Cat Health Examination – What To Expect

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Have you ever wondered what your a veterinarian is checking when they perform their annual examination? Well, we have all the answers here.

Also referred to as a wellness examination, the annual veterinary examination is an important medical evaluation to check the overall health of a cat who may not necessarily have a medical condition.

How often should my cat see a veterinarian?

At least once a year, and once the cat turns seven, that should increase to twice a year. Cats age at a different rate to people. One cat year can be as much as 7 human years, that is a lot of time between visits.

How much does it cost?

I recently took two of my cats to the veterinarian for an annual examination, the F3 vaccination and a worming tablet, the cost was $120 per cat. You get a lot for what you pay for considering people would see a dentist, optometrist and a GP for such a thorough health check.

What is the purpose of an annual health check-up?

  • Evaluate the health of your cat
  • Identify cats and certain risk factors
  • Check for diseases which may be present without clinical signs
  • Discuss health and nutrition
  • Check for parasites and discuss parasite control
  • Vaccinate the cat (where indicated)
  • Provide the opportunity for the caregiver to ask any questions they may have

Inside the veterinary room:

The cat will have his weight checked and a record entered on to the file.

The evaluation begins as soon as the cat is outside its carry cage, with the veterinarian observing mentation, posture, body condition and gait.

Tools of the trade your veterinarian uses include:

  • Stethoscope
  • Thermometer
  • Penlight
  • Otoscope

Questions your veterinarian will ask you:

  • Have you noticed any changes in the cat?
  • What do you feed the cat?
  • Is the cat eating well and drinking?
  • How are the cat’s stools?
  • Does the cat go outside?
  • Do you clean the cat’s teeth?
  • Do you treat your cat for heartworm, intestinal worms, fleas, and ticks? If so, what product are you using?

Checking normal values:

Normal parameters:

Respiration 20-30 breaths per minute at rest
Temperature 100 – 103 F, 37 – 39.4 C
Capillary refill time 1 – 2 seconds

Hands-on examination:

This is exactly as it sounds, the veterinarian uses his hands to physically examine the cat from head to toe and evaluates the following:

Ears:

The veterinarian will carefully look inside the cat’s ears for lumps, bumps, parasites (ear mites) and signs of infection and build up of wax or discharge.

Next, an otoscope will be used to examine the inner ear canal.

The outer ears are examined for growths, hair loss, and other abnormalities.

Eyes:

The eyes and eyelids are evaluated for position, movement, pupil response to light, cataracts, and abnormalities.

Eye discharge can be indicative of an infection.

Mouth:

Open the mouth and check for signs of gingivitis or gum disease as well as look for lumps and bumps within the oral cavity.

The teeth are evaluated for signs of tartar build up, damage, and dental decay.

The veterinarian will assess the gums for overall health, colour, and hydration. The gums should be pinkish in colour, and moist. The gums will be pale in an anemic cat, yellow in cats with liver disorders, blue/grey in cyanotic cats and dry or sticky if the cat is dehydrated.

The tongue is examined for lumps and bumps, ulcers, damage and foreign bodies such as string.

Nose:

Examine the bridge of the nose for shape and symmetry. Look for nasal discharge.

Skin:

The skin and coat are evaluated for lumps, bumps, hair loss, rashes, redness, inflammation, and parasites.

Tenting the skin at the shoulders is an easy way to check your cat for dehydration.

Mammary glands: 

The veterinarian will run his hands along the underside and palpitate the mammary glands (on both male and female cats) to check for masses.

Feet, limbs, and joints: 

The veterinarian will examine the cat from the toes to the hip and shoulder joints, checking the claws for overgrowth or abnormalities, the paws, and nails for lumps and masses. The veterinarian will turn each paw upside down on the examination table to check for proprioception (the sense of the body’s own body parts in relation to other body parts, such as when you close your eyes but can still touch your nose).

Moving up the legs, the veterinarian evaluates the muscles and joints for swelling, pain, and heat.

Thorax (chest): 

The veterinarian will run his hands along each side of the cat’s torso to assess the ribs for symmetry and evaluate the body condition of the cat. For example, ribs which are easy to feel indicate a cat is underweight, ribs which cannot be felt mean the cat is overweight.

A stethoscope is a medical instrument used to listen to the heart and lungs which can pick up abnormalities.

Abdomen:

The abdominal area is carefully palpitated with the veterinarian’s fingers to feel for tenderness and evaluate the organs including the kidneys, liver, spleen, intestines, bladder, and uterus. In the healthy cat, only the kidneys and a full bladder can be felt.

Lymph nodes: 

The bean-shaped lymph nodes are located around the body and are palpitated for signs of enlargement or tenderness which can be a symptom of infection or cancer.

Anal and genital area: 

Any signs of discharge, lumps, bumps or swelling.

Diagnostic tests: 

Not all veterinarians recommend tests (unless indicated), however, it can be advantageous to do so. Baseline tests can pick up many diseases even before symptoms become apparent. Your veterinarian will be able to refer back to previous test results for a timeline.

Fecal test – This test examines the feces for eggs to common intestinal parasites.

Dental xrays – These aren’t a routine best, but it doesn’t hurt to have full dental xrays. Even if the teeth above the gum line look healthy, a lot can happen below the gum which an xray will reveal.

Heartworm test – This serious and potentially deadly parasitic worm lives in the heart and pulmonary arteries of dogs, and cats. If you live in an area with heartworm, it is important to treat your cat with a heartworm preventative medication. Even if a cat is on heartworm prevention medication, it is still advisable to test once a year for this parasite.

Titre test – If you and your veterinarian decide to switch from annual vaccinations to every three years, a titer test, which is a simple blood test, can detect levels of antibodies to diseases for which vaccinations can prevent. If the cat has high titer levels, then the cat still has immunity.

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