The forgotten feline: Grow your veterinary practice by attracting cat owners

The forgotten feline: Grow your veterinary practice by attracting cat owners

Are the cats in your veterinary practice crying out for attention? Here's how you can help to meet their healthcare needs, attract the best cat-owning clients, and grow your practice. Everybody wins.
Jul 01, 2009

(Martin Poole/Getty images)
You're peacefully napping in the early-morning sunshine. The barking dogs outside are barely audible. You've just eaten. Life is good. One of your best friends, an enormous, sometimes ridiculous fellow, gives you a hug. That's nice. But then you're thrust into a container that smells of fear, bounced around for a moment, and assaulted by noise. Engines rumble. Birds cackle at you, mocking your caged helplessness.

Your worst fears are realized when your "friend" rattles and bumps your prison through a waiting room full of yowling cats and large woofing dogs. The cats smell of anxiety. The dogs smell terrible. More enormous beings guffaw, chat, and generally ignore you until you're jostled again, the world spins, and you're torn loose from your dark container into a strange room with at least one person you don't remember ever having seen before. Could be friend, could be foe. Ah, a cat's life.

So what are you? Friend or foe? Can that cat trust that you'll take the physical exam slowly and that your exam room will be quiet and free of unnecessary trauma? If you're not tuned into cats or their owners, maybe not. After all, cats cower, bite, and scratch—not fun. But those scared cats depend on you for excellent medical care. Your attitude—and the attitude of your team members—can affect that care.

The AVMA found that between 2001 and 2006, cat visits to the veterinarian were down 6 percent compared to 4 percent for dogs, even though cats surpassed dogs as the most-owned pet in the United States. Why is feline veterinary care suffering? Many theories have been presented, but regardless of the cause, there's a great solution for better feline healthcare: you. Your advocacy on behalf of feline patients can improve the healthcare situation for cats.

Loving cat owners are ready to bring their precious pets to your door for wellness care, diagnostics, procedures, and the best veterinary healthcare has to offer their favorite felines. Now it's your turn to smile and make them feel welcome. After all, those cats you're not seeing represent a huge area of untapped practice growth. Here's how you can help forgotten felines get the care they need.


Like parents with a baby at the pediatrician, a cat owner wants to know two things about a veterinarian: Does the practice as a whole like cats? And does the practice like my cat? Start with your clinic's environment. Provide a pleasant, cat-friendly experience. Consider the following tips from feline-friendly practitioners to implement at your hospital:

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Cat and dog waiting rooms. Most cats hate the noise and smell of dogs, so the more the two species are kept apart, the better. If your building can't accommodate separate waiting rooms, consider moving cats quickly from waiting room to exam room on arrival. Another way to calm cats is to keep them above dogs' eye level. Some veterinarians install wide shelves on the wall for cat carriers to remain above the fray. Another option is to offer ample bench seating, so cat owners can place their carriers above the next to them—and off the floor.

Cat decorations. "We really love dogs ... and, oh yeah, we also see cats." Dr. Gary Norsworthy, DABVP (feline), owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, says that's the message clinics send when the posters, the artwork, and the photos in the waiting room and exam rooms are all dog-focused. Take a look at your clinic and make sure cat owners see something they like.

Cat and dog exam rooms. Cats don't like to smell dogs, so consider devoting one or more exam rooms to cat appointments. You may need to put a dog in a cat room in an emergency, but the fewer the dogs in a space shared with cats the better. Dr. Ernest Ward Jr., a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Seaside Animal Clinic in Calabash, N.C., occasionally sees dogs in his two cat exam rooms on busy days. The decor, however, is 100 percent cat-friendly: It includes feline-focused posters and anatomical models. He keeps the smaller otoscope cones in the cat rooms. The message to cat owners: I like cats, this is where we bring our cats, and this is where we want your cat to feel comfortable.