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Cross-sectional study of perceptions of competence and confidence in feline handling

02 March 2024
20 mins read
Volume 15 · Issue 2
Figure 1. Bar chart of 152 participants work experience with felines before training as a student veterinary nurse.
Figure 1. Bar chart of 152 participants work experience with felines before training as a student veterinary nurse.



Cats may be difficult to manage in the clinical environment as a result of behavioural responses to fear and stress, which can be misinterpreted as aggression. Registered veterinary nurses require both attributes of competence and confidence when working with feline patients.


152 registered veterinary nurses working in small animal practice were recruited to this cross-sectional mixed-methods online survey study.


The results show that perceptions of competence and confidence are high, and both attributes are linked. Perceived competence and confidence across different scenarios were scored, with both attributes positively correlating – this was significantly higher with participant enjoyment and when handling amenable cats. Scores for handling difficult cats were significantly impacted by participant age, qualification, time qualified, ownership and previous experience. However, sample bias cannot be discounted, and the sample size was small.


Registered veterinary nurses should be supported to develop both competence and confidence over time, especially when working with challenging patients. Overcoming negative experiences may be important for improving feline care, and further training may be one way to support this.

Despite their popularity as a pet, cats are perceived to be notoriously difficult patients to manage (Biggle, 2016). As territorial creatures, they require a sense of control to feel safe and the clinical environment can be hyper-stimulating and stressful for these patients who are sensitive to sights, sounds and smells (Dawson et al, 2016; Mariti et al, 2016; Cannon, 2018). As a predatory species, felines are inclined to show fear and defensiveness in unfamiliar or uncomfortable environments (Rodan et al, 2011; Dawson et al, 2016); behaviour that can be misinterpreted by veterinary staff as a natural compulsion for aggression. As such, there has historically been a tendency to use rough handling or ‘scruffing’ to conduct necessary treatment procedures (Dawson et al, 2019); practices which can lead to patient stress, and frustration for staff (Reeve and Hibbert, 2022) Recognising and reducing stress in feline patients is imperative as fearful cats may be presented less frequently to vet practices by their owners (Mariti et al, 2016). Supporting the welfare of these patients by using handling and restraint practices that meet an individual's specific needs can help reduce or prevent negative experiences, thus creating more cat-friendly practices (Nibblett et al, 2015; Fielberg et al, 2020). Patient low-stress guidelines and standard operating procedures can also support veterinary professionals to work confidently and with patient welfare in mind (Moody et al, 2020; Kendall, 2021).

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