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Thursday, September 1, 2011

feline friendly vet exams

Ranger and Mercy chilling out
The word is out - cats outnumber dogs as pets in the home.  Yes, there are more cats as pets in the USA than dogs.  81.7 million cats to 72 million dogs according to the CATalyst council to be exact. Despite this, veterinarians are seeing fewer cats for regular care compared to dogs.  Various surveys have listed the reasons  and I am going to focus on one - many cats hate going to the veterinarian. Surprise!!!  Are you surprised? I am not.  The typical veterinary process  is not very cat friendly.  Good news is that things are changing at progressive veterinary clinics and there are things you can do to help your cat be more tolerant ( even like) check ups.
Liver paste by Kong in a syringe to reward
I have seen many cats become more tolerant and even like their exams as we use rewarding and less stressful handling my office, Okaw Veterinary Clinic.  What is less stressful handling?  First of all - minimal handling of the cat.  It shocks many owners to see my Certified Veterinary Technicians only rubbing the head of a kitty as I give vaccinations or injections.  Even more awesome is when a cat likes the liver paste fed by syringe, then give the injection as they are chowing down.  This reward is now linked with what used to be really upsetting.  I won't lie - there is a bit of pain with the injection but we use small 25ga needles, not the larger type typically used.  The pain is less noticeable due to the pleasure of the liver paste. So the liver paste wins out for the cat's attention.  Wouldn't you tolerate a blood draw better if you were able to eat a chocolate brownie as the needle went in?    So rubbing the head, sliding the body, feeding what ever this cat likes  during  examination  helps the cat link something good with the exam. The cat learns there are good things at the vet.

Leeza helps veterinary students learn 

For the hissing, hiding fearful cat, less stressful exams means being creative.  It also means telling clients how we are going to handle this kitty  differently than before and how it may help their cat. Some of what we do may  look a little crazy, but it works.  Taking the carrier apart and examining the cat while still in the base of the carrier is one way to make the exam a bit more tolerable.  The cat is surrounded by the smells it knows, and feels more protected.  I use a tongue depressor to examine the mouth so I will not be bitten and often put some salmon paste on it to make the depressor nice for the cat.  Covering the cat with a towel can work - some like the whole body covered some like the head only.  The point is to prevent the cat from escalating in hissing, jumping around, and resisting exam. It may seem contrary, but for cats  more hands means more fighting. 

examining the mouth using the tongue depressor
How the cat feels during the exam is what the cat will remember about everything involved in getting to the veterinarian.  So, the car ride, carrier, waiting area, exam room, table and hands of the assistants and veterinarian can be good, bad or neutral. Unfortunately, the majority of training how to restrain cats for exams has been based on holding them down.Cats really do not like to be held down.    This has resulted in many cats having a bad vet experience - hence the results of the study! When you are going to bring your cat in for an exam ask the staff at the clinic what types of handling do they use.  Low stess handling is a new "buzz word"  thanks to the book and writings of Dr. Sophia Yin, veterinarian and behaviorist.  If you do not hear those words, or descriptions of " we use blankets, Feliway ( Ceva inc) and other things to make the exam more cat friendly"  then look around.  These newer techniques are not a secret.  Practices are using them and the cat owner needs to help promote this in our profession by asking for it and selecting clinics that use less stressful techniques.

Use rewards at home when loading your cat into the carrier.   The Bella Behavior System for the pet owner will teach you how to offer and know what works for your cat to accept treatment and handling better. The kit has an instructional booklet, pet chart to record what works for your pet, and online support  It is available for purchase at

this kitty relaxes with her Feliway bandana
Now some cats are difficult to get in the carrier or even into the vet. You can ask your veterinarian if they will do a house call. It is still important that less stressful handling is used at the home exam a well.    Read my "Here Kitty Kitty" article at, and look for next month's blog about how to get your cat to the veterinarian easier.  Let me know what works or does not work for your cat.  We are all in this together to help our pets and us live longer happier lives together. . 



Anonymous said...

brinkka2011 says: I think youve made some actually interesting points. Not as well many people would really think about this the way you just did. Im definitely impressed that theres so very much about this topic thats been uncovered and you did it so well, with so very much class. Great 1 you, man! Really good stuff here.

Anonymous said...

brinkka2011 says: Love your post . Really