The statistics are shocking. Dog owners take their pets to the vet more than twice as often as cat owners! According to a number of wide-ranging studies, fewer than half of all cat owners have taken their cats to the vet in the past year. Dog owners? Fewer than 19% skip the vet in any given year.
What’s the deal?
Cat owners are crazy for their cats, right? So why wouldn’t they be spending even more time in the vet’s office protecting their feline’s health? It’s not as simple as “dog owners love their dogs more” (they don’t) or “cat owners are selfish” (they’re not.) Why, then, are dog owners so much better about taking their pets to the vet?
Let’s look at this question from another perspective: Instead of heralding good dog owners, let’s figure out why cat owners aren’t going to the vet.
The “My Cat’s Fine!” Myth
In study after study, cat owners cite the same reason for avoiding the vet again and again. “My cat isn’t sick or injured! Why would I seek out a vet?!”
It’s a fair question, if not misguided. We know, of course, that cats are absolute masters of masking physical pain. They’re as stoic as slabs of granite and unless your cat is really, really hurting, there’s a good chance you’ll never even know something’s off. It’s evolutionary: Cats don’t show weakness if they can help it because in the wild? Weakness makes them vulnerable.
Unfortunately, the importance of wellness care is often lost on cat owners whose cats seem just fine. Without personal experience, it’s hard to impress upon these well-meaning cat people how a variety of common feline illnesses can be stopped and even reversed when caught sooner rather than later, or how early-detection of seemingly small issues like gingivitis and hypothyroidism can save their cat’s life.
The same line of thinking influences cat owners’ decision making process about all aspects of veterinary care. Without understanding how annual (or bi-annual!) wellness care can actually save them money and add years to their cat’s life, why wouldn’t they think the vet’s too expensive or inconvenient?
Cats as Self-Sustaining Creatures
To some people, cats aren’t just stoic, they’re ferociously self-reliant. And that’s true. Strong feral cats excel at making it work, but for every tough-as-nails stray cat you see, there are dozens more who succumbed to a preventable illness, sudden trauma, or lack of food. Domestic cats are not built for self-reliance the way some people assume they are.
Consider that nearly 60% of cat owners reported in a recent study that they “found” their cat or otherwise got a cat without prior intent. Even more, 70% of cats owned in the survey were obtained for free…owners in both scenarios received little to no instruction on proper care. Add to that the misconception, particularly surrounding former strays, that cats don’t need intervention and you’ve got a recipe for skipping the vet.
Remember: Stray cats seek out people for a reason! In the same way they look to the kindness of humans to help feed and shelter them, they’re also relying on us to take care of all the other aspects of their physical and emotional health.
The Hassle of Taking a Cat to the Vet
Perhaps the most understandable reason for skipping the vet is that cats really, really hate going. The traditional vet experience is hard on a majority of cat owners; cats that hide, bite, or otherwise freak out when it’s time to get in the car are difficult to deal with. And if your cat totally shuts down once she reaches the examination room? That’s a tough situation for even an experienced vet to deal with.
An anxious cat shouldn’t keep you from providing the proper medical care for your pet. Today’s cat owner has options when it comes to having their cat looked at by a vet. House calls are becoming more and more popular among cat owners specifically for this reason. You can also talk to your vet about pheromone therapy, desensitization techniques, or even a mild sedative for examination days.
And if you haven’t taken your cat to the vet in a while? Don’t beat yourself up…it happens. Just make an appointment and stick to it no matter how busy life gets (or how grumpy your cat becomes.) You’ll thank yourself later.