2018 Ultimate Veterinary Guide to Cat Anatomy with Images | VetCheck
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Cat Anatomy

By understanding your cat's anatomy, you are giving your pet the best chance of a healthy and happy life. The following is a comprehensive guide to your cat's anatomy.

As the pace of veterinary advancement accelerates, even the most experienced veterinary teams are challenged to keep up with all the changes that impact their practice. Clients demand – and deserve – maximum value, a higher level of care and a digital experience. That’s exactly what we deliver every day, through a variety of digital resources that prescribe the right information at the right time, to improve communication, increase compliance rates, enhance the pet owner experience and most importantly better pet health outcomes.

There are many barriers to communication in a vet visit:

  • Pet owners struggle to describe the pet's symptoms
  • Pet owners are often pre-occupied with pet restraint or their children
  • Veterinarians may not always have the time they need to fully understand a case
  • The primary carer is not always present

A simple way to overcome these barriers is to use digital visual aids and pet treatment summaries.

This resource includes:

  • Visual aid templates that can be customised to a specific case
  • Health assessments to help improve history collection and case management
  • Tips to building lasting relationships with your customers
  • Ideas to replace traditional, messy paperwork such as handouts and brochures
  • Communication tips to help improve compliance
  • Strategies to add value long after the consultation

You will find visual aids about the cat's:

  1. Anatomical terminology
  2. Early development
  3. Pet senses
  4. Cardiovascular system - Heart & circulatory system
  5. Digestive system
  6. Musculoskeletal system
  7. Respiratory system
  8. Urogenital system - Urinary & reproductive systems
  9. Nervous system
  10. Eye

Each section is accompanied with labeled diagrams.

Anatomical terminology

Understanding some common terms used by your veterinary team will help you quickly identify with key discussion points to do with your pet's health.

The use of veterinary anatomical terminology can be confusing. When discussing a pet's condition, always use both technical and laymens terminology. People think and hear in pictures. Below are a selection of visual aids to help you communicate the importance of the pet's health as well as the recommended veterinary services.

Common anatomical terminology

Here are some common veterinary terms and their meanings:

Abdomen Tummy
Dew claw First digit
Patella Knee cap
Stifle Knee
Thorax Chest
Digit Finger or toe
Flank Side of the body between chest and tail base
Muzzle Nose and upper and lower lip
Pinna Ear flap
Tarsus Hock

Early development

From birth to 8 weeks, a kitten will go through major growth development phases. They are born with closed eyes and folded ears, meaning they are born blind and deaf. They cannot regulate their own body temperature, nor excrete wastes on their own. After the first week they will start to hear, in the second week their eyes will open and by the third week they will have full sight and hearing. In the forth week they start to run and climb and by 8 weeks they have developed a full set of teeth and can start eating canned and dry kitten food.

Age Development

Kitten's eyes are closed and ears folded

Born blind and deaf

Cannot regulate body temperature

Cannot excrete on their own

First week Start to hear
Second week

Eyes open - all kittens are born with blue eyes, however, the color may change later

Start to see - sight will not fully develop until 8 weeks of age

Start to crawl and stand

Third week

Full sight and hearing

Start to walk

Sense of smell increases

First teeth may appear

Will start to excrete on its own

Fourth week

Start to run and climb

Learns to play

Learns to groom itself

Fifth week

Important socialization skills need to be introduced such as playing with other kittens, interacting with people, being petted for at least 10-15 minutes after feeding

Provide a variety of toys particularly to redirect any rough kitten play

Eighth week

Develops full set of teeth

Fully weaned

Eating canned and dry kitten food


Early socialization is extremely important in the development of a well-adjusted cat. Studies have shown that kittens that receive positive handling from the age of 7 weeks for 5-40 minutes a day, showed reduced levels of human-directed aggression.

By signing up to PetCheck for free, you can get regular tips relevant to your cat's age.

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Start sharing the fostering kitten handout, which includes a detailed feeding and temperature guide.

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Pet senses

Pets communicate in a very different way than people do. They have the same basic senses like sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste, but they use them differently to communicate with the world. In general, pets have a much better sense of smell, hearing, and sight than humans. This allows them to identify odours better, to hear noises at greater distances, and to see in the dark. Pets also have sharp teeth and claws that developed to help them survive in the wild.

