How to Have a Feline-Friendly Practice
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.
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.
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.
|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.
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.
- Develop CE sessions and learning games from these articles funded by a Zoetis educational grant: Cat Care in Crisis: A DVM360 Leadership Challenge. Catch the Google Hangout video at the end of the series—it is a full hour, but well worth the time.
- Use these resources at team meetings and incorporate them in training programs:
- CATalyst Council’s Cat-Friendly Practice
- Partnership for Healthy Pets - Your Toolbox
- Improving Feline Veterinary Experiences
- American Association of Feline Practitioners’ (AAFP) Cat Friendly Practice program
- 2012 AAFP/ISFM Feline-Friendly Nursing Care Guidelines
- 2011 AAFP/ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines
- Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings
- 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines