by K Marie Alto June 09, 2022 17 min read
Part of loving and caring for your cat involves periodical vet visits. But how often should you take your cat to the vet? Do you know?
Just like with us humans, regular check-ups can help your cat live a longer, happier, and healthier life. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, too many pet parents don't bring their cats to the vet 👩⚕️ as often as they should, and some don't even do it at all. Does this surprise you?
Some of the most common reasons for not taking cats to the vet range from the associated costs to lack of a perceived reason to difficulties in logistics to cat being indoors only to lack of time to “I can always check Dr. google” if something does not feel right, etc.
Whether you agree with any or some of the statements above or not, there are plenty of benefits in bringing your cat to the vet periodically.
When determining how often you should take your cat to the vet the biggest factors to consider are age and health status. Evidently, under normal conditions, a young cat does not need to visit the vet as often as an adult or elder cat.
In this comprehensive FAQ blog post, I discuss what the recommended frequency of vet visits is based on the life stage of your cat as well other common non-age-related reasons for a vet visit. This post also comes with awesome educational videos 📽️. All of them a must watch!
For pet parents looking for more cat care guides📚, make sure to not miss the read further section at the bottom. As usual, it is loaded with resources.
Somebody once said an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Do you remember who this was?
No to get into history here but Ben Franklin coined this phrase in 1736 when reminding the citizens of Philadelphia to remain vigilant about fire awareness and prevention.
This timeless phrase should remind us of the importance of prevention in our lives. When it comes to your cat’s wellness this phrase is of particular relevance. Us pet parents know that cats are awesome at many things, and that includes hiding pain, ailments, and diseases.
The only way you can ensure your cat stays happy and healthy is by proactively bringing him/her to the vet. Prevention is really the only tool you have with cats.
I can give you so many reasons to proactively and periodically bring your cat to the vet that I could even write a book. Did I just come up with a reason to write another book?
Well, at any rate, in the best interest of time, here are some at the top of the list:
The list goes on and on but by now I’m sure you get the point. If you’ve never brought your cat to the vet, just remember it’s never late for a first visit.
And in case you're wondering what happens during a first vet visit, Dr. Susan Sabatini from Ontario Veterinary College gives a great run down in the video below.
Cat First Vet Visit
Internet memes would have you believe that cats are aloof, independent creatures, but us cat parents know they can be just as snuggly and playful as their pup counterparts. Our fur babies look to us to love them and care for them so they can live long healthy lives.
Part of love and care means taking them to the vet, whether they put up a fight about it or not. Of course, we all know that sometimes a vet trip can be tricky, it can be stressful for you and your kitty, sometimes it can also be scary when a procedure is needed or emotional when a new diagnosis is revealed. Did we mention it can also be pricey?
As such, you probably don't want to make a vet trip more often than is necessary. So, how often do you need to take your cat to the vet? As noted above, the biggest determining factors are age and health status. Let's talk about each of them!
You might know by now that we are advocators of adopt, don’t shop – so odds are you’re not going to encounter many newborn kittens – unless you regularly rescue catermelons (a pregnant momma that often resembles a watermelon).
But what if a stray adopts you and gives birth to a litter of little ones? Or if you find orphaned kittens because something terrible has happened to their mother?
When they're first born, kittens are both blind and deaf, and as you may imagine will need round-the-clock care and attention from their feline mother. But they can always benefit from some assistance from their pet parent, and then ultimately their vet.
It’s maybe worth mentioning that being a completely hands-on pet parent is a necessity if momma cat is not around, but we’re not going to dive into that in this post.
Newborn kittens should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. You'll need to bundle up the potentially anxious mother and all of her little furballs for their first adventure as a family.
An early vet visit is imperative for an unvetted momma and her babies. Momma cats that have spent their life outside may carry parasites that they pass onto their kittens. Viral and bacterial infections are also common.
Bringing the little ones to the vet early will help identify these issues so that they can be treated in a timely manner.
Kittens generally need vet visits every 3-4 weeks (about once a month) for the first 2-5 months of life.
These visits are checkups to test for any diseases or parasites that might threaten the health of the kitten. You'll also get them the first set of their vaccinations, blood testing for things like FIV, and a physical examination. You may also be asked to bring a stool sample along with them for each visit.
