Ready to give your cat an MOT? Here is a simple cat health check you can carry out from the comfort of your own home
Our cats bring us such joy — they’re perfect playmates. We love to watch them try to catch a laser, scratch their posts and hunt their toys. But it’s not all fun and games. Cats require a great deal of attention and pet owners need to be vigilant. As tough as they may seem, medical conditions can worsen quickly with cats, so you should take the time to perform a monthly cat health check.
Below, we’ve outlined 10 quick and simple cat health checks you can carry out at home. The more you know, the better able you are to care for your pet and the sooner you can step in and get them help — if needed.
Related: Signs of ill health in cats
A Note Before We Talk You through a Cat Health Check
It’s a good idea to keep an eye on your cat and to perform a health check periodically, but you should also be quick to call your local vet if you notice something is wrong. If your cat looks or acts different to normal, don’t hesitate to make an appointment. Cats generally hide their symptoms, likely due to a survival instinct. This means that sometimes before you even notice your cat is ill, the cause has become fairly serious.
You should pay added attention to cats who go outdoors — when cats live inside all the time, it’s easier to detect differences in their eating, drinking and litter habits. This is harder to track when they spend time outside, which means clues can be missed.
The test below should be carried out frequently — we recommend once a month. This way, you’ll be able to become familiar with your cat, their habits and their bodies. And your cat will come to expect them, reducing their stress.
1. The Rib Test
The first health check relates to your cat’s weight. A chubby cat might be adorable, but it’s not ideal for their health. Cats have weight-induced illnesses and diseases just like humans, so overweight cats need to be encouraged to exercise and given less food. Likewise, skinny cats need to be fed up more — they need a little extra weight to ensure their bodies function well.
Here is a quick way of checking whether or not your cat is overweight: first, run your fingers over the back of your hand, then over your knuckles and then over the backs of your fingers. Use this as a basis of comparison before feeling your cat’s ribs. You want your cat’s ribs to feel like the backs of your fingers. You want to feel each rib, but you also want a bit of padding. If your cat’s ribs feel like the back of your hand (you can’t really feel the ribs), they’re likely overweight. If your cat’s ribs feel like your knuckles, there’s a good chance they’re underweight.
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2. Make Sure Their Eyes Are Bright and Clear
The second test is easy enough — examine your cat’s eyes. They should be clear and bright. Any signs of redness, soreness or discharge is a cause for concern. If this is the case, make an appointment with the vet immediately. Also look out for behaviour such as shying away from light, clumsiness and/or bumping into things.
3. Check Your Cat’s Ears
This health check involves looking into your cat’s ears, so take care. Cat ears are sensitive and delicate, with 32 muscles in each ear! Only look inside your cat’s ear — never insert your fingers (or anything else) into it. They won’t thank you for it, and you could do lasting damage.
Your cat’s ears should be clean. If you notice any waxy discharge, this is a sign that something is wrong. Equally, keep an eye out for redness, flakiness and odour. If you notice your cat is itching their ears excessively, this could be an indicator that there is a problem — it may be mites, especially if you have noticed a black, gritty substance inside their ear.
4. Check Out Their Nose
Gently touch your cat’s nose. It should be slightly damp and soft, although it may be slightly warm or cold, depending on their surroundings. Beware of bleeding, crusting and discharge. Equally, be cautious of excessive sneezing — it could be cat flu. Be sure to take your cat to the vet for peace of mind.
5. Check Teeth and Gums
Your cat’s breath might not smell fresh and minty — that’s okay! But when it starts to smell really unpleasant, take note. It could be a sign of an underlying digestive or kidney issue. Or it might be bacterial overgrowth or plaque. Your cat’s teeth should be white or cream. If you notice discolouration on the teeth or red, swollen or bleeding gums, call your vet immediately. They are likely feeling a significant amount of discomfort, which could result in weight loss.
6. Inspect Their Nails
Next is the nail check. You want to make sure they’re clean and healthy. Gently squeeze on the pad of your cat’s paw and examine each nail to make sure they are smooth and free of flakes.
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7. Inspect Their Coat and Skin
You spend a lot of time stroking your cat, but when was the last time you looked at their skin? Next time they curl up on your lap, separate the fur and check out the skin — you should see healthy black, pink or white skin. What you should be cautious of is crusting, inflammation or discharge.
The coat itself should be healthy, shiny and (for most cat breeds) full. If you notice any dandruff or bald patches, it might be an indication of an allergy. Similarly, keep an eye out for fleas or ticks.
8. Listen to Your Cat Breathe
To carry out this health check, simply listen to your cat’s breathing. You want to look out for signs that your cat is having difficulty breathing. If your cat is breathing open-mouthed, it’s a cause for concern, as is coughing and breathing that is noticeably loud (there might be something obstructing their passages).
9. Observe Their Behaviour
You can tell a lot about the health of your cat by the way he or she behaves. Are they suddenly agitated? Are they visibly stressed or reclusive? If so, it might be an indication of anxiety. You should also look out for changes in their toilet habits, their eating habits, where they sleep and how they walk. If they’re louder and more expressive than normal, if they are suddenly very needy or if they become aggressive, make an appointment with your vet. Sudden mood changes or changes in routine are not typical for cats.
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10. Check Your Cat’s Heart Rate Periodically
Once a month, take the time to check your cat’s heart rate. Use a timer and count the beats for a minute. Over time, you’ll be able to tell whether your cat is experiencing a faster or slower heartbeat than normal, which could indicate a respiratory problem.
In all likelihood, your cat will be happy and healthy, but it’s a good idea to perform these checks once a month just to keep on top of things — the sooner you pick up on the tell-tale signs of an illness, the sooner you can help your cat and have them back to their normal selves.
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