What is a Cat Friendly Clinic?
As all cat owners know, a cat isn’t just a small dog! They have specific medical and, even more importantly, social needs. Unfortunately, most traditional veterinary practices are organised around dogs - not through any deliberate choice, but because until recently we really didn’t know the best ways to keep cats (relatively) happy in the clinic. However, here at Heathside we’ve gone a step above and beyond this outdated model, and have now been accredited as an officially Cat Friendly Clinic!
What special requirements do cats have in the vets?
There are a number of key differences between dogs and cats that have traditionally not been addressed in older veterinary practices. These include:
- Travel stress: in general, as long as dogs are with their “pack” (i.e. their family) they cope relatively well with travelling and going places away from home. Cats, however, do not - they are highly territorial animals that feel deeply uncomfortable and unsafe away from home. As a result, much more effort needs to go into making sure that the environment in the practice is as stress-free and cat-friendly as possible.
- While dogs tend to be absorbed by the social situation (other dogs and people), new sounds, sights and smells tend to unsettle and unnerve our feline friends. For this reason, quiet and solitude are really important to helping them feel relaxed and at ease.
- Dogs and cats can be good friends one-to-one, but if they’re unfamiliar, it’s very distressing for a nervous cat to be able to see a large and toothy predator looking at them without being able to escape. So keeping dogs and cats physically, or at least visually, separate is really important to avoid frantically paranoid cats!
- Cats are sensitive souls and need to be handled very gently and with respect. While this is of course true of all animals, cats are particularly resentful of brusque or insensitive treatment. As a result, it’s essential that all the staff - vets, nurses and support staff - are attuned to a “cat” way of doing things.
What is a “Cat Friendly Clinic”?
This is an programme, run by the International Society of Feline Medicine (part of International Cat Care, ICC), designed to promote and reward excellence amongst vets in caring for cats! Only those practices who meet rigorous criteria will be accredited by the Society and get the prestigious “Cat Friendly” stamp.
So what does that mean you do that other practices perhaps don’t?
There are three different levels - Gold, Silver and Bronze. The “bare essentials” are the Bronze level, but we’re one tier higher, in Silver. The Gold standard is reserved for big veterinary hospitals, and isn’t available for GP vets like us yet!
To get the accreditation we had to prove that we meet or exceed the ICC’s requirements in the following areas:
- Care of Cats - all our staff have to be fully trained in suitable cat handling techniques, including avoiding heavy-handed restraint, minimising stress and upsetting sights and smells, and above all, recognising and responding to signs of stress and anxiety.
- Communicating with Cat Owners - we need to provide cat-specific information and literature to cat owners, and we have appointed a Cat Advocate in the practice to answer any cat questions and make sure we uphold all the other standards.
- Staff Training and Development - all our staff have to meet minimum “update training” (CPD) levels (35 hours a year for vets and 15 hours for vet nurses), including cat-specific training. In addition, we undertake regular clinical governance reviews to see if anything went wrong with our care for a cat (or indeed any patient), what we can change to prevent it happening again.
- We’ve had to make our entire building Cat-Friendly too! Improvements to the premises for a Cat Friendly Clinic include having barriers in the waiting room so cats and dogs can’t see each other; having large cat cages (so they can stretch out and relax!) in the ward which do not face directly onto each other; having special feline dental tools and equipment for safe dental care; and having laboratory facilities to carry out certain blood and urine tests in-house.
How will this affect me and my cat?
The only difference you’ll see is that your cat will find Heathside a less stressful place, and we’ll be even better than before at caring for them!