Using Fear Free Techniques With Your Feline Patients

January 5, 2018

Laura Muller, LVT, nursing manager at Cherry Hill Animal Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, says there are several Fear Free techniques that can make feline appointments less stressful for the patient, client, and you.

Your feline patients can be a hassle sometimes. But Laura Muller, LVT, nursing manager at Cherry Hill Animal Hospital in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, says there are several Fear Free techniques that can make feline appointments less stressful for the patient, client, and you.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“A lot of people talk about cats as the red-headed step child of veterinary medicine, and that’s not the way it needs to be. Clients are really apprehensive about bringing their cats in because it’s a bad experience, the car ride sucks, they’re running around the house trying to catch them, and then when the cats are here they vocalize. People don’t like that.

Clients also hate when their cats get taken into ‘the back.’ What is ‘the back’? What is there? What happens? They just hear screams. So, what we do for our feline patients—and we’re in an older hospital so we do not do any structural modifications—but what we do for the exam tables, they all have a soft bath mat on them, something that we got at Walmart for $10 each, they all are sprayed with just 1 or 2 pumps of a feline pheromone, we use Feliway, we love it. We call clients and say, ‘Hey, we’d just really appreciate it if you would keep the carrier out for about a week or so before the appointment so Fluffy doesn’t see it and get upset when she has to travel in the car.’ Most of our feline patients are indoor only, so they’re going from running around their house with their owners chasing them, going in that box that they hate, driving 45 miles an hour, getting out of the car, going into our lobby, and looking at a dog.

For feline patients, we tell them to put a visual decreased barrier over the carrier, so a towel works just fine, a sheet, anything to kind of get that visual aspect decreased, then we have them come into the exam room. We don’t dump them out—I hate it when clients turn their pets into salt and pepper shakers. Cats are not to be shaken out, they’re meant to be stirred. You stir them out with love, you give them treats, you use a little bribery. If you want to get them out of the carrier, what you can do is unscrew it. Shaken — not good. What you can do is let clients know when they go in for that cat, or they start tilting that back up, ‘You know what, I’d really love it if Fluffy could be more comfortable. I’m going to see if a little bit of bribery will work.’ Put some treats in there. If they’re food motivated, it makes you look like the good guy, it makes you feel better, clients like it. I’ve had so many clients say, ‘Oh that’s so much better than going on that cold table, I’ve always hated when they did that and she didn’t like it.’ Cats like to be warm. Modifying that for feline patients actually increases their primary care, which means you can detect diseases earlier. It means not only is your practice more viable financially, but you’re taking better care of your patients and clients accept and acknowledge that.

So, feline patients—talk about putting them in the carrier, talk about getting the pet acclimated to the carrier, feed them by it, throw treats in it, see what happens, Feliway spray, love it, you can actually tape a sample packet to the top of it and let the client know to spray that or wipe it down in their carrier before they actually come next time. And it empowers the client to actually put their fingerprints over it, right? So, they’re being actively engaged in their pet’s appointment and it makes them feel good. They don’t like chasing their cat around the house. They don’t like showing off their battle scars to the technicians and the doctors when they come in. A lot of feline medicine can be done in front of the client. We can have transparency, and they like that transparency.

When you have a cat and you’re doing a blood draw, you don’t have to scruff them and stretch them out, right? You can put them on their side, you can do a little kitty burrito, you can extend that back leg and you can get your vessel completely visualized. And you can ask the client, ‘Are you comfortable being in the room when we draw Fluffy’s blood? Because we want you to be comfortable and be transparent for you.’ So, if they hear the cat vocalizing, it’s not the bad guys in the back doing it. It’s also preemptive to tell clients that getting blood from a cat can be like getting blood from a toddler. We have to work as efficiently as possible, but we’re going to make it as gentle as possible. For cats, do everything in the room, just spray Feliway, put a towel down, put a bath mat down, do something. Let the client know that there are easier ways to get their cat in. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has a great handout on getting cats to the vet. There’s a really, really cute picture on it. I tell clients to read over it, but you want to capture not only that revenue, but that pet for getting their primary care in. It’ll be easier and better for the pet’s health long term.”