Having a Cat in Medical School 🐈

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"Having a cat in medical school?" over photo of grey cat on cat tree

Goal: This article is written as an opinion piece (“jOpEd”) surrounding the subjective experience of pet owners in medical school. This article will brush up against subjects relating to feeding and considerations of medical care, however, none of this information is presented as medical advice! Please seek advice from qualified professionals in the care and treatment of your pet! This article only includes subjective experiences of pet ownership.

I’m hoping this article will help two target audiences:
1. The industry-standard over-planner medical student (or soon-to-be); or
2. The well-intentioned parent of the aforementioned category seeking a information as a helpful gesture.
I will spoil the ending by telling you that not only has having a cat during medical school been possible, it has been surprisingly easy, and most of all deeply rewarding. I hope that by sharing my experience, I can help others best prepare to welcome a little fuzzball into their home as smoothly as possible.

Do You Want a Pet?

I’d be surprised you read this far if you didn’t! Of course, pets come in all different shapes, sizes, and specialties. If you find that you are sufficiently pleased to visit your friend’s animals, I assure you there will be many. My med school friends have dogs, cats, tigers, and I even have a friend with a snake! Like many of these pet owners, you might find that having a cuddly companion is a long-term wellness booster. Watching my doofus chase her own tail in the bathtub never ceases to brighten a long day.

Why a cat?

The agile and light frame of the standard feline offers a high level of food-economy with a versatile form-factor. Due to the large annual production quantities, a quality selection is available with standard features not offered in competitor models. Additionally, the upfront cost can be quite affordable, and I am always an advocate for purchasing a Certified-Used model such as my personal selection displayed above. With only minor cosmetic blemishes (left ear docked since previous owners claimed she was a “barn cat” to get a free spay), you can receive a professionally inspected recent model for well under $100. I even received some aftermarket features such as micro-chipping and full vaccinations included in the sticker price!

The real savings are in the standard features. With Self-Relianceβ’Ά technology built-in, your little beast will self-groom, replenish fluids, and dispose of refuse in a designated area. Later on, we will suggest some accessories that will help you with scheduled re-fueling as well as maximizing PPMs (*Purrs-Per-Minute). So if you are ready to set down the KittyBlueBook, and visit your nearest second-hand dealer, what comes next?

Important First Steps

There are a few tasks that as a responsible pet owner, but especially as a soon to be busy medical student, you should tackle as quickly as possible.

  • Pet Insurance! – Before you even bring kitty home, I strongly recommend the idea of finding a pet insurance plan, especially as a medical student! Like most insurance, the sticker price vs the low likelihood of ever needing the plan tends to deter pet owners. With that in mind, unless you just won the lottery, emergent veterinary care is expensive. As a medical student, a medical emergency for Mr. Scratchington is going to already be emotionally stressful for the pet you love, the interruption to your studies, and thus is the exact reason you don’t want to be forced to weigh the life of your pet with a potentially massive financial burden on your student budget. The younger the pet when first insured, the lower the rates. There are a lot of mediocre plans out there as well, and since pet insurance falls under the Property Insurance category, you will be expected to cover costs upfront followed by reimbursement. Do some digging and pick a plan that works for you. It may also help to consider opening a credit card to cover any upfront costs [#shamelessSelfPromotion – consider checking out our article on Best Credit Cards for First-Year Medical Students].
  • Establish a Vet – This task can be researched in advance by calling around town and requesting price quotes for annual vaccinations and standard visitation. Just be aware that many shelters have established “First Visit Free” type offers for recently adopted pets as a means to draw in new patients. This may seem like the cheaper option, however, this is often offered with the knowledge that after the first visit, if anything happens requiring kitty to be seen, they will be your new default choice. As such, finding an office that offers affordable care with good reviews may end up being a better long-term strategy.
  • Locate 24/7 ER Vet – Even if you have established with a wonderful primary care practice in town, emergencies happen. If something urgent arises in the middle of the night, you won’t want to waste time fighting with Siri to locate the emergency clinic nearest to you. Find this early and place the phone number/address on the fridge door.
  • Update the Microchip! – Far too many pet owners put this on a tomorrow to-do list, but the time for this update is now! You don’t want to be dealing with this if Mister Whiskers sneaks out the backdoor.
  • Travel Crate w/ Prep Kit – In addition to medical emergencies, it also helps to plan ahead for other situations that might require you to quickly scoop up Mrs. Mouser with little notice. Tornado, power outage in the middle of winter, fires and more. For this reason, having a few days of food and water set aside for your four-legged friend at the ready with a travel crate will keep your loved pet prepared. (As an aside, it might be time to consider having a basic emergency kit for yourself as well? For more info, visit www.ready.gov/kit ).

