Why Cats Don’t Come to the Vet………but Should

“My vet doesn’t like cats”.  I hate bringing my cat to the vet….it’s so stressful”.  “My cat doesn’t need to go to the vet.  He’s an indoor cat”.   These are several of the typical responses when cat owners are queried as to why they don’t visit the vet on a regular basis.  As veterinarians we are continually barraged with articles regarding the underutilization of veterinary services among the cat population.  While it is true that some practices would prefer caring for dogs and that trips to the vet for the cat can be stressful this trend is unsettling.  As a profession we have always emphasized the importance of wellness visits, that is yearly physical exams and immunization.  But reality is that the most overriding purpose of presenting feline friends to the clinic is the ability that veterinarians have to recognize disease early and to construct a treatment or management plan that reduces the risk.  For example, let’s use the case of Lucky, a 10 year old neutered male cat that the owner noted had lost a little weight over the past year.  Lucky was still active, had a good appetite was playful and by all accounts normal except for the weight loss.  Unbeknownst to the owner, and as some of you may realize, this is a typical history for cats that are hyperthyroid, a very common and treatable condition of middle aged and older cats.  By the time Lucky visited us he had a heart murmur, elevated blood pressure, a partially detached retina and early signs of kidney disease.  Thyroid medication was started but within two weeks when his kidney function declined further, medication had to be stopped.  At this point his heart condition progressed and Lucky lost his battle.  Sadly Lucky’s disease was easily controllable and said control would likely have allowed him to live out a normal life expectancy.  Unfortunately this story is not extreme but much too common.  Kidney (renal) disease, liver (hepatic) disease, dental (periodontal disease) are but a few of the common conditions we diagnose early, long before they become a seriously threatening problem.

While it is true that removing our feline companions from their comfortable environment for a trip to the veterinarian may not be the most pleasant activity, things have changed dramatically.  Thanks in no small part to the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Cat Friendly Practice Program there are specific practices that cater particularly to cats.   The hospital and clinics that have become certified as “cat friendly”  have taken certain steps within the facility as well as educating the staff as to the special needs that should be addressed in minimizing the discomfort of the feline patient population.  In addition to special appointment times, preventing long waits in the reception room, avoiding mixing canine and feline populations as well as understanding the “minimal restraint” handling of cats these practices have impacted the experience in a major way.  At the Brockton Animal Hospital we also encourage the use of “Calming Collars” as well as pheromone diffusers and even topical application of herbal de- stressors before presenting your pet.

While it is heart wrenching to see our pet companions endure any trauma, real or perceived,  (I certainly should know, one of mine was under anesthesia yesterday) the old adage “an ounce of prevention” has never held truer than it does today.  There have been such major advances in the treatment of serious disease that some conditions such as cardiomyopathy, which used to carry a near imminent “death sentence” can now be effectively managed for many years.  It is sad for those of us who have dedicated our lives to this field to see the pain and hurt that families have to endure when their own special friend was not given the timely opportunity to be diagnosed and treated for what could have been a benign illness.  Don’t make the same mistake that Lucky’s owner did.  Early intervention is always the best option.