Cats: The surprisingly underprivileged pet - in veterinary medicine and in the U.S.
Over the past few weeks I’ve caught myself thinking: How much worse would this pet food recall have seemed (to the world at large, and to the US in particular) had the majority of its sufferers been dogs instead of our renally sensitive cats? Perhaps it’s somewhat cynical of me to think this way, but cats get so much less respect than “man’s best friend” that I can’t help but wonder…would the recall have made a bigger splash?
Feline history should tell a different story. After all, cats were the revered species of an entire civilization. One was the pampered pet of Mohammed. 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, US 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.
Q: 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?
A: All of the above.
You’ve all read the brief satire on dog vs. cats as pets. 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. And so it went with the recall…
Consider that the vast majority of our so-called “recall” cases have been felines. But who was the index case? A dog. Granted, dogs don’t get renal disease as often as our cats, but how about the young cats dying of kidney disease? Why didn’t any of those provoke a proper look-see?
Ultimately, I’m not surprised that cases of pre-geriatric renal failure in cats went unreported (as potential toxicities) long before one dog hit the skids. It certainly seems there’s less of a personal, political or moral imperative when it comes to cats. Because if our culture as a whole is less aggressive about seeking care for their cats then vets everywhere (whether they admit to it or not) are less likely to go above and beyond to ensure their cats get the same respect dogs do.
Perhaps that makes a case for cat-only hospitals. Or maybe for cat-centric training in vet school (as opposed to the 80:20 rule that persists). But vets and vet schooling is not about to change unless our culture’s priorities do. Expecting anything less than less respect for cats within the veterinary profession isn’t realistic as long as everything else stays the same.