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📷 by Werzk Luuu

The essentials

  • All cats should see a vet at least once yearly — Even healthy, indoor cats should get a yearly check-up to ensure everything is alright.
  • Your cat’s veterinary needs depend on various factors — Kittens, senior cats, and cats with health conditions need to go to the vet more frequently.
  • Be prepared for your cat to get sick or hurt — Purchasing pet insurance or having a pet emergency savings fund can protect 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. A vet is the best resource for determining how often you should take your cat to see them.

Veterinary timeline for cats 🐈

In general, kittens and senior cats need extra love from a vet to be happy and comfortable. Let’s learn about the veterinary needs you can expect throughout your cat’s life.


Most shelters and breeders will require you to visit a vet soon after adoption. At this point, selecting a vet you trust and will return to for years is good. That way, your vet will thoroughly understand your cat’s medical history should they develop any new conditions. Take some time to prepare your kitten for a stress-free vet visit, as well.

👉Be sure to discuss your kitten’s vaccine schedule with your vet at your first visit.

Kittens generally go to the vet every 3–4 weeks until they are 4–5 months old. Your cat will also get a thorough physical exam during these early visits. The vet will ask many questions, such as what food you’re feeding, your plans for flea/tick/heartworm prevention, and whether you plan to let your cat outdoors. You should ask lots of questions, too! Vet visits help you and your vet learn about your kitten and their care.

👉 Kittens are curious and playful. They’re also more prone to illnesses and injuries that warrant an extra trip to the vet. Watch out for these symptoms:

  • Signs of infectious disease. Vomiting, diarrhea, sneezing, and discharge from the eyes or nose are all symptoms of various illnesses your kitten can develop. Other signs include lethargy, not gaining weight/appearing skinny, and patchy hair loss
  • Refusal to eat or drink. Kittens need a lot of calories as they grow. If they’re not eating or drinking, it’s a major cause for concern. From upset tummies to upper respiratory infections, kittens can suffer from many issues that put them off food. Kittens are also more prone to complications from dehydration, so quick treatment is essential to help them recover. 
  • Limping. If your kitten is limping, carefully check the paw and leg. Limping can be caused by a wide range of problems, from something stuck in the paw to a broken leg. 
  • Unusual behavior. This is a broad subject, but watching for changes in your kitten is important. If you sense something’s off, ask your vet. It’s better to feel a bit silly than to risk overlooking a serious issue by waiting too long. 

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 checked for abnormalities, given booster shots for their vaccines, and may have their teeth cleaned. This is a good chance to check in with your vet about any changes you notice, whether physical or behavioral.

👉 Federal and state laws require vets to establish a veterinarian-client-patient relationship  (VCPR) to prescribe medication and treat your cat. Federal law does not set a specific period, but many state laws do set them (usually at 6–12 months).

Senior cats

Cats that are eight 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 elderly cats. Unfortunately, older cats are prone to many health concerns. These are the five most common:

  • Arthritis. Cats get aches and pains as they age, just like we do. According to one study , 61% of cats 6 years old and older experience pain from osteoarthritis (OA). Solensia is a new product designed just for cats with OA. Other medications and supplements can help, too.
  • Dental disease. According to Cornell Feline Health Center , 50–90% of cats older than four have some degree of dental disease. Since it’s progressive, older cats that haven’t had a cleaning likely have advanced dental problems.
  • Hyperthyroidism. Another study shows at least 10% of all cats over 10 years will develop this disorder. Thankfully, daily medication usually treats the issue effectively.
  • Chronic kidney disease. Vets estimate up to 50% of all cats 15 years and older will develop kidney failure. There is no cure, but typically, the condition can be medically managed.
  • Diabetes. While only 0.25-1% of all cats receive a diabetes diagnosis in their lifetime, the disease is deadly when left untreated. 

👉 Many health conditions can be prevented or managed before they become severe with regular checkups. It’s important to mention any changes you notice over time — even something simple, like drinking more water, could indicate a serious health concern. 

If your cat is diagnosed with a disease or condition at any time, you may need more frequent vet visits to monitor them. Between visits,  watch 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.

Signs your cat needs to see a vet

Cats can be tough to read, but you know your baby better than anyone. If you notice any new symptoms or changes, it’s a good idea to get an opinion from your vet. Don’t worry about appearing dramatic — even the smallest differences can indicate that your cat is not feeling well.

👉 Watch for changes in behavior, mood, and habits. You know your cat best, so these changes are more obvious to you. Other signs may include:

  • Behavior/mood changes. If your normally very cuddly kitty suddenly turns to swat at you when you pet them, there could be an underlying problem. Other behavior changes may include litter box avoidance (having accidents in the house), refusal to eat dry food, not greeting you when you come home, and others. Anything out of character could be cause for concern.
  • Reduced activity.  Watch for sleeping more, refusing to jump onto the couch, or less interest in toys. These changes are often a sign of illness. 
  • Hiding. If you’re not seeing your cat around the house as much or finding them in strange hiding places, they may be experiencing pain or weakness.
  • Over-grooming. Cats experiencing pain often lick and chew the area, sometimes to the point of ripping their fur out. Others may express stress through over-grooming.

🚨 This list is not exhaustive — If you’re worried, contact your vet for advice. Be sure to take some time before an issue occurs to learn when your pet needs the ER and what emergencies require immediate vet attention .

Do outdoor cats need more frequent vet visits?

Outdoor cats may seem independent, but they face more risks of exposure to diseases, parasites , chemicals, weather, and numerous other hazards. Feline leukemia, a common cat disease, spreads easily. If your cat goes outside, let your vet know so they can get the right vaccines. They’ll also need flea and tick meds and heartworm prevention . This keeps your cat safe and helps others too. Outdoor cats also have higher chances of injury such as dog bite wounds, fights with other cats/animals,  and car collisions. Some outdoor cats become the victims of animal cruelty such as shootings and poisonings. Not only that, but free-roaming cats damage the environment by killing wildlife, spreading disease, and overpopulation.

The bottom line on taking cats to the vet

While most cats can get away with yearly visits to the vet, some need to check in more often. Kittens need regular visits to ensure they get vaccines, while adult cats usually don’t require such frequent trips. Senior cats can experience severe health problems, but early detection can see them live long, happy lives with treatment. As always, checking in with your vet when you feel uneasy about your cat’s health never hurts. 

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 vet 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. 

How often should you take your indoor cat to the vet?

Indoor cats should visit the vet at least once per year. If you’re concerned between visits, contact your vet to get their recommendation.

Are annual vet visits necessary for cats?

Yes! Annual visits help you and your vet keep track of any changes in your cat’s health. Also, Federal and state laws require regular visits to maintain a VCPR.