The One Thing Every Vet Wants You To Know

Looks don’t matter. I don’t mean that in a ‘politically correct’, ‘we shouldn’t be so superficial’ kind of way. I mean it quite literally: looks don’t matter to you.

How can I say that? It’s obvious that some animals are cuter and more adorable than other ones. A cute kitty gets through my defences every time and I’m always baby talking to puppies.

It’s just that, beyond the fun, cuteness is completely irrelevant and even harmful to animals. I’ll explain why after trying to work out what makes an animal cute.

What Is Cuteness?

Cuteness is very much an individual taste, but certain traits seem to appear regularly:

  • Age: young animals are cute
  • Size: small animals are cute
  • Facial features: large eyes, flat faces & folded ears all seem cuter
  • Body shape: rounded bodies, short legs & stubby tails are cute
  • Coat: fluffy animals seem cuter

The whole concept of ‘cute’ is probably a survival strategy to care for our young.

When Cuteness Goes Bad

It’s OK of course to have a cute pet. What is wrong is when the same factors that create cuteness cause suffering or even a reduction in quality of life. Then we cross a line, like what happens to Scottish Fold cats.

Other than Folds, I’m not going to talk about the merits or deficiencies of certain breeds. Some are distinctly unhealthier than others, and some possibly shouldn’t be pets at all. I have a particular welfare concern with wildlife like sugar gliders as pets. However, most domestic species can (and do) lead high-quality lives if owners choose with their heads, not their hearts.

Why We Love Animals

There’s nothing wrong with liking the look of your pets. We all do. I remember being slightly offended when Loki’s breeder said she wasn’t happy with how his ears turned out. His ears? But they’re awesome!

We all get a bit of pride watching a fine animal or when someone says how handsome our dog or cat is. For some, owning a rare breed gives a joy in itself.

However, experienced vets see something that all pet owners should know. It’s how the love an animal receives has nothing to do with size, shape or appearance. It has everything to do with only two things:

  1. The personality of the pet
  2. The willingness of an owner to open their heart

In other words, as the RSPCA say, love is blind.

What Vets Want You To Know

  • Loved pets are always cute to their owners
  • Looks will distract you from making smart choices

Cuteness works its charm best on first impressions and outsiders. No owner says that one of their pets is cuter than another.

I think most experienced dog & cat owners know this innately. I see owners who recently lost a cute breed come in with a Staffy cross or a moggie from the shelter that they immediately and utterly adore. I see dogs who could be called ‘ugly’ to an outsider receive the same love as the most photogenic.


What We’re Up Against

Cuteness is certainly a big influence on the choice over which species or breed to purchase. Some people who lack other information may even use cuteness as the only factor in the decision. It takes a lot for them to look beyond the ‘cute at first sight’ breeds

It’s no wonder. We are increasingly bombarded with images of these dog and cat breeds. I see them used in all forms of media, especially on Facebook and YouTube. I see them as the most commonly chosen breeds for advertising, even within our own veterinary industry. Are even vets susceptible? Until recently, the answer would have been yes.

How To Show Love

So this is a message to those among us about to become dog or cat owners. You will love your pet, no matter what they look like. You will love them not for their looks, which you will soon think are wonderful anyway. You will love them instead for who they are.

That’s why when we see your new puppy or kitten, we’ll spend more time talking about social development than health. That’s why we’re obsessed with allowing a young animal to grow to their full potential.

It’s good breeding, health and management that make happy pets and happy people. Nothing else. If they end up being cute too, that’s a bonus. Choosing a breed for cuteness first is a case of the tail wagging the dog.

Dog Breed Selector | Cat Breeds of Adelaide | RSPCA Love Is Blind Campaign

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

Giving Cats Tablets (Or Ointment)

The advice you are getting is wrong. I’m to blame as much as anyone else. For years I’ve been blithely telling people how easy it will be. It was a friend of mine who first said, “Andrew, it was nothing like you showed me,” Then my own cat showed me, big time.

There’s a big difference between what happens in my clinic and what happens at home. I like to believe I can safely give pills to almost any of my patients but when it came to treating Grendel, I got scratched.

It showed me that we’re asking and answering the wrong question. In failing to see the problem, we’re causing cats to miss essential medicines and people to get injured. I’ll answer the right question in a minute, but first, we need to talk about safety.

Why Cats Are So Dangerous

It’s not just the teeth and claws. Yes, cats can give you a painful scratch or bite, but the wounds are usually small punctures. They should heal quickly without requiring stitches.

