By Robbi Hess ~ Managing Editor Pet Calendar, Crimeless Cat Executive Story Editor, Chief Cat Herder
Pet Calendar: National Take Your Cat To The Vet Day is August 22
Did you know that dogs are six times more likely to be taken to the veterinarian by their owners than cats are? It’s not that humans neglect their cats, it’s just that many of them think (and this is especially true if their indoor cats) that they don’t really need to go to the vet. That is a myth. At a minimum your cat should get an annual check-up.
Here are more of the potential reasons cat owners don’t take their cats to the vets:
- They don’t “seem” sick. Remember, cats are masters of disguise and will mask an illness. It’s an instinctual behavior because, in the wild, the weak get left behind.
- They are too hard to travel with.
- They’re indoor only cats. Many cat owners believe that if their cats never get outside, then they won’t fall victim to rabies or other illnesses that plague an outdoor cat or the family dog.
There are probably many more unique reasons you don’t take your cat to the vet and one of those reasons could be that most cats simply aren’t pleasant to have in the car, am I right? Thankfully my vet’s office is only 10 minutes from the house or the howling of the cats in their crates would likely drive me batty!
With my new kitten, I decided to change all of that. I wanted him to be a good traveler, a cat who is comfortable with “life on the road.” We have a new home three hours away from our current home and because I go there regularly with the dogs, I knew Ickis would need to travel with us and I knew I had to get him comfortable with being in a car. From the day I brought him home, I made sure he was comfortable in his carrier and I took him for daily car trips. His carrier would have a new toy, one he hadn’t seen before so it was intriguing to him.
I also stopped frequently and gave him a treat and some love. Because of the short trips I took with him, he, for the most part, is a silent traveling partner. The first road trip was a bit noisy, but the second time we got in the car I had new toys in his carrier, he sat on the seat with Henrietta (my diva poodle) and he fell asleep after fewer than 10 miles on the road — not bad for a close to 200 mile trip. He plays with his toys for a few minutes and then is lulled to sleep by the movement of the car. He is a wonderful traveler and it took me less than a week and fewer than 20 miles on my car to get him accustomed to it.
When we added Oblina to the family, it took her a few car rides to get comfortable with it and it not howl for the three-hour trip. She now enjoys it almost as much as Ickis does. Our other cats, though, because they were not exposed to riding in a car — other than for going to the vet for check-ups they will probably never become happy travelers — thank goodness we have an amazing cat sitter for them.
Why doesn’t your cat like the car?
Consider this: The reason your cat might not appreciate a car ride is that the only time he or she gets into a car is to go to the vet’s office. Because of this, I urge new cat and kitten owners to get their cats accustomed to riding in a car. Put their carrier out in an area of the house so they get comfortable with it and with being in it. Take them for short rides a few times a week. Buckle them into the seatbelt and drive around the block, stop, give them a treat and drive a bit further. Make a car ride a treat, not a cause for terror. Remember, though never leave your cat (or dog) in a hot car, or a cold car, for that matter.
I conducted an email interview with Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian” about his Fear Free™ Veterinary Visits initiative to uncover the reasons he thought cats might not enjoy riding in a car, how to address that and how to take the fear out of the vet visit for your cat. Two of the most profound items of information I took away were:
- “At every moment of truth, ask yourself or the team, “If the pet could talk…what would she say right now?” and
- “Take the pet out of petrified… and put pets back into practices.”
Unfortunately, I know that when I take Lucy to the vet’s this afternoon she will be terrified from being in the car, from just being out of the house and then being taken into an unfamiliar place filled with unfamiliar smells. I hadn’t had the knowledge that I have now to make my pet’s visits to the vets fear-free; I assumed (wrongly) that “this is just how it is.” Better education is teaching me that my pets don’t have to be in a panic and that I, as a pet parent, need to do what I can to help them be calm. I will certainly be keeping Dr. Becker’s question of, “If my pet could talk, what would she say right now?” front of mind. Thankfully, my vet and her practice is wonderful and are willing to work with me to help my pets have the best experience possible.
Here are some of the questions I asked Dr. Becker:
- What is the importance of vetting your cats? Cats are the most popular pets in America, and yet they go to the veterinarian far less than dogs, who clock in at number 2. It’s not that dogs just try harder – it’s that taking cats anywhere, let alone somewhere they’ve learned means fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS), is difficult. Most owners would rather put it off, forever if possible. But that means cats are cheated out of the best preventive care, out of obtaining baseline, healthy diagnostic values before they are old or ill, and even out of treatment for painful conditions such as arthritis or life-threatening illnesses like kidney or heart disease. That’s why it’s not just a good idea but an imperative that veterinary practitioners become Fear Free, and why pet owners should learn the basics of helping their cats become acclimated to happy car rides, and veterinary visits that are as free of FAS as possible.
- How to make the visit a fear-free one? What can the pet parent do? What should the pet parent look for in a vet as a way to make the visit less traumatic for the cat?
The most important thing pet owners can do to help cats be less stressful at the veterinarian is to teach them to associate their carriers and car rides with good things, never bad. That means making a deliberate effort to acclimate them to short car rides — maybe even just sitting in the car in your driveway! — by giving them treats and attention in the car. Even if your cat is long past kittenhood, or they were already an adult when they joined your family, they can still learn that good things happen in cars!
Second, when you carry the carrier with the cat in it, make sure it’s not swinging freely or tipping the cat to one end. Carry it in your arms, or in a large bag that allows you to use the handles but keeps the cat un-tipped! In the same way, when you transport the cat in the carrier, make sure it’s level. Put something under the carrier so it’s not sloping toward the back of the seat.
Don’t talk to your cat in the car. Stay calm yourself, and play soothing music like “Through a Cat’s Ear” instead of loud music or talk radio. Don’t amp your cat up with a non-stop barrage of reassurance; it backfires.
The importance of taking your cat to the vet
- Compared to dog owners, six times as many cat owners have not taken their cat to the vet this year and don’t plan to
- Two-thirds of cat owners simply believe cats have fewer health issues than dogs
- The older a cat gets, the more likely the owner is to take her to the vet only when she is sick. Thirty-one percent of those with a senior cat only take her to the vet when she is sick, compared to 20% for adult cats, 18% for adolescents and 17% for kittens
What’s a cat owner to do?
Take the pledge to take your cat to the vet. Even if you can’t get him or her to the veterinarian today, give your vet a call today and make an appointment. Help assure your cat and his or her health for a lifetime. That lifetime care starts with preventative measures and regular vet visits.