Educating clients about their cats' healthcare

Jun 01, 2004


Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM
Alex Martin was raised in a dog-friendly home. As a child, he shared a bedroom with his brother and a 60-lb Labrador retriever. Most of his family photos include various dogs the family owned over the years, but no cats are in the portraits. "Cats hung around the house, but were never considered part of the family," Martin says.

Fast-forward 20 years to a high-rise apartment dwelling in Philadelphia. Cat bowls, cat toys, and photos of cats adorn the space. Seated on a couch surrounded by three bored but content felines is Alex Martin.




"After I moved into a place of my own, I felt the need to share my life with a pet. I'd grown up with dogs, but it wasn't practical to have a dog in an apartment or with my erratic work schedule. I never thought of myself as a cat person until I got to know a girlfriend's cat. After that, well, let's just say I'm a certified cat lover," he says.

Martin is not alone. Today, more than 30% of American homes are shared with cats, according to the 2003 AVMA U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographic Sourcebook. Almost half of these families have more than one feline companion, with an average of 1.8 cats per household. The total number of cats now exceeds the number of dogs by more than 10%, with almost 69 million cats in 2001 compared with a little more than 61 million dogs.

People's opinions about cats are also changing. About 55% of cat owners between ages 19 to 29 think of their cats as family members, while about 33% of owners 65 years and older feel the same way.1

These feelings are echoed at cash registers. Between 1996 to 2001, feline veterinary expenditures jumped 65% from $4 billion to $6.6 billion.1

Despite these encouraging signs, many cats still aren't receiving the same medical and preventive care as their canine counterparts. In 2001, dogs averaged about two visits to the veterinarian per year compared with only one visit for cats. The average amount of money spent on canine veterinary visits was more than double that of cats ($179 per year per dog compared with $84 per year per cat).1


Figure 1. Common diseases of cats
So what can we do to encourage better healthcare for a growing cat population? It starts with education. According to "The Current and Future Market for Veterinarians and Veterinary Medical Services in the United States," a 1999 mega study prepared by KPMG LLP Economic Consulting Services, better educated clients took better care of their pets and spent more on veterinary services. By prioritizing feline healthcare issues, we can help our feline patients live longer, healthier, and more vital lives.

Identifying opportunities Rule No. 1: Cats are not small dogs. Cats have unique nutritional needs, behave differently, exhibit pain differently, and manifest diseases differently than their canine counterparts. Understanding these differences will lead to improved client compliance for feline healthcare recommendations.

It's our responsibility to identify prevalent feline health concerns and help clients avoid common mistakes that could rob their cats of good health. We need to address lifestyle, hereditary, and acquired-disease issues at every opportunity. If cats are only visiting us once a year, we'd better make it count.