Below is a (edited) transcript of Dr. Coyer's radio interview in October 2011. The interview was conducted by Rich Britton of Passionate About Pets. The show's website can be found here.


Rich: On the line we have Dr. Rachel Coyer of Chester County Cat Hospital. Hey Doctor, how are you?

Dr. Coyer: Hi, I'm good. How are you today?

Rich: Great, great. Welcome to the neighborhood. You just came in over the summer, is that correct?

Dr. Coyer: Exactly, yeah -- been here about 4 months now.

Rich: Wonderful, well congratulations, and I know you're a welcome addition to the area here. A little background, I'm gonna wax poetic about you for a minute here. Jump in if I'm wrong anywhere.

Dr. Coyer: Okay.

Rich: Okay, well, Dr. Rachel Coyer grew up on a farm in a small town in western Pennsylvania called Slippery Rock. She attended Bucknell university and graduated with honors in cell biology and biochemistry. During her university years she spent time in Ecuador working with animals in a tropical ecology program in Quito. And also was working with animals as a veterinary assistant in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. From these experiences, she discovered medicine and animal care were both passions for her and elected to dedicate herself to veterinary medicine. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania where she worked with both large and small animals. After graduation she worked in Maine and Western Pennsylvania before settling into a position in Doylestown for 3 years. After working as an associate with cats and dogs, she decided to further specialize and she moved to West Chester to work for the advancement of feline medicine and the improvement of feline health care. Is that all correct doctor?

Dr. Coyer: Yes, that is correct.

Rich: Alright, great. Thank you. Just 'Meow' once for yes, and twice for no.

Dr. Coyer: Alright, perfect.

Rich: What made you have the decision to go to cats only? Because, I mean, it seems like you have a broad range of experience. You've seen all of it out there. What made you feel like that was the direction you wanted to go?

Dr. Coyer: Well, one of the things in deciding to be a vet to begin with, I was an animal lover and I think cats specifically are always very fascinating creatures. And they're also always a little mysterious and in my years going through the veterinary school and then working afterward they've always interested me as a creature, and also medically. I also think it's very nice as a doctor to tune your skills to a specific thing. And in cats, they're a very interesting creature to work with.

Rich: So, you're specializing like any doctor would specialize. (If you have a question for Dr. Coyer, call us at 610-701-9243.) Doctor, here's a question that I think a lot of people are thinking about or are concerned about. Some people are thinking, "should I declaw my cat?" Is that something that's within the realm of something I should do, or you hear how that could also be considered inhumane or barbaric as well. Where do you stand on that, what are the pros and cons?

Dr. Coyer: It's not generally something that you should do. I think what people don't realize often is that it's a very serious medical procedure. And in doing it, it's often done for the human, not for the pet. And I think it's extremely controversial because there's debate over what is good or bad for the cat and good or bad for the overall situation; there is no clear cut ianswer. I think the pro for people, since cats more often now are living in homes interacting with people: that it does prevent scratching of children -- is one thing that often comes up, with babies new to a household, and then just more superficial things like furniture. I think cons being that it's not natural to have the cat declawed. It's a painful procedure and they definitely don't want it. So, when I'm coaching clients about it, I generally tell them what happens in the procedure, the potential side effects, and the pain control that you need to do afterward. And also, offer them some other options such as training their kittens with nail trimmings and there are little things called Soft Paws that you can put over nails. But I always leave it to my owners as a personal decision with what they think is best for them and their pet.

Rich: Right, so you want to make sure you give them the option, and let them know. Here's a question for you as well. How is that specifically done? Is that taking out a piece, is all of the claw removed?

Dr. Coyer: It is, yes. It's actually the end bone of the digit that the claw grows off of that is removed. It's not a simple trimming of the nail so it doesn't grow. It's something that you're actually removing... it's a big deal having 10 of those.

Rich: Yeah, exactly, so I hear what you're saying. Interesting. And I guess you, once you know more about it, you may decide unless it was an imperative to do, you probably might not want to do it. But at the same time if it keeps a cat in the home, that might be another upside too. You might want to make sure that cat has a home.

Dr. Coyer: Exactly, that's why it's something of controversy because there are a lot of pets that don't have homes. And I never want to do anything that somehow ends up with a kitty sitting in a shelter that could be happily running around a home.

Rich: Exactly, I think that's great. Here's a question for you as well. There's this idea, doctor, about the romantic idea of letting the cat outdoors, kind-of a Norman Rockwell moment where they go outside and then they get to enjoy the world and come back home, etc. Do you advocate that, or do you think it's something you'd caution against?

Dr. Coyer: You know, I think it depends. I think cat's natural lifestyle is they need a lot of exercise and entertainment. They're energetic creatures that are very intelligent. And, I think addressing this concern can become difficult with indoor cats, I try to coach owners on environmental enrichment, and trying to make the house entertaining for them and to get them exercising. And I think a lot of the reasons that owners encourage them to go outside is because they're bored and want something to do. And unfortunately, this can lead to behavior issues.

Rich: Okay. But it seems if they're outside, there's such a risk of being hurt?

