Tips on Caring for Sick Cats
In 2012, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) released Feline-Friendly Nursing Care Guidelines for veterinarians and veterinary support staff. As a part of that effort, they have also put together a pamphlet for owners entitled “Nursing Care for Your Cat - Practical Tips for Pet Owners.” It contains a lot of good information. I want to share with you a few of its most helpful tips.
On the topic of reducing the stress of veterinary visits:
- If your cat is very anxious in the waiting area, or if dogs are present, ask the receptionist if you can go immediately to an exam room. Alternatively, cover your cat’s cage with a towel or your coat to block the view and muffle the sounds. Once you are in the exam room with your cat, talk to it soothingly in a low pitched voice.
- Avoid behaviors that while intended to comfort your cat, may actually increase anxiety. These can include clutching your cat, talking or staring in its face, and disturbing or invading its personal space. Human sounds intended to soothe or quiet (like ‘shhhh’) may mimic another cat hissing and should be avoided.
- Physical correction such as tapping your cat’s head and verbal reprimands should be avoided because they may startle your cat and provoke the fight-or flight response. Remember, cats are not human and react differently to discipline.
- Do not handle or remove your cat from its carrier until requested by a member of the veterinary team.
- Reinforce your cat’s positive behavior with petting or treats and ignore negative behavior rather than trying to correct it.
- If your cat must stay in the hospital, bring along familiar toys and bedding from home. Provide the name of the cat litter and food that your cat is routinely given. Also mention anything that your cat enjoys (e.g., treats, brushing, or play-time activities). The veterinary staff can use this information to help make your cat’s stay more pleasant.
Tips for providing nursing care to cats in the home environment:
- Identify a quiet, familiar, and private space such as a small enclosure or alcove with good lighting where you can easily access your cat. A small space allows for close monitoring of your cat and provides it with a sense of security.
- Establish a routine for administering oral medication to your cat. A bathroom sink lined with a soft towel or fleece provides an enclosed, secure place for administering medication.
- Give your cat positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, brushing, petting) for accepting medication.
- Unless your veterinarian says that medication must be administered with food, do not use food as an aid to giving medications, as it may cause aversion and reduce your cat’s food intake.
- Warm canned food to your cat’s body temperature by gently heating the food in the microwave (remove the food from the can first) or by adding warm water and stirring well. Additions of chicken broth or tuna juice may enhance taste.
- Forcing your cat to accept medication is stressful for both you and your cat. Do not forcibly remove your cat from a hiding place or interrupt eating, grooming, or elimination for purposes of administering medication. Ask your veterinarian for a demonstration of how to administer the medication prescribed for your cat.
- Stay calm. Cats can sense our anxiety or frustrations, which may cause them to become fearful or anxious.
- Attend all follow up appointments with your veterinary practice. Alert the veterinary practice if you observe any signs of sickness or changes in your cat’s behavior, as well as changes in food or fluid intake, or if you experience difficulty administering medications.
Those are the highlights as I see them, but if you find it difficult to provide your cat with the veterinary/nursing care he or she needs, it is definitely worth downloading the entire PDF to your computer.
Dr. Jennifer Coates