For the love of cats
You love cats. Your staff members love cats. But do cat owners know this? In many companion animal hospitals, cat-owning clients may feel like second-class citizens if you don't take steps to show them they're valued.
Do cats and dogs commingle while waiting to see you? If so, you are likely stressing out the cats before they even get to the exam room. And once in the exam room, do the posters and educational materials speak to cat owners?
Almost twice as many cats as dogs never visit the veterinarian, and 60 percent of cat owners say their cats hate going to the doctor, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). But it doesn't have to be this way. The AAFP created a Cat Friendly Practice program to improve the treatment, handling, and overall healthcare of cats in veterinary practice.
Dr. Michelle Meyer has been working hard to change the statistics at Serenity Animal Hospital in Sterling Heights, Mich., where she is an associate. "I think cats and owners find going to the veterinarian very stressful, and we want to change that," says the long-time AAFP member and volunteer. "Our practice has recently been certified as a Cat Friendly Practice, and we want clients to know that we love their cats. We need to do what we can to make people want to bring their cats in."
To make Serenity Animal Hospital a more serene place for cats, Dr. Meyer and her team have designated one exam room cats-only. That means no dog smells to scare off cats. No educational materials for dogs, just information for cats. The room features a cat tree, cat toys, grass and catnip, and other things cats love.
Also, the practice has begun scheduling cat appointments during the mid-day slump to give cats and their owners a quieter experience. "I know that not everyone can come in at that time, and that emergencies happen, but whenever possible we encourage cat owners to come in during our quietest time of day," says Dr. Meyer. "Fewer barking dogs make for calmer cats."
Dr. Meyer and her team can go all out for cats, but it won't do much good if clients don't know about their efforts. For the last six months, she has been on a mission to educate clients and potential clients about Serenity's cat-friendly efforts. Here are some ways you can do the same in your practice:
1. Take advantage of your signage. "We announced our recent Cat Friendly Practice certification on our digital roadside sign," says Dr. Meyer. That way, current clients and passersby will know that cats are welcome.
2. Make social media your friend. Serenity Animal Hospital announced their certification on the practice website as well as on Facebook. "We plan to keep talking up our love of cats on our page."
3. Post feline educational materials. "In general, more educational posters and materials exist for dogs than for cats," she says. Dr. Meyer says it's important to hang artwork and educational posters as well as hand out brochures specifically designed for cat owners, too. The Cat Friendly Practice initiative provides these brochures for practices who obtain the status, and the AAFP has additional client education resources available.
4. Engage in community education. Dr. Meyer is preparing for her first educational talk hosted by a pharmaceutical company. She is inviting cat-owning clients to attend a dinner at which she'll give a feline-specific talk. "I'm hoping this will boost our visibility as a cat-friendly practice in our community," she says.
5. Be their guide. "A big deterrent to getting clients to bring their cats in is the stress of getting the cat into the carrier," says Dr. Meyer. She says it's the team's job to help clients make these visits less stressful. For example, she offers tips on how to get the cat into the carrier more easily. (Head to dvm360.com/catfriendly to download client handouts on cat carrier coaxing.) When worse comes to worse, she makes house calls to make sure the cat is seen by a veterinarian.
"It takes some work to make the clinic more cat friendly, but in the long run it will help more cats," says Dr. Meyer. And that, of course, helps your practice, too.