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How often does my cat need to visit the vet?

Our feline friends are amazing creatures and deserve the very best of care. To ensure we are meeting the needs of our beloved cats, we need to be prepared to provide regular vet visits at all life stages, from kittenhood, to mature moggy and stately senior.

Number of vet visits in a cat's lifetime: Breed and age considerations

Many cats live well into their late teenage years. This means an eighteen-year-old cat may have visited the vet on over 40 occasions! This would include a course of vaccinations as a kitten, then twice-yearly check-ups (including yearly vaccinations), desexing operation, dental scale and polishing as needed and any visits in the meantime for unexpected health concerns.

For cats with chronic health conditions (e.g., arthritis, diabetes, allergies, heart disease, kidney disease, etc.) more vet visits will be needed, possibly at both general practice and specialist referral clinics.

Cats who suffer accidents and injuries may need emergency vet care and hospitalisation. Some breeds are more prone to illness than others. Brachycephalic (flat faced) cats can have an increased risk of breathing difficulties, skin fold infections, and dental and eye problems.

Year-by-year recommendations for cat checkups

Kittenhood (0-1 year): Frequent veterinary visits and vaccinations

Kittens will require a course of vaccinations and boosters according to your vet’s recommendations. Desexing (a surgical procedure performed under anaesthetic by a vet) is recommended before your kitten reaches puberty.

For kittens, this means desexing is performed before six months of age. Incredibly, kittens can start reproducing by just four months of age!

Early adulthood (1-5 years): Annual wellness exams and preventive care

Young adult cats should visit the vet each year for their vaccination boosters, and ideally at six monthly intervals. Check-ups every six months are recommended to ensure your cat is healthy and as an opportunity to weigh your cat and discuss any concerns, such as dental care, parasite control, diet and behaviour.

Prime adulthood (5-10 years): Regular check-ups and disease screening

Continue regular vet checks as your cat matures, and consider the benefit of blood tests, particularly as they approach middle age. Some diseases (such as kidney disease) remain hidden until they are quite advanced. The sooner your vet can identify signs of illness, the sooner your cat can receive the right supportive care, medications and diet, helping them stay comfortable.

Mature Cats (10+ years): Bi-annual or more frequent visits for senior health monitoring

Mature cats should visit the vet twice a year. Arthritis is common in older cats and can be treated with a course of arthritis injections, typically weekly for four visits and then monthly or as recommended by your vet. Blood testing annually is recommended to monitor for early signs of disease. Your vet can also advise on the use of joint care supplements and a specific prescription diet for your cat.

Being proactive about your cat's health: Recognising signs and taking action

As well as routine vet visits, it is important that owners take note of any changes in their cat’s health. If you notice any changes in your cat’s behaviour, food or water intake and toileting, there could be an underlying health issue, so take them for a vet check. Keeping cats indoors limits the risk of certain accidents however, you will need to ensure you meet your cat’s behavioural needs to climb, explore, scratch, hide and play.

Understanding common health issues in cats by age

Young cats tend to be adventurous and if allowed to roam outdoors are more likely to be in a cat or dog fight, be bitten by a snake, spider or insect, or be hit by a car. Entire (un-desexed) cats are likely to be contributing to litters of kittens if they are allowed out of the house. Cat fights often cause painful abscesses and can also spread feline immunodeficiency virus to your cat.

Older cats are more likely to have chronic health issues such as diabetes, arthritis, thyroid issues, obesity, lumps and bumps, kidney disease and dental disease. These can involve long-term management with special diets, medications and vet check-ups. The cost can soon mount up so having pet insurance prior to any illness could provide great peace of mind.

Observing changes in behaviour, appetite, and litter box habits

If your cat is showing any changes in how they use the litter box, or is uncomfortable or in pain (they might seem less interested in interacting with you, or be resting a lot more than usual) please contact your vet. Keep note of what is happening at home with your cat so your vet can best help you.

Early detection and prompt veterinary attention

Early detection of any health concerns and prompt veterinary attention is necessary, so if you are worried about your cat, don’t delay, call your vet straight away.

Importance of dental care and regular teeth cleanings

Dental infections are painful and can result in your cat needing teeth to be extracted.

Owners who can help care for their cat’s teeth at home (such as tooth brushing and diets that promote oral health) are doing a great job! Speak with your vet for advice on dental care for your cat.

How to prepare your cat before a vet visit

To help ensure a low-stress vet visit, prepare your cat carry cage, a familiar blanket inside, a towel draped over the cage and consider cat pheromone spray. This can help to keep your cat calm whilst travelling to the vet.

Getting your cat comfortable with the carrier and car rides

Ensure your carry cage is the right size for your cat and can be securely closed. Familiarising your cat to the carrier (for example, by feeding them in it once a week with the door open) can help to build their confidence that it is a safe place. Try starting with a short visit to the car with your cat in their carrier (without driving anywhere) to see how they cope.

Minimising stress and anxiety before and during the visit

Speak with your vet if you have concerns about your cat visiting the vet. Some cats benefit from medication to help calm them during transportation. Always communicate your concerns with your vet and ask any questions. They are your cat’s healthcare professional and want you and your cat to be happy at the vet.

A lifelong experience

Having a cat in the family is a wonderful experience, however, there will be lifelong vet visits and expenses required to keep your pets healthy.

One way of being prepared is to consider pet insurance which could help you financially meet the cost of unexpected vet bills. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the valuable work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.