Fearsome or Fearful Feline?

“One of our jobs back in veterinary school as a student included taking care of our in-patients. This meant taking their temperature, heart-rate and respiration rate…often by ourselves in the early morning or late evening, from tail-wagging lab to spitting cat. As naïve students, we thought our ability to just ‘get the job done’ for the fractious cat gave us a badge of honour. Man against Beast. And we all knew that if the all-too-common medical acronym ‘WNL’ (within normal limits) appeared on a kitty’s chart instead of detailed information, well…it was likely that the beast won.”

–        Dr. Meryl Herberts

Fast forward to general practice. That ‘beast’ is now a regular patient, one of your furry family members, and through further education we know that ‘fearsome’ behavior mostly stems from fear. After all, for most cats who aren’t used to travel outside the home, a car ride and a trip to a clinic full of new smells, sounds, and sights is scary!  Our feline friends deserve empathy.  But what makes a clinic cat-friendly?

catthrudoor1.     It starts as soon as you walk in the door.  A kitty’s nerves will not be placated by waiting in a busy, loud waiting room. Getting our feline companions into a designated cat exam room as soon as possible is priority.

feliway2.     If you can smell it… A cat-only room helps block noises and traffic from the rest of the clinic, as well as reduces scents that we are not aware of (such as those left by other species).

3.     Feli-what? Feliway!  The use of natural scent pheromones like those in the synthetic facial pheromone ‘Feliway’ are shown to reduce anxiety in our feline companions, marking the area as a ‘safe space’. You’ll notice a diffuser plugged into the wall of our cat exam room. We will also spray towels or room s in the treatment area if required.


4.     Get off on the right paw.  Just like meeting a new person, the initial greeting sets the stage for subsequent interactions. Veterinarians and technicians need to start ‘on the right paw’ by approaching slowly and gauging the comfort level of the cat. Techniques such as removing the top half of the carrier instead of forcefully dumping the cat through the carrier door, and providing towels for the cat to hide under if this is their preference, are important.

catintowel5.     “No, I don’t want no scrub (from TLC)….I mean scruff!”  Scruffing is an extremely dominant gesture to a cat, and usually unnecessary. It tends to increase their stress levels and escalate the situation from bad to worse.  At Kortright Animal Hospital, we are proud to say that we virtually never scruff a cat.  The use of calm rooms, towels, slow movements, and perceptive observations of the cat’s state go a long ways in reducing anxiety in our feline patients.Bustercollar

 6.     Leave Darth Vader to Star Wars. Sometimes we do have to protect ourselves as veterinarians and technicians from possible bites. An older method for this is the ‘Darth Vader mask’, a dark plastic mask tied around a cat’s face. It definitely protects the handlers, but can you imagine how the cat feels trapped in that dark, stuffy environment, unable to see? Our approach is to instead use a transparent e-collar (buster collar or cone) that fastens with easily adjustable velcro. It is still protective, but the cat can see their surrounds and not feel cramped or without air.

nogloves7.     And leave the gloves for gardening.  Handling cats with big, heavy gloves is another way to offer protection for handlers. But these are clumsy at best, and also spur fear in felines. Using low-stress handling techniques with towels and the e-collar, ‘cat gloves’ is a term foreign to our team!


DrHunterThese are just a few cat-friendly techniques. Our repertoire is always expanding, as we are proud that Dr. Tammy Hunter is a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners – and they are all about cat-friendly practice!

Ultimately, being ‘cat friendly’ is about putting ourselves in the shoes of our feline companions and using empathetic techniques, not physical force, to provide quality healthcare.


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