Congratulations on opening your new premises. As the head vet of JustCat.ie can you tell us a little about yourself?
Thanks, we are very excited about it! I am a lifelong animal and cat lover. That is why I got into veterinary in the first place! Growing up we had a cat, and I rode horses. I spent time on my uncles farm and would take every opportunity to be with animals. I studied Veterinary Medicine in UCD and upon graduation, moved to Canada. It was the worst of the recession and jobs here in Ireland were scarce. So I moved with my boyfriend and my dog, Margaret. No sooner had we landed than we added our first cat, Borris, a rescued Russian Blue (very handsome!). A second dog followed, and a horse soon after. I gained wonderful experience in general veterinary practice and got my introduction to ‘cat friendly’ veterinary medicine, a concept that I had never experienced in Ireland! But home called and we moved back with the cat and dogs in tow. Unfortunately bringing the horse was a step too far but he got a fabulous home and I am still in contact with him. On my return to Ireland, I felt strongly that there were areas of veterinary that needed to be brought in line with international standards, particularly our approach to cats. I worked as a locum in many practices until I found the right opportunity.
Just Cats Veterinary Clinic is a branch of a family practice, so I am not the owner! Charles Cosgrave heads up the practice and had been thinking about a cat only clinic for quite some time. He had formulated a plan but was waiting to find the right vet, and that is where I came in. I am the head vet and have been involved since the start, doing the research along side my head nurse Roisin. We have been able to design the clinic, choose equipment and make all decisions in the running of the clinic. Being part of a larger practice confers many benefits, some financial but also having other expertise available when it is needed. We have vets with special interest areas such as orthopedics, ophthalmology and ultrasonography. This is very useful for more complex or difficult cases.
How many people are currently working in your clinic?
We have 2 full time staff and 2 part time staff. I am here most but days, but Sarah is our other vet, she does some hours when I am off. Roisin is our head nurse and is here full time. Aisling is a nursing student and fills in Roisin’s hours. A small team means that we really stay in touch with our patients.
Why set up a veterinary clinic just for cats and do you find yourself turning away other animals
Cat Only veterinary clinics are commonplace most other countries, particularly the UK and North America. We need more cat-only clinics badly in Ireland!! We need to show cat owners that going to the vet can be a positive experience. Cat owners often find going to the vet a trying experience for all involved, the cat, the owner and the vet. This may be no fault of anyone in particular but may be the fault of the environment. Taking a cat that is already stressed about being in a carrier, transported away from their territory and then surrounding then with further stressors such as dogs, clinical noises and smells and rushing them through a consultation will never result in an enjoyable visit. We address these things at Just Cats by removing the dogs or other species and creating a homely and relaxing environment within the clinic. This is done with layout, choices of materials and options for the cat to choose where he or she would like to be examined. We also approach the cats with relaxation and sympathetic handling techniques in a quiet manner. Scruffing is banned! Cat clinics have longer appointment times than regular vets as standard to allow these adaptable creatures more time to become accustomed to their surroundings. Roisin and I have undertaken further education in feline medicine and behavior in order to offer the highest standard of care in our clinic.
We have dedicated vets for horses, for exotic species, for pigs, for chickens, for cattle, even specific vets for beef cattle versus dairy cattle so why have we neglected cats? Dogs and cats are really as different as dogs and pigs so I am not sure why it has taken this long to provide species specific care. Unfortunately this does mean that we turn away all other species but this is necessary to provide the optimal atmosphere for cats.
Setting up a vet clinic just for cats obviously reduces the market………have you found it difficult and how do you make it work?
Opening a new clinic always has financial risk, and cat-only practices are even higher risk. As you have pointed out, by excluding dogs, we have immediately rule out 2/3 of our potential customers locally. We have the support of the larger practice which means that we have access to equipment that we could not afford to buy or maintain as a stand alone clinic. We also have improved buying power. With that said, we still need customers through the door. This means that for our cat only clinic to be successful we need the support of the wider cat community in Dublin and the surrounding counties as the local market is considerably reduced.
I see you have a cattery, can you tell us a little bit about that and what you offer?
