Updated - Apr 20th, 2022
Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM.
Taking your cat to the vet is an essential part of preventive care. It helps you give your feline friend a greater chance at longer and better lives – and who doesn’t want that?
You might be surprised to learn, however, that according to a 2020 research study, over 90% of dog owners reported visiting a veterinarian at any time, versus only 40% of cat owners.
Although cats may have more independent and self-sufficient personalities compared to their canine companions, they need regular trips to the vet as well – which may have you wondering: how often should you take your cat to the vet?
The American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) general guidelines recommend that all pets – cats and dogs – should have a wellness check-up at least once per year. However, the number of times your cat needs to visit the vet can vary based on their age, environment, lifestyle, and pre-existing health conditions, among other factors.
Below, we’ll walk you through a breakdown of how often you may need to take your cat to the vet based on their age.
Kitten vet visits
You’ll likely bring your kitten to the vet more times during their first year of life than any other time. Even before you bring your new cat home, it helps to find and choose a veterinarian – ask your friends and family for recommendations or check Google for reviews.
This way, when your kitten arrives, you can schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible to get them a check-up and start their vaccine regimen.
During these wellness visits, your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination to check on your kitten’s growth and general health. These visits are an excellent time to ask your veterinarian questions about the best cat food, socialization, litter box training, environmental enrichment, multi-cat or multi-pet issues, and any other concerns.
During these visits, your vet will likely recommend and/or discuss additional preventive medicine for kittens, such as deworming for intestinal parasites, heartworm prevention, and flea and tick prevention.
One of the most important steps you can take for your cat’s health is to ensure they receive their recommended vaccines, especially when they’re young kittens. Vaccines help develop your cat’s immune system and prevent the spread of disease.
The AAHA and AAFP recommend several core vaccines for kittens and the regimen generally starts when kittens are six to eight weeks old. Kittens begin with vaccines for feline calicivirus, feline viral rhinotracheitis, and feline panleukopenia. These are often given in a combination vaccine called the FVRCP vaccine, which protects kittens from all three viruses.
You’ll need to bring your kitten to the vet’s office every three or four weeks to receive an FVRCP vaccine booster until they’re about 12 to 16 weeks old.
Another vaccine that is considered core for kittens and cats under one year of age is feline leukemia. During your kitten’s visit around 12 weeks, your vet will likely recommend a blood test to screen for feline leukemia. Feline leukemia vaccine boosters (two of them, 3-4 weeks apart) are recommended for kittens that test negative for feline leukemia.
Finally, when your kitten is around 16 weeks, or about four months old, they’ll receive one booster of rabies vaccine.
Depending on your cat’s health risks, lifestyle (i.e. indoor cats vs. outdoor cats), location, and exposure to other cats, your vet may also recommend non-core vaccines, such as those that protect against chlamydia, or bordetella, though these vaccines are rarely recommended except in special circumstances.
If you choose to spay or neuter your cat, you’ll return to the vet for the procedure after your kitten has finished all their wellness visits. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the best time for the procedure based on your individual cat, but generally, spaying or neutering is performed when kittens are five to six months old.
Adult cat vet visits
Adult cats, from one to seven years old, should have annual check-ups – although some veterinarians may recommend wellness check-ups every six months for some cats.
If your cat is healthy, doesn’t require any specific vaccine boosters, and doesn’t have any medical conditions that need to be addressed, annual check-ups should be sufficient throughout your cat’s adult years.
During your cat’s annual check-up, your veterinarian will perform a tail to head physical examination to weigh your cat and evaluate their body condition. If your cat is overweight, your vet will likely make dietary and exercise recommendations to help with weight loss, as obesity increases your cat’s risk of health conditions like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
As part of the physical exam, your vet will also look at your cat’s teeth – and if necessary, provide tips for dental care. During these annual visits, many veterinarians will recommend wellness bloodwork so that they can check your cat’s internal organ functions. This bloodwork will help with early detection of disease, which, in many cases, can slow or stop the progression of disease.
If your cat needs any additional vaccine boosters, they’ll receive them at these annual vet visits as well. And just as you did at your kitten visits, you’ll also be able to use these visits with your veterinarian to discuss flea and tick prevention, as well as any other health or behavioral concerns you may have.
Of course, if your cat has health issues, you may need to visit the vet’s office more frequently than once or twice per year for necessary testing or treatment.
Senior cat vet visits
Once your cat reaches seniorhood, eight to 10 years old (and older), it’s a good idea to have vet visits twice per year. Senior cats can be more prone to health problems, so as your cat ages, you’ll want to pay close attention to any changes in their behavior or physical condition – as this may indicate an underlying medical condition.
During wellness visits for senior cats, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam, similar to the one that your cat would have received as an adult. In their older years, however, your vet will look for bumps, lumps, joint stiffness, limping, changes in weight and muscle composition, and similar physical ailments that are common in older cats.
Your vet will also run bloodwork and a urinalysis, to check your cat’s thyroid function, kidney function, liver function, and to test for diabetes. If your cat has dental disease, your veterinarian may recommend a professional dental cleaning, especially if your cat needs teeth removed or is having trouble eating.
During these visits, your cat may receive vaccine boosters if clinically indicated.
When to take your cat to the vet immediately
Hopefully you’ll only have to take your cat to the vet for regular check-ups, but emergencies do happen, so knowing what to look for can help you seek veterinary care quickly in those situations.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), here are some examples of pet health emergencies that require immediate care:
- If your cat experiences severe bleeding, is coughing up blood, or has blood in their urine.
- If your cat is choking or has difficulty breathing.
- If your cat can’t pass stool or urinate.
- If your cat experiences an injury to their eye, or the eye is red, swollen, closed, or seems cloudy all of a sudden.
- If your cat can’t move their legs, or seems to have broken a bone.
- You notice a firm, hot swelling that may or may not be draining (abscess).
- If you know or think your cat has eaten something poisonous (Lilies, chocolate, onions, garlic, etc.)
- If your cat seems like they’re in extreme pain.
- If your cat is experiencing heat stress or heat stroke.
- If your cat has severe vomiting or diarrhea.
- If your cat refuses to eat or drink for 24 hours or more.
- If your cat is unconscious, is staggering, or seems to be having seizures.
At the end of the day, if you think something is unusual or cause for concern, the AVMA recommends, at a minimum, that you call your veterinarian for medical advice.
Planning for a healthy future
As pet owners, we all want our cats to be happy and healthy – and that’s what preventative care is all about.
For the span of your cat’s life (or all nine of them), you’ll be visiting the vet’s office once or twice per year, so finding and choosing a veterinary professional that you like and trust can help make the journey from kittenhood to seniorhood even easier.
Whether it’s a routine or surprise vet visit, having pet insurance can help take the financial stress out of medical care. From medications to unexpected surgeries Pumpkin’s Pet Insurance plans can help you pay for the best care pawsible.