Just like human vaccinations, there are core vaccines for cats and kittens and non-core vaccines that your vet may recommend based on other risk factors. Core kitten vaccines include the following:
Check out what Dr. Hill has to say about vaccines:
In addition to vaccines, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) endorses the recommendation from the Veterinary Task Force on Feline Sterilization for Age of Spay and Neuter Surgery which found cats should be sterilized (spayed or neutered) before they reach 5 months of age.
Some veterinarians are trained to perform spay and neuter surgeries on very young kittens, but in general the minimum requirement is the kitten must be at least 8 weeks old and weigh 2 pounds or more.
Many rescues have a requirement that they won’t adopt out a kitten that hasn’t been sterilized. By safely performing the surgery sooner rather than later allows the kittens to be adopted earlier so they begin their lives with their new family.
Cats ranging from seven months to six years old can be considered young adult cats. You’ll often seen this broken down as “Junior,” which goes from 7 months to about 2 years old, and “Prime” up to 6 years old. As a Junior, your kitty will finish growing somewhere between 12 and 18 months of age.
“Kittens usually stop growing at approximately 12 months of age, although they still may have some filling out to do.” – Dr. Nicole Fulcher
Young adult cats are frisky and full of energy, settling into their habits and lifestyles. This time of life often involves exploring their home and taste testing the world around them.
Once they are fully vaccinated, young adult cats only need to be taken to the vet once a year. If you haven’t done so already, be sure to ask your vet about microchipping your kitty so if you ever get separated you can be reunited.
While young adult cats tend to be nice and healthy at this point in life, regular checkups allow your veterinarian to compare year over year values to see if a harmful change is beginning to trend.
Vet visits during this stage of life, will include a comprehensive physical examination to check for any possible issues. As noted earlier, cats are notorious for hiding minor ailments, illnesses, and injuries, so a thorough examination can catch things you might have missed.
In addition to an exam, your cat will likely have some blood drawn to check for any signs of disease, chemical imbalances, or other issues that may need proactive attention. Remember, many ailments and diseases, caught early, can be cured or mitigated before they become life-altering problems.
These annual visits will also be an opportunity to check for parasites via a stool sample and to update your cat on their vaccines. You can expect a rabies booster annually (or every 3 years in some states).Non-core adult vaccines might also be recommended depending on the lifestyle your cat leads.
Do you have other pets in the home? Does your kitty go outside, or are they indoor-only? These can have an impact, and you'll want to discuss them with your vet. You’ll also get refills for flea and tick treatments at these appointments.
As your kitty begins to transition from a young adult to a more mature adult, your vet is going to focus more attention on their mouth. A whopping 85% of cats over the age of 4 have some form of periodontal disease! And did you know dental health is directly related to overall health?
“It has been said by veterinary dental specialists that if you brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth regularly that they will live to 17 or 18 years old. If you don’t your pet may only live until around age 12. Though that may not always be true, the principal is that regular dental care will extend both the quality and life span of your pet and prevent many future diseases.” – Westside Animal Hospital
Your vet will let you know when it’s time for a teeth cleaning. While sedated, your vet will be able to thoroughly clean your kitty’s teeth and remove any tartar that’s built up. You can read about how my Moosie made out with his dental cleaning here.
When your kitty is around 7 to 10 years old, you’ll start to see their energy levels taper off and they’ll prefer to spend time snuggled up in a cozy sunbeam or lap rather than running around being a rambunctious bundle of fur.
That's not to say they'll spend all their time sleeping – far from it – but they certainly won’t be as active as their younger counterparts.
During this stage of life, you will still want to take your cat to the vet at least once a year. Many of the same checkups will happen, including the physical, bloodwork, and stool sample, as well as continued vaccination boosters.
Your vet will also want to review things like diet and weight. Cats that are overweight often start to have trouble as they age. From pain in their joints to thyroid problems or diabetes.
My angel Moo ended up with diabetes as a result of his unaddressed obesity. We can all agree that there is nothing more adorable than a chunky cat. But believe me, you do not want to put your cat through obesity. I have a lot of lessons learned.
Many of these problems are much more easily addressed when they haven’t had time to set in and do more damage. Being proactive about dietary and activity changes can be important part of maintaining good health.
While many mature adult cats remain healthy, it’s not uncommon for some health issues to start to emerge. It's simply a fact of a life well-lived that bodies start to fail in various ways; it's not a reflection upon you or your care or love for them.
A kitty that is around 10 years old is about 56 in human years (give or take depending on what cat-to-human age converter you use) so they may need some help to maintain their well-being.
