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Monday, October 10, 2011

Indoor Cats Need Vets Too!

A recently-published survey done by the Brakke Consulting Group has identified a disturbing trend in pet care. It seems that many cat-owners, especially those with indoor cats, do not seek routine veterinary care for their pets. The study sites a number of reasons for this behavior: people are using the internet to self-diagnose (and treat?) sick cats, cats hate going to the vet, the economy makes people less likely to spend money on vet visits, and most-disturbingly, they feel like indoor cats don't really need veterinary care.

I want to focus here on the first and last reasons given. What most people don't realize is that a sick cat will often be sick for days, to weeks, to months before the owner notices. Why? Because a sick cat often acts about the same as a not-sick cat! Cats sleep a lot, eat when they want (usually when no one is around), and seek out the privacy of the litter box to urinate and defecate. There aren’t many cat owners (including me) who will notice subtle variations in their cat’s bathroom, feeding, drinking, or other behaviors. They certainly aren’t nearly as easy to track as dogs! If your dog is urinating excessively, you’re cleaning up messes, or at the very least, having to let him out more. If my dogs don’t greet me when I get home, I know something is wrong. And so forth…

As a veterinarian, I know that my sick feline patients have usually been sick a lot longer than my sick canine patients, for the reasons stated above. I also know that I frequently diagnose asymptomatic cats with major health problems when I see them for routine check-ups. These cats are lucky to see me, because the prognosis is generally a whole lot better if I diagnose them before they are “overtly sick.” I know this also from personal experience with one of my own (http://horseshoepets.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-sick-cat.html ).

This is my blog topic today because this morning I discovered a heart murmur in a 3-year old feline patient (100% indoor cat!) who came in for her annual checkup (and vaccines). This cat has a high risk for having a serious problem, and the owner wouldn’t have known had they not come in. Now we can do something about it. Later, when I was walking in from lunch, one of our techs was caring for a 2-year old (100% indoor!)cat on oxygen and IVs who was jaundiced and bloated. The cat had not seen a vet since she was spayed as a kitten. We didn’t have a diagnosis yet, but just by looking at her, I knew the prognosis was grim. I couldn’t help but wonder if this couldn’t have been prevented by a simple annual check-up.

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