“Cats are so much easier to care for.”
“I don’t understand why my cat doesn’t want to snuggle.”
“I think my cat needs a friend.”
“My cat is just a scaredy cat.”
“I only need to bring my cat to the vet when its sick.”
These are some of the many comments we hear from pet parents about cats. Unfortunately, they are all misconceptions that ultimately lead to impaired cat welfare; not intentionally. But we need to learn more so we can do better!
While cats are the most common pet in the United States and most cat caregivers love their feline family member(s), less than 50% of them see a veterinarian regularly. At our practice, cat visits make up just 25% of our total visits. This statistic tells me that we aren’t doing a very good job making certain cats get the care they not only need, but also deserve. The idea to make 2023 be the Year of the Cat for ACOC came from this great need. With better understanding and increased awareness, we hope to change this for the better. And, with your help, we can do this!
As we kick off our 2023 Year of the Cat at ACOC, I’d like to address each of the comments above and how they relate to a cat’s overall wellbeing. I certainly could write pages on this subject, but I promise I’ll keep it as succinct as possible (and provide reputable links for more information).
“Cats are so much easier to care for.” Cats need much more than food, water, a litter box, and some toys to play with by themselves. While food, water, litter boxes, and toys are all important, loving caregivers may miss the need to provide multiples of each resource distributed separately throughout the household. For example, they might have all the litter boxes lined up in the basement. Or in multi-cat households, cats all may be fed together or even must share a dish! Some, may lack the opportunity to imitate hunting and foraging behaviors or may be exposed to undesirable human-cat interactions (ones the humans thought were fun for the cat!) The reality is that cats are a unique species and have essential needs that are often unrecognized. This is even more important for cats that live solely indoors (ever heard of a catio? It’s an enclosed patio for your cat – check out Pinterest for ideas). Also, important to note, cats shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves.
The sad truth: when a cat’s needs are unmet, welfare is compromised. At ACOC, we’ve spent time this month highlighting the 5 Pillars of Environmental Needs for Cats on social media, newsletters, through our app blasts, and during team meetings.
These guidelines help outline the important, relatively easy steps cat caregivers can take to better meet their cat’s needs. They also help by allowing a cat to perform normal species-specific behaviors. If you haven’t already, I recommend taking time now to read this short article! Yes, I am giving you homework! Sorry, but your cat thanks you.
“I don’t understand why my cat doesn’t want to snuggle.” Now that you’re an expert on the important environmental needs of your feline, let’s dive into your cat’s thinking on its relationship with you. There are a wide range of relationships we see – from hands-off (cat coexists in the home with humans and other pets) to my cat is one of my kids (fur baby). We’ve even seen well-meaning clients want to convert a feral cat into a loving companion. Our desire to hug, snuggle, and pick up kitties is not well accepted by most cats – especially as they reach social maturity around 2 years of age. How many cats do you know that like to be dressed up? And, teaching a kitten to chase hands and feet, well I think most of us have realized this isn’t a great idea. We have the entire month of April devoted to kitten socialization and introducing a new cat, so stay tuned.
The reality is that a cat’s level of sociability towards humans is dependent on positive socialization with humans during its first 2-9 weeks of development. Those cats (appropriately) socialized during this time will remain friendlier and trusting of people. Another very important concept that is opposite to what most humans desire: cats prefer shorter but more frequent interactions while people tend to prefer longer and less frequent interactions. Regardless, the interaction needs to be the cat’s choice. And be sure this involves a cat’s preferred areas of touch (all associated with facial glands): between eyes and ears, the cheeks, chin, and near corners of the mouth. Last, it is important to take time to learn cat body language so you, as the caregiver, know when its happy and when it’s trying to withdrawal or is getting frustrated. There are many references and videos out there but here is an easy to watch video: Understanding Cat's Body Language
“I think my cat needs a friend.” So, the well-meaning caregiver goes out and gets another cat. Innocently they put the cats together and use food to introduce them. Sometimes this works, but often, it stirs up jealousy that may lead to hostility, toileting outside the litterbox, or both! Cats are social animals; however, their level of sociability largely depends on their early socialization with other cats and other species (much like we talked about above). The strongest bonds are typically with siblings and between a queen and her kittens. Another important point is that 70 percent of caregivers note conflict when introducing cats, but we need to note it is this initial introduction that influences the relationship between the two cats moving forward! A good way to tell if your cats really like each other is that they groom each other, sleep touching (not just near one another), and often play together. Signs of tension can be subtle and unnoticed. Sometimes what seems like play is not. Watch this video: Are Your Cats Friends or Foes? If you have more than one cat, which are they? If you are thinking about another cat, please check out this resource: Introducing a New Cat. One more thing – cats are solitary feeders. They don’t like eating with or near other animals – even other cats!
