The Cat-Dog Health Care Disparity: One Vet’s Take on Feline Disrespect

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T, says Aretha, is all she’s askin’. Same goes for me. Only I’m not talking about what a man should muster, rather what plenty of cat owners should manage more of on behalf of their felines.

Turns out some cat lovers don’t care for their feline pets to the same tune they do their dogs. So say veterinarians like me who observe the differences between how people treat their own beloved cats and dogs on a daily basis.

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Pharmaceutical giant Bayer HealthCare and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) conducted a study that confirmed our suspicions. Here’s a quick summary of the basic findings I received firsthand at a lovely lunchtime press event last month at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) conference in Chicago:

  • More than half of owned cats (52 percent) hadn’t been to the vet within the past year.
  • Older cats see vets less often than younger cats do.
  • Meanwhile, 95 percent of veterinarians believe cats should receive annual checkups, and 72 percent believe that wellness exams are the most important service we provide.
  • And get this: Only about half as many cats get annual checkups as dogs.

So what’s up with that?

A Number of Contributing Factors

1. The economic impact of the recession. The study was conducted during the height of the economic downturn.

2. Fragmentation of veterinary services. Lots of choices in veterinarians and specialists can be confusing and can actually interrupt access to vet services.

3. The use of the Internet versus office visits. Lots of cat owners seek help in inexpensive places first.

4. Feline resistance. Cats don’t like going to the vet.

5. Perception that regular medical checkups are unnecessary. Veterinarians aren’t always very good at communicating the importance of regular vet visits.

6. Cost of care. Fundamental health care costs have skyrocketed, and veterinary hospitals haven’t been unaffected.

All of that makes sense. But that still doesn’t explain why cats receive less care than dogs do. After all, all six of these causes could be applied to the case of dogs, too. Which is why I think this issue is less to do with economics and more about why cats garner less attention than their canine counterparts.

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