A scientific study tells me that the veterinary clinic experience for a cat need not be as stressful as some people might believe provided the clinic uses low stress techniques and the same people see the cat each time. The latter may be difficult to arrange. The study found that the cortisol levels (a measure of stress) in domestic cats were the same when tested at their home and at the clinic. However, blood glucose levels were raised indicating that the veterinary environment is more stressful than the home environment, which is entirely to be expected. However, I take this finding to mean that the stress suffered by cats is less than envisaged.
The scientists said that the clinics used low stress handling techniques and the cats were familiar with the “veterinary examiner”. Both these decreased the amount of stress experienced by cats.
But they also observed, as mentioned, higher blood glucose levels and cats hiding, clear indications of the fact that the “clinic is more stressful than the home”.
They did state, however, that the cats lacked “marked extremes of fear or aggression” which made the “estimation of stress based on behavioural cues challenging”. This means that the cats’ behaviour was only mildly different between the clinic and the home; there were no great behavioural changes.
However, I think the important lesson to take away from this study which is called: Comparison of stress exhibited by cats examined in a clinic versus a home setting, is that veterinary clinics should employ low stress techniques to make their patients more comfortable.
So, what are these low stress techniques? Janice Lloyd in her article: Behaviour and welfare-minimising stress for patients in the veterinary hospital, provides us with some answers.
These are her suggestions:
- It starts with the home environment. The cat’s owner should make the placing of a cat into a carrier to go to a veterinary clinic less stressful through conditioning. Cats can be trained to associate the veterinary experience including the journey to the hospital or clinic with something more pleasurable such as a food treat. What the experts say is that you should make the cat carrier a nice place to be in. Use your imagination 👌.
- When at the clinic, staff should greet cats in a friendly manner which translates to not squatting down with one’s face close to the animal and avoid reaching as this can be seen as menacing to a cat. I think this means thrusting a hand in or towards the face of a cat. They can attack hands under these circumstances.
- Lloyd suggests that cat carriers should be ‘disassembled’ rather than dumped and the animal grabbed by the scruff of the neck to pull them out of the carrier. I’m not sure how you disassemble a carrier. Perhaps there are carriers which can be disassembled?
- Movements by veterinary staff should be slow and smooth while allowing the cat the opportunity to move away.
- Staff should be aware of the cat’s body language.
- Cats should be handled gently and guided into the appropriate position rather than “flipped in a rough manner”. The idea is to engender trust.
- Restraint should be minimised.
- She suggests that it may be appropriate to examine a cat when on the veterinarian’s lap. I have never seen this 😊.
- And cats “often prefer being examined in a structure with sides such as at the bottom of a carrier. This is presumably reassuring for a cat.
- It perhaps goes without saying that cats should not be punished for demonstrating fearful behaviours. Voices should not be raised.
- Ideally, cats should be separated from dogs because when cat hear or see dogs in an environment that they cannot escape from they become stressed. Cats can show signs of stress and fear in the waiting room if dogs are present.
- The first thing that the cat sees when arrival at the hospital should be the reception desk and not other animals.
- There should be visual barriers in the waiting room. I presume that she means to block off things that can raise stress levels such as dogs!
- The cat’s owner should be kept as comfortable both emotionally and physically as possible in order to reduce their stress levels.
- Exam rooms should be as inviting as possible by containing such things as tasty treats and toys.
- Cat should be given time to familiarise themselves with the consultation room.
Below are some pages on veterinarians and their practices.