Bring Your Cat to a Cat Friendly Clinic

Whisper on an exam table in Vet Med South Clinic

Cat lovers, get ready to celebrate! August 22 is National Bring Your Cat to the Vet Day!

If the idea of bringing your kitty to see the veterinarian strikes you as the opposite of a celebration, perhaps you should learn about Cat Friendly Practices®. The International Society for Feline Medicine and the American Association of Feline Practitioners—professional organizations of veterinarians devoted to caring for cats—developed the Cat Friendly Practice® program. Veterinary clinics that wish to become certified as a Cat Friendly Practice® must ensure that their facilities and personnel are ready to provide the best care possible for cats.

Recently, the Veterinary Medicine South Clinic at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital achieved gold-level certification in this program. It is the only Cat Friendly Practice® within a 50-mile radius, according to the AAFP website Dr. Gene Pavlovsky, director of the clinic, credits veterinary technician Amanda Green for spearheading the clinic’s effort to gain certification.

Too Stressful; Didn’t Come

Dr. Pavlovsky says cats are not brought in for regular veterinary checkups as frequently as dogs are. A major driver of this trend is that owners find vet visits very stressful, for their cats and for themselves.

“There are various reasons that cats don’t see us as often as dogs do,” says Dr. Pavlovsky. “In addition to the stress of having to put the cat in a carrier and bring her where she might feel threatened, owners may believe that cats don’t need regular care. Cats are excellent at masking any signs of illness.

“The truth is, though, that both cats and dogs need routine care to promote lifelong health. Because of pets’ shorter lifespans, chronic diseases develop on a faster timeline in pets than they do in people.”

Annual visits help to detect problems early in the disease process, when treatment options are more effective and less expensive. Regular visits also allow veterinary caregivers to monitor and address issues with dental health, which greatly contributes to overall health.

What Does It Mean to Be Cat Friendly?

“This program provides guidelines to help make visits to the veterinarian less stressful for the cats and for their owners,” says Dr. Pavolosky. “As part of the certification process, every member of our team receives training to read cat-specific body language and behavior cues and to know what cats need to feel safe.”

Dr. Pavlovsky reaches into Whisper’s carrier with stethoscope.
Dr. Pavlovsky listens to Whisper’s heart while she is still in her carrier.

Cat Friendly Practices® also use low-stress handling techniques, keep cats in areas separate from dogs, and use cat-calming pheromones in cat exam rooms.

Feline Friendly Handling and Spaces

“How the cat is handled is extremely important for reducing the cat’s stress,” says Dr. Pavlovsky. “Restraint is perceived as a threat, leading many cats to instinctively try to flee or be aggressive.

“One way we might address the issue of restraint is minimizing contact with the cat. For example, we may be able to do our exam while the cat remains in his carrier, if the carrier is designed so it can be opened from the top. Or we might open the carrier door and invite the cat to come out on his own, rather than reach inside for him.”

cat on exam table licks some treats from a tube
During the examination, Whisper explores a cat treat in a squeeze tube.

Other techniques include the body position of the caregivers, their tone of voice, and how they make eye contact.

Dr. Pavlovsky holds Whisper in a towel while she gets a shot
Dr. Pavlovsky holds Whisper gently in a towel while she gets a shot.

Adaptations to the clinic to follow cat-friendly guidelines included providing hiding spaces in holding areas where cats might be kept before or after a procedure. Caging for cats features a blanket draped over a structure made of PVC pipe, so cats can duck out of view to feel safer.

The Veterinary Team Benefits Too

At the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine South Clinic, it’s not only the faculty and staff who are trained in cat-friendly ways. Senior veterinary students who rotate through the primary care and urgent care services also learn what is required to achieve Cat Friendly Practice® status. Thus, they can take this knowledge with them into their future practice.

And that’s a very positive step for cats, their families, and the veterinarians who serve them. Data indicate that clinics certified as cat-friendly have higher overall employee safety and satisfaction. Employees at these practices experience fewer injuries from their feline patients.

“Ultimately, we have gone through the rigorous certification process because we know it will provide our feline patients with the highest quality of care,” says Dr. Pavlovsky. “When the cat and the cat’s human have a positive experience at the clinic, we believe they will be more willing to return for ongoing regular care, which leads to the best health outcomes for the cat.”