Cats aren’t ‘small dogs’; they have their own care needs
By Dr. Marty Becker
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.