Just like we humans have an annual wellness checkup with our doctor, your cat should be visiting their veterinarian every year. Kittens and senior cats should visit the veterinarian more often.
Most of your cat’s healthcare plan is guided by their life stage. So how often should your cat go to the vet?
When Should I Take My Kitten to the Veterinarian?
According to the feline life stage guidelines from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), your cat is considered a kitten until they’re 1 year old. Your kitten should visit their veterinarian more often during the first 16 to 20 weeks of life before they begin having an annual wellness exam.
Kitten Life from Birth to 20 Weeks
A veterinarian is your best resource to ensure your kitten is being fed appropriately and growing. During this stage, make sure to contact your veterinarian if any of the following signs occur:
Failure to nurse, not gaining weight, feeling bony or too skinny
Diarrhea or vomiting
Upper respiratory infection signs including sneezing, coughing, or discharge from the eyes or nose
Decreased activity level
Not urinating or defecating when stimulated (prior to around 3 to 4 weeks of age)
If you’re adopting a kitten, schedule their first veterinary appointment during their first week home with you. Most kittens aren’t adopted until they’re 8 to 10 weeks old, and vets generally recommend not taking a kitten that’s under 6 weeks old home unless you are well-versed in neonatal kitten care.
Your veterinarian will ensure that your cat is up to date on vaccinations, make sure you have appropriate parasite preventives, and examine your cat for any wellness concerns.
Your kitten should receive their first round of vaccinations no earlier than 6 weeks of age, and then every three to four weeks until they are at least 16 weeks old.
Kittens usually get their rabies vaccination at the last of these visits. If you’ve adopted a kitten from an animal shelter, you may notice their vaccines started earlier and were given more frequently. This is normal in animal shelters due to increased transmission risks.
Kittens need many vaccines because they are developing their own immune system during this critical period of their life. At this stage, a kitten is also losing the antibody protection they received from their mom during birth. Antibody levels wane anywhere from one to four months after birth, leaving the kitten susceptible to infection. Vaccines every three to four weeks ensure protection is introduced early after the loss of the mother’s antibodies.
Your vet will also deworm your kitten during their vaccine appointments and get them started on appropriate parasite preventives, with special attention given to heartworms, intestinal worms, fleas, and ticks based on your cat’s lifestyle.
During each kitten exam, your veterinarian will be looking for:
Congenital (present at birth) conditions like heart murmurs or umbilical hernias
Signs of infectious disease such as diarrhea, vomiting, parasites in stool, sneezing, or discharge from the eyes or nose
Normal growth of teeth
Patchy or crusty areas of hair loss that could suggest ringworm
Kitten Life at 5 to 6 Months
Some veterinarians will recommend revaccinating for feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and panleukopenia at 6 months of age depending on the type of vaccines your cat received and their individual risk.
Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for your cat’s vaccine schedule.
How Often Do Cats Need to Go to The Vet?
Cats are considered young adults from ages 1 to 6 and mature adults from ages 7 to 10. During this time, your cat should have at least an annual wellness appointment with their veterinarian.
These wellness appointments help your veterinarian catch medical conditions early and ensure your cat is up to date on their preventive care. Keep in mind that cats can be stoic, so illness can be difficult to detect in the home until it becomes serious enough that your cat can no longer hide their illness.
Even your indoor-only cat should see the veterinarian at least once a year. Don’t underestimate the value of your veterinarian’s physical examination.
Even your indoor-only cat should see the veterinarian at least once a year. Don’t underestimate the value of your veterinarian’s physical examination. They could detect heart disease, dental disease, cancer, or many other conditions a pet parent might not suspect. Annual blood work can pick up signs of diabetes or chronic kidney disease and sets a baseline for your cat.
Cats over 10 years old are considered seniors. Once a cat is a senior, they should see their veterinarian at least once every six months. Senior cats need to see the vet more often because they are more likely to develop chronic health conditions. Earlier detection means earlier intervention, which can lead to a better outcome.
Common conditions in senior cats that your veterinarian could detect at wellness examinations with a physical exam and lab work include:
When Does My Cat Need an Emergency Vet Visit?
If your cat is experiencing a medical emergency that is life-threatening, contact an emergency veterinarian.
Signs that you need to see an emergency veterinarian include:
Collapse or seizure
Uncontrollable diarrhea or vomiting, especially with loss of appetite
Traumatic injuries, like being hit by a car or getting attacked by a dog
Inability to urinate or yowling in the litter box
Do I Need Pet Insurance for My Cat?
Whether you choose to get pet insurance for your cat is a personal choice to make, based on your finances and lifestyle.
Most pet insurance does not pay for care up-front. Usually, you pay the veterinarian yourself, send a claim to insurance, and then get reimbursed for covered expenses. There’s typically a deductible to meet, and then you’re reimbursed for a specific percentage of covered expenses.
Keep in mind that wellness care, like vaccines, isn’t included in most insurance plans. You’d have to get a separate plan or add these services.
The cost of insurance varies based on your cat’s age, health, and breed. Some insurance plans will keep you locked into a lower monthly or annual premium if you get the insurance when your cat is a kitten.
How Much Does a Vet Visit Cost?
An average wellness exam that includes a physical exam and annual blood work will usually cost around $200. When needed, vaccinations will usually add around $80 to $150. Prices vary based on geographic location, specific testing recommended, and any additional services requested.
My cat hasn’t been to the vet in years. What should I do?
We recommend that you contact a veterinarian to set an appointment for a wellness check-up. The veterinarian will ensure that your cat is up to date on vaccinations, make sure you have appropriate parasite preventives, and examine your cat for any wellness concerns.
Do indoor cats need to go to the vet?
Although indoor cats are less likely to sustain injuries when compared to outdoor cats, they can still develop other medical conditions like diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or cancer. They can still get parasites that transmit disease, such as mosquitoes, fleas, or other bugs that find their way indoors.
Taking your indoor cat to the veterinarian helps you to catch wellness concerns early, which generally means better outcomes for your pet.
Do cats need annual checkups?
Yes, all adult cats should see their veterinarian for a checkup at least once a year. For senior cats over 10 years old, we recommend two visits a year.
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