Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Survey Data Show Cats Aren't Getting Regular Veterinary Care

Pet Column for the week of August 9, 2012

Related information:

Related site - Primary Care Services at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907

Source - Dr. Kandi Norrell
August 18 through 25 has been designated “Take Your Cat to the Vet” week, and the latest pet demographic data make clear why this campaign is needed.

Cats are the most common pet in the country, with about 74 million cats compared to 70 million dogs, although 36.5 percent of households have dogs and only 30.4 percent have cats, according to advance information from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s soon-to-be-released 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook.

Unfortunately, the data also show that pet cats are still unlikely to receive adequate veterinary care. Despite declining pet ownership overall, with the number of dogs dropping by 1.9 percent and cats by 6.2 percent over the past five years, total veterinary visits for dogs increased by 9.2 percent over that same period, to 130.4 million. The annual number of veterinary visits for cats declined by 4.4 percent between 2006 and 2011, when there were 60.5 million visits.

Dr. Kandi Norrell, primary care veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, is determined to get the word out to cat owners: Your beloved pet needs a checkup every year--and more often if kitty is geriatric or dealing with chronic illness.

As with dogs, annual veterinary visits for cats can identify and treat diseases early in order to extend life and enhance quality of life. With regular wellness exams, for example, obesity and dental disease--two key concerns for cats, and especially for senior cats--can be prevented or be treated before they become life-threatening.

So why do dog owners but not cat owners readily seek veterinary care?

Dr. Norrell notes one barrier to care: “Cats are generally stoic animals and are extremely good at hiding their pain.”

Their stoicism encourages a perception that cats are more independent and self-sufficient than dogs, which may lead owners to the erroneous conclusion that cats require less medical care and maintenance.

“Another big reason is stress and anxiety, for both the animal and owner,” admits Dr. Norrell. “The cat hates coming to the vet, and that makes the owner want to avoid the experience as well.”

To address these concerns, Dr. Norrell says there are a number of ways owners can gradually acclimate kitty to the carrier and the car so that getting there is not a battle. If you have a young cat, make the carrier and car rides routine early on, but it is never too late to introduce new behaviors.

In the exam room Dr. Norrell helps her feline patients stay calm by using only low-stress handling techniques, performing the exam while the cat remains in its carrier, if possible, and limiting unfamiliar sounds and smells.
She bases her approach on the 2011 Feline Friendly Handling guidelines issued by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. This organization also has advice for owners online at

Cat owners, don’t ignore the health needs of your precious pets. Make a veterinary appointment for your kitty during “Take Your Cat to the Vet” week.