Why cats don’t make it to the veterinarian’s office enough

More dogs get regular veterinary care than cats, writes veterinarian Barry Burtis. He suggests many factors contribute, including cats’ general aversion to traveling in carriers, owners’ mistaken belief that indoor cats don’t need regular veterinary care and the feline ability to mask symptoms. Dr. Burtis emphasizes the connection between regular veterinary care and optimum health for cats. The Burlington Post (Ontario) (11/29)

Statistics tell us that dogs visit veterinarians much more regularly than cats. On the other hand, polls tell us both dog and cat owners equally recognize the value of veterinary care for their pets.

So, why the disconnect? Why do you suppose dogs average 1.8 veterinary visits per year while cats get to see us only 0.7 times a year? Are dogs or their owners just hypochondriacs, excessively worried or anxious about illness and health? Are dogs just wimps — limping, whining and crying with every little ailment? Do dog owners just have huge amounts of money they wish to use supporting veterinary medicine? Do cat owners not love their feline as much as dog owners care for their dog? Are cats more resistant to disease, requiring less vaccination protection or other healthcare advice?

In my opinion, none of the above offers a correct explanation for the difference. No, there are other much more likely reasons.

Here are some that come to mind. Cats are homebodies. Getting into a carrier, in the first place, is not a happy experience for many cats, neither is it fun for their owner. No matter how smooth the ride, few cats love to go in the car. The yowling, scratching and sometimes bad odours emanating from the cat carrier can take the pleasure out of the ride for the cat’s car companions, as well. At the veterinary hospital, the cat’s attitude toward the cat carrier usually suddenly changes. It’s the nearest thing to home in that place. Why would they want to come out and be weighed, poked, prodded or needled? No, when a cat fails to see any benefit or value associated with this experience, their behaviour reflects their concerns. Is there anything to make the experience more pleasant for all? Well, as a start, begin at a very early age and continue through their life to build a better relationship between a kitten/cat and its carrier. Bring it out of storage at times other than just before a stressful car ride. That should make the trip a bit easier. Then it’s going to be up to the owner to realize most everyone experiences a bit of stress when they go to see their doctor.

People sometimes mistakenly believe that because their cat stays inside it really does not need the benefit of vaccinations. I believe this is another reason cats fail to get to see their doctor as often as they should.  However, municipal bylaws mandate that all cats — regardless of lifestyle — must be vaccinated against rabies. Panleukopenia, feline leukemia and the respiratory viruses — rhinotracheitis and calici virus — are all diseases that can be protected against. A veterinarian should determine which ones are necessary for an individual cat.

Do some cat owners just believe it’s too expensive to visit a veterinarian? People are usually thrilled to learn about the medicines, treatments and therapies that are available for their pets these days. Especially now with the availability of pet health insurance, I hope not many cats are failing to get the full benefits of healthcare because of cost.

A perhaps more legitimate reasons for cats and veterinarians not getting together as often as they should is that cats mask their illnesses very well. Cats are predators, but they are also a prey species. In the wild, showing weakness is the best way to hasten your decline. Cats often hide even severe arthritis, because they are moving around usually much less than dogs. Using the privacy of a litter box, instead of urinating on a walk like a dog, means cat owners are probably much less aware of volumes of urine a cat is producing, behaviour when a cat is urinating or the appearance of a cat’s urine. Lumps and bumps on a cat’s body surface may be less quickly spotted than with a dog. When a cat vomits, is it just a hairball or is it vomiting for some other reason and the hair just happens to be brought up as an effect, but not the cause of the problem?

How do we make cats equal opportunity users, with dogs, of today’s healthcare for pets? It’s very easy. Just make sure your cat visits its veterinarian at least once per year. It can receive a general physical examination, be updated on vaccine needs, get reliable, current diet and healthcare advice, all with a minimum of stress and expense.

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