Did you know that you can actually find the word “scaredy-cat” in the Merriam Webster dictionary? If you have one of those fearful cats, you already know that her fear may be affecting her quality of life. A fearful cat is a stressed cat. Fear or anxiety is more than just an emotional problem for cats. It can also cause many serious physical health problems and aggravate others.
Fear and anxiety in the veterinary clinic
Fear and anxiety are common for cats when they have to visit the veterinarian, and for far too long, this has been accepted as “that’s just way cats are” by both cat guardians and veterinarians. Thankfully, this is changing. The American Association of Feline Practitioners’ Cat Friendly Practice Initiative was designed to transform the experience of a veterinary visit for cats and their guardians by providing support and training for veterinarians and their teams to deliver care in a way that incorporates a better understanding of cats unique needs and behaviors.
Cats who are scared from the moment they enter a veterinary practice (and often even before that, when they are put in a carrier at home,) will not show the same behaviors or symptoms they may have shown in the safety of their own home. Since stress affects body chemistry, blood and urine samples collected during an exam will be skewed by the cat’s stress response to the situation.
An even bigger concern is that a negative experience at the veterinary clinic will traumatize cats and can have lingering effects on the cat’s emotional health and ultimately, her physical health. Guardians and veterinary staff must stop accepting that fear is normal in a veterinary setting, and focus on recognizing and relieving anxiety rather than reinforcing it.
Identify signs of fear
The first step to changing this dynamic is for cat guardians and veterinary staff to be able to identify the signs of fear. Signs can be as subtle as clinging to the guardian and avoiding eye contact to hissing and growling. By moving slowly, speaking with quiet voices, handling the cat gently and with a minimum of restraint and giving plenty of treats before, during and after the exam, veterinarians and staff can make a vet visit as pleasant as possible for scared cats.
There is nothing to be gained by proceeding with a veterinary exam or procedure if a cat is terrified. The cat will not forget, and will only be even more scared and more difficult to handle at the next visit.
Fear affects the body
The stress of the fear response affects virtually every system within the cat’s body. A continued or frequent stress response can affect the heart, thyroid, gastrointestinal tract, and immune system. Chronic stress has also been linked to urinary tract problems in cats. Chronic stress can is not something that should be taken lightly, as it can cause permanent damage.
It is imperative that cat guardians and veterinarians work together to reduce the stress of vet visits. There’s no question that vet visits are important, but muscling cats who are fearful into diagnostics or procedures does not serve anyone. These cats need to be approached with care and understanding, not brute force.
What does your vet and his/her staff do to make your cat’s visit less stressful?