As we continue to explore The Five Animal Freedoms in relation to our feline family members, we need to think about more than what they need to just what is needed to sustain life but instead what we need to ensure they remain happy and healthy.
When it comes to veterinary care even indoor cats should still come into the clinic at least once a year for preventive health care and for our seniors this should go up to twice a year. But statistics show that more than 58% of cats never see a veterinarian. Cats are masters of disguise and unlike our dog friends they will hide illness until it’s often too late for intervention. Routine physical examinations can help us find these problems earlier. You’d be amazed at how often we perform an examination after not seeing a cat for a few years to find a kitty with dental disease so advanced and painful that they should have stopped eating long ago but their human caregivers didn’t realize there was a problem. This isn’t because they didn’t care or they were neglectful, it’s because a cat will not tell us.
“It is a myth which continues to this day, that because a person has their cat indoors, they do not need to worry about health concerns or preventive health care because their cats are safe at their caregiver’s side,” says Dr. O’Brien.
We acknowledge that cats in general aren’t fond of leaving their homes and if you think about it, for most of them the only place they go is to the veterinarian. For a dog a veterinary visit from start to finish is a much different experience. The leash comes out and you suddenly have a happy excited dog, then they get to go for an awesome car ride, when they arrive at the clinic they get lots of love and extra attention, then they get some treats, have another car ride and whohoo they have had an awesome day. Now this might not be true for every dog but in general dogs are used to going outside and seeing new people so most of the routine of getting to the veterinarian is no big deal.
Cats on the other hand are used to staying home and we don’t tend to “force” our attention on them. So for them a visit starts with their trusted housemate who normally leaves them alone when they walk away chasing them around the house and then dragging them out of whatever hiding spot they thought was safe. Next they get jammed (sometimes quite creatively) into this box that smells like fear from the last time they were in it or in some cases whatever storage place it’s been…the musty basement, the garage, you name it. The next step is to go outside, where in general we have spent some effort to teach them not to go and now there are all these other scary noises and things moving around. Car rides add another element of fear. This noisy, moving thing that for you is turning a corner but for your cat seems like a tilt-a-whirl ride. And we haven’t even got to the clinic yet. You get the idea, but what can we do to make it better?
We can’t really make any of these steps completely “stress free” but there is a lot we can do to make the stress of each step less so the cumulative level isn’t quite as bad, leading to an overall better experience.
The first step is getting your cat used to a good cat carrier and there are many really good resources for types and techniques to help do that. My favorites are found at:
In my multicat home we have several carriers that are out all the time. They love them so much that often if we need to pack someone up to go to the veterinarian our first step is to coax out whoever is currently occupying the carrier we want to use.
In an ideal world we would take our cats out for car rides to great places just like our doggy friends get to but at the very least we can take some steps to make it less scary for them. For travelling tips you can check out The Cat Clinic and Village Cat Clinic Tips for Lower Stress Cat Friendly Visits.
There is a huge movement in the veterinary community to provide Cat Friendly, Low Stress, Fear Free care within the clinic and finding a clinic who has adapted these techniques will help your cat have a better experience. This also means that we need to work with our cats at home first to ensure they can get the veterinary care they require and deserve in order to help ensure a long and happy life.
Look for Part Three to explore more of the things that can help keep your cat happy and healthy.