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Client conversations with Steve Dale: "I'm worried about cats"


Everybody seems to love dogs, but what about cats?

In this exclusive monthly column, Steve Dale, CABC, radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and contributing editor at USA Weekend, will look at some of the key issues of the veterinary industry, always with an eye to the perspective of the client and pet owner. This month's entry? All about cats.

I'm worried about cats. Dogs are man's best friend, but since 1987 (according to the AVMA Pet Demographic Sourcebook) cats are the most popular pet in America. Still, cats count as being second rate in so many ways. As a result, it's come to this:

  • According to the AVMA Sourcebook, for the first time the survey began, the pet cat population is on the decline, falling 9 percent since the last survey in 2006.

  • The number of homes with at least one cat has declined by 6.2 percent, according to the Sourcebook.

  • The Sourcebook stats indicate cat visits to veterinarians are down more than 4 percent from 2006. Other industry data suggests veterinary visits for cats might be experiencing an even steeper decline. And no wonder, the AVMA survey also suggests that nearly half of all cats didn't even see a veterinarian in 2011.

  • According to the 2011 Bayer Usage Study, nearly 60 percent of cat owners report their kitty hates going to the veterinarian. In fact, about 40 percent of cat owners say that even thinking about a veterinary visit is stressful. As a result of all of this (and more) the 2012 Banfield State of Pet Health Report indicates preventive illnesses in cats are on the rise.

While at least a significant number of animal shelters are moving in the right direction when it comes to adopting dogs, that doesn't seem to be the case for cats. Shelter adoption numbers are guestimates, but what's known for certain is that some shelters don't have enough dogs in their facility which they deem adoptable, so the solution is to “import” canines from shelters in other counties or states. I don't know of a single shelter with a shortage of available adoptable cats. Bottom line is that overall shelters are likely euthanizing as many cats as they did a decade or two ago.

There are a lot of reasons for the increased success of adoptions for dogs, including rescue and fostering programs. However, fostering cats is more complex, and far few families volunteer. Cat breeders are suffering too-it's no surprise that interest in pedigreed cats is on the decline if demand for all cats is down. What's more, in some places, intrusive legislation makes it challenging to breed. Also, to do it right is costly. Despite the selfless work of legions of volunteer care takers responsible for trap, neuter, return of community cats, pressures from bird groups and others have in some places made their efforts to minimize stray/feral cat numbers in a humane manner more challenging. Increasingly, there are lots of tips and ideas to assist veterinary professionals and pet owners.

  • Partners for Healthy Pets (formerly Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare) has various tools about speaking with clients (about any pet) on their website, as well as Preventive Pet Care Guidelines: partnersforhealthypets.org.

  • It seems one no-brainer is to become an American Association of Feline Practitioners Cat Friendly Practice. It's as easy as applying, and now you'll demonstrate to staff, clients and even to yourself-that you care about cats, catvets.com.

  • There are client friendly videos and handouts on various topics, including carrier training at the AAFP site, catvets.com and at the CATalyst Council, catalystcouncil.org.

These are all terrific resources, but what do they really about increasing adoptions, and overall elevating the status of cats? I'm not certain. And I can't say that I know the answer. One observation is that most everyone loves dogs, whether they have one or not. We appreciate what they do for people, dragging grandma out of a burning building-real stories we all know. In regards to cats, there are two camps: people who like them and people who don't. Most who don't like cats have never experienced sharing their life with a kitty. My goal is to continue eradicating myths about cats-there are many. And support cats for what they are-independent, bright, and noble companions. Though, in truth, I remain worried.

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