GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Cats are known to live life on their terms, but that doesn’t always mean cat owners know what their finicky feline is going through.

February is National Cat Health Month, so News 8 spoke with a veterinarian that specializes in cats.

“Indoor cats are extremely common right now. Everyone seems to have cats,” Jen Gillum, a veterinarian with the Feline Wellness Center, said. “The common misconception for years and years is an indoor cat doesn’t need preventative healthcare, doesn’t need an annual exam, and that’s completely fiction.”

She said cat owners should get their pets checked out “before they become ill.”

“Cats are notorious for masking their symptoms,” Gillum said. “If we can get them in, establish baselines, look in their mouth, listen to their heart, run lab work, give them that full spectrum physical, we can avoid a lot of problems in the future.”

Cat owners may not be able to tell if their cat has a problem. Unlike dogs, which often make it obvious when there’s an issue, cats can hide their problems.

“A cat may be more aloof, may go off and hide, may cut back on how much they’re eating or drinking or using the box,” she said. “Very subtle changes, but any change in a cat’s overall demeanor and patterns — because they’re creatures of habit — that lasts more than 24 to 48 hours, we should know about it because they mask their symptoms so well. A lot of the times they get here and they’re really sick and no one had any idea.”

Two of the biggest problems that face felines would be issues with their teeth and urinary tract.

“Dental disease is a huge problem,” she said. “We see a lot and we do a lot of dental work here at the clinic, and so we like to talk to people about things you can do to prevent that. There are additives that you can add to their food. There’s toothpaste. There is home dental exams, there are dental treats and chews and food. So it’s just kind of bringing awareness to simple things people can do at home to slow the progression of naturally occurring processes that happen as they age.”

One warning sign is a cat urinating outside of their litter box, the veterinarian said.

“We get a lot of calls going, ‘My cat is urinating outside of the box.’ Immediately owners think, ‘Could this be behavioral?’ But I would say probably 80% of the time there’s a medical reason for that. They’re creatures of habit. They stress very easily and one of the organ systems that shows those symptoms is the urinary tract,” Gillum said.

Gillum said the most important thing a cat owner can do is get their feline in for an annual exam.

“I think the focus should be on exams, not so much vaccines. We cater that to each client, depending on their lifestyle, but get them in once a year,” she said. “Let us give a complete physical, point some things out that maybe we can do together simply at home to hopefully prolong their lives and keep them in the best shape possible.”