Routine veterinary health checks – which should generally 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:
This can be achieved through regular vaccination, using appropriate wormers and products to treat or prevent fleas etc. However, another important aspect is evaluating the cat's lifestyle and physical, emotional and behavioural needs.
This increases opportunities for successful treatment and avoiding more serious problems and complications, and
This is especially important with older cats, where long-term and multiple diseases are generally more common. Any abnormality in the smell of your cat’s breath
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 extremely adept at hiding signs of disease and ill health. This is almost certainly a result of their 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 cats don't communicate signs of ill health to us. They hide illness very well, and by the time we recognise something 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 be highly significant. Some of the common subtle signs that may suggest an important underlying condition include:
1. 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
2. Any change in your cat's appetite
3. Any change in your cat's weight
4. Any change in the amount your cat drinks
5. Any change in how often or how much your cat urinates, or the place where it urinates
6. Any change in vocalisation, such as cats that start to cry and meow much more frequently
7. Any abnormality in the smell of your cat's breath
We now more than ever recognise 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 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 environmental changes and 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), even more so for cats kept exclusively indoors.
With the challenges of a restricted environment, often living close 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 regular health checks with your veterinarian is to look at your cat's behavioural and emotional needs through different life stages and changing environments and circumstances. Again, by working in partnership with your veterinary team, a huge amount can be done to provide your cat with a truly enriched quality of life and care for its health.
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