“My cat is just a scaredy cat.” While fear and anxiety are normal, protective emotions, living with chronic fear, anxiety, and stress is downright hard. If you’re a human that experiences any of these feelings on a day-to-day basis, then you can relate. Its no different for a cat that spends its time hiding, living in the basement, or is rarely seen. This cat suffers from impaired welfare. There are environmental changes we can make (start with the 5 Pillars) and psychoactive drugs we can try. Regardless, this situation requires a consult with a veterinarian and likely, one that specializes in behavior. A chronically distressed cat will need special handling and steps taken at home to help even get them to the veterinarian. I address this below generally as many cats don’t like “going to the vet”. Either way, call first so we can walk you through some of these first steps.
“I only need to bring my cat to the vet when its sick.” This leads to a broader definition of “sick”. Sick can be a result of poor physical or mental health. Often, it is both. One can be the result of the other. Chronic stress has long been shown to cause physical ailments. And physical illness definitely causes stress. When we see signs of physical illness such as losing weight, vomiting, or inappetence it is more affirming that something is wrong that needs addressed. Behavioral issues such as urinating outside the litterbox, intercat conflict, or shredding the new couch may also cause a caregiver to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. Sadly, there are many cats that experience impaired welfare whose health is never addressed. Usually this is a result of lack of understanding the species (what to look for, how to care for, etc.) combined with some of the myths stated above. Cats are also known to be masters of hiding illness. Cats are both predators and prey. Hiding illness is adaptive and an important for the survival of cats. For us to better serve this unique species, learning to recognize early signs of both physical and mental concerns is imperative. Routine (minimum yearly, ideally biannually) well checks are extremely important to detect concerns earlier before they become much harder (or impossible) to address. Or worse, the cat is taken to the shelter, abandoned, or euthanized. These visits should include not only a physical exam, but also a mental health assessment and discussion, where we can identify, address, and educate on concerns. Check out our assessment here: ACOC Cat Mental Health Assessment.
We recognize there are so many resources available, and Dr. Google seems an easier solution. As veterinary professionals, we hope to be your partner in your cat’s care by helping direct you to creditable resources and make it easier for you to bring your feline in to see us! I’ve taken the time to provide some of these resources in this article. There are many more available to you on our website. And, as a “go to” source, Cat Friendly Homes is the one to check out!
We also know that the number one reason many cats don’t see vets is because of the combined fear exhibited by the cat with that of the cat caregiver. Both what they perceive and often witness in the cat. I would be remiss to not address this fact. The fear and anxiety created leads to all sorts of obstacles like difficulty “catching” and transporting the cat and further concern over how the cat might react once at our clinic. To help mitigate stress and anxiety, Animal Clinic of Chardon is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and is honored to be one of their Cat Friendly GOLD practices. (Cat Friendly Practice ). It’s also why we’ve taken many steps over the years to assure our practice is more comfortable to visit (for you and your cat) and to maintain a team that is trained in understanding the special needs and handling cats require. As a matter of fact, our Year of the Cat includes a commitment to furthering our cat specific staff education as well!
After reading this and checking out some of the links to resources and videos, I ask that you please consider getting your cat(s) in to see us! How? Download our app at Google Play or App Store, visit our Website, Facebook, call us (440) 285-9191 or text us (888) 291-8661. I will say, if I were you, I’d definitely hop on over to download our app first thing where you can earn loyalty pawprints, chat with us, order meds, request an appointment, and receive important information! I love our app and I know you will too!
And don’t worry, no matter the question or concern, if you are worried you might be seen as a crazy cat person…you’re absolutely right…along with the rest of us. Meow!
Written by Dr. Wendy Frankmann – DVM Hospital Director / Owner Animal Clinic of Chardon
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Dr. Wendy Frankmann