Four reasons veterinary clients avoid regular checkups for their cats—and what you can do about it

One cat is seen for every five dogs, but our feline friends need veterinary health care love, too.

By Jane Brunt, DVM

In a recent survey, 92 percent of cat owners say their cat’s health is important to them, but why are only half of all American cats taken to the veterinarian by their caretakers on a regular basis.1

As veterinarians, it’s important to know why our clients are missing those checkups so we can change the current trend, making a positive impact on the health of our nation’s cats.

This year, like last year, I’ve partnered with Royal Canin—a staunch advocate for the health and well-being of cats—to inspire cat owners to participate in Take Your Cat to Vet Day on Aug. 22. While the gap in preventive veterinary care between dogs and cats in the U.S. continues to be a concern, the great news is that it can be changed.

Royal Canin conducted a survey to find out why cats aren’t making regular visits to the veterinarian. Below are four common excuses they heard, and some ways practitioners can address them.

“It’s so hard for me and my cat to go to the vet.”

Sixty-six percent of cat owners surveyed say they would take their cat to the veterinarian more often if it were easier. What makes it so hard?

If the only time a carrier is around is right before an unpleasant experience, cats will learn to hide when they see it. Once the owner drags their cat out from under the sofa, there’s still the challenge of getting the cat into the carrier, followed by an uncomfortable ride in a car with a scared animal that howls the entire trip. No wonder people find it a challenge.

How you can help: There are many resources available to help you educate your clients on how make it easier to bring their cats in; a great place to begin is the American Association of Feline Practitioner’s resource page for Take Your Cat to the Vet Day. There you’ll find downloadable brochures, checklists, and posters that you can hang up around your office or hand out to your clients. You can also prescribe feline facial pheromones and medications to help mitigate nausea and heightened anxiety.

Become a Cat Friendly Practice®, earning the designation through AAFP by taking extra steps to reduce stress and to support the specific needs of cats. Or, get your practice Fear Free Certified, thus giving your clients confidence that their furry family member will experience less stress and less fear during a visit.

We can also help ourselves and our teams change perceptions about cats by understanding their normal response to unfamiliar situations and being more attentive to the language we use to talk about them with our clients, and among ourselves. Referring to a cat as “scared” instead of “aggressive,” or asking for help “handling” instead of “restraining” a patient reframes our perspectives, thus improving the veterinary experience for the cats, their people, and all of us who work with and enjoy the company of our feline companions.

“Cats are healthier than dogs.”

One common misconception among cat owners is that cats are healthier than dogs. Sixty-eight percent of cat owners Royal Canin surveyed feel this way, and 31 percent claim their cat doesn’t need to go to the veterinarian as often. Fourteen percent of these cat owners don’t make an appointment until it’s an emergency, and 11 percent wait until vaccines are required.

How you can help: When your clients come into the office, use some time during their visit to educate; explain that, while cats may be better at hiding their illnesses and injuries than dogs, they can suffer from many of the same ailments, plus feline-specific issues. As you examine their pet, explain what you’re looking for; help clients understand the importance of uncovering disease states in their early stages, which is particularly critical in cats, who mask their weaknesses so well that it can be nearly impossible for even the most observant pet owner to recognize signs and symptoms of issues.

“I don’t feel like it’s OK to take time off of work to take my cat to the vet.”

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed would consider lying to their boss if they missed work for a cat-related reason. Of those who would tell a lie, 60 percent said they didn’t think a cat’s health would be seen as valid, while 38 percent thought their boss would be upset.

How you can help: While there’s not much you can do to change a boss’ mind or a company’s time-off policies, you can control your practice’s office hours. Try to have at least one late night a week and offer weekend hours as well. Some practices offer “Cat Only Sundays” once a month, combining the concepts of a Cat Friendly Practice with additional office hours. Market your alternative hours on signs in your practice, on your website, and social media.

“It costs too much.”

Cost also plays a part in determining how often people bring their cats to the veterinarian; 40 percent of cat owners in the survey cited financial burden as a primary reason for not bringing their pets in more frequently.

How you can help: Here’s another opportunity to educate your clients. Wellness exams enable you to catch health problems in early stages, when treatment is not only less expensive, but can also have significant impact on the quality and length of the animal’s life. For clients without extensive financial resources, there are nonprofit organizations that can help with bills. And, you can recommend pet insurance, a payment plan service, or both—particularly for clients who have just adopted their cat or kitten.

For more on how to make your clients’ visits to the veterinarian easier, visit royalcanin.com/Cat2VetDay and the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice section on their website: catvets.com/cfp/veterinary-professionals.

1Royal Canin (n.d.). [Take Your cat to the Vet Survey]. Unpublished raw data.

Jane Brunt, DVM, is executive director of the CATalyst Council, whose mission is to bring people and organizations together to transform the health, welfare, and value of companion cats. Founder of the American Animal Hospital Association-accredited Cat Hospital At Towson, the first feline-exclusive veterinary hospital in Maryland, she is a long-time member and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Brunt is also a career-long member and active leader in the American Veterinary Medical Association, and a member and past president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association. She is co-author of several peer-reviewed articles and often appears online, in print, on radio and television to help educate the public on feline health and well-being.

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