The findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer Health Care revealed that 52% of America’s 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care. I would bet that the actual number is probably much higher, since this study only captured data from cat guardians who do seek some veterinary care, not those who never take their cat to the vet. And while some of this may be due to cat guardians not understanding how vitally important regular veterinary care is for your cat’s health, it may also be due to the fact that most cats hate going to the veterinary clinic.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has been educating veterinarians and veterinary staff on how to make practices more cat-friendly through its Cat Friendly Practice Initiative. I attended a series of lectures at the Central Veterinary Conference in Washington, DC a couple of months ago which all focused on making the clinic environment less stressful for cats.
The overarching theme for handling cats in a veterinary practice was “less is more.” Gentle handling, calm energy, and working with the cat rather than against it all contribute to making the veterinary visit a more positive experience for both cat and guardian.
Here’s what you should expect to see in a cat-friendly practice:
Clinics should have a separate waiting area for cats. Better yet, cat and guardian will be taken straight into an exam room. Most cats do better if they can see their guardian while they’re in the carrier.
Getting the cat out of the carrier
If the cat refuses to come out of the carrier, there are several options, and none involves the old-style dumping the cat out of the carrier! Most veterinarians prefer hard carriers with a top that opens, or soft carriers that zip open all the way around. In many cases, the vet can conduct the full exam without ever having to take the cat out of the carrier. If carriers have no opening on the top, taking the carrier apart and lifting the top off can be a good option.
Let the cat have as much control as possible
Veterinarians and staff should be flexible and allow the cat as much control as possible. Exams can be performed on the floor, on the guardian’s lap, or even on the veterinarian’s lap (although I suspect that’s the rare cat who will allow that!) The goal is to have the cat be as comfortable and relaxed as possible.
Minimize the stress of medical procedures
If multiple procedures need to be performed during an exam, the vet should always start with the least stressful and/or invasive ones, and save the worst for last. Taking the cat’s temperature is a prime example of this. It’s often done by a technician at the very beginning of an exam, and it may stress the cat to the point where nothing else can be done to her. Saving temperature taking for later in the exam, and using ear rather than rectal thermometers, is a much better approach.
The less restraint, the better. Holding the cat in a natural position during procedures such as blood draws or injections causes less stress than forceful restraint. Scruffing the cat used to be a common way to restrain cats during medical procedures, but some veterinarians no longer use this technique and don’t condone its use. They use gentler handling techniques that are far less stressful and just as effective for cats.
Staff and guardians need to stay calm
Veterinary staff and the cat’s guardian need to manage their energy, remain calm, and speak in soft voices. Cats are sensitive creatures and will pick up on the energy around them. It doesn’t take much to put an already aroused cat over the top.
Are hospital cats a good idea?
Some veterinary hospitals have resident cats. While these cats may be a great morale boost to staff and even clients, they can be a tremendous source of stress for visiting cats. Veterinary staff should be trained to be aware of subtle signs of feline stress in both the resident cat and visiting cats so they can remove the practice cat from patient areas.
What has your veterinary hospital done to reduce the stress of a veterinary visit for your cats?