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Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines

Clinical Practice

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery Volume 13, May 2011

Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2011) 13, 364–375


AAFP and ISFM Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines

Ilona Rodan DVM DABVP (Feline) Guidelines Co-Chair Eliza Sundahl DVM DABVP (Feline) Guidelines Co-Chair Hazel Carney DVM MSDAVBP (Canine Feline) Anne-Claire Gagnon DVM Sarah Heath BVSc DipECVBM-CA CCAB MRCVS Gary Landsberg DVM MRCVS DACVB DECVBM-CA Kersti Seksel BVSc (Hons) MRCVS FACVSc DACVB DECVBM-CA Sophia Yin DVM MS

Background The number of pet cats is increasing in most countries, often outnumbering pet dogs, yet cats receive less veterinary care than their canine counterparts.1 Clients state the difficulty ofgetting the cat into a carrier at home, driving to the clinic, and dealing with the fearful cat at the veterinary clinic as reasons for fewer visits.2 Educating and preparing the client and the veterinary team with regard to respectful feline handling is necessary in order to avoid stress and accomplish the goal of good health care. Without such preparation, feline stress may escalate into fear orfear-associated aggression. The resulting stress may alter results of the physical examination and laboratory tests, leading to incorrect diagnoses (eg, diabetes mellitus) and unnecessary treatments.3–5 Without compassionate and respectful handling by the veterinary team, clients may feel the team lacks skills and compassion, or does not understand cats. Injury may occur to the cat, client and/orveterinary team.6 Clients who want to avoid stress for their cat may avoid veterinary visits or choose another practice instead. Goals The use of feline-friendly handling techniques should reduce these problems. Handling is most successful when the veterinary team adapts the approach to each individual cat and situation. The goal of these guidelines is to provide useful information for handlingcats that can lead to:  Reduced fear and pain for the cat.  Reinforced veterinarian–client–cat bond, trust and confidence, and thus better lifelong medical care for the cat.  Improved efficiency, productivity and job satisfaction for the veterinary team.  Increased client compliance.  Timely reporting and early detection of medical and behavioral concerns.  Fewer injuries to clients and theveterinary team.  Reduced anxiety for the client.

Social behavior and communication
People often misinterpret cat behavior and how cats deal with stress and conflict. Veterinary teams can help clients create realistic expectations about feline behavior and how to resolve problems. Begin by educating the team and your clients about the unique social and behavioral characteristics of the cat.Help them learn to interpret behaviors from the animal’s perspective – that is, ‘to think like a cat’. Feline behavior concepts Historically, people kept cats for their ability to hunt and kill rodents rather than for other traits, so people did not significantly modify the cat’s innate behaviors by genetic selection.7,8 Cats need an outlet for hunting behavior. Hunting is also a component of play incats. It may be possible to distract them in the clinic using an interactive toy, such as a toy mouse on a wire.

The AAFP and ISFM welcome endorsement of these guidelines by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).

Cats are solitary hunters – they avoid fights with other cats whenever possible. They achieve this by distancing themselves from other cats.9 Cats often respond toconfrontation by avoidance or hiding, with fighting only occurring as a last resort. Allowing cats to feel hidden while they are at the veterinary practice, using items such as towels or carriers, may facilitate handling. Feline boldness and acceptance of novelty and interaction vary with genetic predisposition and environment. Socialization and habituation to human handling, starting between 2–7...
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