A Feline Savvy Veterinarian who Knows How to Handle a Cat Appropriately is Hard to Find

feline savvy vet with cat

Photo Credit: Jo Singer Dr. Erin Holder examines Hush Puppy

Finding a veterinary practice that is feline savvy and handles cats with patience and compassion can be difficult to say the least.

I feel extremely lucky to have found Dr. Erin Holder, a holistic practitioner who obviously loves her patients, truly understands feline nature, makes her clients feel special, and who spends just the right amount of time explaining her clinical findings and, when possible offers a range of treatment options.

During the more than ten years that we have been her clients, she has never become impatient with our cats, has never “scruffed” them if they become “antsy” and if they at times do get uncooperative, she gives them time to relax and settle down before she continues working with them.

But there are those veterinarians who become highly impatient with what might be considered a “fractious” kitty; jumping to the conclusion that the cat is angry and being aggressive rather than considering that they may be frightened and confused and learn to deal with their emotions.

Recently I ran across a video showing a vet tech handling such a cat. He growled, he hissed and seemed quite upset. But of course the work must be done and there’s no time to waste. So to save time and make it easier, they often immediately go for what I consider “heavy handed” treatment. As far as I am concerned this kind of handling only further stresses out the kitty, which can make the cat even more unwilling to be handled. In my opinion this type of handling can make a simple veterinary visit into an even more disturbing “tug of war”, resulting in the kitty becoming increasingly fractious out of fear.

Take a moment to watch the video uploaded to YouTube by On The Floor, which demonstrates the method these veterinary professionals use to handle such a cat. As I watched I wanted to throw up my hands in disgust. No wonder this cat has such a bad reputation as an angry cat, which resulted in his being fired from several practices.

In contrast, watch the following video uploaded to YouTube by Sarah Whitwell. The veterinarian and her technician handled a “fractious” cat using a totally different approach. In spite of how often the terrified cat attempted to bite and scratch the veterinarian and her assistant, they never “scruffed”1 him. They never put a muzzle on him or tried to confine him. Instead the veterinarian spoke to him softly and reassuringly, bantered lightly with the technician, but most of all, gave him the respect and compassion that he so badly needed.

But what really impressed me was the technician intelligently wore heavily padded gloves. They allowed her to to be safe yet, let the kitty “fight” with the glove to his heart’s content. The technician wasn’t injured, the cat was able to dispel some of his frightened, frustrated energy, and the examination proceeded without any major warfare breaking out. In fact, the sequel to this video shows the same cat being far more cooperative and less testy.

Cats don’t easily forget painful and frightening experiences. Once they have been handled poorly by a veterinarian, it can be hell on wheels just trying to take kitty to the vet. In order to have our cats examined thoroughly and treated appropriately, it needs to be done patiently and compassionately by a veterinarian who loves cats, understands their nature, and knows how to handle them.

Which practice do you prefer? Tell us in a comment.

Jo

1. Scruffed means to hold the cat by holding the loose skin at the back of the neck.

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A Feline Savvy Veterinarian who Knows How to Handle a Cat Appropriately is Hard to Find — 21 Comments

  1. Nice article Jo. Thanks. There are probably two factors at play (a) the vet is constantly pushed to make money and time is money. The faster he works the more he makes. He feels the pressure of time and money. This makes him impatient (b) he doesn’t like cats or is insensitive towards cats and he may not even understand cat behavior.

    I don’t know whether they teach cat behavior at vet school. They probably touch on it but we know more don’t we? 🙂

  2. We had a foster that we sent to a vet for a combo test and the vet told her he was going to have to medicate to draw blood. When she called us we were surprised and told her to get out of there. We did find a cat friendly vet in her area.

    • What I don’t like is the ‘You’ll need to leave the cat for blood tests’ Why? It only takes minutes! Who knows how their cats are being handled behind closed doors?

  3. I think it’s traumatic enough for a cat at the vets without someone filming it! Bad enough the first video but they added to the cat’s trauma by stopping to talk about what they were doing, leaving the poor cat muzzled and wrapped up wondering what was going to happen to him. All those people hanging around too, no wonder the cat was acting as he did, he felt threatened! Never in all my vet nurse days did we use a muzzle on a cat! Talking to the cat while getting on with the job and getting it over with quickly would be far better.
    The second video was far better but no I never wore gauntlets either.
    Quietly spoken vet and nurse, calmly getting on quickly with the job, is surely better for the cat.
    I can’t see either of those cats ever being happy about going to see any vet ever again.
    Treat a cat like a wild beast and he will act like one!

  4. Hmmm. I’ve seen both but I’m somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place. I have a crazy cat…someone not QUITE as crazy as cat 2…but trimming his nails is almost impossible. He becomes very aggressive and I’m positive given the chance he will bite. Problem is…it’s just me…and him. SO…given that situation, my only option is to either 1) let his claws grow long in spite of him having ruined I don’t know how many sisal cat trees and daily leaving scratches on my legs when he’s startled by just about anything, or burrito-ing him in a heavy towel or blanket and really ticking him off, and trying to cut the nails. I’ve tried just cutting one or two a day to make him realize it isn’t the end of the world, but this one has a feral streak in him. Taking him to the vet to get it done is out of the question. Any ideas?

