veterinary care

Reduce Stress for Your Cat Before and During Vet Visits

cat-at-vet

Fear and anxiety are common for cats when they have to visit the veterinarian, and for far too long, this has been accepted as “that’s just the way cats are” by both cat guardians and veterinarians. Thankfully, this is changing. Two initiatives, The American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat Friendly Practice Initiative and Dr. Marty Becker’s Fear-Free™ initiative both take a multi-pronged approach to reducing the stress of veterinary visits for cats.Continue Reading

Why Cats Hate Going to the Vet, and What to Do About It

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America’s cats are facing a healthcare crisis. The findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer Health Care found that 52% of America’s 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care. 83% of cats are seen by a vet during the first year after they’re adopted, but less than half of them ever return. These statistics are alarming, especially in light of the fact that cats are masters at masking any signs of illness. By the time a cat shows symptoms, a disease may already be in the advanced stages, which often makes treatment less effective and more costly.

Two of my favorite cat people are joining forces to help raise awareness about this growing concern. Continue Reading

Guidelines for Responsible Cat Care

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The American Veterinary Medical Association recently issued a set of Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership, stating that “owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations.” I think the AVMA is a bit behind the times with still using the term “owner” when it comes to pets. Most of us consider our cats part of the family, which is why I prefer the term “guardian” or even “pet parent.” But they do raise some interesting points in their guidelines. I won’t list all of them – you can read them for yourself if you’re interested – but I thought I’d highlight the ones I consider most important, especially for cats.

Commit to the relationship for the life of the cat

This one should be obvious, but sadly, it’s not. Cats are creatures of routine, and any change is traumatic for them. If circumstances don’t allow you to commit for the life of the pet, you may want to consider fostering instead.Continue Reading

Why is Veterinary Care so Expensive?

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If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this question, I’d be a wealthy woman! What most people don’t realize is that, relatively speaking, veterinary care, especially when compared to human healthcare, is actually not at all unreasonable. As a former veterinary hospital manager, I can give you some behind the scenes insight into what makes up the cost of veterinary care.

Your cat’s veterinarian is not just your cat’s “family doctor”

Your cat’s vet is also her surgeon, radiologist, dentist, dermatologist, neurologist, ophthalmologist, psychiatrist, ears/nose/throat doctor, and pharmacist, all rolled into one. I’ve always felt that a veterinarian’s training and schooling is far more rigorous and complex than that of a physician. Not only can their patients not talk to them and tell them what’s wrong, but they have to study more than one species. During the first years of veterinary school, students also have to study large animal medicine, even if they know they’re never going to practice it. And even within the small animal track, there are multiple anatomies and disease processes to learn for each species, be it cats, dogs, ferrets, rabbits, or even scaly critters.

A veterinary clinic is a business

Just like any other business, Continue Reading

Save on Cat Care Expenses Without Compromising Your Cat’s Health

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Costs for pet health care, food and other supplies continue to increase just as human health care and food costs are rising. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to save on pet care expenses. Suggestions range from price-shopping for a vet to foregoing veterinary care altogether in favor of at-home “medical” care, purchasing vaccines online and administering them yourself, and buying the cheapest food. All of this advice couldn’t be more wrong, and will most likely put your cat’s health at risk.

The following tips can help you save on cat care expenses without compromising your cat’s health:Continue Reading

Should You Get Pet Insurance For Your Cat?

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Responsible cat guardianship includes ensuring regular health care for your cat throughout his life. All cats should have annual wellness exams, and older cats should see the veterinarian twice a year. Costs for routine exams vary; depending on what part of the country you’re in, they will range anywhere from $45 to $150 (exam only). And that’s only for well cat care. Illnesses and accidents can quickly increase these costs. The average cost for a visit to an emergency vet can easily run between $1000 and $2000, depending on the severity of the problem.

Additionally, advances in veterinary medicine make it possible to treat medical conditions in pets that would have been a death sentence a decade ago. From chemotherapy to kidney transplants, pets can now receive almost the same level of medical care as humans. Of course, all of these treatments come with a price tag.

