Should the crush cage and scruffing of cats be banished to the past, as we move towards a ‘fear free’ ethos in veterinary practice?
Are practices moving forward and working to try and achieve more in terms of ‘fear free’ practice, or are many still lagging behind? Maybe practices appreciate that certain techniques should be avoided, such as use of the crush cage, however they simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to deal with a ‘fractious’ patient and get the procedure done, so don’t know which way to turn in this situation.
You will all have heard about ‘feline friendly’ practices, and how to move towards this goal, I am sure. The International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) have worked hard over the past few years to promote feline friendly techniques and practice environments, and to support staff and practices in achieving this. But how far ahead are we? Are practices moving forward and working to try and achieve more in terms of ‘fear free’ practice, or are many still lagging behind? Maybe practices appreciate that certain techniques should be avoided, such as use of the crush cage, however they simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to deal with a ‘fractious’ patient and get the procedure done, so don’t know which way to turn in this situation.
What’s wrong with scruffing?
I will be honest – several years ago I heard of a practitioner condoning the scruffing of cats, and myself, with no knowledge of why this was, felt it was unnecessary, and that scruffing of cats caused no stress or trauma to the cat, and made it safer for the handler. I just didn’t know the facts. It’s a little like all the pictures we see of kids cuddling dogs, their faces perilously close to the dog that is at threshold – it used to be ok, but now we’ve had our eyes opened to the body language that the dog is showing, how uncomfortable it may be for some dogs, and just how dangerous this actually is. We’re sensitised to it.
So, are you sensitised to cat stress? Can you detect it?
Can you see it coming and more importantly do you know how to avoid it? What about a cat that’s already had a bad experience at the practice and now has its card marked?
Many practices are understanding of the need for reducing stress in patients, and hope to move towards making their practice better places to be for their feline (and canine) patient, but they’re just not quite sure how to go about it.
There is so much we can do – right from advising our clients on bringing cats to the practice (ok, how many clients only get the cat box out when they’re bringing the cat in for a repeat blood test or vaccination?!), to environmental considerations – reception, consulting room, prep room, inpatient area – and that’s before we’ve even looked at how we approach these cats. It is a multi-faceted approach. We can learn so much about how we handle them; and what we do when it’s clear we’re not going to be able to proceed due to the cat’s response.
An impact on welfare
Linda Ryan, who tutors our low stress handling in cats module, worked in referral medicine at Edinburgh university, and this is where she began to really think about how we handle these patients – the ones that have to come back again and again. How we can make it easier for them, their owners and us! It has such an impact on welfare, quality of life and our consciences, in that we are doing the right thing for these patients. She shared one of her stories with us.
” One of the first cats that taught me so much was Bertie, an enormous, obese, diabetic DSH, who presented with GI lymphoma, and his owner wanted everything possible done. However, Bertie didn’t… He was so aggressive, fractious and difficult for us. No one wanted to handle him, yet we had to find a way. Bertie and I learned how to approach each other every week for 2.5 years, and we had great success with his treatment plan, as well as his behavioural health and emotional welfare.
Each patient we are successful with, informs how we can help the next and teaches us so much about being better advocates for our patients. We can’t always make huge changes within the practice environment +/- what our colleagues do, but, along with some good knowledge and armed with the most up-to-date info, there are always lots of small modifications we can make, especially in our own behaviour and how we work. “
Our Patient-Friendly Practice course walks you through the process, and we have brought both feline and canine species together into one course. Firstly because it’s so important that the needs of both species are met, but also because many of the same principles may apply.
Why is a knowledge of basic behaviour so important?
In terms of cats, we look at a background to feline behaviour, which gives participants an excellent grounding in this topic. Without this, we can’t know why cats do certain things and respond in certain ways, and why what we can do to help will work. We then look at handling in practice and environmental choices – and as mentioned previously, there is so much that can be done, and much of it so easily too. We also cover advice that we can give to owners to help cats before and after visits. You will go on to create your own practice guidance discussion document, so that you have the tools to go back to your practice and start the process. You’ll also create a client handout offering useful tips to cat owners. Both really useful resources for practice in moving this ethos forward.
Your clients will love you for this too – who wouldn’t feel better taking their cat to a practice where they know the emotional welfare of their pet is a priority too?
So rather than thinking this is something you ‘really should do’ at your practice, take the bull by the horns (but not the cat by the scruff), enrol on our course, and be enlightened and empowered as to what you can do to make your practice a better place for cats!
Find out more about Patient-Friendly Practice
Patient-Friendly Practice, our course tutored by Linda Ryan, is an interactive online course that runs over 4 weeks and offers 12 hours of ‘formal/assessed’ CPD.
You can find out more, including tutor details, learning outcomes, full syllabus and enrolment, here:
Would you like to speak to someone about how this course could work for you? Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 0121 663 1971
This article was written by Jill Macdonald, who owns and manages ONCORE Online Learning. Jill is a veterinary nurse of nearly 20 years, and has worked in first opinion practice, in a head nurse role, in veterinary undergraduate and postgraduate education, and as a locum; and now dedicates her time to ONCORE and other education provision. She is currently also leading an educational project to devise a veterinary nurse specific client communication guide. She is passionate about developing and enhancing the pivotal role that veterinary nurses hold in practice.