Monday, January 23, 2017

Does living with a cat make you a better vet?

Three legged cat;
Living with Hero has taught me the need for multiple corrugated cardboard scratching stations.

Can you really understand someone if you haven’t lived with them? Possibly not, according to one study I came across when researching the welfare needs of domestic cats. This Portugese study(Pereira et al., 2014) aimed to compare the knowledge of veterinarians, nurses and cat owners with regard to the behavioural needs of cats and the results are surprising.

Needs are strongly motivated behaviours which, if not met, impact the welfare of cats. This can lead to behavioural signs of stress which, if not recognised and addressed, can lead to a breakdown of the human-cat relationship, 
relinquishment of the cat to a shelter, euthanasia of the cat or – in countries where this practice remains legal, onchyectomy or declawing (a practice we are firmly against for welfare reasons, read more here).

The researchers designed and validated a questionnaire “Questionnaire to Assess Cat’s Needs” or QACN) that looked at behavioural needs – from interaction with humans to toileting, aggression, play, scratching behaviours and stress.

The results showed that in some areas, the knowledge of vets and nurses was equivalent to that of the general cat-owning public. What does that mean? Well, we need to up our game. There is a missed opportunity to provide advice that may a) enable owners to recognise signs of feline stress and meet their cat’s needs; b) preserve the human companion-animal bond and c) improve feline quality of life. Further study in the field of veterinary behaviour, and cooperation with veterinary behaviour specialists, were recommended by the authors.
But the researchers did find that those vets and nurses who had previously or currently owned had much better knowledge about their needs. It’s an interesting finding – it seems intuitive that our knowledge of a species would be better through closer contact.

Anyone who lives with cats has experienced firsthand the challenges of scratching, play-aggression, and all of those behavioural quirks from being escorted past the bathroom to their food bowls in the small hours to only bringing up fur balls on the shag pile rug. Perhaps needing to overcome these challenges personally has forced those of us who live with cats to adopt the most successful strategies (or alter our own behaviour)? Perhaps we can provide better advice because we can simply relate to the challenges that clients share with us? Or maybe we can detect signs of stress (that “missed” litter tray in a multi-cat household) earlier?

It is tempting to extrapolate the findings to other species. Of course, it would be difficult to live with every species we treat. But it’s nice to see that those after-hours observations can improve our working knowledge. Perhaps I am biased, but this study made me think about living with cats as its own form of warm, fuzzy continuing professional development exercise.


PEREIRA, G. D., FRAGOSO, S., MORAIS, D., DE BRITO, M. T. V. & DE SOUSA, L. 2014. Comparison of interpretation of cat's behavioral needs between veterinarians, veterinary nurses, and cat owners. Journal of Veterinary Behavior-Clinical Applications and Research, 9, 324-328.