Calming cats – 15 ways to handle them safely during the consultation

We're all fond of cats, but there's no better way to raise the tension in the consulting room than a bad tempered, frightened or aggressive cat. If they start the consultation being grumpy, then they'll almost certainly continue. Our aim should always be to keep them quiet and settled from the very beginning, even before they arrive at the practice.

Posted: 23 October 2018

Calming cats – 15 ways to handle them safely during the consultation

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Start by doing some or all of the following;

  • Travel safely - ensure the owner uses a secure safe and comfortable cat carrier.
  • Pheromones - ask your clients to use Feliway at home and in the carrier.
  • Timing - book your feline appointments at the quiet times of the day, and preferably when no dogs are expected.
  • Location - set aside an area or separate room as a cat only area.
  • Cleanliness - be vigilant with cleaning the room and consulting table between patients. You'll want to remove all traces of fear pheromones released from sweaty paws.
  • Employ cat lovers - if all the practice staff love cats, then they'll naturally create a calming atmosphere.
  • Cat ward - most practices will already have the facilities to hospitalise feline patients away from other species. If you've not done this already, it's time to find that space, as it will certainly help keep cats settled.

15 ways to handle a fractious cat

There is a real art and skill to handling cats well. Some people seem to be naturally good at it, whilst others need to improve. The general principals are easy to understand, and we’ve put together a list of them below;

  1. Less is more - the less physical restraint you can use, the better the response will be. The cat will be less inclined to move away and will stay calm.
  2. Gently goes - the manner in which you move and talk is important. Stay calm and talk in a soothing manner. Stroke and talk to the cat before lifting it from the cage or basket.
  3. Avoid eye contact – it’s best not look the cat in the eye when you take it out of the basket. Look past it whilst calmly talking.
  4. Try the slow blink - this can be an effective way of telling a cat you mean it no harm.
  5. Selective rubbing - try moving your hands over the cat's pheromone centres near the bridge of the nose and ears. You can do this while having a chat with it and the owner.
  6. Settle down and explore - the beginning of the consultation is and ideal time to let it settle down. By allowing it to wander around the consult room for a few minutes, you'll give it a chance to be reassured that it's safe. Whilst doing this, talk to the cat calmly and slowly with a quiet tone.
  7. Keep it quiet - if possible avoid loud or sharp noises from banging doors, cupboards and telephones. This may seem impossible in a busy veterinary practice but you'd be amazed what can be achieved by sound insulating a room.
  8. Get on down - if you lower yourself down onto the floor with the cat, you’ll be less of a threat.
  9. Examine away - why not perform some of the physical examination with the cat looking away from you. It really works with some fractious felines.
  10. Small beginnings - always start with the least invasive procedures first, saving those most likely to unsettle the cat for the end. Don't forget to use lubrication when checking a rectal temperature.
  11. Towel wrap - in cases where the cat is becoming a bit unsettled, wrap them in a towel to keep the claws hidden. You'll usually find the cat settles more when wrapped tightly.
  12. Non slip surface - for a cat, a slippery surface can be stressful. A towel or rubber mat that gives the cat something to grip onto can help. Consider using the cat's own blanket from its basket.
  13. Don't scruff - at one time, scruffing used to be quite popular, but these days it's recognised that cats shouldn’t be handled this way. Grabbing by the scruff is quite intimidating and will usually result in the cat resorting to a defensive aggressive behaviour. It may have no option but to fight back.
  14. Get help - don't struggle alone. There will always be an experienced cat friendly vet or nurse at hand. Use a handler who is good at holding cats gently and likes to work with them.
  15. Sedation may be necessary - in some cases you'll have to accept that chemical help may be required. Anxiolytics and sedatives should be used appropriately and safely rather than continuing to stress a frightened cat. Ketamine (5mg/kg) plus midazolam (0.25mg/kg) IM provides sedation and can help with fractious cats for procedures such as radiography, ultrasound examination or blood sampling.

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