A cross-sectional survey of UK veterinary practices to determine prevalence of patient stress-reducing and welfare-enhancing approaches believed to be undertaken in companion animal practice
Feilberg, E., Corridan, C.L. and Buckley, L.A. (2021) A cross-sectional survey of UK veterinary practices to determine prevalence of patient stress-reducing and welfare-enhancing approaches believed to be undertaken in companion animal practice. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 43, pp. 14-23
The aim of this cross-sectional observational survey-based study was to examine the prevalence of the use of low-stress handling techniques (LSHT), as recommended by key organisations, in UK veterinary practices. In addition, the study aimed to identify any key data about the respondent or practice memberships that were associated with increased use of LSHT.
The online survey was distributed by email to all veterinary practices meeting the inclusion criteria of having their own premises and a caseload of dogs and/or cats in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons database who had consented to contact for marketing purposes. The main body of the survey was designed to identify the prevalence of LSHT protocols and consisted of 74 statements grouped into themes covering different areas of the practice – general premises, waiting area, consultation rooms, patient wards, inpatient experience, patient care, record-keeping, client education and practice ethos. Respondents completed a four-point Likert scale rating indicating how often they believed their practice complied with the statement. The statements were derived from recommendations from the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) Cat Friendly Clinic; the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) Rabbit Friendly Vets; Fear Free© Practice Certification Scheme, and the British Veterinary Behaviour Association (BVBA) Dog Friendly Practice Scheme.
The survey was sent to 1,012 eligible veterinary practices, 91 (9%) responses were received. Statements where most respondents answered always or regularly related to the following areas: practice ethos, waiting area, consultations, and inpatient experience. LSHT protocols appeared to be less well implemented in the following areas: wards, updating patient records, and client education. Practices that were members of the ISFM Cat Friendly Clinic practice scheme scored significantly higher in the areas of general clinical premises, inpatient experience, waiting area and consultation room, and provision of client education. Only 41% of respondents provided species-specific waiting rooms and 11% species-specific consultation rooms.
Limitations of the study include the small number of completed survey responses, selection bias with respondents with an interest in animal behaviour/welfare more likely to respond to the invitation to complete the survey, and potential bias by the survey respondent in their recording the behaviours of their team.
This study highlights areas where progress has been made in the introduction of low-stress handling techniques in veterinary practices and identifies areas where there is room for improvement. The study also adds to the knowledge base around barriers to improvement. It will serve as a useful basis for discussion within practices for ways in which they can reduce stress and improve patient welfare.
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