You’ve received another postcard saying it’s time for your senior cat’s biannual veterinary visit. You trashed last month’s card, because there was nothing wrong with your pet and you didn’t think she needed an exam. But this time, your cat isn’t feeling the best, so you make an appointment. At our clinic, you tell us your cat is due for her vaccinations, but she’s not in tip-top shape. We escort you and the cat into an exam room, weigh the cat, and gather her history to figure out why she is under the weather.
Steps of a veterinary wellness visit
- Discuss your pet’s history and habits. We begin the wellness visit asking about any changes in your pet, including:
- Eating habits
- Drinking habits
- Activity level
- Urination habits
- Bowel movements
- General behavior
- Health status, such as vomiting or diarrhea
We look for signs that owners may not realize can indicate early disease stages. If we are examining your geriatric kitty, we will ask questions geared toward older felines. For example, we learn that your cat is drinking and urinating more, which can indicate diabetes. In addition, she is eating more but losing weight, which can suggest hyperthyroidism. With this information, we can choose the appropriate diagnostic tests.
- Perform a physical examination. Nothing reveals more than a thorough physical exam. When we palpate your pet’s body, we are not giving her a massage—we are checking her lymph nodes, kidney size, thyroid gland size, and stool formation, and looking for signs of pain or illness. With a stethoscope, we will listen for a heart murmur or irregular heart rhythm and any abnormal lung crackling or wheezing. We will also check her ears, eyes, and mouth for any signs of disease. We find your senior cat has enlarged kidneys, decreased muscle mass, and a slightly pale gum color.
- Run baseline blood work. The physical exam indicates which blood work will provide the most information. If we don’t find abnormalities on the exam, we will perform routine blood work to learn your pet’s “normal” baseline values. Routine blood work includes a complete blood count to check for signs of anemia or infection and a chemistry profile to evaluate organ function. We may recommend additional tests depending on the pet’s age, breed, and species. For example, we will recommend a thyroid panel for older pets. Based on your senior cat’s physical exam findings, we recommend a complete blood count and a comprehensive chemistry panel.
- Take any necessary X-rays. For patients with unexplained weight loss, heart murmurs, or other signs of pain or illness, we will recommend X-rays to give us more information. X-rays of your cat’s enlarged kidneys will show if she has a mass in that region. Keep in mind, X-rays do not provide a complete picture, but they may indicate that further imaging, such as an ultrasound, a CT scan, or an MRI, is required.
- Discuss a wellness plan. Based on all our findings, we will devise a wellness plan that ensures your pet functions at her best. Some pets will need only a vaccination and parasite prevention protocol. Your cat is more complicated because our diagnostic testing of her kidneys indicated signs of chronic renal failure, which is common in geriatric cats. These signs include:
- Abnormal kidney size
- Muscle wasting
- Pale gum color
- Elevated kidney enzymes
Because your cat is in renal failure, she will need special management to ensure her a good quality of life. If changes are seen on routine blood work, 75 percent of kidney function is already lost. Therefore, routine wellness visits will be crucial for her continued health, since we can find diseases early when they are easier to treat, which leads to a better prognosis. Also, geriatric cats benefit from biannual blood work and an SDMA test, a specialized kidney panel that can detect kidney function loss earlier. Based on the disease stage, we will recommend prescription foods, kidney supplements, fluid therapy, anti-nausea medication, and routine checkups to keep an eye on the pet’s progress.
Routine wellness visits are more than simple vaccinations. To keep your pet in tip-top shape and ensure a long, healthy life, schedule a preventive care visit today.