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Feline friendly - where do we start?

If you have been reading the journals, blogs, e-newsletters, attending webinars and seminars  in veterinary medicine, there is a common message to help rescue our practices  - be cat friendly.  Now I don't think any veterinarian, technician, assistant or other staff member has ever worked towards being a cat's  enemy.  We  provide competent, up to date  care for our cat patients - how can one be more pro cat?  Many clinics have feline ambassadors waiting on the receptionist counter to greet everyone.  Yet there are many cats that hate anything related to the veterinary exam.   The Bayer veterinary usage study has put numbers and facts to this -  58.2% of cat owners say their cat hates the vet.  At one of the seminars about  the Bayer study findings the statement was made - cats care represents the greatest source of revenue growth for small animal practices.

Great.  We know the cats that have been easy to handle, came in as kittens and are well socialized to the office.  These kitties are the easy ones.  Don't upset them and exams will always go well.

Unfortunately these kitties represent a small number of the cats presented to many practices.  Often the methods that we use to handle cats make the cats more aggressive and  difficult to handle.  Yes, scruffing is not a good idea.  If 3 people have to hold a cat down because of struggling and fighting, the cat will always struggle.   This is what the cat has learned to do at the veterinarian.  Changing our handling procedures takes time.   Who has time?   There are so many techniques, and methods to handling,  travel, hospitalization, and medicating where does you start? 
Here are some baby steps to get you started.  It will take time but not as much as you might think if you follow these first steps.

Step 1 -  For a few days, look at what the cat's experience is  at your office.   Think of what it is like for this owner to get the cat in a carrier and to your office.   Is it likely this cat had to be chased around and caught?  Was  the drive long or in noisy traffic?  What does the cat see, smell and hear  in that carrier as they walk in the door?.  What does the exam room "feel" like for the cat? Cold stainless table? Formica? Does a table mean water is going to be sprayed at them to get off like at home?  How fast are people moving around and hands grabbing on them and where for exams?  Is there anything good for the cat like treats, tuna or a toy  to make the exam rewarding?   

Step 2 acknowledge cats do not want to be held down or feel as if they are trapped  by human hands.
If you understand to hold  a cat tight  has that cat in a fearful state that will turn to aggression ( not too different than a dog)  you will understand why the newer handling techniques are safer.  It seems counter intuitive, but you have to try it or see it on videos to understand it.  Watch "Mr. Misty gets an IV" on YouTube to see  a way to use a towel and no hands  to restrain a grumpy cat.   Now just use your hands less.  Don't hold onto the face as you examine it -  techs rub the cat's head or feed  a/d as injections are given. 

Step 3 - Tell your clients how to make travel easier.  Does your staff know how to get a cat to like the carrier? Do you know other items to use to transport a cat to the vet if that cat hates the plastic shell carrier?  Go to my website under resources and learn.  Try these techniques at home so you can understand what it takes to do these things.  A cat that is less upset from travel will be less upset for exams.   A  client brought his 2 cats to my office in their canvas play house recently.  Last year one of the cats was difficult to examine no matter how much Feliway, treats or minimal handling was uses.  This year he was a prince.  He was happy in his house and we just moved him and the pad on the table for his exam.  Not a hiss or anything.  I feel his travel was much better, so he was more relaxed for the exam.

Step 4     Record what works for this cat to have better exams.  Does this cat need Feliway (CEVA) or Lean Treats ( Butler-Schein) to have a less aggressive exam?  How can this cat be good for other handlers if they do not know what works?   Repeated successful exams  will change cats from angry to friendly.  Documentation saves time, injury to staff, and increases income.  Look at the Bella Behavior Label System(  as method to use.
Step 5   Use pain relief early in the exam.  Cats are great at hiding pain.  They need to or they would be lunch in the wild.  So an owner will comment that the cat is not eating as well, or does not like petting over the back but will not comment about pain.  So often we miss that as a reason for why our feline patients are grouchy.  A dose of Buprenex orally at the start of the exam can help.  Tell the client you are giving pain relief - if there is a good response there is more indication for work up and the client is likely to approve.

There are many more ideas for making your office more cat friendly.  I will cover some of those ideas in future articles.  Cats are beloved creatures that are capable of co operating for injections, blood draws, x-rays and other treatments.   Understanding that the cat needs to be handled much less intensely and how rewarding will shape better behavior will win over  many a cat and owner.  Within one exam you will see a better attitude with your cat patients.  Build upon that and tell your clients that you are working to make it easier for cats.  Now that is being cat friendly!

Sally J Foote, DVM  CFBC-IAABC
Okaw Veterinary Clinic Tuscola IL

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