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Feline-friendly practice provides less stress for cats

Almost 60 per cent of cat owners say their cats hate going to the vet, according to research reported by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. And when cats are unhappy, their owners are less likely to go back. For these reasons, the AAFP developed a set of standards for a cat-friendly veterinary practice, and the OVC Smith Lane Animal Hospital in the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre has been certified at the silver level – which means they can offer a less-stressful experience for cats and their owners.

Dr. Shannon Gowland, who spearheaded this process, says: “It is partly about how we handle the cats and the environment we create for them, and partly about the quality of care we offer for felines.”

An important part of the gentler handling approach the veterinarians and student veterinarians at Smith Lane use is to examine cats where they prefer to be, whether that is on a counter or on the floor, and towels are used to wrap the cat as needed or give the cat a place to snuggle or hide so they avoid “scruffing” the cats or pinning them down for examination or treatment.

To make the environment more feline-friendly, the animal hospital provides an examination room used only for cats, eliminating the dog smell that many cats find upsetting. A pheromone diffuser in that room provides soothing hormones; towels are sprayed with the same pheromones. Although there is no separate waiting room for cats and their owners, staff will bring the cats promptly into the exam room when they arrive for their appointments.

Another aspect checked by the AAFP is the availability of cat-sized tools for dental work and other procedures, and specific protocols for treating cats needing surgery or other care. The entire process of becoming accredited took several months.

“The benefit for our students is that they are learning low-stress methods of handling cats and understanding how they differ from dogs,” says Gowland. “The accreditation process really makes you think about what you do and why, and I think what we’ve learned helps us provide better quality of care for the cats we see.”

Feedback from clients of the animal hospital has been positive, she adds. “People say ‘I love how you handle my cat, I have never seen him so relaxed at the vet’s.’ We think that’s important because if the owner walks out feeling relaxed and happy about how his cat experienced being at the vet, the owner is more likely to bring the cat back for preventive care.”