SPECIAL ARTICLE / AAFP/ISFM guidelines on feline-friendly handling Cats often respond to confrontation by avoidance or hiding . . .
With experience one can learn to recognize subtle, early signs of fear or anxiety (see below) and their related aggressive behavioral responses.20 Recognizing these signs early allows measures to be taken to prevent escala- tion to a full-blown response of fear aggres- sion. Ear position, body posture and tail move- ment are helpful indicators of a cat’s state of mind.9,21 Changes in the eyes and face also give clues to mounting anxiety. Anxious or fearful cats may produce increased sweat from their paws. Anxiety and fear can also be recognized by changes in vocalization – from distress meowing to growling, hissing and spitting. Cats lack techniques to resolve conflict by appeasing each other, and instead freeze, flee, fight or engage in displacement behaviors (eg, self-grooming). Acquiescence, silence and/or lack of movement do not signal lack of pain or lack of anxiety. A cat that ‘freezes’ is signaling that it is anxious or uncomfortable.22
Preparing client and cat for the veterinary visit
Taking the time to accustom the kitten or cat to travel and handling can reduce the stress of veterinary visits throughout the cat’s life. The veterinary team and the client can work togeth- er to develop strategies to prepare cats for posi- tive veterinary experiences. Where possible, the team and/or client, as appropriate, should: ✜ Rehearse visits to the veterinary practice (hospital or clinic) with positive rewards (eg, tasty treats) to introduce the cat to the practice and being around other people and cats. Reward and reinforce all desired behavior, using technician or veterinary nurse* appointments to introduce the cat to the practice and being around other people and cats. Avoid punishing cats, either physically or verbally, because this can have unintended effects, such as increased or redirected aggression.23 ✜ Offer client education classes – either kitten classes or classes for owners of kittens. These allow opportunities to educate owners about positive handling of kittens to help familiarize kittens to different people and a variety of positive situations. ✜ Rehearse clinical examinations and learn to do procedures at home using calm praise
and pairing these procedures with positive reinforcement, through food or other rewards (eg, play, catnip, massaging the neck or chin). Gently perform these procedures as demonstrated by a member of the veterinary team: – handling the paws and looking into the ears, to prepare for ear exams and nail clipping; – opening the mouth in association with the delivery of a tasty treat, to prepare for oral examinations, administration of oral medications, or tooth brushing; – feeling over the legs and the body, to prepare for the physical exam; – grooming; – doing regular medical procedures at home (eg, administering prescribed parasite prevention, taking blood glucose measurements in diabetic patients). ✜ Adapt cats to carriers (see page 367). Take kittens and cats on occasional short car rides, beginning at an early age if possible. ✜ Locate the cat well before departure on the day of the visit in order to leave on time; encourage the cat to enter the carrier on its own (see page 367). ✜ Bring items that carry a familiar scent for the cat, such as favorite bedding or toys. ✜ Notify the veterinary team in advance if the cat may be easily upset. This will allow them to prepare (eg, move cat to exam room immediately, have treats and toys available to distract the cat). The veterinary team may provide flexibility and choice, tailoring the appointment to each individual client and cat, as appropriate. For example, some cats do better with house calls, others do not. ✜ Understand the effect of your own anxiety or stress on the cat, remaining calm and reducing any outward display of fear and anxiety. ✜ Remain positive, proceed at the cat’s pace, remain aware of the cat’s responses, and use rewards that encourage desired behaviors (treats, food, toys, massage). ✜ If indicated, use prescribed anxiolytics and/or anti-nausea medication for the cat. ✜ Pre-plan for the cat’s return home (see ‘Going home’ section). See Table 1 (page 373) and the ‘Further reading’ list (page 374) for helpful resources.
. . . Allowing cats to feel hidden while they are at the veterinary practice may facilitate handling.
366 JFMS CLINICAL PRACTICE *Footnote: Nurse is a European designation
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