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Posted on Sun. Jan. 27, 2013 - 12:01 am EDT

Cats popular pets, but few get checkups

Only 55% of felines taken to vet

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Cats and dogs

Top 10 cat-owning states – percentage of households with cats:

1. Vermont…49.5%

2. Maine…46.4%

3. Oregon…40.2%

4. South Dakota…39.1%

5. Washington…39.0%

6. West Virginia…38.1%

7. Kentucky…36.8%

8. Idaho…34.6%

9. Indiana…34.4%

10. New Hampshire…34.2%

At the bottom

46. Georgia…27.3%

47. Illinois…26.3%

48. Louisiana…25.9%

49. New Jersey…25.3%

50. Utah…24.6%

51. Washington, D.C.…11.6%

Top dog-owning states – percentage of households with dogs:

1. Arkansas…47.9%

2. New Mexico…46.0%

3. Kentucky…45.9%

4. Missouri…45.9%

5. West Virginia…45.8%

19. Indiana…39.9%

At the bottom

46. Utah…29.4%

47. Rhode Island…29.3%

48. New York…29.0%

49. Connecticut…28.3%

50. Massachusetts…23.6%

51. Washington, D.C.…13.1%

Source: American Veterinary

Medical Association

It’s not unusual for Gambit to become jealous of a laptop, run from room to room when he wants to play and sometimes, when he’s hungry, drool on his owner.

Ashley Sharp’s orange-eyed tabby never pees on the floor while she’s at work and is ready to play when she gets home, offering her “the best of both worlds.”

And for many other Hoosiers, cats are proving to be popular companions.

More than a third of Indiana households have at least one cat in residence, according to a report called the U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook released this month by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The state is ninth in the nation in terms of cat ownership, but the veterinary association found a more troubling habit practiced by many of those same cat owners: They’re not taking their animals to the vet for annual checkups, where it can be administered needed vaccinations, have its general health looked at or be checked for any injuries it might be hiding from its owners.

“I actually haven’t taken him in about a year,” Sharp said of Gambit, whom she bought three years ago while a senior at Saint Francis University. “I know I need to.”

‘By the wayside’

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association’s report, roughly 34.4 percent of Hoosier households had a cat as a pet in 2011.

The states ahead of Indiana are Vermont – where nearly half the households have a cat – followed by Maine, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, West Virginia, Kentucky and Idaho.

More and more people – including Hoosiers – are being drawn to the animals’ independence and personalities, according to those who work regularly with animals.

And the numbers from past veterinary association studies bear that trend out:

Twenty-six percent of Indiana households owned cats in 1996; 33 percent in 2001; then 32 percent in 2006.

Cats typically don’t have to go to obedience classes, don’t need to be walked and can stay home alone for long periods of time without problems.

“Over the years, the old myths of cats have gone by the wayside,” said Peggy Bender, the community relations and educations specialist for Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control. “Cats can be a little simpler for a family.”

Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control saw 64 more cat adoptions in 2012 compared with 2011, according to Bender, who also said the shelter still has thousands of cats that end up within its walls yearly.

“You have people who love cats and do everything on the responsible side,” Bender said. “Then you have others who will let the cat in and out (of the house), don’t spay or neuter it, or they move and leave the cat behind.

“They do everything on the irresponsible side,” she continued.

And there are some owners who skimp on vet visits, which can also be irresponsible when it comes to a pet’s well-being, according to the veterinary association’s study.

Of all the cat owners nationwide, only 55 percent took their animal in for an annual checkup in 2011, which was down 13 percent from 2006 numbers.

About 81 percent of dog owners took their animals to the vet at least once that same year, down 1.7 percent from 2006, the study said.

“Unfortunately, the report reveals that fewer dogs and cats are seeing the veterinarian regularly, and that’s something that the AVMA and every companion animal veterinarian are concerned about,” said Douglas G. Aspros, the president of the veterinary association, in a prepared statement.

“Pet owners across the country need to remember to bring their pets into the veterinarian – at least once a year – to maintain optimal health,” his statement continued.

Fewer vet visits

There’s several reasons cat owners probably don’t take their feline friends to the vet regularly.

One is that they don’t realize that they should, or that they don’t believe the animal needs to see the vet since cats typically do not go outside and cannot get into as much trouble as dogs.

“That’s kind of a fallacy,” said Elizabeth Lentz, a veterinarian at Dupont Veterinary Clinic. “We see a lot of indoor cats that are neglected because they don’t get a physical exam.”

Cats can develop bad dental disease or infections of the skin that owners don’t know how to look for, Lentz said.

Plus, there are vaccinations some animals may need in order to be boarded, and some pets may need an annual rabies vaccination while others are required to be vaccinated every three years.

“Some owners bring their cats in very often, and there are others who only bring them in every three years,” said Dr. Dan Rodgers, a veterinarian who has 46 years of experience and practices at Aboite Animal Hospital.

“Part of it may be the vet’s fault, in that we don’t stress the importance of seeing them once a year,” Rodgers continued.

“Seeing them once a year is like us seeing our physician once every four or five years.”

And many owners simply forget.

Or because they don’t go to their doctor often – or even like going to the doctor – they don’t think that their animal needs to make a visit to the vet, either.

But if they do, subtle injuries that a cat may try to hide, or even minor infections, may become a bigger deal down the road, local vets said.

“I think it’s easy to forget about it when there’s nothing visibly wrong with him,” said Ashley Sharp of Gambit. “I mean, I myself don’t go to the doctor unless I’m on my deathbed.”

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