Barbara Slack-Bowden and Dr. Fern Slack, right, are co-founders of Boulder’s sole feline-only veterinary clinic. (photo by Robin Hanna Fox)

Scaredy Cats No More

By Sara Bruskin

Pet owners all know the fear and uncertainty of realizing their animal is sick. It can be hard to determine what’s wrong and whether it’s serious enough to warrant a trip to the vet. According to Dr. Fern Slack, cofounder of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center, cats can be especially difficult to diagnose because of their evolutionary position on the food chain.
“Cats are predators, but they’re also small prey, and small prey animals all obey one behavioral rule: If you’re sick, you don’t act sick until you absolutely cannot hide it anymore,” explained Slack, a veterinary physician who has worked solely with felines since 1993. “The minute you act sick in the wild, you have a target on your back.”

No Dogs Allowed

Slack’s narrow field of study enabled her to break away from the canine-heavy focus of the veterinary world. She says dogs are the subjects of most veterinary science and then their results are applied to cats, even though the two could not be more physiologically different.

Dr. Fern Slack
conducts an exam on the floor to help her patient feel secure,
reducing stress. (photo by Robin Hanna Fox)

“Even in vet school, most lectures are all about dogs, and then at the end you get a little bit about cats,” Slack said, “and most of the time, that information is questionable at best.”

Slack’s sister-in-law, Barbara Slack-Bowden, cofounded Uniquely Cats and is the hospital administrator. She points out how difficult it can be to perform a good exam and accurately assess a cat’s health in most veterinary clinics where the cats are stressed by the other animals present.

“It’s much worse if they can see, hear and smell dogs around them,” she said.

She also calls attention to the unrealistic expectation that veterinarians must know everything about cats, dogs, pigs, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, snakes and all of these different animals, whereas human doctors spend years studying just one species.

Slack and Slack-Bowden knew they could provide better care for felines in a clinic that treated cats and only cats.

They partnered with Animal Arts to design the floorplan of their feline-exclusive clinic, and hired Scott Rodwin’s team at Rodwin Architecture and Skycastle Construction to bring their vision to life.

“It was exciting to meet the rigorous technical challenges while giving the space a nonclinical feel,” Rodwin said. “Doctor Slack wanted all her clients (human and feline) to feel as comfortable as if they were at home.” He incorporated stone, raw wood and lots of natural light in the design to give it a warm Colorado feel.

Don’t Eat Your Vegetables

As beautiful as her clinic is, Slack’s goal is to keep cats in their own homes as much as possible by maintaining their health with proper nutrition. She says everything they do starts with food, and it really boils down to the fact that cats are obligate carnivores.
“The only thing they eat in the wild is meat—mice, snakes, birds, worms, etcetera—not plants,” Slack explained. “Plant material is very harmful to cats, and nearly every commercial cat food in the world is made mostly or entirely out of plant material. When we switch cats to healthy all-meat diets, 90 percent of what is wrong with them goes away.”

If you think your cat doesn’t have that option because they’re on a special diet for heart or liver problems, think again. Slack says the prescription diets that many veterinary clinics sell are not nutritionally sound for feline health, yet the vets are trained to prescribe them. Instead, Slack recommends cat owners feed a biologically appropriate diet, which can be purchased or made at home. If time constraints require the purchase of prepared food, Slack vouches for Balanced Blends—a Boulder-based company that makes an evolutionarily appropriate diet.

Conscious Cat Owners

Even with a great diet, everybody gets sick sometimes, and a cat’s best defense is an informed owner. Slack says cat behaviors to watch out for include general lethargy, throwing up frequently and urinating outside of the litter box. In an effort to educate cat owners on everything from vaccines to dental health, she posts informative articles on the Uniquely Cats website. After 25 years of studying nothing but cats, she knows what she’s talking about.

Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center
1915 28th St. , Boulder, Colo. 80301
Mon., Wed. and Fri.
7:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
7:30 a.m.– 6:30 p.m.
Thurs. and Sat.
8–11 a.m.