It’s the infection that follows. Every vet knows to go to the doctor as soon as possible after a deep bite but how many cat owners know this? Once the infection sets in, it’s not unusual to need intravenous antibiotics in hospital.

Wounds from cats quickly close over, can’t be disinfected and aren’t exposed to oxygen. The bacteria found on cats’ teeth and claws multiply rapidly and start spreading, even in normal, healthy people. When a person has poor circulation, advanced age or a weak immune system, it only gets worse.

The Right Question To Ask

Now, let’s return to the original problem. When I said that giving cats pills was easy I had two big advantages over you:

  1. Cats at the vet are scared and usually smart enough to cooperate
  2. Our nurses make cat handling look easy

When I went home I was just like you: facing down a stroppy cat with help only from family members. That’s when it became clear; giving pills or ointment is less important than knowing you are safe while you do it. Then you can take your time and do a good job without fear, struggle or injury (and avoid arguments!).

Nowadays, when I demonstrate pilling to cat owners, I tell the person holding the cat that they have the most important job. Yet for all the Google searches on “how to give a cat a tablet” you don’t ever see people searching how to hold cats. It’s time to set the record straight. The question they should ask is:

How Do I Hold A Cat For Medicine?

Holding a cat well is the secret to successful medication.

  1. Get ready by clipping your cat’s nails and wearing long sleeves
  2. Choose a flat surface such as a tabletop or your lap
  3. If you use your lap you need to wear thick trousers or cover your legs in a rug
  4. Position the cat sitting or crouching and faced away from you
  5. Slide each of your hands down the chest until you grasp and control one forearm in each hand
  6. Now tuck your arms in until they box your cat and prevent the hind legs from slipping out
  7. Lean your head back so the other person can get access and away they go
  8. The videos at the start show a good pilling or ointment technique

Your cat will often wriggle out of the hold or get the back legs free. Just start again as calmly and patiently as you can; if you feel yourself getting cross, take a break.

Now have a look at the video. That’s not a happy cat but he’s tolerating it and the good hold makes it easy and quick.

How To Give A Cat A Pill By Yourself

What if you can’t get anyone to help you? Realistically I don’t think it’s safe for most people to do this on their own. If you want to try, the technique is to wrap your cat in a towel and peg it around the neck like at the hairdresser. This keeps the claws under wraps. Then you face the cat away from yourself with your elbows keeping them in place while your hands give the pill.

So is it an option to avoid tablets? Sometimes the answer is yes, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. Don’t be shy; we’d rather be successful than have you injured and cats not treated. Visit this page for other ways to medicate cats.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.

The New Parvovirus Strain In Australian Dogs

UPDATE: We are glad to inform you that our standard Nobivac DHP vaccine has been proven to protect against strain CPV-2c. See more below.

Every dog owner’s worst nightmare is Parvovirus. This week the detection of a new strain in Australia was announced. Although there’s no reason to panic, here’s what vets and dog owners need to know.   Read more

Why I Hate Tennis Balls (And Dogs Love Them)

For many dogs, the highlight of their day is a game of fetch with the ball. Who can resist? You’d have to have a heart like a stone to say no. Or, like me, to know too much.

Stay with me while I show you five ways that tennis balls were made in the devil’s workshop. Afterwards, I’ll tell you how your dog can still have that fun without the risk. Read more

Where Are All The Female Vets?

Have you heard? Dr Chris Brown is stepping down from the Bondi Vet. The producers are asking pet owners to nominate their favourite vet for his replacement. What a great opportunity for you to do something about what I see as a great problem.

So here we are, in possibly the most female dominated of all the professions, yet all the major celebrity vets are male. Why? Read more

How Much Do Breeds Cost?

How Much Do Dogs Cost?

Ever wondered how much it costs to keep different dog breeds?

Recently I saw a very unfortunate case. The dog was barely 12 months old and had already had LOTS of vet visits. The owners were at their wits end both emotionally and financially. It didn’t help when I said; ” That’s not uncommon for the breed”.

“How were we supposed to know?” they said. I had to agree there wasn’t an easy way. There should be. Read more

How To Tell If Your Chicken Is Healthy

chicken health infographic
Most people can tell if a dog or cat is sick. It’s not too hard with ferrets either. All of these are predator species and have no reason to hide their illnesses.

Then there are the prey species, like rabbits, guinea pigs and birds. They deliberately hide signs of illness. They even pretend to eat! Most of the time what looks like ‘sudden death’ or a ‘heart attack’ is really the end of a long, slow illness we couldn’t see.

The good news is that you can tell. Here’s what to look for: Read more