If you ever had to take your cat to the vet, you probably know it can be quite problematic — even traumatic. You are nervous, which makes your cat nervous, and turns the whole trip into a difficult experience; plus, there’s the uncertainty of not knowing how things will turn out. However, it doesn’t have to be like that, according to feline experts. In a new study, a team of researchers proposed a guide with many practical tips you can use.
The “Cat-Friendly Guidelines” is a kind of rulebook developed by the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) and the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). They include suggestions for both veterinary professionals and cat owners to make visits to the veterinary clinic a smooth experience without many difficulties.
The guidelines are authored by experts in feline clinical medicine and behavior, who have done an extensive literature review and have also drawn on their own experience as part of the Cat-Friendly Practice Program – a global initiative to elevate care for cats by enhancing the environment and experience, as well as reducing their stress levels.
“Cat-friendly interactions involve considering emotional and cognitive health throughout the journey of the veterinary visit, even before leaving the patient’s home,” the guidelines read. “The first veterinary visit can impact a young animal for life. A negative veterinary experience in puppies can impact their long-term welfare.”
Best practices for a visit to the vet
The guidelines, illustrated with many images of cat-friendly clinics around the world, recognize that the mental well-being of cats is equally important as their physical health. They put the cat’s emotional experience at the forefront of vet interactions, an approach that can help pet owners and vets to better understand the cat’s perspective.
To be cat friendly, everyone in the vet and also the pet owner needs an understanding of cats, not just as individuals but also as a species. Much of their behavior comes from their wildcat ancestor, Felis silvestris lybica, especially their preference to rely on themselves for protection. Predictability and control contribute to perceived safety.
When this isn’t an option, such as when going to a veterinary clinic, cats instead try to hide or perch to assess the environment from above. The guidelines offer many practical tips on how to minimize negative experiences and instead promote positive ones. For this, educating the pet owner is as necessary as working with the cat.
The list includes reducing visual stimulation — even photos of cats and other animals can be seen as threatening. Cats should remain away from noisy patients and loud clinic equipment, and human vocalization should be soft, gentle, and slow in tempo. Removing scents from dogs and other cats can create a reassuring environment.
The veterinary team should remain “cat-focused” during all interactions. This means being aware of the cat’s preferred areas of touch, especially in the region of the facial glands, which produce pheromones used in social bonding. This can encourage positive emotions during clinical examination, as well as avoiding direct eye contact.
The guidelines also suggest allowing the cat to remain in the bottom of the carrier if they want to, and using towels or a high-slide cat bed to encourage a feeling of behind hidden and protected. An adverse experience during a veterinary visit, such as the triggering of pain or fear, can lead to the cat becoming highly reactive at future visits.
The concept of “cooperative care” is also introduced in the guidelines as the future of “cat-friendly.” This will require developing new skills, both at home and at the vet, to help cats feel more relaxed and in control in situations they may get fearful. Vets are also suggested to make changes in their environment to improve the experience for cats.
The guidelines can be accessed here.