Have confident conversations about preventives
Dr. Julie Servaites, of Los Robles Animal Hospital in Tallahassee, Fla., says that determination, confidence and teamwork
is what turned things around for cats in her practice. The hospital has seen a 40 percent jump in feline heartworm-flea preventive
sales since they became more confident about recommending the protection. They have maintained the gain for five consecutive
Dr. Servaites says they thought they were doing a good job with cats at their hospital until an industry representative helped
them conduct a compliance audit. The audit of patient records showed that they weren't doing quite the job they thought they
were with cats. In fact, one of the worst areas was feline heartworm and parasite protection.
Initially, no one at the hospital felt there was much they could do to improve feline heartworm—they believed that clients
would just say "no", as they had in the past. Around the same time, however, Dr. Servaites found herself breaking the news
to two different cat clients that their sick kitties had tested positive for heartworm disease. Worse, she had to tell them
that there is no curative treatment.
That's when everything clicked in place, and the entire hospital team mobilized to protect more cats. Everyone started looking
for better ways to bring the feline heartworm preventive message home to cat clients.
Dr. Servaites discovered new ways to make her recommendations more clear and effective. For instance, instead of asking, "Would
you like to put your cat on a heartworm preventive?" she started saying, "Your cat needs to be on a heartworm preventive."
Dr. Servaites would then explain that "Florida is practically the heartworm capitol" and that "feline heartworm disease is
a serious disease, like cancer or liver disease, but it can be prevented." She was amazed how many clients said that they
didn't know heartworms were a big problem or that there was a heartworm preventive for cats. And then they said yes to buying
Everyone at the practice is now having more confident conversations with clients on this important issue. When cat clients
come in for their pets' food or other things, the receptionists check the pets' records to see if they need more heartworm
preventive and suggest they refill their prescriptions if they are running low.
Dr. Servaites says that she has learned that we shouldn't doubt ourselves if we feel something is important. "It's amazing
what we can do once we decide to try!"
Create cat-only spaces
Jen Riley, manager at Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Centreville, Va., says that a compliance audit helped them flag the
decrease in cat wellness visits and motivated them to find ways to turn it around. The practice owner, Dr. Michelle Vitulli,
encouraged Riley to do all she could to attract and keep more cat owners. Riley and some of the hospital doctors and other
team members even attended an industry-sponsored program on cats to get ideas.
The clinic was already in the process of remodeling when, based on ideas inspired by the cat program they had attended, they
decided to create a separate waiting area for cats. To make it even more inviting, they used a cat hormone diffuser to help
cats feel calmer while they were waiting. They also put cat literature out and cat pictures up—even putting a cat silhouette
on their door to welcome cat owners.
In addition to the cat waiting area, they decided to make one of their exam rooms a feline-exclusive room—no dogs allowed.
The feline exam room is outfitted with cat step shelves on the walls, and they routinely spray the calming hormone product
on the towels they put on the exam table. They also put catnip treats in the exam room for cats to take home after their visits.
Riley says their cat clients have noticed all the changes and really seem to appreciate them. They are hoping that these clients
will tell other cat owners about them.
Now that the remodeling is done, Riley says the next step is to have a cat-trained technician teach team members better ways
to handle cats to help them feel more confident when working with them. For instance, the team will learn about burrito wrapping
cats for exams rather than scruffing them, which cat clients perceive as rough handling. Finally, to get the word out about
their cat-friendly practice, the hospital is planning to invite cat rescue groups to the hospital and will hold an open house
to benefit the rescue groups.
Riley was surprised how easy it was to get the staff involved with the changes. The remodeling helped them feel good by providing
dedicated feline spaces to make cats and their owners more comfortable. Most of the team members own cats and wanted to do
what was best for them. The hospital built on this natural interest by encouraging team members to follow the same healthcare
protocols for their own cats that they recommend to clients.
Having first-hand experience with the benefits of wellness gives team members more confidence when educating cat clients and
helps them bond with these clients even more.
Riley says that making Caring Hands a more cat-welcoming place is a work in progress, and they are always looking for new
ideas. They will be tracking the number of cat visits and reading new client survey comments to help them know how they are