Care for Cats

Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

"You can keep a dog; but it is the cat who keeps people, because cats find humans useful domestic animals," is a quote from George Mikes. It's my hope that Care for Cats will prove valuable, in this regard, for Canadian felines.

Care for Cats is an initiative that was established at a gathering of the International Summit for Urban Animal Strategies (ISUAS). Care for Cats will formulate responses to the cat overpopulation crisis. It will create public education programs and distribute support materials designed to address this issue. It will attempt to get collaboration across all industry sectors interested in this problem and establish means of measuring success toward its goal.

The Asian Zodiac calendar has 12 signs - the rat, tiger, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Vietnam shares 10 of the 12 zodiac calendar animals with China. However, the smaller nation has replaced the rabbit with the cat and the ox with the buffalo in their calendar. 2011 is the Year of the Cat (YOC) in the Vietnamese calendar. Care for Cats decided, therefore, that taking note of this special year would be a great theme for its Canada-wide campaign to address the issue of cat overpopulation.

Year of the Cat will attempt to focus awareness on certain key messages relating to cats. After all, they are the most popular pets in Canada. An ISUAS survey taken in 2009 revealed there are more than 8.5 million cats in 36% of Canadian households. The disappointing news is that half of them did not receive regular veterinary care in the past 12 months. Additionally, less than 25% have permanent identification such as tattoos or microchips. 41% of these cats either haven't been vaccinated in the last 4 years or have never been vaccinated at all. Sadly, it also appears that 21 percent of cat owners with un-neutered cats don't appear to understand (or care) that there is an alarming cat overpopulation problem in North America. These results provided statistical proof of what people working in animal care facilities have known for decades: cats are not generally valued as much as dogs. In almost every category covered by this survey, dogs received better care than cats. An earlier 2006 survey found owners took their dogs to veterinarians more than twice as often as cats, averaging 2.3 times per year compared to 1.1 times per year for cats and significantly more dogs (58%) than cats (28%) were seen by a veterinarian one or more times per year. Cat owners sometimes express a belief that cats "do not need medical care". Two reasons for this misconception may be that signs of illness are often difficult to detect and cats are perceived to be self-sufficient. These facts are likely to be depriving cats of optimal health care.

Initiatives to address these concerns will attempt to help communities across Canada present unified messages about responsible cat ownership. The key initiatives in this plan will include:
encouraging community collaboration across all involved participants;
providing accurate resources for the issue;
creating community spay/neuter and veterinary care assistance programs and stressing the importance of spaying and neutering to reduce cat over-population and improve the health and well-being of cats;
developing and sharing effective methods of delivering spay/neuter financial assistance programs;
improving existing Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR) programs and introducing TNR to new communities;
creating a national time-line of events such as adopt-a-thons and an identification week;
collecting and evaluating data to assess the initiative; and
educating individuals about the cat and creating awareness of the importance of routine veterinary care for the health of the cats and the general public.

It is hoped there will be participation from groups and individuals across the spectrum of those interested in the welfare of cats. Animal welfare organizations, municipalities, pet stores, veterinary clinics and individual feline admirers - everyone can become involved. The Year of the Cat plan will be to get people working together to create responsible and compassionate communities where people care for cats.  Feline fanciers, it's time to step up to the plate and make the Year of the Cat truly a year to remember. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at