I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but almost every veterinary journal and magazine in the past 12 months has had an article about how to encourage cat owners to bring their pets in for routine wellness exams. Why is this? Is cat care really in crisis?
My Cat Never Goes Outside
We all know cats are unique creatures. Often, cat owners say, “the cat found me.” The cat was a stray that showed up at their door and worked its way into their heart and home. If the cat looks healthy, the new owners don’t see a reason to seek wellness care. Some states don’t require rabies vaccine for cats. Cats that become indoor only pets are seen as sheltered and owners do not realize that their cat could be susceptible to parasites or other infectious diseases. They aren’t thinking about other conditions that their cat could develop, such as thyroid or kidney disease.
Cats Can Be Fractious
Cats can be difficult to handle. Getting them into their carrier can be an event. Cats like to hide and often hate riding in the car. It makes the trip to the veterinarian’s office stressful for the cat and the owner. So, if the cat seems healthy, then why make a trip in just for a wellness exam?
According to the 2013 Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, only 37% of cat owners have visited in the last year for a wellness exam and 58% of cat owners say that their cat hates going to the vet. While most cat owners would bring their cat in if it was acting ill, many will not come in for wellness care. Felines are most likely to come in during their kitten years for their vaccines and check-up. When cats get their 3-year vaccines, they often do not return during the interim years unless there is a health concern.
My Cat Doesn’t Act Sick
Cats are very good at hiding their disease. They can have chronic health issues for years before anyone realizes there is an underlying problem. By the time they begin vomiting, losing weight, or having heart problems, it is often more difficult to treat for the long term. Routine physical exams are important for cats to discuss their overall health and pick up on early clues of disease. Most owners don’t look in their cat’s mouth and have no idea that they may have severe periodontal disease. They may not have realized that their cat has lost a significant amount of weight since the last visit or has developed a new heart murmur. Cats can be in pain and they hide it very well. They may be less active, and this may be seen as old age by the owner while the underlying health issue is overlooked.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that feline medicine needs a spot in routine wellness care. Just because they don’t go outside or go to the park doesn’t mean that they are less susceptible to disease. Educating clients about care for their cats is not only good for the cats but also good for the practice. When dogs come in, ask the owners if they have any cats in the household. Many owners bring the dogs in routinely but not the cats. Perhaps have a handout on routine cat wellness care so they realize the benefit of care for their cat.
Make the Cat Visit a Success
Making your hospital a cat-friendly place is important. Try to reduce stress for cats during their visits as much as possible. Try to schedule so that you don’t have fractious or hyper dogs around when cats come in for their appointments. Try to get the cat right into the exam room. Less is often more; the more the cat is handled, the more stressed it can become. Try to be efficient when doing your cat exams. Use anti-stress products such as Feliway spray in the exam room if needed. Make sure the room is quiet during your exam. When you examine the cat, talk through your exam with the owner. Discuss each part of the exam with the owner. Make suggestions to how they can help their cat. Discuss feeding, activity, interaction with other pets, changes in behavior. Make the exam a valuable experience and spend time with the client. Discuss parasites, especially if they have a dog in the household. Mosquitoes, fleas, and other parasites can still pose a threat to indoor cats. It is best to educate the client but not to be overbearing about selling products as this can turn the client off. Provide valuable information, ask if they have questions, and do let them know what preventatives or treatments may be good for their pet without being pushy. The owner will appreciate this, and so will the cats! When they perceive value in your exam and advice, they will be more likely to comply and return for future visits.
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