Cat tales: Common misconceptions about our feline friends

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher / Photo

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Last week there was a national day to take your cat to the veterinarian. While we sadly didn’t see cats all day on that day, it did get me thinking about how important this is. Cats tend to be more self reliant than dogs, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need regular check-ups. I will go over some common misconceptions that stop owners from bringing their cats to see me, and why exactly they are misconceptions.

Indoor cats don’t need vaccines

This is false for several reasons, but I am going to start with the main point — bats. Bats commonly carry rabies, and our cats love to catch bats. This summer alone I have had four bats in my house. This doesn’t include the colony of bats in my attic which I am sure measures about 300 from the sounds of them. I have had one bat in my bathroom, one in my washing machine (not a joke), one in the hallway and one in my living room. As a veterinarian, I am unable to kill these cute though somewhat creepy little guys, but my cat has no such qualms.

Bats are the main vector for rabies in Vermont. Most contact with pets happens indoors, so indoor cats are just as susceptible. They are actually more likely to be exposed because they are able to catch a bat indoors more easily than out.

Other vaccines can be given at the discretion of your veterinarian. The distemper vaccine should be updated every three years, while the feline leukemia vaccine isn’t as important for cats that never go outside. If there is a risk of your cat getting out it is a good idea to keep that updated. As with any disease, if you are introducing a new cat to the household it becomes paramount that all cats are up to date on vaccines.

Indoor cats don’t get parasites

There are two classes of parasites, those that are on the outside of pets and those that are on the inside. Amazingly, indoor cats can get both kinds. While it is less common for humans to carry fleas or ticks indoors, we do see cats that have gotten fleas from their human companions. Fleas and ticks often come indoors on other pets, like indoor/outdoor cats and dogs. Even if you treat your dogs, the bugs must bite in order to die. If they have traveled in and hopped onto your cat before biting your dog they can live and thrive. These specific situations are best talked about with your vet, as different household types should have different standards for prevention.

Cats can get worms from eating rodents, flies, and even from potting soil. While we all like to think our houses are rodent free, most of us have at least a few mice here or there. A large portion of commercial potting soil has worm eggs in it, because a lot of dirt does. Fecal examinations on indoor cats should be performed annually.

Cats take care of themselves

OK, this one is true. Cats are much better at taking care of themselves than dogs. BUT, that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. What it actually means is that your cat is likely better at hiding their problems than dogs. This means that things can be going on for longer without you noticing, because your cat is taking care of itself.

The other thing cats are good at is slowly increasing their odd behavior so you don’t notice it. Your cat may vomit once a week for a while, then twice a week and then once a day. These things can sneak up on you. Weight changes are another thing that often goes slowly, but when we have number measurements at least yearly there is no deception. There are also many questions we ask in appointments that start out with an answer of “yes normal” and then end with “well actually….” Cats are sneaky little animals and they can keep you thinking that everything is fine when, in fact, it is not.

Cats don’t get sore

I cannot tell you the amount of times that cats react to things on physical exam and owners couldn’t pin down a problem. Your cat may not be running around on three legs if they are sore because they aren’t as dramatic as our dogs. However, they will give smaller tells. While it is more difficult to tell if a cat is limping than a dog, limping is a clear indicator of pain. Cats also give smaller hints to joint pain. Litter box behavior changes, switching to lower favorite sleeping spots, less frequent or less agile jumping, decreased grooming and more sleeping can all be indicators of joint pain. You may be wondering how your cat can possibly sleep more than they already do, but if you pay attention you may notice the difference.

Next week I will talk about some common afflictions as cats start to age, how we find them, and how regular veterinary visits can help them.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL:

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