Never suffer another cat bite

Never suffer another cat bite

Feline expert Dr. Elizabeth Colleran shares how her practice has been bite free for more than five years—and how yours can be too.

Cat bites are no small matter and should be addressed promptly at your clinic, if and when they occur. Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, MS, DABVP (Feline), owner of two cat friendly practices and co-chair of the American Association of Feline Practitioner’s (AAFP) Cat Friendly Practice (CFP) committee, shares the successful steps her practice has taken to prevent bites.

1. How long has it been since anyone was bitten at your practice?
More than five years.

2. What are you doing differently? Why the dramatic decrease in cat bites?
Every staff member receives comprehensive training on:
1. Using “quiet voices”
2. Moving slowly
3. Reading feline facial expressions and predicting arousal
4. Keeping language neutral
5. Gentle, slow and careful restraint techniques
6. What do when things go wrong
7. Full explanation of why cats behave the way they do so team members understand and minimize fear

3. What are some of the riskier things we do around cats where bites are most likely to occur? And what can we do to avoid the bite?
The emergent patient is often already highly fearful and potentially in pain. We move these cats very carefully, evaluate them quickly, treat pain appropriately for that patient and try to put them in a quiet place with low lighting once they’re stable.

New patients we’ve never met can surprise us. Carefully reading facial expressions and body language is key to working well with these cats.

4. What are some of the mistakes team members can make when they’re bitten?
Being bitten can trigger a team member’s fight-or-flight response. Most team members are embarrassed because they know they made a mistake, so they want to call little attention to themselves and will decline treatment. If the skin is broken, declining treatment should never be an option.

5. What’s one change any team member could make today to reduce the incidence of cat bites?
Pay attention to your patients. Practice techniques on tractable cats first, and don't go it alone. Always have someone nearby if you get in trouble or make a mistake.

6. Are there any myths we have about cat bites?
Not all cat bites are serious injuries. When treated early and fully, most heal without any issues. Bartonella (cat scratch fever) is spread by flea debris and can result from a bite or a scratch.

Bites are an indication of a fear response from a cat that can’t flee. A cat that bites has been allowed to achieve a level of cumulative arousal that should be very rare if feline-friendly handling and nursing care are implemented fully, and the practice uses an ongoing training program for new team members.

Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, DABVP (Feline), owner of Chico Hospital for Cats and Cat Hospital of Portland, both Gold Status Cat Friendly Practices, and she serves as co-chair of the CFP Committee.