Don’t expect your cat to come to you with pleading eyes to book a veterinary appointment when he’s not feeling well. That’s because cats have a validated reputation for being both prey and predator. They’ll do their best not to let anyone know they’re injured or ailing. It’s a survival mindset.
Adding to their medical woes is the stress generated by traveling inside a pet carrier in stop-and-go traffic or being in a clinic lobby with barking, lunging dogs while waiting for an exam room to become available. “Unfortunately, stress can delay recovery or make a cat more susceptible to other diseases,” says cardiologist Bruce Kornreich, DVM, Ph.D., Associate Director of the Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Stress can contribute to gastrointestinal upset, causing a lack of appetite, and can weaken a cat’s immune system.”
Fortunately, you now have access to practical tips to nurse your cat back to health. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine recently created Feline-Friendly Nursing Care Guidelines aimed at two audiences: owners and the veterinary profession.
“What I really like about this new set of guidelines is that it reaches out to everyone involved in the well-being of cats and that it is very comprehensive,” Dr. Kornreich says. “What you do to treat a sick cat, whether you are a veterinarian, vet tech or owner, does influence your cat’s emotional state and well being. Cats are quite good at reading our feelings of stress and anxiety.” The guidelines identify these 10 ways to enhance your cat’s healing at home:
– Select a welcoming place to administer medications. Pick a quiet, private area in your home — one your cat enjoys — to give his medicine. A small, confined space to prevent escape is ideal. Cats equate small spaces with a heightened sense of security.
– Stick with a routine that works. Cats don’t like surprises. If you choose the bathroom, place your cat on a thick bath towel on the counter or even on the sink to add to his comfort.
– Create a positive reinforcement connection. Be sure to provide a healthy treat or a soothing brushing session so he begins to associate medicine time with rewards.
– Follow the vet’s instructions for administering medication. Some can be taken with food; other medicines may cause gastrointestinal upset or reduced appetite.
– Find ways to enhance food. Some cats recovering from illness may be off food. Gently heating canned food in the microwave for 10 to 12 seconds can make it more appealing. You can also add a teaspoon of low-sodium chicken broth or tuna juice to canned or dry food.
– Swap the food bowl for a paper plate or flat bowl. “Cats may not like to have their whiskers scrunched and that may happen when they attempt to eat from small, deep bowls,” Dr. Kornreich says. Reaching into deep bowls may also cause musculoskeletal discomfort, depending upon the cat’s condition. Some cats, attempting to eat from a deep bowl, may walk away and fail to consume needed nutrients. “Eating a complete and balanced meal is vital, especially in cats recovering from an illness or a surgical procedure,” he says.
– Resist piling on the kibble. You need to know exactly how much your cat consumes eat day. Measure each portion and serve two or three small meals daily.
– Avoiding forcing medicine. Don’t attempt to forcibly retrieve your cat hiding under your bed to give him medicine. And don’t interrupt him while he’s grooming, eating or using the litter box because it is time to give him medicine.
– Practice patience and stay calm. Don’t try to give medicine to your cat when you’re in a hurry or in a bad mood. Cats can sense our levels of frustration or impatience and can become fearful or anxious.
– Don’t skip any appointments. Even though your cat may seem back to his healthy self, take him to the veterinarian for his follow-up appointment and be sure to completely finish his medicine.
In addition to at-home stress-reducing tips, the feline medical organizations created a brochure called “Getting Your Cat to the Veterinarian” to make vet visits easier. Their experts recommend these six tactics to produce a more pleasant and positive appointment:
– Time your visit during non-peak times. If your cat hates to ride in a car and feels anxious while inside a carrier in the waiting room occupied by dogs, contact the clinic staff and ask for a specific time to enable you to go directly into an exam room and bypass the waiting room. Once inside the exam room, speak to your cat in soothing, low tones to keep him calm.
– Practice proper cat etiquette. Avoid actions and vocalizations that will escalate your cat’s anxiety or fearfulness. Avoid staring directly into his face, bear hugging him, invading his personal space or trying to quiet his meowing by making a “shhhh” sound. “The ‘shhhh’ sound may be interpreted as a hiss to cats and may make your cat more agitated,” Dr. Kornreich says.
– Avoid physical punishment. Tapping your cat’s head or giving him stern verbal reprimands to quiet down in a veterinary clinic can backfire and provoke a fight-or-flight response.
– Be positive. When your cat is being quiet or sitting still, reward him with friendly pets or small treats. Ignore negative behavior rather than trying to correct it.
– Keep your cat in the carrier until you’re in a closed exam room and a veterinary staff member tells you it’s safe to take him out. When choosing a carrier, select one with an opening at the top as well as the front for greater ease in placing your cat inside and out.
– If your cat needs to stay overnight at the clinic, you can make his stay more pleasant by bringing bedding or a favorite toy from home. Alert the staff about the brand of cat litter and food that your cat uses and favorite activities he likes, such as brushing or play time.
In a joint statement, co-chairs of the guidelines committee, Hazel Carney, DVM, DACBP, and Susan Little, DVM, DABVP, acknowledged that their advice may seem daunting: “However, even small improvements and incremental progress in feline nursing care can pay immediate dividends and start building a culture of skilled and compassionate feline care.”
Dr. Kornreich applauds the issuing of the guidelines, adding, “This report offers practical tips and strengthens the communication between owners and veterinary staff. As a result, cats will definitely benefit by receiving better care at the veterinary clinic and at home.”