Written by Vet Dr Alison Pickering

It all started with 100 crazy cat vets in one conference room.  The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) conference was a “Cat Only” medicine conference, and this was the first time I had heard of the Cat Friendly Clinic initiative.

Cat Friendly Clinic – what is this thing?  I like cats – but what makes a Cat Friendly Clinic (CFC) any different?

The Cat Friendly standard is an international accreditation  showing that a clinic has taken the time to “think cat” and modify their ethos, procedures and facilities to demonstrate the clinic’s Cat Friendly credentials to new and existing clients.

According to the ISFM the proportion of cat owning clients is on the increase, and the cat’s position in a household is changing from a stray rat-catcher that turned up on the doorstep, to a chosen and cherished member of the family.  Owners are willing to spend more on the care of their cats and want to seek out the best care for them.

This is an opportunity for clinics to grow their business by providing excellent care for their feline patients.  CFC accreditation helps discerning new owners choose the clinic they feel will best care for their cat, thereby improving client acquisition and retention.

Many cats receive less than optimal veterinary care and clinic visits for health and wellness checks are irregular compared to dogs. Think of it  from a cats perspective:  first being chased and caught, then the indignity of being stuffed into a dirty old basket, driving in the car away from your secure home territory, entering a vet clinic with unfamiliar smells and then having a dog rush up and stick its nose into your carrier.  I can just hear the dog owner’s response at this moment……”It’s OK, he’s good with cats”!   No wonder cats find vet visits really stressful – let alone the cat owners.  The owner is therefore reluctant to put the cat through the stress of a vet visit, meaning reduced numbers of examinations (the cat is only seen when it is sick) and reduced opportunities to educate those clients on the importance of wellness checks, weight management, diet and dental care for example.

Simple steps to reducing the stress of the visit make a big difference; covering cages, quiet cat corners in a waiting area, providing a soft surface in cat only consult room.  It is surprising how often an inviting surface encourages a cat to come out of a carrier compared to a stainless steel table.

Allowing time for cat to relax and come out of its carrier and explore the room facilitates handling.  I often have cats explore the room then jump back on to the consult table – this makes for a much more relaxed examination than trying to keep a stressed cat still on a consult table.  The emphasis is on stress-free handling, using cat wraps and fear free handling techniques rather than scruffing, and using sedation and pain relief pre-emptively.  Owners often give an unsolicited comment that their cat was a lot less stressed or fractious than they had anticipated – at which point I explain a little more about us being a cat friendly clinic.

Tauranga Vets’ journey was made easier given our Best Practice status – demonstrating existing good record keeping, SOPs and an excellent standard of care.  We needed to change the waiting room around some, and implement cat friendly greetings to clients with instructions on placing the cat up high, and covering the cage.  We dedicated one room to be a cat consult room with Feliway running, and plenty of blankets for cat wraps and table covers.  The clinic needed some infrastructure changes – namely providing taller cages so cats have vertical space and room for a perching shelf and cat igloos.

This process is not only beneficial for cats and the owners, but it gives all staff the opportunity to upskill in cat behavior and handling.  It has also given those staff who love working with cats an opportunity to focus their work on an area they are passionate about.   Being part of a clinic initiative like this leads to staff members feeling valued, and they become more engaged with their patients and their clients.  The knock on effects of this should result in increased job satisfaction and staff retention.

So why not become Cat Friendly?!

Alison Pickering (Crazy Cat Vet)