FIC – 2: involving the behaviourist - Veterinary Practice
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FIC – 2: involving the behaviourist

Francesca Riccomini continues her discussion of the frustrating and at times depressing problem of feline idiopathic cystitis and explains the importance of referring to a behaviour counsellor

FELINE Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)
is challenging for affected cats,
their owners and the clinicians and
veterinary nurses involved in their
care. Not only is this a complex
condition where stress is a
recognised, and very significant,
factor but
such cases
half way
also takes a
lot of time

Additionally, awareness of just how
complicated FIC can be, the crucial
importance of behavioural and
environmental modification and the
critical role home-care plays in
successful resolution and prevention of
recurrence is essential.

Undoubtedly therefore, obtaining a
very thorough behavioural history in
addition to comprehensive clinical
details is the first step to diagnosis and
efficient treatment. But this is not
something that can be done at speed
or done well in a routine appointment
slot, especially during a busy surgery,
when everyone, including clients,
usually feels under pressure.

Failure to grasp this important fact
and to become truly involved with
these poor cats, often results in a
failure to identify the influence of
recent and current stressors on the
development of their cystitis.

It also invariably means that the
prevailing conditions, which
contributed to the medical problem in
the first place, continue unchanged.
Thus, the risk of recurrence, with on-
going compromised welfare, is
increased and in some cases this will
lead to relinquishment or euthanasia.

Identifying stressors takes
time and skill

For anyone not familiar with behaviour
counselling, obtaining a full
behavioural history may sound
straightforward; little different perhaps
from extracting from a client a brief
résumé of the clinical signs that
brought them into the surgery –
something one does everyday.

Done properly, however, it is a very different thing indeed. Much more
comprehensive, it includes among
other things, the social nature of the
household, everyone who lives there or
visits, all other animals in full-time or
occasional occupancy and any recent
changes in the line up of personnel.

The bricks and mortar matter too.
What type of dwelling, how big, how
close to or distant from the neighbours
is it, what are their attitudes towards
the cat in question and do they have
pets, cats in particular? What is the
nature of the home environment –
modern and minimalist, ancient and
cluttered for example?

Are the owners house proud, likely
to nag the cat and use stressful, strong-
smelling cleaning products on a regular
basis? And what in reality – not the
owners’ imagination – is actually
provided for the cat in the way of
dedicated and necessary equipment?

How does everyone in the home
feel about the pet or pets? Are there
inconsistencies, individually and/or
collectively, is this au pair as “cat
friendly” for example as the last one,
or homesick and overwhelming the pet
with attention? Is the cat’s
independence and requirement for
control respected or is it smothered
and stressed by its owner’s own need
for emotional nurturing?

Issues need to be explored in

All this is important. What’s more, it is
simply scratching the surface. Yet to
gain a comprehensive picture that will
really help us target our professional
advice, such issues have to be explored
in detail, and that’s before we get to
the major behavioural aspects that are
known to influence the development
of FIC.

Latrine facilities, diet and water
intake – often dependent upon how
fluid is presented to the animal.
Indoor-only lifestyle – do they really
bother to provide a “cat friendly
environment” or even understand
what that means? If the cat has
outside access, what is outdoors like?

Then there’s the really major
stumbling block – is this a multi-cat
household? If so, do the clients have
the slightest clue how to manage one
successfully? If not, is the general feline population in this area high? is
there an intrusive so-called bully cat
around? And so we go on.

Behaviour counselling – an
essential adjunct to

There’s little doubt that the more
information amassed the better. It
improves understanding of an
individual cat’s world-view, emotional
make-up and ability to cope with the
conditions in which it finds itself
living. What is feasible in the way of
environmental modification, plus the
owners’ ability and willingness to do it,
are all critical.

And if these important aspects
aren’t adequately covered at the onset
of the problem – when it is recognised
comprehensive and aggressive
treatment programmes are essential to
obtain good results – it is likely they
never will be. Or perhaps the job will
eventually be done several years down
the line.

I have had cases
finally referred for
example between two
and eight years after
signs first began,
representing years of
suffering for the patient
and frustration and
distress for the owners.

Veterinarians are, of
course, used on a daily
basis to juggling the
many demands upon
their time and expertise,
but even they tend to
struggle here; which
eloquently makes the case for referral
to a qualified feline behaviour
counsellor. Such a professional, with
or without a veterinary background,
should have a number of advantages
over a hard-pressed general

The main ones are time and
knowledge – behaviour
counselling is, after all,
what we do. Most of us offer home visits, which
are essential to see the
actual world inhabited by
the cat; how everyone and
everything that happens
impinges upon it; what is
the reality of its
management; and how
well or badly have its
owners put into practice
the “first aid advice”
they’ve already been

After a little initial
tension, when fears that
they will be criticised or chastised have been laid to rest, in
their own homes people relax. They
are more able to impart the much-
needed facts and often remember
significant incidents they’d previously
overlooked. Crucially, they seem to
absorb information much better than
in the clinic.

Above all, any behaviourist worth
his or her salt will ensure that the
suggested behaviour programme
addresses all relevant issues, includes
preventive steps for the future, and
that the suggested measures are
feasible, practical and applicable to the
household’s everyday life.

It is not uncommon, for instance,
for a counsellor to walk around with a
scratching post, water bowl or litter
tray to find its ideal location. And
many visits end with re-arrangement
of garden furniture and/or flower
pots to provide a series of refuges
near the cat flap or back door. To the
uninitiated this may seem trivial, to a
suffering, stressed cat it can literally be a life saver.

Notwithstanding the fact that miracles
are always in short
supply, behaviour
counsellors with the
relevant knowledge are
thus ideally placed to
help with these
troublesome cases.
When clients are
willing and able to
fund the project, any
clinician who does not
enlist their services withholds referral to the detriment of their patient.

Of course, not every owner will elect to take the cat’s case that far. The
next article will therefore provide
some practical suggestions that may
help when a colleague has no choice
but to manage FIC without the benefit
of dedicated behavioural intervention.

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