The American Association of Feline Practitioners has launched the Cat Friendly Practice Program to help veterinary practices become more accommodating of the distinct needs of cats.
Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran, 2011 AAFP president, said cat owners love their cats but often do not visit a veterinarian because of the stress of the experience. She said the CFP Program "has the potential to transform the delivery of feline veterinary care and to increase veterinary visits."
The AAFP introduced the CFP Program, sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health and Ceva Animal Health, during a Jan. 16 press conference at the North American Veterinary Conference. The primary program materials are educational resources, including "A Guide to Creating a Cat Friendly Practice," and a practice assessment checklist.
To participate in the CFP Program, practices must have at least one AAFP member. Practices may earn a certificate as a cat-friendly practice at the silver or gold level. The AAFP plans to list cat-friendly practices in an online directory for cat owners.
The AAFP has been developing the CFP Program in consultation with the International Society of Feline Medicine. The ISFM is the veterinary division of the United Kingdom's Feline Advisory Bureau, which pioneered the concept of cat-friendly clinics.
Dr. Andrew H. Sparkes of the ISFM said the efforts to promote cat-friendly clinics in the United Kingdom started as a competition in 2006 and included some tools to help clinics.
"It really caught the imagination of veterinary clinics," Dr. Sparkes said. "And the clinics that participated saw a massive difference, both in the willingness of clients to come back again but also in the behavior of the cats within the clinics."
This year, the Feline Advisory Bureau and the ISFM will be launching a comprehensive program to promote cat-friendly clinics in Europe.
Dr. Ilona Rodan chaired the task force that developed the CFP Program for the United States and Canada. She said the program will help "cat owners and veterinary practices to get cats back into practices."
Dr. Rodan said she started her feline practice 25 years ago because of her love of cats, but not because of an understanding of cats.
"In 2000, I started work on behavior, and I recognized that cats need much more than we are giving them," and so do cat owners, Dr. Rodan said.
Dr. Donna Stephens Manley, 2012 AAFP president, said the CFP Program will allow her as a shelter veterinarian to recommend cat-friendly practices to people who adopt cats—particularly first-time cat owners.
"As a practice owner, I can tell you that effecting change in the day-to-day practice is hugely complicated and very difficult, unless you have someone else providing you with the tools to do that."
"That first impression is so critical," Dr. Manley said. "Getting into a practice where they're welcoming, warm, and it's a good positive experience is nothing but a win-win situation for everyone."
Dr. Kari D. Mundschenk, an AAFP board member, said she has applied many of the approaches of the CFP Program in her feline practice.
"Owners appreciate the fact that they know somebody cares enough about their cat to understand how a cat behaves, how a cat thinks," Dr. Mundschenk said. "And they come back."
Dr. Colleran said many practitioners recognize a need for change in how they interact with cats and cat owners.
"As a practice owner, I can tell you that effecting change in the day-to-day practice is hugely complicated and very difficult, unless you have someone else providing you with the tools to do that," Dr. Colleran said.
The CFP Program provides tools to help practices become cat-friendly in the following topic areas:
- Staff training and continuing education; client communication
- Practice premises, reception room
- Feline handling and interaction with clients
- Examination rooms and clinical records
- Wards, facilities
- Pain management; operating room and anesthesia
- Surgical equipment, dentistry
- Diagnostic imaging and laboratory facilities
- Treatment; health and safety
- Preventive care by life stages
The CFP Program offers multimedia presentations about the implementation of various criteria under each topic area. More details about how to incorporate the criteria into a practice are available from "A Guide to Creating a Cat Friendly Practice" and from supplemental educational resources and photographs. An online assessment checklist allows practices to evaluate themselves by the criteria and keep track of their progress.
Dr. Colleran said a key part of the CFP Program is for each practice to designate one or more cat advocates to help implement the program criteria. When a practice meets the criteria for the level it chooses, silver or gold, it may submit the complete assessment checklist to the AAFP.
Following AAFP approval, the practice will receive certification as a cat-friendly practice at the silver or gold level along with a poster and numerous other marketing materials. The practice also will receive a listing in an online directory of cat-friendly practices.
In addition to the press conference introducing the CFP Program, the AAFP offered continuing education on cat-friendly practices during the North American Veterinary Conference. The organization also organized CE sessions on cat-friendly practices for the Western Veterinary Conference in February and the annual conference of the American Animal Hospital Association in March.
"Phase two of Cat Friendly Practice will be a national outreach," Dr. Colleran added. "And that's intended to bring awareness to people in the general public to look for and choose a cat-friendly practice for their cat."
Additional information about the CFP program is available by visiting www.catvets.com and clicking on "Cat Friendly Practice"; practices that have an AAFP member may apply to participate via the program website. Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers may apply to become AAFP members at http://www.catvets.com/members/joinus/.