Since cats are masters at hiding pain and illness (to avoid predators who seek easy prey like the sick and the injured) having regular physical examinations by a veterinarian is the single most important thing you can do to help your cat live a long and happy life. The earlier a problem is found the more options there are for dealing with it; cancer is an obvious example, but this is true of other diseases like diabetes and kidney disease as well.
A good, thorough physical examination for a cat includes checking the following organ systems:
- Eyes - The eyes have been called the windows to the soul, but they are also windows into the health of other organ systems in the cat's body. In addition to eye diseases, tumors, and injuries, the eyes can tell us about problems as distant as the brain and the liver.
- Ears - There are a variety of ear problems common in cats, including ear mites, bacterial infections, yeast/fungal infections, cancers or other growths, and like the eyes they can even tell us about problems with the liver or bile duct system.
- Teeth and gums - In addition to tartar accumulation, gum infection, damaged or broken teeth, and growths inside the mouth, cats develop some specific dental problems not seen in other animals. There are some very painful problems that are only seen in cats. One is stomatitis where the inside of the mouth becomes bloody, raw and extremely painful. Another is an attack by the body on the neck of the teeth, just under the gum line, a painful condition where holes are eaten into the nerve chamber of the teeth, causing pain and eventually tooth fractures with sharp fragments remaining.
- Heart and lungs - Abnormal heart rhythms and heart murmurs can be early clues to heart diseases in cats. Early detection of heart disease is critical; once symptoms of heart disease develop it may be too late for treatment to be effective. Changes in lung sounds give us clues about both heart and lung function. Cats should be on monthly heartworm prevention.
- Skin and hair coat - If your cat doesn't have a healthy, shiny hair coat there could be dietary deficiencies, hormonal diseases, allergies, parasites, or even behavioral problems. Cats also have a much higher incidence of cancer than dogs, so any lumps or bumps on or under a cat's skin should be checked immediately. With cancer, the most important factor in curing it is early detection.
- Muscles and skeleton -Abnormalities in the bones, joints, or muscles can be clues to underlying injuries or degenerative changes. Often times a slight change in muscle mass in an area can tell us there is pain and the cat is compensating by a subtle shift of weight away from the painful area.
- Neurologic system - Abnormalities found on neurologic examination can be signs of underlying problems in the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, even an ear infection.
- Bladder, kidneys and genital area - Kidney failure is the most common cause of death in older indoor cats. Changes in the size and shape of the kidneys can be a warning sign of kidney disease. Cats can also develop bladder and kidney infections, tumors, or bladder and kidney stones.
A comprehensive physical examination should be done every 6 months. This would be like a person having a physical examination every 1-3 years depending on age.
Routine blood work is recommended to check the status of internal organs, particularly kidney function in cats. Standard blood panels detect kidney disease only after the kidneys have lost more than 75% of their functional mass. The blood panel we use includes a new proprietary kidney test that can detect kidney disease as early as 25-50% loss. Options for treatment and control are more numerous and more effective when started in the early stages of the disease.