Cats continue to be America’s most popular pet, outnumbering dogs by 15 million, but they are only half as likely to go to the veterinarian for preventive care as their canine counterparts. A recent study by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) found that cat visits to the vet have dropped 30% in the past five years. Meanwhile, preventable health issues like parasites, obesity, obesity-related diabetes, ear infections and dental disease are on the rise.
Although the economy has played a role in the decline, another factor is taking your cat to the vet can be stressful on both you and your feline companion. Few cats like to leave the comfort of home and we often do things that add to our pet’s stress level preparing for and on our trip to vet. To combat this issue, the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the CATalyst Council have joined forces with veterinarians around the country to make their practices more cat-friendly.
“Cats are creatures of habit,” says Dr. Rebecca Schmidt founder of the Northern Illinois Cat Clinic. “They do not like changes in their routine. For this reason we had to find ways to make the visit to us a positive experience.”
The concept of a cat-friendly practice isn’t new to Dr. Schmidt, who started her feline-exclusive practice nearly 30 years ago. At the time, she felt that veterinarians too frequently treated cats like small dogs. This caused doctors and owners to react in a way that made the situation more stressful for cats.
“Cats need a calm environment, especially at the veterinarian’s office. One they can explore and become comfortable in” adds Dr. Schmidt. “When we do blood draws, vaccinations and other tests, we use treats or food on a tongue depressor and even some fresh catnip to make the experience positive for the kitty.”
In the exam rooms at the Libertyville-based clinic, they allow a cat’s curious nature to take over, letting cats roam free to sniff out the environment. While some hide in their carrier or the corner, others take the time to explore. The doctors will greet the cats and spend time talking quietly with the owner. When a cat sees his or her owner is relaxed and not threatened, the cat will relax and the veterinarian will then start the exam.
“We worked on creating an environment that was different and focused on what we could do to counteract fear and reduce stress when cats came into the practice,” says Dr. Schmidt. “Cats will often feed off the stress or fear that exists in their owner. We look at ways to make the visit less stressful for everyone. We provide chocolates, peaceful music, beverages, comfy chairs, WiFi and even a snack bar. These “creature comforts” help to relax owners which in turn relaxes their cat.”
Creature comforts and modern medicine
Just like with people, high stress levels may have an effect on a cat’s blood tests, blood pressure or other diagnostic tests. The idea is to keep the cats relaxed so this will not happen. Cats are so good at hiding illness, these tests are often the only way to detect that a cat may be or soon will become sick.
“When cats are stressed, they want to run and hide, not be soothed and comforted,” says Dr. Schmidt. “We carefully read a cat’s body language and work with each cat to find ways to make the visit less stressful. If a cat is comfortable with being massaged during the exam, I’ll try that. I examine some cats on my lap, some on the floor and we even had a cat many years ago that only relaxed when we let him jump onto the toilet in the bathroom. From that point on, we examined him there.”
The Northern Illinois Cat Clinic uses big fluffy bath towels so that cats have the security of being hidden and they’ll only expose areas of the cat that need to be examined. Modern medicine has made it easier to treat even the most stressed-out cats. New types of light sedation may be used for a short period of time. This really relaxes the kitties who have the tendency to become upset. The clinic also has the diagnostic equipment such as ultrasound and digital x-ray needed to identify most cat illnesses so your cat won’t need to go to another location for testing.
The cat-minded philosophy is also at work at the clinic’s boarding facilities. Multilevel cat condos give a cat plenty of room to roam and have a secluded lower level area for the litter box. Food and water are placed on higher levels, away from the litter. The condos are placed in a room with a large window so kitties can see the bird and people activity outdoors. The staff doors from the outside and to the offices connect to this room, giving cats that are boarded plenty of attention and playtime when there is a break in the workday.
Dr. Rebecca Schmidt and Dr. Michelle Miller are veterinarians at the Northern Illinois Cat Clinic, a full service feline-exclusive veterinary clinic, located at 295 Peterson in Libertyville. Learn more about the Northern Illinois Cat Clinic online, by calling 847-680-1770 or follow them on Facebook.
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