How to Have a Feline-Friendly Practice

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It is worth stating again: Cats are not small dogs! Treating cats is critical to a veterinary practice’s success and no one can afford to handle and treat cats the same as dogs.

Misconceptions and biases about cats (and their owners) mean they often do not get the care they need and deserve and practices lose revenue.

Related Article: Improving Feline Veterinary Experiences

Consider the following ways in which cats are underserved. How are cats treated in your practice?

  • When clients visit with their dogs, do you ask about and suggest care for their feline friends at home?
  • Is your practice a cat-neutral or cat-unfriendly environment (eg, a small lobby with no space to separate dogs and cats, having house cats in the lobby or kennels, taking cats to the treatment room to obtain laboratory samples, housing cats and dogs together)?
  • Are cats underrepresented in your marketing/social media presence and practice décor?
  • Is osteoarthritis, which occurs in up to 61% of cats 6 years of age or older,1 on your radar?
  • Does your team strive to provide stress-free—or at least lower-stress—practice visits for clients and cats?

Seek to Understand

Rethink how cats are perceived. They are not fractious or crazy. They are fearful and reluctant. Rethink their owners as well, using the same descriptions. 

Consider cats’ feelings and experiences. They are trapped in a carrier and surrounded by other cats and barking, sniffing dogs, and perhaps curious children—all before seeing the veterinarian. It is no wonder they are fearful and reluctant.

It is important that clients understand the importance of teaching cats to allow being handled, regardless of age, just as with puppies and dogs. Adjust the advice and acclimation time-frame based on the cat’s age and comfort level. Kittens need patience and lots of practice at being handled, and it is never too late to teach an older cat that being handled is OK and safe. This single change can improve the relationship between the client, the cat, and the veterinary team.

Also, even though it sounds counterintuitive, consider keeping the practice’s house cat out of the lobby, examination rooms, and feline housing areas. While a house cat does say about a practice, “We love cats,” it can increase patient stress and hurt efforts to become a feline-friendly practice.

Related Article: Cat-Friendly Practices: Conversation Opportunities

Seek a Deeper Understanding

Becoming feline-friendly is not hard (See Tips for Creating a Feline-Friendly Practice and Tools & Resources for a Feline-Friendly Practice), but it does require a different approach, dedication, effort, and practice. However, the payoff will be consistency, credibility, loyal clients, and happier cats.

Download Action Plan for a “Cat-tastic” Practice

Tips for Creating a Feline-Friendly Practice 

Training that is made interesting always is more successful. Karen Lawson’s The Trainer’s Handbook2 is an excellent resource to hone training skills and use team games that make training fun. In addition to the following suggestions, adapt common games such as Jeopardy and Pictionary, make up your own games, or look for other effective training tools on the internet.  

  • Give positive talking points to team members so they anticipate and are ready for client and team member objections to feline veterinary care.
  • Use videos and photos that depict feline body language, such as facial changes and body posture that indicate escalating fear.  
  • Obtain the cat’s history without touching or looking at the cat to give it time to acclimate to your presence. Combining the history and examination in an attempt to shorten the visit does not achieve the goal of making it easier for the cat.
  • Use pheromones in all practice areas where cats are treated.
  • Use yoga mats on examination tables.
  • Explain that a cat’s wet paw prints are a sign of fear and not the feline version of sweating.
  • Use distraction techniques (eg, treats, toys) to prevent or minimize stress.
  • Teach gentle restraint techniques that do not involve scruffing, which is now believed to cause more stress than necessary.3 
  • Keep up with current trends with cats—social and medical. 

Tools & Resources for a Feline-Friendly Practice 

Whether the practice goal is to become an AAFP Cat Friendly Practice or simply to increase feline visits, check out the following resources.

References Show
References
  1. Slingerland LI, Hazewinkel HAW, Meij BP, Picavet P, Voorhout G. Cross-sectional study of the prevalence and clinical features of osteoarthritis in 100 cats. Vet J. 2011;187(3):304-309.

  2. Lawson K. The Trainer’s Handbook. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Pfeiffer; 2009.

  3. Hammerle M, Horst C, Levine E, Overall K, Radosta L, Rafter-Ritchie M, et al. 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines. JAAHA. 2015;51(4):205-221.

  4. Mills DS, Dube MB, Zulch H. Stress and Pheromonatherapy in Small Animal Clinical Behavior. 1st ed. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2013;370.    

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