By Terry Spencer, DVM
Admit it. You have a couple of cats as pets. Maybe the cats live in the house full-time. Maybe the cats are indoor-outdoor models. Or maybe, you don’t really claim the cats; you just feed the cats every day outside your back door. Cats are like potato chips; you usually can’t have just one.
Having more than one cat to call your own is apparently the norm in America these days. In fact, according to many surveys of American pet ownership, more than 50% of the American public has a pet and most of those pets are cats. Who knew that the cat had replaced itself as a human’s best friend?
But if most of the pet-owning public owns at least one cat, where are they? More dogs than cats regularly visit veterinary offices. It seems that clients willingly bring their dogs for exams and veterinary care, yet leave the cats at home. If there are so many cats in the U.S, why don’t cats visit the veterinarian as often as do dogs?
Perhaps it is the dreaded chore of getting the cat into a carrier to travel to the veterinarian’s office? It is definitely a risky task to stuff an unwilling cat into a travel box. Cats have their ways of showing who the boss in the relationship is! The trick is to make the cat think he/she thought of the idea first. Here are some tips to convincing your cat that the carrier really is a safe place:
- Regularly leave the carrier out for cats to explore. Cats like to play in most boxes and bags, why not the carrier?
- Use the carrier as the daily feeding or treat dispensing station.
- Store favorite cat toys in the carrier and encourage the cats to play in the carrier.
- Spray the inside of the carrier with Feliway spray (an over-the-counter pheromone spray that calms cats).
- Travel with your cats on short trips to places other than the dreaded vet’s office. Otherwise, cats quickly associate the carrier with trouble.
Or perhaps cats don’t visit the veterinarian as often because disease symptoms of cats are more subtle than in dogs. A dog will usually grab your attention and almost shout, “I am sick here!” Cat’s, on the other hand, gradually fade away. They are typically finicky eaters to begin with, can stay hidden for several days even if they feel well, sleep most of the day anyway, and hide their bathroom habits in a box that isn’t always cleaned daily. So a cat with decreased appetite, lack of energy, increased urination, or diarrhea might go unnoticed for several days.
Because cats are such masters at hiding their symptoms, it is very important to keep up with veterinary visits. A veterinary exam can detect feline diseases early, when those diseases are less expensive to treat. Your veterinarian will likely recommend blood tests because many feline diseases can only be detected that way. Blood tests can detect common cat diseases such as kidney disease, urinary track problems, thyroid disease, diabetes, heartworm infection, and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
The one thing that cats don’t need every year is vaccines. Cats do need protection from viral diseases, just not every year. Over vaccination of cats can result in life-threatening tumors, referred to as “Vaccine Associated Sarcomas.” Let your veterinarian be your guide for setting an appropriate vaccine schedule for the risks faced by your cats.
Cats do need other cost-effective preventions. Cats need microchips, flea control, regular deworming, heartworm prevention, dental care, and blood tests to keep them healthy. But of course, to get these preventions, your cat first has to go to the vet.
This week I examined a cat that hadn’t been to the vet in at least six years. The cat’s owner really loved this cat. The cat had been the companion to an ill husband for the past few years until the husband died. To the owner, the cat seemed like it was “getting old.” It was skinny, weak, and drinking a lot of water. In fact, the cat that used to weigh 10 pounds, now weighed only 4 pounds. Its heart was racing at over 200 beats-per-minute instead of the more normal 120 beats-per-minute. It’s gums were pale instead of pink, and it was dehydrated despite having a great thirst. The cat was old, but it was also in kidney failure and suffering from an over-active thyroid gland. It was hard to tell this client that age is not a disease. I wish I could have diagnosed this cat’s problems years earlier. But first, the cat would have needed to go to the vet.
Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey