Routine veterinary health checks – which should in general be done at least annually, and in some life stages more frequently – are recommended for cats (and also dogs). There are important reasons for this and the checks have three main aims:
- To prevent development of diseases and parasitic infections
This can be achieved through regular vaccination, use of appropriate wormers and products to treat or prevent fleas etc. However, another important aspect is evaluating the lifestyle of the cat and its physical, emotional and behavioural needs
- To detect any diseases at an early stage
This increases opportunities for successful treatment and avoiding more serious problems and complications, and
- To reduce the impact of any established diseases
This is especially important with older cats where long-term diseases and multiple diseases are generally more common.
While regular veterinary checks are important for both dogs and cats, in many respects they may be even more critical for cats. There are two major reasons for this as outlined below.
Cats are ‘masters of disguise’
Cats are extremely adept at hiding signs of disease and ill health. This is almost certainly as a result of heir origins as solitary hunting animals (domestic cats are descended from, and remain closely related to, the African Wild Cat). As a result, if they were to display obvious signs of ill health they could easily become hunted rather than being the hunter. They do not enjoy the protection that could come from being a pack animal (like dogs) with other members of their own kind around to help look after them.
This means that cats simply don’t communicate signs of ill health to us. They hide illness very well, and by the time we do recognise something may be wrong, the underlying disease may be much more advanced than it would be in a dog, for example.
Signs of illness, when they do develop, are often vague (such as loss of appetite and lack of energy), or very subtle (increased sleeping, reduced grooming, and so on), and so can be difficult to pick up.
While the ability of cats to hide disease makes regular veterinary health checks critical, an observant owner can also play a vital role in detecting early and subtle signs of disease. Even small changes observed in cats can turn out to be highly significant – whenever anything of concern is noted, a call or visit to your veterinary clinic should be the first priority. Some of the common subtle signs that may suggest a significant underlying condition include:
- Any change in your cat’s behaviour such as
– Changes in your cat’s normal daily routine
– Any anxious or aggressive behaviour
– If your cat starts to urinate or defecate in the house
– Changes in grooming habits
– Changes in levels of activity, patterns of sleep or time spent sleeping
- Any change in your cat’s appetite
- Any change in your cat’s weight
- Any change in the amount your cat drinks
- Any change in how often or how much your cat urinates, or the place where it urinates
- Any change in vocalisation such as cats that start to cry and meow much more frequently
- Any abnormality in the smell of your cat’s breath
Caring for their wellbeing, not just their physical health
We recognise now, more than ever, that cats have many distinct and unique needs when kept in a home environment. Again, having originated as a solitary hunting species they remain very territorial animals, and often don’t actually get on well with other cats, unless they have been able to grow up together from a young age. Cats remain strongly territorial, profoundly influenced by changes in their environment and by smells and sounds that we cannot begin to appreciate.
We know that ‘environmental enrichment’ is vitally important for animals kept in confinement in zoos. We also recognise that cats kept in the home environment usually have some degree of abnormal confinement (abnormally small territory) and this is even more so for cats kept exclusively indoors.
With the challenges of a restricted environment, often living in close proximity to other cats in the area, and sometimes having to share their house (home territory) with other cats, taking care to provide an appropriate environment, appropriate number and quality of resources (litter trays, food and water bowls, resting and hiding places), appropriate interaction (including play) and enriched feeding regimes (not just simply offering food once or twice a day in a bowl) have an enormous role to play in improving cat wellbeing and in helping to prevent any behavioural problems.
An important part of the regular health checks with your veterinary clinic is to look at the behavioural and emotional needs of your cat through different life stages and through changing environments and circumstances. Again, by working in partnership with your veterinary health care team, a huge amount can be done to provide a truly enriched quality of life for your cat, as well as caring for its health.