The case for regular examinations

by Dr. Jody Kaufman
I have had three almost-identical cases in the last two months: elderly cats that had not been seen in years (in one instance over ten years) were finally brought in to the clinic because they weren't doing well. All three were severely debilitated, thin, and dehydrated. One of them was extremely unkempt and matted because he had stopped grooming himself. We checked some in-house laboratory tests in two of them and they were in such severe kidney failure that there was, sadly, only one way to proceed.
It's easy to assume that the owners of these cats just didn't care enough to take them for regular checkups, but that definitely wasn't the case. These people were devastated and would have done anything reasonable to help their pets. Unfortunately, it was too late. I think they assumed that there was no need for house cats to have vaccinations and therefore no need for veterinary attention.
While it's true that house cats can't get run over by a car or attacked by a wild animal — though I once treated a cat who was attacked by a rabid raccoon that came down the chimney — they have many preventable or treatable maladies, especially as they age.
Severe dental disease in elderly cats is a leading cause of kidney infections which, in turn, can cause kidney failure if left untreated. It's not always easy for owners to get a good look at the back molars unless they've been instructed in the technique. The same goes for brushing.
Many older cats have overactive thyroid glands that cause them to lose weight, develop heart murmurs, and have gastrointestinal disturbances. I have seen cats that were once obese at 14 pounds come in weighing six pounds. An overactive thyroid is an easily-treated condition in most cases, but it must first be diagnosed.
I've seen house cats with intestinal parasites from catching mice in the house, or even eating crickets or moths. They can get fleas if there are other pets in the house that go out, or if a visitor brings over a dog that's infested. And house cats can get heart worm if the wrong mosquito gets into the house.
While older cats have more health problems, just as dogs and humans do as they age, younger animals can also have health problems that are more easily treated if they are addressed early. Young and middle-aged cats can develop cardiomyopathy, a heart condition. Allergic asthma can show up in young-adult or middle-aged cats. The list goes on.
But the old adage is true here: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.