We offer cat boarding at the clinic and so far have been very busy! Our cattery has bespoke kennels that are made from a molded plastic offering plenty of space. The material is warm and absorbs sound. They also have a shelf at the back for the cats to perch on as many of them prefer to be up high. Outside the kennels we have a ‘cat gym’ which has climbing opportunities in the form of a cat tree, ladder and counter tops, along with some scratching posts and other toys such as tunnels. The cats are allowed out individually, or in pairs or groups if from the same house, and in rotation throughout the day. They get lots of attention and play with our nurses to ensure that they are exercising.
We are happy to cater to each cats individual needs, offering multiple types of litter, food and water bowls and beds. We feed Royal Canin food as standard but are happy to feed special diets or give medications as required for each cat. We love having the cattery as it means that there are always plenty of cats to play with!
Do you have cats yourself? If yes, Can you tell us a little about them?
I have one cat, as I mentioned previously, called Borris. He was a rescue as he was not getting on well in a multi-cat household. Because of this, I won’t get more cats so long as we have Borris. He is not a sharer! He is a Russian Blue which means he is very large! He gets on very well with the dogs and my friends and family. Borris and Margaret, my Jack Russel love to wrestle but Borris always sets the boundaries!
Although I would love more cats (tempted daily in work!) I think it is important to realize that not all cats will cohabit comfortably with other cats, sometimes single cat household are the best option.
As a vet, what motivates you or inspires you?
I have always been motivated by the desire to help animals. What this means to me now is quite different to my idea of helping animals when I was 16 though! Before becoming a vet I thought that helping animals was fixing them when they were sick. While that is still a daily task that I am still motivated by, I can now see the bigger picture. We need to strive for better welfare conditions for all of our animals. It has become my professional endeavor with this project to improve feline welfare. I will be attempting this in a few ways. One of the major barriers to cats receiving appropriate healthcare is getting them into the vets. In a survey done in America, 60% of people thought their cat hated going to the vet and 38% of owners got stressed even thinking about bringing their cats to the vet. If we can improve the rates at which cats turn up to the vet, we can improve their welfare by preventing disease with regular vaccination, prevent unwanted kittens and catch disease conditions earlier when they are easier to treat or manage. To do this we need to make visiting the vet a more pleasant experience, not just at our clinic but at all vets. In order to promote ‘cat-friendly’ veterinary medicine we will be leading by example here (and the feedback has been fantastic so far) and I will promote these methods at educational events for vets and nurses. If our clinic becomes successful, more and more cat clinics will be created.
Another area in which I can help to improve feline welfare is to get involved with education of the public regarding preventative healthcare, encouraging more engagement of cat owners in healthcare. I will also support charities that are trying to deal with the problems created by stray cat populations. Trap-Neuter-Return programs are fundamental to tackling the vast numbers of unwanted stray kittens that are born each year, and we will participate in these programs where possible.
By joining the Cat Friendly Clinic program and becoming a member of International Cat Care we are committed cat advocates. This means that in any way we can we will promote and educate people regarding feline welfare.
What do you enjoy most about being a vet?
I enjoy the challenge and the variation. A lot of people say that being a vet is easier than being a doctor because you are not dealing with people. In actuality, at least half of my time is spent dealing with the human side of the relationship or problem, rather than the animal side. I enjoy the interaction with people though, you get to meet all sorts of characters on a daily basis, each with their own story. I enjoy the feeling of success when you can solve a challenging problem or just help a sick cat feel better. And I also really enjoy playing with kittens!
September is National Micro Chipping month, how are you showing support?
The Dog’s Trust are giving free chips to clinics for dogs but we don’t have anything similar for cats, so we can’t offer free microchipping. However we are offering discounted microchipping at €20 for this month. We have had good uptake so far.
What’s in the future for JustCats.ie
The future is happy cats coming to visit! But to be sensible, we need to get the business side of things performing well, to get our educational programs going and to hopefully get involved in some TNR programs. We are looking forward to getting busier and spreading the word!
We are huge fans of JustCat.ie and wish them all the best for the future. Dublin is blessed to have such dedicated staff.