2012-08-08 / Columnists

Pets Pets Pets

You’ve heard of “Take Your Daughter/Dog/Dinosaur to Work” weeks. Now Petfinder is asking everyone to join in celebrating “Take Your Cat to the Vet” week from Aug. 18 – 25 as a way of reminding cat owners and prospective adopters how important it is for their feline friends to have regular veterinary care.

The CATalyst Council* and American Humane Association estimate that cats only get to the vet half as often as their canine counterparts. Signs of illness in cats and kittens can be subtle, so having regular veterinary wellness visits can help catch problems early and keep them healthy. As a survival technique from generations in the wild, cats are adept at hiding symptoms until an ailment has progressed. Your dog is more likely to kvetch when sick, and you’re more likely to throw him in the car for a trip to the vet. Your stoic cat will grin and bear it; and then hide from you.

*[The CATalyst Council (www.catalystcouncil.org) is a non-profit feline think tank made up of veterinarians, welfare groups, the media, fanciers and commercial interests working together to make a difference in the way the United States sees and experiences cats. Cats are the #1 pet in America with 15 million more cats owned than dogs. Despite this, cats are treated like second class “pet” citizens. The CATalyst Council is making strides to change public attitudes toward cat care.]

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends cats go to the vet twice a year for checkups, yet a 2009 survey of cat guardians conducted by Feline Pine, a litter company, discovered that fewer than half took their cat to the vet unless their cat was sick. Cats need preventive care just as much as dogs. Regular check-ups can help catch issues before they become full-blown illnesses that are more painful as well as more difficult (and expensive) to treat.

Some people hesitate to take their cat to the vet because the experience is so stressful. Loading Fluffy into the carrier can be a real challenge. Cats make unpleasant associations with carriers. People don’t take their cats on joy rides as they do with their dogs. When was the last time you drove Fluffy to the Wendy’s window for a burger? To Fluffy the equation is simple: carrier = dreaded trip to the vet. I find that a vertical drop, back feet first, is easier than pushing a reluctant cat sideways into the carrier.

Even better- Jane Harrell, Petfinder.com associate producer, has some great desensitization tips to get your cat to like going into a carrier. Here they are:

•Start young: Kittens usually adjust to new experiences more easily than adult or senior cats. (Adult and senior cats can still learn to tolerate a carrier.)

•Keep the carrier accessible: Many cats only see the carrier when it’s time to go somewhere, so they begin to feel anxious as soon as it appears. Instead, keep the carrier on the floor, open at all times so that your cat can come and go as he pleases and won’t see the carrier as a place where he gets trapped. Be patient. It may take weeks to reach this level of relaxation.

•Make the carrier a nice place to be: Put comfy bedding in it and toss in a few treats, your cat’s favorite toys or some catnip when you first set it up. Replenish the supply every few days.

•Feed your cat inside the carrier: If your cat will eat inside the carrier, start feeding him there daily. If he won’t, put his food dish a few feet away and move it an inch or two closer to the carrier each day -- just make sure your cat keeps eating. If he stops, move the food a little farther away and then move it closer more slowly. (Some extra smart cats won’t enter the carrier with you standing nearby -- they think you’ll lock them in -- so move away and watch from across the room.)

Teach your cat the “in” command: Once he will go into the carrier to eat, start calling your cat over to it for a treat. Toss the treat in the carrier and when your cat goes in, say “in.” Praise him for as long as he’s in the carrier. When he comes out, toss in another treat and repeat. Later you can start saying “in” first and your cat should go into the carrier on his own. Just be sure to give him a treat after he does and while he’s still in the carrier. You’ll be associating your cat’s favorite things with the carrier and showing him it’s not only safe, but fun.

Practice closing the carrier door: Repeat the above process, but start closing and locking the door before giving your cat a treat. Once he’s eaten the treat, open the door, let him come out and repeat. Gradually increase the amount of time the door stays shut. If your cat is calm while the door is shut, give him more treats. If he seems upset or tries to get out, do not give him a treat and try again with less time in the crate.

Practice picking up the carrier: After your cat learns that a closed carrier door is okay, try picking up the carrier with him in it and putting it back down gently.

Practice walking with the carrier: Once you can pick up the carrier with your cat remaining calm inside, take a few steps; then gently put the carrier back down, reward him and then let him out.

Practice going outside with the carrier: You don’t have to go far -- just outside your front door and back inside at first. The key is to make sure your cat remains calm while you repeat this -- you can gradually increase your distance and time over time.

Walk around the block: Keep practicing until you’re able to walk around the block with your cat calm in the carrier. Once you can do this, you’ll know your cat’s fear of the carrier has been conquered.

This week: “Fluffy” is the key word for the poster pets at Babylon Town Shelter, Lamar St., W. Babylon (631-643-9270). “Maxine” #2-297, a lovely longhaired muted calico wandered a Lindenhurst neighborhood for months. “Arlo,” a handsome Pekingese was found in Wyandanch. He’s adorable but would prefer a home without other pets. More dogs: a Yorkie, “Pinky,” an older Shih tzu; “Brandi,” a Chihuahua/ Min Pin; “Piglet,” an American Eskimo mix and “Shorty,” representing the Pit Patrol at the shelter.

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