There is a disturbing trend in veterinary medicine. The number of visits by feline patients has been steadily decreasing for several years. Much of this has to do with a trend in increasing duration of vaccines, especially in cats, as well as a mistaken perception that cats don't need vaccines and therefore don't need to see the vet. These attitudes do cats a great disservice.
Today I saw a cat who is seven years old and hasn't been to the vet since she was a kitten. Cats age much faster than we do, so this patient was in a situation equivalent to a 50 year-old human who hadn't been to a physician, ophthalmologist, or dentist since they were around 10. Putting it in this perspective really emphasizes the complete lack of medical care that this cat was receiving, as few humans would go 40 years between doctor's visits.
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends twice annual exams for dogs and cats. Why? Because of the speed of their aging compared to humans and the ability for vets to often detect problems in the early stages of disease rather than waiting for it to become advanced. In a veterinary visit the most important component is the physical exam. We can discover many problems that the owner may not even be aware of. On routine exams I've discovered broken and loose teeth, mammary tumors, bladder stones, developing cataracts, and other serious issues; all of which the owners had not noticed! Without routine exams these abnormalities would have gone undiagnosed even longer and may have created serious health risks.
Let me give you another example, emphasizing the importance of routine exams and blood testing in cats. Our feline patients are very prone to kidney disease as they age. In fact, a number of years ago I heard a specialist lecture on this subject and he said "cats are kidney disease waiting to happen." The kidneys are remarkable organs with amazing redundancy, which is why people can donate a kidney and be perfectly fine with only 50% of the renal function they were born with. In order to show up as abnormalities on routine blood testing you have to have lost at least 66% of kidney function. However, you have to have 75% loss before a patient will act sick. So there is a window between 2/3 and 3/4 kidney loss where we can detect it but the patient acts perfectly normal! You can't look at a cat with a 70% loss of kidney function and tell that there is anything wrong. If we detect the problem early, we can potentially intervene and slow the progression of the disease.
So for those of you who have cats, don't neglect their medical care, even if they are receiving vaccines only every three years. Regular veterinary exams are the key to good preventative medicine and therefore a longer and healthier life.