Preventative Care for Cats: Beyond Feline Vaccinations
Internal and external parasite control is a very important aspect of preventative care. This is true not only for the health of the cat but also for the health of other pets and people, especially children, in the household. A number of internal parasites, such as intestinal worms, can directly infect humans. In addition, a number of external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, can spread other diseases to humans. For kittens, fecal testing and deworming is usually done every 3-4 weeks along with the vaccination series. At minimum, fecal testing and routine deworming is recommended twice yearly, depending on the cat’s lifestyle. The ideal recommendation is a monthly preventative that addresses internal parasites, fleas, ticks, and heartworm disease.
Most dog owners understand the importance of routine heartworm prevention. However, cats are often overlooked in regards to heartworm disease and prevention. Heartworm disease does affect cats, and, unlike dogs, an infection of only a small number of heartworms can be deadly. Active heartworm infection can also be very difficult to detect in cats due to the lack of routine testing and the often vague clinical signs, such as vomiting, cough, and sudden death. Also unlike dogs, there is no treatment for adult heartworms in cats. A monthly heartworm preventative is recommended in ALL cats, including indoor-only cats, since it only takes one bite from one mosquito to cause infection.
Routine bloodwork monitoring is also often overlooked when it comes to preventative care for cats. Yes, it can be expensive and, yes, it will usually be normal (as in negative, no worms) in young, healthy patients, but there are reasons why at least a small blood panel should be performed yearly on even young patients. One reason is that it provides your veterinarian with a baseline of your cat’s internal organ function. By checking bloodwork yearly, we can monitor trends that may indicate the development of an underlying disease such as chronic kidney disease, thyroid disease, or liver disease. A number of these diseases can be managed much better if caught in the early stages. Another important reason for routine bloodwork monitoring is to find those otherwise healthy looking patients that do truly have underlying disease.
Another factor complicating the preventive care of our cats is that the species has evolved to hide signs of disease and often once a cat is showing signs of the disease, the process is usually advanced. That means, unfortunately, treatment options may either be more limited or much more expensive than they would have been if the disease process had been caught earlier. Yearly bloodwork is recommended in all patients, but it is STRONGLY recommended in patients older than 7 years (senior cats). Minimum twice-yearly bloodwork monitoring is recommended for cats older than 11 (geriatric cats) or those with chronic disease. Remember an 11-year-old cat is equivalent to an approximately 77-year-old human!
Depending on your cat’s lifestyle and exposure risks, other routine preventative care measures may be indicated. It is very important to discuss your cat’s lifestyle and any issues or concerns you have noted with your veterinarian during your cat’s preventative care appointments. By working together, you and your veterinarian can help ensure your cat remains happy and healthy for many years to come.