Friday, June 22, 2012

Tips for a Cat Friendly Practice

There has been a great deal of focus on trying to figure out innovative ways to try to convince owners that their indoor cats should be brought to us veterinarians on a yearly basis. The data shows that fewer and fewer cats are being brought into veterinary clinics each year. It is likely a combination of a tightening economy and an overall impression that “indoor” implies “a safer environment and not needing to be vaccinated.” I think that almost every pet health care person understands and admits that the most important part of any pets examination is the discussion that the vet has with the owner and the physical examination. For the normal healthy adult cat it's not the vaccination(s). Yes, in many states a rabies vaccine is required by law, but your cat is probably at a low risk for acquiring rabies, (although it is still possible, and why wouldn’t we vaccinate your pet to protect both them and you?), and "yes," many of us veterinarians vaccinate for the "other cat diseases" on a three year basis, so why do you still need to bring your cat in to us? you ask. Well because at your cat's yearly examination we can discuss things like diet, physical and emotional health, and help you both understand the aging process and how to best protect their health as their body as it ages.
I am a cat owner and I have also had to address the stress involved in capturing, containing, traveling and waiting with my completely stressed out, crying in agony and breaking my heart kitty. I understand, acknowledge, and empathize. So how do I help make my cat clients feel better about a difficult decision to pry their cat out of its nap and come to visit the dreaded vet?
The June 2012 edition of Veterinary Economics has a bunch of "cat-friendly tips" to help make the visit less stressful and the owner feel more welcomed. They included cat -friendly accommodations, cat-friendly waiting areas, "new homes for feline friends," and "5 facility choices that make cat owners feel loved."

The June article has some great tips they are;
1.       “Even if you don’t have separate waiting areas for dogs and cats in your veterinary practice, make it easy for clients to separate themselves so a cat doesn’t suffer the stress of a dog nosing up to its carrier.” Great idea! No home bound kitty, (especially ones that don’t live with dogs and therefore must think that must be horrible flesh eating barking monsters quickly advancing toward their inescapable metal prison) wants to be sniffed by a dog in a foreign smelling, loud, scary hospital. All cats in carriers in a veterinary clinic are petrified. to try to minimize this we try to reduce the  dog exposure time by moving our cat clients into a room ASAP. I also recommend a blanket or towel over your cat’s cage to minimize the nosey dog exposure. Cats tend to feel safer in a small dark place, and it’s quieter. (See No Evil, Hear No Evil).

2.       “Move cats and their owners to an exam room quickly to reduce stress. If you can keep one exam room ‘dog free’ so cats don’t smell dogs in the environment, and treat that room with cat pheromones.” Oops, already said that! I try very hard to stay on time when I am in appointments. An efficient cat exam makes everyone happier. We have three dog exam rooms and 1 cat exam rooms. This allows us to keep the doggy smells out, and the cats on time. it also has minimal hiding spots for the occasional cat on the ceiling fiasco.

3.       “Make sure your practice environment is secure so if a cat gets loose it can’t escape through doors or windows.” I have some kitties that are so wound up and afraid that when the carrier opens they run for any corner or exit. We have had to pull cats off of drapes, and pry off of shelving. If I walk into a room and the cat is already screaming profanities I usually ask the owners to step out do I have one less potential victim to worry about. I have some cats who are soo stressed out that we cannot even begin to examine them. I send them home with the number of our mobile vet. We have had to tear out dry wall to extract a cat that found a tiny hole behind our bookcase and wormed his way into our walls. My husband was not happy to tear down a wall and we have subsequently learned and sealed every other tiny hole or escape access to prevent any more inter office demolition.

4.       “Make it clear to cat owners that you care about cats by making sure that dog pictures don’t outnumber cat pictures in your reception area. You can also post photos of clients’ or staff members’ cats, provide books and magazines about cats, offer a range of cat products, post displays of cat breeds, and hang a bulletin board that displays feline information.” Here’s what we do; we have pets with Santa pictures in the cat room, I have my kitties framed photos up, and we have the cat room painted with cats. We also sell cat nail trimmers and an extensive full line of veterinary feline products. Or you can read my blog and get a really good idea of how important my cats are to me personally. And then there are the 8 cats roaming our clinic looking for that special someone to walk in the door and take them home to love as the incredibly majestic creatures that cats are.

5.       “If you have space in your facility, offer seminars or handouts on topics specific to cats such as life stage needs (from kittens to geriatric cats), dietary recommendations, tips on administering medications, and information about cat friendly boarding facilities. And consider offering kitten kindergarten classes.” Could anything be better that kitten kindergarten classes? Can we finger paint? Sign me up!
Here are some of the items that I would add: use a towel whenever possible. Cats hate slippery cold metal surfaces. And owners like to think of us providing a safe comfortable environment for their pet.
I have also heard some experts suggest “cat only appointment times,” to reduce the noise and anxiety in the clinic when dogs are sharing the same reception, waiting, and examination areas as the cats are. I think that’s a novel idea.
I also think that offering “borrow-able, or affordable (there are cardboard carriers available for a few dollars) to any client coming into the clinic without a carrier or harness. I cannot even quantify how many cats have been lost forever because owners carry their cat into the clinic in their arms, and then lose their grip because something spooks their cat. Restraining and adequately holding a cat for transport is a dangerous proposition. Even the pros don’t take chances. I hold the scruff lightly, support the cat from underneath, shield their face and rush from point A to point B if I have to carry your cat to the treatment area for blood work or care. BUT I would NEVER EVER dream of carrying anyone’s cat outside without a sturdy safe carrier. Please, please, please, err on the side of caution, and don’t make the mistake so many of my clients have made, and use a carrier! Your cat’s life does depend on it.
I also make my cat owners feel loved by providing microchips to ALL of our patients free of charge. Cats are far more likely to be lost than dogs, so we protect them and offer the best assurance of them finding their way home to you by offering micro-chips for free to all patients.

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