Should You Make Yours a Certified Cat Friendly Practice?

As you may have heard, there’s a new certification available to veterinary practices called the Certified Cat Friendly Practice. If you’re not quite sure it’s for you, here’s some food for thought.

In 2012, according to that year’s U.S. Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook, pet owners owned more than 74 million cats and just under 70 million dogs. Meanwhile, the Bayer-Brakke Study conducted between 2006 and 2011 revealed that veterinary practices saw a 9.2% increase in dog visits versus a 4.4% decrease in cat visits.

Take a look at your Active Patient chart in your most recent Practice Overview Report and you’ll probably notice a similar discrepancy. How many active dogs do you have compared to active cats? If yours is a typical practice, I’d be willing to guess that you have a 3:1 ratio, or worse.

Active Patients Overview Chart from a typical practice

So many cats, so few visits

Why, if the majority of pets are cats, aren’t we seeing more of them in our practices? Good question. Above all, this can be attributed to the fact that most practices have dropped the ball when it comes to creating a cat-friendly atmosphere. If a cat has a negative experience at your vet practice, so does the owner, and the odds of that client ever wanting to bring their cat back for any reason decreases with each negative experience. The American Association of Feline Practitioners created the Certified Cat Friendly Practice program for this very reason. This program helps practices make veterinary visits less stressful for cats, their owners, and the veterinary team.

Putting cat friendly practices to the test

When I was a practice manager in Colorado, I signed up for the Certified Cat Friendly Practice program and learned a lot about the special needs of cats. The smallest and simplest details can really make a difference in the quality of their preventive care.

I remember one particular occasion when I had the opportunity to put my learning into action. A cat with red flags all over his patient file. According to the records, he was aggressive and only allowed very limited physical examinations in the past. I was scheduled to be the room tech for that appointment. Ahead of time, I approached the doctor and asked him if I could pull out all the stops with the cat-friendly techniques that I had learned and that he’d been encouraging the team to use. He agreed.

As soon as the cat arrived (in his carrier, thank goodness), I immediately whisked him and his mother into an exam room, where I had deliberately dimmed the lights. Before doing anything else, I covered his carrier with a towel that I had sprayed with Feliway, so he could “marinate” for a while. During this time, I obtained his medical history and determined what vaccines he needed. His mother requested that we also trim his toenails if he would let us. I remember thinking to myself, “yeah right! Have you seen his file?”, but out loud I said “if he’ll let us, we’ll sure be happy to try.” I then left the exam room to get the doctor.

Cat-friendly techniques in action

I filled the doctor in on the plan, got everything that we were going to need and we went back into the examination room. While he was greeting the client, I removed the screws connecting the top of the carrier to the bottom, and very slowly slid the top off, allowing the towel to lay on top of the cat so that he could feel like he was still hidden and safe. Very slowly, I uncovered each part of the cat so the doctor could examine him, while still keeping him gently wrapped in the towel.

By the end of his visit, he had allowed a complete nose-to-tail physical exam. We delivered the works: scoping his ears and eyes, palpating his abdomen, checking out his teeth, performing range of motion tests on all four limbs. We even vaccinated him and clipped his nails, all without massive restraint on our part, or hissing and scratching on his. Basically, this cat received the greatest level of preventive care he’d had in years.

What a great feeling! The doctor was so thrilled with how well the appointment had gone, we actually high-fived one another. What was behind our success? Not a whole lot. We simply put in a little extra effort to slow things down and apply small and simple touches that made a big difference.

Is this program for you?

Should you make yours a Certified Cat Friendly Practice? If your data shows that you’re seeing fewer cats than dogs despite the greater popularity of cats – and I’m pretty confident it does – the answer is yes. Your clients are certain to appreciate it, and more importantly, your feline patients deserve it.

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