Feline practitioners reach out

Fall conference focuses on association initiatives as well as continuing education
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Cat sitting on a desk looking at a computer monitorFeline health is the primary concern of feline practitioners, so their association is increasing outreach to cat owners and to all veterinarians who care for cats.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners, established 35 years ago, still advances cat care through continuing education and research funding. The AAFP also is more proactively promoting feline health beyond its membership through new veterinary guidelines and public awareness campaigns.

The AAFP 2006 Fall Conference featured updates on association initiatives along with CE sessions on the theme of geriatrics and pain management. About 500 attendees and exhibitors gathered from Oct. 21-24 in Toronto to share information, ideas, and ideals regarding feline health.

"My dream is to unite the people who care for, and about, cats around the world," said Dr. Margie Scherk, incoming president, during the business meeting.

The AAFP has a big presence in North America, she said, but its membership and impact could be much greater—even within North America.

Dr. Scherk said some view the AAFP as a group of cat-only practitioners with no interest in expanding the scope of its membership. But she thinks the association should recruit from among the thousands of small animal practitioners on the continent and partner with groups across the globe.


Dr. Jane Brunt, outgoing president, detailed AAFP accomplishments and plans when she spoke at the business meeting.

A new "Feline Vaccine Advisory Panel Report" appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of the JAVMA. The AAFP is working with the American Animal Hospital Association to develop guidelines on pain management.

The AAFP awarded its $15,000 research grant for 2006 to Dr. Sakhila Banu of Texas A&M University for the project "Prostaglandin E2 signaling in the feline mammary cancer: a potential target for chemotherapy."

This year, the association added new subscription categories for veterinary technicians and practice managers. One objective of the 2006-2009 strategic plan is to increase active membership from 2,000 in 2006 to 2,500 in 2009. The strategic plan includes other objectives for improving finances, self-evaluation, standards of practice, and awareness of the AAFP.

Next year, the association plans to launch a new Web site for cat owners and veterinarians at www.catvets.com—a more memorable address than the current www.aafponline.org. This year, the AAFP and Fort Dodge Animal Health reached members of the cat-owning public by beginning the Healthy Cats for Life campaign, online at catwellness.org. The campaign promotes twice-a-year veterinary visits and teaches cat owners that behavior changes can be signs of illness.

Another new resource for cat owners is the Cornell Feline Health Center's collection of instructional videos at felinevideos.vet.cornell.edu, which illustrate cat care activities such as how to administer medication.

"Educating the public about the need for care is going to raise the health, the welfare, and the well-being of our patients," Dr. Brunt said.

Dr. James Richards of the Cornell Feline Health Center, an AAFP past president, tied the Healthy Cats for Life campaign into his talk about the scope of senior cat care.

Dr. Richards described two scenarios. The 18-year-old cat in the first scenario misses the litter box, cries all night, and won't eat. The owners attribute the cat's behavior to old age rather than a potentially solvable problem, and they decide on euthanasia before taking the cat to the veterinarian. In the second scenario, the owner of an 18-year-old cat wants the veterinarian to prolong the cat's life even at the expense of quality of life.

Dr. James Richards

"We're talking about client communication," Dr. Richards said. "It's all communication. It's all information."

Dr. Richards said veterinarians should discuss quality of life with cat owners before the end is near—and counsel clients about feline behavior throughout the years. Optimal care for senior cats must begin long before they become senior cats, he said, with education and wellness programs.

The Healthy Cats for Life campaign offers materials for veterinarians, too, including the AAFP Feline Behavior Guidelines that form the basis of the program.


Geriatrics and pain management were the intertwining topics of most CE sessions at the AAFP conference—and the subject of the Barbara Stein Memorial Lecture through sponsor Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc.

The speaker for the lecture was Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, a philosophy professor at Colorado State University. His talk was on "Ethical issues in geriatric feline medicine."

In the rural society of the past, Dr. Rollin said, animals usually lived as long as they were functional. In today's urban society, geriatrics and pain management are important because of the increasing attachment to companion animals and the advancement of medicine.

Dr. Rollins said some pet owners still want to euthanize sick pets for convenience, while other owners want to go too far with treatment. Animals themselves can't weigh future benefits of medical treatment against present pain, though.

Dr. Cynthia Bowlin

"Animals are moral objects because they can suffer," Dr. Rollin said. "We are morally obligated to ensure that as long as they live, they are not suffering."

Dr. Rollin said veterinarians need to learn much more about pain management. From the beginning of treatment, they should enlist clients to define quality of life for each animal, one of the points that Dr. Richards echoed.

Quality of life at another level was the topic of Dr. Cynthia Bowlin of Cats Only Veterinary Clinic in Columbus, Ohio.

Dr. Bowlin spoke about "The American (Cat) at Midlife-Overfed, Under-Exercised, and on Prozac." Dr. Bowlin said she has been in feline practice for 20 years, and kittens have grown to old age with their owners following all her advice. Yet these indoor cats are not the picture of health.

Dr. Bowlin said the reason might be feline nature. Cats domesticated themselves, she suggested, for a food supply. They are naturally nocturnal, predatory, territorial, solitary, and maternal.

Dr. Bowlin said captive cats are sedentary, overfed, stressed, bored, and neutered. Owners complain about their cats' aggression, clawing, climbing, escaping, territorial marking, inappropriate elimination, love biting, wailing in the night, and waking up early in the morning.

"These are not behavioral problems," she said. "These are lifestyle issues."

Dr. Bowlin said she appreciates the idea of responsible pet ownership, but she is looking for a way that cats can live their lives and also be companions. She suggested that one approach is enriching the environment, perhaps by building outdoor enclosures.

Other sessions at the AAFP conference addressed a breadth of subjects falling under the theme of geriatrics and pain management.


Dr. Paul Boutet, president of the Canadian VMA, and Dr. Roger Mahr, AVMA president, spoke to AAFP members during the business meeting. Drs. Boutet and Mahr recognized the contributions of the AAFP to feline medicine and to organized medicine.

"The American Association of Feline Practitioners is a very important constituent allied association of our AVMA," Dr. Mahr said. "And I want to express thanks and commend you on the involvement of various members of the AAFP in helping and working with the AVMA on many significant issues."

Dr. Mahr mentioned the role of the AAFP in developing veterinary guidelines and in advising the AVMA on issues such as feline welfare.

After his remarks, Dr. Mahr administered the oath of office to the AAFP leaders for 2007. The officers are Drs. Margie Scherk, Vancouver, British Columbia, president; Valerie Creighton, Thousand Oaks, Calif., president-elect; Elizabeth Colleran, Chico, Calif., secretary-treasurer; and Jane Brunt, Baltimore, immediate past president.