Vet visits for cats should become a little easier in the future, thanks to the new Feline Friendly Handling Guidelines just released by the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine.
While cats outnumber dogs as pets (according to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there are 78.2 million households that own dogs versus 86.4 million that own cats), pets receive significantly less veterinary care than dogs. Cat owners often express a belief that cats “do not need medical care.” According to Dr. Michele Gaspar, DVM, DABVP (Feline), “there is a misconception that cats are independent and they don’t need the level of care that dogs do.”
Additionally, many cat owners cite the difficulty of getting the cat into a carrier, driving the cat to the clinic, and dealing with a scared or stressed cat at the clinic as reasons for fewer visits. The goal of the feline-friendly handling guidelines is to reduce these barriers by helping cat owners understand feline behavior, preparing the cat and the client for the vet visit, creating a cat-friendly environment at the veterinary practice, and training veterinary staff on how to meet the unique needs of their feline patients.
The guidelines suggest that by understanding the unique social and behavioral characteristics of cats, and by recognizing early signs of fear, vet visits can be made less stressful for both cat and owner. Recommendations include the following:
• Rehearse trips to the veterinary practice by using positive reinforcement (treats)
• Rehearse clinical exams at home by getting cats used to having their paws, ears and mouth handled
• Get cats used to carriers
• Locate the cat well before the scheduled visit to the vet clinic
• Bring items that carry a familiar scent
• Notify the veterinary team in advance if the cat is easily stressed.
For veterinary practices, the guidelines offer suggestions on how to make the hospital more cat-friendly:
- minimize wait times
- schedule cat appointments during quieter times of the day, or
- schedule dog and cat appointments at different times
- dedicate an exam room to cats only
- provide a cat only ward for cats who need to be hospitalized.
The guidelines go into great detail on how to interact with cats in the practice. The mantra “go slow to go fast” applies in almost every interaction with cats, from getting the cat out of the carrier to minimizing the stress of medical procedures. Veterinary staff should be trained to recognize and respond to cat signals, especially feline body language. Restraint should be minimal whenever possible. I was particularly delighted to see that the panel does not condone lifting the cat or suspending its body weight with a scruffing technique.
The guidelines offer recommendations for working with fearful or aggressive cats, ranging from pre-visit techniques that may include medication to using restraint methods, including chemical restraint, if required, stressing the need to be sensitive to each individual cat’s response.
A section on how to help cat owners cope with cats returning home from their vet visit and possibly upsetting other resident cats, and a comprehensive resource section, rounds out the guidelines. You can read the complete guidelines here.
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