Cats are contagious (in a good way)!


Are your cat-friendly ideas facing resistance from the dog lovers at your veterinary hospital? Dr. Michelle Lawson overcame doubters with some discussion and contagiously fun tips.

The VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center Kitty Committee includes, from left, Ashly Shearer (technician), Lena Connolly (treatment team), Carole Cornwell (reception, customer service lead), Michelle Lawson, DVM, Hannah Miller (assistant), Heather Oberlander (teatment team) and Kaela Cumbee (reception, customer service). Not pictured is Gabby Mendoza (assistant).

Michelle Lawson, DVM, an associate at VCA Valley Oak Veterinary Center in Chico, California, and friend to cats everywhere, shares how she encouraged her not-as-feline-inspired colleagues to embrace cat-friendly practice techniques. And, boy, were some team members hard to convince: "[Resistance] was in every department, from kennel assistant to veterinarians, and ranged from very vocal to low grumbling."

But Lawson was ready. She had already worked at a Gold Status Cat Friendly Practice before joining the team at Valley Oak, and although she wasn't recruited to be the practice's cat advocate, she believes her cat push benefited the practice and every cat that comes in the door. Here's what she does to win over skeptics:

Help for a frustrated reader

Our veterinary practice team is low on ‘cat-friendly' people. This means that although we go through the motions and pay lip service to ‘cat friendliness,' the majority of the staff doesn't naturally bond with our kitty clients. This makes our practice-owning DVMs sad, because they both love cats and are sick of repeating ‘less is more' to every single support staff member handling the cats. One of our RVTs is actually a little afraid of cats and we have two staff members who expect all cats to be feral. Improvement in this area is slow going, as it involves attitude training, not just informational training.

If this is your problem, Michelle Lawson, DVM, says to start here: 

> Organize some in-house CE with a feline-friendly practitioner or feline veterinary behaviorist to help the team understand why cats do what they do.

> Visit a local certified Cat Friendly Practice for inspiration or invite some of that practice's staff to share their experience.

> Watch, share and discuss the informational and training videos from the American Association of Feline Practitioners as well as the group's published guidelines. Graduate on to some handling wet labs in-clinic or at a veterinary conference. Cat stuffed animals are a great way to start and often found in abundance at thrift stores!

> Include the AAFP handling and nursing care guidelines as part of current and new-hire staff training. That way everyone is required to participate and begin-or continue-to hone their feline handling skills and confidence.

> Kick off a cat-owning client video or photo contest. Show team members how nice and friendly cats are in their own environment-before they get scared on the way to the practice. This may soften team members' fears and wariness and help them appreciate the bond between cat and cat owner.

> Teaching old dogs new tricks. Lawson reminded her team that they're constantly learning about how to deliver compassionate care in new ways all the time, be it medicine or surgery. Focusing on cat-friendly compassionate care is no different.

> Being a showoff. Lawson demonstrated handling techniques in accordance with the current American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) Guidelines and other low-stress strategies via in-house videos and hands-on opportunities. The goal was to display and teach safer and more comfortable experiences for staff and cat patients.

> Asking for help. Lawson invited Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, DABVP (Feline), owner and hospital director of two exclusively feline practices and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), to address feline behavior in a staff meeting.

> Creating your own clowder (you know, the group name for cats). Lawson organized an ongoing committee of volunteers from each department to help with training, awareness and execution of Cat Friendly Practice delivery. "This [change] has made the biggest impact, as the 'slow to warm' team members see and learn the techniques and witness the benefits for staff and patients," Lawson says.

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