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Another difference between dogs and cats is the way cats express pain. Well, it’s not really different. It’s almost nonexistent. It’s much easier to notice pain in a dog because we tend to interact with dogs directly. We take them on walks and we see whether they’re limping, for instance, or moving more slowly. Or see them hesitate to jump up on the couch or the bed, or climb into the car or up the stairs. With cats, it’s much more difficult to see the changes in mobility that signal injury or arthritis. Unless you happen to see your cat while he’s doing his business in the litter box, you might not notice that he’s having more difficulty squatting or no longer does that Rockettes-high kick to cover his scat. You also might not notice that he doesn’t jump to the top of the bookcase or cat tree anymore, and you might like it that he no longer jumps on the kitchen counter. Notice that he hasn’t been able to groom himself very well lately? Perhaps all you notice is that he’s been sleeping more lately, and hey, that’s what cats do, isn’t it?
Because cats are both predator and prey, they make a point of hiding any kind of weakness. They know instinctively that displaying pain puts them at risk from other predators, so they do their best to mask it. There’s a big neon sign in the wild that flashes “Sick Is Supper!” so cats have evolved to keep pain hidden. That stoicism works to their disadvantage when it comes to veterinary care. The signs that a cat is in pain are so subtle that most people miss them, unless they are keen observers of their cats.
I know this is only the first chapter of the book, but the following mantra is so important it deserves to be stressed: Cats can’t take care of themselves, and they need to see a veterinarian regularly. It’s a mystery to me why people are so much less likely to provide veterinary care for their cats than their dogs. Cats are the most popular pets in America, yet veterinarians are seeing a decline in veterinary visits for cats. That’s a shame, because cats need and deserve great veterinary care to ensure that they live long, happy, healthy lives. They might be intelligent and independent creatures, but they can’t doctor themselves—at least not yet. Providing your cat with regular veterinary care is a good investment, and it’s one of the responsibilities you owe your cat when you bring him into your life. Cats have been called the “pet of convenience” for how easy it is to care for them, but they shouldn’t be considered self-supporting, because they do rely on us for adequate food, water, shelter, preventive care, and treatments for accidents and illnesses. There are literally millions of cats living in homes suffering needlessly from arthritis, asthma, urinary problems, dental disease, metabolic conditions, parasites—I could go on and on—just because their owners didn’t know what to look for or to take them to the veterinarian (who does know what to look for) for regular examinations, preventive health care, and treatment.
Buy a carrier that loads from the front and the top (with two doors, in other words) and that is easy to break into two parts (so the cat can be left in the bottom half during a veterinary exam).
Accustom your kitten to a carrier. Leave the carrier sitting open in the house so your kitten can explore it, nap in it, even eat meals in it. We call it making the carrier “fun furniture.” Line it with a blanket or towel to make it extra comfy, and put treats inside it as an occasional surprise. Get a product called Feliway, which is a synthetic version of the feline cheek pheromone (cats use this like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, applying it themselves to everything of which they approve) and spritz the bedding inside of the carrier from time to time and especially before taking a trip to the vet. When your kitten does need to go for a ride in the carrier, the experience won’t be scary. You can use the same techniques with an adult cat.
Schedule veterinary visits at a time when your kitten or cat hasn't just eaten. She’ll be less likely to suffer motion sickness and more interested in getting tasty treats from veterinary staff. Bring something that is familiar and smells like home to the cat. Make the first appointment with the veterinarian a fun one. No shots, just a weigh‑in and some treats and petting from the staff. Think of it as a “getting to know you” visit. Trips like this are also a great opportunity to teach your cat that car rides can be pleasant.
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