As a result, pet insurance has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Continue Reading

High-tech medicine for your cat: MRI

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is one of the most powerful and accurate diagnostic techniques in medicine today, and has become routine in human medicine. For the past ten years, MRI’s have been available for animals. An MRI provides detailed and valuable information without the higher risk involved in invasive procedures such as exploratory surgeries.

MRI’s are considered in the following situations:

  • Brain or spinal cord injuries or abnormalities
  • Futher diagnostics after x-rays or ultrasound are normal, or unclear
  • Lameness
  • Abnormal nasal bleeding, swelling or discharge
  • Chronic ear disease
  • Some foreign bodies

The benefits on an MRI include:Continue Reading

Book review: Pampered Pets On A Budget by Jeffrey L. Barnes and Kristen M. Levine

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Costs for pet health care, food and other supplies continue to increase just as human health care and food costs are rising. Since pets are part of the family, pet care expenses are often the last item that gets cut from the family budget. Pampered Pets On A Budget: Caring For Your Pet Without Losing Your Tail helps pet owners cut pet costs without compromising care.

I was curious about this book. Advising people to save on pet care expenses can backfire. Recommendations on how to save on veterinary costs published in a 2003 Consumer Reports article essentially stated that you should price shop for veterinary care. While price is certainly one consideration, it shouldn’t be the only one, and it should most definitely not be the most important one when choosing your pet’s family doctor.

Thankfully, the authors of this book do not make this mistake. Continue Reading

Can classical music lead to better veterinary care for cats?

Nora the piano cat

While cats outnumber dogs as pets (according to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there are 78.2 million households that own dogs versus 86.4 million that own cats), cats receive significantly less veterinary care than dogs. A veterinary study by Bayer shows that dogs visit the vet about 2.3 times a year compared to 1.7 times a year for cats. One of the most cited reasons by cat owners is the stress cats (and their owners) experience with a typical visit to the veterinarian, both on the way there and while at the clinic.

A new study at Colorado State University is looking at how classical music can help make a veterinary visit less stressful and thus lead to better veterinary care for cats.

Numerous studies in human medicine have shown that classical music can reduce stress in patients by lowering pain levels, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates.  This response appears to be the same in animals. For example, one study of dogs in rescue shelters showed that classical music changed their behavior to produce more periods of rest, less time standing and more quiet time.

From the Colorado State University Office of Public Relations news release:

“If this study finds that classical music lowers the stress levels for cats and their caretakers during veterinary visits, veterinarians can start using calming music in their waiting room immediately and improve the emotional health of those in their clinic — human and four-legged,” said Dr. Narda Robinson, a veterinarian at Colorado State University.

In addition to the potential stress-reducing benefits of music for felines and their caretakers, relaxed cats are easier for veterinarians to examine and need less restraint.

Robinson and fellow researcher Lori Kogan, a psychologist with Colorado State University who specializes in veterinary and animal issues, want to enroll 50 cats and their caretakers in the study. Cats will need to visit the Veterinary Teaching Hospital two times to be randomly exposed to one of two different soundscapes — either no music or slow, classical music– during each visit while in an exam room for about 15 minutes. The waiting time will be videotaped and behavior will be noted through an observation window by independent observers who will not know if music is playing in the exam room. Clients will also fill out surveys about their own as well as their cat’s stress levels before and after the session. An appointment with a veterinarian is not necessary, and cats enrolled in the study will not be examined by a veterinarian as part of the study.

If you live in the Ft. Collins, CO area, your cat may be eligible to participate in the study. Qualifying cats must be able to hear and meet some minimal health requirements, while caretakers must be able to bring cats to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital during afternoon, evening, or weekends for two visits at least two days apart.

I’m excited about this study. Coming on the heels of the Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines issued by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, it’s encouraging to see that more major organizations are making efforts to make cats’ lives better.

Do your cats respond to music? If so, what kind of music do they like?

Photo of Nora the Piano Cat, photo credit: Burnell Yow! , used by permission. According to Burnell, Nora’s favorite composer is Bach.

