The Importance of Annual Exams - A Cautionary Tale from a Veterinary Receptionist

I like taking my cat to the vet just as much as everyone else, which is Not. At. All. Having a multi-cat household makes it even worse when trying to wrangle the right cat for the appointment. One cat walks into the carrier as you try to jam the one that actually has an appointment in the same carrier. Fur flies. Tears are shed. Blood is spilled. Total chaos. At least that’s how it is at my house when it comes to preparing for vet appointments and I know that it’s not uncommon.

Mumford enjoying his cat tree as a wee kitten.

My 7 year old cat, Mumford, is my bestest boy. I adopted him when it was literally just me and him in a very trying time in my life. He was first pet that I could truly call my own. He is the first pet that has solely depended on me for care. (If you can’t tell, he’s my pride and joy). Mumford was due for his annual exam in early November, but I kept pushing it out and brushing it off. I, like everyone else, work long days here at the clinic. The last thing I wanted to do was come back on my own time with a stressed out cat, but I bit the bullet and and eventually made an appointment for early December, despite almost pushing it out again just because of the holidays.

In our appointment, the assistant asked the routine questions… any coughing/sneezing/vomiting/diarrhea… any changes in behavior… is he eating/drinking/peeing/pooping normally, etc. Visually he was in perfect health (aside from being overweight as many cats are) and I had no concerns over his health. I was confident this would be a quick exam and he would be home to his favorite chair within a half an hour.

Dr. Hadsall came into the room and introduced herself to my stressed-out kitty. Mumford behaved like a rock star during his exam, only letting out a minor hiss when he got surprised by his rabies vaccine. Once the exam was completed, Dr. Hadsall looked at me and asked, “What are you doing about his heart murmur?”

*silent stare*

“What heart murmur? He has a heart murmur?!” Dr. Hadsall said that she would rate his a 4/6 heart murmur. I, quite honestly, was shocked. Mumford did not have one last year upon physical exam. Mumford showed no signs of a heart condition - no coughing, labored breathing, nothing. Dr. Hadsall said they can develop from one year to the next. They can remain the same in the sense that they never get worse than a 4/6, or they can get worse. It’s difficult knowing which way Mumford’s would go because every cat and cause of the murmur is different. She suggested that we take x-rays of his chest to see if there was any fluid in his lungs caused by the murmur. I agreed with her and next thing I knew, Mumford was off to have x-rays taken.

Mumford’s “are you gonna eat that?” stare, also known as “Hungry Eyes”.

I stood in the room with my husband as we heard the whining growl of the x-ray machine firing up to take Mumford’s x-rays. I couldn’t do anything but shake my head. It just didn’t make sense to me, for so many reasons. Back in 2015, we lost our beloved orange kitty, Bubba, at 6 years of age to congestive heart failure, but he showed signs of heart disease. But here we were again, another cat barely 7 years old, with another heart condition. Mumford’s x-rays showed a small amount of fluid in his lungs - not enough for Dr. Hadsall to hear in his lungs with the stethoscope, but enough to show up on x-ray. She suggested a round of Lasix to see if it clears the fluid up, with a recheck in a week with x-rays. Mumford took his meds like a champ (Mumford loves Pill Pockets), went back for a recheck a week later, and most of the fluid had cleared up. We decided to continue him on Lasix, and added two other meds to boot.

After this whole experience, I really cannot stress the importance of annual exams for all pets of all ages. We see so many pets come through our door as puppies and kittens and never see them again for preventative medicine or annual exams. We see them again when they’re sick, and oftentimes their ailment could have been detected and managed if they had been seen for an annual exam. Early detection with health issues such as heart murmurs could literally save a pet’s life down the road. With heart murmurs, there is increased risk for blood clots, and in turn there is increased risk of life threatening conditions such as saddle thrombus. Saddle thrombus occurs when a blood clot moves to the femoral arteries, cutting off the blood supply to the back legs. It is extremely painful and causes paralysis - the prognosis with saddle thrombus cases is usually not good.

If I hadn’t brought Mumford in for his annual exam, I would’ve never known he developed heart disease over the last year, which ultimately could have resulted in a life-threatening emergency like saddle thrombus. The risk for that is still there, but now he is on board with medications to try and avoid it altogether and to manage his heart disease.

A recent photo of Mumford being fancy and doing his best Glamour Shots impression.

There are SO many other reasons why annual exams are important, but as someone who kept putting off their own pet’s exam because I didn’t think anything was wrong with Mumford, it was a reminder that just because one may think their pet is in perfect health, sometimes visual assessments aren’t as telling as a good, thorough exam by a medically trained professional. As for Mumford, he continues to take his meds like a champ and is still carrying on like nothing was ever wrong. He actually thinks it’s pretty awesome… he gets more treats and wet food than he ever has before. I’m hoping with routine health checks for him here on out, he’ll be around begging for his favorite food (cheese!) and haunting us with his “hungry eyes” for many years to come.