If We Love Cats So Much, How Come They Suffer So Much?

June 22, 2010 

So, what's the deal with cats? Clearly, with 82 million pet cats in America, there are over 10 million more cats than dogs. According to the math, cats are man's best friends.

Yet, when you really look at what's happening to cats, it's appalling.

On average, cats visit a veterinarian less than half as often as dogs. And once they get to a vet, most owners refuse to spend as much on cat care as they would for a dog.

The truth is, some shelters have shortages of adoptable dogs -- a problem that never occurs with cats. Summer continues to be kitten season and many shelters are overflowing with cats. On an average day, 228 cats are euthanized in shelters each hour. That means four cats are dying each minute.

A lost cat fortunate enough to end up in a shelter may not actually be lucky at all. Lost dogs have a decent chance of being recovered, especially if they're wearing tags and have a microchip. Cats generally don't wear tags, and few owners microchip their cats, so a lost cat may never be identified. It doesn't help when families don't even search for a lost cat, assuming the pet will be fine, saying "cats are survivors" or "we can easily get another cat."

Numbers on animal abuse are hard to come by, but most who work in the field agree that cats are more often abused than dogs. In rural areas, outdoor cats (owned or feral) are sometimes considered a nuisance and the accepted solution is to shoot them.

While cat lovers are clearly as appalled as I am by such realities, the sad fact is that cats don't share the same status as dogs in this country, and they're paying a price. I believe there are several reasons for the discrepancy that must be addressed:

--Take out a carrier and many cats run away terrified. Even when owners are able to snag their cat and stuff the pet in a carrier, the stress on the owners and cats is significant. The bottom line: Many cats seldom visit a vet.

--Pet cats allowed to roam give cats a bad name. They may use gardens as toilets, yowl at night, scratch parked cars and chase off songbirds. Feral cats are an even greater nuisance, and there are millions in both rural and urban areas.

--There are many misconceptions about cats. For some reason, we have tons of preconceived notions about cats that are just plain wrong.

Now, some solutions!

Veterinarians, shelters personnel and animal welfare advocates sing the same tune: Cat care is as important as care for dogs. While indoor cats are safer than dogs who may scarf up roadkill, get sprayed by skunks, or be injured in fights with other dogs -- they can still become sick or suffer injuries. Twice-annual veterinary visits are arguably more important for cats since they're skilled at masking illness.

There are ways to make those trips easier. Advice on cat care, including desensitization to a carrier, is available in "CATegorical Care," a new guide from American Humane and the CATalyst Council. It's free to download at www.americanhumane.org and www.catalystcouncil.org.

It's only right to keep cats indoors. The long list of benefits (for the cats and the community) is outlined in "CATegorical Care." In addition, indoors-only cats are almost spay/neutered, which addresses a part of the cat overpopulation problem.

Overpopulation and the nasty PR it generates emanate primarily from bands of feral cats, called colonies. Historically, animal control deals with such cats only when there are complaints. However, the most humane and effective method of control is intentional trap/neuter/return (TNR). Volunteer caretakers (often associated with local shelters or non-profit TNR organizations), humanely trap feral cats to be spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, often microchipped, then returned to live out their lives. Over time, colony populations decline. (Learn more about TNR at www.alleycat.org.)

"CATegorical Care," also approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, busts all sorts of other myths about cats.

If you've never shared your life with a cat, I hope you'll consider the possibility.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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