Are you curious about what goes on during your cat’s yearly checkup? It may look like your veterinarian is just petting your cat. However, they are examining your cat’s health and lifestyle during the checkup. It is a unique experience tailored to your cat, especially when performed by a veterinary professional who has earned their Cat Friendly Certificate or at a Cat Friendly Practice® where they are trained on feline handling and behavior.  Here’s a little insight on what to expect during a routine checkup. Typically, the examination is divided into four parts:

Questions and Information Gathering

One of the most important parts of your cat’s annual checkup is when the veterinary staff asks you questions and gathers information from you about your cat. As the caregiver, you have valuable information your veterinarian needs to know so they can properly assess your cat’s health.

These questions are asked by a trained veterinary assistant, a certified veterinary technician, or your veterinarian. Typical questions include:

  • How did your cat come to live with you?
  • What does your cat eat on a daily basis?
  • How much does your cat typically eat each day?
  • Does your cat have any previous health issues?
  • Is your cat having any problems using the litter box?
  • Does your cat cough, sneeze, vomit, or have diarrhea?
  • Has your cat traveled to another state since the last checkup?
  • Have you noticed a change in your cat’s ability to run or jump on things in your home?
  • Is your cat microchipped?
  • Does your cat ever go outside?
  • Do you have any worries or concerns about your cat?
  • Will you be traveling with your cat?
  • Are there other pets in your household?
cat being held

Hands-on Examination

It is important for your veterinarian to spend time looking at your cat and listening for important clues to help determine your cat’s health status.

During the examination, your veterinarian incorporates a thorough evaluation of all of the major organ systems including:

  • Abdomen
  • Muscle tone
  • Coat, fur, and skin
  • Ears and eyes
  • Mouth, gums, and teeth
  • Joints and spine
  • Under the tail

The exam includes weighing your cat. If your cat has been seen at this practice before, they will compare your cat’s current weight with previous weights. A body condition score is often assigned to indicate if your cat’s weight is appropriate for their age, size, and breed. If your cat is stressed or frightened, the veterinary team might have your cat remain in the bottom part of the carrier and/or under a towel. Then they can weigh your cat at the end of the checkup. If your veterinarian notices something abnormal or worrisome, they will make a note and discuss this with you later.


Now is the time for you and your veterinarian to talk in more depth. Your veterinarian should discuss what he or she noticed during the exam and make further recommendations for care.

Cats often hide signs of illness and pain, so it is common for your veterinarian to suggest various laboratory samples be obtained for evaluation. This allows them to determine any problems your cat may be experiencing. Now is the time for you to ask any questions you may have and ask for advice. Please remember your veterinarian is your partner as well as a medical professional and wants to help you provide the very best care for your cat. Don’t be shy to ask for advice on subjects like litter box or behavioral issues, as well as what to expect as your cat ages.

Taking and Analyzing Samples

With your consent, samples are obtained by your veterinarian or another member of the veterinary team. If medications are needed, they are often discussed and dispensed at this time. Make sure that you ask for a demonstration on how to administer any medication. Then you can feel confident doing it at home without your veterinarian.

Your veterinarian or a veterinary team member should contact you within 24 – 48 hours, detailing the findings of any laboratory tests. They will also provide you with a recommendation of any next step(s) to help ensure your cat stays as healthy for as long as possible. Good cat care is a partnership between you and the veterinary team and relies on communication and trust. You should feel comfortable calling the veterinary team with any questions, concerns, or updates on your cat.

Contributed by Dr. Paige Garnett, DVM