Cat lovers: Remember
April 14, 2006
by Kathy S. Baker
If there is one thing people in the United States like, it’s cats.
In its National Pet Owners Survey, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA) discovered that 34.7 million United States households (30 percent) own at least one cat. More than half of those households own two or more cats. All together, there are about 73 million owned cats in the United States.
As with any pet, a cat needs regular care. Accordingly, cat owners spent an average of $104 each on veterinary-related expenses in the past year, according to the APPMA survey. What for? The survey didn’t elaborate. But a Cheyenne veterinarian who specializes in cat care offered reasons why a cat might need help.
Behavior problems are a big issue, said Karen Parks, D.V.M. and owner of the Cat Clinic of Cheyenne. For example, cats urinating outside the litter box is the number one reason people give their felines to animal shelters. “That’s bad news for cats,” said Parks. The good news is that “a lot of times there are pretty simple fixes,” she said. Often it’s just a matter of the owner discussing the behavior with a veterinarian or other animal specialist. Parks related one instance in which a mother cat was urinating outside the litter box to escape her newly weaned kittens. They were mobbing the mother when she came into the room to use the box. The problem was solved by giving the mother a litter box away from her young.
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Along with the litter box issue, Parks discussed other reasons cat owners might make a visit or phone call to the vet. If a cat is misbehaving, and the owner can’t figure out what to do, Parks recommends at least calling a veterinarian before taking more drastic action, such as giving up the pet.
“I’m not a behaviorist,” she noted, “but I’ve learned enough about common problems to give advice.” Plus, if need be, veterinarians can consult behaviorists, “to get to the root of the problem,” Parks said.
Along this same line, Parks recommends that people educate themselves before bringing a cat home. “You have to accommodate cat behavior into your house.”
While owners need to understand where their cats are coming from, Parks said that cats can be trained as well. “They are very trainable, but you need the right tools.”
How an owner approaches the cat is critical. Cats don’t respond well to punishment and submission, she said. A gentle approach is best.
As a veterinarian and former veterinary technician, Parks has seen the result of the cat overpopulation problem in this country firsthand, and it isn’t pretty. Too many cats suffer and die on the streets. Many are also euthanized in shelters because no one will give them homes. For that reason, Parks is a strong advocate of having pet cats spayed or neutered. “We need to make sure they don’t reproduce,” she said.
Vaccinations are another consideration. While vaccinations are important, Parks cautions that a tumor unique to cats can develop at an injection site. Called “vaccine-associated sarcoma,” the tumor is aggressive and lethal. Whether veterinarians should routinely tell cat owners about the sarcoma is controversial, partly because the sarcoma is rare, said Parks. Still, Parks, who follows the standards of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, recommends that owners be informed of the risk so they can determine the best course of action. One alternative an owner might consider is vaccinating a cat on a leg, instead of the back of the neck. That way if a sarcoma develops, that cat might be saved by amputation, said Parks.
Park also advocates giving cats regular physical exams once a year for young cats, and twice a year for cats 9 years and older. A major reason for the exams is to catch disease before it progresses too far. For example, geriatric problems such as chronic kidney failure and hyperthyroidism can be treated, said Parks, if they are detected early enough. Symptoms of these diseases can include weight loss, a scruffy coat and sometimes a finicky appetite.
“Unfortunately, we see a lot of them come in when they are dying,” said Parks of older, emaciated cats. By then, “the cat may be dealing with the illness and compensating for so long that it’s too late.” What’s sad, she said, is knowing that if the disease had been detected sooner and treated, the cat could have had a better quality of life. With proper care, “some of these things are so manageable,” she said.