Partners deal only with a species they are both passionate about - Veterinary Practice
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Partners deal only with a species they are both passionate about

CHRISTINE SHIELD visits one of the increasing number of cat-only practices

IN a time when the number of pets is falling and the number of veterinary surgeons increasing, two vets in Oxfordshire have chosen to concentrate solely on a species about which they are both passionate: the result is the Oxford Cat Clinic.

RCVS Specialist in Feline Medicine Martha Cannon and CertSAM holder Caroline Blundell met while working at the Bristol veterinary school and dreamed of opening their own cat-only practice.

Caroline moved to Oxfordshire in 2000 to join her husband, and Martha followed in 2001. Together they ran the Oxfordshire Cat Clinic alongside colleagues at the Larkmead Veterinary Group, before finding premises in which to set up the Oxford Cat Clinic, opening in March 2006.

The premises, an old builders’ merchant, is in Botley, just a few hundred yards from the busy A34 and close to the M40, giving excellent access from all directions. The frontage is opposite the vehicular exit from a shopping precinct, helping to generate good awareness.

Martha and Caroline place great emphasis on keeping their feline patients happy, and dogs are banned from the premises at all times. Caroline said that she found their patients to be calmer and more relaxed than in a conventional practice, therefore easier to handle and less stressed.

The windows into the consulting rooms are clear glass, which the cats seem to like. Caroline told me that cats will happily “park” themselves on the windowsill and look out, quite unconcerned, while she talks to their owners. Attractive cat-themed artworks decorate the public areas, enhancing the feline-friendly mood.

Savings on equipment?

I had expected a cat-only practice to make considerable savings on equipment, needing only the smallest size of everything, but Caroline denied this. Small endoscopes cost more, as do small consulting tables – dog show tables were the most cost-effective solution.

There are certainly savings to be made on drug stocks, only the smallest size of each being needed, and the body freezer is the size of a domestic fridge, but the overall cost of fitting out the practice was no less than if they had treated dogs as well, maybe even more with the higher specification of equipment needed for referral work.

Equally, one might expect that average transaction values would be lower, with reduced drug sales to smaller patients, but again Caroline and Martha say that this is not so.

They apply low mark-ups and charge for services, but also the fact that they are a specialised practice ensures that their clients are committed and willing to spend money on their pets. The referral work also helps to maintain ATV at a figure probably a little higher than average.

Attracting dedicated clients

There are fewer than a dozen cat-only practices in Britain, but Caroline says that they all seem to attract dedicated clients who want, and are willing to pay for, quality veterinary input. Many clients own dogs as well, but seem happy taking the two species to different practices. The Oxford Cat Clinic does not stock any dog products, not even worm or flea control.

Consultations are scheduled for 15 minutes, at a price comparable with local practices’ charges for 10 minutes. This suits the style of the practice, Caroline and Martha disliking a “hard sell” and preferring to develop a rapport with their clients, informing them of the options and gently persuading them. This struck me as chiming very well with the way to handle cats as opposed to dogs!

Comfort preferences

Moving through to the cattery, the cages are arranged to ensure that they are not facing each other. Several styles of (washable) beds and blankets are available so that each cat can have its preferences for comfort and privacy met, reducing stress levels while hospitalised.

Referrals make up approximately one third of the practice’s workload, and were a huge help in maintaining cash flow in the early days. Along with Martha’s lecturing, they help to raise awareness of the practice.

Martha told me: “Cats are holistic beasts, and once one thing goes wrong the whole animal tends to go wrong.” Taking feline medicine referrals, rather than one body system, allows this to be catered for.

Nurse-led clinics are a recent development for the growing practice. I was intrigued by feline obesity clinics, as many people struggle to get weight off cats. Martha explained that where many fail is in not adequately addressing energy output as well as input.

As well as persuading torpid overweight cats to play, often easier said than done, she advised that food be supplied in small quantities around the house to force the cat to move around and explore. She also liked activity toys which release food through holes as the cat plays.

Martha and Caroline believe that specialisation is one answer to the issues of falling pet numbers, and the great success of their practice in only twoand-a-half years since opening suggests that they may be right.

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