Cats are solitary (like to be by themselves) creatures and are naturally nocturnal (more active at night). They have excellent vision in the dark and can pick up the slightest of movements, which is perfect for hunting in the wild. They are very flexible creatures that have whiskers to help them jump into and crawl through awkward spaces. Cats have developed sharp claws to help them climb and catch prey in the wild. It is a natural behavior for cats to renew their claws by scratching surfaces.

Hearing The shape of the cat’s ears allows it to funnel sound. The ear tubes are lined with fine hairs that pick up sound vibrations. The cat uses these sounds for hunting. Cats can hear frequencies from 30 to 60,000 Hertz (Hz), which means they can hear very high-pitched noises. People can hear a range of 20 to 20,000 Hz, and dogs 20 to 100,000 Hz. Cats can also hear sounds from distances four to five times farther than people can.
Sight Cats, with their elliptical pupils, are able to detect movement much better than humans can, making them ideal for hunting. Their field of vision is about 200 degrees. They have a shiny membrane, the tapetum lucidum, at the back of their eyes. This allows them to see in low light. In a dark room, this shiny membrane will reflect light from a flashlight. They also have a third eyelid that protects their eyes from injury when out in the dark or hunting.
Voice Cats use their voice to meow, purr, hiss, or growl. Cats usually meow because they want something like food or attention. Loud constant meows often indicate stress or boredom. If your cat meows in this manner early in the morning or after being away from you for hours, it usually means boredom. Try not to react to this bad behavior. Instead, when your cat is behaving in a quiet manner, reward it with positive attention and add more playtimes to the day. Cats usually hiss or growl in threatening situations, as when they see a dog or a stray cat nearby. Do not go near a cat that growls or hisses.
Smell Cats have a very good sense of smell. They have 70 million olfactory cells within their nose that allow them to identify odors in the air from great distances. Cats have scent glands on their forehead in front of the ear canals, along their lips and chin, and under their tail. They use these scent glands to mark objects and people. This is their means of claiming ownership. When your cat rubs its face on you, it is showing you affection as well as marking its scent.
Taste A cat has 30 very sharp, permanent teeth. A cat’s tongue has a rough surface with small barbs to help it tear its food and groom its fur. When a cat licks you, its tongue can feel like sandpaper. Cats have only about 400 taste buds compared to dogs at 1,700 and people at 9,000. Because of this, cats rely on their sense of smell to determine the taste of food.


The ideal scratching post for a cat is one that is tall enough for the cat to stretch upward and is made out of carpet, cardboard, or bark. It is also a much better option than scratching your furniture. For more information on the ideal scratching post, head to PetCheck.

When a cat has the flu, it often goes off its food simply because it cannot smell it. Try heating up the food and adding tinned tuna brine to entice them to eat. For tips on feeding a fussy cat, head to PetCheck.

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With hundreds of veterinary handouts from behavior experts and a comprehensive veterinary behavioral questionnaire, you can instantly share information direct to your customer's digital device for reading or completion at a time convenient to them.

View VetCheck Behavior questionnaire

View VetCheck Barking questionnaire

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Cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system refers to the organs and vessels that allow blood to circulate nutrients, oxygen, carbon dioxide, wastes and hormones to the various cells within the body. The heart pumps oxygenated blood from the lungs to the rest of the body, while pumping deoxygenated blood to the lungs.

The heart is made up of the following structures:

Good heart health starts with good nutrition. Taurine, an important amino acid, is essential for strong heart muscles as well as eye and brain function. Most commercial cat foods contain taurine. But, in the case of homemade diets, cats are at higher risk of taurine deficiency and heart problems.

Cardiovascular conditions are particularly complex. In order for pet owners to make sound health decisions, they need to under the risks and benefits that come with medical treatments and diagnostic tests. Studies have shown that people consider risk information easier to understand and recall when it is presented visually.


Quick thinking and a few essential steps while on the way to the vet can make a difference in the outcome of the emergency. To learn basic first aid and CPR, head to PetCheck.

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Sharing the pet emergency action plan with your customers will help them be prepared in the event of an emergency and help improve the outcome of an emergency. Start sharing your practice-branded handouts with VetCheck.

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Digestive system

The digestive system is made up of the organs responsible for processing food into a format that can be used by the body in the form of energy and nutrients. Food enters the mouth and travels through the oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine before being passed through the anus as solid waste.

The digestive system includes the:

Nutrition for good health

Cats are obligate carnivores meaning the meat is their main food source. An appropriate diet combines a high quality, balanced, commercial diet and human-grade foods such as pieces of chicken, beef or lamb. Unless you have specific recipes that have been formulated by a veterinary nutritionist, commercial diets should be considered, particularly for kittens up to 12 months of age. All reputable veterinary nutritional companies must follow strict dietary requirements to ensure the diets are balanced and nutritionally beneficial. 

