The CATalyst: Declining Cat Health Means Room for New Year’s Resolutions for Cat Owners

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

My New Year’s resolution is for healthier cats, and to help motivate changing a disastrous trend.

Over the past decade, veterinary visits have steadily declined and our pet’s health suffered. This problem is greater for cats than for dogs.

In 2006, 36% of cat-owning households sought no veterinary care (according to the American Veterinary Medical Association), and odds are that as the economy slumped that number could have gotten worse. It’s astounding, and hardly beneficial to our cats’ health.

On average, cats see veterinarians less than half as often as dogs – and even vet visits for dogs are on the decline.

According to the CATalyst Council, the trend sadly goes beyond the general public. Of veterinary professionals surveyed, 71% have cats living in their home, but more than a third do not bring their cats in for annual preventative care exams (let alone the twice-annual visits recommended for cats over age 7).

Totally preventable problems are on the rise. As one example, according to Banfield Pet Hospitals State of Pet Health 2011 report, internal parasites are up 13% in dogs and over twice that number in dogs since 2006.

Finding Disease Early Saves Lives
As with people, discovering illness early in pets may potentially mean the difference between life and death. Early diagnosis might result in less suffering or pain in our pets, and often less pain to our wallets.

Owners may contend, “Well, I know when my pet is sick.” Not always – especially in cats, who are skilled at masking illness.

You might avoid other problems altogether by proactively visiting a veterinarian. For example, cats don’t gain weight overnight, but owners might not notice cats gaining weight slowly or understand the potential significance of obesity to their cat’s health. Getting the weight down might mean avoiding diabetes. The disease is up 16% since 2006, according to the Banfield report.

Why Cat Vet Visits Have Decline
I don’t deny that in some cases veterinarians are to blame for declining cat’s visits to vets. They can push clients away with high fees and sometimes “nickel and dime” people.

Still, overall, veterinary medicine remains a relative bargain. Consider a cancer surgery and treatment for a cat might amount to several thousand dollars – a lot of money, for sure. In human medicine a similar surgery and treatment with identical drugs would cost at least 10 times as much. The difference, of course, is that in human medicine, for the most part, insurance or government aid covers medical costs.

In veterinary medicine, you have to cough up the dollars, unless you have pet insurance, which I believe is a great safety net.

Preventative Care, Positive Outcome
Vets also should emphasize preventative care. Historically such care for pets has been downplayed in favor of vaccines. However, over the past decade or so, there’s been less need for many vaccines, leading many owners to skip veterinary visits.

According to the Bayer Veterinary Usage Study (surveying pet owners and veterinary professionals about their views on veterinary medicine and pet health), 56% of cat owners surveyed say they would visit the veterinarian more often if only they knew preventative care would prevent problems.

“Dr. Google”
In addition, while veterinarians remain among the most trusted of professions, are any professionals all together trusted today? How about teachers, nurse, judges, doctors … well, maybe. But we do live in an increasingly cynical society. So the days of a veterinarian out rightly recommending a treatment course, and the client instantly always buying in no longer exists as it once did. That’s to be expected – the same is true when our doctors advise a course action, we may want another perspective. Sometimes that alternative view is from another veterinarian (perhaps a good thing), but increasingly clients are visiting “Dr. Google.”

In fact, according to the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, 15% of owners said that by using the Internet, they believe they have less need to rely on a veterinarian. I suppose at least some websites act as credible sources (still a website doesn’t know your pet and can’t run blood work or listen to a cat’s heart). A surprising number of people, however, visit blogs written by non-experts, and accept whatever advice they read.

I am horrified by the trend that I began to see at least five years ago: people writing me asking about ways to “avoid the veterinarian.” This is entirely contradictory to what I believe is in the best interest of our cats and dogs.

This is an issue I’ve taken on, not only will I be writing about the trend of a decline of veterinary visits here, I will offer your perspectives as I write and speak to the profession throughout 2012 and beyond.

This is what I think. What do you think? I welcome comments, and ideas – on any side of the fence. Email me here. Also, check out this list New Year’s resolutions from cat owners; a survey says charity, exercise and grooming top dog and cat owners’ resolutions.

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Cats · Lifestyle