Dear cat parents,
The age of a cat is so variable. I’d say the average life span of a feline is about mid teens to upper mid teens. That being said, I’ve also seen a lot of cats live into their twenties, which goes to show that we are doing something right as owners. I’m always amazed by these geriatric cats I see who still look awesome and come in for their biannual exams. They’re like the Betty White and the Angela Bassett of cats – they never age – they keep going and they look good doing it! It’s one of my hopes that Lando and Kingsley can both reach drinking age, that’s why I’m a fan of preventive medicine and try to do regular lab work on them especially now that they are seven and eight years old. For your average cat, that is roughly middle age.
I’m in my thirties now and I get routine blood work done during my annual physical examination even when I have no concerns, just to make sure I’m healthy. My doctor is monitoring my cholesterol, sugar levels, liver and kidney values, among others because my goal (and hers) is for me to live longer and therefore to catch things early. We are in an age of preventive medicine. Would you not want to catch cancer early before it’s too late? Would you not want to catch diabetes before it’s advanced? Early detection is important so we know how to make the necessary lifestyle changes while we can still make a difference. Cats live much more condensed lives than we do; why wouldn’t we also have lab work performed yearly as well to screen for diseases before they become sick? Let’s get into the types of preventive care.
Types of Preventive Care
Clients usually ask me what’s in the blood work that we perform. Well, it depends. I like to run a complete panel that includes looking at the thyroid levels, liver, kidney, biliary system (gall bladder), white and red blood cell lines, protein levels, electrolytes, and cholesterol. For older cats, I also recommend a urinalysis.
Unfortunately, we cannot detect most cancers in the blood work unless the cancers are blood-borne (i.e. leukemia). In the urine sample, it looks at protein, sugar, crystals, and bacteria in the urine, as well as the pH of the urine. It also gives us a urine specific gravity, which is how well concentrated the urine is and an indicator of how well the kidneys are functioning. If the urine specific gravity is lower (less than 1.035), that oftentimes can indicate early kidney disease because that is the first change we may see with cats who have kidney disease/insufficiency.
This is why a urine sample is super important to me as a cat owner and as a veterinarian. Above all, if for some reason, your kitty gets sick, it allows us to have a baseline for comparison to see exactly what values have changed and how they have changed.
Real talk—I understand that sometimes a complete comprehensive blood and urine panel are too expensive. Veterinarians understand financial limitations, most of us leave veterinary school $200,000 to $300,000 in debt. If you want to run blood work, but maybe the recommended panel is too expensive, let your veterinarian know. There might be a smaller panel that can be performed that will provide us with some good information on the general health of your kitty.
We’re not here to gouge you (though some of you may feel that way because medical bills can be pricey). We just want to help you and your kitty. It’s really about communicating with us what you are comfortable or not comfortable with financially. Like I said, blood work and a urine sample won’t necessarily screen for cancers – some sort of imaging (X-rays, ultrasound, MRI, some form of scoping) is more indicated to detect them. However, it’s a good preliminary step in the right direction in making sure that your cat is doing well inside and out.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Theresa Loo