I (Dr. Perry Jameson) was astonished when I read a recent survey performed by Bayer Veterinary Care revealing that 58 percent of cat owners feel that their cat hates going to the veterinarian and only 37 percent of cat owner have visited the veterinarian in the last year for a wellness exam.
Common reasons cited for this included:
"My cat doesn't need a check-up because he never goes outside."
"My cat doesn't need a check-up because he doesn't act sick."
"We had a cat that lived to be 20 and never went to the vet and it was fine."
And, "My cat gets so upset going to the veterinarian, I don't want to put her through any stress."
I have heard people say things like this in passing conversation and can certainly relate to the last statement as it is stressful for me to bring my cats into the clinic, and I am the doctor!
In response to these concerns, I remind clients that most diseases don't care if your cat is indoor only. Parasites (fleas) can come in on our clothes, mosquitoes can fly in and pass along heartworms and potting soil used in indoor plants can harbor intestinal parasites.
In fact, most diseases that we see are chronic - kidney disease, heart disease, dental disease, intestinal disease and arthritis - and being indoor makes no difference.
Cats are also notorious for not acting abnormal until they are deathly ill; this is a survival instinct. I can't tell you how many times I have had clients tell me that their cat was fine until the last 24 hours, but what we find is obviously a chronic condition.
A routine physical exam and answering questions about home life can help raise red flags for areas of concern.
My father-in-law grew up on a farm and he would be the first to tell you that his pets didn't go to the veterinarian and they seemed to be just fine well into old age.
Most cats that are in pain will often sit still or hide, and this might not be perceived as abnormal behavior.
The reality is that some conditions such as dental disease and arthritis can cause suffering, and careful examination can help us determine if additional treatments can be provided to relieve that discomfort.
Finally, the one that is my personal concern: stress - for both me and my cats!
Here are a few tips to help ease this anxiety:
With any new cat, and especially with kittens, you should consider leaving the carrier out where the cat can access it 24/7 so that it is not pulled out only for veterinary visits, this way your cat won't associate the carrier with a car ride to the vet.
Top-loading cat carriers with front doors are especially nice as they allow for easier placement and removal of your cat.
Never dump your cat out of the carrier, allow it to walk out or gently remove the cat from the top.
Place the cat's bed or a shirt/blanket that has your scent on it in the carrier for familiarity.
Use toys and treats to encourage a positive experience while in the carrier.
Anti-stress products such as lavender misted inside the carrier or cat pheromones can be helpful as well.
Avoid feeding your cat for several hours prior to any trips to avoid motion sickness.
In addition, covering the carrier with a blank can reduce stress and motion sickness; just be sure that the air conditioner is running and that the car is cooled down in advance. (NEVER leave a pet, dog or cat, in a parked car, not even for a few minutes and not even with the windows rolled down; cars can reach dangerous, life threatening temperatures in a matter of minutes.)
Once comfortable in the carrier, start with short trips. When I say short, you can start with just putting the carrier in the car and sitting in the car in the driveway. Work up to trips around the block and before you know it, your cat will be traveling with you stress-free.
The annual physical examination and blood work are the best ways to provide your cat with a long, happy and healthy life. The earlier a disease is diagnosed, the better chance of slowing progression or even providing a cure.