Leading Off: Attract cat clients with friendly handling


Leading Off: Attract cat clients with friendly handling

Oct 01, 2011

Dr. Ilona Rodan
The cat is the most popular pet in the United States, yet cats are still underdogs when it comes to veterinary care. It is not because people don't love their cats—78% of cat owners consider their cats to be family members.1 Unfortunately, misconceptions about cats and difficulty getting cats to the veterinarian have led to a decline in feline veterinary visits.

The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study surveyed more than 1,000 cat owners, and results indicate that 58.2% of cats "hate to go to the vet" and that 37.6% of cat owners say "just thinking about the veterinary visit is stressful."2 This has resulted in many cats not receiving much-needed veterinary care, causing lack of disease prevention, delayed treatment, and reduced quality and length of life for the cat.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines provide solutions based on scientific evidence and understanding of the feline species to help improve the veterinary experience for cats and cat owners and, subsequently, increase feline visits.3 Download a PDF of the guidelines and the client handout at http://catvets.com/professionals/guidelines/publications.


Three important areas are discussed in the handling guidelines to help you attract cat owners and cats to your practice. These ideas can be incorporated into any veterinary practice that sees cats, regardless of whether it is a mixed-animal, companion-animal, or all-feline hospital. And they don't require expensive changes to your hospital. The three areas are

• Client education to make the carrier and car trip less stressful for cats and cat owners (Figure 1).

• Tips to make the practice environment more comfortable and calm for the cat (Figure 2).

• Handling techniques to prevent feline fear and pain, the most common causes of feline aggression in the veterinary practice (Figure 3).

1. Advise clients to keep the carrier in a favorite room at home, preferably in a sunbeam, and to toss treats into the carrier until the cat sees the carrier as a safe haven.

2. Examine the cat where it is most comfortable, and distract or reward it with treats or catnip.

The client's perspective

3. Gentle stroking or massaging of the head helps to calm cats and works much better than scruffing. This cat is much calmer during blood pressure measurement.
The challenge for clients starts well before the veterinary visit and continues well afterward. How will they get their cats into the carrier? Cope with the car ride? Handle seeing their cats act so differently from their dear, sweet cats that they see at home? Let the veterinarian and staff handle their cats in ways that they may consider unpleasant? Deal with the difficulty of reintegrating their cats when one comes home from the veterinarian?

Compare this with the picture of dog owners and their dogs excited to go for a car ride, meet new people, and get "cookies" as treats at the veterinary practice. Fortunately, our feline patients can experience these things, too. The guidelines and client handout provide the needed information to help you and your team.

The practice perspective

Inexpensive changes to make the practice environment more cat-friendly include changing the waiting room so that seating areas are back-to-back or surrounded by plants so that cats don't see unfamiliar dogs. Getting the cat into the examination room right away or having certain times when only cats are seen are some other suggestions provided. The guidelines contain many other tips, too.