The CATalyst: Celebrate Take Your Cat to the Vet Week

Steve Dale, CAT FANCY writer and syndicated newspaper pet columnist, provides a weekly cat news roundup.

I am very excited about writing this weekly column for The CATalyst. I plan to cover all the cat news there is to cover, and offer information that may help you to care for you cats from medical news or training tips to off-beat cat stories from around the feline world.

It’s Take Your Cat to the Vet Week. I can’t think of a better first column. proclaimed August 22 through August 28 as Take Your Cat to the Vet Week, and the CATalyst Council is hugely supportive. The not-for-profit CATalyst Council was formed in 2008 from a who’s who of leaders in veterinary medicine, animal welfare, industry and academia, all who wanted to increase cat health.

Dogs are more than twice as likely to visit the veterinarian than cats are. Also, when clients do take their cats to the vet, their threshold on spending for cats is, on average, less than what dog owners are willing to pay for care. What’s more, cats are more often given up to shelters than dogs, and cats are less likely to be adopted, compared to their canine cousins.

The truth is that cats are actually man’s (and woman’s) best friend. According to the AVMA’s U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook, there are now 81.7 million pet cats and 72.1 million dogs. Yet, as I mentioned, the average cat sees the veterinarian less than half as often as the average dog. So, why is that? What the heck is going on?

Here are some answers:

  • Overall, veterinary visits are on the decline — for dogs and even more so for cats. Sadly, as a result, our pets have begun to pay the price with an increase in preventable illnesses. According to the recently released Banfield Pet Hospital 2011 Report, since 2006 there’s a 10% rise in dental disease in cats; although still uncommon there’s a 27% increase in hookworm and a 12% hike in roundworm in cats (both worms can be transmitted to people); diabetes in cats went up 16%.
  •  Most of all, for cats, it’s all about transport to the veterinary clinic. Take the carrier out, and the cat high-tails it to another room, perhaps another county. Most owners burn off more calories attempting to stuff a cat in the carrier than they do at their health club. Over time, they no longer want to fight their cat, so the cat doesn’t see the vet.
  • More and more cats are being kept indoors. That’s generally a good thing in the best interest of your cat’s overall health. Now that more cats are indoors, however, people somehow feel their cats can’t get sick. Of course, when you think about it – that notion simply makes no sense; renal failures, diabetes, arthritis, hyperthyroidism are just a few possibilities. It may be difficult or impossible to diagnose many problems without a veterinary exam. All cats, regardless of their lifestyles, require preventive care.
  • Cats are subtle about telling their people they don’t feel well. It’s not unusual for cats to feel awful for weeks or months before their owners detect something.  Detected early, illness may be easier and less expensive to treat, may mean less suffering, and might even be life-saving (such as certain cancers detected early).

What can cat owners do? Familiarize cats early and regularly with cat carriers, take cats to the vet for routine care and learn to recognize subtle signs of cat illness. Here are some clues to detecting cat illness.

10 Subtle Signs of Illness in Cats
1. Changes in interactions: A previously clingy cat acting uncharacteristically aloof, or an independent cat transforming into “Velcro kitty” are examples.

2. Changes in activity: A decrease or increase in activity, and change in the cat’s daily routine are red flags — of arthritis, for example, which is far more common in cats than previously thought. So, a cat who less often jumps on furniture is a potential sign.

3. Changes in chewing or eating habits: Contrary to popular belief, most cats are not finicky eaters. Look for changes, an increase or decrease, in a cat’s food intake. Eating less can signify several disorders, including dental problems. Increased appetite may mean diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

4. Changes in water intake: Drinking more or less can indicate a cat health problem, such as diabetes or kidney disease.

5. Unexpected weight loss or weight gain: Weight doesn’t always go up or down with a change in appetite. Cats with diabetes or hyperthyroidism, for example, may lose weight even if they eat more.   

6. Bad Breath: If those pearly whites don’t smell sweet as a daisy, something may be rotten in the mouth, or perhaps kidney disease or a digestive disorder.

7. Changes in grooming habits: Fastidious groomers letting themselves go — even just a bit — is a sure sign of potential illness. Over-grooming may be related to stress, pain or allergies.

8. Changes in sleeping habits: From catnapping more to awaking in the middle of the night, the explanation may be pain and/or illness, perhaps associated with aging.

9. Changes in vocalization: Wallflowers that begin to offer sermons or cat howling overnight may be doing so as a result of a medical condition. Possible explanations include, hyperthyroidism, hypertension (high blood pressure) or anxiety.

10. Signs of stress: Cats dislike changes more than anything. Changes in your family’s schedule, new pets coming or going, or even rearranging the furniture can cause stress. A cat that isn’t feeling well may be anxious as a result. Geriatric cats may be especially prone to stress. Anxious cats might exhibit behavioral changes (such as missing the litterbox). Anxiety requires the same professional attention as diabetes or a heart condition.

Twice annual exams for preventative care make sense, particularly since cats age far faster than people. If you your cat or your cats have not seen the veterinarian in six months — I suggest you make an appointment, even if your cats seem healthy, it’s the best investment you can make.

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