Musings of a Veterinarian

The Humble Feline

November 26, 2014 By: Dr. K Category: Opinion

A few weeks ago I examined a friendly indoor only cat for a several day history of not eating and vomiting. My examination didn’t reveal much of what might be causing her maladies, so I recommended we start with some laboratory work. Her owner’s reply left me speechless.

“This might make me sound like a jerk….” Uh oh. Experience told me that “might” is a great qualifier for “will” and I waited to hear what came next. “Well, you see, she’s a cat. I just don’t want to spend a lot of money on her, you know? I mean, if it were my dogs I would spend anything but, you know. Boy, you must think I sound like a jerk.”

Well, yes, kinda definitely.

So why the disconnect? Why is it that time and time again it seems dogs owners are much more willing to pursue veterinary care than cat owners? It’s not that Americans don’t love their cats – quite the opposite when you look at overall pet numbers and spending. Cats outnumber dogs in the United States by about 5,000,000 but are seen at the veterinarian about half as frequently. In addition, in 2012 the mean household veterinary expenditure per animal was $90/cat and $227/dog. Is feline veterinary care less expensive? Of course not.  Perception of dogs as “man’s best friend” and cats as “independent” definitely plays a role.

Below are a few myths surrounding felines. Feel free to add others in the comment section!

Myth #1. Cats are aloof and uncaring

My cats show me they care by saving intimate moments like bath time and anus exposure to quiet times on my lap while I am engaging in a desirable television watching activity. Nothing says they care more than the way like crush my cooking magazines under their fuzzy butts to prevent me from making that award winning chocolate lava mountain fountain cake and wrecking my diet. And believe me, the way they make sure to find the area rug with their projectile pica-driven dirt-ridden vomit is the definition of “I don’t want you to have to mop the hardwood because you just did it yesterday.” They care.

Ok, ok. I can attest my cats do not behave like Retrievers. While Miss Pigglesworth certainly eats like a Labrador, neither of my cats are people pleasers. They snuggle, use me for their grooming and petting needs, even mooch body heat on cold nights. Mine, like most cats, aren’t wired with the desire to please the way dogs are and, thus, the perception cold calculating murderers was born.

The truth is, cats do show affection through slow blinks, rubbing against your legs, cuddling, and playing. They don’t tend to fawn all over their owners. For me, that’s a plus. With a toddler tugging at my leg and the daily routine bogging me down, the last thing I need is an attention grubbing never-satiated dog under foot, or worse, tugging at my other leg.

Myth #2: Cats have superpowers

My cats think they have superpowers. Any self-respecting feline does. This is evident when a poorly executed furniture leap results in paw licking and coolness like it never even happened. But you know what power they don’t have? The power to keep themselves healthy and lick their wounds clean. C’Mon people! Do you REALLY believe cats have clean mouths and that licking wounds is the way a cat can “take care of itself?” I suppose if I cut my finger badly and it abscessed, I would just spit in the wound and gimp around for weeks until it scarred or I died from sepsis – whatever came first. Afterall, denial and deliberation makes more sense than seeking medical care, right?

For intelligent minds, the idea that any animal can care for itself when it is seriously ill is absurd and they seek veterinary care when kitty gets sick. Others really believe cats do not need veterinary care because…well…errrr…I have no idea why they think that. Cats are not self-healing magicians. If cat owners sought veterinary care when it was warranted, the mean annual expenditure would more closely match dogs.

(Aside: Many cats are part of multi-cat households. Some are part of multi-multi cat households – if you get me, crazy cat people.  Finances come into play when cat owner’s have to spread the care over multiple cats. My experience is when more than 3 cats live in a house at once: A cat is going to have lower urinary tract problems, another cat is peeing on the carpet somewhere, and someone always has upper respiratory tract signs. Crazy cat folk have a hard time keeping up with maintenance of the clowder, so many stop seeking veterinary care regularly to cut costs.)

Myth #3: Indoor Cats Don’t Need Vaccinated

1. Cats are the most common domestic animal in the United States diagnosed with Rabies.  An unvaccinated indoor cat that either escapes outside or is exposed to a rabid bat in the home is at risk and puts the owner’s life at risk. A cat or a human can be bitten by a bat and you may not be able to tell! Why risk it? Rabies kills!

2. The “Distemper” vaccine for cats, more accurately known at the FVRCP vaccine, prevents a fatal virus called Panleukopenia. In addition, even for cats who never go outside, the vaccine suppresses feline herpes virus infections from the 99.99% of cats who have been exposed and possibly carry the virus in a chronic state.

You might be wondering about that cat from the beginning of the post. Her owner consented to lab work and declined radiographs. The labs were normal and I sent her home on a cocktail of gastroprotective medications. I’ve received no updates and can only assume she tapped into her superpowers.

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