“My cat is a superhero. He is a perfect weight; he never gets sick, he is immune to everything. Why on earth would he need vaccines or an annual cat health check? He never goes outside like the other cat. He is such a sweetheart he even snuggles with the dog.”
It is amazing how often we hear these things from cat owners, right up until their cat shows up with a serious illness. They swear that one day kitty was in perfect health and the next he could barely move or catch his breath. It was like overnight their cat loss 3 pounds and two teeth, and they never saw it coming.
To be fair, cats are brilliant at hiding their symptoms. Genetically, cats are still wild animals, and if a wild animal shows any sign of weakness, it becomes prey to the stronger predators around. Cats will hide, eat at odd times, sometimes not react to anything but extreme pain. By the time some cat owners recognize active symptoms in their cat, the kitty is usually very sick. Even then many cat owners wait before calling for a cat health check, further delaying treatment and relief of symptoms and pain.
On average, less than 50% of cats are taken to the vet for vaccinations or cat health check, while 82% of dogs receive both routine exams and annual vaccines. Even households with both dogs and cats see this disparity of care, but why? What is it that makes an owner think their cat does not require routine care? Why do so many cat owners not take their kitties to the vet?
Cats not showing symptoms is one thing. Some people just don’t see the symptoms for what they are. Fear is another issue. Owners may say that their cat freaks out the moment they bring in the carrier. The struggle to catch the cat and force it into the crate, the god-awful noise the cat makes the entire ride to the clinic, the complete and total meltdown the cat has in the exam room just are not worth it.
Some people believe that because their cat is strictly indoors it not only doesn’t need vaccines, but there is also no need for an annual checkup. These are often the same people who will argue with a diagnosis, claiming a faulty test or a scam. Their cat could not possibly have a flea issue; it never goes on grass! But they forget that their dog goes in and out every day and then plays with or sleeps with their cat. Some owners just don’t understand that illness can happen without an outside cause. Stress can often cause urinary issues; cats can be born with kidney or heart problems, they can have a whole host of issues simply because of their genetic makeup. Without annual exams, these problems often go undiagnosed until they are quite serious or even fatal.
One of the biggest reasons people give for not having routine cat health check or veterinary care for their cat is cost. Many owners say it is just too expensive to take their cat to the vet just for a wellness check. There is obviously some truth to this; medical care, for both humans and animals, comes at a price. But getting an annual exam is the best way to make sure your cat is not fighting a hidden disease or illness which if not treated early can lead to immensely higher costs of care. It is far more cost effective to pay for prevention rather than treatment, and there are many, many options available to help owners manage those expenses. Wellness plans, illness and injury insurance, discount pharmacy cards, and lines of credit specifically for vet care are available to almost everyone who applies.
So, we have established that your cat is not actually a superhero. You have conceded that maybe that incessant scratching might be from something the cat picked up from the dog. You even have your payment for services worked out. Why haven’t you made the appointment? It’s that dang carrier, isn’t it? You get a cold chill just thinking about trying to stuff the cat in there. I promise you it doesn’t have to be that way, but it will take a little effort on your part. First, look at it from the cat’s perspective. Mom comes in from the garage carrying this dusty, rattling box that smells faintly of old pee and antiseptic. Hang on, I remember what happens with this thing! The next thing you know the cat is so far under the bed you couldn’t reach it with a broom. (FYI never shove a broom under a bed after a cat unless you want said cat to hate you forever.)
The problem is the cat has no good association to the carrier. All of this can be resolved by making the carrier a safe space within the cat’s everyday environment. Try setting it under a chair or a table with a nice fleece blanket as a bed. Put it in a bedroom as a safe place to snooze. If you don’t have room for the carrier to be part of your everyday household at least don’t wait until 10 minutes before your appointment to bring it inside. Give it a good wash and set it inside a week prior to your appointment. Randomly bring it in the house for a day or so without making the cat go in it. Again, a nice fleece blanket is always encouraging. Feed treats inside the carrier, leaving the door open at all times.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask your vet for help. There are some great medications out there to ease the anxiety your cat may feel during a cat health check. These medications are safe with very few side effects and will not turn your cat into a zombie for days after, but instead take that level of anxiety down to a manageable degree that can be further eased with a cat-friendly approach by your veterinarian and staff.
The bottom line is that cats need and deserve proper care just as much as dogs. They may not always show it, but they are just as susceptible to illness like any other pet. Taking proactive measures before a visit can reduce the stress in both you and your cat, making return trips more likely and far easier.
Indicators your superhero needs a cat health check:
- Not eating. If your cat goes 24 hours without eating or drinking call your vet!
- Listless or lethargic. If your cat lays around (more than usual) and does not seem to want to move, call your vet!
- Abnormal breathing. If your cat’s breathing seems hard, loud, gurgling, or irregular call your vet!
- Unexplained vocalizing. If your cat is meowing for no apparent reason it could be an indicator of pain. Call your vet!
- The appearance of blood, basically from anywhere. Wounds can become infected, blood in urine or stool can be signs of infection. Call your vet!
Lastly, trust your gut. Sometimes you just feel something is “off.” You may be recognizing symptoms without even knowing it. You are in the position of being the best health advocate for your cat, so while they may not be superheroes, you can be one for them. Call your vet!