Feline advocacy groups are clamoring for life long care for cats. Are our feline friends really a neglected species? The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), The Morris Animal Foundation, the CATalyst Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and veterinary staffwant to help cat owners strengthen their knowledge about cat ownership and better understand what their cats need in order to be optimally healthy and happy. To read more about AAFP, go to (link to AAFP website) and AAHA go to (link aahanet.org). You might be surprised to learn that cats receive far less veterinary care than dogs: according to their research, AAFP learned that the main factors contributing to less health care for cats are:
#1 Misunderstandings about the signs of cat illness
#2 Misunderstandings about cat illnesses, including heartworm disease
#3 Difficulty getting cats to the veterinary office
Did you know that, according to recent surveys of cat owners performed by Brakke Consulting and the AVMA,:
• 83% of cats receive a complete examination from a veterinarian in their first year living with a new owner
• 48% of cats receive a complete examination from a veterinarian in subsequent years
• Preventable diseases in cats have increased and the increase is correlated with the
lack of veterinary care for cats
• 40% of cat owners are stressed out about bringing their cats to the veterinarian
• 36.1 million people in the U.S. own the 74.1 million cats in the U.S., an average of 2 cats
per cat owner
• Cat owners who consider their cats a member of their family will take their cats for veterinary care four times more often than cat owners who don’t.
• Dog owners are more likely to take their dogs, not their cats, to the veterinarian.
Why is there such a disparity amongst pet owners regarding the care provided for cats versus dogs?
Misunderstandings about the signs of cat illness. There are common misconceptions about cats and their behavior. These misconceptions have evolved over years and years of cats existing in our society, both as un-owned, stray animals living on city streets, suburban neighborhoods and farms. In fact, it had become a generally concept in the general public that cats are self –sufficient (“They only come around when they want food or shelter”), require very little care (“They can take of themselves-look how well they survive outdoors on their own” and prefer to be alone (“They always go off by themselves and hide”).
Below are the common signs of feline illness, often mistaken as “typical, unfriendly, self-sufficient, low maintenance” cat behaviors. Unfortunately, these behaviors are anything but normal and often signal a health problem. When these signs of illness are unnoticed or ignored as typical cat behavior, the results can be advanced serious illness and even death.
#1 Inappropriate Urination Behavior: cats do not urinate outside the litter box out of spite, anger or retaliation. Cats thrive on a clean environment therefore when they urinate outside the litter box, it is an alarm to cat owners that something is wrong.
#2 Changes in Social Interactions: Cats are social animals who enjoy interaction with their human family and often with other pets. When a cat repeatedly rejects social contact or acts aggressively, this is a signal that something is wrong: pain? Disease? Fear? Anxiety?
#3 Increase or Decrease in Activity Level: Drastic changes in activity can be a sign of a medical of condition such as arthritis, discomfort from systemic illnesses or hyperthyroidism. Cats don’t normally slow down just because they are old!
#4 Changes in Sleeping Patterns:Know your cat’s normal sleeping patterns. The average adult cat may spend 16 to 18 hours per day sleeping, including many “cat naps”. Cats should respond quickly to the usual stimuli, such as the owner walking into the room or cat food being prepared. Sleeping through these stimuli is a signal that something is wrong.
#5 Changes in Eating Habits: Contrary to popular belief, most cats are not “finicky” eaters. Look for changes in the quantity of food consumed, how much time the cat spends eating, how much water is consumed on a daily basis. Changes can indicate poor dental health, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, cancer, kidney disease or other health problems.
#6 Changes in Weight: Weight loss or excessive weight gain. A cat can be eager to eat, finish every meal, drink sufficiently but still lose weight. Weight changes often go unnoticed because of a cat’s thick coat. You can assess body condition by feeling gently along the ribs. The ribs should be easily felt but not prominent. On the other hand, obesity has become a serious health concern in cats, with increased risk of diabetes mellitus, joint disease and other problems.
#7 Changes in Grooming Habits: Typically, cats are fastidious groomers. Look for hair mats, dirty coat, hair loss, greasy appearance and whether your cat has stopped grooming at all. All of these can signal underlying disease such as fear, anxiety, obesity, skin problems or other health issues.
#8 Changes in Stress Level: Boredom and sudden lifestyle changes are common causes of stress in cats. Stress can be caused by change of litter/litter box, family changes such as adding a new pet or human family member, change of diet, moving, change of litter box location, absence of family members and more. Stress can cause cats to change their normal behaviors including eating, sleeping and socializing.
#9 Changes in Vocalizations: Vocalizations include crying, howling or any other new/unusual sound a cat starts making. Changes can indicate pain, anxiety, hunger, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure or some other medical issue.
#10 Bad Breath: there is no such thing as “cat breath” in a healthy cat. Bad breath is often an indicator of oral disease, often unseen by the cat’s owner. Untreated oral disease can lead to pain, tooth loss and spread of infection to other organs. Studies show 70 percent of cats have gum disease as early as age 3.
Cat owners should become aware of their cat’s normal behaviors and habits. When any of the above hidden signs of illness occurs, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.
Misunderstandings about cat illnesses, including heartworm disease. The most common misunderstandings about feline illnesses include heartworm disease, urinary tract blockage and disease, diet deficiencies, dental disease and dental disease. These diseases are all preventable!
