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Outlook 2013: Veterinary hospital making visits easier on felines

Saturday, February 16, 2013
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The Capitaland Animal Hospital in Latham keeps cats and dogs separated in different parts of the building, including the reception and waiting areas.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
The Capitaland Animal Hospital in Latham keeps cats and dogs separated in different parts of the building, including the reception and waiting areas.

Anyone can be afraid of going in for a checkup.

The poking and the prodding and the general uncertainty of a visit can generally do that.

For some, too, there’s the dogs.

For these special patients, mostly of the feline variety, any change or trip can be nerve-wracking, especially when it includes a thermometer going, you know, there.

But at least one local veterinary practice is catering to its feline clients, trying to make the visit more comfortable for the patients as well as the patients’ owners.

Capitaland Animal Hospital became a certified “Cat Friendly Practice,” taking multiple steps to make the veterinary visit easier for all involved.

“What a lot of the training was for the cat-friendly [certification] was recognizing how cats behave and what frightens them,” said Capitaland veterinarian Dr. Stacey Pedersen, formerly Stacey Karzenski.

Capitaland, 890 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, is one of seven practices in New York state and one of two in the Capital Region to earn the Cat Friendly Practice designation. The other practice is Just Cats Veterinary Clinic in Berne.

The designation is given out by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, with the purpose being to help veterinary practices elevate the standard of care for cats, according to its website.

Part of that elevation of care is getting the cats in to be seen in the first place, Pedersen said.

Cats, like any other animal, need regular visits for preventative care, she said. Preventative care can spot serious illnesses early on, making them easier to treat and less costly, she said.

The problem with cats, though, is that owners either believe they’re self-sufficient or remember how stressed their cats were the last time they went.

“Cats, we think of them as the predator, because they catch mice, they catch birds, but they are also prey,” Pedersen said. “One of the things that comes out of that is that they can’t show weakness, just as a biological imperative. So they hide their disease.”

By the time something does show, she said, it’s often been brewing for some time.

To that end, Capitaland worked to improve the experience for its cat patients and cat owners, moves that helped it gain the Cat Friendly Practice label.

On the visits, those efforts start when the owners and cats come in the door.

Capitaland sees both cats and dogs, as well as other small animals, something that can make for a stressful mix during those critical minutes before Fluffy is called into the exam room.

Dogs on extended leashes can make cats freak out more by sniffing around the cat carriers.

The simple solution, Pedersen said, is separating the waiting areas, either in different rooms or simply different sides of the room.

Those sides can be divided by plants or tapestry or simply by benches lined up back to back, she said.

Capitaland was able to work with the different waiting areas, posting signs directing owners where to go. The receptionist also helps direct traffic, Pedersen said.

The waiting rooms are nearest the specific exam rooms. One is exclusive to cats; another is predominantly dogs.

“That’s just so they don’t get the smells of strange critters,” Pedersen said.

There’s also the kennels; they’ve long had separate boarding rooms for cats and dogs.

The cat kennels themselves are a good size, and they’ve made hiding areas for cats in the cages as well as high areas.

Then there are the exams themselves.

Some cats may not want to leave their carriers for the exams. Pedersen said if that’s the case, they can take the top of the carrier off and examine them in there.

“It’s maybe not what they liked when they were leaving home,” Pedersen said of the carrier, “but now it’s the most familiar place they’ve got.”

They also try not to take the cat out of the room. Often, as the vet is talking to the owner, the cat has time to get used to the vet’s voice. Blood draws and vaccines are also done in the room to keep the cat calm.

Helping to do that is a pheromone, the kind that cats mark with when they rub their faces on items.

That’s been bottled, and when the vets spray it on a towel and lay it over the cats’ carriers, it calms them down.

With that, Pedersen said they’ve had far fewer fusses from cats. They haven’t had to scruff a cat, holding it so it can’t attack, in nearly a year.

There’s also tending to the cat’s pain relief needs, ensuring that they respond before surgical procedures, before the anesthesia.

Cats, she said, are notorious about hiding their pain.

For owners, they don’t see it because the cat isn’t crying or holding a leg.

“Sometimes the hardest person to convince is the client that their cat needs pain relief, just because we don’t recognize that,” Pedersen said.

The goal of everything, Pedersen said, is to ensure owners bring their cats in and bring them back so the cats get the care they need.

“Hopefully we’re giving them a good experience so that the next time they come in it’s an even better experience,” Pedersen said. “If the cats don’t stress, the clients don’t stress and they feel better about bringing their pet in.”

To read all the stories from the 2013 Outlook special report, click here.

 
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