpful to write these down in advance so that you can remember to discuss them with the veterinarian.
Why do cats need to go to the vet?
Cats should go to the vet regularly to stay up to date on vaccinations and for owners to periodically check in with the doctor about nutrition, behavior, and overall health. These regular visits are where preventive care is taken and helps vets identify and treat diseases and health conditions early rather than when they become an emergency. Regular vet appointments help cats live healthier lives for the long term and help owners save money on expensive emergency treatment.
Are vaccinations necessary if my cat stays inside?
Yes, vaccinations are necessary even if a cat stays indoors full time. Kitties can pick up germs, parasites, and allergens from other pets, people, and around the house. It is always best to take your cat to the vet regularly and get all vaccinations and boosters.
Where should I take my cat in an emergency?
In an emergency, take your kitty to the nearest vet emergency facility that can get your pet in. Your own veterinarian is preferable, but if they are too far away or unavailable, the best option is to find the nearest facility that offers emergency care. Most veterinarians will offer some sort of emergency number or have an animal hospital they send patients to in the case of an emergency.
What do I do if I can’t afford the vet?
Regular, preventative, and emergency medical treatment costs are part of pet ownership. This is something all pet parents should be aware of before bringing a pet into their home. Saving up money for care, looking into pet insurance, and looking for low-cost clinics are all ways to save money on veterinary expenses. Many pet stores hold low-cost clinics. Most vets will offer payment plans. Local animal humane groups and municipal animal shelters often have low-cost or income-based pet treatment options and spay/neuter clinics. Steer clear of high-interest pet care credit cards, as those will take a very long time to pay back.
Can I bring my other pets with me when I take my cat to the vet?
It is generally best to bring only the animal being examined to the vet. This helps to minimize stress and potential exposure to illness for all of the animals. If you have multiple pets and need to bring more than one animal to the vet, it is a good idea to discuss this with the staff beforehand to ensure that they are able to accommodate all of your pets.
Cats are wonderful animals who make fantastic companions. While they are very independent, it is up to owners to make sure they get proper medical care, nutrition, and support throughout their lives. It is a common misconception that felines do not need regular or as much medical care as dogs. Hopefully, we have been able to answer the common question of how often a cat should go to the vet. Keep in mind that each animal is an individual and will have its own unique health needs. This guide is not a substitute for regular veterinary treatment or advice from a vet.