Preparing for a successful feline exam


Using a smartphone with your clients can create a successful feline exam

Oleg Batrak/

Oleg Batrak/

It is no secret that the veterinary clinic makes patients anxious. With feline patients, it can sometimes be nearly impossible to understand what they are like at home versus in the clinic because of fear, anxiety, and behavior presented toward staff. So, how do you get a better understanding of what is happening with your feline patient if they are too afraid?

In their lecture at the 2022 American Association of Feline Practitioners conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice), and Margaret Gruen, DVM, MVPH, PhD, DACVB explained different ways to help make the experiences less traumatizing for cats, including having clients record pets at home.

Entering the exam

How the patient is described can carry weight on how the examination proceeds. For example, Colleran noted, if someone wanted to introduce you to their husband, but said he was grumpy and didn’t like strangers. When you would meet them, you would become serious, and your spine would stiffen. This reaction can be the same with description of a cat, and Colleran suggested using softer words to describe patients.

“One of the first take-home messages is to talk differently to your staff about how cats are Don't call them angry, vicious, mean, or all those other bad words, or use maybe, say, spicy. Maybe that will soften the message a little bit and make sure that I'm more relaxed and my team is more relaxed when I enter the room,” explained Colleran.

“These preconceived notions that we bring to our interactions with cats come from a lot of information that we get over time. But it really affects how we behave, [and] what our body language looks like. And because cats are super intuitive, how we feel going into the exam room,” she continued.

Because felines are so initiative, your demeanor can change the exam. Before entering the exam, Colleran advised attendees to take a deep breath, exhale, and then try to enter the exam room in a way that makes the cat feel safer than they thought. This can help start to let the cat think they are safe within the room. She even offered the advice of talking in low voices because of their extensive hearing and their auditory capabilities.

Another tip Colleran disclosed is to have your staff stop holding cat carriers by the handle. She offered this tip because, from personal experience, when she would pick the cat carriers up by the handle, she would sometimes hit the carrier off the door, wall, or even the car as she is pulling the patient out. Holding a carrier more firmly can reduce bumps and help keep felines more relaxed as they come into a clinic.

The use of video

A majority, if not all, of the clients own a smartphone, and this offers veterinary staff an insight into a patient's life that may never have been accessible before. When cats come into the clinic, their fear and anxiety can make it tricky to see the issues the client is explaining. To combat this problem, clients can be asked to record their cat doing tasks such as climbing stairs, jumping down surfaces, and playing with a toy.

“Cats don't behave normally in the clinic [and] we don't get to see the same range of normal behaviors that we would see in the home and so a big part of gathering data appropriately is to engage with our caregivers. [Getting] the data we need means we have to think about the language that we're using, and how we're asking the questions,” said Gruen.

Both Gruen and Colleran encouraged attendees to take videos to get a baseline and to monitor progress in response to treatment. They advised that when collecting videos of patients, veterinary professionals must be sure to give clients the framework they need to make successful videos. For example, if your patient has a darker coat, advise the client to try and get a video in front of a lighter wall.

They suggested advising patients about lightning because if the lightning is poor, the veterinary team will not be able to see what is happening, making the video unusable. Videos that clients are taking should also be shot at a wider angle. This way, practitioners can get a better picture of not only the cat but its surroundings as well. In a case where the client sent a wider video, for example, Gruen and her team noticed the owner's bedspread was torn, indicating that the cat was using its back paws to try and get into the bed, tearing the fabric in the process.

When receiving videos, storing them, and providing notes on each recording is important. This can help staff stay organized and keep track of everything they see, including any progress. “If possible, we store the video clips by cat name and by date,” said Gruen.

Detailed notes are especially important if the clinic cannot keep the video. One case, for example, included notes on a cat that was observed jumping down from the kitchen counter. The video had shown the height of the counter, and the cat’s jump to about 3 ft down. A subsequent jump up to a couch showed the patient’s initial hesitation and an inability to clear the object with its right hind leg.

“Things like that, we're not going to be able to see [on video] again. [Notes] can help us remember what it is that we want to be watching for when they show us how their cat is doing now, since we've instituted some treatment or now that time has passed,” she concluded.


For an exam, practitioners sometimes must rely heavily on the pet parent to get the information they need to assess and treat the patient. It can be tricky getting the kind of information you need because clients will often offer what they think you need. By using video and getting the whole team involved with cats, a practice can improve treatment of these patients and improve their quality of life


Colleran E., Gruen M.PURRfecting the Feline Exam: Communicating with Clients to Get the Information You Need. Presented at: 2022 American Association of Feline Practitioners Conference, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 27-30, 2022.

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