What kind of cat owner are you?

Pet Tales

by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

This column will have something to do with cats, but actually, it will have more to say about cat owners than felines themselves. As veterinarians, we know that not all clients share the same level of attachment to their cat companions. In 2009, at the Summit for Urban Animal Strategies, the PetLynx Corporation released the results of the North American Urban Animal Survey done in that year. It revealed some interesting facts about Canadian cat owners. According to this survey, cat owners fall into three main categories:

 •Engaged Cat Lovers (28 per cent) are most progressive in their attitudes. They view cats as having many human-like qualities, Cats they believe are intelligent, loyal, capable of showing love and affection and learned behaviour patterns. They consider cats to be members of the family. In addition to providing the proper physical requirements for a happy life for their pet - food, water, shelter - they also recognize cats have other needs, as well. They are dedicated to providing proper health care for their pet. Vaccinations, regular check-ups, parasite control, spay/neuter surgery, dental and grooming care is given to their cat from kittenhood through the senior citizen years. Illnesses receive prompt and thorough attention from a veterinarian. Also, they strive to create an enriched environment for their feline pet, encouraging exercise, mental stimulation and comfort. They also have a willingness to spend money on their cats and provide them with the best care. They know they are being repaid by their pet with things that money cannot buy.

•Feline Traditionalists (27 per cent) are almost polar opposites. They have the least progressive attitudes towards cats and consider them 'just pets'. They are likely to say they have always had cats around. However, they also think cats can 'pretty much look after themselves'. Their cats are allowed outside to wander the neighbourhood and if it is lost or fails to return home, it can easily be replaced with another cat. They profess admiration for felines but spend less on cat care even when finances are not necessarily a factor.

•Well-Intentioned Cat Owners (45 per cent) are a blend of the people in those first two categories. They maintain a strong emotional bond with their cats and see them as members of the family, but the level of care more closely resembles Traditionalists. Reluctance (or inability) to spend money on cat care is definitely a limiting factor with this segment.

For stray cats waiting in animal shelters to be adopted there is some good news. Engaged cat lovers, who give the best care, are likely to adopt from a shelter and go to great lengths to find their cat if it is lost. Unfortunately, the other two kinds of cat owners, which represent the majority of cat owners, are likely to obtain their pets for free, looking to family and friends and other sources for a cat. Many of these cat owners may consider cats as 'disposable and easily replaced' and therefore, are less likely to visit a shelter to claim a lost cat or adopt a new one.

   Well, 2011 is the Year of the Cat, not the Year of the Cat Owner. However, it may be a good opportunity for people who live with cats, to think about these survey results. Self-examination can often be a very worthwhile exercise. If you determine you are either in the 'Traditionalist' or 'Well-Intentioned' group of cat owners, why not consider an attempt to become 'Engaged'?  When you think about it, it likely would require only a slight shift in attitude and commitment. Such an adjustment would almost certainly improve the quality of life for any house feline sharing accommodations with you and it might be a life-saving change for a stray cat waiting somewhere to be adopted. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at www.baycitiesanimalhospital