How Has Vet Care Changed Since You Got Your First Cat?

A veterinarian holds a stethoscope to a cat's chest
A veterinarian examines a cat. Photography by Shutterstock.

At my day job, I spend a lot of time on hold with vet clinics. Most hold messages feature a person speaking about various veterinary topics or advertising special deals, and most of the time they’re pretty much yawners. But one day I was waiting on hold, doodling on my notepad and waiting for a receptionist to come back on the line, when I heard something like, “Cats are obligate carnivores, and they do best on a diet of high-quality canned food.”

A veterinarian holds a stethoscope to a cat's chest
A veterinarian examines a cat by Shutterstock

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Seriously.

This is something I — and many others with more professional credentials than I — have been saying for years, but mainstream vets never seemed to get the memo. To hear a hold message at a pretty regular animal hospital informing their clients that cats actually need to eat meat and do better on wet food was just so incredibly gratifying! It’s thrilling to hear this news about diet and nutrition move from the radical outliers in the veterinary world into the center of veterinary thinking – in fact, some vets are even embracing the idea of feeding a raw diet.

This got me thinking about other positive changes in cat care, too. Here are a few areas where I’ve seen major positive change.

1. Vaccinations

Back in the days, all vaccines were given between the shoulders, and some vets would just give all vaccines, all the time. But then, studies began to reveal that cats were getting cancers at vaccination sites. This led veterinarians to reconsider whether all vaccines are necessary for every cat, and this led the American Association of Feline Practitioners to develop vaccination guidelines designed to minimize risk and maximize protection from disease. Now, veterinarians work with owners to develop a lifestyle-appropriate vaccination protocol.

A veterinarian administers a vaccination to a long-haired cat
A veterinarian gives a cat a vaccination by Shutterstock

2. Dental care

It used to be that nobody paid attention to cats’ teeth. It was just assumed that cats were supposed to have nasty breath, and cats are such masters at hiding pain that it’s hard to know just how sore a cat’s mouth is until they start dropping their food or are unable to eat. I’m just as guilty as anyone else: I didn’t think much about cat dental care until my own cats became seniors. By that time, they already had dental disease and their cleanings also came with a bunch of extractions.

A cat having his teeth brushed
A cat having his teeth brushed by Shutterstock

Nowadays, dental care is something vets address with all cat parents, whether their furry charges are kittens or elders. With my knowledge of the importance of dental health, my baby Bella will be getting her teeth cleaned once a year, or as recommended by her vet, and hopefully she’ll die with all of her teeth as a result.

3. Pain management

When I had my cats, Sinéad and Siouxsie, spayed back in 1997, I suspect the pain control was minimal if it even existed at all. But these days, veterinarians understand that animals perceive pain just as we do, and that if a surgery would hurt a person, it’s sure as heck going to hurt an animal. When I prepared for my Kissy’s leg amputation, my vet prescribed a Fentanyl patch to put on her the day before and there was a plan in place for high-level pain control following the surgery as well.

Vets, and consequently cat parents, are understanding that cats don’t slow down just because they’re getting old; pain is a very clear factor in older cats’ reluctance to run and jump, and now you can get prescriptions for an assortment of medications, including medical cannabis, to manage arthritis pain in cats.

A ginger tabby cat eats a piece of raw meat
Even raw diets aren’t considered as crazy an idea as they once were. Cat eating raw meat by Shutterstock

4. Declawing

Back in the bad old days, vets used to tell people they could just throw in a declaw while their cat was under anesthesia for a spay or neuter. But thanks to animal rescue advocates and organizations like The Paw Project, the increasing consciousness of declawing as an unnecessary and cruel practice is propagating across the field of veterinary medicine and the cat fancy.

The Cat Fanciers’ Association’s statement on declawing states “CFA perceives the declawing of cats and the severing of digital tendons (tendonectomy) to be elective surgical procedures that are without benefit to the cat … CFA disapproves of routine declawing or tendonectomy surgery in lieu of alternative solutions to prevent household damage.”

The American Association of Feline Practitioners says declawing is an unnecessary and ethically controversial procedure and “It is the veterinarian’s obligation to educate cat owners and provide them with alternatives to declawing.” The American Animal Hospital Association “strongly opposes the declawing of domestic cats and supports veterinarians’ efforts to educate cat owners and provide them with effective alternatives.”

A white cat's paws with pink Soft Claws nail caps
Nail caps are one solution for dealing with unwanted scratching. Soft Claws nail caps for cats by Shutterstock

And finally, even the American Veterinary Medical Association is starting to get the memo and encouraging veterinarians to educate their clients before going for the declaw.

This growing awareness is going to make cats’ lives better for many years to come, and I’m grateful to have lived long enough to see things I instinctively knew (like, for example, that cats experience pain) becoming part of mainstream veterinary thinking.

What changes have you noticed in the thinking around feline veterinary care? How do you feel about those changes? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more by JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline authors, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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