Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM
Dr. Ruth MacPete discusses the importance of taking your new kitten for his or her first veterinarian visit.
Everyone knows that you are supposed to take your pet to the veterinarian, but have you ever wondered why? Here are my top five reasons why you should take your new kitten to the veterinarian:
Make sure your kitten is healthy
When you take your new kitten to the veterinarian, they will do a complete physical examination. During this initial examination, your veterinarian will look for signs of any underlying medical problems. In young animals, congenital problems are of particular concern. “Congenital” refers to conditions, especially diseases or physical abnormalities that are present at birth and range from benign conditions that do not need treatment, such as polydactyly (extra digits), to more serious problems, like a patent ductus arteriosus (a kind of congenital heart defect) that requires a surgical procedure. Identifying congenital problems early is important because many of them, even serious ones like a patent ductus arteriosus, can be corrected. Also, many breeders have a clause in their contract that states that you must see a vet within a specified period of time. Otherwise, they are not liable for a medical issue discovered after that timeframe.
Your veterinarian will also check for signs of an upper respiratory infection (URI). A URI is caused by a virus and is the equivalent of the common cold. In cats, a URI will produce nasal and eye discharge. Although URI’s are often but not always harmless, they are very contagious and can easily spread to other cats you have at home causing a mini epidemic of sneezing, coughing cats with weepy eyes. URI’s are fairly common in crowded settings where cats are under stress, such as pet stores, catteries, and animal shelters.
Unlike URI’s that are essentially harmless, some viral infections are serious and can be lethal. Your veterinarian will also do blood tests to check your new kitten for viral infections, such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). FIV virus is closely related to HIV. Although it is usually not fatal, infected cats have a weakened immune system and are vulnerable to opportunistic infections. FeLV is related retrovirus that can also cause immunosuppression. Having your veterinarian check for FIV and FeLV is important to find out if your cat has a weakened immune system and is especially important if there are other cats in the household as it can be transmitted to them.
Make sure your new cat is free from parasites.
Your veterinarian will also look for external parasites. Fleas and ticks are visible to the naked eye and can be found with a careful exam. A flea comb can also help find these pesky critters. Vets can also look for indirect signs of a flea infestation, such as “flea dirt” and hot spots. Ear mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye, but your veterinarian can recognize the signs and symptom of a mite problem. To confirm the diagnosis, they get a sample of the ear debris and will look under a microscope to find mites.
Internal parasites routinely seen include roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms and coccidia. Your veterinarian will check for internal parasites by doing a fecal floatation and looking for eggs and parasites under a microscope.
Checking for external and internal parasites is important because they can be transmitted to other pets in the household and some can even be transmitted to humans. It is always best to identify and treat the problem before it spreads throughout your household.
In order to prevent infections, your veterinarian will vaccinate your new cat depending on their age and risk exposure.
Your veterinarian will also discuss the use of monthly preventatives for external and internal parasites. Nowadays, parasite preventatives are easy to administer and extremely effective.
Finally, your veterinarian will discuss spaying or neutering your cat. Spaying or neutering your cat is not only the right thing to do to help with the pet overpopulation problem, it has health and behavioral benefits. Spaying your cat lowers the risk of breast cancer and eliminates the risk of pyometra (infection of the uterus). Neutering your cat helps prevents spraying when done early enough.
Another important reason to bring your new kitten to the veterinarian is to microchip your cat. Microchips are the size of a grain of rice and are implanted beneath your pet’s skin. Microchips are read with a scanner and have an identifying number that links to a database that contains your contact information. If your cat ever gets lost and ends up in a shelter or veterinary clinic, they can identify him and contact you, even if he loses his collar and tags. Having worked at an animal shelter, I believe in microchips and feel everyone should microchip their animals. Accidents happen, and even indoor-only cats can escape and get lost.
Your veterinarian will give you advice about diet, grooming, dental care, training, common behavioral issues, pet-proofing your home, and how to plan for the unexpected with pet insurance. Your vet will become your #1 source of pet advice. It’s a good idea to establish a good relationship with your vet.
Taking your new kitten to the veterinarian is a great way get started on the right track. Your veterinarian will make sure your new kitten is healthy, free of parasites, appropriately vaccinated, on the right preventatives, spayed or neutered, and microchipped. Your vet will partner with you to insure your new kitten has a long and healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.