Keep Kitty Happy (aka Max PPM Accessories)

There are a handful of products that we have found can make life better for Sgt. Snugglebug as well as hectic medical students. Although these tools certainly allow for increased flexibility in schedule, we still want you to spend some quality time keeping your pet company. This will simply allow you to spend your time cuddling up and playing rather than completing chores of daily pet life.

  • Automatic Pet Feeder – The single BEST and most LIFE-CHANGING product a medstudent cat owner can possibly buy. If I sound a bit overzealous, I am. We even listed it on our Top Tech Tools for Med Students article. There are many variations of these products out there, but the one in this photo has been nothing short of incredible (even if it is directly from China and sold under a dozen different brand names). Schedule up to 4 timed meals a day, with individually customized dispensing quantities (in 5 gram increments), accompanied by an optional recorded audio message to let your kitty know it is mealtime. The lid is very well secured and prevents aggressive food-sneakers from gaining access. Although my little monster has figured out how to reach up the chute and rotate the dispensing mechanism, three other cat owners I know who use this exact same model haven’t had any issues. The last feature I will mention is that while it comes with a (very long) cable to provide wall-power, it also accepts D batteries as a supplemental power source should the electricity go out! No longer will you need to worry about a study session running late since this fantastic tool will ensure that meals are delivered in a timely manner. I have also noticed this has had the wonderful side effect of the cat realizing she no longer needs to wake me up on the weekends to get her food.
  • Water Bowl w/ Reservoir – a similar concept to the auto feeder, but one that excites me less. With that said, having fresh water for kitty is critical for keeping her healthy, as my vet has explained to me.
  • Top-Entry Litter Box – although these don’t work for every cat, they do an incredible job of keeping litter in the box where it belongs. This will help keep your student-budget housing feeling fresh and clean for longer.
  • Litter-Genie – Is this product a little gross? – Yeah. With that said, especially if you are living in an apartment, this small container allows you to more frequently spot-clean the litter box without making a trip to the dumpster each time. The sent sealing mechanism is worth the price, including the proprietary bag refills (which can last surprisingly long).
  • Hand-Held Vacuum – even a top-entry litter box requires a bit of spot cleaning, and having a dedicated vacuum for this task feels more sanitary. These can often be purchased cheap at second-hand stores, so keep your eyes peeled.
  • Cat Tree – giving a way for your pet to enjoy looking outside can be an easy way to provide hours of entertainment. These trees can also double as an appropriate place for kitty to scratch if you are looking to protect the sofa.
  • Toys – a bit more dependent on the personality of your pet, but keeping toys around can help them pass the time when you are away as well as giving you an activity to bond over when you need to step away from the books.
  • Quality Food – surprisingly the bargain basement brand of fish shaped cat food may not always be the best choice for your cat’s diet and also for the frequency with which you need to clean up hairballs. Ask your vet for a recommendation on quality brands that will keep everyone happy and healthy.

Considerations & Planning

So what kind of changes can you expect from adding Professor Mittens to your family? Housing is a big consideration – especially since most Med students will be renting. Finding a place to live that allows cats can cut out a lot of options, and if you ever consider a dog, it will become even fewer. Once you have a place to stay you should keep an eye out for potential hazards in terms of small objects that might be swallowed, house plants that may be toxic, and defending food you leave on the countertops. You may also want to consider that your home might be functionally off limits to friends or family who suffer from allergies. Time to stock up on those first generation antihistamines!

Depending on where you end up for school, it will also be necessary to either make holiday travel arrangements or find someone to check in on Rev. Rawrson. (No, the auto feeder is not sufficient as amazing as it may be!) It’s probably a good idea to consider setting aside a few bucks for these situations.

Speaking of expenses, how much does a little grey fur beast cost big picture?

Upfront ~$300 | Cat tree $100, litter box, toys, pet carrier, engraved collar, scratching post, and used-cat $50.

Monthly ~$40 | Pet insurance premium $22, pet food ~$10, and litter ~$8.

Annual ~$210 | Vet checkups ~$50, vaccinations ~$40, pest prevention ~$120,

Unexpected $??? | If kitty rips up something expensive, so make sure you plan for some unexpected costs.

Closing Thoughts

My cat is an absolute monster and I am so thrilled to have her in my life every single day. We have a really solid system established to make her life comfortable and ours as well. In return, she showers us with love, shedded fur, and someone to lecture about pyruvate metabolism. In summation, I think cats make the puuurfect pets for medical students. #Puns #SorryNotSorry

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