A few months ago, we did a blog post on the canine annual exam. We’d love to now go through the components of the feline annual exam so you can better understand our recommendations and how to best keep your feline friends happy and healthy for as long as possible!

The Exam

The exam is the most important component. When it comes to cats it seems that they receive much less consistent, preventative medical care in comparison to dogs. One study found that 44.6% of cat owners did not take their pet to the veterinarian while only 18.7% of dog owners didn’t take their pet to the veterinarian. Our pets can’t tell us what is going on, but there is so much we can detect from a physical exam. In one year, your pet ages 5-9 human years (1-year old pet ~ 7-year-old child). For this reason, we recommend twice annual examinations to help us detect abnormalities early, manage conditions or even better, prevent them. Our feline friends are notorious for diseases like chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, urethral obstruction, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and lymphoma. Performing an exam every 6 months increases our chances of detecting disease processes early and managing them so that they hopefully don’t lead to a medical crisis for your pet. We consider pets to be adults by age 3-4 and entering the geriatric stage by age 7. We will further discuss what tests are best for your pet to keep him or her healthy, active, and happy. Together, we will come to a decision that works best for you and your budget.

Fecal Intestinal Parasite Test

This is a perfect time to introduce an important term to us as veterinarians and general public health. Some of the most commonly diagnosed intestinal parasites (better known to some as worms) are zoonotic; this means the disease can be transmitted from animals to people. When these parasites are in an unfamiliar host, like a human, they can undergo what we call aberrant migration and move from the gastrointestinal tract to dangerous locations like the eye or brain. Due to this public health risk, all cats should be on monthly intestinal parasite prevention and should be tested for intestinal parasites. Although we think this is extremely important for all pets, we stress even more the importance of parasite screening and prevention in households with children. We follow the guidelines of the Companion Animal Parasite Council which recommends 4 intestinal parasite tests in the first year of life and then twice yearly thereafter. With many cats living primarily indoors some pet owners believe that parasite prevention in cats is not as important, however, many cats still get exposure to the outdoors. Cats that go out on the porch or sit near open windows are still at risk of parasitism.

Feline Triple Screen: Heartworm Disease, FeLV, FIV

Heartworm disease manifests differently in the cat than it does in the dog. Immiticide, or treatment to kill adult worms, is not recommended for cats. Therefore, we do not test for heartworms annually, but only if clinical signs of disease are present. Heartworm disease is still very serious in the cat, immature stages of the worms cause HARD, or Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease. Since we do not have a method of eliminating heartworms in cats, only managing the disease, prevention is the only way to protect against the effects of heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and we have all had a mosquito make its way into our homes at some point or another. All cats are considered at risk even if they are primarily indoors. We have mild and inconsistent weather here in Louisville, Kentucky, so your pet is at risk of heartworm disease even in the winter months.

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are retroviruses that attack the immune system. We do recommend testing all kittens during their kitten series and depending on the results possibly again in 3 months. We recommend testing all kittens because heartworm disease, FeLV and FIV can all be transmitted to kittens from their mother. Otherwise this is not a routine test we perform at feline preventative care exams. This will only be recommended if we have no record of a previous negative test or if your pet is showing clinical signs of disease. These viruses suppress the immune system, so clinical disease can manifest in several different ways. Any time a cat is showing non-descript clinical signs, this test will be one of the first that are recommended.

Rabies Vaccine

Most of us know that the rabies vaccination is an absolute minimum requirement for our pets and is required by law. Rabies is another zoonotic disease. Another important descriptor of rabies is that it has an almost 100% fatality rate and still today 1-2 humans die per year from Rabies in the United States. It’s a no-brainer than your pet NEEDS to be vaccinated against rabies! But one thing you may not know is that (depending on your pet’s age) he or she may be able to receive the vaccine every three years instead of annually, bringing down the cost of your yearly visit for two years following the administration of the three year vaccine.

Herpes, Calicivirus, Panleukopenia Vaccine

This combination vaccine is considered a core vaccine by the AVMA, American Veterinary Medical Association. Feline viral rhinotracheitis is caused by the herpes virus and causes upper respiratory disease, it is very common and highly contagious. Affected cats become lifelong carriers, intermittently shedding the virus and will experience symptoms during times of stress or immunosuppression. Calicivirus also shows signs of upper respiratory disease and a more disease specific clinical sign of oral ulceration. In outbreaks of calicivirus, up to 50% of affected cats can die. Panleukopenia is a highly contagious and aggressive virus that attacks white blood cell lines and depletes the immune system. Clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, anorexia, and seizures. This is a very serious and avoidable virus with regular vaccination by a veterinarian. Depending on the age of your cat, they may be able to receive this vaccine every three years.

Feline Leukemia Vaccine

This vaccine is not a core vaccine, but we recommend it for all outdoor cats. As mentioned above, feline leukemia is a retrovirus that can potentially shorten your pet’s life. The virus is shed through saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces and milk of infected cats. The virus can manifest as lymphoma, leukemia, anemia or can cause immunosuppression making your pet susceptible to other infections. Outdoor cats are at higher risk of encountering infected cats. Depending on the age of your cat, they may be able to receive this vaccine just once every two years.

Monthly Heartworm, Intestinal Parasite, Flea, and Tick Prevention

For dogs, there is no single product that exists that prevents heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks. We must prescribe two products in order to cover all your pet’s needs. Luckily for cats, Revolution Plus has very recently hit the market. This product covers heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas, and ticks! As mentioned above, there is no way to eliminate heartworms in cats making prevention extremely important. Intestinal parasites are a zoonotic risk and are a risk to your cat’s health. Fleas can carry diseases, cause severe skin irritation, anemia, and are of course unwelcome in your home! Although you may think your cat is at low risk of tick infestation if he or she is completely indoors, ticks can carry fatal diseases for cats, these diseases can be completely prevented with appropriate preventative medicine. It is recommended that every cat seen here at Dogwood Veterinary Clinic be on Revolution Plus monthly.

This encompasses the general recommendations for a feline annual exam. We may recommend further labwork or diagnostics depending on your cat’s age and the physical exam. Bringing your cat to the vet can help to keep your pet happy and healthy for as long as possible. Just because your cat is primarily indoors does not mean that they are not at risk of disease and that they don’t need regular preventative care exams. We are happy to see you for an initial visit without vaccinations if you wish and we can come up with a plan to keep your cat’s visits with us as low stress as possible. If you live in Louisville, Prospect or Crestwood, Kentucky we would love to meet your feline family members, let us help you provide them with top level medical care here at Dogwood Vet Clinic.