A decline in kidney function is very common during this period of life, so you may need to begin a special diet or start administering medications.
Once your cat passes ten years of age, they have officially earned the title of senior. Most domestic cats live between 12 and 18 years, though cats that spend time outdoors often have a shorter lifespan, due to predators, unfortunate encounters with vehicles, more interactions with parasites, and greater chances of infection and injury.
Indoor kitties generally live longer and healthier lives because they aren't exposed to the same threats that they would face outdoors. With that said senior cats are still at risk for aging related diseases.
Check out this 2 min video on the most common diseases in older cats:
As a senior, your venerable elder of a cat will benefit from more frequent vet visits. The general recommendation is about twice a year or once every six months.
The more frequent visits are necessary to identify changes in your cat’s health. A lot can happen in 6 months and waiting a full year for another checkup could allow health issues to worsen.
If it’s hasn’t been a normal part of your annual visit, you can be sure that blood tests are going to be recommended for your senior. Your vet will be specifically looking for common age-related issues and potential complications. They will also want to perform a urinalysis to track kidney function.
When your cat becomes a senior, you’ll want to pay careful attention to their behavior. If they show reluctance to jump, if they seem stiff, favor limbs, or avoid certain actions, this may be worth bringing up with your vet.
Joint pain is common in older cats but can be managed in several different ways. From traditional medication to acupuncture to cbd. Your vet will recommend an appropriate course of action for your cat.
Oral care also continues to be important for seniors. Inflamed gums and tooth pain can cause your kitty to cut back or even stop eating. While your kitty may not show that they are in pain, a slow decline in eating can be a sign of dental issues.
Case in point: When my now 18-year-old Sosa was about 16, a regular checkup helped identify a considerable decline in her dental health. The doctor recommended the removal of several teeth as they were causing pain and other issues. This was very stressful and traumatic due to her advance age and other health issues. Fortunately, our vet specializes in elder cats and felt comfortable with putting my Sosa under general anesthesia. Everything went well during surgery and my Sosa was back to herself after a couple of days. Had we waited a little longer, she may not have been a good candidate for such a procedure due to her advanced age and her poor dental health might have resulted in other complications.
If your kitty reaches the ripe old age of 15, they’ve graduated to geriatric status – you officially have a little old lady or little old man in the family. A 15-year-old kitty is about 76 in human years, so as you may imagine their aging body isn’t going to function as well as it once did.
If your kitty has been diagnosed with any of the common aging cat diseases, you may start to add specialist vet visits in addition to your regular twice yearly vet appointments.
Some kitties with chronic pain might benefit from acupuncture sessions, a cat with heart disease may need disease management from a veterinary cardiologist, and in the heart-breaking case of cancer, a veterinary oncologist.
Any time throughout your furry friend's life, there may be other reasons to take them to the vet.
If you have a well-established relationship with your veterinarian, you may be able to call with any concerns that come up to see if they advise that you should come into the office. This is one advantage of building a trusted relationship with your vet and why it’s listed as a key reason to periodically bring your cat to the vet.
In some cases, you may be able to watch and wait to see if an ailment clears up on its own. With all my cats for example I have made sure to build a relationship with our family vet and believe me it is worth it.
Generally, a vet visit is warranted for anything out of the ordinary.
The most obvious one is injury. While kitties are extremely nimble, accidents happen. A miscalculated jump could cause a leg injury, a stuck claw could cause a paw injury. If your kitty goes outside, they could get in fights with other animals or injured by a passing vehicle.
If your cat comes home scratched up, but is otherwise acting normal, you may be inclined to just let the wounds heal on their own. This can be dangerous as under the surface an abscess could be forming.
At the very least, wounds should be cleaned and examined for debris or damage that might need stitches, and you'll need to watch them for infection.
Treatment for an injury might include pain medications, a cone, a cast, or other accessories to help encourage healing. It’s always a good idea to have an emergency veterinarian’s office information on hand in case of a concern that arises after normal business hours.
We mentioned earlier that there are some common aging diseases your kitty might face. When initially diagnosed, your kitty may need to be seen more frequently to ensure the health issue is being properly addressed.
An example would be with inflammatory bowel disease. Once diagnosed, your vet may recommend dietary changes and will want updates on how your kitty is responding. If diet changes aren’t enough a medication may be required.
Determining which medication and dosage works best for your kitty may take some time. More frequent bloodwork may also be needed, which would mean heading into the vet office more often.
