Cats are known for being highly independent animals. First-time cat parents, casual outdoor kitty caretakers, old-fashioned cat owners, and many others are often misled by the self-sufficient nature of their feline family members. Cats are typically low-maintenance pets; this benefit to cat ownership can contribute to the common misconception that cats don’t need regular veterinary care, but they do.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Taking your cat to the vet helps maintain their preventative care so that they can live a long and happy life.
So, how often do you take a cat to the vet? Depending on a few factors, you might consider bringing your cat to the vet multiple times a year, but at least once a year is necessary. Keep reading to learn more about vet visit frequency guidelines based on your cat’s life stage.
Annual checkups are essential
Generally, it is recommended that cats have a comprehensive physical exam performed at least once a year. Many veterinary clinics and pet insurances offer wellness or preventative care programs that include one to two checkups. Discussing factors such as your cat’s age, lifestyle, and overall well-being can help you and your vet determine how often is most appropriate for your pet.
“Regular vet visits are so important because they allow you to work collaboratively with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat is healthy. A thorough history in combination with a complete physical exam are invaluable in preventing, catching, or treating any issues that your cat may have.” – Laria Herod, DVM
Because you spend the most time with your cat, you will know your cat best and are the first line of defense in noticing any health or behavioral changes. Trust your intuition: if you ever feel that something is wrong with your cat, contact your vet immediately to set up an appointment.
Let’s break down what is typically recommended for vet visits.
Tiny kitty = frequent vet visits
The first few months of a young kitten’s life are filled with vet visits. In these frequent visits, it is recommended that your kitten is dewormed, tested, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered. This is the perfect time to practice familiarizing your kitten with the vet office and asking the veterinary staff all your questions.
Overview of cat vaccines
AAHA and AAFP, the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners, released updated vaccine guidelines for cats in 2020. There are core and non-core vaccines: a core vaccine is recommended for all cats whereas the recommendation of a non-core vaccine is based upon that cat’s history and anticipated lifestyle. Currently, the core vaccines for cats are as follows:
- Feline Panleukopenia, also known as Feline Distemper (FPV)
- Feline Herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1)
- Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
- Feline Leukemia (FeLV) (cats younger than 1 year old)
These vaccines are given at various times in an attempt to keep your kitten protected as they develop their own immune systems. At present, it is recommended that kittens start their vaccine series at 6-8 weeks of age. They receive boosters/additional vaccines every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks of age based on specific products used and local regulations. At this point, your veterinarian will either booster your kitten at 6 months or wait until 1 year. This is doctor dependent and either is fine. After this, your cat will need to booster those vaccines every 1-3 years at your veterinarian’s discretion.
Vaccines aside, your kitten will get a complete physical exam at each of these visits. You will work with your veterinarian to determine next steps such as if and/or when to spay or neuter, monthly preventative medications, food recommendations, etc.
The world is faced with a huge problem: overpopulation of pets, particularly felines. It is recommended that you “Fix Felines by Five” or sterilize them by 5 months of age. In addition to having health and behavioral benefits, it also tackles the overpopulation issue by decreasing unplanned litters. For females, spaying or altering them by 5 months of age reduces their risk of developing mammary cancer. In males, neutering can reduce marking behaviors, also known as spraying. Furthermore, young kittens recover from this procedure remarkably fast and are better off for it.
All of these things are necessary to set a healthy foundation for your cat. It also allows you to get to know your veterinarian and soak in all the knowledge they impart.
How often should adult cats go to the vet?
Succinctly, healthy adult cats should be seen by the vet annually. While an exception can be made for indoor-only cats between ages 2 and 7 to be seen every other year, that is a decision that should be made in conjunction with your veterinarian.
What happens at this annual checkup? Well aside from a very thorough physical exam, you may update vaccines, perform blood work to ensure all is normal, pick up more prevention for heartworms, fleas, or ticks, and ask your vet questions about any changes in their daily life, from nutrition to behavior. Based on these diagnostic results, exam findings, and the history and context that only you can provide, a plan can be devised to maintain or improve the quality of your cat’s life.
For adult cats with chronic yet stable medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease, more frequent visits will likely be requested to ensure that they are doing well and make changes as needed.
Annual wellness visits are often undervalued, but the establishment of normal and early detection of unwanted changes are just a few things that your veterinarian is uniquely equipped to evaluate at these appointments.
Do senior cats require more frequent vet visits?
First things first: when is a cat considered a senior? The “senior” classification is presentation-dependent, but cats are considered to be middle-aged at 7 to 10 years old, and senior is 10+. With the continued advancement of medicine and education about the importance of routine checkups, our cats are living longer and getting to spend more quality time with their families.
It is recommended that healthy senior felines see the vet twice a year. This frequency increases with age and impaired health. Senior cats over 15 years old should check in with the vet every 4 months. Owners of senior cats with chronic diseases should devise a vet visit frequency with their veterinarian.
While every vet visit will include a diligent physical exam, particular care will be taken to minimize pain and stress during senior visits. The recommended vaccines and diagnostics for an adult cat carry over to seniors, but more diagnostics to evaluate organ system functioning and overall well-being may be recommended.
Much too often, owners unconsciously write of geriatric cats’ symptoms as old age, but your veterinarian can and will make recommendations to ensure that your cat's life is full of joy and vigor to the very end. It is always important to contact your veterinarian if you have concerns or notice changes with your cat; maintaining this open line of communication is increasingly crucial as cats age.
Summary: How often do you take a cat to the vet?
- At 6-8 weeks old
- Every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks old
- At 6 months
- At 1 year
- Adults cats
- Every other year if recommended by your veterinarian
- Immunocompromised: follow vet recommendation
- Senior cats
- 7-15 years old: twice per year
- 15+ years: every 4 months
- Immunocompromised: follow vet recommendation
At the end of the day, your cat’s health and your peace of mind are always worth calling and scheduling an appointment. If you have concerns, veterinarians want to address those concerns and equip you with tools to prevent, manage, or resolve them. Managing your pets' health is a joint effort between your family and your veterinarian.
Now that we have established how often you should take your healthy cat to the vet, read about the reasons you should take your cat to the vet outside of wellness visits.