Mouth and teeth

A cat has 30 adult teeth made up of the front incisors, sharp canine teeth, premolars and molars.

Stomach and stomach lining

The food enters via the oesophagus, into the stomach is where the food is digested so that the nutrients can be absorbed.

Small intestine

The small intestine connects the stomach to the large intestine. It can be broken into three sections - the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. It is where food absorption continues to take place after it has left the stomach.


The pancreas is a gland located near the stomach. It produces a number of important hormones that aid in digestion and regulates blood sugar.


The liver is responsible for removing toxins that come from the digestive tract.


Good gut health starts with the right diet - a complete and balanced commercial diet. But, there are some other great natural foods that your pet can benefit from. For example bananas are a good source of electrolytes, potassium and fibre, melons are a good source of vitamin A&C and minerals and berries are a good source of Vitamin B&C, calcium, magnesuim and fibre. To find out more including dose rates, sign up to PetCheck for free.

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Need to share information on diets for pets with bladder stones, dietary sensitivities, liver or kidney conditions or even start a customer on an elimination diet? VetCheck has all the professional, veterinary handouts you need to help educate your customers.

View VetCheck Allergy questionnaire

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Musculoskeletal system

The musculoskeletal system is responsible for form, support, stability and movement. It is made up of skeletal bones, muscles, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints and connective tissue.

Common joints include the:

When cats experience a musculosketal injury, they are less likely to walk and prefer to hide in a corner or under a bed. Noting the cat's behaviours from a distance can help give the veterinarian a good idea of what may be going on as cat's are very reluctant participants when it comes to a musculoskeletal examination. Common orthopaedic conditions in cats include forelimb fractures and femoral (large hindlimb bone) fractures. Hip dislocation and cranial cruciate ligament rupture are also common in cats that experience a traumatic event.


The shoulder joint is made up of the scapula (shoulder blade) and humerus (large arm bone).


The pelvis is where the femoral (large leg bone) head fits into the hip joint.

Stifle and patella

The stifle is the knee and the patella is the knee cap. They are both positioned in the hindlimbs of the cat.


Cats are prone to arthritis too. A simple change in behavior such as no longer jumping onto the bench or climbing stairs can indicate a musculoskeletal problem. Head to PetCheck for tips on identifiying early behavioral problems.

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Using visual aids in a consultation can greatly increase a client's understanding of the problem. Start sharing VetCheck handouts that covers conditions such as Cranial Cruciate Ligament Ruptures, Luxating Patellas, Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, Intervertebral Disc Disease and more.

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Respiratory system

The respiratory system is responsible for bringing oxygen into the body and removing wastes in the form of carbon dioxide. Pets cannot regulate their heat through their skin in the form of sweat - the respiratory system is responsible for regulating the body temperature for example panting when the pet is hot.

The respiratory system includes the:


Excessive panting can be a sign of a serious problem such as heat stress, anxiety and more. Learn to pick up early behavioral changes and know when to seek veterinary attention with PetCheck.

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Need your customers to calculate their pets Resting Respiratory Rate? VetCheck has a great handout on "How to perform a Resting Respiratory Rate" to share with your customers.

View resting respiratory rate tool

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Urogenital system

The urogenital system refers to the urinary system that includes the kidneys, ureter, urethra and bladder in the excretion of liquid wastes and the reproductive system that includes the female uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina and the male testes, epididymis, vas deferens and penis.

Lower urinary tract

Problems of the lower urinary tract in cats is fairly common. It is estimate that over 50% of cats that suffer from feline lower urinary tract disease, have cystitis (bladder inflammation).

To help prevent this condition:


Inappropriate urinating such as urinating outside the litter tray is one of the most comon behavioral complaints in cats. Simple changes to the litter tray such as keeping 1 litter tray per cat plus one, having a tray that is at least 1.5 times as long as the cat and deep litter can eliminate these problems. Find out more at PetCheck.

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Female genitalia

A spey or ovariohysterectomy involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. Without desexing, your pet will proceed to puberty and leave bloodstains around the house during each heat cycle.

Benefits of desexing:

Desexing is usually recommended before puberty between the age of 4 and 9 months but can occur at any age. Six months is an ideal age as the puppy vaccination series is usually completed. Males undergo a castration which is the removal of both testicles from beneath the skin. Females undergo a spey or ovariohysterectomy which requires abdominal surgery to remove the uterus and ovaries.

