Monday, February 16, 2015

Cat Friendly Practices - How Does this Help my Cat?

George, summer 2014

Semi-Feral Handling

Meet handsome George. He is a young cat that has lived outside for all or most of his formative years. He avoids direct human approach. But, he sort-of wants a home. Two lovely people took him under their wings and tried trapping him. After about 8 months of evading the trap, they finally caught him and brought him to us.

Having had minimal handling, he climbed the walls and bit and scratched out of fear and anxiety when the owners first tried to put him in a carrier to bring him in for neutering and vaccination.

After his first experience with us, which was a short stay in a boarding cage after his surgery, and minimal, gentle handling, his second visit went as follows:

First, he was allowed to acclimate to the sounds and smells of the hospital. We have Feliway diffusers throughout the hospital to help reduce anxiety.

Next, we approached with slow but deliberate motions. Making many small, unnecessary motions around a nervous cat can cause increased anxiety, since a fluttering hand may resemble the motions of a bigger predator or fluttering prey. Many times, when handling stressed, anxious or shy cats, "less is more".

Next, we undid the clasps on the carrier, and held a towel over the front of the carrier while we opened the door, removed it, and then simultaneously slid the top of the carrier off and slid the towel over George. Most of his exam was performed while he was under the towel, sitting in the bottom half of the carrier. This allowed him to feel comfortable and protected. The restraint used for him was gentle pressure on both sides of the body, just enough to keep him from darting out of the carrier, but no more.
Once as much of the exam was completed as could be done while he sat in the carrier, the technician tested his response by gently lifting up his front end. When he did not panic, she lifted his entire body from the carrier and placed him on the counter. The exam continued, and we were able to vaccinate him, as well. Additionally, once the exam was complete, we were able to brush out the fur on his back for a few minutes, until we could feel his muscles begin to tense. It may not look like the technician in this picture is paying attention to the cat, but often, staring at a cat can cause the cat to become anxious or feel threatened, so often, technicians rely more on the information the cat gives them through touch - tensing of muscles, small movements that project the cat's intentions. That way, the cat, who is already being closely inspected by the doctor, does not feel overwhelmed.

We placed him back into the bottom half of his carrier and he relaxed a bit, and we were able to comb him for another minute or two before he tensed again, signaling that he was thinking about fleeing. We carefully replaced the top of his carrier and the door, and gradually removed the towel, completing our work with this semi-feral cat without undue stress, and without anesthesia. We placed treats in his carrier to end the visit on a positive note. Our hope is that with each successive visit, he will become more and more tolerant of handling.

George, winter 2014
He badly bit one of his owners in his panic over being placed in the carrier to come to the hospital, that day, so it is our concern that he become used to the practice of traveling in the carrier to avoid future harm to his owners as they try to provide him with good medical care. We recommended leaving the bottom half of the carrier out in the house, possibly with intermittent food in it during the day and a blanket at night, so that he will become more accustomed to the sight and smell of the carrier. If the food is in the carrier all the time, he will likely still run when his owners approach the carrier. If the food only appears in small amounts when the owners walk over to the carrier, he may begin to run to the carrier in anticipation of special treats! We discussed placing a towel over him while placing him into the bottom half of the carrier, and then "re-building" the carrier around him instead of trying to to force him in through the doorway. Additionally, placing a mild sedative in his food prior to the exam may allow him to relax enough to be placed in the carrier.

Stay tuned to see how things go next month, when George will need a blood sample collected!