Making a better environment for cats - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Making a better environment for cats

If cats are the most popular companion animal species in the UK, then why do more canine than feline patients come through the doors of virtually every veterinary practice in the country?

One of the reasons may be that a large proportion of cat owners feel that visiting their vet clinic is extremely distressing for the animal and they will often find a reason to avoid putting their pet through that experience, according to speakers at the International Cat Care (ICC) conference in Windsor last month.

So those practices that implement the changes needed to qualify for the feline friendly practice scheme could attract many new patients for regular veterinary assessments.

Natalie Finch is a clinical training scholar at the Bristol veterinary school sponsored by the ICC (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau). She quoted the results of a US study which found that 27% of cat owners said that the stress which they felt their cat suffered at a veterinary clinic would have an impact on their decision to return for further vaccinations.

Benefits for all

Making the whole experience less stressful for the cats and its owners when attending a veterinary clinic would also have potential benefits for the rest of the feline population, she suggested.

The feline friendly scheme is run by the ICC’s sister organisation, the International Society of Feline Medicine, in collaboration with Purina pet foods. Worldwide, there are currently 44 practices that have qualified for the scheme’s gold standard award and 78 that have achieved the more basic level silver accreditation – with the majority of these practices (33 and 57, respectively) being based in the UK.

For cats, theirs solitary nature makes a routine visit to the surgery a far more uncomfortable experience than for a typical dog.

They are usually less accustomed to car journeys than dogs and both the waiting room and the consultation itself expose them to wide range of frightening visual, auditory and olfactory stimuli.

Relatively simple changes can help to minimise or eliminate some of those factors. Increasing numbers of UK practices now provide cat-only waiting areas to prevent dogs from investigating the cat’s carrying basket and for smaller practices where that may be impractical, there is the alternative option of introducing separate clinic times, she suggested.

Training all clinical and lay staff to understand the principles behind the cat-friendly practice scheme would help all practices, irrespective of whether they wish to apply for certification. That is because it may make their feline patients calmer, easier to handle and less likely to inflict injuries on themselves or the staff members who have to deal with them, she said.

Suzanne Rudd is a senior VN at the Bristol school who is involved in teaching those concepts to veterinary and nursing undergraduates. She pointed out that cats suffering from stress are more vulnerable to developing infectious diseases and may take longer to recover from illness or surgery.

“So making your practice more feline friendly will not only mean happier cats, it will mean happier clients and happier members of the veterinary team,” she said.

She argued that any veterinary business wanting to adopt and adhere to these felinefriendly practices would be advised to appoint a senior vet or VN to be the animals’ advocate. He or she would be responsible for assessing the layout and equipment at the premises and the care provided by their colleagues to understand which aspects need to change.

Misunderstandings

One vital step is to better understand cat behaviour. “One of my biggest bugbears is when I hear staff calling a cat “angry”, “evil” or “psychotic”. They are misunderstanding what is happening: the cat is like that because it is absolutely petrified and it can’t do what it would like to do – which is to run away.”

Although one member of staff should take charge of the project, it is up to everybody at the practice to take some responsibility for its success.

Reception staff, for example, can make the atmosphere less stressful and noisy for all concerned by recognising those cats that have been particularly fearful on previous visits and suggesting to their owners that they wait with their animal outside in the car until it is time for their appointment.

While keeping feline and canine patients apart is an essential element of the feline-friendly practice scheme, staff should also understand that being close to strange members of their own species can cause significant distress for some cats. Particularly when feline patients are hospitalised, there is the possibility that they may have prolonged eye contact with another cat if the cat ward has cages facing each other, she warned.

Nursing staff also need to appreciate that the animal’s distress at treatment may continue long after it has exited the building and returned home.

She advised colleagues to check carefully that clients fully understand how to administer any medicine given for their animal and recommended a follow-up call to ensure that any home treatment has progressed satisfactorily.

Details of the scheme and a list of accredited practices are on the ICC website, www.icatcare.org.

  • A further report on the International Cat Care meeting will appear in next month’s issue.

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