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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Certifications - what's in a name?

yummy treats, wagging tails, padded tables - these is all part of
low stress veterinary care 
Over the past 7 years there has been a focus on creating a less stressful care experience at the veterinary clinic.  A number of  certification programs now exist to help both the practice and the consumer provide this experience.  I have witnessed the growth of the Cat Friendly Practice from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (  )  the Low Stress Handling Certification program from Cattledog publishing, the legacy of Dr Sophia Yin, and the Fear Free Certification program . 

These programs are one way for veterinary staff to learn these skills. There are seminars, webinars, text books on handling and interactive handling labs as well.  A practice may approach bringing a less stressful care experience to you combining some of these resources - certified by a program or not.

At Okaw Veterinary clinic, a small animal practice in rural central Illinois which I owned, my staff and I created a low stress culture before these certification programs started.  Dr Yin was a friend, and asked if I would have my staff take her program to evaluate it and become one of the first clinics certified.  We did and it was a good investment of time and knowledge that elevated my staff's skills to a new level.  This program was intense in the behavior education and specific handling techniques.  The other programs covered material and standards that we already had in place, so it was not worth the expense to do these.  These are great programs, yet we were already at the certified level, so paying for these programs and associated costs was not going to gain anything for my practice in my community. 

As the 3 certification programs have become established in veterinary medicine, there is broad choice for clients to find practitioners who create a less stressful care experience.  I am also witnessing some practices becoming certified, only to  the branding that certification can bring.  It is a tricky business to be sure that one who carries a certification is following the standards.  You may find non certified practices following positive care standards very well.  

hands on teaching of Low Stress Feline handling 
So, you are a pet owner.  You want a veterinary practice that is competent with medical care, knows how to be nice to your pet, keeps their costs at an affordable level for you, has convenient hours, reliable staff, and a well maintained operation.  As a past practice owner, I can assure you this is no small task.  It became much easier for me to provide all these things as I took the steps to create a low stress clinic.  For some practices, the cost of certification and maintaining that cost may be a factor in whether or not you see any logos from certification.   In a more populated area, having this certification can make a distinction for a practice - a way for clients to choose and that is important.  In smaller areas, a practice may not be certified yet they may be providing a positive care experience.   Each program has a cost ranging from a one time fee of $330/person, to annual fees upwards of thousands of dollars per year in a large practice.  Some programs have corporate sponsorship and others do not.  So like anything else, there needs to be a return or value for the cost of the program for a practice to take part.  In a competitive environment, there may be practices who are certified in name only, to market themselves.

The good news is that all 3 of these programs are working towards the same goal - improve the experience of the animal in care.  As I say Every Day, Every Way with Every Animal - Low Stress.
There is a bit of overlap, so as a consumer or professional how do you pick?  I work for Dr Yin's company that publishes the Low Stress Handling Certification program.  I was an author for the Fear Free program.  When veterinary staff ask me "which one should I chose to take?"  I ask them  " What do you see as your primary need for reducing patient stress?  What do you want to focus on for your practice?"  If one wants to  improve the feline experience  - take the Cat Friendly Practice program.  If you have a large staff, and want to quickly provide  everyone with fundamental  understanding of fear, and the benefits of pre visit meds, take the Fear Free program.   If you need  improved handling skills for the animal in care, with less dependence on pre medication, take the Low Stress Handling program.  There is overlap to these programs, and if a practice is certified in one, there are resources, articles and educational materials that are available to blend some of the advantages of each.  In the end, it is the experience for the patient that matters most.

As a consumer, how do you choose?  I suggest you look at each website's directory of certified professionals as a start.  No matter if you find a certified professional or not, always  ask these questions when investigating  the clinics in your area.

Do you do everything in the exam room or take them to the back?    Providing care in the exam room is the best way to provide a positive experience.  If they always " go in the back"  that can increase stress.  Find a clinic that avoids this.

Do you provide treats for my pet or should I bring my own?  If the clinic is surprised by suggesting food for exams, they are not a low stress practice.  You can also ask about bringing a toy or favorite blanket - the attitude should be one of appreciating your efforts to reduce your pet's stress.

Can we split up care if my pet is getting stressed?   You should hear a plan for the most important care first, with an eye for possibly splitting up care to help prevent increasing fear.  The days of "getting it all done " are not the focus now.  Taking care of the most important needs, while keeping it pet friendly is the focus now.

Does certification matter?  Yes, but it is not everything.  The particular  program is not as important in my opinion  compared to  holding  the standard of less stressful care.  I have seen non certified practices holding a higher standard than those certified.  In the end, it is the care experience that matters - does your pet like coming in? Are they  becoming more calm and relaxed with every exam?

