A Proactive Approach to Feline Stress

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The best products and strategies to help veterinary clinics ease the stress of feline health visits.

When it comes to taking my pets to vet appointments, I have clearly won the cat lottery. My old boy, Chester, purred through every EKG and napped on a mat during his IV treatments. Elsa can’t wait to greet the technicians and veterinarian, and the fact that she could hiss, scratch, or bite during her blood draws never crosses her mind.

If all cat owners were this lucky, we’d hope that most would schedule regular visits to the vet, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. Polls of both pet owners and practitioners consistently show that most companion cats are not being seen for routine wellness checkups and vaccinations. This means that millions of cats are at risk of illness from infectious diseases, parasites, periodontal disease, and various issues associated with aging or obesity like diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis. Besides the detriment to the health of so many animals, this lack of care represents a huge loss in revenue to your veterinary customers.


A positive experience

With all those cat owners who dread the thought of a trip to the vet, helping your clinics address behavior issues is a great starting point. The stress starts at home, with the cat running for cover at the first sight of the carrier, followed by the struggle to stuff the cat into the carrier, and then the wailing from the carrier all the way to the appointment. Clinic staff should take a proactive approach to overcome this No. 1 obstacle to vet visits. Suggest products they can provide to help stop the anxiety before it starts, like pheromone sprays for the carrier, calming supplements, and even mild sedation for cats with extreme anxiety. Staff can explain and demonstrate these items along with a recommended carrier during office visits and even make a short video for their web or social media sites.

Cat owners can feel confident that their visit will be a much more positive one when the clinic has received Fear Free Certification or AAFP Feline Friendly Certification from the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Certified clinics take numerous steps to keep their patients calm, with species-specific waiting areas, pheromone diffusers and soft music in exam rooms, exam tables covered with heated mats or towels, liberal use of pheromone spray on those towels, and high-value treats and catnip as distractions during procedures. Instead of scruffing the back of the neck to control a cat, they use a “less is more” approach when it comes to restraint. Of course, any clinic can implement these stress-reducing practices, so be ready to discuss the products and client education materials available to help your customers create a calmer clinic.

Another barrier to feline veterinary visits is the misperception that “indoor cats” don’t need preventive health care like vaccines or parasite control. Fleas, mice and mosquitos, and the parasites they carry can all find their way indoors. Many indoor cats manage to find their way outdoors, where they can be exposed to potentially deadly (and preventable) viruses, and “inside” doesn’t mean “exempt” from legally mandated rabies vaccines.

Education’s role in prevention

Many pet owners simply don’t understand the importance of annual wellness exams to the health and well-being of their animals. Cats are often perceived as low-maintenance, self-sufficient pets. One reason is the fact that they’re so good at hiding illness or disease. By the time many cats start to show symptoms, their problem has already progressed to an advanced state, making treatment costly and difficult. Cats are susceptible to several serious diseases that often don’t show clinical signs until they have progressed.

Client education is key to understanding the importance of annual blood and urine tests that can detect early stages of chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism, fecals for parasites, and diagnostic tests for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). When I told my vet I wanted an annual blood test for Elsa, her response was: “Wow! We can hardly get our clients to do bloodwork because they think it’s so expensive.” Clearly, we can help our clinics show pet owners the benefits and value of preventive care and testing as part of an annual wellness plan.

As cats age, their risk of disease increases, so the AAFP recommends increasing veterinary visits to a minimum of every six months for senior cats 10 to 15 years old. Healthy cats over the age of 15 should be examined every four months. Over 60% of cats are considered obese, and less active older cats can easily move into that category. Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes, heart disease, lower urinary tract issues, and arthritis or degenerative joint disease (DJD).

Research has shown that nearly 90% of cats over 12 develop arthritis, with half of them experiencing pain as a result. Cat owners may attribute a slowdown in their pet’s activity to the aging process, particularly since cats rarely limp from arthritis. This lack of recognition of arthritis in cats is severe enough that less than 1% of cats with arthritis pain are thought to be seen by veterinarians. It can be hard to determine if a cat is suffering from arthritis pain during a clinical exam, so owners can put their smartphones into action and record their pet’s movement at home and send the video to the veterinarian to view for signs of pain or discomfort.

Along with NSAIDs and joint supplements, new options are available to better manage feline OA. The first monoclonal antibody treatment to control osteoarthritic pain in cats was released by Zoetis earlier this year. Solensia (frunevetmab) is a monthly injection that targets Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) a key driver in OA pain. Cats may not tolerate laser therapy or acupuncture treatments, so an Assisi Loop that provides Targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (tPEMF) therapy is an excellent option that can even be used at home.

It’s no exaggeration that millions of cats are living without veterinary care. Helping your customers attract more cat owners through client education and recommending effective products and procedures benefits both feline health and practice revenue.

 

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/vm

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