Cats recently surpassed dogs as the most popular pets in the United States. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), nearly 82 million pet cats reside in the U.S., with the tally for pet dogs coming in at "only" 72 million. Cat lovers shouldn’t be celebrating quite yet, however.
A study published in 2010 showed that dogs get better veterinary care than do cats. In fact, cats were three times less likely to have seen the veterinarian even once during the previous year. Of course, access to veterinary care isn’t the only way to measure how we value animals, but as a society, we do seem to love our dogs more than our cats. Another recent study bears this out. Among households with at least one dog and one cat, 57 percent of people say they are more attached to their dogs, while only 19 percent claimed stronger feelings for their cats.
This begs the question: why do we have more cats than dogs in our homes, but seem to value the cats less once they are there?
I suspect that part of the reason is the independent nature of cats. People who want pets but are unsure of how much time they can dedicate to them tend to gravitate towards cats. While it is true that cats don’t need long walks or ball throwing sessions, they do still require the same level of care as dogs. It shouldn’t be too surprising that people who pick cat ownership because it looks more convenient than dog ownership may not be as devoted to their pets.
And at the risk of sounding like I’m blaming the victim, some cats can make it awfully hard for their owners to do the right thing. If you say "do you want to go to the vet?" in the right tone of voice to a dog, he may very well grab his leash and head out the door on his own. Pull out the cat crate though, and it’s a whole different story.
Another reason for the disparity in veterinary care between dogs and cats is that some owners feel that indoor-only pets (usually cats) don’t need to see the vet as often as do pets that go outside. While it is true that the incidence of traumatic injuries and infectious diseases is greatly reduced by keeping cats inside, the frequency of other common conditions (e.g., hyperthyroidism and chronic kidney failure) is not changed by such lifestyle considerations. And behavioral problems, the number one reason why cats are relinquished to shelters, are more common in indoor versus outdoor cats.
Finally, cats hide the fact that they don’t feel well much better than do dogs. This can give cat owners a false sense of security, but is in fact an argument for more frequent check-ups and diagnostic testing for our feline friends. Adequate veterinary care is a part of responsible pet ownership. Without it, cats will never reach the same status in our society that dogs currently hold.
Dr. Jennifer Coates