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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.

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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

Pic of the day: "sally at the vet" by Lindsey T

 

Comments  4

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  • 01/10/2011 02:18am

    I was standing in a waiting room once with one of my cats when a man showed up with a handsome German Shepherd that was in for a recheck following his second cruciate ligament repair. He inquired as to what was wrong with the cat. When I told him (this cat is FIV+ and a genetic cess pit), he was disgusted and told me Thomas was "a waste of money" and if I really wanted a cat, I "ought to kill 'that thing'" and take two of his sister's "free kittens".

    This from the man who'd spent over three grand on orthopedic surgery for his dog.

    FAIL.

    (I should note that I think that the fact he opted for the surgery not once but twice is wonderful... no knocks there. I just don't get how someone could possibly care so much for their own pet- and he clearly did- while showing such complete and utter disregard for the fact that I'm kind of, you know... attached to 'that thing' in the box.)

  • Dog vs. Cat People
    01/10/2011 06:20am


    In my experience, Dog People like just dogs and do not care much for other animals. Cat People like all critters, they just prefer cats.

    Yes, kitties are too good at hiding ailments. That's why mine get a full checkup (including bloodwork and blood pressure) at least once a year ~ usually twice a year even if they're healthy.

    Not being able to get a blood pressure (really high and then really low) and a slight murmur allowed my vet to suggest a trip to the cardiologist which found HOCM (hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy) in a seemingly healthy 2 year old. With Beta blockers and Ace inhibitors, he's doing fantastic. The murmur can't be heard now. He's happy and active.

    Anyone who thinks cats are independent should hear the thundering herd fly down the stairs when I get home from work or watch them vie for lap position when I sit to watch television.

    Re: Previous commenter: I can think of a lot of things that could have been said to that man. I hope you asked the man how he could disregard the cat when he'd spent massive amounts on his dog.

  • 01/10/2011 07:06pm

    I told him I appreciated the offer, but I did not "really want A cat", I really wanted THIS cat, and he was not going to be going anywhere anytime soon. And I may or may not have thrown in a Death Glare or two for good measure.

    There were far more colorful things I wanted to say, but I was an employee (must behave self), and I was so dumbfounded and angry with the guy I knew I wouldn't be able to remain tactful.

    I also refrained from commenting extensively on the fact that Mr. Tightwad showed up in a great big, brand-spanking-new, dealer plates still on, gas-guzzling Escalade... I think I informed him that we clearly had "different priorities" and left it at that.

    He had the tact to shut up at that point.

  • 01/10/2011 07:39pm

    @4_Fab_Felines

    Well done. You showed remarkable restraint.

    I like the part about "I don't want A cat, I want THIS cat." I'm going to have to remember that for the next time someone says something rude to me about how much I spend on my kitties.

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