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Veterinary Forum March 2008 (Vol 25, No 3)

Editor's Note: Cats are cool . . . no really they are

by W. Moseley, PhD, Marie Rosenthal, Christine L. Watson, DVM, Steven Haskins, D. Harris, J. D. Smith, DVM, S. Folz

    The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) just issued a report in JAVMA that is bad news for cats. Although there are more cats than dogs in the United States (81.7 million vs. 72.1 million), cats are shortchanged when it comes to veterinary visits.

    The study found that pet owners generally have stronger bonds with their dogs than with their cats and are likely to be more attached to their dogs and take them to the veterinarian for wellness care and checkups more often than cats.

    Even cats living with a family dog are shortchanged. Cats from households with both dogs and cats were seen by veterinarians significantly less than dogs from the same household were seen. One-third of cats from these households did not visit a veterinarian annually, compared with only 13% of dogs in the same household.

    Specialists who gathered recently in Palm Springs, Calif., to discuss these findings during the CATalyst Summit, said there are so many reasons for this disparity that it will be hard to change public opinion and get cats into the clinic. The CATalyst folks, who consist of feline practitioners and specialists from industry, academia and several associations, including the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and AVMA, plan to brand the cat as a cool pet to have, develop feline life-stage guidelines for veterinarians and owners, reach out to veterinarians to make their clinics more cat-friendly and produce a consumer awareness campaign about cat ownership.

    The feline specialists think that some veterinarians, technicians and other staff in general clinics may share a not-too-subtle dislike of cats — owners can tell if they are not wanted, so they don't return. This is too bad because that means general practitioners are letting millions of patients, and dollars, slip through their doors.

    "Thirty-six percent of all owned cats never see a veterinarian, and during the past 5 years, veterinary visits for cats went down 11%," Jane Brunt, DVM, summit chair and past president of the AAFP, said at a press conference held at the 2008 Western Veterinary Conference.

    One way to get cats into your clinic might be to ask about other pets in the household when owners bring in their dog. "If they say, 'I have a cat,' don't frown or go, 'Oh,'" Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP, a Forum Editorial Board member told me. "Instead, smile and say 'I'd love to see your cat.'" Explain that cats need wellness care and vaccinations the same as dogs do and that cats are pretty clever in hiding pain and clinical signs, so it might be a good idea to bring them in for a checkup. According to the AVMA, pet owners still prefer to get their information from the veterinarian — so speak up, people will listen.

    The kitties and their owners are counting on you.

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