How to make your practice cat-friendly
2/ The practice’s design makes all the difference!
A) How do you successfully create a cat-friendly practice environment?
In a cat-friendly practice, the atmosphere, along with all the fixtures, furniture and communication media need to signify to the cat owner from the first moment they enter that he/she is welcome and that it offers them a very special service.
Practices, which feel confident that they are already cat-friendly should test this opinion via feedback from their cat clients to see whether this is in line with their own evaluation or whether there are perhaps a few things which would improve the service for cat clients and/or clearly distinguish the available service from that provided by others. After all, at the end of the day it is the clients alone who judge whether a service goes down well with them or not. This means that when creating a cat-friendly practice, the focus must be on how the practice and its services will be perceived through the eyes of the clients – having a service is not enough, it must be clearly recognisable!
In order to check whether the atmosphere and appearance of the practice are cat-friendly, it makes sense to take a ’trip’ through the building, checking all areas which play an important role in daily client contact. The objective here is to check the following points, and if necessary, to improve them:
• How does the practice demonstrate overall that it understands and respects cat clients and the nature of cats?
• How does the practice show with its set-up that it is cat-friendly?
• How are the services and products for cat clients presented?
Of course this does not mean that the importance of other animal species, which are cared for in your practice, should no longer be recognised. Nonetheless it can often be noted that in daily practice, services and products for cats are much less frequently and clearly presented than the offering for dogs and this needs to be checked and changed. Pet owners, who have other pets in addition to cats, also clearly benefit if they get the opportunity to experience the special offers, optimally presented, for their cats.
1) Area 1 – Outside the practice
Interested cat clients should recognise before they enter the building that this practice offers something special for cat owners and places particular emphasis on this. The practice’s love of cats and their owners can be demonstrated, for example, with the following details:
• Images of cats on the practice sign.
• A clearly recognisable and highly visible welcoming message for cat clients.
• The highlighting of 1-2 special services for cat clients in the display window or outside at the practice entrance.
The goal is that the cat client recognises that his/her pet is appreciated here and that it is always worth stopping by to see what new and current offers are on display.
2) Area 2 – The Front Desk area
The reception area of a practice should generally be designed in such a way that the client immediately feels at ease. But for a cat practice and/or a practice with a particular focus on the needs of cat clients, something more should be done in order to make this apparent as soon as they enter the clinic.
The most important “ingredient” for a warm welcome at reception is of course the practice team member who addresses the clients in an attentive and open way. To score with cat-owners in particular, the team must be specially trained. Ideally, the team is aware of the needs of these clients at all times and organises the welcome in such a way that this is obvious to the client. It is important here that the cat as a pet and patient is recognised with a different form of communication to that used for the dog. This is achieved successfully if the receptionist not only greets the client but also addresses the cat personally and ensures that the cat client receives precisely the information which is important to him/her on arrival:
• Where is the cat reception room and/or cat reception area?
• How long will the waiting time be?
• Which members of the cat team will look after the cat?
• What special services are there for cats?
Of course, not all this information can always be given to every client, but these are important details at reception which show the cat owner that you march to the beat of a different drum, i.e. to the purr of cats!
To convey this information not just personally via the reception team, but to make it accessible to all clients at all times, it is useful to present the information using posters, signs, display boards and everything which can provide information in an interesting and attractive way, e.g.:
• Pictures of the team with names and special training, e.g. ‘Dr Maier – veterinarian with special knowledge of cat medicine’ and ‘Ms Schmitt – veterinary nurse/ assistant for cats with additional training in cat behaviour’
• Details of particular services for cats, e.g. cat health check, cat health plan, nutritional advice for cats, special products for cats
• Signposting of the (reserved for cats) areas with cat pictograms
In addition to this information, it is of course important to arrange the entrance area, where registration takes place, in terms of its design and fittings, in such a way that the cat client will feel at ease and welcome with his/her cat carrier. It is therefore absolutely essential that there are easily visible and elevated areas where cat carriers can be placed in the entrance area, preferably directly at the front desk. Small animal owners, in particular cat owners and those who own indoor pets and birds, do not like putting their pets on the floor. They want to maintain eye contact with their pet throughout the duration of their practice visit. You can see this from the frequently, somewhat agonised appearance of their posture, if they have been balancing a cage or a basket on their lap for a while in the reception area.
