SPECIAL ARTICLE / AAFP/ISFM guidelines on feline-friendly handling
Recognizing and responding to cat signals Rely on the cat’s response (body language) to determine your own behavior (Fig 4). Recognize early signs of arousal; if needed, break longer procedures into steps to prevent escalation of fear. If the cat begins to show fear, slow down or take breaks from handling to prevent esca- lation of arousal. Some cats get worse with breaks and repeated attempts to handle, even with premedication; these patients should be sedated or anes- thetized. With the use of anti- anxiety medications that might also have an amnesiac effect (eg, benzodiazepines), these cats may improve over several years. Try using treats or a synthetic FFP analog. Evaluate the potential stress of multiple proce- dures and adjust timing accordingly if the cat becomes aroused. Determine your strategy early and be ready to change your technique to accommodate a rapidly escalating anxiety event (see later discussion on dealing with fear- ful/aggressive cats). Consider these options: ✜ Hospitalize the cat to carry out additional procedures later that day. ✜ Use chemical restraint. ✜ Reschedule for another time when a better strategy (eg, premedication) can be in place. Always try to end the visit on a positive note, with client and cat as calm as possible.
Performing the exam and working with the cat
Learn a variety of techniques and positions for each procedure and be flexible with each indi- vidual patient. Try the following techniques:
FIG 4 Cats hold back their ears for different reasons; this cat is relaxed and happy. Courtesy of Dr Anne-Claire Gagnon
✜ Place towels or non-slip pads under the cat, or keep the cat on top of the familiar bedding from the carrier; the latter is preferable because the familiar smell may make the cat more secure in the hospital environment. ✜ Examine the cat in a lap (preferably your lap) with the cat facing the client and away from you. Always have bedding underneath the cat and on your lap. Use your body and arm to support the cat. ✜ Allow the cat to maintain its chosen position. ✜ Vary your touch with the cat’s response. The head and neck are preferred areas of touch for the cat; placing your hand on the head and massaging between the eyes or cranial aspect of the ears may calm the cat (Fig 5). Other cats will remain still if you place a hand in front of the chest.
Making human behaviors less threatening for the cat
✜ Move slowly and deliberately; minimize hand gestures. ✜ Put yourself on the same level as the cat; approach from the side and do not loom above or over the cat. ✜ Use a calm quiet voice. Animated discussions may engage the client but scare the cat. ✜ If the cat is anxious, return it to the carrier before going over instructions with the client, unless you need to demonstrate a technique. ✜ Be aware of your own emotions and their potential effect on the cat’s behavior.
✜ Avoid direct eye contact.
✜ Swaddle the cat in a towel (Fig 6) or cover the cat’s head with a blanket, as this may make the cat feel more secure. ✜ Whenever possible, perform procedures in the exam room.39 Most clients appreciate being present, but if their anxiety is making the situation worse for the cat, politely ask the client to step out of the exam
room, rather than move the cat.
FIG 5 Massaging or stroking the top of the head can help relax a cat while doing procedures such as taking blood pressure. The first and fifth digits help hold each side of the head to prevent movement that could cause injury. Courtesy of Dr Ilona Rodan
370 JFMS CLINICAL PRACTICE
FIG 6 (a) Cats may feel more secure lightly swaddled in a towel while on an exam surface, as in the case of this mildly anxious cat. She is more relaxed with this technique than exploring the room or staying in her carrier. (b) Using a towel to wrap around a cat can provide varying degrees of restraint and control. This towel technique is excellent for cephalic venepuncture. Courtesy of Dr Eliza Sundahl (image a) and Dr Sophia Yin (image b)
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