The Year of the CAT
Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed.
It is well-established that we Americans love our pets with 49.7 percent of us considering them part of the family. New statistics published by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook (“Sourcebook”) show cats now rank as America’s first pet with 82 million owned cats to 71 million dogs. But a closer look reveals startling data about our beloved pets.
Of the 48,000 surveyed households with both dogs and cats, the average dog receives vet care 1.5 times a year yet cats received vet care less than once a year. Put another way, 36.6 percent of households owning cats received no vet care in 2006 compared to 17.3 percent of dog households. The increase in the number of owned cats combined with the decrease in vet care visits is alarming.
The cat’s accelerated aging process coupled with its ability to mask pain and illness means cats are at a greater risk of unnecessary suffering before receiving medical care. All too often, by the time they see a vet they are already gravely ill with conditions that could have been prevented or diagnosed earlier had they received regular veterinary care. To make matters worse, pet owners are unwilling to spend as much money on cat care compared to dog care.
The National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy survey reveals 35 percent of cats compared to 27 percent of dogs were relinquished to shelters due to behavior issues. The Humane Society for Southwest Washington’s sobering statistics support that data. On an average day with 45 animals taken in, 30 are cats and 15 are dogs. More people utilize the new behavior training for dogs, but with cats the attitude is “No, I’ve had it with that cat!”
The Humane Society of the United States reports still more dismal data: of animals entering shelters, 15-30 percent of dogs are reclaimed compared to 2-5 percent of cats. The Humane Society of Southwest Washington’s stats are direr: 98 percent of dogs are reclaimed to 2 percent of cats. One day three cats were reclaimed and it set “a world record” at the shelter. Are cats less valued or considered disposable pets?
Trends also indicate more cats are dumped and literally left out in the cold to fend for themselves than dogs and more cats than dogs are abused.
Health studies for felines lag behind those for canines. A 1945 study found large amounts of melamine (a toxic chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers, often used as a filler to falsely boost protein content) had “no significant toxic affects” on dogs, rats or rabbits. It was assumed the same was true for cats. In last year’s recall of tainted pet food, more cats than dogs were sickened or died; indicating that even the smallest amounts of melamine is toxic to cats, causing acute renal failure. Clearly, more focus is needed on feline health studies; cats are not small dogs.
As a result of the “Sourcebook” findings, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and 30 key influential organizations and companies including the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Cornell Feline Health Center, Morris Animal Foundation, Winn Feline Foundation and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, met Feb. 5-6 in Palm Springs, Calif. at what was called the CATalyst Summit. The event was underwritten by Pfizer Animal Health.
The main goals discussed were how to improve feline healthcare, educate owners about responsible pet ownership and elevate the cat’s stature. AAFP and AAHA plan to develop Feline Life-Stage Guidelines for veterinary professionals and Winn Feline Foundation’s media committee will develop guidelines for pet owners. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. is underwriting this endeavor.
While we Americans love our pets, the inequality of health and welfare between dogs and cats needs to end. The CATalyst Summit plans are underway and updates will be given as they progress.
American Veterinary Medical Association
The Humane Society of the United States
Humane Society for Southwest Washington
National Council on Pet Population Study & Policy
W.L. Lipschitz, The mode of action of three new diuretics: melamine, adenine, and formoguanamine, Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Vol. 83,