A Cat Friendly Practice® and Proud of It!
Submitted by Robin Downing, DVM, MS, Doctor of Bioethics, DAAPM, DACVSMR
Windsor Veterinary Clinic PC, Windsor, CO
We were delighted to learn of the Cat Friendly Practice® initiative by the AAFP. As a participant in founding the Fear Free™ movement alongside Dr. Marty Becker and many others, it was obvious that it and Cat Friendly® were two complementary peas in a pod. My first practice was a house call practice in which I learned how to work with cats versus struggling against them to provide veterinary care.
I brought my enthusiasm for cats from the living room to the exam room, so we already enjoyed good success in working with our feline patients when the Cat Friendly Practice® standards were introduced. The standards formalized and validated what we were already doing, but, more importantly, the standards expanded our thinking about how to create a cooperative care environment for cats, and fine-tuned our approach to our feline patients.
All of our health care team loves cats! That meant embracing the Cat Friendly Practice® standards was easy. We really faced no obstacles since we were already committed to the comfort of cats coming into our practice.
Some specific ways in which the Cat Friendly Practice® standards have improved our cat care include:
- Using "soft" light rather than our full-spectrum LED ceiling fixtures. Stressed cats tend to have dilated pupils and bright light can be painful for them.
- Establishing a "cats only" exam room. We have a litter pan in place that almost every cat goes into either to take a "dust bath" or use as a bathroom. We use iCalm Cat® audio on an endless loop, and Feliway® diffusers the room with pheromones.
- Using Rescue® products for cleaning to prevent "nose blindness."
- Using what we call "hot yoga blankets" on our baby scale and exam table. We keep fluffy infant blankets sprayed with Feliway® in a countertop towel warmer outside the exam rooms and carry two with us as we enter the room to start the examination appointment. The cats seem to appreciate this detail!
- Using pre-visit pharmaceuticals (PVPs) liberally to help cats not escalate into fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS).
Overall, being a Cat Friendly Practice® makes it more fun to work with our feline patients. Cat caregivers have been thrilled with our commitment to being a Cat Friendly Practice®. Nearly every day one or another of our cat clients will comment on how different their experience - - and their cat's experience - - is in our practice versus their previous veterinary experiences. They witness their cats looking out the window in our cats-only exam room, "huffing" the Feliway® diffuser, prancing around the room chin-marking the chair legs and table bracket, and asking for attention from my veterinary nurse or from me. They can barely believe their eyes! Consequently, we have no problem scheduling our feline patients at least twice a year, and some cats - - (e.g, our cats with chronic pain issues) - - every 2 – 3 months.
It is essential to understand that a veterinary practice does not need to be a cats-only practice to be a Cat Friendly Practice®. We remain a "mixed" practice - - we still see dogs! But we have dramatically expanded our feline patient population as a result of qualifying as a Cat Friendly Practice®. Any practice considering this designation should recognize that embracing Cat Friendly is a great way to accomplish several important things:
- Growing your patient base by serving a chronically underserved pet population.
- Connecting with and building long-lasting relationships with cat owners. We have several cats in our practice now approaching 20 years of age who have been our patients for most of their lives.
- Enhancing safety in the exam room. Comfortable cats are cooperative cats, and that decreases the risk of injury.
- Increasing and improving job satisfaction for all members of the veterinary health care team.
We have our Cat Friendly Practice® designation displayed on our practice websites. We also recognize that cat owners know other cat owners, so we are bold about asking for online reviews and asking our clients to talk about us to their friends and family. Everyone who enters our practice goes home with a Cat Friendly Practice® brochure, so we appreciate having that resource available as well.