How everyone at veterinary practices – including the distributor reps who call on them – can contribute to improving feline health care
Jane Brunt, DVM, isn’t interested in the negatives. Core vaccines may be down for the year, and feline visits may not be trending upward, but … “I’d like to think that instead of looking down and contemplating our navel saying ‘Oh, here we go again – cat owners won’t do this, cat owners don’t do that’ – we are asking ourselves: What are opportunities we can take advantage of that are already available for helping veterinary practices with feline visits? How can we do better, and more, for cats?”
That includes the distributor reps calling on veterinary practices. “As a rep, are you cat friendly? How are you showing your support with cats and your cat products?”
Indeed, from veterinarian, to staff, to distributor rep, there is still a tremendous opportunity for feline healthcare, says Brunt, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council. She offered several suggestions of areas that can be improved.
An emphasis on preventive healthcare for indoor cats
The notion that indoor cats don’t get sick or don’t need parasite prevention is bad medicine. “A case in point is heartworm preventives.” Heartworm disease is spreading to new regions of the country each year, according to the American Heartworm Society. Stray and neglected dogs and certain wildlife such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes can be carriers of heartworms. Mosquitoes blown great distances by the wind and the relocation of infected pets to previously uninfected areas also contribute to the spread of heartworm disease. And even indoor cats are not immune. “Indoor cats need heartworm prevention in all heartworm endemic areas,” Brunt says. They also need to be on preventives for fleas and ticks, which carry diseases that cats, and humans, can contract.
A better understanding of feline fear and arousal
Knowing cats are different than dogs, you will certainly handle them differently, Brunt says. There is a rewiring that needs to happen with terminology. “We don’t use the word restrain, we use the word handle,” says Brunt. “It’s a completely different mindset. It’s just thinking differently. With handling, what arouses cats? Arousal and fear are not aggression. Cats may become aggressive if they get really scared. If you think about it, if they are scared, rather than aggressive, wouldn’t you take a different approach? Wouldn’t your mindset be a little different?”
Utilize educational opportunities
Distributor reps can recommend educational opportunities on feline care to their clients, and what’s worked for other practices. There are plenty of resources related to feline care. For instance, the AAFP’s Cat Friendly Practice® program has lots of valuable information, Brunt says. “The materials are useful and easy to understand and implement,” says Brunt. “There are obviously benefits when practices complete the steps required to have the Cat Friendly Practice Designation. They have access to handling guidelines and behavior guidelines from AAFP. Those are great resources.”
Outreach in advance of appointments
Veterinary practices can provide help for clients to overcome some of the barriers for cat visits. That would include things like asking the owner at the time of scheduling the appointment if they have trouble getting their cat in the carrier. Is there a way for the practice to help? As a distributor rep, what resources do you have or know of that could help?
Reminders are also important, especially for new cat owner appointments. The fall off because of excuses – such as the pet owner couldn’t get their cat in the carrier or catch the cat – is pretty big, says Brunt. “So, there should be a lot more touch points on not only confirming the appointment, but also providing resources, and tips for making that trip easier,” she says. “At the very least, if the veterinary practice knows an hour or two hours in advance that they’re not coming, then that opens up the appointment.”
Explore streams of new patient acquisition
One way to do that is to connect veterinary practices with shelters and adoption organizations. Do your clients have partnerships set up with local shelters, or offer programs to support adoptions and care, such as a free kitten kit for adopted cats? “That would be a good question to ask the practice: What do you guys do with the local shelters or organizations? Are you a donor? Just to ask the question about whether they are building those relationships helps them to think about a stream of new patient acquisition.”