Before I begin, I have to state that performing a check on your cat is not to replace veterinary attention. It is vital that you see your veterinarian at least once a year, but being aware of your cat's physical and emotional condition between visits can help pick up potential problems quickly. Catching possible health problems early is an important aspect of cat care. It is a good idea for cat owners to give their cat a monthly check at home to ensure everything is going well. This should never replace professional examinations by your veterinarian, but as most pet owners only see their vet every 6 to 12 months, it is advisable to keep an eye on things between visits so if you do notice a change you can seek veterinary care immediately.
- Ears: Check for signs of bleeding, debris, dirt or wax. Look for signs of ear mites (reddish/brown discharge in the ear, bleeding from the ear, coffee-grounds like appearance in the ear, scratch marks, odour). You may notice a small amount of wax which is normal. Your cat’s ears should not have an unpleasant odour. Check the edge of your cat’s ears for thickening, scaling, lesions and redness. Look for lumps, bumps or any swellings on the ear.
- Eyes: These should be bright and clear with no redness, swelling, weeping or discharge.
- Nose: This should be free of discharge. Check for lumps, bumps, swellings and ulcers which don't heal.
- Mouth, Teeth and gums: The teeth should be white with no signs of chips or lesions. Gums healthy looking and pink without receding, redness, bleeding or swelling. Check for signs of tartar around the gum line. Check around the mouth, lips and tongue for ulcers, lumps, bumps, swelling and lesions.
- Chin: Check for lumps and bumps on the chin. A dirty appearing chin may be a sign your cat has feline acne.
- Respiration: Observe your cat’s breathing. This should be even and appear to be easy and effortless. Increased respiration and or effort should not be observed. Also check for panting, wheezing, coughing, suffering shortness of breath.
- Skin and Coat: This should be healthy looking, fur should be shiny. Gently pull up the skin at the shoulder and release. It should spring back immediately, if it doesn't your cat is dehydrated.
- Claws: Check the length, if they are too long (especially in indoor only cats) give them a trim.
- Body: Run your hands along the head, body, limbs and tail checking for lumps, bumps and signs of pain.
- Mobility: Put your cat down and observe it's movements. Does it appear stiff or uncomfortable? Is it avoiding using any limbs?
- Weight: Keeping a record of your cat's weight is a good idea. Run your hands along the cat's ribs. You should be just able to feel the ribs. If they can be easily felt, your cat may be underweight, if you can’t feel them at all, he may be overweight.
Even with the monthly home check it is important to be aware of your cat's general routine, habits and physical appearance. If you notice any changes in behaviour such as increased or decreased thirst, increased or decreased hunger, changes in litter tray habits, sleeping more or less, not grooming, poor coat condition, wounds which do not heal, coughing, sneezing, etc., then seek immediate veterinary attention.