For the love of cats, offer interior design services

April 5, 2019
Sarah Mouton Dowdy
Sarah Mouton Dowdy

Sarah Mouton Dowdy, a former associate content specialist for dvm360.com, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dr. Ilona Rodan protects the human-animal bond by having veterinary clients bring in floor plans of their homes.

"Dr. Rodan is the Joanna to my Chip." (adobestock/malamooshi)At a recent Fetch dvm360 conference, Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP (feline practice), highlighted the fact that cats are the only solitary hunters that can live amicably with people-emphasis on can.

An amicable owner-cat relationship hinges on the owner's understanding of what the cat needs to thrive, and as you well know, your clients and patients are often not on the same page. For example, Dr. Rodan cited the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, which found that 81% of cat owners see cats as self-sufficient pets that don't require much care or attention. (Click here and here for more stats from the Bayer study.)

“We need to prevent these erroneous client assumptions,” she said.

One way Dr. Rodan's clearing the confusion? By offering behavior consultations that include “interior design” services to cat owners.

Environmental activism

Dr. Rodan was a co-chair of the panel that created the American Association of Feline Practitioners and International Society of Feline Medicine Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines, which are built around a framework of five pillars:

1. Provide a safe place.

2. Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources: food, water, toileting areas, scratching areas, play areas, and resting or sleeping areas.

3. Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior.

4. Provide positive, consistent and predictable human–cat social interaction.

5. Provide an environment that respects the importance of the cat's sense of smell.

Dr. Rodan consults with clients who are getting cats about the importance of the five pillars and how to incorporate them into their homes. The interior design portion of the service specifically addresses the second pillar, and it involves clients bringing in a copy of their home's floor plan so they can map out where the key environmental resources should go.

It's important that you partner with clients on this mapping instead of filling it out on your own, says Dr. Rodan. For one, you can use the discussion as a way to educate clients about what cats need and why. Clients will be more likely to follow your recommendations if they understand the reasoning. Second, it will help you avoid recommending something your client has no intention of ever following. How would you know that your client would never allow a litter box in the guest bathroom unless you ask?

According to Dr. Rodan, this service can be particularly helpful in multicat households, because unless the cats are best friends, blocking can become a big problem-especially in narrow pathways such as hallways or staircases.

Some of the main tenets of the second pillar, as outlined in the Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines, include:

A choice for each resource (e.g. each cat should have two resting areas, two scratching areas, two feeding areas, two litter boxes)

Separate food and water resources

Individual eating and drinking locations (cats in multicat households shouldn't have to eat or drink in close proximity to one another)

Resting areas that give the cat a view of the outdoors

Sufficient physical and visual separation between each of the resources (e.g. cats don't want to toilet where they eat or sleep)

Areas for play and human attention.

Dr. Rodan notes that she usually places litter boxes in bathrooms (where there isn't carpeting), though clients often like them in closets too. This can work, she says, but only if the cat has more than one option for entering and exiting. Like humans, cats want privacy when toileting. If you place two litter boxes together, cats consider them as one litter box. Dr. Rodan also says that she tends to place food and water in separate spots in the kitchen but advises against placing them near a door or window. The smells of outdoor cats can cause stress. 

In multicat households, Dr. Rodan ensures that hallways and stairways have vertical spaces to avoid blocking. Simple shelves will work, she says.

Protect the human-animal bond

Attending to a cat's environmental needs decreases distress, anxiety, frustration, stress-associated diseases, and behaviors that owners don't like (e.g. scratching, house soiling), Dr. Rodan says, thereby protecting the human-animal bond. And helping your clients get off on the right foot … er, paw … with a new pet can go a long way toward establishing their loyalty to your practice.

Sarah Mouton Dowdy, a former associate content specialist for dvm360.com, is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City, Missouri.