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What Happens When Your Cat Goes “in the Back” at the Vet

At Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Washington, I tour the place laypeople rarely go.

JaneA Kelley  |  Dec 8th 2015


You know how it is: You bring your cat to the vet for her annual checkup. After the exam, the vet says, “Let’s do some blood work and a urinalysis,” and shortly after that, a tech whisks your furry friend into the forbidden zone: In. The. Baaack!

You probably wonder what goes on there, and what makes it a place where laypeople rarely go. Well, it’s not nearly as scary as you might think.

A veterinary technician checks up on her feline charges.

Boarding Supervisor Morgan Benson checks up on her charges.

I recently got the chance to take a guided tour behind the scenes at my veterinary clinic, Cats Exclusive Veterinary Center in Shoreline, Washington. Here’s the scoop about what goes on in the back of the clinic.

The first stop in my tour, guided by Nursing Supervisor Andi Pierce, is the pharmacy. The clinic stores many of the medicines your cat might need while he’s in the clinic’s care, as well as medications that you might need to take home, such as antibiotics.

A pharmacy at a veterinary clinic.

The pharmacy is stocked with medications your cats may need.

Just to the left of the pharmacy is what I think of as the treatment-area command center. Here, staff can check on the status of cats in recovery, view records from referring veterinarians or emergency visits, and see who is scheduled to arrive for boarding that day.

A veterinarian checks patient records.

Veterinarian Jessica Stern checks the records of a cat being admitted with a possible urinary obstruction.

In the treatment area, veterinarians and technicians perform dentistry and procedures such as blood draws, cystocentesis (pulling urine out of the bladder with a syringe), anal gland expression, and stabilization of sick pets. One of the treatment tables is also a sink, so if your cat needs a bath after a traumatic journey in his carrier, the team is prepared to oblige.

A technician performs a dental cleaning on a cat.

A technician cleans and polishes a cat’s teeth, while another one monitors anesthesia.

“We try to keep things easy for our patients,” says Pierce. “Our staff undergoes extensive training in handling cats in as stress-free a way as possible.”

In the X-ray room, the vet team takes radiographs of your cat to determine if there are problems in his insides. At CEVC, all radiographs are digital and taken at extremely high resolution, so the vet can zoom in as much as she needs in order to see the minute details that would assist in a diagnosis.

X-ray room at a veterinary clinic

The X-ray room

Radiograph of a cat's abdomen.

All radiographs at CEVC are done digitally for maximum resolution.

The surgery room is just what it sounds like. It is equipped with a heated operating table and a warm air blanket to keep a cat’s temperature stable during surgery. Like all operating rooms, it also has an autoclave for sterilizing instruments and an anesthesia machine. (In case you’re curious about what happens during surgery, I’ve written about that, too.)

Surgery room at a vet clinic.

The operating room at CEVC.

Once a cat is done with dentistry or surgery, he goes to the recovery ward. All of the cubicles in the recovery ward are equipped with temperature management, because anesthesia reduces a cat’s ability to control his body temperature. The left-hand cubicles in CEVC’s recovery ward also function as an ICU and are equipped with oxygen delivery equipment.

Recovery cages at a veterinary clinic

Each enclosure in the recovery ward has individual ventilation in order to prevent the spread of disease.

Oxygen cages at a veterinary clinic

Some of the cages have oxygen capability, which is needed for severely ill cats.

“This is where I spend most of my day,” Pierce says, where she monitors the condition of cats recovering from surgery or who are otherwise in poor health and need extra care.

“Dr. Dennis Wackerbarth, the founder of CEVC, put a lot of thought into providing the best and safest possible experience for cats in our care,” says Pierce.

Lab at a veterinary clinic

The lab contains equipment for analyzing blood and urine.

Centrifuge, microscope and fax machine at a lab in a veterinary clinic

The lab also includes a centrifuge and microscope, among other things.

Another vital part of the treatment area is the lab. In the lab, clinic staff can run in-house blood tests and urinalyses. Pierce says urinalysis is most accurate when done shortly after collection because crystals start forming in the urine after about half an hour. Although most blood work is sent out to an area lab, there are times when a quick in-house workup is needed.

Cat in a boarding enclosure at a vet clinic

This cat was ready for his glamour shot!

Sometimes cats need a safe place to stay when their people are away, so CEVC also has a boarding facility designed to provide exercise, love, and even “kitty TV.” I arrived at breakfast time, so all the cats were especially excited to see a human face. The boarding team takes care to ensure that cats’ special dietary and medical needs are met, and they even have one-story enclosures just for cats with mobility problems.

Two vet techs perform a cystocentesis on a cat.

Two technicians perform a cystocentesis on a cat with possible urinary crystals.

“We know it can be scary when your cat is sick or needs to go into the treatment area for some other reason,” Pierce says. “If there’s one thing I’d want people to know, it’s how much we value their cats and that we always do our best to make their cats’ experience as stress-free as possible.”

Preparation of cat foods at a vet clinic.

And of course, in the totally ordinary world of cat care, all the boarders and recovering kitties need to be fed!

Is there anything else you’d like to know about what goes on in the parts of the vet clinic you don’t get to see? Ask in the comments, and I’ll get you some answers!

Read more on vets by JaneA Kelley:

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal rescue volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline authors, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.