Fear free vet visits start at home, Especially for cats
As last month’s article demonstrated, going to the vet can be quite scary and stressful, especially for cats. With their highly attuned senses, the smells and sounds of an animal clinic is commonly perceived as a threat to our feline friends. Cats, no matter how cuddly, are well-evolved predators to small animals and prey to larger ones.
At a vet clinic, with it’s confusing sights and smells with barking dogs and strange humans running about, this often sets off the cat’s “fight or flight” survival instincts. It is no surprise that many cats become a danger to both the veterinary staff, their owner and even to themselves.
Fortunately, there are steps that we as clinics and you as a cat owner can take to help your furry friend make it through the experience with as little stress as possible.
Choose wisely: Look for the “Cat Friendly Practice” certification or the term “Fear Free”. Both are required to meet specific (paid) educational levels to use these designations in their marketing. Not every clinic or veterinarian is on board for this type of care. If you are looking for a “stress free” experience for you and your pet, these two terms are well-known and accepted in most pet businesses.
The FAS Scale: This numerical scale used to evaluate and record the level of Fear, Anxiety and Stress (FAS) a pet is experiencing during a specific situation based on their behavior and body language. The goal of “Low Stress Handling” is to lower the pet’s FAS score utilizing multiple methods: special handling techniques, products, rewards, pheromones and medications. It is all about recognizing the individual pet’s preferences such as treats, surface preference, pre-visit medication, etc (see attach FAS sheet for felines).
You know your kitty best and not all these tips work for every cat.
Pheromones: For travel (but also for general home and clinics use), synthetic feline pheromones have been a game changer over the last few decades. Without drugs we can affect the nervous system of the cat in a positive way through a simple spray, wipe or plug-in. The products come in 2 types:
Facial pheromones that make cats want to rub their faces and chins happily marking their worlds
Maternal pheromones that make multiple cats feel like mama kitty is close by and we are all one litter
Treats/Rewards: Know what type of things your kitty loves and use them to help your pet to not only come to you, but to accept being handled, go into a carrier and become distracted during the veterinary visit. Treats, catnip or a special toy are examples. Missing a meal prior to the visit may help keep your kitty focus on the treat.
Carrier: Have a top-loading carrier of the appropriate size available as part of your cat’s home environment. You can put a comfy bed in there and when they use it, feed them treats as a reward for using it. After that, you can get your kitty used to the concept of the door closing and opening and that it’s not a negative thing. Believe it or not cats are easy to train when you know their motivation!
Pre-Visit Pharmaceuticals or PVPs are medications prescribed by your pet’s veterinarian to help alleviate the pet’s FAS. They are administered at home prior to your visits.
Supplements: There are a plethora of OTC calming supplements out there but since none of them are FDA tested or have clinical trials, it is a “wild west” for manufacturers. Ask your veterinarian if there is a supplement they carry or recommend. In my experience they do not have as predictable an effect as prescription medication.
In a future monthly article, we will discuss some tips for Fear Free pre-visit planning for dogs.
Dr. Lauren Smith is a veterinarian at Hart Road Animal Hospital located at 16400 SW Hart Rd, Beaverton. Contact her at 503-591-5282 or visit www.hartroadanimalhospital.com