Cats are the only domestic animals derived from solitary hunters capable of living peacefully with humans while retaining their wild ancestors’ behaviors, said Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP of Today’s Veterinary Practice, a website that publishes peer-reviewed clinical information in veterinary medicine. As unique animals, cats are independent survivors that are strong and agile enough to protect themselves from potential harm.
However, a bad veterinary experience can affect your cat’s short-term and long-term health and welfare. But don’t lose hope. Measures can be done to prevent environmental and handling stressors regardless of the clinic’s practice type. These measures can improve patient experiences, greater clinical acceptance of the service, and reduced risk of injury to veterinary professionals.
Veterinary Professionals’ Understanding of Behavioral Problems In Cats and the Availability of “Cat-Friendly” Practices In Ireland (2019)
Each respondent was told to gauge their confidence on a 100-point scale in advising clients about feline behavioral issues, with confidence levels ranging from 10% to 93% for veterinary practitioners (VP) 20% to 100% for veterinary nurses (VN) said Matt Goins, Sandra Nicholson, and Alison Hanlon of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC. The mean confidence for VPs was 61.5% while VNs had 63.4%.
At least half of both VPs and VNs correctly categorized each vignette, with the lowest consensus on the likelihood of achieving the best outcome was vignette 9 (50%; aggression— play related) for VPS, and vignette 1 (50.9%, inappropriate toileting) for VNs. On the other hand, the vignettes with the highest consensuses were vignette 4 (90.5%, self-mutilation) for VPs and vignette 10 (90.6%, aggression—cat/cat resource-based aggression) for VNs.
For 52.4% of VPs and 60.3% of VNs, towels and covers for cat carriers were the only options available in the waiting areas for their clinics. In fact, only 14.3% (VP) and 17% (VN) of the respondents’ clinics provided a separate cat-only consult room. 28.6% (VP) and 39.6% (VN) used feline synthetic pheromone products during consultations while 35.7% and 39.6% had cat bags or wraps. For 52.4% of VPs and 28.3% of VNs, the most common option offered during consultations was additional time to allow nervous cats to settle.
59.5% of VPs and 66.0% of VNs said they had a separate cat ward, but most of the respondents (76.2% of VPS and 66% of VNs) said they a set routine for the cat ward was not an option for their clinic. Potential stressors in the cat ward were not present for most of the respondents’ clinics, but an average of 15% of veterinary professionals mentioned that dogs may be walked through the cat ward for treatment or toilet purposes. Moreover, 8.4% cited visual contact with other parents.
Regarding long term care, 64.2% of VPs and 66.0% of VNs said their clinics provided services that tend to minimize stress and anxiety in feline patients, which also included keeping the cats in the same care throughout the stay. They also encouraged the owners to bring in bedding, food, and litter from home (47.6% VP, 62.3% VN). Most participants said their clinics did not board cats (52.4% VP, 56.6% VN), and of those who did, 75% of VPs and 62.5% of VNs boarded cats in a separate area to the feline patient ward.
Why Do Cats Get Stressed?
Cats can be stressed out by visits to the clinic because they feel vulnerable when they are taken out from their home environment, stated Tammy Hunter, DVM and Robin Downing, DVM, CVPP, CCRP, DAAPM, of VCA Hospitals, an operator of over 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Cats are place-oriented, preferring the safety and comfort of their own space.
Felines are solitary animals and many of them prefer peace and quiet. They are also often untrained to accept their transport carriers, causing them to get stressed. For cats, seeing and smelling dogs or other felines in a clinic can make them upset. Cats are susceptible to stress and many of their stressful experiences are associated with veterinary visits, as it makes them feel anxious.
A stressed or anxious cat during a visit may object and resist to being handled by strangers. This may lead to greater restraint during examination, escalating its anxiety. Medically, stress and anxiety make it difficult for professionals to examine their feline patients. Stressed cats may conceal their pain, for example.
How to Make Veterinary Clinics More Cat-Friendly?
Creating a sense of control starts from home. New cat owners and clients who call for preventive care appointments should be advised to train their cats to the carrier. That way, the clients’ appointment can be scheduled two to three weeks later to give cats enough time to get used to being in a carrier. When transporting the cat to the clinic, clients should be instructed to carry a towel that smells like home or has been imbued with synthetic feline facial pheromone to prevent visual stressors.
It is an important coping mechanism when cats feel threatened such as being in an unfamiliar environment. By providing a cat with a hiding place, it will help it feel safe and maintain a sense of control. Practices providing feline patients the option to hide during appointments, boarding, and hospitalization experienced reduced negative emotions and distress.
Good hiding options include carriers, high-sided or igloo cat beds, toweling, and hiding boxes. When felines are hospitalized or boarding, hiding options in cages help them cope with the visit better and sleep more peacefully. Cats that have hiding places in their cages enable them to approach (and not retreat from) humans more frequently.
Veterinarians should not look directly at their client’s cat when greeting them. Instead, they should assess the patient from a distance to help the veterinarian formulate a handling plan. The cat should remain where it wants to minimize fear and pain, regardless if they are in the carrier, on the examiner’s lap facing the owner, or hidden within the bedding.
A maximum of two handlers is best. However, sedation or analgesia is recommended if the cat cannot be handled without exhibiting negative emotions. Examinations should be done on the least stressful regions first such as the auscultation of the heart and lungs. Most feline patients do well if oral examinations are done at the end of the examination.
Cats have their own quirks and traits. They are place-oriented and being in a new environment stresses them out. Owners should train their cats to be inside a carrier before going to the clinic. For veterinarians, hiding options should be provided to avoid negative emotions.