Dr. Coyer: Exactly. And then that's the flip side of this. There's a whole health discussion that goes along with going outdoors, which includes health concerns, not just for the individual cat, but for things the cat can pick up and bring to a family too. There's a lot of zoonotic (things that can be transferred to humans) concerns: fleas, ticks, and GI parasites. So, there's I think a lot of more preventative medicine that needs to happen for cats that do go outside -- different vaccine protocols and parasite control, along with increased concerns about heartworm disease and fleas.

Rich: Interesting. I never thought about that. I know that the wildlife can be effected as well... birds, etc. Speaking of what are good preventative measures for cats, what should people do in general, and be thinking about to keep their cat healthy really ahead of any kind of diseased condition hopefully?

Dr. Coyer: I think the basics depend on the life stage of the cat. With kittens vaccines and parasite control are very important, and also socialization – learning about nail trimming and things that teach them behaviors that will be with them for the next 18 years. And I think that for the adult cat, it's regular checkups with your vet, and discussing the big concerns in 1-7 year old cats such as oral health, their weight and diet, and then watching for any early development of diseases. And then with senior kitties, which with all the better preventative medicine out there, cats are living much longer lives now. There's a 25 year old cat occasionally, which is very impressive. But in those senior kitties, they definitely have changes we watch for in behavior, in bloodwork/urine and on their physical exam to try to address any concerns early. Having them in for checkups every six months, which in cat terms ends up being a lot of years compared to a human life span, is very important.

Rich: I guess like with a lot of animals and a lot of people these days, obesity is challenging.

Dr. Coyer: It is. It's a huge challenge.

Rich: I can imagine, I know that's how, again, people show their love to people sometimes, and definitely to their animals. I know I have a hard time not, every once in a while, giving a little – even if it's microscopic – piece of whatever I ate to my dogs because I feel a little guilty about it. I mean, what are some of the things that people can think about, when it comes to keeping weight off those animals? Are there any tips that you can find a happy medium between maybe giving a little something and...?

Dr. Coyer: I guess some tips are that there should always be portion control, knowing the amount of food the pet should be eating, and sometimes spreading that out through the day in little meals can be helpful. Cats generally eat little meals all day long in their natural state. So I think that's one thing as for people that are trying to diet their cat, that's often a helpful tip. And then also, I like things to make meals more involved. For example if they eat dry kibble, you can put the food in toys, such as plastic balls, that the cat has to be active to get food. Anything you can do to make them exercise and work for their food a little bit more is helpful. I think it's good for their brain too. Also remember that the cat is probably wanting attention not food, and there are many other ways to give attention.

Rich: Now, do you just leave food out for cats? I thought that was the way to do it. Now, you shouldn't do that, you should put portion control and pick it up. What would you suggest?

Dr. Coyer: Yes, that's what many people do, it is easy to fill up a bowl every morning on the way out the door. But then cats can continually wander by that bowl and have a little more every few minutes. So, yes, I think portions are extremely important.

Rich: So it's kind of like a misconception that cats just would eat just enough, or what they need? (laughter)

Dr. Coyer: It's a very rare cat that will do that. (laughter) Just like humans and dogs. It's very rare that you can eat anything you want and not have consequences.

Rich: Isn't that the truth. That is so true. That's great. Going back just a second, you had mentioned every few months you should visit a vet with your cat. Is six months a good amount of time if everything's okay? How does that work?

Dr. Coyer: That's generally true. Normally, for young kittens they come in more frequently as they're growing. And yes, every 6 months is a good staple to go by, because, again, cats are living longer lives and it is due to better care and you need to see the patient to assess what is going on in them. And remember once they hit 6 or 7, which can sound odd because you don't think of the cat as starting to get older at that age even though metabolically they are starting to be senior (geriatric) patients at this point and regular checkups become even more important.

Rich: Right, and if there's any kind of vaccinations they need in the interim, that's another reason they could drop by.

Dr. Coyer: Well, yes.

Rich: Here's kind of a two-part question. It always a joke that you never have to give your cat a bath. Is that something that's true, or is there ever a time that you need to give your cat a bath?

Dr. Coyer: I guess rarely. Definitely there are options. I mean my cat is nine, and I've never given her a bath... and I think she smells quite good (laughter). But there are definitely some times, not with fleas anymore at this point – flea baths are kind-of something of the past – but definitely with certain conditions for example different toxins that would get on your cat's skin, when yes, there would be bathing as a recommendation. So it depends, but most of the time they keep themselves pretty nice.

Rich: So it's more a preventative type of bath versus like a bubble bath.

Dr. Coyer: I guess that it would be a medical bath.

Rich: Here's something that I've always heard, and with people, they have allergies to animals. And I guess there's a spectrum of how allergic you are to an animal. But, I tested allergic for everything, including cats and dogs, and I take my Allegra every day and just deal with it... you know? Are these allergies really such an issue for people in your experience? When they come in are they so dramatic that it's causing... is that one of the main reason people are giving up animals like cats for example? All of the sudden a discovered allergy? Isn't there a way that you can have a happy medium if you do have, or are tested for an allergy? I remember my allergist saying, "Look man, you've got to get rid of your pets." ... and I happen to get rid of my allergist right after that. 'Know what I mean?

