It's All About the Cat

The CATalyst Summit held February 5-6, 2008 was the single most important life-enhancing event for cats and their people since the invention of Kitty Litter. It took a statistical gut-punch to get the catnip ball rolling.

Simply stated, cats get the short end of the health care stick. This isn't some hunch, and the statistics don't lie. The American Veterinary Medical Association's 2007 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook ("Sourcebook") published results from surveying 48,000 households. This information compiled about every two years and shared with the United States census, reports shocking information-- 36.6 percent of cat-owning households received no veterinarian care in 2006 compared to 17.3 percent of dog households.

How can that be?! We're a nation of pet lovers and owned cats outnumber dogs by a healthy margin. Eighty-two million cats versus 71 million dogs are kept as pets in the United States. Surely cat owners don't love their pets any less than dog lovers. Could it be that they simply don't think cats need the care?

Prompted by the report's conclusions, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) with initial underwriting from Pfizer Animal Health hosted a think-tank they dubbed CATalyst Summit. They invited key influentials, more than 30 leading companies and organizations from across the animal health, welfare and pet media world. The brainstorming event aimed to better understand the decline in veterinarian visits for cats, why cats' needs continue to go unmet compared to dogs, and how that trend can be reversed and improve feline care.

As one of the invited participants, I conducted my own informal (and unscientific) survey before attending, to better understand cat owners' concerns and be an advocate for them and their furry charges. The following questions were posed to cat breeders, animal behavior consultants, writer organizations, pet-specific online bulletin boards, and my blog.

I received back over 120 responses within three days, certainly nothing compared to the numbers in the Sourcebook survey, but nevert.heless, the responses seemed to mirror each other. Here's a sampling of representative answers.

Nowadays, veterinarians recommend twice a year "wellness visits" for cats. Why do you (or don't you) do this?

  • I don't do this because of the cost.
  • For me twice a year visits would be astronomical given that I have eleven kitties.
  • If they are sick, I don't hesitate to take them, but if they're not ill, I don't take them to the veterinarian very often.
  • My cats are young; if they were older I might take them more often.
  • Now that cats are living indoors, they have fewer emergencies.
  • They don't need vaccines because they don't have contact with other cats.
  • My two "moggies" go to the veterinarian twice a year, but this is more because they have their rabies shot in one visit and other shots in another.
  • Little can be assessed at these visits that would have been helpful in preventing the actual illnesses that the animals got.
  • I don't take myself twice a year for wellness visits, either.
  • The money I spend on well animals is money that I do not have to spend when they get sick.

Do you think cats aren't cared for as well as dogs--If so (if not) why?

  • Since the economy sucks, cat care (probably pet care in general) is one of the casualties.
  • Perhaps the real question is, why do dogs need so MUCH veterinary care compared to cats?
  • Cats are perceived as feral loners and left to fend for themselves because "that's what nature intended."
  • I think cats are as well cared for as dogs, but I also think cats hide illness very well.
  • The dog is always in their face, always needing something, so people see if he has a problem easily. But cats are more off by themselves.
  • I'm 63…Many people my age and older, especially in rural areas never changed their minds about taking their cats to the veterinarian. The services are there, I believe, but the populace has no tradition of using them.
  • A lot of folks consider cats as useful tools for rodent control but otherwise being expendable.
  • Don't want to waste the money. ‘Tis an oft-told tale of how he/she spent $$ to get a cat fixed, only to have it dash out and get run over.
  • Cats are difficult if not impossible to get into carriers and into cars.
  • It was easier to find a veterinarian that knows a lot about dogs than it is cats.

What would help you better care for your cats?

  • We'd spend more time at the veterinarian's office if the price did not exceed $100 for each visit.
  • I do without sometimes, so I can pay for veterinarian visits. But for the general "multitudes" I would like to see more low cost 'walk in' veterinarian clinics.
  • Make mobile veterinarians available so they can come to the cat. Cats hate going to a clinic full of dogs.
  • Veterinarians should offer "two-for-one" or other special rates to encourage multiple pets getting exams together.
  • Make billing options available.
  • Offer pet insurance or other programs that include routine care and not just emergency treatments. Unless you are actually paying for human medical costs out of your own pocket, the veterinarian bills seem expensive.
  • Explain the real benefit of a "healthy pet" exam. Does it help discover any hidden diseases or is it just a way for the veterinarian to make money?

Armed with this information, I flew to Palm Springs for the Catalyst Summit, and was impressed to meet a host of caring, savvy, and influential cat-centric experts from across the country. Among those represented were American Association of Feline Practitioners, American Animal Hospital Association, the American Veterinary Association, the Cornell Feline Health Center, Morris Animal Foundation, Cat Fanciers Association, Winn Feline Foundation, Cat Writers Association, American Humane, and the ASPCA. In addition, pharmaceutical companies, pet insurance, cat and veterinary magazine editors, shelter veterinarians, and pet food companies were included. Under other circumstances it may have turned into a catfight! But everyone put aside differences, with the rallying cry: IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CAT!

