Cats are America’s most popular pet, but they see the veterinarian half as often as dogs do. What’s up with that?
Cats, unlike dogs, don’t often encounter new people and places or love to go for car rides. So, from start to finish, visiting the veterinary clinic can be very stressful from your cat’s point of view. First there’s the struggle to get your cat into the carrier, then the stressful car ride, followed by the strange smells and sounds of the veterinary clinic and other cats, dogs, and people, some of whom will pull your cat out of the carrier (oh, now he wants to stay in the carrier) and do all kinds of strange things to her.
Why stress your cat and yourself with a veterinary visit if your cat is fine? Well, that’s part of the problem. Cats are good at hiding pain and illness, and you might not realize that something’s wrong until it becomes a big problem. Sure, you do regular at-home “exams” of your cat — feeling his body for lumps and looking in his ears and mouth — but there may be early indications of a problem that only your veterinarian would find. Some problems develop so gradually that they take a trained eye to catch.
Did you know that your cat’s first two years of life equal about 25 human years, and that each additional cat year is approximately four human years? That would make your seven-year-old cat 44 in human years, and your 16-year-old cat 80 in human years. Think of all the changes that happen to humans over the years and you realize that yearly exams are very important for cats.
Fortunately, there are veterinarians who are members of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), which sets standards of feline care through its publications, position statements, and continuing education. AAFP also teaches veterinary staff how to make your cat’s visit, and yours, less stressful.
From the moment you walk in the door, you’ll notice the stress-minimizing care that your cat receives from an AAFP-designated Cat Friendly Practice -ÔÇô from the cat-only waiting room and cat-comfy exam rooms to the specially trained staff who move slower, talk quieter, and handle your cat more gently.
Depending on your cat’s lifestyle (indoor-only or indoor and outdoor), age and health, your veterinarian may recommend wellness exams once or twice a year or more. During an exam, your veterinarian should weigh your cats; look at his eyes, ears, teeth and gums; listen to his heart and lungs; feel the organs in his abdomen for any abnormalities; check his skin and fur; and feel and look all over his body for anything unusual.
Your veterinarian should also ask you lots of questions about your cat. Does your cat hide when the carrier appears? Has your cat started howling? Does your cat sometimes miss the litter box? You are your cat’s voice and your veterinarian counts on you to tell him about anything out of the ordinary, no matter how small. You may think your cat is behaving badly or merely aging if he sometimes misses the litter box, but the cause could be a health problem such as arthritis, which makes it painful to get in and out of the litter box.
If you are a client in good standing and something out of the ordinary turns up during a regular exam that requires additional cost, your veterinarian is more likely to work out a payment plan that you can manage. And, remember that an illness that is detected early during a wellness exam is typically less expensive than an emergency visit, and it could mean the difference between life and death for your cat.
We all know that cats don’t really have nine lives, but you can ensure that your beloved cat’s life is as healthy and as long as possible by making regular veterinary visits an essential part of cat’s care.
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About the author: Nancy Peterson is a registered veterinary technician and award-winning writer. She joined The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation’s largest animal protection organization, in 1998 and is currently the Cat Programs Manager. She lives in Maryland with her cats Luna, adopted from a feline rescue; Toby, adopted from an animal shelter; and Jenny, a feral kitten she fostered. Check out the HSUS cat information at humanesociety.org/cats and humanesociety.org/outdoorcats.