Felis ISSN 2398-2950

Behavior: assessment

Contributor(s): Karen Overall, Sagi Denenberg

The concern and evolving issues

  • Numerous studies have shown that cats are fearful and distressed during veterinary examinations and when at veterinary practices. 
  • Heightened fear and anxiety may render patients more difficult to transport, manipulate and move through veterinary practices, and to examine thoroughly and safely.
  • Overtly fearful behaviors may obscure behavioral signs of illness and alter laboratory evaluations, eg blood glucose levels.
  • Owners of fearful patients may be less likely to bring them for veterinary evaluation early in the development of any condition because of the difficulty in transporting, managing and manipulating fearful and potentially more reactive cats.
  • In addition to the medical and behavioral risk created by delaying medical care, veterinary evaluations that the patient perceives as scary, entrapping, or terrifying worsen or create behavioral pathology which may manifest in the form of veterinary specific fears and phobias. 
  • Specific fears and phobias can develop to entering the hospital, to floors, to scales, to tables and to specific processes or procedures. 
  • Restraint is often seen to be safe, cost-effective, and efficient for veterinary personnel, but patients are not usually assayed for the effects that restraint has on them at the time of the examination and for subsequent evaluations. Cost-effectiveness and efficiency suffer if there are adverse effects of the restraint on the patient’s behavior. If patients learn that veterinary care poses risks of any kind for them, safety suffers.
  • Veterinary teams should not be contributing to creating behavioral pathologies, and instead should be diagnosing, preventing, and treating them.
  • Visits to veterinary practices can be scary for our patients: the floor is slick, there are strange sounds and smells, there may be reduced inter-personal approach space, they may be unable to choose to move (eg crated), the table is cold and provides poor footing, their people are tense, etc. 
  • Any cat who is not physically ill should be able to happily walk in the door of the hospital. If the patient is shaking, trembling, drooling, hiding, flat on the floor, scanning the environment, urinating, defecating, vomiting or trying to leave, he or she is not enjoying the experience and needs intervention and redress for his distress. 

Using basic scales to measure behavior

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Stress scales for cats

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Clinic cat stress scale 1: entry to the clinic

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Clinic cat stress scale 2: weighing the cat

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Clinic cat stress scale 3: in the exam room

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Cat stress scale 4: when hospitalized

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Repeated evaluations for use in best practice

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Kessler M R, Turner D C (1997) Stress and adaptation of cats (Felis sylvetris catus) housed singly, in pairs and in groups in boarding catteries. Anim Welf (3), 243-254 VetMedResource.
  • Carlstead K, Brown J L, Strawn W (1993) Behavioral and physiological correlates of stress in laboratory cats. Appl Anim Behav Sci 38 (2), 143-158 VetMedResource.

Other sources of information

  • Overall K L (2013) Manual of Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Elsevier. 
  • McCune S (1992) Temperament and welfare of caged cats. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.
  • Fear Free: fearfreepets.com.


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