Do indoor-only cats need veterinary exams?

Cats are expert at hiding signs of illness
I often read in veterinary journals how many felines across the country do not get adequate veterinary care or exams. Whether it’s an indoor cat that lives on the 30th floor of a major United States city, or a barn cat that spends most of the time in a hay loft or catching mice in a barn, many such cats get very little veterinary attention.

One of the most important reasons for having a cat regularly examined, (no matter what the lifestyle of the particular animal) is for the simple reason that cats often hide or mask clinical disease, acting seemingly normal to the feline guardian only until they are very sick. While in people, dogs, and other pets signs of illness are readily apparent, many cats do not show signs. Subtle issues such as slight changes in thirst or appetite, coat quality, and digestive tract dysfunction often go unnoticed by even the most observant feline guardian.

Feline periodontal disease is on the increase in all age cats. Cats are often renowned for losing weight suddenly and dramatically, after which a severe chronic disease of long duration is often diagnosed. It is for these reasons that every cat should have at least an annual physical exam and oral exam, including a veterinarian listening to the heart for murmurs or abnormal rhythms, and palpating the abdomen for enlargements, areas of pain or organ abnormalities. A fecal sample should be checked to detect hidden parasites that are sometimes a risk to particularly young and immunocompromised people.

After middle age, feline guardians should consider annual wellness blood testing, including a CBC/chemistry and thyroid blood profile, as well as a urine analysis to detect early or hidden disease. Feline guardians should be on the look out for subtle signs of weight loss, including a muscle loss/atrophy over the shoulders and back, as well as increased thirst/urination and appetite or behavioral changes in their cat. While occasional hairball vomiting is sometimes normal in cats, many guardians and even veterinarians over blame hairballs as a cause of chronic vomiting of liquid and food, while in many cases these cats have a chronic metabolic condition, food allergy, or inflammatory bowel condition causing such clinical signs.

We are also becoming increasingly aware of potentially new and emerging diseases such as feline heartworm disease, and feline infectious anemia (known as feline mycoplasma and/or feline Bartonella), which are often transmitted by parasites such as fleas/ticks and mosquitoes. It is for these reasons that many feline guardians choose to have their pets on heartworm preventative medication like Heartgard for cats as well as flea and tick control products like Advantage II and Frontline Plus, even if outside exposure is minimal.

And while in my opinion many of our feline companions are indeed overvaccinated too frequently, certainly a discussion with a progressive veterinarian about which vaccinations, if any are appropriate, given the lifestyle of the cat and laws of the state, should be discussed.

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