Indoor Cats Are Not Disease-Free

This past week I saw three different new clients with three elderly cats with the same history of gradual weight-loss and decreased appetite. Each of these clients, I discovered shortly, had not taken their pet to a veterinarian in over eight years. Two of the three cats had not seen a veterinarian since they were kittens. I casually, trying to avoid making them feel defensive and guilty, asked them why they had not seen a veterinarian in so long, and each one of them said, “Well, my cat is inside and does not get sick.”

After performing a comprehensive physical examination on each pet, I discovered the following. The first cat was suffering from advanced kidney disease. This cat was about eight-percent dehydrated, had extremely small kidneys (the size of lima beans as opposed to the size of fresh apricots) and was emaciated (no body fat — the skin was just draping from his skeleton). The second cat was suffering from severe dental disease — her teeth had severe erosion in her enamel, severe tarter and gingivitis — causing her not to want to eat. She was drooling and smacking her lips during the examination. The third cat was still a big fat cat that looked deceptively great from a distance but had advanced heart disease and advanced dental disease. He had a rapid respiration rate and labored breathing with putrid oral odor. Each of these senior cats needed immediate veterinary care and would have benefited greatly by seeing a veterinarian earlier before their diseases reached these late stages. All three cats were silently in pain and were suffering agonizing, slow deaths without their owner’s knowledge. Each of these clients loved their cats — they just didn’t recognize their cats’ illnesses.

Indoor cats are not disease-free. Just like in humans, cats can get sick for a number of reasons. Infectious diseases are dramatically reduced if you keep your pet inside but not eliminated completely. As your pet ages, diseases can appear that are not influenced by exposure to the outside world. These diseases, like diabetes, heart disease, hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, dental disease, cancer and arthritis, are just a few to mention that can occur in our beloved indoor cats. Unfortunately, cats are extremely stoic and do not easily show their symptoms of illness to you, their caretaker. In the wild, cats intuitively hide their signs of illness so they do not become prey. Regrettably, most of our indoor cats only obviously show their signs of illness to their owners late in the disease course — thus, reducing our chance for a successful medical or surgical outcome. For young cats, we recommend at least once yearly comprehensive physical examinations. For pets greater than 10 years of age, we recommend bi-annual comprehensive physical examinations so that we can recognize early disease processes as quickly as possible and make appropriate recommendations for your cat to live his/her best life possible.

I concluded each of the above visits with a strong affirmation of the importance of vaccinations in the prevention of diseases in our feline patients. Most importantly, I demonstrated the great significance of a yearly physical examination, which is priceless for early detection and intervention of disease processes. Fortunately, all three clients left my clinic better educated and most importantly, better pet owners. As always, I welcome your questions and comments at

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