The best starting point to finding a good veterinary clinic for your cat is to look for:
- An ISFM accredited Cat Friendly Clinic
- A clinic that is an ISFM Practice Member
- A clinic with a vet who is a member of the ISFM Academy of Veterinary Practitioners
- A nurse or technician who has passed their ISFM Certificate or Diploma in Feline Nursing
In addition, you should always try to visit the veterinary clinic before registering your cat with them and find out more about them.
Signs of a good cat friendly clinic
Many clinics offer a separate waiting area for cats, away from the stress of the sight, sound and smell of dogs. This is hugely beneficial – see if your clinic offers this. Having shelves, benches or chairs so that the cat basket can be raised off the floor also helps by making the cats feel more secure and less vulnerable. Avoiding visual contact between cats, even with a clean towel or blanket over the cat basket, will also help cats relax. As an alternative to a separate area in the waiting room, some clinics offer cat-only consultation times to avoid cats having to be in a dog-filled waiting room.
Attitude of staff:
We hope that all staff in the clinic, from the vet through to the receptionist know and understand the important differences in dealing with cats. Sadly this is not always the case, but you can tell a lot by the greeting you receive, the questions that are asked, and the suggestions that are given when you first go to the clinic.
Look out for good information about cats in the clinic too … does the clinic provide leaflets and help on things like transporting your cat, giving your cat medications etc.
If the clinic has a positive attitude to cats and the staff are proactive in minimising stress, this should do much to make the cat’s visit much more relaxing.
Using cat friendly pheromones
The clinic may well use synthetic feline pheromones (these are chemicals very similar to those produced by the cat itself to communicate with other cats) to help make cats feel more relaxed. You won’t smell these, but your clinic may use a Feliway® diffuser plugged into a socket, or a spray in the waiting room and consultation room.
You should look for a clean waiting room and consultation room, but preferably without an overpowering smell of disinfectant (which could be stressful for a cat).
Getting the cat out of the basket
Your vet will want to examine your cat, but see how they approach this. A good vet that understands cats will usually simply open the door or lid of the basket, and while talking with you will see if the cat will come out of the basket by itself. He or she may even be able to do some of the examination while the cat is still in its basket (especially if the lid or top comes off). Sometimes a cat will not voluntarily come out of a basket - if your vet needs to lift them out make sure they do it gently and with respect. It can sometimes be helpful to have plenty of bedding in the basket so that both the bedding and cat can be lifted out together.
Vets and nurses who know understand cats will adopt the ‘less is more’ approach. Cats try to avoid danger - they often panic if they’re restrained very firmly and realise they cannot escape. The art of cat examination is to do the minimum, to get as much done as you can, confidently and gently, without too much restraint, and to leave anything that may upset the cat until the very end. Avoiding direct eye contact with the cat (and doing a lot of the examination with the cat facing away from the vet) also helps to reduce stress, as does taking breaks and letting the cat find where they are most relaxed (even on a windowsill or on the floor for example). A rubber mat on the table (or the cat’s bedding or blanket) is extremely helpful to avoid a slippery surface that the cat has to stand on.
Many of the other things which make a veterinary clinic cat friendly will be going on behind the scenes, such as having a hospitalisation ward just for cats (without barking dogs!), and comfortable cages (with somewhere to hide, and warm cosy bedding). Simple things make a big difference and never be afraid to ask your vet if you can have a look at where your cat will be kept if he or she needs to stay in the clinic.
Hygiene is very important and the reception area and consulting rooms should be clean and well maintained. All the staff should be wearing clean uniforms, and should be courteous and well trained. The clinic should be well ventilated and largely odour-free.
Important things to ask
It is worth finding out some important bits of information at the start, which may be very helpful to you, and check on the following:
- What arrangements are there for emergencies? Find out what these are, whether they are acceptable to you, and how you would contact the clinic in an emergency (when it is closed).
- What facilities does the clinic offer? Things like access to an X-ray machine, an ultrasound machine or laboratory tests.
- Can the clinic measure your cat’s blood pressure?
- What equipment is available to monitor a cat when it is anaesthetised for an operation?
- What equipment does the clinic have for cleaning teeth or other dental work?
Your vet should be pleased to talk to you about all these things and what their clinic has to offer, and the measures they have taken specifically for cats. Ask the clinic about how cat friendly they are - they should be only too pleased to tell you!
Support your local cat friendly clinic
If you find that your clinic has made great efforts to improve both your and your cat’s experience of visiting the vet, then let them know, and tell your cat enthusiastic cat friends too. Giving good feedback will encourage the clinic to do more, and to give you and your cat even better care!