America’s Cats: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Them

Bayer’s Animal Health Division in Shawnee, Kan., reports surprising results from their recent feline veterinary care study.

Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings, a study conducted by Bayer HealthCare in collaboration with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), found that 52 percent of the nation’s cats had not been taken to the veterinarian within the last year for checkups.

The study’s findings are based on a nationally representative online survey of 1,938 cat owners, as well as several focus groups conducted across the U.S. Sixty percent of survey respondents were from cat-only households, while 40 percent had both cats and dogs.

An infographic based on the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III. Click to view full size.

“The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings confirms that we treat cats differently than dogs when it comes to caring for their health, in part because cats are so effective at masking signs of illness and injury,” says Ian Spinks, president and general manager, Bayer HealthCare LLC Animal Health Division, North America.

Because the first two years of a cat’s life equal 24 years of a human’s life – with each successive year equivalent to four human years – annual examinations are essential to keeping cats healthy and preventing potentially serious diseases.

‘The Cat Found Me’

The more engaged an individual is in selecting a new pet – especially if acquired from a breeder, pet store or shelter – the more likely the pet will receive annual check-ups, according to the study. For instance, dogs, which are often purchased or adopted for hundreds or thousands of dollars, frequently have written veterinary care instructions.

However, the Feline Findings Study found that cat acquisition is usually informal. The majority of cats – 59 percent – were acquired without prior intent, with many being lost or abandoned cats. “The cat found me” or “the cat showed up at my house” were common responses.

In addition, 69 percent of cats were obtained at no cost, with little or no initial instruction on proper veterinary care. “Unfortunately, cats do not come with a care label or tag and, in fact, many are acquired because they are perceived to be low-cost pets,” according to Elizabeth Colleran, owner of Chico Hospital for Cats, Chico, Calif., and past president of AAFP.

Kitties Keeping Secrets

The study found 81 percent of cat owners believed that cats are very self-sufficient and independent and, therefore, required little attention. Dogs, on the other hand, were viewed as much more dependent and needy.

But “low maintenance” doesn’t mean “no maintenance,” according to Cristiano von Simson, director of Veterinary Services at Bayer HealthCare LLC Animal Health Division. “Cats’ independent nature makes them appear more standoffish than dogs, and they keep secrets by often hiding signs of illness,” he says.

“The study showed that 81 percent of owners believe their cat was in excellent health, while 53 percent said their cat had never been sick or injured. These perceptions help account for why cats visit the veterinarian less. Dog owners already consider visits to the veterinarian part of responsible pet ownership. It should be that way for cats, too.”

A cat’s habitat further complicates the feline health care picture. The study revealed 63 percent of cats in cat-only households live indoors exclusively, never going outside. In turn, many owners assume their indoor cats are safe from disease, not realizing many feline diseases – such as diabetes, heart conditions and thyroid deficiencies – are not infectious and can develop regardless of where the cat is living.

Why Cats Hate Vets

According to the Feline Findings Study, 58 percent of owners report that their cats hate going to the veterinary clinic and, for 38 percent of them, just thinking about it was stressful. The study found that most cats fear being placed into a cat carrier and transported by car, so many owners simply opt not to put up with the hassle.

“There are five easy steps owners can take right now to increase the likelihood their cats will be healthy,” Dr. von Simson says. “We call them the ‘Feline Five.’”

  1. Make the cat carrier a familiar, comfortable place. Reduce feline resistance to the cat carrier by placing it near to where the cat rests with soft bedding, leave the door open and occasionally place treats in the carrier.
  2. Familiarize your cat with your car. Prepare your cat for the car ride to the clinic by taking her on rides in the carrier as you run normal errands.
  3. Recognize the importance of regular check-ups. Since the first two years of a cat’s life equal 24 years of a human’s life – with each successive year equivalent to four human years – your cat needs veterinary check-ups at least annually.
  4. Realize that cats keep secrets, so you must be a cat detective. Health problems often go undetected for a long time because cats hide signs of illness, so be attentive.
  5. Know the signs of illness and injury, such as changes in interactions, activity, sleeping habits; food and water consumption, grooming and/or vocalization; unexplained weight loss or gain; signs of stress; and/or bad breath.

SOURCE: Bayer HealthCare LLC, Animal Health Division