For the most part, cats are pretty low-key pets. But if you’re a first-time cat parent, or have only had casual outdoor cats, you might be under the wrong impression about how often to take cats to the vet. So, how often do you take a cat to the vet? Keep reading to learn more about frequency guidelines depending on your cat’s life stage, common reasons to take your cat to the vet, and how to prepare your cat for their visit.
Do cats need annual checkups?
A good rule of thumb is to take your cat to the vet every year for a checkup. But depending on your cat’s life stage, annual vet checkups may not be necessary. If your cat is indoor-only and between the ages of 2-8, you may be able to take your cat for a checkup every other year. Talk to your vet first!
Visiting your veterinarian is so important, especially as your cat ages. That’s because your veterinarian wants to do a complete physical examination. We want to pick up on some common causes of weight loss, increased vomiting, bigger urine clumps, and increased thirst in your cat; these are all signs of common diseases in older cats such as diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and chronic kidney failure.
– Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT
Let’s break down what is typically recommended for vet visits, depending on your cat’s life stage.
The first few months of a kitten’s life will be filled with vet visits. That’s because kittens typically need to be dewormed, tested, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered all before six months of age.
- At 6-8 weeks old, kittens should receive their first set of vaccinations, be tested for FIV/FeLV, and get dewormed (depending on stool sample results).
- At 9-12 weeks, kittens should receive their next set of vaccinations. This may include a rabies vaccination, or your vet may wait until 16 weeks to give that shot.
- Although cats can be spayed or neutered at any age, kittens should be fixed before five months of age to prevent early pregnancy. Many vets will spay or neuter as early as two months old.
Healthy adult cats should be seen by the vet annually. (Indoor-only cats between ages 2-8 may be able to get away with seeing the vet every other year—but talk to your veterinarian first.)
- Your cat will receive vaccine boosters every 1-3 years.
- Your vet may recommend doing lab work (such as blood work) annually after 5 years of age.
- If your adult cat has a chronic medical condition such as diabetes or kidney disease, you may need to visit the vet more than once a year.
Past 10 years of age, your veterinarian may recommend bringing in your senior cat twice a year for a checkup.
- Regular health screenings are very important at this stage. You may notice that your senior kitty has decreased energy or mobility, but don’t assume this is completely normal. Your cat could have undiagnosed arthritis or more. It’s best to have your vet check it out.
- Your vet will also want to do once- or twice-yearly lab work to check your cat’s kidney and liver function, blood count, urinary health, and more.
- Keeping your cat current on their rabies vaccine booster is required by law, even for senior cats.
Common reasons why cats need to visit the vet
Now that we’ve covered the question how often do you take a cat to the vet, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons to visit the vet.
Wellness checks are part of your cat’s annual vet checkup, and may include things like vaccine boosters, physical exams, flea/tick treatment, and more. However, don’t hesitate to schedule a wellness check more than once a year if you notice your cat acting out of the ordinary or showing symptoms that something might be amiss.
Litter box problems
One of the most common reasons to take your cat to the vet outside of wellness checks is if they’re experiencing litter box problems. Whether your cat is urinating outside of the litter box, making multiple trips to the litter box without using it, experiencing constipation, or more—get to your vet, stat!
Get a little help monitoring your cat’s litter box habits with the WiFi-enabled, self-cleaning Litter-Robot 3 Connect! The app allows you to view how often your cat is going inside the litter box and compare with recent usage stats.
Vomiting or diarrhea
Most pet parents don’t realize that cat vomiting isn’t normal. If your cat is vomiting more than 1-2x/month, it’s worth talking to your veterinarian to make sure it isn’t due to a medical problem. The same goes for diarrhea: If (slowly) transitioning your cat to a new type of cat food doesn’t help with diarrhea, it’s time to see your vet.
Weight loss or not eating
If you lose a pound here and there, it’s no big deal. But if your cat loses a pound, it’s time to get the vet. Your cat losing weight could stem from many causes, some of which are easily treatable. Others, less so. Get to your vet right away, because the sooner diagnosed, the sooner treated! Similarly, if you notice your cat not eating for a couple days, try to get to your vet ASAP. That’s because cats can only go a few days without eating before they can develop fatty changes to their liver. This is called hepatic lipidosis, which can be life-threatening if not treated.
