The U.S. cat population has risen by several million over the past five years, according to several studies. However, the number of feline veterinary visits is declining and nearly three times as many cats, as compared to dogs, did not receive any veterinary care in the past year. This is an incredibly disturbing trend that should trouble every proactive and progressive veterinarian. While client surveys have yielded myriad reasons behind the decline — higher veterinary fees in an up-and-down economy and a willingness to search the internet for answers to veterinary questions, for starters — we can gain some insight on how to fix these issues. But let’s take a hard look at our practices. Are we meeting the needs of our feline patients and their owners? As general small animal practices cater more toward the dog-owning client — another possible reason for the decline — you can start to recapture feline clients if you embrace strategies designed to reduce fear, anxiety and stress at home, in the lobby and in the exam room. The customer experience will become positive, the patients will be less anxious and reactive, the hospital staff will enjoy the appointments more, creating a better work environment, and feline veterinary visits will increase, driving revenue and overall growth. Follow this three-step approach:
The war on feline wellness
Learn to reclaim your patients (and their owners) in three easy steps.
1. Generate a successful plan for the client’s home well before the scheduled veterinary visit.Your practice website should contain specific information about how a client can achieve calm and controlled transport of the cat to the practice. This should include a number of common recommendations:
- Making the carrier part of the home’s “furniture.”
- Administering pheromone therapy.
- Discussing with the veterinarian the possible use of anti-anxiety nutraceuticals or medications.
2. Upgrade your lobby.Most current hospital design plans include separate waiting areas for cats and dogs. (This wasn’t initially possible at my practice because of space constraints.) Instead, consider:
- Creating a cat-friendly area. This is a quiet space adjacent to or near the lobby where cats can remain in their carriers, with a Feliway towel draped over the top to help reduce fear, anxiety and stress.
- Strategically placing plants and other visual barriers to minimize sight lines between patients.
- Painting walls and ceiling in hues of soft yellow to violet. Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, of the design firm Animal Arts, recommends avoiding white, orange and red.
3. Improve the exam room.Ideally, a practice should have an exam room or exam times designated for feline patients. If this isn’t possible, the next best step is to make sure every exam room is prepared for a feline visit at all times. For example:
- Make sure the room has been cleaned using a scent eliminator. Some agents only mask scents, which might be detected by the feline patient.
- Plug in a pheromone diffuser during office hours.
- Stock towels that have been warmed and sprayed with Feliway two hours before the appointment.
- Use Zen collars and other low-stress distraction collars as an alternative to a muzzle.
- Supply a litter box. A full bladder or full colon can add to a cat’s irritability and cause more difficulty with the exam.
- Furnish a cat tree or similar perch to improve the environmental enrichment of the exam room.
- Provide toys, which are incredibly helpful to mentally engage or distract feline patients. These should include wand toys, food puzzles, catnip and even brushes (if the patient enjoys the contact).