The Clinical Exam You Can Give Yourself


Your cat’s veterinary exams occur only once or twice a year. But you can give your pet physical exams at home to see if there might be a reason she should be brought to the doctor between scheduled appointments. Take these seven steps to assess your cat’s health, many of which are also recommended by the Humane Society of the United States. You don’t have to do them every x number of days or every y number of months. They’re just little checks that you can periodically slip into your moments of physical closeness with her.

1|Look over your cat’s skin. As you pet your feline, feel for lumps, scratches, scabs, swelling, or other things that seem “off.” A scratch or scab will probably self-resolve, but a lump or swelling should be brought to the attention of a veterinarian. While you’re looking, part your pet’s fur to look for fleas. Little black specks — “flea dirt” — are the telltale sign and an indication that your cat needs to be treated. An unkempt coat or bald areas may also indicate illness.

2|Have a peek at the ears. The ears should be clean and odorless. Along with a foul odor, check for flaking, scabs, or discharge. If you see a gritty, black discharge, especially in conjunction with severe itching on your cat’s part, it could be ear mites — parasites that not only cause discomfort but are also contagious to other cats or dogs in the household.

3|Eye clarity. The eyes are such a prominent part of a cat’s face that you’ll notice something is amiss even if you don’t make a conscious effort to look for it. If there’s redness, discoloration, discharge, squinting, or the emergence of the third eyelid, take your cat to the vet. Unless the eyes are clear, bright, and focused, there’s a good chance there’s a problem that needs medical intervention.

4|Check the mouth. The gums normally should be pink. If the gums are red, on the other hand, there may be something wrong. And if your cat’s breath makes you want to back up a step or two, it’s time for a dental visit. Your pet’s breath isn’t going to smell minty fresh, but neither should it make you recoil.

5|Nose around. Mucous or other discharge from the nostrils is not normal and should prompt a veterinary visit. Ditto if you see your cat frequently pawing at her nose or sneezing a lot. But whether the nose is cold or warm doesn’t tell a thing. Both are acceptable depending on a cat’s activity level and the ambient temperature.

6|In with four feet. While many cats don’t like having their feet handled, it’s good once in a while to make sure your pet doesn’t have torn claws or cuts (which could be painful), or swelling or other signs of infection. Trim claws that are too long, avoiding the pain-sensitive bundle of nerves and blood vessels (the quick) by clipping just the nail tips. And make sure you get all the claws if the cat has more than five toes per foot (polydactyly, or extra toes, present since birth).

7|Eyeball your pet’s weight. If your cat is looking thinner and you are not feeding her any differently, that’s a sign that something could be amiss with her metabolism. You definitely want to have that checked out by the vet.


  1. It’s off-putting you constantly refer to my cats as ‘her’ in your articles. At least mix it up. Fully half of all cats are male. Stop the madness.


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