Cats are Sneaky!
By Erika Ball, DVM
Cats are truly amazing creatures. They are for the most part loners in the wild, the one
exception being lions, yet have the greatest capacity to love. They are our furry babies, and
members of our families. They never grow up and move away as our human children will all
eventually do. Our attraction to these wonderful animals goes far beyond how adorably cute
and loving they are. They can also be incredibly naughty and aloof at times and somehow that
endears them even more to us. They each have different personalities and if you haven’t
already discovered this, it is ultimately the cat that sets the rules in the household. You can try
to discipline them all you want, but when it comes down to it, they still do what they want. As
soon as you aren’t looking they are on top of those tables and counters that you worked so hard
to keep them off. So why do we cater to these creatures, putting their wants and needs before
our own, and why, no matter how naughty they are, do we forgive them every single time?
Whatever the answer may be, cats are here to stay in our lives.
Cats are graceful and stealthy. They adapt to most environments. They are also incredibly
effective hunters. Cats “moved in” with humans around the same time that man began storing
grains and needed a way to keep the mouse population down and out of the foods being stored.
In exchange for cats’ hunting services they were provided with shelter and food scraps. Unlike
cats’ much larger cousins (cougars, leopards, jaguars, tigers , cheetahs, lions, etc.), they are
also small enough to be prey for larger predators, such as coyotes, and cougars, bears, even
large birds of prey.
It is as a direct result of this predator-become- prey phenomenon that many cats have a
“scaredy cat” personality. In the wild that instinct might just save their lives. Whether this fear is
of a vacuum cleaner, or a new dog in the household, or loud noises, many cats will run or fight
“for their lives” instinctually. When one is in the “wild”, showing signs of weakness can result in
targeting by a larger predator species.
What does this mean for cat owners? The most common consequence of this instinct is that
cats may suffer from pain or illness for an extended period of time (even years) without the
owner recognizing that there is a problem. Cats are masters of hiding even very high levels of
pain. Unfortunately this means that we often don’t see cats until their illness is quite advanced
before they are brought in for care. The impression by many of these owners is often that the
cat may have only been sick for a few days, when in actuality the disease may have been going
on for a significantly longer period of time. A common example is a cat that is brought in for
“not eating or drinking for several days”, but was drinking “very well” up until recently. When we
do blood work on this cat we may find that it is in an advanced stage of kidney disease. This
doesn’t occur over a matter of days. It more likely occurs over months to even years. There are
things that might have been done prior to this stage that may have resulted in prolonging the life
of the cat and improving their quality of life during this time.
So yes, cats are sneaky. Dogs are much more likely to tell you when there is a problem. Cats
often won’t until they reach a point that they can’t hide it anymore. There may be signs, but they
can be quite subtle. Most symptoms are often chalked up to “normal aging changes”. Even as
veterinarians, we cannot always immediately diagnosis a problem by an exam alone. We need
additional diagnostics such as blood work, x-rays, sometimes ultrasound to be able to assess
your cat’s health and be able to determine a diagnosis and treatment plan.
It is for these reasons that we believe strongly in the importance of annual exams with our
younger patients (6 years or younger), senior patients (7 through 9) and exams every 6 months
for patients 10 years and older as well as cats that may be under 10 years but have a serious
health concern, such as diabetes or heart disease. Blood work screening is also frequently
recommended to pick up diseases in their earlier stages. Vaccinations are important, and in the
case of the Rabies vaccine, required by law regardless of whether or not your cat goes outside.
What is far more important is the examination and health screening. Remember, just because a
cat doesn’t go outside, that doesn’t mean that they can’t get sick (or have exposure to Rabies).
A thorough veterinarian would examine your cat and make recommendations for additional testing
to screen for some of the more common diseases that we see in cats. We don’t want to wait
until there is an obvious problem, as early detection is your best defense. The number of cats in
households has and continues to outgrow the number of dogs. Despite this, cats receive far
less veterinary care in comparison. It is my goal to change that. Cats are just as deserving of
proper health care and maybe even more so because they will often suffer in silence without it.