You may also enjoy reading:

Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines to make vet visits easier for cats

Is your vet cat-friendly?

Making Medical Decisions for Your Cat

During these past couple of weeks, two friends had to make difficult decisions about medical care for their cats, and it got me thinking about what a challenging task this is for so many of us.

Advances in veterinary medicine make it possible to treat medical conditions in cats that would have been a death sentence a decade ago.  From chemotherapy to kidney transplants, cats can now receive almost the same level of medical care as humans.  But just because these treatments are available doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for each cat.

To treat or not to treat: two stories

Pandora is an 18-year-old calico in chronic renal failure.  It’s unclear which stage her disease is currently in, because my friend has chosen not to pursue medical treatment beyond the basics:  Pandora is on medication to control her high blood pressure, and she gets a thorough check up every six months to monitor her lab values.  Pandora goes through phases were she doesn’t want to eat and becomes withdrawn, but so far, she has always bounced back after a few days.  My friend has chosen to keep Pandora comfortable at home, and when that’s no longer possible, she’ll be ready (or as ready as any of us will ever be) to let her go.

The decision for Bob, a 14-year-old orange tabby belonging to my friend Robin over at Covered in Cat Hair, was more difficult.  He’s FIV positive,  and a recent ultrasound showed a large mass that was wrapped around his liver.  Without a biopsy, there was no telling what was going on.  Surgery is always a risk, but especially for a senior FIV positive cat.  The surgeon told my friend that, in a worst case scenario, if it was cancer and it had spread, she needed to be prepared to authorize euthanasia while Bob was still on the table.  On the other hand, there was also a chance that the mass could be removed, and Bob could have many more months, if not years, of good quality of life.  My friend agonized over this decision, and eventually decided to have the surgery done.  The mass was removed, and as of this writing, Bob has recovered from his surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Not every cat owner would have made these decisions for their cats.  In Pandora’s case, some would choose more aggressive treatment and more frequent visits to the vet, and possibly hospitalization for IV fluids.  In Bob’s case, some would have elected to forgo surgery and just let him live out however much time he may have left without intervention.  These situations are never black and white, and there is no one right decision.  The only wrong decision in these cases would be indecision when it translates into pain and suffering for the cat.

So what factors should a cat owner take into account when faced with making medical decisions?

Get the facts first

The most important thing is to get all the facts first.  Be sure you understand the medical condition your cat is dealing with.  It can be difficult to know what questions to ask your veterinarian when faced with a frightening diagnosis, so don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions once you’ve had a chance to process the initial information.  Make sure you understand all the treatment options, along with cost, side effects, and prognosis for each option.  Get a second opinion and/or go see a specialist if you’re not comfortable with what your veterinarian tells you.

By all means, research your cat’s condition on the internet, but use common sense and look for sites that present facts and not just anecdotes and opinions.  Dr. Nancy Kay, the author of Speaking for Spot:  Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Healthy, Happy, Longer Life has written a series of fantastic articles about how to find accurate pet health information on the internet.

A personal decision

Once you understand the medical facts, the decision becomes more personal.  Factors that come into play are your cat’s temperament, your comfort level with providing any follow up care that may be required at home, and your finances.

In my years of managing a veterinary practice, a question many clients often asked was “what would you do if it was your cat?”  I wish I could have answered it, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t because, first of all, I’m not a veterinarian.  I also couldn’t have answered it because what I would do for my cat could be completely wrong for the client’s cat.

But after having faced having to make difficult decisions for two of my cats in recent years, I now have an answer I would give these clients.  For me, it comes down to this:  Listen to your heart.  After weighing all the factors, try to set aside your fear and worry for your cat long enough to connect with your center.  Some call it gut instinct, or intuition.  And then make the best possible decision for your cat.  Because when it comes down to it, the one thing you know better than all the veterinarians in the world combined is your cat.

Photo of Bob by Robin A.F. Olson, used with permission.  Bob passed away peacefully, surrounded by those he loved, in September of 2011.