Cats have become the most popular pet in North America and 78% of owners consider their cats to be family members. (1) Despite their popularity, some cats do not receive the veterinary care that they need, especially preventive healthcare. Dogs are taken to the vet more than twice as often as cats. (2) In households with both dogs and cats, the cats receive less veterinary care than the dogs. (2) There is a common misconception that cats are independent and self-sufficient. One reason for this misconception is that cats hide their pain and illness and may appear healthy or show only subtle signs of illness until the condition is serious. Preventive care is very important for cats because of this ability to hide pain and illness. There are many benefits of preventive health care:
1. Improved quality of life and longevity
2. Early disease detection, when diseases are easiest to treat
3. Pain detection to prevent suffering
4. Reduced expenses associated with illness
5. Development of a baseline of the individual cat’s normal values for comparison when cats become ill
6. Prevention of undesirable behaviours and behaviour problems
7. Increased quality of life for cat owners. For example, the human-cat bond can decrease human blood pressure, reduce the chance of a second heart attack, decrease or prevent depression and loneliness, and increase confidence in children.
8. Early detection of weight gain or loss.
Summary of Key Points in Preventive Healthcare
1. Examination -Kittens are usually examined at 8, 12, 16, and 20 weeks. A minimum of one wellness examination per year is recommended for all cats. Semiannual examinations are recommended for cats 8 years of age and older. Cats with previously diagnosed health conditions may require more frequent examinations.
2. Nutrition- Providing optimal nutrition if a crucial part of preventive healthcare for cats at all life stages. Regular monitoring of body weight and body condition score along with appropriate adjustments of caloric intake are vital to preventing obesity.
3. Behaviour and Environmental Assessments- Behaviour problems are a significant cause of surrender, relinquishment and euthanasia of pet cats. (3) By preventing behaviour problems, we can increase the quality of life for both cats and cat owners.
4. Pet Insurance- Pet health insurance has become a good method of mitigating healthcare expenses. It can provide excellent value for the cost and allow patients to receive highly expensive urgent care that may not be feasible otherwise.
5. Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) Testing- FeLV and FIV are among the most common infectious diseases in cats. In a study of more than 11.000 cats in Canada, 3.4% were seropositive for FeLV and 4.3% were seropositive for FIV. (4) Testing is the cornerstone for prevention of the spread of these viruses.
6. Vaccinations – Prevention of disease is the ultimate goal of veterinarians and the use of vaccines has greatly contributed to that goal. Three international panels have been established to provide guidelines on feline vaccination protocols: the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Vaccine Advisory Panel, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) Vaccination Guideline Group, and the European Advisory Board on Cat Diseases (ABCD).
7. Parasite Control – Effective control and prevention of parasites is of considerable importance both to promote the health of cats and to prevent zoonotic infections.
8. Surgical Sterilization – The benefits of spaying and neutering include prevention of feline overpopulation, infection, and neoplasia of reproductive organs and reduction in spraying and roaming tendencies.
9. Dental Care – Dental disease is very common in cats and has a large impact on health and welfare. As previously noted, cats rarely show signs of pain and their dental disease may not be obvious to their owners. Left untreated, dental disease is often painful and can lead to other systemic diseases.
10. Permanent Identification – Microchipping is recommended for all cats of all lifestyles (indoor, indoor-outdoor and fully outdoor) to ensure permanent identification that cannot be lost.
11. Disease Screening- Screening tests vary by the different life stages. The important tests for kittens are testing for FeLV and FIV, fecal tests for parasites and pre-anesthetic blood tests before neutering. In adult cats, blood tests, urine tests and radiographs are performed as needed. In mature and senior cats, blood pressure tests and thyroid tests are added and are done on a regular basis.
1. Taylor P., Funk C., Craighill P: Gauging family intimacy: dogs edge cats (dads trail both); Pew Research Center, 2006.
2. Lue TW, Pantenburg DP, Crawford PM: Impact of the owner-pet and client-veterinarian bond on the care that pets receive, J Am Vet Med Assoc 232:531, 2008.
3. Shore ER, Burdsal C, Douglas DK: Pet owners’ views of pet behavior problems and willingness to consult experts for assistance, J Appl Anim Welf Sci 11:63, 2008.
4. Little S, Sears W, Lachtara J et al: Seroprevalence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infection among cats in Canada, Can Vet J 50:644, 2009.