Regular visits to the veterinarian are an essential part of keeping your cat healthy. An excellent way for you to keep tabs on him in-between vet visits is to do your own nose-to-tail checkups at home.

Call your veterinarian if you find any of these conditions. Petting purrs While petting your cat, feel for any lumps, scratches, scabs, swelling or any other irregularities. Dandruff, oily fur and missing fur can indicate skin or internal problems. Part the fur to look for fleas; specks that look like black pepper are actually “flea dirt.” Lend an ear The hairless part of your cat’s ears should be clean and odorless. If your cat is having problems, he may shake his head a lot and scratch his ears.

Check for flaking, scabs, foul odor or discharge. If you see a black, gritty substance inside, he probably has ear mites, a parasite that causes severe itching and is contagious to other cats. Eye spy Look for bright, clear, evenly focused eyes. Redness, discharge, squinting, or the emergence of the third eyelid can signal that your cat has a problem. Open wide Healthy gums are pink, pale or bright; red gums may mean something is wrong. Drooling and pawing at the mouth are cause for concern as well. Bad breath, brown streaks and tartar build-up may indicate a dental problem.

Get nosey Cat’s noses should be clean, and, depending on his activity level and the ambient temperature, cold or warm. If he paws at his nose, sneezes frequently, or there is a discharge, contact your veterinarian. Tall tails Look under his tail. If you see what looks like grains of rice or spaghetti, your cat may have parasites. Foot the bill Look for stuck-on litter, torn claws, cuts, swellings or infections.

Also, check your cat’s claws regularly to see if they need to be trimmed. Brush it off Finish off your exam with a nice grooming session. Brushing is good for removing loose fur, distributing oils and stimulating blood flow. Brushing also helps prevent hairballs, which cats cough up when they’ve swallowed too much fur from grooming themselves.

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