Did you know that despite the fact that cats rank as the number one pet in the U.S. (population-wise, anyway), most companion animal veterinary spending happens in the canine arena. What's up with that?


Based on feline history, things should be way different. After all, cats were the revered species of an entire civilization (Egypt). One cat was the pampered pet of Muhammed. Literary figures like T.S. Eliot were awash in them. Nonetheless, the reality of their renowned independence, scavenger ways and cheap-to-keep lore submerges them well below dog status — even in North America where they get the best care … if you count the dollars, that is.


Even so, U.S. cat owners spend less than half of what dog owners do on their beloved pets: Cats get cheaper food, fewer toys, are far less likely to wear fine collars, get almost no grooming, suffer less frequent and less appropriate healthcare, and (as I wrote a few posts ago) they often survive outdoors under squalid and largely unsafe conditions.


As a vet I see it every day. Cat owners are generally less aggressive about seeking healthcare for their charges, and when they do, they balk at the estimates with greater alacrity than dog owners do.


Here are some questions to ponder: Is it that cats are less obviously companionable than dogs? Less likely to engender feelings of empathy? Are they just plain harder to get close to? Is it that they do so much on their own that it seems they need us humans so much less? Perhaps there are so many cats living in our midst that those who truly care shoulder the burden of many and have less to spend on each one? Or does their ubiquity decrease their value by way of the law of supply and demand?


The answer: All of the above.


To the point, you may have read this brief satire on dogs vs. cats. It goes something like this:


Diary of a dog: Happy happy happy. Ball ball ball. Food food food. Here he is again, the king of my world! Happy happy happy…


Diary of a cat: Day 281. My captors continue to torment me with dangling objects. I hack up a furball hoping to disgust them sufficiently to gain my release…


It’s hilarious because it’s so true … up to a point.


Our cats seem so different from humans that we tend to believe they require less of us. This translates into minimal research into cat diseases (a mere fraction of what goes to our dogs), fewer feline approved medications (e.g., only one pill for pain in cats compared to about twelve for dogs), and far fewer trips to the vet.


How about leash laws and mandatory rabies tagging? Nope. They don’t get the benefit of those, either. Unprovoked dogs bite more often, sure, but who’s likelier to interact with wildlife and contract rabies? One guess.


The ironies are endless, right?



Dr. Patty Khuly



Image: Orange Cat Close-up, by Purple Crow / Flickr