Creating the cat-friendly practice

Campaign promotes simple steps to make feline veterinary visits less stressful
Published on October 18, 2010
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By Katie Burns 

The concept of the cat-friendly practice is so compelling to some veterinarians that they convinced an expert on the subject to begin her consulting business months before she had planned.

Cats are the most popular pets in the country, but they lag behind dogs in veterinary care, and the number of feline veterinary visits has been declining. In response to the situation, the CATalyst Council and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recently introduced initiatives to create cat-friendly practices.

The idea behind the initiatives is that small animal practices can take simple steps to change the clinic's environment and improve feline handling techniques to make veterinary visits less stressful for cats—and for cat owners. The campaign also encourages veterinarians to educate cat owners about how to keep cats calm during a trip to the clinic.

Dr. Ilona Rodan, the cat-friendly consultant, has been traveling the country to advise clinics on specific changes they can make to increase the comfort of cats. CATalyst and the AAFP will be providing a variety of other resources to help practices become more cat-friendly, including continuing education.  

Cat-friendly consultant

Dr. Rodan is the owner of the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wis., as well as an AAFP past president and a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in feline practice. She has given presentations on cat-friendly practices at conferences in the past, and she plans to give more next year. 

Dr. Rodan also planned to begin her consulting business next year, but she had too much interest to wait. Her business does not have a name yet, but she already has consulted with small animal practices and even feline-only practices in several states.

"If the dog-and-cat hospitals focus on making improvements for cat populations in the hospital, they can do a fantastic job," Dr. Rodan said. "But I think everybody can improve."

Usually, Dr. Rodan starts a visit by surveying the facility and observing the personnel. She has a checklist to help her assess the clinic as a cat might—relying on the senses of hearing, vision, smell, and touch. Do team members speak in quiet and soft tones at all times? Are cats massaged or gently handled around the head and neck, but not scruffed?

Simple improvements to the facility can increase cats' comfort, Dr. Rodan said, particularly reconfiguring the space to help keep cats away from dogs and even other cats. The clinic can create separate waiting areas for cats and dogs by turning sofas back to back and adding tall plants. The clinic can place small scales inside examination rooms, so cats don't have to leave the room for a weigh-in.

Improving feline handling techniques is key to creating a cat-friendly practice. Dr. Rodan advocates a basic change in the way many veterinarians examine cats, for example.

"We've all been taught to examine cats on exam tables, but I don't feel like that has to be done. So in my hospital, what I do is I examine the cat where the cat wants to be," Dr. Rodan said. "A lot of times, I will examine the cat in the carrier, preferably in the bottom half of a carrier which allows the top half to be removed."

Dr. Ilona Rodan, a consultant on the subject
of cat-friendly practices, prefers to examine
the cat wherever it is most comfortable to
decrease arousal and anxiety.

Along with the clinic's environment and feline handling techniques, Dr. Rodan looks at how the practice educates cat owners about reducing the stress of veterinary visits. One suggestion is for cat owners to familiarize the cat with the carrier and the car. Are clients educated to bring something that is familiar and smells like home to the veterinary hospital with their cat?

At each practice, Dr. Rodan gives a presentation on cat-friendly practices and answers questions. She said veterinarians and other personnel always ask about feline behavior. In the future, she plans to adapt her lectures to include more information on improving the cat's home environment to help prevent behavior problems.

Dr. Rodan's writes up her recommendations at the end of her visit, and practices can call her for two months as part of her consulting fee. She said the practices have been happy with her recommendations—and happy to have the suggestions coming from an outside consultant with authority on the subject of cat-friendly practices.

"It is hard to make changes in practice, and having the support to make those changes makes a huge difference," she said.  

CATalyst, AAFP resources

The national campaign to promote cat-friendly practices has been coming together in recent months.

The CATalyst Council announced its initiative and presented a session on cat-friendly practices in early August at the AVMA Annual Convention in Atlanta.

"There are ways to understand and work with cats, to make your practice cat-friendly—not thinking of them as little dogs," said Dr. Jane E. Brunt, CATalyst executive director. "They're their own animals, and they have their own needs, and we can be sensitive to those."

Dr. Brunt said the foundational pieces of the U.S. campaign on cat-friendly practices came from the Feline Advisory Bureau of the United Kingdom. The bureau's publications on "Creating a cat friendly practice" and "Cat friendly practice 2" are available at

CATalyst developed a presentation on cat-friendly practices, available at The council invites veterinarians to use any portion of the presentation, inside or outside their practice. CATalyst is shooting videos that will illustrate elements of the cat-friendly practice, too, such as how to examine a cat in a carrier.

Also available on the CATalyst website are more general resources on feline health and welfare, including a cat owner's guide and a list of resources for the veterinary team.

The council is exploring the possibility of a certification program for cat-friendly practices.

The AAFP initiative started with a pilot program of stand-alone seminars on how to create a cat-friendly practice. Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran, AAFP president, said the seminars allow small animal practitioners to get concerns and concepts on the table.

"Along with our industry partners who share our concern about the care of cats, we are opening a dialogue and creating a forum for strategies to unfold in individual practices," Dr. Colleran said. "There are ways that don't cost a lot of money, that don't take tons of time or renovations, to create an environment in a small animal practice that is much more accommodating for cats."

Dr. Colleran said the goal is to roll the pilot seminars into a national program. Eventually, she said, the AAFP hopes to organize weekend-long events on cat-friendly practices. Practitioners could meet with experts on topics such as cat handling, feline behavior, and client communications.

In relevant efforts, the AAFP just released principles for transport of cats and plans to release guidelines on cat handling next year. The association's guidelines are available here.

Dr. Colleran said the AAFP also is collaborating with the International Society of Feline Medicine, the veterinary division of the United Kingdom's Feline Advisory Bureau, on a major forthcoming project to promote cat-friendly practices.