We spent our first day, from 2-4:30 pm, hearing from chairperson Dr. Jane Brunt (past president of AAFP), Jim Brick (of Pfizer), and Steve Dale (syndicated pet columnist and radio host) talk about the impetus for CATalyst, including background about the "Sourcebook" information from Jim Flanigan (director of marketing for the AVMA). Mr. Flanigan also presented findings from the Perceptions and Attitudes of Pet Owners Study from BNResearch. We were charged to come up with a plan that addressed four "Pillars for Action."

  • Improve Health Care for our Feline Companions
  • Increase Responsible Pet Ownership
  • Enhance the Stature of Cats
  • Enrich Lives (human and cat)

The second day we began at 6:00 am, and initially split into eight groups to brainstorm various ideas and concepts. Throughout the day we re-combined into four groups, which then reported back to the entire assembly on the following issues:

  1. Veterinary practices' perceptions of cat health
  2. Veterinary practices' perceptions of cat status
  3. Consumer/Public perceptions of cat health
  4. Consumer/Public perceptions of cat status

Despite the diverse backgrounds of people in each group, we discovered that all four reports were surprisingly the same. By 4:30 pm when we adjourned, we had an ACTION PLAN, unanimously endorsed by all participants:

COLLABORATE: CATalyst Summit brought together an unprecedented cross section of organizations and industry for this common goal. A continued collaboration will be made by all parties--industry, veterinary profession, enthusiasts and charitable organizations--to follow through to make the action plan a reality, and to support the resulting effort.

GUIDELINES: Humans have lifestage health guidelines--we know women should get a mammogram at a certain age, and men should check for specific things, so why not cats? Currently, some practitioners may recommend specific health care tests or options that others do not. Guidelines will help all veterinarians be on the same page when they recommend care options to owners for kitties.

Before we left the Summit, the AAFP and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) announced their plan to partner on developing feline life-stage wellness guidelines for veterinary professionals.

Once the guidelines have been completed, Winn Feline Foundation will coordinate the writing of a consumer version of the guidelines with the assistance of writers on its media committee. That committee includes myself, Steve Dale, Beth Adelman, Arden Moore, and Pam Johnson-Bennett, all of us professional members of both the Cat Writers' Association, Inc, and certified consultants with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. The consumer version will be underwritten by Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc., and will be cat-owner-friendly reading to help us be better partners with our veterinarian in kitty's health.

CREATE CAT FRIENDLY VETERINARY PRACTICES: Cats hate going into a waiting room filled with dogs, and they get their tails in a twist being stuffed into a carrier. So CATalyst will find ways to encourage veterinarians to make their hospitals more attractive and user-friendly to cats--and to their people.

BRAND THE CAT: CATalyst wants to better promote the idea that CATS are COOL. As reflected in my unscientific survey (as well as the Sourcebook), cats don't receive the same attention as dogs and much of that has to do with perception--or purrception, if you will.

PRODUCE A CONSUMER AWARENESS CAMPAIGN: CATalyst recognizes we love our cats, and many of us already have good education and great motivation to do what's right. But other folks need extra help to enhance both. So there will be lots of great educational materials that come out of this, all for the benefit of our beloved kitties. It's an opportunity for all the cat-savvy educational outlets to pounce on board in this massive, good-for-felines effort.

This is just the beginning. A steering committee with equal representation from industry and not-for-profits, has been formed to determine the structure and organization of CATalyst to carry out the action plan established at the Summit. Chaired by Dr. Brunt, it includes representatives from AAFP, AVMA, AAHA, the Dumb Friends League, Hill's Pet Nutrition, VCA, Pet's Best Insurance, and Pfizer Animal Health. More information is available at www.catalystsummit.org.

I believe in this initiative so much, feel it's so important, that I'm "talking it up" in as many places as possible, including my Pet Peeves show at Pet Life Radio. You can hear Dr. Jane Brunt talk about CATalyst in the "Cost Of Love, Part I" and learn more about the Sourcebook information from Jim Flanigan in "Cost of Love, Part II" addressing the cost of veterinary care and how the CATalyst effort can help.

You can also read a Special Report appearing in the Feb. 15, 2008 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that states cats don't get the same affection--or medical attention--from their owners as dogs do, at this JAVMA link.

CATalyst plans won't happen overnight, but shining a spotlight on cats' needs is long overdue. Don't our cats deserve the special attention? I am honored and thrilled to be a part of this historic and never-before collaboration of industry, veterinary professionals, animal welfare, cat fancy and media. Stay tuned--you'll be hearing more because--

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CAT!

For more articles and information about Amy Shojai, visit her web site at www.shojai.com.




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