Male genitalia

A castration involves the removal of the testicles from within the scrotal sac.


A pet may experience a number of changes after desexing. This includes a more consistent and calmer personality. But, their evenergy levels will also decrease, so it is important to modify their diet and exercise levels to help maintain a healthy weight. Find out more at PetCheck.

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Help your customers understand what to expect after surgery with post-surgery handouts, desexing handouts and more.

View post-surgery handout

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Nervous system

The nervous system is responsible for the transmission of messages to and from the brain and spinal cord. The spinal column is protected by the boney spinal vertebrae.

The nervous system includes the:


Just as in humans, a cat's brain can start to shrink with age. To help reduce old age signs such as disorientation, decreased interaction, inappropriate toileting, try adding more fruits and vegetables to the diet. Studies show that Vitamin C & E or the use of veterinary prescription diets can decrease the risk of cognitive decline. Find out specific lifestage tips at PetCheck.

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Do you ever see cases of Intervertebral disc disease or cognitive dysfunction? Help your customers understand these complex conditions with the VetCheck handouts.

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The eye is responsible for collecting light from the environment and converting this into an image in a three dimensional, moving image. Although the cat's eye contains functioning red, green and blue photoreceptors, studies suggest that their color vision is poor.

The eye is made up of the:

The cat's eye is uniquely different to other mammals. The cat's cornea and pupil are larger, which allows them to let more light in to increase visibility at night. The shape of a cat's pupil is a vertical slit when closed and round when open. Their cornea is less prone to inflammatory disease, making early detection of disease more challenging. Eye conditions in the cat also arise secondary to other disease such as Feline Leukemia Virus, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Infectious Virus, Toxoplasma, Cryptococcus, Coccidia, Lymphosarcoma and Multiple Myeloma.

Other interesting facts about the cat's eye is that the third eyelid is hidden with the edge barely noticeable. Therefore, visibility is often sign of a problem and can occur with a number of conditions. The cat also does not blink as frequently as other mammals. Their tears are more stable and effective.

Common eye condition terminology

Here are some common eye condition terms and their meanings:

Conjunctivitis Inflammation of the pink tissue inside the eyelids. Usually occur secondary to the flu in cats.
Uveitis Inflammation of the middle layer of the eyeball. Represented by eye redness, pain and poor vision.
Corneal ulcer Painful hole in the cornea (the clear membrane on the front of the eye).
Keratitis Inflammation of the cornea.
Glaucoma Increased pressure within the eyeball that can lead to sudden blindness. This is an emergency situation.
Lens luxation Movement of the eye lens out of normal position.
Cherry eye Permanent exposure of the third eyelid.
Dry eye Chronic lack of sufficient eye lubrication that results in irritation of the eye.
Retinal detachment Where the retina comes away from the back wall of the eye. This is an emergency situation.
Entropion The rolling in of the eyelids where the eyelashes constantly rub on the cornea, causing irritation and ulceration.
Distichia Eyelashes that grow from an unusual spot and causes irritation and ulceration.
Retinal Dysplasia Abnormal retinal development that can lead to retinal detachment.

Common eye tests that can be performed at the vets:

Schirmer tear test Used to meature the tear production. Normal tear production is 10-15mm in one minute.
Swab Sample collection to investigate foreign cells, bacteria or viruses.
Fluorescein staining To check for ulcers that will absorb the stain and fluoresce. It can also be use to check the functioning of the tear duct, where the stain will appear from the nostrils within 5-15minutes if healthy.
Tonometry Tests the pressure within the eye.
Gonioscopy Tests the drainage angle of the eye.
Imaging techniques The use of radiographs, ultrasound or MRI to investigate diseases of the eye or surrounding tissue.
DNA swab The collection of cheek cells or blood to investigate genetic disorders via specific genetic markers.


Watery eyes, tear staining or third eyelid problems are common eye problems in cats. Visit PetCheck on tips for eye care.

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Managing a case of sudden blindness, cataracts, chronic conjunctivitis or persistent corneal ulcers? Help educate your customers on homecare and give the pet the best chance to recovery.

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Garcia-Retamero, R., & Cokely, E.T. (2013). Communicating health risks with visual aids. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22 (5), 392-399.

These illustrations are available with permission by the copyright owner, Hill's Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy. This illustration should not be downloaded, printed or copied except for non-commercial use. © Hill's Pet Nutrition Pty Ltd.