Feline Heartworm Disease Facts:
Though cats are atypical hosts for heartworms, cats can still have one to three adult heartworms present in their system if they become infected. This might seem like a low number; however, even so few heartworms can cause substantial damage through a condition known as heartworm associated respiratory disease (HARD). Since the medication used to treat heartworms in dogs cannot be used in cats, prevention is the only means of protecting cats.
Feline Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) Facts:
FLUTD is not a disease in itself, but a term used to describe conditions that can affect the lower urinary tract (urinary bladder and/or urethra) of cats. FLUTD affects around 1-3% of cats each year, making it one of the more common diseases seen. Some of the common symptoms of FLUTD are painful urination, increased frequency of urination, blood in the urine, urinating outside of the litter box, over grooming due to pain in the bladder, and blockage of the urethra preventing the cat from urinating.
Dental disease is a very common problem in both young and old cats, but tends to become more severe as cats age. Dental disease is commonly associated with the accumulation of plaque on teeth, resulting from bacteria in the mouth, as well as tartar formation. Signs of feline dental disease include difficulty eating, excessive drooling, pawing at the mouth, red and swollen gums, and loose teeth. Daily oral care, specially formulated dental diets, as well as veterinary dental cleanings are allways to prevent the progression of periodontal disease in your cat.
Difficulty getting cats to the veterinary office. Cat stress, cat owner stress, chaos, time and guilt play their own roles in the difficulty getting cats to the veterinarian. Cat owners dread the ordeal of corralling their cats into the dreaded cat carrier. The carrier symbolizes clawing, crying, car noise, temperature change and confinement to the cat; and for the cat owners, chasing, wrangling, climbing under beds or over cabinets, frustration, guilt about mishandling one’s cat and time pressures to be on time for the veterinary appointment. Many a cat owner has called the veterinarian to cancel or postpone an appointment due to the inability to find, catch and struggle the cat into the carrier on time. If this sounds like a nightmare, it is; therefore it is completely understandable why cat owners avoid veterinary visits. Thanks to the research by AAFP, they have created the AAFP Cat Friendly Practice Certification Program which encourages veterinary professionals to understand and embrace basic cat handling strategies to reduce the stress for cats and cat owners alike.
Veterinary staff should be available to answer all your questions and be happy to help cat owners learn more about their cat’s health. If cat owners can help their cats to feel more comfortable about car travel and trips to the vet, it will help owners to be more relaxed too! Below are some tips to help cat owners de-stress visits to the veterinarian:
▪ Home Care: Help your cat feel more comfortable by “pretending” to do routine veterinary procedures at home such as touching his/her feet, trimming nails, cleaning ears, and teeth brushing.
▪ Vet Office: Stop by the office with your cat when you don’t have an appointment, just to weigh him/her and reward with a treat afterwards.
▪ Demonstrations: Ask staff for a demonstration of how-to-tricks for these home-care activities. With practice, you will be comfortable and confident …and your kitty will be too!
- Transport: getting a cat to any destination can be a harrowing experience…unless you know and use our Transport Tips. There are 4 key steps to increase the success of transporting your feline family members. Start out by following “C.A.T. S.”
COMFORT: Create a Comfortable Carrier Environment
▪ Never dump your cat into the carrier. This creates anxiety about the carrier.
▪ Consider a carrier whose top comes off and enables your cat to stay in the bottom half during his/her examination!
▪ Keep soft, padded bedding inside the carrier to make it an inviting place to travel.
· Keep treats inside the carrier as a reminder that the carrier is a good place to be.
· Scatter some catnip into the carrier to soothe and calm your cat any time he/she is inside the carrier.
· Spray the inside of the carrier with Feliway® Spray to release calming pheromones.
· Keep a favorite toy in the carrier to create a positive, comforting connection with the carrier.
· Cover the carrier with a familiar towel or blanket for “privacy” while he/she is inside the carrier.
ATTITUDE: Make the carrier a normal part of everyday life:
▪ Keep the carrier in a place your cat can explore at all the times, including just to take a nap or have a treat.
▪ Keep toys, a favorite pillow or blanket inside the carrier.
▪ Take your cat for rides in the carrier other than just to the Vet.
▪ Start with short rides and gradually extend the rides to a longer distance.
▪ Never leave your cat unattended in your car! Heat and cold can place your cat in serious danger.
▪ Cats travel best on an empty stomach, therefore plan your car rides for several hours after your cat has eaten.
▪ End each car ride with lots of praise, petting and a healthy treat!
TIMING: Timing is Everything!
- Refrain from feeding your cat for a few hours before a trip to the veterinarian.
· Feel free to bring your cat’s favorite treat or the missed meal with you. We will happily bond with him/her by feeding him/her here at the hospital! This will create a positive connection between us and your cat!
- At least one week before the appointment, be certain the carrier is comfortable, accessible to your cat, has cleaning bedding and is ready for travel!
SAFETY: Use a carrier you like and will use.
Although your cat may protest going into the carrier, it really is the safest place for him/her while traveling to the vet AND while waiting in the waiting room. There are things you can do to help your cat feel better about being in his/her
▪ The carrier should be sturdy enough to bear the weight of your cat without straining at the seams or places where there is a handle or other hardware.
▪ A cleanable surface is a must. Most carriers are made of hard washable plastic or soft-sided, added washable vinyl.
· Rollable carriers come with a handle and on wheels, just like a suitcase.
· Consider your comfort and safety too: pick a carrier style that is a good match for your physical strength and size to enable you to use the carrier safely and without dread.
· Test out any new carrier at home after you buy it, before you need to use it for a trip. If it’s not a good fit for you and your cat, return it and try a different style!