Poet Jean Burden once said that a cat “is still only a whisker away from the wilds” and for many cat enthusiasts, this is the exact reason they love their self-sufficient felines. But for all of our professed affection for these animals, our cats aren’t seen by veterinarians nearly as often as our dogs. Is it because we value dogs more highly or are there other reasons for this inequity?
Experts believe that cats and humans have interacted with each other for more than 10,000 years. From their humble beginnings chasing rodents away from our food, cats have vaulted into our homes and hearts as North America’s favorite pet. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, cats aren’t treated to the same veterinary care that we provide our canine friends.
There are more than 80 million cats in US households and, after reviewing veterinary medical records, experts have concluded that our felines are actually 30% less likely to visit a veterinarian than dogs. What could possibly cause this difference?
Many people believe that a cat’s independent nature and their self-sufficiency mean that they are pretty low maintenance. After all, owners don’t need to walk their cats in a heavy rain or freezing blizzard. So, if cats are so good at taking care of themselves, they must not need a doctor, right?
Additionally, more than 50% of cat owners report that they have a difficult time transporting their pets or that the last trip to the veterinarian was too stressful for the kitty. Still other owners express concerns about adverse vaccine reactions or costs of treatments and preventive care.
Not only that, but as small to medium sized predators, cats instinctually hide their illnesses to avoid become dinner for a bigger predator. Owners can often miss the subtle signs that their kitty isn’t feeling well.
The unfortunate result out of all of this is that when veterinarians do see cats, they are often faced with advanced problems that are more costly and difficult to treat. Extensive kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes and even widespread parasites top the list of feline issues. One study published showed that flea infestations in cats have increased by 12% in the last five years and ear infections are up more than 34%!
Thankfully, organizations like the CATalyst Council (www.catalystcouncil.org) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP; www.catvets.com) are stepping up to help educate owners about their feline friends’ medical needs. By stressing the importance and value of preventive medicine, these groups are working hard to insure that cats aren’t forgotten when it comes to veterinary care.
One goal is to help owners understand that a visit to the veterinarian is more than just a couple of vaccinations for their cats. A full physical examination done annually by the veterinarian is the first and probably most important thing a pet owner can do for their beloved feline. This exam can often spot early issues before they turn into big, expensive problems.
Additionally, cat owners are urged to have open communication with their veterinarian about which vaccines their pet actually needs and which ones can be avoided. The veterinarian can review the cat’s risk factors and the overall prevalence of specific diseases in the area to make the best recommendation. Although adverse reactions are always a risk, this dialogue can help minimize any potential danger.
The CATalyst Council is also working with veterinarians to make their practices more “feline-friendly”. Often, changes to scheduling to create “cat only” days or even a separate waiting area for cats and their owners can help to encourage veterinary visits. After all, no cat wants to be seated next to a big, scary dog!!
Cats have been described as “aloof” or even “narcissistic”, but there really is a lot to admire about these wonderful animals. They are athletic, graceful and innately curious, qualities that we really seem to appreciate. The CATalyst Council is a great resource for finding out how you can insure your cat will live a long and healthy life.
To learn more about cats or have your cat questions answered by a veterinarian, visit the Pet Health Library at www.gardneranimalcarecenter.com.