Dr. Coyer: Ahh... well, that's what I would do (laughter).

Rich: Yeah, I mean there are so many positives. So I just take an Allegra. What's your feeling on that?

Dr. Coyer: I think it depends, most people generally know they're allergic to cats. I think that there are potential problems sometimes with kids... if they don't realize yet that they have an allergy, just because they haven't been exposed yet. Also I think there are definitely different breeds of cats that people are more allergic to. And I think that, as for ways to cope with it, sometimes just keeping them out of the bedroom. My husband, personally, is allergic to our cat.

Rich: Right. That's a great idea.

Dr. Coyer: So basically, our cat doesn't go near our bedroom. And he tolerates that wonderfully. I think it just depends on the environment that you've setup. It's definitely possible to live with them, and lots of people have very mild cat allergies and come to see me at the clinic where there's lots of kitties and suddenly have more problems, but have two cats at home and are quite happy.

Rich: I think that's a great idea. Keep them out of certain areas that you're in, especially, say if it's your kid, or your kid's room, or your room. And I think there are more studies coming out unfortunately that people like to sleep with their dogs in their bed, and cats – that also could bring parasites in anyway.

Dr. Coyer: That's true, ticks often will fall off in places where animals are laying.

Rich: Cool, okay. If people are going away, how long should they go away without having their cat supervised? Because, I know that was always one of the perks for people that were "cat people". It was "I'm gonna go away, so I'm just gonna put a bowl down, etc.. and they were gone for the weekend."

Dr. Coyer: And there you go, yeah.

Rich: Tell me, what do you think is a good amount of time, and what's right with that and what's wrong with that?

Dr. Coyer: I guess I would want my pet to be looked at daily. I think in some regards it depends on the pet. Young kittens I would want to be checked on a couple times a day. And older cats too, especially because a lot of older kitties are on different meds. But for a cat that's healthy at home, I would vote for once a day. I don't think it's wrong to leave them overnight for a quick trip. I cringe when people start telling me they left their cat for three days, and no one looked at it. Truthfully, there's just a lot that can happen. Especially with, well the biggest thing that I think of, is young male cats that end up with urinary blockages very suddenly. And suddenly you're leaving that cat for 48 hours and if he would get sick on day 1, he could be gone by the time you got back.

Rich: That is a great point. I never thought about. What do you think about, doctor, the cat colonies of feral cats, and trapping, spaying, neutering, and then letting them go. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Coyer: This is... I debate this constantly. I mean, I think it's very important trying to get as many of these animals spayed and neutered, yes. I worry about the colony harboring disease such as FeLV and FIV and about feeding these cats and helping them to survive and continue to reproduce. It is hard not to feed a hungry cat, but it is a huge debate between controlling overpopulation and its consequences while not hurting an individual animal. There is no good answer at this point.

Rich: And it's challenging isn't it? You want them to live as best a life that they can, and all the shelters are so overcrowded that to bring them all in would be a whole other story so... It is a challenging...

Dr. Coyer: It's a bad situation. And it's hard, I think, for humans that have them because they can't not feed those cute little eyes out there... even if they can't touch them. But at the same time, that also gives them resources... and I don't know what the best answer is yet unfortunately. Luckily, there's a lot of research in veterinary medicine going into looking at that.

Rich: Doctor, give us the top three or four common health issues with cats that you're seeing these days.

Dr. Coyer: Common health problems, it depends upon age. One of the biggest things in older cats you deal with is kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. Obesity through all the ages along with dental disease and behavior.

Rich: Here's a question I've always wanted to know. Have you noticed a difference between cat people and dog people? In your experience is there a difference in the sensibilities in these two groups of people... and a lot of people have both! But it seems that most of them line up on one side or the other. What do you think? Do you have any feeling on that?

Dr. Coyer: I don't think so honestly. I guess, sometimes there's definitely a stereotype... very funny posters out there about cat people and dog people. In general, I don't think so.

Rich: (laughter) It is funny. I know you don't want to alienate all your crazy cat clients. That's okay. That's quite alright doctor.

Dr. Coyer: (laughter) No. I wasn't thinking that!

Rich: I wouldn't put words in your mouth... no.

Dr. Coyer: I have a dog and a cat and always debate if I'm more a cat person, especially now that I'm in feline medicine, or more of a dog person... who knows.

Rich: That's great. So we're talking with Dr. Rachel Coyer. The Chester County Cat Hospital is where Dr. Coyer can be found. She does some great work there, and again I know you do spaying and neutering. We need to get that done all the time.

Dr. Coyer: Yes.

Rich: And if you want to really touch base with the doctor, it's http://www.cccathospital.com (CC Cat Hospital dot com). Located on High Street in West Chester. (610)-701-MEOW. I like the way you did that there. Very creative. Thank you so much Dr. Coyer. It's greatly appreciated. We'll be back every once in a while to be in touch with you and let us know the latest on what's happening with our kitties out there.

Dr. Coyer: Sounds good. Thank you Rich.

Rich: Thank you so much.