All need to go to the vet sometimes (hello, recurring vaccinations). That familiarity can pay off down the road if your cat runs into health problems.

By Austin Cannon
August 24, 2020
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As a loving pet parent, you probably know that one of the most important things you can do for your cat is to get regular veterinary care. But what does “regular” mean? How often should you take your cat to the vet?

The American Animal Hospital Association recommends that all pets see a veterinarian at least annually, perhaps more if the dog or cat has specific health needs. 

Randy Wheeler, a longtime veterinarian and executive director of the Iowa Veterinary Medical Association, says there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for how often your cat should see the vet because it depends on too many factors: age, lifestyle, and where the pet lives. 

The bottom line, Wheeler says: Form a good working relationship with your veterinarian because he or she will best advise you on how often your specific pet needs checkups. This kind of cooperative relationship will pay off in the long run if your cat does run into more serious health issues. 

With those factors in mind, here’s a general guideline for when to take your cat to the vet:

Kitten Vet Visits

New cat owners are usually bound by an agreement with a shelter or breeder to take their kitten to see a vet soon after adoption. This kicks off your relationship with your chosen veterinarian and provides an opportunity for the vet to start observing and tracking your cat’s health from very early in his life. 

Vaccines will begin when your kitten is 6–8 weeks old, depending on their lifestyle, family history, and common diseases where you live, Wheeler says. This first round will include shots for rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia.

About three or four weeks later, your kitten will get the second round of those vaccines, recurring every three or four more weeks until the kitten is roughly 4 months old. 

Around the three-month mark is when the rabies vaccines start, Wheeler says, with boosters at the one-year mark and then every three years (or whatever the manufacturer recommends).  

Those initial trips to the vet will also include physical exams and a discussion about pest—flea and tick—prevention, Wheeler says. This is also a good time for you to ask for your vet’s advice about any behavior or training questions you might have. 

Soon after, around the six-month mark, your cats will be ready to be spayed or neutered

Adult Cat Vet Visits

Vaccine boosters will continue as your pet eases out of its kitten stage (1 year old and onward, Wheeler says).

Your vet will inquire about your cat’s lifestyle, especially whether he’s an indoor-only cat or a cat that sometimes ventures into the outdoors. Outdoor or indoor-outdoor cats face more risks outside: parasites, predators, and maybe even becoming separated from your best friend Otis and having a heckofa time finding the way back to the farm

Another risk that increases for cats who venture outdoors: Diseases like feline leukemia, which spreads from cat to cat (although it doesn’t affect humans or other pets). That vaccine will also be offered to your cat as a kitten and recur throughout your cat’s life.   

Recurring visits will also give your vet a chance to inspect your cat’s teeth, along with giving general physical exams and advice about preventative care. “[I] can’t say enough about dental care,” Wheeler says. Teeth cleanings will help prevent bad breath, and you’ll want to make sure your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy so your cat doesn’t have trouble eating or isn’t in any pain

Vaccines, like the one for rabies, will continue, too. Your vet is likely to recommend them for every one to three three years, Wheeler says. 

Senior Cat Vet Visits

You’ll likely start going to the vet multiple times per year when your cat is 8–10 years old, its senior stage of life, Wheeler says. 

While you’ll want to report any behavior changes to your vet no matter your cat’s age, that discussion becomes more important when your cat reaches his elder years. If a cat is drinking more water than he usually does, for example, it could indicate bigger concerns such as kidney problems or diabetes, Wheeler says. 

Hopefully, visiting the vet frequently throughout your cat’s life will make these visits as stress-free as possible. It’s also why having a trusted vet you’re comfortable with can pay dividends, Wheeler says. They’ll know your cat and can tell if something is amiss. 

That’s the shortfall of vaccine-only clinics or low-cost spay and neuter clinics: They might not spot other health issues your cat is enduring. A regular relationship with your vet is the best way to assure thorough health screenings and long-term health tracking.