 Helping your pet have a positive veterinary  experience requires your participation as well. Every practitioner involved in low stress care encourages happy visits, where  your dog gets a quick treat at the reception desk,  can step on the scale, get a reward and go home.  You are encouraged to keep your cat carrier out in the living room to help your cat like it.  Being open to giving your cat  supplements and medications to reduce anxiety for your helps tremendously.

I hope this articles helps you with providing or receiving a kinder,  positive experience that is centered on knowing your pet.

A favorite photo of me, Butterscotch and Bella outside Okaw,  which has passed on to Dr Kyla Kuhns, an
excellent veterinarian.  I now travel speaking, consulting and creating webinars to continue
build the low stress veterinary care experience  

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Cool Cat Room at Indy Humane

The wonderful staff at Indy Humane who helped make my
Essentials of Low Stress Handling Seminar possible 

I traveled to Indianapolis last week to present a full day seminar on Low Stress Handling at Indy Humane.  Colleen Benson, director of shelter behavior,   gave me tour of the facility when I stopped by the day before my event.  Indy Humane is the central Humane society of Metropolitan Indianapolis.  The facility has grown since  the founding in 1905,  with  a vaccine clinic, behavior program for dogs and cats, and assists  other humane societies by taking on transfers .

As I walked into the seminar room,  I noticed that someone was painting small crates a lovely lavender color.  Colleen then explained Dr Liz Rose, one of the shelter veterinarians,  was busy hanging shelves, painting the crates and creating an enriched space in a second feline open room. I met Dr Rose, drill in hand, working away transforming a basic room into cat wonderland.
Like Vanna, Dr Liz Rose  points out the optimal spacing for cat launching
from shelf to shelf 

This central room, which is kind of a traffic zone for staff , was needed to create more space for the well socialized cats to play while they were awaiting adoption.  Brett Kruger, the feline behavior lead  recognized the need for extra space and worked with Dr Rose on the design. The ideas implemented here, using  color and fabric are not difficult to use in your home if you have a little time, money and are a bit handy . 
A simple wall hanging using the custom fabric
in the signature lavender color and logo 
 Lavender is the signature color for the humane society.  It is appealing, and easy on the eyes for both humans and cats,  so it works well in the décor.  I loved the fabric.  I am not sure of the specific company Indy Humane used, but I found  as a resource.  Fabric was custom printed with the color and logo of the humane society. I saw this fabric in other areas, such as the  cage covers for the the cat habitat cages.  This controls contagion from upper respiratory disease, they are easy to wash, and livens the decor up in the ward areas.  

easy cage covers to control

 One wall has many shelves strategically placed  for stepping and jumping between them.  This is important – watch how your cats stretch, and the space and height between shelves to be easy for them to navigate.    The bridge over the office doorway is creates the  “ off the floor runway” most cats want.  Central  floor areas  can be a competitive traffic zone,  so having the ability to walk around the room off the floor is essential in an enriched space.  The litterboxes are located here , so providing this off the floor runway also reduces the “ stare down” between cats when the box is in use.  
bridge for a cat runway - note the crates
pretty and functional 

The cubbie organizer shelving units are great and can alternate between cat storage and actual product storage for the area.    The pretty lavender crates so carefully painted the day before, now hung from the walls near the shelving areas.   These crates provide that hiding space but with some peeping cracks so the cat can see out.  I love this idea – they can hold the weight of the cat, are lightweight themselves, and can be painted or stained to match the décor of the home.  Tee pee tents, cat trees and an open floor space round out the enrichment area. ( picture)   There is plenty of room for people to go about their work, for the cats to be safe and happy.
nice tee pee, scratching pad - they can be moved
about as the cats like 

 As far as costs go – I did not ask, but looking at the crate, shelving, and cubbie cases I would estimate it was under $200 for all the materials new.  You could save some money by asking at a construction site if you can take scrap shelving or go to a Habitat for Humanity store for materials. Not handy with a drill?  Maybe a friend can help or a few hours paying a  handy person.  With your plan in hand, it would not take more than a few hours to get everything up and in place.   If you do not sew, use fleece for cubbie and shelf pads. Fleece does not fray,it  comes in all sorts of patterns and colors and cats love it.  Staple guns and hot glue guns make quick short cuts of creating framed wall hanging, and upholstered pads. 

 I post hope this gives you some ideas for creating a “ Cattastic” space in your home.  Cubbies, shelves and runways can resolve a lot of cat problems in a home.  Enriching the home does not mean it has to look like a cat house – it can be fun and creative for both of you.  So, share some of your stories of how you made your home more enriched for your cats – I would love to see your creativity!
Ranger, my office cat now retired loved his perch at our office of course with all his toys! 
Take care, 
Sally J Foote DVM                                                  Jan 2019