Tue, 2017/08/22 - 12:06pm
Careful handling of your furry feline might be the difference between a stressful and enjoyable trip to the veterinarian.
PhD student in the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph, Carly Moody is testing a number of common and recommended handling techniques to discover what cats prefer to make veterinary appointments smoother for pets, owners and staff.
Initially she compared passive handling, which involves a light restraint of movement, with full body restraint, in order to validate which measures are the most appropriate for detecting handling differences. A number of studies have found that full body restraint is stressful for animals, so behavioural differences seen between these two treatments should be good indicators of stress for future studies, says Moody.
She found that behavioural measures like ear position and preferences testing, and physiological measures like respiratory rate and pupil size, are useful measures to assess negative feline response to handling.
“Cats aren’t taken to the vet as regularly as dogs,” says Moody. “This is partly because owners see how much stress their cats undergo during veterinary appointments. Sharing that stress, owners are less willing to take their cat to the veterinarian again.”
Consistent visits to the vet are important. Veterinary care is essential for the health of all pets. Owners often overlook symptoms of illness in cats, so frequent visits are the best way to discover and treat illness early. Owners who do not regularly take their cat to the veterinarian are at risk of reducing their cat’s welfare by missing or prolonging disease.
Researchers are assessing whether the cats prefer one handling method over the other by conducting preference tests. Cats are handled using each of the techniques in separate halves of a special preference apparatus – this will make the cats associate each half, distinguishable through different colours, with a certain technique. After being handled, cats are allowed to walk around the apparatus and choose which side they would rather spend their time in. Based on this, researchers are able to determine which technique the cats prefer by observing which side of the apparatus is preferred. In combination with this, Moody is looking at other behavioural and physiological indicators of stress during and immediately after handling.
Once researchers determine which techniques are best at reducing cat stress, Moody will distribute this information among veterinary staff. This knowledge will help veterinarians to choose methods that optimize cat welfare, and will hopefully increase feline vet appointments by increasing positive experiences for cats and owners.
“I hope this will alleviate owners’ stress, improve cat welfare, and cause veterinarians to be more aware of how their techniques can change a cat’s behaviour entirely,” says Moody.
This research was in collaboration with her supervisor in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, Dr. Lee Niel, the Col K.L. Campbell Chair in Companion Animal Welfare, as well as Dr. Cate Dewey, and Dr. Georgia Mason.
Funding for this research was provided by OVC Pet Trust.
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