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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


"Thanks for stating the obvious," you might be muttering, but believe it or not, a poor understanding of the differences between cats and dogs has harmed many a feline.

I find that pet owners often focus on the differences rather than the similarities between species of animals. Many times I’ve heard clients marvel at how veterinarians must have minds like steel traps to keep track of how to treat cats, dogs, iguanas, sugar gliders, and anything else that might make its way through the clinic doors.

Of course vets’ brains are no more trap-like than anyone else’s. I don’t know what I’d do without my reference books, computer and colleagues, and I suspect I’m not alone in this regard. The truth is, veterinarians in general practice do sometimes have trouble remembering what is unique to each species, and finding the time to keep up to date on the rapid advances in their care.

Cats getting the short end of the stick may have something to do with the typical veterinary education. Dogs take center stage. We are taught their anatomy, physiology, etc., and then learn what is different about other species by comparing them to dogs. Another reason could be that most small animal veterinarians treat more dogs than cats (more on this in my next post). So information about dogs gets reinforced more often.

Nutrition is a great example. Cats are pure carnivores while dogs fall into the omnivore category. Cats require up to twice as much protein in their diets in comparison to a dog of similar size. They also lack certain enzyme systems that allow dogs to convert some nutrients into others. Therefore, cats need higher levels of taurine, arginine, niacin, arachidonic acid, and vitamin A in their diets. This all means that cats can quickly develop serious health problems when they stop eating or are fed the wrong food.

How does this impact veterinary care? If one of my canine patients stops eating, I don’t panic. He’ll do fine for a few days. Hopefully by that time I’ll have the primary problem under control and his appetite will return. But a cat is a different story. If she stops eating, nutritional support needs to start sooner rather than later.

Of course, the unique needs of cats don’t end with nutrition. They have their own diseases and even if they share a particular condition with dogs, the feline version may have a very different presentation, prognosis, and treatment protocol. Also, some drugs that are perfectly appropriate for use in dogs can have severe and even fatal side effects in cats.

And knowledge about cats isn’t enough. Treating them well requires special paraphernalia:  everything from cages that offer a quiet place to hide (no barking dogs next door, please!) to the tiniest of blood pressure cuffs.

What’s my point? You need to find a veterinarian who actually wants to take care of cats (many would rather face a snarling Rottweiler than a frisky feline any day) and is well-equipped to do so. Talk to other cat owners and see if they’ve found someone who is especially good with cats or look for a veterinarian who is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). No one vet can be all things to all pets, don’t you think?

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: "Smart cat and lovely dog" by hoangnam_nguyen

Comments  7

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  • Aspirin
    12/23/2010 06:30am

    It's my understanding that you shouldn't give aspirin to a cat, but dogs can tolerate it.

    Can't wait until this blog gets automatic notices for us!

    (Yeah, it's a lame comment, but now I can check the boxes to get notified of replies!)

  • 12/23/2010 09:25am

    You are absolutely right. While aspirin may not be the best choice for pain relief in dogs, it can be absolutely deadly for cats unless low doses are used very infrequently (like every third day). I'll have a post up in the next few that touches on the difficulties associeated with providing safe pain relief in cats. Watch for it!

  • Tech Support
    12/24/2010 08:51pm

    Please oh please... when will email notifications be available for The Daily Vet?

  • 12/25/2010 06:21pm

    We are working on it. Thank you for your impatience :).

  • when is pred not pred?
    12/26/2010 12:34am

    Dr Coates,

    Thank you very much for running this much-needed blog. There is still not enough recognition of cats' unique nature, even among many veterinarians.

    Recently I saw a young cat for a second opinion. He was being treated for asthma. The record faxed to us mentioned the name of his medication as "pred." Now, ordinarily I'll assume this stands for prednisone, which it in fact was (the owner brought the bottle with her). It might seem like a trivial piece of information, but in cats prednisone often does nothing; its metabolism in cats in unpredictable. It's *prednisolone* that works for cats. Same difference? Far from it! Maybe that's why his asthma was not improving.

  • 12/26/2010 10:53pm

    Excellent post!

    I find that cats often get the short end of the stick in the behavior department as well. Most of the vets I've worked with had loads of practical advice when a dog would present with behavioral issues, but precious little to offer when it happened to be kitty that was biting the kids or marking the sofa. If the Feliway plug-in didn't fix it, you were basically up a creek.

    I don't know if it's that the profession manages to attract fewer "cat people", that the curriculum isn't as cat-centric, or what... but it's great to see more vets "stating the obvious"! :)

  • Legislation
    01/17/2011 12:15am

    It also bothers me that dogs and cats are lumped together in legislation. The biology of cats and dogs, especially their reproductive physiology, and the sociology of their interactions with humans is significantly different. Their issues need different solutions and one size fits all legislation doesn't take that into account.

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