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Here’s how often to take your cat to the vet

Not sure when it’s time for your cat’s checkup? The answer often depends on your pet’s age, health, and lifestyle.

Updated September 14, 2021

Created By

Mariah Ackary,

📷 by Werzk Luuu

The essentials

  • At a minimum, cats should see a veterinarian annually — Even healthy, indoor cats should get a yearly check-up.
  • Your cat’s veterinary needs depend on a variety of factors — Kittens, senior cats, and cats with health conditions will need to go to the vet more frequently.
  • You should be prepared for your cat to get sick or hurt — Purchasing pet insurance can protect both you and your cat.

Cats often get a reputation for being more low-maintenance than dogs, but they still need regular vet visits. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, every cat should go to the veterinarian for a check-up at least once per year — but a cat’s lifestyle, age, or health status may require more frequent visits. As always, a veterinarian is the best resource for determining how often your cat should be seen. 

Veterinary timeline for cats 🐈

In general, kittens and senior cats need some extra love from a veterinarian to be happy and comfortable. Here are what types of veterinary needs you can expect throughout your cat’s life.

Kittens

Most shelters and breeders will require you to visit a veterinarian soon after adoption. At this point, it’s good to select a vet that you trust and will return to for years. That way, your vet will thoroughly understand your cat’s medical history should they develop any new conditions. 

Kittenhood is perhaps the most important time to be diligent about vet visits because it’s when your new cat will get all of the vaccines to help them live a long, happy life. Here’s a typical vaccine schedule for kittens:

  • Six to eight weeks: First round of shots, which will likely include vaccinations for rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia. Your kitten will go back for another round of the same shots every three to four weeks until they reach 4 months old.
  • Three months: First rabies vaccination. After that, your cat will go back for a booster shot when they’re 1 year old and likely every three years after that, depending on state laws.
  • About six months: Your cat will be ready for spaying or neutering.

During these initial visits, your cat will also get a thorough physical exam. Your veterinarian will probably ask about your plans for flea and heartworm prevention, and whether you plan to let your cat live indoors or outdoors.

Adult cats

After about a year, your cat will require fewer vet visits. You can probably ease into annual visits at this point, but it depends on a few factors, like whether your cat has any known health conditions or whether they live indoors or outdoors. 

In general, your cat’s yearly checkups will be a lot like yours. They’ll be examined physically for any abnormalities, given booster shots for their vaccines, and they may have their teeth cleaned. This is a good chance for you to check in with your vet about any changes you notice, whether physical or behavioral.

Senior cats

Elderly cats that are 8 years or older are considered senior citizens. Older pets are likely to need more regular medical attention — Some vets recommend check-ups every six months for elder cats. They may have bladder problems, arthritis, or other ailments that just happen with age.

It’s important to mention any changes you notice over time — even a simple quirk, like drinking more water, could indicate a serious health concern. If you have a trusted vet that you’ve been seeing for years, the later-life visits should be smoother.

👉 With regular checkups, many health conditions can be prevented or managed before they become very severe.

Do outdoor cats need more frequent vet visits?

Although you might think of outdoor cats as more self-sufficient than indoor cats, it’s important to consider how much more outdoor cats are exposed to, including parasites and other cats and animals with diseases. One disease that commonly spreads between cats is feline leukemia, for which there is a vaccine. 

If you plan to let your cat spend any time outdoors, make sure to tell your veterinarian so they can get the proper vaccinations and flea and tick prevention medications. This is both a courtesy to your cat and others. Also, be prepared for a higher chance of injury. Because they’ll be exposed to the elements and other animals while living outdoors, there’s simply more risk. 

That doesn’t mean that indoor cats are safe from illness — they need vaccines and thorough physical exams, too.

When you should take your cat to the vet

Unusual behaviors

Cats can be tough to read, but you know your baby better than anyone. If you notice any signs of a new problem, it’s a good idea to get an opinion from your vet. Don’t worry about appearing dramatic — even the smallest quirks can indicate that your cat is in pain. A few behaviors to look out for include: 

  • Over-grooming themselves
  • Limping
  • Not eating
  • Weight loss
  • A shift in energy level
  • Irritability
  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Accidents outside of the litter box

👉 This list is not exhaustive — Anything that’s out of character should be looked into further. 

Monitoring health conditions

From your early vet visits, you will know if your cat has any conditions, like diabetes or frequent UTIs to keep an eye on. Or, you might discover one of these conditions in adulthood. In any case, your vet will likely want to see your cat more often than once per year if they have a health condition. 

In between visits, you can monitor your cat for flare-ups that may require immediate attention. You can discuss all of this — symptoms to watch out for, helpful medications, what to do in the event of a flare-up, how often you should come in for regular check-ins — with your vet.

Preparing for a smooth vet visit

If you’ve got a cat that doesn’t mind going to the vet, you’re extremely lucky! Some cat breeds are simply more calm and docile than others. For most cats, it’s going to be a slightly stressful event. But there are steps you can take to minimize distress for all parties. 

First, put them in a carrier crate. Your cat may moan and groan, but they won’t be able to hurt themselves, scratch or urinate on your car’s interior, or interfere with your ability to drive. If you’re able to plan in advance, try leaving the crate somewhere that your cat can inspect it for several days prior to the vet visit. If they have the ability to explore the crate ahead of time, it may be less stressful.

To make the crate more comfortable for your kitty, try lining the crate with a blanket they like or a piece of your clothing. The familiar smell or feel may bring them some comfort. You can also try luring them in with treats or toys, or applying some catnip spray or leaves to the fabric.

Practicing going into the crate and riding in the car ahead of time helps. The more small chunks of exposure they have, the more ready they’ll be for a longer ride.

Why you should purchase pet insurance for your cat

The thought behind pet insurance is similar to why we humans get insurance: to protect our wallets from excessive bills in times of emergency. Like humans, pets have unexpected health events, no matter how healthy of a lifestyle they live. Pet insurance can save you from having to make the choice between life-saving surgery and a veterinary bill that you can’t afford. Even small ailments, like allergic reactions, minor infections, or stomach trouble can run up a serious tab. 

On average in 2020, the average premium for accident and illness insurance for cats was $28.48 per month, or $341.81 annually, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association

Online vet services

For a lower price, some online vet services like Pawp offer 24/7access to a team of certified veterinarians that can answer behavior, nutrition, and condition questions via text or video chat. While they may tell you that you should seek an in-person visit with your vet, they may also be able to save you the trouble.

👉 Learn why Pawp is one of the best alternatives to traditional pet insurance companies. 

Frequently asked questions

How much does a typical cat vet visit cost?

For routine care, you can expect a vet visit for a cat to cost between $90 and $200, including the exam fee. ER visits, specialist exams, and hospitalization will cost more.

What does the feline wellness exam include?

At a routine exam, your veterinarian will weigh your cat and take its temperature. Then they will check their eyes, nose, mouth and teeth, ears, heart and lungs, rear end, paws, and fur. In some cases, they may do a urine test, stool sample, or blood test.