Poet Jean Burden once said that a cat “is still only a whisker away from the wilds” and for many cat enthusiasts, this is the exact reason they love their self-sufficient felines.
Experts believe that cats and humans have interacted with each other for more than 10,000 years. From their humble beginnings chasing rodents away from our food, cats have vaulted into our homes and hearts as North America’s favorite pet. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, cats aren’t treated to the same veterinary care that we provide our canine friends.
There are more than 80 million cats in US households and, after reviewing veterinary medical records, experts have concluded that our felines are actually 30% less likely to visit a veterinarian than dogs. What could possibly cause this difference?
Many people believe that a cat’s independent nature and their self-sufficiency mean that they are pretty low maintenance. After all, owners don’t need to walk their cats in a heavy rain or freezing blizzard. So, if cats are so good at taking care of themselves, they must not need a doctor, right? Additionally, more than 50% of cat owners report that they have a difficult time transporting their pets or that the last trip to the veterinarian was too stressful for the kitty.
The unfortunate result of all of this is when our veterinarians do see cats, they are often faced with advanced problems that are more costly and difficult to treat. Extensive kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes and even widespread parasites top the list of feline issues. One study showed that flea infestations in cats have increased by 12% in the last five years and ear infections are up more than 34%!
Steps to reduce anxiety for your cat’s veterinary visit:
- It all starts at home. Instead of trying to force your cat into the carrier, try a different approach. Leave the carrier out and place in it a fleece blanket, treats and some catnip toys. Cats are curious–it won’t be long before your feline friends are checking out the carrier and going in and out on their own, or even sleeping in it. So as not to raise their suspicion, leave the carrier out for at least several days before the scheduled visit and feed them near it, if possible.
- Kittens will travel much better if you start out right away getting them used to the carrier and the car. Consider trying this at your first kitten vet visit at 8 weeks. Next, if you have an anxious or aggressive cat, buy a synthetic feline pheromone spray (available online or in a pet store or vet office — we use Feliway at Town & Country). Spray it on and around the cage 15-30 minutes before you need to put the cat in the carrier. This safe and effective hormone spray makes cats calm and relaxed. However, don’t spray the product directly in the cat’s face — It is irritating to the airways. You can also give your vehicle a spritz 30 minutes before you get in with the cat.
- When you are preparing to go for your exam, lead the cat into the carrier with treats or gently pet and/or pick up the cat and place it in the carrier. Even with all of these tips, some cats will not stay calm. For these patients, your veterinarian may be able to provide medication. A good resource with videos of how to select a proper cat carrier to keep your cat calm is available at www.catalystcouncil.org.
- Once the cat is in the carrier, cover the carrier with a towel or blanket to cut down on visual stress, and then proceed to the car. The cats that feel safe in their carrier will usually lie down and remain calm for the ride. Sometimes, stressed cats will vocalize or, worse, urinate and defecate during the trip. Gently talk to your cat or put soothing music on at a low level. Keep the cat covered up until you get into the exam room.
- When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, let the front desk know that you have arrived. If your cat has a history of being fractious, it sometimes is better to keep the cat out in the car until the office is ready to take you directly into the exam room. The longer a cat has to sit in a waiting room with dogs barking and other scary noises and chaos, the more upset it gets. We use this tip for many of my unhappy feline patients, and it works beautifully, often allowing me to complete a full exam before the cat has had time to get upset.
- We try not to dump your cat out of the carrier — it is much less offensive to allow the cat to come out on its own, or to take the cage apart and allow it to lie in the bottom half. Most modern carriers have quick access zippers or latches that allow the cage to be taken apart or the cat to be accessed from the top. Sometimes it helps to allow your cat to hide under a towel or blanket if it is upset or shy. Again, the vet office and towel can be pre-sprayed with Feliway for a calming effect.
At Town & Country Veterinary Clinic, our goal is to help our cat owning clients understand that a visit to the veterinarian is more than just a couple of vaccinations for their cats. A full physical examination done annually by one of our veterinarians is the first and probably most important thing a pet owner can do for their beloved feline. This exam can often spot early issues before they turn into big, expensive problems.
Additionally, we will discuss with you which vaccines your cat actually needs and which ones can be avoided. We will review your cat’s risk factors and the overall prevalence of specific diseases in our area to make the best recommendation. Although adverse reactions are always a risk, this dialogue can help minimize any potential danger.
We are continually working to make your cat’s visit to us as easy as possible. If your cat is nervous or stressed we will work quickly to have your cat on his or her way home as soon as possible.
Cats have been described as “aloof” or even “narcissistic”, but there really is a lot to admire about these wonderful animals. They are athletic, graceful and innately curious, qualities that we really appreciate.