Cats Hate Restraint

No picturesI find that sometimes cat-owners are reluctant to have their pets sedated for examinations and what appear (to the casual observer) to be minor procedures.    When I recommend this, it is really done for the cat’s benefit as much as mine.

If you’re a cat-lover, you already know that you have to more or less take cats on their own terms.  If they come to you for petting,  then great.  If you go grab them up and try to hold them in your lap when they are not interested, it’s no fun.

Cats really hate restraint.  When I was in veterinary school (after dinosaurs, but before home video), the subject wasn’t addressed much.  We were pretty interested in getting the cat examined or medicated without getting hurt, but we weren’t thinking much about the cat’s point of view. 

Restraint was more along the lines of the cat-bag (a little kitty strait-jacket), “brutacaine” (a skilled technician with a mighty strong grip), the burrito method of wrapping them tightly in a towel, plus or minus
whole-head muzzling devices.  It was about holding them tight and getting it done.

Remarkably, most dogs are pretty tolerant of this approach.   Most cats are not.  Really, you wouldn’t like experiencing that, nor would you wish to inflict it on your child. 

When my daughter was only a few months old, she developed a respiratory infection that caused her to have numerous swollen lymph nodes.  While most of these returned to normal after starting antibiotics, there was one marble-sized lump that remained on the outer surface of her lower jaw area.

It was my job (as the medically oriented member of the family) to poke this swollen node each night and see when it became soft enough to lance and drain.  This has probably affected my lifelong relationship with my daughter, though she has no conscious memory of it.  I did not enjoy poking her sore place every night.  Eventually the lump did soften up with an accumulation of pus that needed to be drained.

The pediatrician strapped the baby to a papoose-board.  Four people held her head still while the doctor used a scalpel to open the abscess.  This sounds horrible, and it sort of was.  I cried.  On the other hand, would you want your baby put under anesthesia for a procedure that took about 2 seconds? The answer for myself would be “no”, and I would probably listen to the pediatrician for my baby and do it the same way
again.  On the other hand, for cats, the answer is “yes”, let’s get sleepy.

If you ever have an abscess squeezed, you’ll know that you would appreciate some pain relief.  Unfortunately, local anesthesia doesn’t work in a pocket of pus.  You really can’t numb it effectively.  So, with cats, I’d say chemical restraint (a tranquilizer/pain-killer) is the order of the day for painful procedures.  If you ever have an abscess squeezed, you’d appreciate some pain relief – I guarantee it.

But what about relatively non-painful procedures? Like, say, a thorough physical examination and vaccinations?

I find that the cat-friendly examination is one that allows the cat to pretty much roam around the room except while you are actually doing something to it.  I like to do a little, let the cat relax, then do a little more, taking things in easy stages until our work is complete.  This is usually successful in maintaining at least an uneasy truce (if not friendship) with the cat.

Spring outI liken it to compressing a spring.  As long as you don’t squeeze too hard, and just keep letting the spring back out, it never gets out of control.  Squeeze too hard, and it pops out of your hand and hits you in the nose.  When a cat hits you in the nose, you find they have many sharp edges.

If a cat doesn’t respond well to being allowed some freedom to walk about and relax, then you have to make a decision.  If the procedure is really quick, like a single injection, then you might as well just do it.  It would be silly to go through the physical restraint needed to give a sedative injection, wait ten minutes, and then give the other injection.  On the other hand, if the cat is really upset, and you know the procedure could get a little involved, it’s just easier for the cat to have a little sedative first. 

Cats hate restraint, so we try to minimize their stress.  To paraphrase Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty, or give me a sedative.”

One thought on “Cats Hate Restraint

  1. E Garris says:

    Great post. I learned this when I lived in Columbia and my 19-year-old calico allowed the vet to scrape her teeth (too risky, he said, to sedate her for full-on dental work). The vet said the reason she was letting him do the scraping without taking his face off was because she wasn’t restrained. Hillary was more patient than your average calico, though.

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