Tuesday, December 6, 2016

We’re proud to be a Cat Friendly Practice

As I drove to work the other day, I noticed a furry head sticking out of the rear 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 one of pure joy.

Too bad most cats don’t revel in car rides like that happy hound! The average feline would probably be hunched up in his carrier, meowing mournfully, during such an outing. That scenario, along with the effort needed to get the little bugger into his carrier in the first place, makes for an unhappy trip to the vet. It’s one of the many reasons some cat owners unwittingly neglect their little buddy’s medical care.

But that’s not the only reason: The strangers, barking dogs, and 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 pose a danger to the veterinary staff. 

The recognition of those difficulties got the American Association of Feline Practitioners thinking: What can we do to meet the wide variety of cats’ unique needs and help make feline veterinary visits more pleasant for everybody? To that end, they established a program called the Cat Friendly Practice®.

To qualify as a Cat Friendly Practice, a veterinary practice must fulfill eight pages of requirements that include standards for medical care, hospital facilities, and staff education. For us, that meant lots of feline-specific training for the staff. We had many meetings, during which we read and watched hours of videos dealing with cat behavior and handling. 

We have new practice protocols to benefit our feline patients, starting right after you make an appointment. We send you an email with tips on how to acclimate your cat to his carrier. Those that don’t travel well or 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 (which contain a calming pheromone) to use in the carrier before traveling.

You now have the option of checking in via cellphone 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, which we provide. It’s not always possible, but we try to get our feline patients into an exam room as soon as one is available.

Once in the exam room, cats are encouraged 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 we 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 avoid it if at all possible. If your cat won’t come out, we can perform the exam right in the carrier. To that end, it’s a good idea to have a carrier with an easily removable top. 

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 onboard 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 come to 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. 

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