Q: I have an older cat named Spunk. She is spayed but has not been back to see the vet since she finished her first-year shots. She is always in the house and never goes outside. She is 8 years old now and I have been reading that older pets should visit the vet more often. Is this really true and if so, why and what all does she need? Also how can I make her trip and visit easier? She hates to travel.
A: It is certainly true that she needs to visit her veterinarian now on a yearly basis. Cats are in general ignored as a pet in the household because they do not tend to show pain. We do not know anything is wrong until they are on their death bed. Cats are the most stoic of all our usual pets.
After seven to eight years of age she needs to be checked over with a good physical exam, blood work and a urinalysis. As cats age, they tend to develop kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and other diseases, that if treated early on, are far less serious or life threatening.
Kidney disease, the most common disease in older cats, can be treated with a diet change, possibly blood pressure medication and other supplements to help her live a much longer and more comfortable life. The sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better she will feel on a day-to-day basis and for many more years.
There are several things you can do to help her anxiety for traveling in the car and visiting the vet. Place a carrier, preferably one that the top can be easily removed from, in the area where she lives. Throw a treat in it off and on, and feed her in it a time or two. When she is comfortable with this, you can spray a spritz of feline appeasing pheromone or Feliway into the cage an hour or so before the ride. Load her in it and take her on a ride around the block. When back home, give another treat and a lot of love. Do this several times over a couple of weeks. Then take her to the veterinary hospital. Walk in, let her set there awhile (3-5 minutes) and return home.
You can place a towel over the carrier on the trip to help her settle and reduce motion sickness. Also do not feed her within two hours of traveling. Some cats do best traveling inside a pillow case. Again place it in her area let her sleep on it, spray it with the Feliway etc. before traveling. Support the bottom of the case to carry her and when on the exam table, drape it down around her for the exam. Occasionally a cat may want to keep its face covered during the exam.
If possible, schedule a cat-only appointment time and ask if you can arrive at a time when you can take her directly into an exam room and not have to wait in the lobby. If your veterinarian can avoid direct eye contact and speak softly to her it will help. A reward with treats (you can take some with you) during and after the exam will be helpful. Simply removing the carrier top and leaving her in the bottom on her towel or in her pillow case is also helpful. Reward her good behavior, but do not punish her. Using a towel to handle her will sometimes be helpful and have a calming effect. Visit with your veterinarian about helping with this. Many veterinarians also use the calming pheromone to help with nervous cats. Spritzing her exam room before arrival could have a definite calming effect. Your veterinarian and staff will appreciate her being calm also as much as she will.
DR. M. MARGARET KING, a longtime Edmond veterinarian, is a guest columnist. If you have any questions for her, email them to email@example.com.