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Cats are like Potato Chips

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Cats are like Potato Chips

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 727-863-2435

Just Looking…

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By Terry Spencer, DVM

When I am shopping and a clerk asks whether I need any help, I almost always reply, “No, thank you.  I’m just looking…”    My response implies that “looking” is not going to lead to anything important, such as a purchase that day, so don’t waste your time helping me.  However, that isn’t necessarily true.  “Just looking” is an important part of the process of shopping.  If I didn’t begin shopping by” just looking,” then I would never find what I need. 

“Just looking” is also an important part of the process of completing a physical examination of an animal.  Determining whether a pet is healthy or ill all begins with looking.  As a veterinarian, I look with my senses, and also with tools of my trade to extend my senses.  I watch the animal walk.  I listen to the sounds of its heart and lungs using my stethoscope.  I smell the odor given off by its breath or its skin.  I feel for lumps in its belly.  I collect body fluids to analyze in the lab, which helps me “look” inside the animal.  I take X-rays or perform an ultrasound exam to “look” at body parts under the skin.  Frankly, I’m “just looking” all day when I do my job.  And in this context, I expect looking to pay off for the pet.  I expect to find what is working correctly and to detect any problems early when I can still help the pet owner keep the animal healthy.    Prevention of disease and early detection of disease are vital to helping pets (and people) live long, healthy lives.

When I can’t look, I can’t help.   It is important for pet owners to appreciate that.  

It is increasingly common these days for pet owners to take their pets to “low-cost” vaccine clinics.  These clinics are everywhere, every weekend.  You can find them in the parking lots of the local grocery store, drug store, pet store, groomer, and sometimes even at auto parts stores.  Vaccine clinics for pets can serve an important role for pets that otherwise would never get any vaccinations.  However, the “looking” part of the veterinary visit is lacking at these clinics.  The reason the vaccines are “low-cost” is because you get what you pay for—vaccines without a complete physical exam.  You can save a few dollars by not paying a veterinarian to “look” at your pet.  Is that really the best value for your dollar?

Vaccines against infectious diseases are very important for puppies and kittens.  But, vaccines aren’t necessary every year for every adult animal.  In fact, most vaccines if boosted properly in the early years give protection for at least three years, and some give protection for the life of the pet.  There is no standard vaccine package that is appropriate for every pet.  And over-vaccination of your pet can be just as harmful for pets as is under-vaccination.  That is why most veterinary practices don’t offer “low-cost vaccine clinics” in their parking lots on the weekends.  It isn’t annual vaccines that keep your pet healthy.  It is the veterinarian who completely examines your pet from head-to-toe, monitors its weight and temperature, and helps the pet owner set a customized vaccine protocol based on the pet’s risks of disease exposure determined after taking a history from the pet owner. 

At some annual visits, I don’t recommend vaccines at all. I know, that sounds like heresy.   Instead, I might recommend treating an ear infection, cleaning off dental tarter, removing a lump, or giving medication for back pain you might not have known was there.   Remember, your veterinarian is your other family doctor.  But you need to let me just look….

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey     727-863-2435