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The Importance of an Annual Physical Examination in Cats

It's that time of year again. Time to take your cat to the veterinarian for his annual examination. But maybe you're thinking that you might skip it this year. After all, he isn't sick. Maybe you will just put it off until next year - what could it hurt? Actually, delaying an annual physical exam can hurt. Annual physical exams are an important part of providing optimal health care and the best longevity for your beloved companion. Cats age quickly and they are unable to tell us if they are feeling a little off. Remember, it may be one year in your life but that can be about 5-10 comparative years in your cat's life. A lot can change in that much time. Sometimes, cats can be ill for weeks and you are unaware of it. This may not be from a lack of monitoring or caring; your cat just hides his illness until it is so far advanced he has no choice but to show signs of disease. Your veterinarian has special training and experience in detecting subtle illness in pets. Listening to the heart can detect murmurs. Increased lung sounds may indicate early illness. Abdominal palpation may reveal pain in certain areas, abnormal size and shape of various organs or even tumors. Checking out the eyes can detect early signs of cataract or other ocular problems. Ears may be in need of cleaning or medication. Dental disease may be detected as well as signs of allergies or skin problems. It's easier for someone who doesn't see your pet every day to detect lumps and bumps that you may not have noticed. Comparing annual weights, too, can determine if your cat is heading down the path to obesity or is slowly losing weight. As a cat reaches middle to old age, annual physical exams become even more important. Certain problems that you may simply attribute to "old age," and just something you will have to live with, may be signs of underling disease and may be very treatable. Annual physical exams also give you an opportunity to ask your veterinarian any questions you may have about your cat's health. Your veterinarian may recommend certain additional tests to determine overall health based on physical exam findings or may have suggestions for improving the quality of your cat's life. Remember, the primary goal for your veterinarian is to keep your cat healthy and provide the best care available. Your veterinarian cares a great deal about your cat - almost as much as you.

Vaccinations
Vaccinations have saved the lives of millions of cats. Before the days of effective vaccines, cats routinely died from panleukopenia ("feline distemper") and complications of upper respiratory (herpesvirus, calicivirus) infections. Newer vaccines are available to protect against feline leukemia virus infection, feline infectious peritonitis virus and other infections. Current vaccination programs also protect our cats (and us) from the threat of rabies. All kittens should receive FVRCCP, which is Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, Chlamydia and Panleukopenia, the so-called "4-in-1" upper respiratory/feline distemper vaccine. Additional vaccines include FELV, or Feline Leukemia Virus vaccine, and Rabies vaccine. For kittens between 6 and 20 weeks of age, a series of vaccines is recommended. The first set of vaccines should be given when the kitten is 6-8 weeks old, and continue every 3 to 4 weeks until the chance of contracting an infectious disease is very low (typically the last "shot" is given between 16 and 18 weeks of age). A kitten may be lethargic for 1-2 days and show decreased appetite after the vaccinations. Occasionally, tumor development can be triggered by vaccination. It should be understood that, with very rare exception, the benefit of protection from disease by the vaccine far outweighs the chance of tumor development.
The Importance of a Recheck Examination in Cats
Delaying or not having a recheck exam can hurt your cat. A recheck examination is an appointment that allows your veterinarian to assess the progress and follow-up on your cat's disease or problem. Maybe you are thinking you can skip it because your cat is doing better? Even if your cat physically looks and feels better, he or she may not be completely back to normal. Some diseases can progress undetected.
It is often more difficult to treat diseases or conditions that have been going on for a long time or are not thoroughly treated the first time. Consider the possibility that recheck exams may actually save you time and money in the long run. Some chronic diseases can spiral out of control if not closely monitored for subtle changes. This could ultimately lead to more lengthy procedures, hospitalizations, trips back and forth to your veterinarian, and significantly higher veterinary bills. Recheck exams are a worthwhile investment in your cat's overall health. By taking your cat in for a "re-check" you are providing your cat the best possible care by allowing his progress to be professionally monitored.
Gastrointestinal Parasites in Cats
Most people are aware that their pets have worms, but just what are these worms, where do they get them and how do you get rid of them? When pet owners talk about worms, they are really talking about all gastrointestinal parasites. And there are several gastrointestinal parasites that commonly affect our cats
Tapeworms are very common in dogs and cats and, despite what you may think, rarely cause illness. Most people see the tapeworm egg packets as they pass out the rectum and crawl on the animal's fur. Animals infected with tapeworms may scoot on the floor since the egg packets tend to crawl on the skin, causing itchiness.
Giardia are pear-shaped, one-celled organisms that infect the small intestine of dogs and cats. Most cases of Giardia in young animals cause explosive, watery diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss and an unkempt appearance. Adult animals are capable of harboring the infection without showing clinical signs.
Hookworms and Whipworms are the other commonly observed worm eggs found on fecal analysis. Annual FECAL TESTING and DEWORMING (with vaccinations) is advised as part of preventive care for all cats in order to avoid parasitic problems as well as to decrease the stress of worms on your cat.
Roundworms are visible in your pet's stool or vomit. They are long and thin, similar to thin spaghetti. This parasite can pass through the placenta (only in puppies), through the milk (puppies and kittens) or be ingested (puppies and kittens). Some animals become infected after ingesting another animal with roundworm eggs.
Hookworms and Whipworms are the other commonly observed worm eggs found on fecal analysis. Annual FECAL TESTING and DEWORMING (with vaccinations) is advised as part of preventive care for all cats in order to avoid parasitic problems as well as to decrease the stress of worms on your cat.
Flea control
For millions of pets and people, the tiny flea is a remorseless enemy. The flea is a small, brown, wingless insect that uses specialized mouthparts to pierce the skin and siphon blood. When a flea bites your cat, it injects a small amount of saliva into the skin to prevent blood coagulation. Some animals may have fleas without showing discomfort, but an unfortunate number of cats become sensitized to this saliva. In highly allergic animals, the bite of a single flea can cause severe itching and scratching. Fleas cause the most common skin disease of cats - flea allergy dermatitis. Remember that the flea spends the majority of its life in the environment, not on your pet, so it may be difficult to find. In fact, your cat may continue to scratch without you ever seeing a flea on him. Check your cat carefully for fleas or for signs of flea excrement (also called flea dirt), which looks like coarsely ground pepper. Current flea control efforts center on oral and topical systemic treatments. These products not only treat existing flea problems, they also are very useful for prevention. In fact, prevention is the most effective and easiest method of flea control.
It is best to consult your veterinarian as to the best flea control and prevention for your pet. The choice of flea control should depend on your pet's life-style and potential for exposure. Through faithful use of these systemic monthly flea products, the total flea burden on your pet and in the immediate environment can be dramatically reduced. Keeping your pet on monthly flea treatments especially in areas of high flea risk is an excellent preventive method of flea control
Litter
Provide a litter pan and ensure that she can climb over the sides. Scoop the pan daily to keep the kitten healthier, conserve litter, and minimize odors. Some cats are very fastidious and won't use a dirty pan, especially in multi-cat households. Experts recommend you have one litter pan for each cat, plus one.
Food
Most kittens do well at regulating their calorie intake, so it is okay if fed free choice. If a food is labeled "100 percent complete and balanced for all life stages," it's okay to feed to your kitten. Don't feed him a food labeled for "maintenance," which is for adults only. Canned food, however, should be fed at specific times and picked up if not eaten within 30 minutes or so. If you notice your kitten is getting too chubby then cut back on the amount you're feeding her. She should be lean and not chunky. Fresh water should be available at all times.
Exercise
Kittens love to play and it can be hilarious entertainment for you. Encourage playful exercise by providing the right kind of toys for her. Not only will it improve her muscle tone and vitality but can also prevent heart disease, weight problems, and stress (just like with people!). Make sure the toys are too big to be swallowed and sturdy enough so they cannot be crushed in kitten jaws. Do not allow your kitten to play with string, ribbon, thread, yarn, tinsel, or the like. If eaten, any of these items can become lodged in the intestinal tract as a "linear foreign body," which can lead to a very sick kitten and may require surgery.
Spay or Neuter
If your kitten has not already been "fixed" by the time you bring her home, we recommend spaying her or neutering him at 5-6 months of age unless you intend to breed. Not only will you prevent annoying mating behaviors and territorial marking, but you will eliminate the chance of testicular cancer or pyometra, an infectious condition of the uterus. Most importantly, no unwanted kittens will be born.
Bedding
Provide a spot where your kitten can retreat and sleep. This can be a kitten bed in a quiet dark corner or a box or paper bag, or even a pile of towels or blankets. Keep in mind that cats are by nature nocturnal and so may be quite active during the night hours, a fact to consider when selecting a spot for her to sleep.
Furniture Destruction & Declawing
If your kitty is being destructive to your furniture, try training her to use a scratching post by placing it initially in a prominent place and rubbing catnip on it. There are several alternatives to declawing including nail trims, Soft Paws, behavioral training, and tendonectomy. If declawing is necessary it can be done at the time of spaying or neutering. Not all veterinarians will perform declawing surgery.