10 Questions Cat Vets Wish You Would Ask

After a decade as a veterinarian, I’ve got a bit of a routine when it comes to walking into an exam room. By the time I’ve opened the door, my technician has already taken a history, performed a preliminary examination, and told me the primary concerns that bring a feline in to see me. This helps me more efficiently diagnose a problem and determine what questions I need to ask.

Because our cat friends can’t talk, I rely heavily on a cat parent’s observations and words to help me define a problem and determine a course of action. Many people, nervous about their cat’s condition and worried about being seen as a bother, answer the questions I pose but don’t ask any of their own. I love when pet parents ask questions! I see it as a vital form of communication, by helping me appreciate pet parents’ concerns and ensuring they leave the clinic with all of their needs met.

Here are ten questions I wish more cat parents would ask:

1. Can I schedule this appointment at a quiet time?
For cats, in particular, the veterinary clinic is a loud, scary place. Requesting to come in during the slow time accomplishes two things: it gets you in and out faster, and minimizes the chance of sitting in the waiting area next to a curious canine. Both lead to a less stressful visit for your feline. Most clinics offer the first available appointment out of habit but are more than happy to accommodate you to arrive at the least busy times.

2. Is my cat a good weight?
With over 50% of our nation’s pets overweight, obesity is a major problem in veterinary medicine. But many pet parents, frustrated with a lack of results on a weight-loss program or reluctant to change their routine, are resistant to addressing the issue. Asking this question lets me know you are ready to have a conversation about your cat’s weight and are open to suggestions for optimal weight management.

3. What food should I feed my cat?
Picking the right food can be confusing, but often, cat parents rely on the advice of the person in the pet store aisle instead of asking a veterinarian for guidance. If you’re finding the pet store overwhelming, please do ask for suggestions. That’s what we’re here for.

4. Should I be concerned about this change in my cat?
Cats are incredible at hiding signs of disease until the problem is fairly far along. Signs that seem very subtle can be huge indicators of a problem brewing. Any changes in habit, even if they seem small and insignificant, can have meaning. In one case, an owner asked about a cat who was drinking out of the faucet all of a sudden. As it turned out, she was diabetic.

5. Is there anything I can do for marking behavior?
A cat who urinates or defecates outside the litter box is one of the most frustrating challenges for cat parents. Eliminating more or less than usual can be a sign of conditions such as a urinary tract infection, intestinal obstruction (which causes constipation), or kidney failure, which may cause your cat to urinate more or less and can be life-threatening if left untreated. There are many causes ranging from medical to behavioral, but many people don’t bring it up with the veterinarian until the problem has been going on for months and they are deeply frustrated. Sadly, this is one of the most common causes of feline relinquishment to the shelter. The earlier we can address the root cause, the sooner we can get you both back on track.

6. When can we schedule a dental cleaning?
Dental disease is one of the most common diagnoses in feline practice. Yearly dental cleanings are a vital part of preventive care for middle-aged and senior cats, even for those who do not have what owners consider a visible disease. Better to get a routine yearly cleaning than have to deal with a mouthful of painful diseased teeth down the line!

7. What vaccines are appropriate for my cat's lifestyle?
As more and more cat parents and veterinarians are beginning to appreciate, vaccination is not a one-size-fits-all decision. The best decisions are made on an individual basis, taking into account a cat’s lifestyle, age, vaccination history, and likely exposure to disease. In addition, many practices are now offering non-adjuvanted vaccines for felines. These vaccines, while sometimes harder to find, are thought to be less likely to cause vaccine-associated sarcomas.

8. Can I give this medication to my cat?
One phone call can save a life. Please, don’t ever give your cat a human medication without being 100% certain it is OK for feline use. Our feline friends metabolize medication very differently than we do, and some medications that are safe for humans, such as Tylenol, can be fatal to cats.

9. Can someone watch me give this treatment?
Administering medication to an unwilling cat can be an exercise in patience or maybe just pain. Veterinarians understand this. Certain procedures, such as giving insulin injections or administering subcutaneous fluids, take some time to master. If there is any question about whether or not you are doing something properly, don’t hesitate to ask the technician or veterinarian to watch you do it and give you feedback. Many times we have tricks and tips that can make your life much easier.

10. When should I schedule a follow-up appointment?
Before you leave the clinic, schedule your next appointment. For an ongoing problem requiring follow-up, it may be a few days or weeks. For a healthy cat, it may be six months. Scheduling an appointment before you leave improves compliance and the chances you’ll actually make it back on time. We do it for ourselves for dental appointments and even hair appointments, why not do the same for our cats?

Taking care of a cat can be a big undertaking, but they are well worth the work involved. Effective communication with your cat’s veterinarian is one way to ensure your favorite feline lives a long and healthy life. Never be afraid to ask questions. Any veterinarian worth your trust will be happy to answer them.