As many of you know, our hospital began a new suite renovation starting in the spring and finally finishing in the midsummer. We were happily taking over the entire downstairs of our building, able to add additional boarding, waiting area space, a second front desk, another examination room, and an additional treatment area. The extra space has been an amazing addition that helps us move clients and patients through their appointments much more efficiently. But, the best part of the entire renovation is that all of the new spaces we have added are specifically for our feline patients, and no one else.
The quiet and private, cat-only examination room.
Now, we have gotten quite a few comments from dog parents that (light-heartedly) seemed a little jealous that the cats got all of this new stuff and they didn’t get anything! Sure, that’s understandable, especially from our clients that only have dogs and do not have cats. I’d like to take this opportunity to let everyone know why we made this decision for our renovation, and why it seems like the cats are getting all the good stuff.
Feline only treatment and hospitalization area. Anestheized patients also recover here after surgery.
What does it mean for an animal hospital to be “fear-free” and “cat-friendly?”
Two terms you hear a lot of in the veterinary world are “cat-friendly” and “fear-free.” Fear free is a new movement meant to make veterinary visits better, and less scary, for both cats AND dogs (see, not everything we do is just for cats!). The thought is, happy pets are healthier and easier to treat compared to frightened or aggressive pets, many times the latter never receiving treatment due to their aggression. Our goal is to make sure every pet that comes to us can receive the care they deserve, and so the staff is regularly trained in fear-free handling and will eventually go through a continuing education program in order to become officially certified in fear-free handling and care.
Cat-friendly is (almost) exactly what it sounds like. It is a distinction that can be officially obtained from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) after going through a rigorous process that rates the staff, the facility, and the treatment plans of the hospital. It is meant to show that a hospital is proficient in handling cats, since their needs and attitudes are completely different than those of dogs. Cats are easily mishandled and misunderstood, so the AAFP has been trying to change that. Our practice has started down the road towards this designation and we hope within a year to have passed. In the meantime, our entire team is trained according by the guidelines set by the AAFP while we continue to improve our feline patient care.
What are some of the guidelines for a cat-friendly practice?
The AAFP has set forth a lot of guidelines in order to define what a cat-friendly practice is, everything from a recommended vaccination schedule, types of disinfectants you can use, patient handling, and boarding kennel recommendations, just to name a few!
You can find an extensive list on their website here, with a complete list that is not available to the public (but trust me, it’s really long…).
Why do we want to be cat-friendly (and fear-free)?
Cats are the most underserved pet population when it comes to receiving regular health care. A study done by the AVMA in 2012 (US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook) shows that in 2011 cats outnumbered dogs as owned pets.
74.1 million cats owned.
70 million dogs owned.
In 2011 dogs had an estimated 130.4 million visits to the vet, an increase of almost 10% from 2006 (when the study was last done). Cats only visited the doctor 60 million times (half of what dogs did). Cat visits were down over 4% from the 2006 study.
There are a myriad of barriers stopping cats from getting the care they need. Whether it’s that owners think “cats don’t need veterinary care,” that owners and even veterinary staff are unaware of cats’ specific needs, or the owners think transportation is too difficult & “cats hate going to the vet.” (In fact, over 58% of cat owners think their cat hates going to the vet.)
A cat friendly practice promotes the health and well-being of cats while encouraging and reinforcing the bond between the pet parent and the hospital.
How did we create a more feline friendly environment with our renovation?
As I mentioned previously, cats’ needs are wildly different from those of dogs. Cats are solitary creatures by nature that prefer to be away from other animals and strangers. It is very easy for a cat to become stressed or fearful, especially if they were not properly socialized as young kittens. Often, the only time a cat leaves the house or gets into a carrier is to go to the vet, which historically has not been a pleasant experience.
Our new lobby area looking into the boarding area. Cats have a view both of the outdoors and into the building. This allows them to feel less trapped and more able to entertain themselves throughout the day.
In the past (and some still do), animal hospitals had shared waiting areas where dogs and cats intermingled, often with the cat in a carrier on the floor. No one thought about what was going through a cat’s head, trapped in a small cage, with a large dog poking its muzzle around their carrier, barking, drooling, or scratching at the cat. In that moment, the cat is prey and being hunted by something big, scary, and smelly. If you were suddenly prey would you be amenable to an exam or blood draw right after? No.
So, the first thing we did was separate the cat areas from the dog areas. Now, cats have their own entrance, boarding area, exam rooms, and treatment area. Out of sight from the dogs on the other side of the hospital. This was the change that we noted made the biggest difference in the general attitude of our feline patients. In general they are calmer, do not get agitated as quickly, and are not as quick to hiss or swat at staff members while they are being handled or treated.
A closer look at our new boarding kennels.
In addition, we upgraded our boarding kennels with a cat’s comfort and happiness in mind. The backs of the kennels are clear in order to allow the cats to see outside. The kennels have multiple levels to allow them to perch (or hide, if preferred), entertain themselves with birds outside, and sleep in a separate area from their litter box. All of these changes were recommended by various cat experts over the years (along with many more we have implemented), to help a cat feel more comfortable when they are boarding.
I really could go on and on about everything we have done in the past year, as well as the year of research I did before starting the renovation. But, for the sake of brevity I’ll save it for another blog post in the future. In essence, I wanted to address the concerns of our awesome dog parents that were confused by the cats getting “spoiled” and to let our cat parents know of the great upgrades we have made in the past year. We have worked very hard to bring all of these changes to fruition and we are excited to share them with you! If you haven’t made it in recently to check everything out, give us a call and schedule a wellness visit for your cat… it’s about time for one, don’t you think?
Sarah M. has been with Lifetime Pet Centers for fifteen years, and has been the practice manager for over five. She has been the hospital's main advocate in creating a safe and happy space for our feline patients, and hopes to continue to improve staff training and education for years to come.