Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock lately, you’ve
doubtless borne witness to the
latest round of handwringing
within our national community.
This time it’s to do with our nation’s most populous but least
served companion animal species: the cat.
Though statistics tracking
both canine and feline hospital
visits reveal a significant downward direction, cats are far less
likely to receive the routine treatment we’ve collectively determined they deserve.
Yes, it seems that some cat lovers don’t care for their
feline pets to the same tune they do their dogs. So say
those of us who observe the differences between how
people treat their own beloved cats and dogs on a daily
basis. And so say our collegial powers that be.
A Look at Numbers
Because of this, Bayer Healthcare and the American
Association of Feline Practitioners teamed up to confirm
our suspicions with the Veterinary Care Usage Study
III: Feline Fidings. Here’s a quick summary of the basic
findings I received firsthand at a lunchtime panel discus-sion-style press event at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in Chicago this past summer:
; 52 percent of cats hadn’t seen a veterinarian
within the past year.
; 83 percent of cats see a veterinarian within the first
year of ownership yet only 48 percent get yearly visits.
; Meanwhile, 95 percent of us believe cats should receive annual checkups and 72 percent believe that wellness exams are the most important service we provide.
So what’s up with that?
This nagging question prompted Bayer
and the AAFP to dig deeper, ultimately identifying six root causes to explain why cats aren’t receiving the care we think they should:
No. 1. Economic impact of the recession.
No. 2. Fragmentation of veterinary services. (Lots of choices in veterinarians can be
confusing and may actually interrupt access
to vet services.)
No. 3. Use of the Internet versus office
No. 4. Pet resistance.
No. 5. A perception that regular checkups are unnecessary. (The suggestion is that we aren’t
always adept at communicating the importance of
No. 6. Rising cost of care.
All of which makes sense. Yet is still doesn’t explain
why cats receive less care than dogs do.
All six causes affect dog owners, too, after all.
(Though Nos. 4 and 5 are more apropos to catdom.)
That’s why most of us have long believed this issue has
way less to do with the current economics affecting all
companion animal species and more with why cats gar-
ner so little respect in our culture.
The panel agreed, offering
a checklist of well-researched
reasons to help explain this
No. 1. Cats are independent, free-thinking creatures and too many cat owners assume these qualities
extend to their healthcare needs, too.
No. 2. Plenty of pets hate going to the vet, but
cats almost uniformly dread the experience.
No. 3. Their horror often translates into trouble
when it comes to transport.
No. 4. Cats can be masters of deception, obfuscation, fraud and outright trickery. Their ability to occult
evidence of pain and illness eludes our clients more
often than not.
No. 5. Dogs are more companionable than cats
in certain ways. Because they share our basic social
structures, we tend to value them more like family
members and companions and less like mere pets.
These five are pretty obvious. The next three, however, are less so:
No. 6. How we acquire our pets makes a difference in how we perceive their value: Cats tend to
be acquired accidentally, whereas dogs are acquired
purposefully. Dogs are typically paid for and cats are
almost always freebies whose value to the household
is correspondingly lower.
No. 7. Dogs are perceived as high maintenance
and cats as low maintenance. (Refer back to the independence and obfuscation issues.)
No. 8. Most cats aren’t boarded at kennels that
require vaccinations, they’re not licensed in most mu-nicipalities, and because many don’t even go outdoors,
there’s “no pressing need” for routine checkups.
What Does This Mean?
The presenters concluded with the assertion that
we must accept that cats are different and adapt our
business practices to meet their needs. This came
down to two basic recommendations: Make your
practices more feline friendly and communicate more
effectively with your clients on the subject of cats and
their healthcare needs.
But surely there’s more to it than that? I think so.
With all due respect to the enormous detail offered
by some of the panelists in follow-up sessions, the un-
comfortable and highly inconvenient reality is that our
culture simply doesn’t esteem the cat as it does the dog.
Although we talk about cats being different but theoretically equal, the truth is that it’s just not so.
It’s this very disrespect, not numbers one through
eight, that’s at the crux of what we perceive as the
“feline problem.” And nothing we do at the micro level—that is to say, in our practices—is going to change
that fact substantially.
Why else would we be forced to deal not only with
clients who fail to seek routine care for their cats, but
also with kittens abandoned in boxes by our back
doors, colonies of ferals in our community’s alleys,
and so-called “animal lovers” who ask us to euthanize
their inconveniently “incontinent” felines among other
imponderable cruelties less common among dogs?
What’s to Blame?
What’s worse is that we’re just as much to blame.
The ubiquitous axiom reminding us that cats
are not small dogs notwithstanding, our profession
has long relied on a business model that effectively
treats both fairly identically—despite the clear down-side for our cats.
Indeed, we’ve long paid lip service to the notion
that cats are different but equal when the truth is that
it’s just not so. We don’t even believe it. To wit, the researchers found that about 20 percent of us don’t even
treat our own cats to annual visits.
Perhaps it’s time we started having a franker dialogue about how our culture cares for
its cats—and by extension, how we as a profession plan to have a hand in these matters.
Because there can be no progress until we
confront the obvious: Cats are not on par with
dogs in our culture’s eyes.
This fundamental fact is why I predict it will
take a whole lot more than concentrating on
one discrete area—the veterinary non-compli-ance of cat owners—to improve the lot of our
felines on a national scale.
Though I plan to use the information I
After all, given that we practicing veterinarians
don’t have a great track record for being the tail that
wags the dog, going macro makes way more sense for
cats than the “not-small-dog” recommendations we’re
currently being spoon-fed. ;
Dr. Khuly is a small animal practitioner in Miami and a
passionate blogger at drpattykhuly.com.
VeterinaryPracticeNews.com 44 l Veterinary Practice News l November 2013 Leash
By Patty Khuly,
MILLES AWAY/SHU TTERSTOCK
The uncomfortable and highly
inconvenient reality is that our
culture simply doesn’t esteem the
cat as it does the dog. Despite the
fact that we talk about cats being
different but theoretically equal,
the truth is that it’s just not so.