The Tao of Meow: The Joys of Being a Feline-Only Technician

Feline vaccination guidelines task force member Ellen Carozza, LVT, offers Insight on treating cats from the perspective of a feline-only technician.

Frank Romiello, veterinary assistant, holding a reward for Francis; Alexis Hagerman, LVT, holding Francis in the cuddle hold; and Ellen Carozza, LVT, drawing blood

Nearly every practice has a technician who will raise their hand and proudly wear the badge of “cat whisperer.”

by Ellen Carozza, LVT

Veterinary technology is continually evolving. It isn’t a straight arrow moving forward, but a tumultuous ocean that ebbs and flows with fantastic ideas and additional certifications that promote and prove our genius.

We technicians take an oath when we graduate from school and become credentialed, and we continue lifelong learning, striving to provide excellent nursing care and services to animals we see in practice daily. Yet many technicians still struggle in their interactions with the species that is one of the most popular pets in the world today: the cat.

Why is it still a problem in veterinary medicine today? Why are we afraid to admit we are failing these animals? Admitting we need to get out of our comfort zone with the feline species and become better for ourselves and our patients is where it all starts.

I’ve been an LVT since 1996. After years of working in mixed practices, I realized I wasn’t happy in the role of the everyday technician. It wasn’t compassion fatigue. It was years of emotional burnout from being taught in school that “this is the way” of working with cats and there is no other way.

My soul was tired of seeing cats being given subpar nursing care, being provided with lackluster treatment options, and not really having their “wellness” promoted. This was at not just one practice but multiple practices. It was an all-too-common trend I had been seeing over the years.

I knew that, as a technician, I had to make a change in my career, because no one around me was going to make the choice for me—or even support my ideas of making things better for our feline patients. So I made a hard decision, and left the world of mixed practice (my “normal” at the time) and plunged into the world of feline-only medicine in 2002. I have not looked back since, and I could not be happier where I am in veterinary medicine today.

There Is More Than One Way

For the past 18 years, I have seen feline medicine evolve into a form that better complements the species it promotes. Thanks to the American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine, the veterinary community is building a better world for the feline patient.
Numerous resources are available for wellness, illnesses, patient advocacy, and more, that feed our desire to keep learning and impart new methods of care. A few years ago, I worked with my colleagues and the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice and helped create an additional certification in feline medicine for technicians, the Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS) in Clinical Practice (Small Animal, Feline).

Feline advocates are needed in this field. The desire to enhance feline veterinary technology, promote advocacy, and create a certification for the feline-centric came to fruition, but not without great difficulty. There are incredibly high expectations of the technicians who apply for the feline VTS. Being feline-centric is great, but should you so desire, proving to yourself you are at the level of “expert” will be a new and welcome challenge.

One humbling aspect of going for your specialty as a technician is that when you fail to meet the expectations of the specialty, you get to appreciate where you need to put more effort in your work with patients. It can also be quite eye opening to see where the practice in general needs to spruce up its medical care for cats. This becomes a group effort. Everyone benefits with a VTS in the hospital. The level of care and medicine is heightened, and for a great reason! We want to provide high-quality care and compassion at our practices.

As the cat advocates in practice, we are the ones who continually push for better protocols of handling, species-tailored nursing care, and treatment protocols for our patients. We don’t just look at the big picture before us. We look at the colors and textures of the canvas and add the small details that matter to the patient and their human companions.

We thoroughly enjoy working with cats no matter what level of difficulty they present, and we do it with a smile on our faces. Nearly every practice has a technician who will raise their hand and proudly wear the badge of “cat whisperer.” We want to be your go-to person with the cases no one else wants to deal with. We will even happily trade cases like kids at a lunch table swapping sandwiches just to work with the cats that others don’t want to work with.

Ellen Carozza, LVT, giving out treats before vaccines

Ellen Carozza, LVT, performing pregnancy viability with assistant Heather Maher

Amber Baker, veterinary assistant, using the modified purrito wrap while Frank Romiello, veterinary assistant, draws blood from the medial saphenous vein

Ellen Carozza, LVT, after I-131 radiation safety measuring

It Isn’t All Rainbows and Kittens

Social media, while beneficial to many who frequent discussion forums on how to be “better” in practice, also shows the incredibly ugly and highly insecure side of the veterinary industry. It is easier to be negative when sheltered behind a computer screen, admitting hatred for patients and clients alike, than to post something that uplifts the spirit.

Discussions on cats are almost always guaranteed to contain some hate speech (seemingly generated by the insecurity individuals have handling “fractious” cats) and many pro-feline technicians firing back with equal ferocity.

So where can things get better for our feline patients? As veterinary technicians, it starts with us looking for solutions and not excuses on how to work with cats on their level. Working with the patients and not against them actually makes their medical cases quite rewarding. We know we need to earn a cat’s trust while at the hospital, and when we break down these language barriers and earn a welcome head boop while performing our tasks, how can we not feel amazing?

Once we have the courage to admit we have difficulty working with a particular species and start utilizing the people in our practice properly, much of the unnecessary stress is alleviated. Forcing staff coworkers to work with species that clearly make them uncomfortable adds to the negative response in our feline patients and, in turn, gives them a bad reputation.

And if you want to work with cats, speak up! Self-advocacy is a great strength to have. Utilizing the staff’s strengths enhances care rather than weakening the hospital.

On our client survey form, we have a question: “How did you hear about us?” One of the most common comments we get in response is: “I didn’t like how my cat was taken care of medically or how they were handled by the staff or veterinarian at my previous practice.” Ouch! But the truth does hurt at times, and it can only make you a better technician and practice in general—a goal that should always be pursued.

At the end of the day, feline-centric teams are more than happy to take on that client with open arms if another practice just cannot make the changes happen. Ultimately the choice is clear: Practices either need to continue to learn to evolve and create solutions for treating feline patients or risk losing clientele to the feline-centric practice.

You will come across many bumps in the road with management and veterinarians who are equally afraid of change, but our ultimate goal for our patients is change for the better. If you can learn to enjoy working with a physically fun, medically challenging, and frequently quirky species, you may just have a different view on the feline patient in the future.

Ellen Carozza, LVT, specializes in feline care at the NOVA Cat Clinic in Arlington, Virginia. She is president of The Chris Griffey Memorial Feline Foundation, a 501(c)(3) that is dedicated to the care of the critical feline neonatal and pediatric patient, and is a member of the 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines task force. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook @thecatlvt.


Photo credits: Photos courtesy of Ellen Carozza, LVT



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