|Stop the decline: Experts hope that education, advocacy can reverse a downward trend in feline veterinary visits.
Cats are the most popular modern pet, according to the American Veterinary
Medical Association’s (AVMA) latest “U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic
Sourcebook.”But even though they outnumber dogs in homes, it’s a
different story when it comes to veterinary care.
More than 81 million households own cats, compared to 72.1 million dogs, according
to the sourcebook, yet cats see veterinarians half as often as dogs. Onethird
of cats never see a veterinarian at all, and even kittens are missing out on
This news comes at a time when overall veterinary expenditures are slowing
and pet owners are seeking veterinary care less frequently:Dog veterinary visits
slipped to 1.5 times a year from 2001 to 2006, but cats saw veterinarians even
less, averaging only .07 visits per year.
The veterinary profession is taking steps to fix the inequity, and students
In February 2008, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) convened
a landmark CATalyst Summit to determine what could be done to improve the health
and well-being of cats. Fifty participants representing veterinary practices,
associations,humane societies, shelters, industry and the media explored feline
issues and looked for ways to make the future a better place for cats. They
identified lack of awareness of cat health care needs and the mistaken belief
that cats are self-sufficient and require little care as two major factors that
would need to be addressed to encourage responsible pet ownership and feline
The CATalyst group encourages everyone in the profession to create a grassroots
surge to lift feline health care.These are some of the ways veterinary students
can get involved:
- Learn how to create a welcoming, cat-friendly environment for cats and their
owners. Do simple things, like taking the top of the cat carrier off if the
cat won’t come out; putting towels on the cold steel tables for cats
to sit on; taking a moment to get to know the cats before handling them. If
cats need to be hospitalized, ensure that they are in the upper cages and
not on the floor. To comfort them during their stays, give them a place to
hide and a perch to sit on (a small, sturdy cardboard box in their cage can
provide both). Tips like these and more can be found online in the downloadable
AAFP Feline Behavior Guidelines at http://catvets.com/professionals/guidelines/publications/?Id=177.
- Cat owners appreciate cat-specific handouts and online information. Be sure
to read them yourself so you know what is out there, can answer common questions
and provide good information on cats when you talk with clients in the veterinary
teaching hospital as well as with your family and friends.
- One of the primary reasons owners hesitate to bring their cats to veterinarians
is the difficulty of transporting them. Offer tips on how to get cats into
carriers so owners don’t get scratched or stressed in the process. Share
these ideas with others so everyone can teach cat owners how to do this.
- Learn about cat behavior, especially the subtle signs of pain so you can
educate cat owners. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and AAFP
co-published guidelines on pain management along with a piece titled the “Subtle
Signs of Sickness.” Both can be found online at www.healthycatsforlife.com
- Watch for new AAFP cat life-stage health guidelines for veterinary teams
to learn what the experts recommend for feline wellness, and talk to your
professors about them. Contact AAFP to find out if there is a student chapter
at your school.
- Watch for the new health-care guidelines for cat owners.These will match
the AAFP’s guidelines, and encourage responsible cat ownership and health
care. Nationally syndicated pet columnist Steve Dale will write the pet-owner
guidelines, which will be underwritten by a grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
- Seize every opportunity to learn about cats, cat medicine and cat behavior
while you are in school so you will feel confident in practice when you see
cats and can make them and their owners feel welcomed and at ease.
- Adopt a cat. There’s no better way to learn about cats than to have
one of your own.
- Use the Internet to spread the positives about owning cats and what they
need to keep them healthy and happy.
Be an advocate
One final note: Shelter studies cite inappropriate feline urination as the No.
1 behavior problem that leads to cat relinquishments. Too often, this can be
a death sentence for these cats,once they’re classified as behavior problems
and considered unfit for adoption.
Coincidentally, information from the pet insurance industry says that feline
urinary tract infections are the No. 1 health insurance claim for cats. Together,
these facts suggest that while many cats suffer from feline lower urinary tract
disease and might receive treatment, treating their illness alone might not
be sufficient to save the cat. Behavioral problems need be addressed as well.
Students have the ability to advance positive change for cats. Learn as much
as you can about feline behavior so you can counsel cat owners. Of course, you
will be saving lives. Prepare to be a cat advocate in practice and ensure a
brighter future or yourself, your clients and especially the cats.