ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — I recently shared the story of Sherman, a well-loved cat with long-standing defensive-aggression in veterinary clinics. It was so bad that his people quit taking him for routine wellness exams. As a result, his kidney failure wasn’t diagnosed until its advanced stage.
These pets are actually very different from you and me. Sometimes referred to as socially asocial, cats certainly form relationships, but they don’t rely on them for survival. Except when caring for their young, they don’t naturally look out for each other.
When they’re well, they are predators. But if they’re feeling weak and puny, they get small to avoid being prey. This is not how humans operate, but if we’re going to have feline companions we’d better play the hand we’re dealt and treat our cats like cats. They are not human wannabes, not little people in furry suits.
So how can you know if your cat is sick or well? Since you can’t rely on them to limp if their leg hurts or puff and blow if they’re struggling to breathe, you’ll need to be observant in ways that are not intuitively human. It’s a different twist on the Golden Rule. Rather than treating them as we would like to be treated, we must learn to treat them as they need to be treated. Anything less relegates their well-being to dumb luck.
Given this communication challenge, cat parents and veterinarians carry a huge responsibility. Kitties are remarkably skilled at feigning good health. They really do need annual exams.
We can finesse them through it using the methods of a recently developed initiative called Fear Free. Veterinarians and their staffs can become certified. I am residency trained in the specialty of veterinary behavior medicine. I’m a true believer in Fear Free. I was credentialed early.