Why we became a Cat Friendly Practice
By Molly McCullough, D.V.M.
(For Tips for the fairly fearless veterinary visit for your cat, click here!)
As I drove to work the other day, I couldn’t help but notice a furry head sticking out of the rear passenger-side window of the SUV in the adjacent lane. It belonged to a Golden Retriever, ears and jowls vigorously flapping in the stream of moving air. Her eyes were closed, and her countenance was of pure joy.
Too bad most cats don’t revel in car rides like that happy hound! The average cat would probably be hunched up in his carrier and meowing mournfully during such an outing. That scenario, along with trying to get the little bugger into his carrier in the first place, make for an unhappy trip to the vet. It’s one of the many reasons cat owners unwittingly neglect their little buddy’s medical care.
But that’s not the only reason: Strangers, barking dogs, and other unusual sounds and scents at a veterinary clinic may stress out even the mellowest kitty. A fearful cat may feel traumatized, may not allow a good exam, and may even be dangerous to the veterinary staff.
The recognition of these difficulties got the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) thinking: What can we do to meet the wide range of cats’ unique needs and help make feline veterinary visits more pleasant for everybody? To this end they established a program called the Cat Friendly Practice®.
In order to qualify as a Cat Friendly Practice, eight pages of requirements must be fulfilled. These include meeting standards for medical care, hospital facilities, and staff education. For us, that meant lots of feline-specific learning for the staff. We had many meetings, during which we read and watched hours of videos dealing with cat behavior and handling.
Changes which benefit our feline patients were made to our practice protocols, and they start right after you make your first appointment. We send you an email which gives you tips on how to acclimate your cat to his carrier. Those that don’t travel well or who are fearful during their exam are offered a safe calming drug. It’s palatable, and can be sprinkled on their food before their appointment. We also offer you free Feliway Wipes (a calming pheromone) to use in the carrier before traveling.
You now have the option of checking in via cell phone from your car when you arrive at the animal hospital. This is especially helpful if there are dogs in the reception area. If you choose to sit in the waiting room, you can cover your carrier with a towel. It’s not always possible, but we try to get our feline patients in an exam room as soon as one is available.
Once in the exam room, we encourage cats to come out of their carrier and explore a bit, which helps them acclimate. Feliway is soothing, so we spray our clothes with it, and have plug-in Feliway diffusers in the exam rooms and treatment area.
Some cats have no intention of coming out of their carrier. Although it’s sometimes necessary, cats hate being dumped from their carriers, so we try to avoid it. If your cat won’t come out, we’ll remove the top of the carrier, and even do the exam in the bottom. To that end, it’s a good idea to have a carrier that easily comes apart.
It’s no surprise to cat owners that kitties hate restraint, so we have some tricks to avoid scruffing our feline patients. Clipnosis, Thundershirts, and towel wrapping techniques are all helpful. If we still can’t do a good exam or perform a needed procedure, we prefer trying another day with an anti-anxiety drug on board, or in rare cases, using an injectable sedative. Fighting with cats only makes them more fearful at the next appointment.
If your cat is hospitalized, we keep dogs and other cats out of his sight, and provide a safe haven for him – a special box for hiding. We’re happy to place a bed, toy, or piece of clothing from home in his cage with him, if you think it will make him feel more relaxed.
There’s a dictum from veterinary school I’ll never forget: Cats are not small dogs! They are arcane, unique critters that need handling in a gentle, empathetic manner. You can’t schmooze ‘em with Pup-Peronis. And their diseases differ from those of our canine patients.
Your cat may never love the car ride and his veterinary visit, but through the Cat Friendly Program, we’re doing our best to make his experience a better one.