Most pet owners don’t realize that cats need an annual checkup and regular visits. People mistakenly believe that cats aren’t exposed to dangers and diseases since they live mainly indoors.

Regular checkups and annual exams are important for such health considerations as maintaining a healthy weight, preventing disease and keeping teeth and gums healthy. Make an appointment in February, which is National Cat Health Month.

Annual visits can help your veterinarian monitor your cat’s health and take preventive measures to keep your cat healthy, including:

Vaccines: Kittens need more vaccinations at an earlier age, and as your cat grows, your veterinarian will ask about any lifestyle changes that may necessitate different vaccines. For example, if your cat has always stayed indoors, but eventually you start to let them outside, your vet will recommend different vaccines, like one for feline leukemia, which is a danger for cats that are likely to come into contact with unfamiliar cats. Kittens should get the rabies vaccine as soon as they turn 12 weeks old.

Heartworm prevention: All cats, even an indoor cat, need a monthly preventive to guard against heartworm and fleas. It just takes one bite from a mosquito that’s snuck in an open door to cause heartworm, so it’s essential your cat sees the vet each year to stay up-to-date on heartworm prevention.

Spay or neuter: Cats can become pregnant as young as 5 months old, so it’s important to spay or neuter them at a young age. Kittens should be at least 2 pounds or more before being spayed or neutered. It’s never too late to spay or neuter adult animals, but be aware that senior pets may face a greater risk of post-operative complications.

Weight: It’s common for cats to have weight issues, and your vet can detect increases in weight more quickly if he or she sees your cat annually. Weight gain can put stress on your cat’s internal organs and lead to diseases like diabetes.

Dental care: Cats can get tartar and plaque build-up on their teeth, just like humans. This can lead to gum disease and tooth decay, which can be uncomfortable and cause things like inflammation or bleeding from the gums. Your vet can recommend ways to support your cat’s dental care at home, like special food or pet-friendly toothpaste, or provide dental cleanings during your visit. If your cat develops an oral disease, your vet will recommend the necessary medical care, like prescriptions or tooth extractions.

Health concerns in older cats: When your cat reaches middle age, your vet can use their medical history and information from more recent visits to determine if your cat is at risk for medical problems like kidney or thyroid disease. Blood work is also a vital part of diagnosing potential health issues in older cats.

Melisse Conway, DVM, is the medical director of SPCA Tampa Bay Veterinary Center in St. Petersburg, where she practices her passion of shelter medicine, preventive care, and soft tissue surgery. She has extensive experience as a shelter and community clinic veterinarian.