You've probably seen more than a few cases in your practice where you think, "If only I'd seen the cat sooner." While you
can't control when clients bring their pets to see you, you can teach them about signs their pet is sick—and encourage them
to schedule regular wellness visits. Dr. Susan Little, DABVP (feline), of Bytown Cat Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario, says it's
your reponsibility to educate your clients and improve their awareness of their cats' basic medical needs.
"Research shows there are a number of reasons cats don't get the veterinary care they need," Dr. Little says. "For example,
some clients don't recognize signs of illness in their cats. And when they do realize their cat is sick, they may be reluctant
to visit, perhaps because it's difficult or stressful to get to the clinic."
Cat life stages
One solution, Dr. Little says, is to make your practice more cat-friendly. She suggests these steps:
1. Provide cat-friendly transportation information. Encourage cat owners to purchase carriers with appropriate ventilation that offer privacy and security and allow you to easily
remove the cat. Avoid soft-sided carriers that may offer little protection, Dr. Little says. Top-loading carriers often work
best. You may also advise the owner that it's best for the pet to travel on an empty stomach to prevent motion sickness.
2. Make your facility cat-friendly. Team members should be able to demonstrate their knowledge about cat topics and, if possible, you should move cats and their
owners to an exam room quickly to reduce stress. Make sure your practice environment is secure so if a cat gets loose it can't
escape through doors or windows.
3. Understand respectful cat handling. The key to successful handling, Dr. Little says, is understanding feline behavior. "Most undesirable behaviors cats exhibit
in veterinary clinics are induced by fear," Dr. Little says. "Offering the cat more control during the visit, using less forceful
handling, and practicing a patient approach will offer the best outcome."
Often, you can examine an anxious cat by placing a towel over its head to reduce unfamiliar sights and sounds. Dr. Little
also recommends taking a quiet, calm approach. Don't stare or use "shushing" sounds that may sound like hissing. And avoid
excessive restraint, she says, including wearing gloves. You may be able to examine the cat in the bottom half of its carrier.
4. Tailor healthcare to feline life stages. As you know, a cat's health needs vary according to its life stage, and health changes can occur quickly. Some owners may
not be familiar with signs of sickness, Dr. Little says, so it's a good idea to offer educational materials (click here to download "10 signs of illness in cats"). In the exam room, Dr. Little recommends using open-ended questions and checklists
to gather information. Then, based on AAFP/AAHA guidelines, talk about the six cat life stages and offer appropriate recommendations.
(For a link to the guidelines, click here.)
"Now more than ever veterinary teams must understand the unique nature of cats and their needs," Dr. Little says. "Educating
cat owners about signs of illness can lead to more frequent visits, better communication, and more timely diagnosis and treatment."