If you’re a cat owner, you probably have seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s delightful musical, “Cats,” or identify with T. S. Eliot’s line, “I must remind you that a dog’s a dog – a cat’s a cat.”
Many of the growing cat “parents” are searching out veterinary practices that cater to felines.
If you’re in the veterinary business, you are aware that cats are the most common pets (totaling around 86 million as compared to 78 million dogs). The problem for your practice — and ultimately for the well-being of cats — is that almost twice as many cats as compared to dogs never visit the veterinarian. It is reported that 41 percent visit only for vaccinations and 39 percent visit only when the cat is sick.
With apparently 33 percent of households owning at least one cat, there is lots of potential business from cat owners. What can you do to attract that business?
I’ve talked to cat owners and cat-only veterinarians, as well as staff at general practices, and they provided me with insights that might help you increase your cat-business.
Consider these 14 tips:
- Help pet owners with “feline resistance.” That’s the frantic search for kitty in his favorite hiding place just when it’s time to go to the vet. Appreciate the fact that a visit to the veterinarian is often traumatic for cats, and that makes their owners reluctant to bring them in. Consider leading a class in your community to give cat owners tips on getting their cat to the vet.
- Establish a cats-only entrance or separate waiting room or exam room. This way, dogs or the scent of dogs won’t frighten your cat patients.
- Consider a “cats only” morning or evening each week.
- Use a synthetic feline pheromone atomizer to calm your cat visitors. You can install a diffuser in the waiting room or exam room. Or spray your cats’ blankets in the exam room. Look to this to help decrease the cats’ stress level.
- Have cat toys and fresh catnip in the room for your cat visitors.
- Provide cat-appealing treats to encourage your cat patients to come again.
- Remember that cats like to hide or snuggle. Provide a cubby in your waiting room and in the boarding area.
- Provide training for your staff in low-stress handling and restraining techniques. And, contrary perhaps, to your animal examination training, when examining your cat patients, you should start with the part of the exam that is easiest for the cat, leaving the most difficult for last.
- Help your cat owners understand the important health issues their cats face, especially as they age.
- Go through your database to locate your cat owners and follow up with them to get caught up on their care. Consider offering a discount for a “welcome back” exam for cats that have not been in for over a year.
- Always offer a fecal exam, and run senior laboratory screens including a CBC, chemistry panel, T4 and urinalysis.
- Incorporate softer colors, softer voices, slower movements, calm body language and lower lights when the cat is in recovery.
- Consider making house calls for your cat patients. Check out House Calls for Cats, LLC in St. Paul, Minn. The folks at House Calls for Cats have an agreement with a nearby clinic to use their staff and facilities on Fridays to provide services such as dental cleaning, ultrasound or surgery. You might at least consider house calls for euthanasia.
- Get help to become a “feline-friendly” practice. You might start with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which has established standards for excellent cat service related to facilities, equipment, medical skills and management practices.
Another useful resource is The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). Its focus is on treatment, equipment and environment, with a continually growing inventory of brochures and videos. One of those brochures is “Feline Handling Guidelines” which, following a thorough review, the AAHA Board of Directors formally has endorsed.
The IDEXX Learning Center Website provides another useful resource: “Building Your Feline Business: Easier than Herding Cats.”
Read any of the AAHA Trends Magazine articles: “Pouncing on Opportunity,” by Maureen Blaney Fletner (May 2013); “Feline Rehabilitation,” by Lynne Friedman (July 2015); “Cat’s Meow or Scardy Cat Central,” by yours truly (November 2013).
- Become a certified feline practice by complying with the AAFP guidelines. To be certified in their CFP® program members follow an online self-monitoring process, examining various areas, including: staff training and education, the waiting room, feline handling, interaction with clients, facilities, pain management, equipment, client records, diagnostic imaging, and treatment.
- Finally, be sure to let visitors to your website or Facebook page know that you welcome cats — both indoor and outdoor cats.
The goal is a puurfect veterinary experience.