I find dogs irresistible, from the tiniest Yorkie to massive Mastiffs. Plain and simple, I love dogs.
My affection for cats, however, rivals my adoration of dogs to the nth degree. Cats fascinate me with their intelligence, beauty, independence and ability to thrust their people into servitude. This may seem obvious to you if you have ever been around me or any veterinarian, so why am I bringing this to your attention?
Well-known, yet troubling observations by veterinarians were confirmed recently by the Bayer-American Association of Feline Practitioners Veterinary Care Usage Study presented at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in July. This study showed that HALF as many cats get annual veterinary exams compared to dogs. The study also found:
- 52% of cats haven’t been to the veterinarian in the past year
- 81% of pet owners believe cats are independent and self-sufficient, therefore requiring little attention
The findings from this study, and others like it, are heartbreaking and frustrating for me. While veterinarians have known about these observations for a long time, we can’t seem to change this trend, no matter how vociferously we advocate for our feline patients. The primary reasons cats do not visit veterinarians as often as dogs, or at all, are twofold.
First, and probably foremost, cat owners find capturing and transporting cats to be personal torture. Any cat fancier is well aware that you work for your cat and cats do not like leaving the comforts of home. Why then would we think these incredibly clever creatures would be content leaving their abodes to go to the veterinarian where they are “poked and prodded?”
Transporting cats can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be a dreaded drudge! A few simple hints can make these trips less distressing. Just as we begin puppy training early in life, we must kitten train as well. Without argument, the safest way to transport cats (and small dogs) is in a pet carrier. This six sided safety zone needs to be made into a comfy haven for cats of all ages, but starting early in the kitten period will be more fruitful.
I encourage cat owners to purchase or create a six-sided pet carrier that can be dismantled in to top and bottom halves, or that has side and top opening doors. Line the carrier with a soft, enticing blanket or fleece and leave it out in a comfortable area of your home for the cat to discover and become accustomed to. Place favorite toys or food treats in the carrier as positive reinforcements. Ask your veterinarian about a pheromone (Feliway) spray or towelettes to make the carrier even more attractive to your cat. Over time, your cat will bond with this new, alluring “hideout.”
When it is time to travel with your cat, place it in the carrier and cover it with a cloth to decrease visual stimulation. To minimize your cat’s stress when visiting your veterinarian, keep the cloth on the carrier until your cat is in the exam room and ready to be handled by a veterinary professional. Having your cat in a well protected hiding spot also greatly diminishes the likelihood that it will scratch you when it becomes frightened by its new surroundings and boisterous fellow patients.
Acknowledging their feline patients’ anxiety, veterinarians commonly examine cats while resting in the bottom of their carriers. All veterinary professionals will aspire to calm your cat by using soothing tones and gentle touches, including chin rubs and ear massages.
The second reason cats do not frequent veterinary offices is they are “great illusionists,” successfully hiding their potentially life-threatening or chronic illnesses from their owners. In short, cats regularly dupe their owners.
Cats were wild animals that we domesticated. In the wild, if you show weakness, you become prey. Cats intuitively know this and continue to conceal their illnesses from their owners until they can no longer do so; then it’s too late to change their plight.
Veterinarians are trained to detect signs of illness in these feline masters of disguise. My heart aches for countless feline patients that miss out on annual wellness exams during which I could provide early detection, treatment, and often cures, for their illnesses and diseases.
I know that there are cat people and there are dog people, and people like me, who are both. But, if you love cats a little or a lot, please introduce your cat to the possible pleasantries associated with pet carriers as well as travel immediately upon adoption. And, don’t miss out on the opportunity to have regular wellness exams for your cat. Let us help you guarantee a longer, healthy, and high quality life for your cat.
Author: Dr. Bonnie Jones