Since deciding to work with just cats, neither woman has looked back.
“I love cats because they’re so independent,” Dr. Lindsey said. “And every cat has a different personality; you can’t stereotype them.”
When Dushka, a semi-feral Nebelung cat, jumped off the examination table, Dr. Sarah McCormack grabbed her by the scruff of the neck, supported her bottom and put her back on the table.
The cat, which normally squeaks, squawks and wriggles when anyone attempts to pick her up, was still. Why? McCormack has medical know-how and a calming presence that turns scare-dy cats into pussycats.
So does her colleague, Dr. Deborah Lindsey, who uses “clipnosis,” the placement of two binder clips on the scruff of the neck to relax the cat during an examination.
“It reminds them of when they were kittens, when their mother would pick them up by the scruff to transport them. Many cats find it soothing,” Lindsey said.
McCormack and Lindsey are on staff at Weymouth Landing Cat Clinic, the South Shore's only veterinary practice that is feline-exclusive.
Nationally, cats outnumber dogs 93.6 million to 77.5 million, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey. More than one cat per household is common.
Since deciding to work with just cats, neither woman has looked back.
“I love cats because they’re so independent,” Lindsey said. “And every cat has a different personality; you can’t stereotype them.”
Lindsey, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, was a math and pre-med major at Loyola University in Chicago, but decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine after volunteering at a cat shelter.
She earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2004. After graduating, she moved to Massachusetts to work in feline facilities. She worked at the Cat Hospital of Auburn before landing in Weymouth in January 2009.
Since then, Lindsey has adopted three cats with chronic medical problems. Her menagerie now consists of seven cats and one dog.
“Sometimes you think the cat is not going to do well, but you have to give it a chance. There is some truth to cats having nine lives. Their will is amazing; they will put up with a lot to try to survive,” Lindsey said.
Earlier this month, Lindsey cared for a kitten that was recovering from a pellet gunshot to the head. She operated on the kitten to remove the pellet from her neck and brought the animal home to give her round-the-clock care. Sadly, Lindsey had to euthanize the kitten that the staff called Gidget.
“I was really kind of hopeful for her because she did so well the first couple of days, but it just caught up with her,” Lindsey said. “It’s very sad.”
Call her ‘MacDoolittle’
McCormack was born in California, but she has lived all over the world: England, Indonesia, Texas, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Raised by English parents, she speaks with an English lilt that American felines adore; her e-mail prefix is “DrMacDoolittle,” which is a reference to the popular literary animal doctor who has the ability to talk to animals.
From an early age, McCormack knew she wanted to be a veterinarian.
“Moving around, we got to see all kinds of incredible animals. That piqued my curiosity,” McCormack said. “I’ve always been interested in how the body works as a system and in the differences between the many animals. I love all animals and I really love cats. My mum said she always knew I was going to be a vet.”
McCormack studied neuroscience at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and completed her veterinary studies at Tufts University. After earning her DVM in 2009, she worked a one-year internship at New England Animal Medical Center in West Bridgewater, where she treated cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and wildlife. She has also worked at the New England Aquarium and the Franklin Park Zoo.
In July, she joined the staff at the Weymouth Landing Cat Clinic. At home, she has one feline companion, a gray-and-white kitty named Moshe.
Despite being scratched and occasionally bitten by their feline patients, both doctors say their work is very rewarding.
“Cats bring us so much joy and I’m always learning, always looking into things and trying to help people out with options,” McCormack said.
“It makes us better people, too, if we can help these cats,” Lindsey added.
The downside is seeing a patient with a condition they can’t treat, such as end-stage kidney failure, and euthanizing a beloved family pet.
“You feel very powerless when you can’t do anything to help. That makes me very sad. I don’t generally cry in the exam room because I have to be strong for the owner and the patient. But to be honest, when I get home at night, I often shed a few tears,” McCormack said.
Focused on felines
Cat health issues are very different than dog health issues.
“Dogs will start whimpering at the first sign of pain. But a cat could have horrible dental disease or another illness but not act much different,” Lindsey said.
Cats are susceptible to viral and upper-respiratory infections and high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems and obesity.
“I do vulvoplasties for the heavier females,” Lindsey said. “It’s like plastic surgery – a nip/tuck of the extra fatty tissue by the cat’s vulva to help decrease the chance of urinary tract infections and inflammation. But weight loss is still critical regardless of doing the surgery.”
Some tips from Lindsey and McCormack:
If your cat stops eating, contact your veterinarian. Lack of food can trigger hepatic lipidosis, a type of liver disease.
Keep these household products away from your cat: lilies, onion, garlic, chocolate, string, dental floss and medicines containing acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or aspirin.
If your cat is stressed about getting into a cat carrier, spray the interior with simulated cat-calming pheromones about 20 minutes before introducing the cat. Brands include Feliway, Phero-Soothe and Nutri-Vet Pet-Ease.
Ask your veterinarian to teach you “clipnosis.” If your cat likes it (not all cats do), the cat will be calmer when you’re cleaning its ears and trimming its nails.
Have deep cat bites cleansed properly with water and iodine at the hospital. Bacteria from a cat’s mouth could cause infection very quickly. Red lines extending from the bite site is a sign of severe infection.
Avoid dry cat food containing preservatives. Many male cats suffer from urinary tract blockages after a steady diet of preservative-laden brands, such as Meow Mix, Chef’s Blend, Deli Cat and Kit & Kaboodle. Better choices are Hill’s Science Diet, Purina Pro Plan and other brands recommended by your veterinarian.
A low-cost option for spaying and neutering is the Spay Waggin’, a clinic-on-wheels created by the Animal Rescue League of Boston. See arlboston.org for the South Shore schedule.
The Weymouth Landing Cat Clinic has several cats available for adoption to good homes. The clinic also has volunteer internships open to high school and college students interested in veterinary medicine call 781-337-0400.
To see more of what women on the South Shore are thinking and talking about, go to tinyurl.com/womynzone every Saturday.