General health care

Although cats are said to have nine lives, they only have one, and you can help that one along. In the wild, cats do a good job of taking care of themselves, but housecats live much longer than their wild cousins. The quality and length of a cat’s life can be extended by routine health care. By making sure your cat receives regular veterinary examinations, annual vaccines, dental care and parasite control, you can offer your cat the best preventive health care.

Good owners can be very observant about their cats and notice important changes, but a vet can objectively evaluate the animal regularly. It is difficult for owners to assess subtle changes, such as weight loss that occurs gradually over a period of time, but a veterinarian can consult records and monitor trends.
A vet should examine a cat at least annually and every 6 months in senior cat. The examination is from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. Each vet may have their own routine when conducting a full physical exam, but the best exams are thorough exams. A full physical exam will  include:

• Measurement of body weight
• Measurement of body temperature
• Evaluation of the eyes, ears and nose
• Opening the mouth and assessing the teeth and gums
• Palpation of external lymph nodes
• Evaluation of the coat and skin
• Evaluation of muscle tone and body condition
• Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope
• Examination of the legs, paws and claws
• Palpation of the abdomen
• Examination of the rectum and genitalia
• Examination of the tail

Depending on the individual cat and how cooperative they are, this examination can take anywhere from 2 to 10 minutes. In most situations, a vet can conduct the exam without help, but when the patient is wiggly, scared or aggressive, more hands are needed.
When cats are hot or frightened, they are only able to sweat from their feet, because the footpads are the only body parts that contain moisture secreting sweat glands. If you notice damp footprints on your veterinarian’s exam table, you will know why. A routine physical exam is not painful to your cat. If the cat squawks and squirms, he is probably just resisting restraint rather than showing discomfort. Animals that have not been fully examined before by a vet are generally less cooperative than those who previously have been examined, but some cats are so frightened that they act worse at each successive veterinary visit. If necessary, let the professional veterinary staff handle your cat during any veterinary visit. Many animals become scared and defensive when they are outside their own homes and become fractious. Owners can even be bitten or scratched by their own cats when they try to help hold the animal during an exam. Experienced nurses and vets are trained to manage these situations. The best way you can assist is by talking to your pet in a calm, reassuring voice. At the end of a physical exam the vet will discuss any abnormal findings and assess the general health of the cat. If you do not understand what the vet has told you, be sure to ask questions. The vet and staff will be a resource for information on all aspects of caring for your cat, including nutrition and behaviour. Write down any questions you have on these issues and bring them along to discuss during your cat’s annual physical exam. This prevents you from going home and wishing you had asked the vet something about your cat that you forgot during the appointment.