Study Offers Surprising Look at True Health of Cats

Tests and pet owner input show that many cats may not be as healthy as they appear.


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9 percent of cat owners reported a possible breathing problem in their pet.

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Many cats that look and act healthy hide a secret.

A study of outwardly healthy cats discovered laboratory abnormalities in one out of every four tested. Furthermore, pet owners who answered a 48-question survey noted warning signs in nearly 70 percent of the 1,197 cats checked.

The results point to the value of annual veterinary wellness visits and in-depth questioning of pet owners, reported veterinary drug maker Zoetis Inc., which conducted the research.

“This study demonstrated that a health risk assessment … can help veterinarians identify issues that might otherwise go undiagnosed and untreated until serious symptoms become apparent,” said J. Michael McFarland, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, the group director of Companion Animal Veterinary Operations for Zoetis.

The study used data collected from 264 veterinary practices over 5½ years and included a cat owner questionnaire.

Among the cat owners who took part in the health risk assessment:

• 9 percent indicated that their cat had difficulty breathing, showing symptoms such as wheezing, sneezing or coughing.

• 11 percent thought their cats exhibited stiffness, lameness or pain associated with movement.

• 22 percent thought their cats were overweight or obese.

• 27 percent said their cat had chronic vomiting or hairballs.

The laboratory testing revealed that 25 percent of the 1,197 cats displayed abnormalities that may have been signs of anything from kidney or liver disease to inflammation or infection to hyperthyroidism or a blood disorder.

Finding problems early is key to keeping a cat genuinely healthy, said Bob Lavan, MS, DVM, MPVM, Dipl. ACVPM, the associate director of Zoetis’ Outcomes Research Team.

“The goal of preventive medicine is to optimize health and minimize disease burden by proactively taking measures to prevent disease,” Dr. Lavan said. “Early detection allows for treatment options that may be less invasive, less expensive and significantly more effective.”

The study was conducted as part of Zoetis’ Pet Wellness Report, and detailed results were released in August. The Pet Wellness Report includes the health risk assessment questionnaire, which veterinarians such as Michael Hargrove, DVM, MBA, CVA, use to help communicate with pet owners.

“Clinics across the country are seeing annual wellness visits decline,” said Dr. Hargrove, who practices at North Shore Veterinary Hospital in Duluth, Minn. “Bringing in a health risk assessment to implement change and show the pet owner the value of regular visits can be a huge step in the right direction.”

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