Some people are born into cat-loving families, while others have cats thrust upon them. And then, of course, there are those who independently make the decision to take up life with a cat.
Cat lovers are members of an exceptional club. A relationship with a cat can be joyful, entertaining and sometimes frustrating, but in the end, it's always rewarding. Life with a cat is special, if you know what to expect.
Cats are so connected to myths and misconceptions that it's no wonder they are often misunderstood. I want to help you separate fact from fiction.
First and foremost, cats are not small dogs. When you are reading about different cat breeds or looking at the personality descriptions of cats at a shelter, you may come across some that are described as "doglike." It's true that some cats, like dogs, will follow you around, play fetch or go for walks on-leash. But that is where the resemblance ends. Cats differ from dogs in many ways, but here are some of the most important:
-- Their nutritional needs are different. Cats are what biologists call "obligate carnivores." That means they must have meat in their diet to survive. Lots of meat. While dogs can exist on a diet that contains large amounts of grains, cats need meat protein to be at the top of their game. Meat contains a nutrient called taurine that is essential for heart and eye health and normal cell, muscle and skeletal function. Cats can't synthesize taurine on their own, so they must get it from their diet. Cats also have other nutritional requirements that vary from those of dogs, such as the type of vitamin A they can use. That's why you should never feed your cat the same food you give your dog.
Their physiology is different. Cats metabolize drugs differently than dogs or people. It's very dangerous to give a cat the same drug that you or I or the dog next door might take, even if it's for the same type of problem. Take pain, for instance. I've seen clients kill their cats by going to the medicine chest and giving their cats aspirin or acetaminophen. The same holds true for parasite treatments: Never apply a flea or tick treatment or shampoo made for dogs to your cat. Always call your veterinarian first and ask if a particular medication is safe for your cat and at what dose.
The way cats express pain is different. Well, it's not really different. It's almost nonexistent. It's much easier to notice pain in a dog because we tend to interact with dogs directly. We take them on walks and we see whether they're limping, for instance, or moving more slowly. With cats, it's much more difficult to see the changes in mobility that signal injury or arthritis. Cats know instinctively that displaying pain puts them at risk from other predators, so they do their best to mask it. That works to their disadvantage when it comes to veterinary care. The signs that a cat is in pain are so subtle that most people miss them unless they are keen observers of their cats.
Cats need to see the veterinarian. It's a mystery to me why people are so much less likely to provide veterinary care to their cats than to their dogs. Cats are the most popular pets in America, yet veterinarians are seeing a decline in veterinary visits for cats. That's a shame, because cats need and deserve great veterinary care to ensure that they live long, happy, healthy lives. They might be intelligent and independent creatures, but they can't doctor themselves -- at least not yet. Providing your cat with regular veterinary care is a good investment, and it's one of the responsibilities you owe your cat when you bring him into your life.
Pilling the cat
not working out
Q: Our cat has been put on a drug that she'll have to take for the rest of her life. Given the luck I've had so far with "pilling" her, I have to admit that if her life depends on this medication, she won't be with us very long. What is the best way to pill a cat? -- via e-mail
A: One of the biggest problems veterinarians have in helping pets get better is, well, pet owners who aren't able to give medication as prescribed. You're in good company, since this problem is very, very common.
Here are some strategies to make the pill-popping easier for you and your cat:
Pop and treat. Have your veterinarian demonstrate. Always start with a positive attitude and end with a treat and praise. You can find "pill guns" through pet retailers that help with getting the pill quickly in the right place.
Stealth. Perhaps the most popular method is to hide the pill in something cats love, although most cats figure this out soon enough and start eating around the pill. Try Greenies Pill Pockets -- treats that are designed for pill-popping. They're yummy little bits with pockets for hiding the treats.
Presto-chango. For pets who just won't tolerate pills (or people who just hate giving them), ask your veterinarian about using a compounding pharmacy. These businesses take all manner of medications and turn them into edible treats in pet-friendly flavors.
New technologies. Ask your veterinarian for the latest options. The medication you're using may be available in an easier-to-use format, such as transdermal.
No matter what, always give pet medications exactly as prescribed. If none of these strategies work for you, keep talking to your veterinarian until you find out what does work -- there may be other options that don't involve lifetime medication. Don't give up. Your veterinarian wants your pet to stay healthy just as much as you do and will work with you on your pet's behalf. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Dogs have benefits
for autistic kids
-- Children with autism showed a reduction in their levels of the stress hormone cortisol when a service dog was introduced to the family. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal, measured cortisol rates before, during and after a service dog was introduced, with positive results. Parents also reported a decrease in disruptive behaviors, such as tantrums, when a dog was present. Previous work has shown that service dogs help autistic children interact with others and acclimate to routines.
-- "Cat Scratch Fever" is probably best known as a hit for rocker Ted Nugent. But the disease, which is really called Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), can be pretty serious, and cats aren't the only animals able to transmit the bacterial infection. Transmitted via a scratch from an animal with fecal material on its claws, CSD is linked to heart valve disease and may have a link to neurologic and arthritic disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 22,000 cases reported a year, but there may be many more, since cases with mild symptoms are likely never diagnosed.
-- The Guinness World Records for 2011 note many amazing animals' achievements, including a long jump of 9 feet, 6 inches set by Yabo, a rabbit, and the popping of 100 balloons by a dog. Anastasia, a Jack Russell terrier, set the latter mark on the set of the TV show "Live with Regis and Kelly." -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.