If you receive a new diagnosis, don’t panic - and I speak from experience. There are many health concerns that, when managed properly, won't affect your feline's quality of life until they're advanced in age, but regular monitoring and treatment are necessary. Proper management means a closer review by your vet to watch for changes that indicate the need to adjust medications or diet.
Litter box issues are another common cause for concern. This is under behavioral issues in the list of reasons to bring your cat to the vet.
If your cat is having trouble using the litter box (also known as elimination issues), for example if they're suddenly going where they shouldn't, or if they're visiting frequently without actually going, or if they have issues like diarrhea for more than a day or two, it’s time to give your vet a call.
There may be a simple explanation you can handle at home, but your vet may want to perform an examination to make sure they don't have problems like a urinary tract infection, bowel obstruction, or kidney infection.
Likewise, vomiting can be a sign that something is wrong. Cats vomit occasionally, including hairballs, and it's not necessarily a cause for concern.
But, if your cat is throwing up more than once or twice a month, it can be a sign of something more nefarious going on. It could be something as simple as they're eating too much too fast, but other more chronic health conditions can cause vomiting.
Another big red flag is unexplained weight loss. Weight loss is fine if your cat is obese and you're working on helping them get down to a healthy weight, but if they've started losing weight unexpectedly – especially if they haven't changed their behavior in other ways – it can be a cause for concern.
Any number of illnesses or parasites can lead to weight loss. Likewise, if your cat has stopped eating for more than a day or two, a vet visit is a must. Failure to eat can cause liver lipidosis, which can be deadly if left untreated.
Conversely, excessive thirst can also be a sign of a problem, particularly kidney disease. If your cat seems very thirsty, and it's not just because it's the peak of summer and it's hot, take them for a vet visit.
Finally, any unexplained behavioral issue can also be a cause for concern. A normally active cat no longer wanting to play, an aloof cat suddenly wanting to snuggle, or a cat that seems to be fearful or aggressive out of nowhere; these can all be signs of problems that need a vet's attention. While there might be a reasonable explanation (like a change in life circumstances or home situation), it’s always best to rule out a physical cause.
Raising a cat is a beautiful thing. But just as raising biological children it can be expensive. Believe me, I know, I grew up with cats and have adopted and raised 4 of them from kittenhood all the way to adulthood.
As life changes, sometimes pet parents may find themselves in situations where money is tight. We pet parents understand very well that some medical procedures can be both life threatening and/or really expensive. You should try not let this get in the way of providing the best healthcare you can for your furry children.
Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that provide financial resources for pet parents in need.
Frankie’s Friends: Non-profit foundation dedicated to finding cures and saving pets with cancer and other life-threatening conditions. This non-profit helps save pets’ lives by providing grants to assist with the cost of life-saving or life-enhancing emergency or specialty care for pets whose families cannot afford the full cost of treatment.
RedRover Relief: This organization provides financial assistance grants and additional resources so pet parents, and rescuers can care for animals who need urgent veterinary care. RedRover also offers financial assistance for victims of domestic violence and their pets.
The Pet Fund is a registered 501(c) 3 nonprofit association that provides financial assistance to pet parents who need veterinary care. Often fur children are put down or suffer needlessly because their parents cannot afford expensive surgery or medical treatment. Pet parents must often make the difficult decision to put an animal down or neglect medical needs because of the costs involved.
Live Like Roo Foundation is a volunteer-run 501C3 organization that provides support and financial assistance to families whose fur child faces a cancer diagnosis. They pay bills for biopsies, amputations, medications, growth removals and much more.
Alternatively, if you do not qualify for any of the grants above, there are a number of veterinary financing options available. Simply run an internet search and you will find plenty of convenient options.
So, there you have it. In the first couple of years of life you can expect to take your kitty to more frequent vet visits, but that will lead into a regular annual schedule. If health issues arise you may need to visit your veterinarian more frequently.
Even without health issues, as life comes full circle, an aging kitty will begin going back to the vet more frequently. Follow your vet’s guidance for appointment frequency. Like you, they want your fur baby to live a long healthy life and preventative care is a big part of that process. Over to you.
Do you have any questions regarding how often you should be taking your cat to the vet? If so, be sure to leave a comment down below! I'd be more than happy to assist you and your furry feline friend however I possibly can! Just remember, if you're ever in doubt, it's always best to stay on the safe side and take them in for an examination.
Read More Cat Care Guides
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K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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