Making House Calls For Sick Cats
For people who live with companion animals, going to see the veterinarian can be an ordeal. Whether it’s a regular check-up or a more complicated procedure, cats in particular often experience vet-related stress. Cats are also less likely to be taken to a veterinarian in the first place: based on 2011 stats, 40% of cats had not seen a vet, compared to only 15% of dogs. Part of this disparity is surely due to “client reluctance” to bring their cats in “due to the stress experienced by both the owner and cat during transport of the cat to and from the veterinary clinic and at the veterinary clinic.” This perceived stress in cats is supported by research showing that cats have “higher physiological parameters (temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure)” when visiting the vet’s office, compared to house calls.
However, according to the authors here, most of the past research has been biased by poor design and handling techniques that could have influenced the results. The researchers in this study sought to conduct a more tightly controlled experiment to evaluate the relative stress caused by an examination in a vet’s office versus in a home setting. Specifically, they used blood serum cortisol as the primary measure of stress because it is a “frequently used standard” in stress research, being linked to several other physiological parameters. They found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there was a difference between cortisol levels (and other stress indicators) between home and clinic and that stress was higher at the clinic.
Interestingly, however, the cortisol levels dropped more for cats going to clinics on a second visit, after becoming familiar with the setting and with the handler. Though the authors note that “familiarity” is a confounding variable for such research, they add that with “low-stress handling” procedures and repeated visits, we can reduce the stress that cats experience at the veterinary clinic. For animal advocates, promoting regular vet visits (when they are affordable) not only helps to keep cats healthy, but the consistency can also lower stress. The resulting decrease in cat stress could increase “client satisfaction,” number of veterinary visits and cat welfare overall.