Kicking and screaming: Don’t let your cat bully you out of taking her to the vet

File photo. File photo.

Nobody really likes to bring their cats to the vet. Unlike dogs, who are typically excited to do anything at all, cats can smell a hospital visit from miles away. While most are easy enough to catch and corral, others go DEFCON 1 as soon as they see that carrier come out of the closet. It’s so much easier to just ignore that nagging reminder card and get on with life. You’re happier. The cat is happier. Everybody wins.

Not really, though. It’s a recognized problem in veterinary medicine that, compared to their canine counterparts, cats are far more likely to have their health ignored. Routine visits are fewer and farther between. Important vaccines are frequently left to expire. And even once cats make it to the vet, recommended diagnostics and procedures are more likely to be declined. 

This is a big problem for cats who, by their nature, are fairly secretive. Many of the most common health problems in cats go completely undetected by owners, not because of neglect, but because cats simply keep to themselves. Unlike dogs who get dedicated leash walks to the bathroom, cats use litter boxes stashed well out of sight. Simple diagnostic questions like “is he urinating more than he used to?” have accordingly murky answers. Lethargy is harder to notice because even on a good day, many cats don’t get much exercise beyond creeping a few feet every hour to follow a shifting sunbeam. Cats keep their mouths shut, and aren’t apt to pant the foul fumes of dental decay straight into your face like a dog might. In short, signs of illness that are flagrant in a dog are subtle in a cat.

Sadly, this means that I frequently don’t see cats until disease has progressed well past the stage where intervention would have been most successful. Even severe disease can develop so gradually that it’s hard for anybody at home to notice. One day, you wake up, and it all seems like it’s just happened overnight. But it didn’t, and the poor cat sits on the exam table with five years of undetected renal failure, rotting teeth, and heart disease. Any of those problems might have been manageable on their own, but taken together, they become an intimidating gestalt with no easy path to treatment.

Regular exams give me the chance to discover things like dental disease, heart murmurs, weight loss, and other nascent symptoms before they snowball out of control. Even in cases where we wouldn’t choose to aggressively manage those symptoms, the knowledge helps owners to better monitor their cat’s health and plan for future progression.

I don’t think anybody doubts how big a nuisance it can be to drag cats to the vet. And there is definitely a small sliver of the feline population that objects violently to the entire process. But for most, it’s just an unpleasant day—one apart from hundreds of others spent in uncontested luxury. I think it’s worth a few minutes of caterwauling in the car for the prospect of gaining hundreds more.