A New Understanding of What Cats Want

Sep 22, 2015

From left, Dr. Dottie Williams, small animal intern; Amanda Conrad, licensed veterinary technician; and Sarah Schott, fourth-year veterinary student
Credit Virginia Tech

There’s something about cats that has attracted humans for centuries. They were worshipped in ancient Persia and today they star in endless Internet videos.  But that love and admiration does not appear to extend to health care. 

Over the last decade, cat visits to the vet have dropped nearly 50 per cent. 

Three tiny  day old kittens are keeping warm in a small incubator. Veterinary Technician Robyn Fox says their mother could not be found and someone brought them in.

“We do have ICU staff around the clock but usually we’ll send them home –either staff or students will take them and feed them if they’re doing well. Who gets them tonight? Me.” 

This clinic doesn’t take in stray cats, but it does take in injured ones. And the staff here practices a  special low stress method of cat care.  It’s part of a growing trend toward a new understanding of cats.

“I used to say, when I was a student, you know, Cats!  They don’t read the textbooks,” says Dr. Mike Nappier, Assistant Director of the community practice here.

Dr. Mike Nappier

“I since believe that they’ve read all of the text books.  Even the ones in like German or something.  And then just to frustrate us, purposely do things that they know that we didn’t write about.”

Cats just seem to want things their own way. You’ve heard the one about the difference between cats and dogs;  Dogs have owners and cats have a staff.  But when it comes to health check ups and maintenance, cats are not getting the kind of attention that dogs do. Nappier points to a study that says something like half of people with cats feel stressed just thinking about taking them to the vet.  And because at this point, cats can’t drive…

“It’s like 40 to 50 per cent of cats in the U.S. didn’t see the vet in the last year.

Nappier says this is largely because of the dreaded cat carrier, which confounds cats and their people alike.

“It should be part of their everyday life. So it needs to be out in your house. All the time.”

And this is where you can take a page out of the dog book.  The crate needs to be seen by the cat as a place of comfort.

So it should be a positive experience. It should be a place a cat can get some privacy, take a nap. Positive things should happen in our cat carrier. We should get some treats, some catnip.  And then every once in a while, the cat goes in there, the door closes, we walk in the next room, come back, the door opens, nothing happened, so it’s not all negative experiences that are associated with our cat carrier. The kind of clients who really want to be the ‘A+’ with their gets is, every once in a while, the door ought to close,  get in the car, drive around the block.  Or maybe when the weather is nice, go to the grocery store, come back – you know the cat doesn’t need to go IN the grocery store— but you know. We had a pleasant car ride, nothing bad happened. They came back.  They got some treats. It was all fine.

Nappier is fond of saying, ‘let the cat tell YOU what it wants.’  Well, here’s our cat Kali weighing in, something she seems to do when she sees me getting ready to open my microphone.


A formal pose from Robbie's cat Kali.