In addition, it is a good idea to place 1-2 cat products in the entrance area and/or on the counter, if this fits with the ethos of the practice. Particularly suitable here are things which act as “eye-catchers” because of their appearance and are suitable for taking away, e.g. fishing toys or a new type of food in small, manageable packaging. This positioning fulfils two purposes: on the one hand, it gives an overt sign to the cat client, emphasising to him/her the practice’s interest in cats and on the other hand, invites additional purchases.
3) Area 3 – The reception area
Whenever possible, it is a good idea to set up an individual cat reception-room in which cats and other specific indoor pets can be accommodated without being disturbed by the more noisy and boisterous dogs. When thinking about a cat reception-room keep in mind that the floor area requirements are much less than for a dog or mixed reception-room. If this cannot be provided, then you should see if at least an area of the reception-room can be divided off and reserved for cats as frequently as possible.
This cat area should be easily distinguishable through optical design. In addition to comfortable seating you should arrange designed areas in between the seats, e.g. small tables, where the client can place their cat carrier so that he/she doesn’t have to put his/her pet on the ground. If there is space on the walls of the cat area you can present the team members who in particular look after cats (possible repetition from the entrance area). In addition, you could display current topics and offers related to cat health. The display of team members and offers are always particularly interesting to clients if they contain pictures of day-to-day life in the practice, showing people and pets in real situations. If the practice has enough space, you could also position food and products for cats in the reception-area in an attractive manner.
4) Area 4 – The remaining practice area
In order to create a consistent picture as a cat-friendly practice, other areas to which clients with cats have access also have to be equipped accordingly; take for example, the two most important rooms:
• The consultation-room. In a pure cat practice, all rooms are cat-specifically designed, but in a ‘mixed practice’, you should either – depending on the space you have – set up a cat-only treatment room or ensure that the treatment area is equipped in such a way that cat clients feel at ease there. A cat consultation room and its equipment actually doesn’t take up a lot of space and sometimes you can really find (unused or ’storage’) room in your practice when you were convinced there was no space! In way of equipment and interior design, you should ensure that the needs of the cat and its owner are acknowledged, e.g. with:
- a soft, warm cover for the treatment table,
- soft lighting, which can then be appropriately intensified for clinical examination,
- set of appropriately sized instruments,
- small, portable (baby) scales for checking weights directly on the treatment table without having to carry the cat elsewhere,
- suitable educational material (leaflets, posters, models) to be used for counselling and explaining procedures and services.
When designing a cat consultation-room please also keep in mind that you should do everything you can to reduce stress for both the cat and its owner during their waiting time. This includes setting and keeping to appointment times and giving them some extra time alone in the consultation-room to settle and get used to the environment.
• The ward. Of course, in the ideal situation you would accommodate dogs and cats separately. If this is not feasible, the cat suites should at least be equipped as appropriately as possible to meet the requirements of their species, to reduce the stress that the cat already has because of its illness and hospitalisation:
- cage units made of plastic or fibreglass to reduce noise and enhance warmth,
- a raised bed with a soft disposable covering,
- a secluded area with a covered view,
- separate water and food bowls.
This of course has to be reduced and adjusted for cats that are under more intensive medical care. In this case you have to limit the space you assign for cats to a minimum so that you can handle them more easily and to ensure that any attached lines (i.v. or feeding tubes) don’t get flexed or disconnected too often.
In many cases, it is not desirable and/or sensible for the owner to visit during in-patient treatment. However, it makes a big impression on the cat owner and reduces his/her stress if he/she is at least allowed a peak behind the curtains to see with his/her very own eyes that the practice is doing everything to make his/her cat’s stay as pleasant as possible. This transparency increases the credibility of the practice in the eyes of the client and this in turn increases the trust which the client puts in his/ her practice.
All other rooms in which cat owners may stay should also show, with the presentation of specialised services, offers and decoration, that cats are respected and appreciated in your practice.