    • Donna, you have one of the world’s biggest problems 😉

      I don’t think it is possible to trim them without restraining him which has its downside (make him nervous etc.). The only other way is to get him to use his claws on hard rough surfaces so they wear down naturally – such as walking and running on a paved path. But how you achieve that, I have to idea. What about an exercise wheel?

      • Yeah, I tried the ’emery board’ scratching post, none of the 6 cats were even the slightest bit interested. I really can’t afford to be bitten…so my only REAL option is to burrito him or gently sit on him (but them I’m still taken a chance getting bitten)…the only good part about it is he gets over being mad REALLY fast. 🙂 Well, I guess he’s gonna be really mad either today or tomorrow, because he LOVES kneading my legs (OUCH) and by the time I trim his claws I get a GOOD 1/2 to 3/4 inch off them! Wish me luck. =\

  5. Actually, I think both teams were compassionate and kind; they just handled the situation differently. I couldn’t help relating heavily to the cats — this is just how I feel on the very rare occasions when I am forced to deal with doctors/”health care”. It is a frightening, alienating, horrific experience.

  6. Agreed jmuhj. I am right there with you. I have found human doctors to be gruff, impatient, and exasperating when it comes to health care. The vet for whom I work has actually been able to do things with “aggressive” cats (and dogs) that other vets have fired. It all comes down to attitude, I think. Thanks for a great article, Jo….as always. 🙂

  7. The first time I took Cisco to our new vet they just took his carrier and hauled him to a back room, where he couldn’t see me, and tried to take his temp and weigh him. He didn’t hurt anyone but tried to fly across the ceiling. So they brought him back in and I told them, “He doesn’t know you. He’s a really sweet cat, but he’s very bonded with me so of course he was scared and tried to get away. He’s not mean or anything.” And then with me having my hand on his neck–not restraining him, just reassuring him that I was there and wouldn’t let anybody hurt him, he let them do anything they wanted to and didn’t so much as growl. In the first video, it looked to me like the tech was frightened as well as the cat. He was perfectly calm till they started working with him. When you have a job to do despite how worried you may be about your own skin, it’s easy to be heavy-handed I think and just go for protecting yourself instead of reassuring the kitty. Kitty #2 was a little calmer but he was still upset. Cisco gets upset just hearing them cry and growl and snarl. Pancho is more like, “Oh, well, it’s not me.” But when it is him he is very cooperative but Cisco is a bit more high strung.

  8. Anyone who is upset by the first video needs to spend some time working in veterinary medicine. Not every cat can be handled for procedures with just heavy padded gloves (which can be hard to work in). Most cats are not more stressed by having a towel or blanket over them, and in occasional cases muzzles or chemical sedation are needed to protect the staff, especially if you’re doing more than just a simple exam. We understand that cats are afraid, not mean,and try to be patient. However, cat bites can be very serious and no one wants to get bitten.

    • After working in an animal hospital for 12 years and handling a lot of cats, i agree with Denise. The first video was very humane and the cat was not mishandled. Sweet talk and Kevlar gloves rarely work with cats that don’t want to be where they are in the first place. I always started out with minimal restraint and added what was necessary to get the job done without anyone getting bitten or injuring the cat in any way. I was bitten numerous times and ended up in the Urgent Care clinic for antibiotics, so I do know what I’m talking about. Those gloves make it extremely difficult to manage an angry cat, and I kept expecting to see the white cat launch himself at the technicians face!

  9. Great article, Jo! And yes – you can tell, just by looking at her facial expression, that your vet is kind.

    Do you want to know what I’ve gone through in searching for a decent veterinarian?
    ________________________________
    Years ago, Ouida had to see a vet for her sore feet. This doesn’t belong on a website for cats, by the way, but here goes. (Ouida was my little girl rat.)

    Well..don’t know if you’ve ever felt instant bad vibes between yourself and a stranger, but this guy set my hackles on end the moment he entered the room. Be that as it may, I told him about her sore feet(she sat in her little shoebox w/air-holes all this time) while he stood there smirking, then finally drawled, in this sadistically oily tone of voice, ‘W-e-ell of cour-r-r-se! You’re overfeeding her! She’s bearing too much weight on her feet, and that’s why she has sore fe-e-e-eet! Heh-heh-he-e-eh-h-h!’ By now he had this (if you’ll forgive my choice of words) dog-chewing-sheep-manure grin on his mug. ‘Too much weight’ll do it every time!’ he continued, lost in the pleasure of describing her affliction. ‘And “feet”, by the way,’ he added, ‘is spelled ‘eff-ee-ee-tee!’ I stared at him in stupefaction, and told him I knew how to spell.

