CATS AREN'T 'SMALL DOGS'; THEY HAVE THEIR OWN CARE NEEDS
When you are reading about different cat breeds or checking the personality descriptions of cats at a shelter, you may come across some that are described as "doglike." And it's true that some cats, like dogs, will follow you around, play fetch or go for walks on leash.
But if you want to take better care of your cat, the last thing you should be doing is treating him like a dog.
-- 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 do. 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 to 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 just 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. Unless you happen to see your cat while he's doing his business in the litter box, you might not notice that he's having more difficulty squatting or no longer does that Rockettes-high kick to cover his scat. You might not notice that he doesn't jump to the top of the bookcase anymore, and you might like it that he no longer jumps on the kitchen counter. You just notice that he's sleeping more and, hey, that's what cats do, isn't it?
Because cats are both predator and prey, they make a point of hiding any kind of weakness. They 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 don't take care of themselves, and they 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.
Cats may be intelligent and independent, 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.
may mean illness
Q: I think I would know a veterinary emergency, but what I'm worried about is missing a problem that needs to be caught early. Can you suggest some signs? -- via Facebook
A: You must be aware not only of your pet's physical condition (and changes in that condition), but also of his behavior. Many times, behavioral changes are later confirmed as illnesses through the use of such diagnostic tools as blood or urine tests. Always be aware of the subtle changes in your pet's behavior, especially regarding the following areas:
-- Changes in eating habits, especially loss of appetite. Be aware of how much and how eagerly your pet eats, and make a mental note of any changes. The ability to keep an eye on feeding behavior is one of the best arguments against keeping food available at all times.
-- Changes in activity level: If a pet who's always ready to run is suddenly not interested in playing, the lethargy may be cause for concern.
-- Changes in drinking habits: Pets drink more in the summer than in the winter, but even taking that into consideration, you look for variations in your pet's drinking habits. Get an idea of what's a normal amount of water consumed, and be aware of changes. You don't need to measure by the ounce: Just keep an eye on how often you're refilling that water bowl.
-- Changes in voice: Does your dog's bark or cat's meow sound different? Is his pattern of vocalizing changing?
If you think you have an "ain't doing right" pet, a visit to your veterinarian is in order if the issue doesn't resolve itself in a few days -- even if there's no overt physical sign of illness that you can see. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
often share toys
-- Those who think the line between pets and children has become a little fuzzy in recent years may not be cheered by a new line of pet toys that is made to meet safety standards for children. SafeMade Pet Products meet guidelines to protect from choking, sharp edges and other potential hazards, and tests products for lead and phthalates. All of its bowls pass federal guidelines for food-safe dishware. But while it may seem like overkill, you only have to think about how often pet toys and dishes end up in the hands (and mouths) of small children to see that it's not a bad idea at all for both pets and people.
-- Want more talking pets? Andrew Grantham, creator of the "Ultimate Dog Tease" video (quotable line: "The maple kind. Yeah."), has collaborated with the American Pet Products Association's Pets Add Life campaign for a new series of comedy videos. They're at youtube.com/petsaddlife.
-- Giving treats to pets can sabotage any effort at taking weight off them. Dog Fancy magazine recently made the point that one premium pig's ear treat is the equivalent of a person drinking six 12-ounce sodas. And that typical dog biscuit? It's equivalent to two double-stuffed fudge cookies. With half of all pets overweight or obese, it's time to look at those treats. Since dogs can count but not judge size very well, break treats into tiny pieces and give those gradually, or substitute low-calorie treats, such as baby carrots or mini rice cakes.
-- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and 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.