Unfortunately, obesity is common among house cats. If you can’t easily feel your cat’s ribs, view a clear waistline from above, or see a visible tummy tuck from the side, your cat may be overweight or obese. Obesity predisposes cats to so many medical problems: obese cats are 4.5x more likely to develop diabetes, 7x more likely to develop musculoskeletal problems, and 2x as likely to die at a younger age. Your vet can offer advice on getting your cat back on track to a healthy weight.
Increased drinking / excessive thirst
If you notice your cat hanging around the water bowl, drinking excessively while still appearing dehydrated, or leaving giant clumps of urine in the litter box, you’ll want to make a visit to the vet. These could be signs pointing toward kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and more.
Changes in mobility or decreased activity
As we mentioned earlier, senior cats often have undiagnosed osteoarthritis. Even your adult (non-senior) cat may be dealing with this issue. Keep an eye out for changes in mobility, altered gait, being slower to jump, acting stiff, and decreased activity in general. If you notice these signs in your cat, contact your veterinarian.
Sometimes it’s not only physical symptoms that warrant a checkup. If your cat suddenly seems more aggressive or fearful, or is acting out in some way, it’s time to get your vet’s advice. This could be related to a new family member at home (four-legged or two-legged), an underlying medical condition, and more.
Why does my cat not like the vet?
Most cats find vet visits stressful—if not downright traumatizing. Between the car ride in their carrier, the exposure to strange barking dogs and crying cats, and being poked and prodded by the veterinarian, can you blame them?
Resident veterinarian Dr. Justine Lee offers a few tips on how to prepare your cat for their vet visit:
- Acclimate them to their carrier by setting it out a week or two before the vet visit. Sprinkle some catnip and treats in the carrier once a day to entice your cat to enter on their own accord.
- Help minimize their stress by giving them, well, drugs! Dr. Lee loves the natural cat-calming pheromone product called Feliway; or, talk to your vet about prescribing a safe medication called gabapentin.
What is considered a pet emergency?
Because cats have such stoic natures, they often don’t show clinical signs of illness until it’s severe. And because cats hide their signs, even subtle signs (like hiding) warrant an emergency visit to the ER veterinarian.
Dr. Justine Lee provides these general guidelines on when you need to seek immediate veterinary attention—even if it’s in the middle of the night.
- Hiding in unusual places
- Difficulty breathing, like panting, open-mouth breathing, or a respiratory rate over 50 breaths/minute (hint: count the number of breaths in 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get the total breaths per minute)
- Not moving and lying in one spot
- Crying out in pain
- Being acutely paralyzed
- Any trauma
- Any poisoning
- Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Any seizure activity
- Making multiple trips to the litter box with no urine coming out (especially if there’s no urine at all in the litter box for more than 24-36 hours!)
- Straining to urinate or defecate in front of you or in unusual places
- Excessive grooming of the hind end, with the penis sticking out (which may be due to a life-threatening feline urethral obstruction or urinary blockage)
- Profuse vomiting (such as more than 6-12 times in a 12-24-hour period)
- Not eating for several days
- Lying near the water bowl and drinking excessively but still appearing dehydrated
- Any string hanging out of any orifice (please don’t pull – leave this to veterinary professionals)
The vet is your friend
So, how often do you take a cat to the vet? Now you know that an annual vet visit is a good rule of thumb—but there are countless other reasons to see your veterinarian a bit more often. Depending on your cat’s life stage, lifestyle, and health habits, it’s good to have your vet’s phone number handy at any time.
A good rule of thumb is to take your cat to the vet every year for a checkup. But depending on your cat’s life stage, lifestyle, and health habits, annual vet checkups may not be necessary. Talk to your veterinarian about what’s best for your cat.
The type of coverage that you get on vet checkups depends on what pet insurance you choose—some only cover emergency care while others provide preventative care such as vaccines and wellness visits. Typically, it’s less expensive when you get pet insurance while your cat is young, as compared to older cats who have a higher risk of cancer, kidney failure, thyroid problems, heart disease, and more.
It is not typical practice to negotiate vet bills. In extreme special circumstances, your vet may be willing to offer you a payment plan or drop certain service fees from the bill.
Photo by Werzk Luuu on Unsplash