    And then, in the innocence of my mind, I reached for the shoebox to open the lid. In that instant, his arm shot out and his fist thundered down on top of the lid like a pile-driver, nearly crushing the cardboard, and Ouida inside. — WHAM!!! — ‘Not yet, ooooh, no-o-o-o, not yet!’ he hissed in my face like a flaming madman. ‘We’re not through talking about her, and she stays in the box until I say so!’

    At this juncture, choice words were zinging around in my brain, none of which I uttered beyond ‘How DARE you terrify a sick animal!! How DARE you!! Are you out of your mind??’ Bug-eyed with fury, I gathered up my little girl and headed for the door. ‘You owe me $35.00 for this exam,lady!’ he bellowed at me. ‘I don’t owe you a dime!’ I shot back, ‘but the AVMA is going to hear about you and your end-stage dementia!’ (For all the good that would do, of course.)

    Oh…almost forgot: half of his fingers were mere stubs. Shame he had any left, don’t you think?
    _____________________________________________________________
    Decades ago,one of our years-long vets (as he used to say to my dad, ‘John, you built my new clinic!’), a very nice guy, in fact, was examining my mother’s three-lb. Chihuahua, then turned away in a moment of thoughtlessness to reach for something on his sideboard, leaving Abby-Loo on the four-foot tall table. As you can imagine, he took a flying leap into space and spent the next seven weeks in a cast. Our poor vet was petrified that we were going to sue, but no one in my family, including myself, is litigious, so he got off the hook. Still…it’s so easy for accidents to happen. Even the best vets can cause immense harm.
    __________________________________________

    And yes – as you accurately observe, vets are confoundedly ready to ‘scruff’ cats. They tried this multiples times with McWee, assuring me that ‘Here’s how the mother carries her kittens.’ U-h-h, I don’t think so. A kitten weighs an ounce or two. McWee weighed ten lbs.
    ___________________
    Shortly after moving down here, an ill and pitiful stray cat came to my house. I made a bed for him in the garage, and fed him for a few days…but he kept getting worse. I didn’t know what else to do, so took him to a vet to be put to sleep. I felt terrible to do this, but already had a fair bunch of my own cats to feed and doctor. So the next day I put him in a small parrot cage with a pillow inside, and left him with the nurse at the clinic. When I returned later that day to retrieve the cage, there was one of his claws lying on the pillow — and if it had been one-hundredth of an inch longer, it would have looked like an amputated F3 phalanx. I was sickened by a sight that drove home the realization you have no way of knowing what vets and their ‘business as usual’ staff, when pressed for time and angered by an animal,* will do to it in their desperation. The poor cat was huge, sick and scared, and likely next to impossible to handle. But does this justify the brute force that must have been inflicted on him?

    * Atrocities can also occur in nursing homes. The Seattle Times (11/24/13) has a photo & article about elder abuse. The scene, taken by a hidden camera, shows this Sherman tank of a caregiver stuffing a rubber glove into the mouth of this helplessly frail, 96-year-old woman in a wheelchair. She died shortly thereafter.
    _______________________
    But you have what sounds like a wonderful vet, as you describe her. No doubt there are many like her…yet it’s equally true you can encounter all too many borderline vets before you find one you can trust.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article that restores your faith in at least a few vets.

  10. Well our Vet is great don’t have a problem with them at all. Always compassionate I guess its harder to find overseas. I Guess also a cat protector can sometimes be abit too protective of their babies. Its important to ask the right questions, and a good vet will be happy to respond. I do feel for those that dont have same understanding. I hope theres that good vet out there. 🙂

  11. After watching the two videos I was kind of disgusted. the first video had a cat that was so upset at being at the vet and they treated him like Hannibal Lector. So dumb. If they had taken some time with him I think they wouldn’t have had those problems. I have had new techs think they had to scruff my cats. Our vet tells them that it is not necessary. Time and a gentle voice makes it all so much more pleasant for the cat and for the owner too. I would never leave a cat for a blood test. I only trust myself to handle my cats for the most part. It is a quick test and only takes minutes for the results. Thanks for a great article. Lots of good insight.

  12. Video one was making me sick to my stomach. The second was a little better I have to admit. Having a cat who is ill myself I am amazed at the wonderful relaxed atmosphere there is at my vets office. I have to take her in every 6 weeks for blood work and have her urine tested, because they are trying to figure out exactly what caused her to have a stone in her bladder. She has had surgery and is doing pretty good. This visit went well considering that she has been there many times in the past couple months. Was she happy NO but the staff and the vet are patient,caring and take all the time they need to work with her. We had to change her diet once more and after all three blood works results are in maybe we have a better idea. Yes it takes time,but I trust my vet completely and would recommend them to anyone looking for a competent vet to treat their animal.

  13. Those are Kevlar welding gloves. You can buy them at Ackland’s Grainger or other welding supply stores for less than $20.

    I can’t imagine anyone handling a cat without them.

      • I meant cats like the ones in the context of this whole article. Did you even watch the video? You ever have a cat chew on your finger? Have you ever handled a feral cat?

        Judging by your comment I must assume your answer is no to all 3 questions.

        Go ahead and delete my posts. Not the first time useful information has been removed by ignorant mods on a power trip.

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